Tuesday, February 13, 2018

For The Journeys Ahead

Northern Harrier
Sometimes we wait in a holding pattern.  But it's the anticipation of the next big adventure that excites the imagination. 

The Knob Hill Fire burns in the Dragoon Mountains
In the meantime, I scout areas and collect data for several birders who will be coming to Southern Arizona for their own adventures.  They too are excited about finding new birds to add to their life lists. It's a job I take seriously.  

Sandhill Crane comes in for a landing. 
The winter months are the only times we are able to observe certain birds.  Every year, I head down to Willcox and Cochise Lake to be among the Sandhill Cranes.  Everyone says to go to the Whitewater Draw.  I love it there too, but it's not the same as Willcox.  If you are a photographer, you head to Willcox.  The birds fly right over your head and land just a few feet away.  It's pretty spiritual. 

Our wildfire season is early this year.  Fire started this weekend on private property and spread over 2 thousand acres on the Dragoon Mountains. While observing the cranes, we watched the fire spread over a section of the mountain.  

Another fun challenge was finding ONE Eurasian Wigeon in the near thousand population of American Wigeons. 

American Wigeons
Can you find the bird?:)

A Eurasian Wigeon
I have written this before and I'll write it again.  I wish I could bird in this weather all the time. It was comfortable.  

On my weekly observation at Reid Park in Tucson, I watched our beautiful wintering Zone-tailed Hawk take flight and stay in the air for nearly 2 hours!  Often it flew right over my head looking for prey. Other times it looked like it just wanted to fly for enjoyment. 

Zone-tailed Hawk
During one moment, I thought the bird had lost its head. 

However, the hawk was just preening.  This is the second observation that I've seen of this species preening in flight. This bird is an acrobat!

On another outing during the week day, I just wanted to bird in a different location.  So I went to Agua Caliente Park for an evening count. 

Agua Caliente Park
I hadn't researched this location.  I just wanted to bird.  Birding keeps my skills sharp for the people who rely on me to find their birds.  Maybe you've noticed this about yourself with certain species of birds?  I tend to glance over some species while with others, I look at more closely.  Such is the case with sparrows. My gaze lingers a little longer with these bubbly happy-go-lucky birds. 

a beautiful Swamp Sparrow
I enjoy sparrows.  I don't know why. Most people don't get into these birds but I could spend hours watching them hop around bushes.  During that evening, there were a couple Lincoln's Sparrows in the area and I was enjoying their fine plumage design when I noticed this Swamp Sparrow(above and below) next to them!  Wow!  It's a rare bird for Pima County in the winter, but it was a most welcome sight!

We went on other adventures, mostly for the walk.  I just needed to bird pretty spaces after those past couple weekends of gross agricultural habitat.  It was really really nice. 

We take a lovely stroll in Ramsey Canyon of the Huachuca Mountains
While up on Mt. Lemmon, I met two people who signed up for our trip with Tucson Audubon to the Huachucas in August.  I had a blast getting to know them and we had a great time finding birds. It was fun hearing their excitement as I got them on great birds. My reports are below. 

Northern Flicker
This year's theme is all about family and friends in other places.  I am working on one trip now and looking forward to the challenges ahead.  While I wait, I will continue to count birds around the state.  I try to balance it all out. People in my life will sometimes say, "I wish I could travel like you do."  A lot of them could, but often it seems like it's outside of their personal comfort zones. I've just made it a personal mandate.  I've earned it.  There's no looking back.  Only forward.  You only get one life.  Own it and find happiness.  Until next time.....

For Agua Caliente Park, click here
For Willcox Lake, click here
For Mt. Lemmon, click here
For Reid Park, click here

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Dirty Work

Feedlots have some amazing birds.  Keep out of the way of workers and look for great birds in the Santa Cruz Flats!
This week's addition of Arizona birding is strictly for the birds.  I don't often visit certain places around the state because they are gross and smell like %&^!.  But I had a friend who needed some state birds for his list and we made the trek to several international AZ birding hotspots where people can find unique and specific birds.  I swore that once I had found my LeConte's Thrasher, I'd never go back to that spot again, but I was wrong. Several years later, I found myself back at this Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome location. "Two men enter, one man leaves!"  Thankfully that wasn't the case this time. Let's begin with our first stop, the infamous Thrasher Spot near the town of Buckeye outside of the Phoenix area. 

The nuclear wasteland known as the Thrasher Spot
Sure.  You're saying to yourself, That's pretty. Nope.  That's just the artist in me trying to make the location pretty:)  The thrasher spot is truly a unique experience.  BUT.  It's the one place in the US, you can get all your thrashers at one stop.  Well, most of them.  Here you can find the beautiful LeConte's Thrasher, near threatened Bendire's Thrasher, Crissal Thrasher, Sage Thrasher and even Curve-billed Thrasher. 

The first and last time I've gone after a LeConte's Thrasher.  Beautiful bird in a very ugly habitat. 
Two of these thrasher species, the LeConte's and Crissal, are often very secretive and difficult to observe.  During our visit, Steve needed the LeConte's Thrasher for his AZ list.  Most of the time, a birder can just drive to the spot and easily add Crissal and Bendire's Thrasher to their lists. Well, not on that day. 

A "secretive" Crissal Thrasher
The best time to visit this location is towards the end of February until the first or second week of April when the thrashers are actively calling during their breeding season.  The important part is that you arrive early. Sometimes they are singing and other times, they need a little time to get going. 

the near threatened Bendire's Thrasher
We walked through broken sink fixtures and torn up bed mattresses like you'd see in the movie, Mad Max.  This location is also known for many Sagebrush Sparrows and a few Bell's Sparrows.  Sparrows are my specialty so we were able to find both species to add to Steve's state list.  Thrashers on the other hand were difficult!  We had to work for our Bendire's Thrashers.  It would have been embarrassing to leave the "Thrasher Spot" without a Thrasher.  We had both Bendire's and Sage but NO Crissal or LeConte's!  The Thrasher group can be a tough one.  Patience.  Lots and lots of patience is needed for these birds. Often, a return trip is required. I had that experience this past week with my Streak-backed Oriole in my neighborhood.  It took 11 attempts before I saw that blasted bird!

Burros are commonplace in the Lake Pleasant.  Be careful driving the highways there
Our next stop was another place I hadn't visited in a long time.  In fact, the last time I went was during my 2014 Big Year in the US. I needed several scoters for the state and one for my national list, the White-winged Scoter.  This location is known for lots of great ocean birds during the winter months. In fact, the one and only time I was there, I was able to capture a White-winged Scoter in flight.  The pic was published in the Birds of Phoenix and Maricopa County by Janet Witzeman, Troy Corman and Tommy D. It's a great guide for birding in Maricopa county.  And this Pima County birder was able to help:) I should mention that if you're looking for a human bird guide, there's a great guy by the name of Gordon Karre who does a lot of these treks to the spots I'm writing about today. He's situated in Maricopa and knows this county best.  I think his spirit bird is the Gray Vireo which he has a knack for finding.  In fact, he's often asked for assistance with Rosy-faced Lovebirds, LeConte's Thrashers, Gray Vireos and Black-chinned Sparrows along with the many other AZ birds. He's on Facebook and he's an excellent bird guide.  So if you're in the area and need a guide, look him up.  

Back to our challenge at hand.  So we went to this Lake Pleasant to find the Barrow's Goldeneye.  If you are new to this hotspot, I'd recommend a scope. Many of the birds are often far out in the lake and require a scope to find them. There are several points all around the park for a person to bird.  There's even burros:)

female Common Goldeneye
There were quite a number of goldeneyes in the area.  The ONLY male Barrow's Goldeneye was near the shore. 

Barrow's Goldeneyes are common in winter further north of the state.  To have one in the Phoenix area was nice

It was an easy add and a new bird for my Maricopa list and a state bird for Steve. 

Easiest Barrow's Goldeneye ever near Scorpion Point at Lake Pleasant
Then it was more gross birding in poop.  Nasty, gross poop. So we headed to the feedlot. I dreaded lowering my window. But sometimes you gotta bite the bullet. Our noses were assaulted with the stench of fecal matter. I think I need to buy breathing masks for these treks:) Doves.  They are beautiful but they do like poopy areas. 

Inca Dove

Steve needed Ruddy Ground-Doves which are very common in Mexico but rare for Arizona.  They can show up anywhere but they seem to like garbage areas around the state that don't have the most "scenic" habitat. We made an educated guess and found the doves hanging out with cattle. 

Ruddy Ground-Dove
We drove off with the lingering smells trapped inside our noses. 

So for every dirty stinky birding trek, I have to balance it out with some beautiful and scenic Arizona scenery.  And that's just what I did.  Either way, it was a fun bird outing with Steve. Until next time....