Monday, April 16, 2018

Feathered Dinosaurs

The gorgeous Tanque Verde Wash is full of bird life!
Arizona is on fire this year, in a good way!  I've never seen so many energized birders on the trails around the state like I have this year.  I definitely get the sense that birding is becoming a cool "thing" with people.

Buff-breasted Flycatcher
Over the past two weekends, I've had a blast doing some personal birding with friends around Southern Arizona.  Each weekend, we've found something fantastic, and although the birds have been incredible, it wasn't a bird that left an impression on me. Instead, it was an enthusiastic young kid and his parents who were eavesdropping on our dinner conversation . 

Greater Short-horned Lizard
The birding community, like any group, is full of strange and cool humans.  I wasn't a birder since childhood like most of the birders I know.  I stumbled onto the birding craze because of my studies abroad and my attraction to the culture and nature surrounding the places.  That's not to say that I didn't love birds when I was younger because I did.  I would chase Killdeer across fields and secretly follow Ring-necked Pheasants to their roosts at my Grandparent's house.  So what connection do I have to these birders?  I know I'm one of them, but how?

Northern Beardless Tyrannulet-now that's a real dinosaur sounding name!
While on the trails, we've been followed by annoying birders, cool birders, secretive birders and photographers pretending to be birders. But hey, they all love birds so it's ok.  I've been contacted on and off the listserv about birds that I've refound by someone else or have been finding on my own.  

I imagined myself hopping up on that horse and running off away from that birder!
One birder, who I barely know, followed us on the trail and TALKED the entire time. I thought to myself, How in the world are we going to find birds, if you're talking all the time!?!!?  We tried to politely lose the person but it didn't work. You have to understand that there is history with this person. Another birder friend of ours, who was also on the trail, smiled at our attempts to shake this birder but ultimately she knew we'd fail.  This birder was trying to argue field mark points on random birds while we were trying to focus on hawks!  At one point, we did eventually break free, but when I got home, I had an email from this person!  How did this birder get it?!!!  I blocked the birder and then proceeded to get another email later on!!!  I felt a tad violated.  The second attempt to block seemed to do the trick.

From the Carpenter Bee group
Generally birders are awesome people, but I think we all know a few people in our circles who try our patience.  In my world, there are about 3 birders who I try to avoid and most of the time, I'm successful.  My Wisconsin manners have me act polite which is good, but I'm finding it harder the older I get to keep from snapping at challenging people.  I'm like an Elegant Trogon marking my territory with a bark!

We get our shoes wet trying to refind and get photos of a Broad-winged Hawk.  I had seen it the day previous but fell with my camera trying to get pics.  I wasn't very graceful:)
During one weekend, I had a blast with my friend Gordon Karre.  He's like the older brother I've never had.  We have a healthy competitive side that keeps us going strong.  Both of us get buried deep into our birding worlds helping others find birds, etc.  So I am always appreciative of any time we get to spend together to go birding.  

Northern Pygmy Owl
We had a magical day out on Mt. Lemmon exploring the trails and finding lots of great birds. The day would sadly end and my work week would begin again.  Finals are approaching and the madness of my job begins.  

An early Red-faced Warbler
Then Friday came.  A new birding friend, Steve Bonta, wanted to explore the Huachuca Mountains on Saturday so we set up the time to do so.  I met Steve this December while working on a CBC up on Mt. Lemmon.  We also make a good team finding birds. 

Scaled Quail
Don't worry, I'm not rambling here.  This story has a beginning and an end, but I need to give you the backstory of this past week.  

One of the several Red Warblers I saw around the mountains of Central Mexico
Two MEGA rarities showed up in Arizona, the Red Warbler ( I just saw this species outside of Mexico City) and the Fan-tailed Warbler near Portal.  Steve went to chase the Red Warbler on Mt. Lemmon.  Only a handful of birders, like Steve, got to see this incredible warbler.  A hundred + did not.  It was a first time record for the US and every ABA lister wet their pants to get a chance to go observe this warbler.  Thousands of dollars were spent on airfare and the following day, birders from all across the country showed up.  No bird. 

Red Crossbill
Conspiracy theories began like crazy. The ones who did not see it began to rationalize that the bird must have been a caged bird because of the wear on the feathers, etc etc. Some of those who saw it maintain that the bird is wild.  Me?  Well, I know Mexicans like to cage their birds(and sell them near the border), but what I didn't know was whether or not Mexicans caged Red Warblers. I would think that warblers would not do well in confinement. In the US, I have heard people joke about single women having a household full of cats.  In Mexico, the same is also said of women but with caged birds.  I have found several of those stereotypes to be true.  But I'm married.  What's my excuse?! Who am I kidding, hoarding cats is awesome.

Swainson's Hawk
We spoke with a good guy who leads tours around Mexico.  For most of us, the Red Warbler was a shock.  None of us expected such a bird to cross the borders of the US.  A first time record in AZ of a White-tipped Dove or Rusty Sparrow would be more likely.  But not a Red Warbler.  According to this expert, the bird was probably caged and escaped or was released somewhere in Mexico near the border. The Red Warbler is apparently captured in the wild like many of the colorful birds and sold on the black market in the pet trade. The warbler found its' way into our sky islands and into the correct habitat where it was observed. It was a one day wonder. Who knows what the official bird people will decide?  But it was exciting(and sad) to imagine this warbler in Tucson up on Mt. Lemmon. I hope it survives. If it is indeed wild, it's further proof that global warming is pushing birds north OR that birds are getting pushed out of their already crowded habitat due to human caused expansion.  Another conspiracy theory that I heard was that some unethical person from the American Ornithological Society(AOS), who held their conferences in Tucson, may have released the bird up on the mountain to kick start their event.  Ohhhhhh, the joys of birding politics!

Way cool and out in the open of normally skittish Band-tailed Pigeons!!!
A much more real possibility showed up the same week, the Fan-tailed Warbler.  So Steve and I ditched our plans at the last minute and headed to Portal to go find several key birds. He didn't have to twist my arm because I love Portal.  Any opportunity to go bird in that area is fantastic!

The epic Fan-tailed Warbler
We found this stunning bird out in the open.  Normally, when I've seen it in Mexico, it's skulking around the dark foliage.  So to have it just happily and casually bopping around someone's yard was a trip.  I'd like to thank the Taylor's for being so kind and allowing us couple of bird nerds to see this amazing warbler!  

So what about the boy?  Did I forget about him?  No.  I haven't.  After another amazing weekend out, Steve and I both went to celebrate at a great Mexican restaurant in Willcox. We happily were discussing birds in this busy restaurant and going over several endemic Mexican species for future treks.  Yes.  My eyes are on Mexico now. Anyhow, little did I know, but there was a couple with a bright eyed little boy eavesdropping on our conversation.  

I assume most people like birds but don't get into it any further than "liking" them.  There's a whole lot of planning that goes into this stuff.  At the end of our meal, the young man came up to us both and explained to us that he also went after the Fan-tailed Warbler but turned around at the Private Property sign.  We had spoken to the locals in Portal previously and they said to go past the sign but not get out of the car.  Most birders did not know this however and turned around.  Anyhow, I felt a small human emotion as I watched this serious young man share with us all his passion for birds.  And it gets better.  HIS PARENTS were taking him out birding for his birthday!!!

Part of the beautiful Chiricahua Mountain range
I wanted to hug them.  We had to get back to Tucson, but I told the parents that ever since I began my adventures in birding, my life has changed for the better.  I thanked them for supporting their kid and fostering his passion for birds.  But I had a bigger question for this little bird man, "Why birds?"

At Cave Creek Lodge in Portal.  A really nice place to bird once you've done your hiking.  Or not hike:)
"I don't know.  I liked dinosaurs.  And then I liked birds."  Steve laughed and said that he played with dinosaurs when he was a kid.  I also played with dinosaurs and knew every crazy name.  So dinosaurs were what linked us all together.  Birds are essentially living dinosaurs! We walked out together and waved good-bye. I think that was the best part of my day. 

This road is magical and will take you into the beautiful Chiricahua Mountains
Until next time......

This is for my friend in England from her blog Ragged Robin's Nature Notes.  I know we've never met but I hope we do.  This is in your honor, a Blueberry Peach pie:)

Sunday, April 8, 2018

March Madness

Hello everyone!  First I'd like to apologize to my readers for not keeping up with the comment section.  It has been a very busy month with visitors and birds.  My schedule booked up in March fast and that was when I realized that I needed to write things down on a calendar:)

Hooded Oriole
Somehow I manage a full time job while getting all this other stuff done.  And I wouldn't trade it for anything else in the world. 

Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly
April and May are also packed with a busy schedule as we get ready for our huge fundraising event for Tucson Audubon, THE BIG DAY! The Wrenegades will once again join together and search for as many bird species as we can in one day to raise money for Southern Arizona's birds and the protection of their habitats.  Sara Pike is one of the fabulous team members and donations can be made here

Rivoli's Hummingbird
I'm also excited about several guests coming to visit this month and next as we find as many of their birds as we can for their life lists.  Then it'll be on to San Carlos, Mexico for some ocean birding.  Our summer trek will be a surprise. It'll be interesting to see where we end up since we haven't planned anything concrete yet:)

A Steller's Jay knows an opportunity when it see one.  But do these people know?
 But in the meantime.  I had a blast with my friend Kristen, her daughter Kayla and Kelly.  They did some fun hiking around Northern and Southern Arizona.  I wish they had more time.  Both are park rangers and LOVE to hike and see what there is to see.  

Steller's Jay
We had a beautiful visit up in Northern Arizona at Walnut Canyon National Monument. We did some great hiking around the area and found lots of excellent birds in the process. 

Montezuma's Castle is one of the many historic and beautiful national monuments of Arizona
 I was paying attention to the birds while they enjoyed the historic cliff dwellings of the ancient people.  We kept an ebird checklist and Kelly and Kristen were able to add new birds to their lifelist. 

We headed down to Montezuma's Castle near the Prescott/Sedona area and Kelly found this *almost* hidden Common Black Hawk along the riparian area.  It is nesting here.  And from the information I've gathered from ebird and the local park rangers in this area, there may be as many as TWO pairs of Black Hawks nesting along this stretch of river.  That is always encouraging news to hear.  This isn't always an easy hawk to spy in Arizona outside of migration. 

Common Black Hawk
Before their arrival, we headed to Ashurst Lake outside of Flagstaff to do a waterbird count.  Ashurst Lake is great for gulls and other shorebirds migrating through the area.  It's also a somewhat dependable area for the very nomadic Pinyon Jays. 

Ashurst Lake
During our visit, we watched a juvenile Bald Eagle go after an Osprey with food.  In fact, Bald Eagles are kind of like sky pirates:) However, this Osprey outmaneuvered the Eagle. 

Juvenile Bald Eagle goes after an Osprey
Another great hotspot near Flagstaff is the Kachina Wetlands.  Here we counted sparrows and ducks during a nice walk around the area. 

Kayla looks at frogs
The birding in Flagstaff isn't like birding Southern Arizona, but it's still fun.  There are several bird species you can add here that you can't in other areas.  During our visit, we heard the unmistakable drumming of an American Three-toed Woodpecker (which I wasn't expecting to find so early in the year nor in this area).  Thanks to Kristen, she pointed out the loud rapid drum.  The bird only did it one other time and from high up a Ponderosa Pine.

A gorgeous Savannah Sparrow

We checked other spots and it was very pleasant. One area that I'd really like to explore is Humboldt Peak which is VERY high and holds a few specialty birds.  My nemesis continues to be the Dusky Grouse. 

Then we headed down to Southern Arizona and while it was hot, it was great to be back here. Migrating birds never looked so good. 

Black-chinned Hummingbird
There are lots of Hummingbirds. 

And that "secretive" American Bittern at Sweetwater. 

And lots of crested and colorful birds. 

This male Northern Cardinal below was very vocal and hopped around me as I did a count at Sweetwater Wetlands. 

Shy birds were out and about walking around reeds. 

An outed Sora
One day we had an amazingly cold morning full of rain and wind.  It was beautiful!  The birds were so active!

Abert's Towhee
Birds are wonderful.  As I approach final exams with my students, I feel the stress and anxiety that they feel.  Our walks are very relaxing. And necessary:)

After the ladies left, I had some alone time and went to Agua Caliente Park after a stressful day at work to just connect with nature.  During that evening, I just listened to the bird song and followed their voices along the trail. 

Bullock's Oriole
If I ever lose my eyesight, and I hope I never do, it's my ears that will navigate my birding.  My blog will revert to audio sounds instead of photos.  I love bird song so much and it's what I use to find birds.  Without my ears, I'd be lost. 

A Gray Hawk banks to the side
If they whisper a cheep or throw me a chip note, I will find them. Rattles make it too easy:) Recently, I was with a friend in a wash where we spotted a well known and very chatty birder.  I've never seen birders scatter as much as they do when they see this individual.  It's okay to talk while you bird but NOT all the time.  How in the world will you find birds when your talking?  They'll all fly off!  Anyhow, we tried our best to dodge away from this individual.  It didn't work:(

A Common Yellowthroat stops for a moment to reflect:)
It was nice to come back to Southern Arizona. 

It's also nice to not feel the pressure of finding a new life bird.  We can wander wherever we like. And find whatever it is that wants to be found. 

Louisiana Waterthrush
Some winter birds are still hanging on while others are getting ready to leave. 

Next week, we'll take you to Mt. Lemmon for the start of warbler migration. 

As we say good-bye to our wintering birds, 

We say hello to our summer residents.  We'll also get to meet lots of great people in the process. That's the adventure of birding.  Arizona birding is some of the best birding in the United States.  

Until next time......