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:)


  1. Awesome that you snagged that Warbler and had a chance to foster the next Gen. birder too!!

    You are the Renaissance Birder !

    How’s that for a blog name?

    1. I love it!!!! You're back!!! That's awesome. I was beginning to think you had fallen off the face of the earth. Now with your little one, will you begin their training into the birding arena?:)

  2. The Northern Beardless Tyrannulet is so cute! And the warbler! WOW! What an awesome place.

  3. Great post and so good to see youngsters being interested in birds and supported by parents :) The warbler is just awesome :) By the way I loved dinosaurs as a child too :)

    1. Gracias:) The warbler was a major hit with hundreds of birders and consolidation prize for dipping on the Red Warbler:)

  4. hahaha....I love it....things are never dull over your way...wherever you are!

    1. You are so right about that! This week it's a whole other battle! Adulting is not fun:(


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