Sunday, November 25, 2018

A Taco Salad and a Ringed Kingfisher

I watched a herd of Pronghorn with Indigo at the Empire Ranch in the Cienegas Grasslands
Over the past 2 weekends, I've had the pleasure of birding with some great people searching for some excellent state birds.  And mammals. 

Scott scopes Lake Pleasant
Scott was free to bird one weekend and so we took off to find the rare Iceland Gull at Lake Pleasant near Phoenix.  It was a juvenile gull first discovered by the talented Melanie Herring.  

We find Usha and Janine already on the gull
Birders from all over the state went to go find this bird.  Last year, the Thayer's Gull was lumped back into the Iceland Gull species.  This was the trickier Thayer's subspecies.  It looks similar to a juvenile Herring Gull but has softer, more muted tones.  Even in the adult form, this subspecies can be tricky to ID. 

We get to the shore and start planning the rest of our afternoon after the gull find
This was a great opportunity for the two of us to study this bird up close.   

This subspecies of Thayer's now goes officially by the name, Iceland Gull
And like any gull, the Iceland's was no different.  Where there was food; there was the opportunity to eat. I captured this adorable scene along the lakeshore.  What an absolute thrill to see this bird in the state!  Gulls are amazing.  In North America, we are very lucky to have so many interesting gull species. 

This little girls lectures the gull on sharing something of which gull nor geese are known to do. 
While this wasn't a life bird, as they are found in Wisconsin during the winter, it was an Arizona first for both of us. It has been some time since one has been seen here. So I celebrated with a taco salad at lunch:)

I wish all birds were as cooperative as this gull.  This past weekend, Magill asked me if I would go down with her to find the first state record of a Ringed Kingfisher.  Honestly I groaned a bit.  I had gone several weeks earlier and had a VERY brief sighting and I'll be honest, it sucked.  So I gave hope a chance. When we bird together, we always get our bird. It just took patience and some skill. 

Along the way, we stopped and looked at water birds. The trek to Safford is a long one from Tucson.  In my head, I worked out a plan.  I helped Magill find all the places I had previously investigated on my first attempt.  We were meticulous.  The person reporting the bird threw the rare kingfisher on a general marker without telling anyone where the bird was. And that's ok. This wasn't our first rodeo. We spent the morning canvassing map points around the various ponds careful not to trespass onto anyone's property. 

A Long-billed Dowitcher struts around this other onlooking bird.  The bird appears to be saying, "What's up?"
The park ranger played coy with us because she was concerned about the safety of the bird.  And the birders.  Apparently, Safford is run by savage gun owners.  We did not see any bad behavior by the locals at all. They were very friendly with us. But maybe that was just with us and our Wisconsin charm. We had fun playing detective. I mean, we were also the same team who investigated the Tundra Swan mystery with several golfer ladies in their carts.   

a drake Green-winged Teal
I remembered the lovely weekend birding for the Iceland Gull with Scott.  Nice habitat, easy bird and great company. Why couldn't this bird hang out in nicer conditions for us?! I wouldn't say that the habitat is exciting nor is it my favorite place to bird in the state. But I was thankful for the great company as we did quite a bit of laughing. We stopped in this restaurant that smelled like a church. So I ordered cheese curds to cover the smell. Then the moment of truth happened after eating our taco salads.  Before lunch, I was getting to that grouchy birder phase, not quite giving up but not wanting to bird until I had some food in my stomach.  We both decided to hit the pause button and grab a bite to eat. The taco salads hit the spot.  A quick scene replay. 
Magill, "Does this taco salad have romaine lettuce?" (Romaine lettuce is getting recalled right now in the US and has been taken out of many of the restaurants)
The Waitress, "Huh? It's just lettuce!"
So we took our chances:)

scenic Lake Pleasant on a cold morning
During our meal, we played the roles of psychologist, scientist and of course, birder.  Then we went after our bird narrowing the list of possibilities down to 2 hotspots.  

Wilson's Snipe chill in the mud clumps
And VOILA!  We found this tricky devil perched quietly in the shadows. We legally observed the bird from the public road.  When it came time to ebird this information, we had a serious conversation about publicly sharing the hotspot. We hid the spot for a couple hours to have our talk.  Eventually we came to the conclusion that we'd share the spot for other birders who have been wanting to see this bird as birders have shared with us their special birds. 

a distant photo of the Ringed Kingfisher
Because it's a first state record, a lot of birders have been wanting to see this kingfisher. The problem is that humans are nuts. I don't know what is true or not, but I trust several of my friends who saw birders illegally trespass! We knew the rules before looking for this bird. Anyhow, there was drama the next day.  So part of me wishes that we had hid the checklist.  I do it with owls and other endangered birds.  Some birders didn't know the whole situation but had their 2 cents to add.  We saw the bird, never trespassed and waved and said hello to the neighbors sporting this pretty pond.  No issues. We did our documentation and left the bird to hunt alone. 

Celebrating the day is just something people should do more often.  I discover my lifer Scarlet Macaws in 1996. 

Years ago, when life was simpler and my camera was film, we'd share our experiences over a meal while on the road.  The pic was taken 22 years ago, in southern Costa Rica after a day of chasing Scarlet Macaws. There's nothing quite like a meal to celebrate a moment. It has been an amazing past two weekends here in Arizona.  I think I had the best car ride home with Scott listening to Spanish music while the sun was setting over the ag fields.  Or was it catching up with Magill and her Maine adventures?  Maybe it was watching Indigo get excited about his first Black-tailed Prairie Dogs in the field? This is what nature is all about; bringing people together.  And we need to protect it.  Until next time..... 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Long Sip

The US holidays have arrived.  All the chaos is human caused. So I recommend that we all take the time to just BE.

A gentle stream flows along a trail in the Santa Rita mountains
Even if for a moment from our often stressful lives. I will never buy into the "we have to do this because it's what we do" mentality.  That's all a bunch of crap.

A Brown Creeper finds a spot full of insects
Last weekend, we spent a moment on the trails watching birds along a lovely stream in the Santa Rita mountains of Southern Arizona.

A Townsend's Warbler is seen in a warbler flock
After the hike, we went to the Santa Rita Lodge and watched their thirsty male Coati get a sip from the hummingbird feeders.

Well.  It was more like a long sip.

After he was finished, he headed off into the forest for a break.

It's often common in winter to find a solitary male Coati roaming trails where there are opportunities for food along riparian corridors
The world is changing.  With our warmer temps, we are seeing more and more Broad-tailed Hummingbirds sticking around for the winter. 

A rare Broad-tailed Hummingbird
It was a beautiful morning out. 

Painted Redstart
It felt more like fall than winter.  The canyon trees are in the middle of their autumn colors.

Mexican Jay
During this time of year, there is a "lull" in bird numbers as many of the northern birds are still migrating south.  However, it's also the time of year when random birds begin to show up.

Hepatic Tanager at a feeder at the Santa Rita Lodge
The bird of the week is this juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker(below) hanging around a Tucson neighborhood.  It's a rarity that shows up during this time of year.  Our most common wintering sapsucker in Tucson is the Red-naped Sapsucker.  The second likely choice for sapsuckers if it's not Red-naped would be Yellow-bellied. And the rarest, but also seen during most winters here, is the Red-breasted Sapsucker.  And in Tucson, it's possible to add Williamson's Sapsuckers to your county list as several hang out on Mt. Lemmon OR in our parks around areas of old growth. Imagine! 4 species of sapsuckers!  If you're lucky:)

Look for holes on trees to find sapsuckers.  A good birder listens for tapping and drill holes on trees to find sapsuckers
Next week we chase a gull outside of Phoenix and play around in the grasslands.  I celebrate a state milestone while planning for another trek to Sonora, Mexico. Until next time....

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Sorting Algorithms

I can travel anywhere in the world and fall in love.  But there's something extra special about my state of Arizona.  I love it here.  I really really do. 

Sure.  I've taken a hit in pay for living here.  And sure Arizona ranks at the bottom in teacher pay and education.  The politicians here are made up by mostly savage greedy and uncaring people, but there is a glimmer of hope that things are changing. Our #RedforEd movement worked.  Kyrsten Sinema won and will be our first female democratic senator in Arizona. Katie Hobbs is Arizona's secretary of state. And Kathy Hoffman will watch over our public schools as the new state superintendent of public instruction. We can breathe a sigh of relief.  Maybe now, we will begin progress and get our schools to where they need to be.  Before, special interest people who owned charter schools were in control and they were bleeding monies from the public school sector!  That has been stopped.  For now.  We still have a ways to go!

I didn't move here for those reasons though.  I moved here because I feel a connection to the Sonoran desert, the grasslands, the Mexican people and specifically for the beauty and quirky nature of Tucson.  There is something that makes me feel happy here.  And no matter where I go, I miss my southeastern Arizona world. 

We did my Bisbee birding loop trek this weekend which encompasses the Whitewater Draw, Bisbee and the San Pedro House outside of Sierra Vista.  I was feeling craney and wanted to spend some time with the gathering Sandhill Cranes of the Whitewater Draw.  So Micheal and I took a road trip to the Draw.  

Then Micheal asked, "Are we going to eat in Bisbee?"  Of course!  We tried a new place that I had scouted out last year while on a fabulous student trip.  I'm sorry I didn't take many pics in the town of Bisbee but if you visit us here in Arizona, you really need to check this place out.  It was BUSY!

We spent the late morning/early afternoon with the cranes.  You can watch these birds for hours.  At the right time of day, they put on quite a show.  Many photographers go to the "Draw" to capture the cranes in action.  It's a great place during winter for waterfowl and 10's of thousands of wintering cranes.  More importantly, you can find the near threatened Bendire's Thrashers in this location on Bagsby road into the Whitewater Draw.

I needed this weekend to try and figure it all out.  Watching these birds while doing some relaxing birding helped me organize difficult ideas. 

Since our place has been painted (and now paid for), I'm ready for the next home project.  I've been working out in the garden putting in hummingbird plants and feeders.  Our next big scale project is the AZ outdoor room.  It will be great to open windows and not worry about the cats getting out.  

Juggling the birding adventures and home improvement projects are no easy task.  And yet they have to get done.  I mean, they don't, but I'm not one to sit and wait for something to get done.  The only way to get it done is to do it yourself.  The whole project costs about $3,300 dollars and will be worth every penny.  I'll feel safer, have an extra area for secured storage and an open room for the cats to enjoy being outside but not outside:)

A sleepy Screechy
Sometimes when I get stuck, I just go birding and let my thoughts sort themselves out.  And like these Sandhill Cranes that never crash into each other, travel and home improvement can also line themselves together to achieve the bigger picture. 

Everything eventually sorts itself out.  The chaos of this world can be overwhelming at times. 

I just need to remember to breathe and enjoy the moment. 

This week's photography took place at the Whitewater Draw near Bisbee and the San Pedro House along the San Pedro River near Sierra Vista. 

Greater Pewee
The special bird of the week is this lovely Greater Pewee that has been hanging out at Reid Park near our place. 

Winter has arrived.  There are so many options out there.  Where to go next?

Western Whiptail Lizard

Until next time.....

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Caravan

Our trek to Organ Pipe was interesting, but it was the work in Mexico that had me more interested.  A lot of birders signed up for a gull workshop with AZFO's Lauren Harter and David Vander Pluym.  And on the last day of the conference, a large caravan of birders crossed the border into Mexico.

Magnificent Frigatebird
We planned on staying the night in Rocky Point or Puerto Peñasco.  Many of the birders wanted to go with the caravan together.  No matter how many times I write this, there are still birders who are afraid to cross the border even though it's completely safe to travel to Rocky Point.  Like everything else, people need to use common sense. 

30+ birders scour the ocean with their scopes
We spent our morning with scopes and gulls.  But we also had our own agenda.  I wanted to do a count around Morúa or the Pinto Estuaries so we broke away from the group after lunch to do our own counts. I've been doing work around those areas for several years now and had never birded the area in October.  We rented a place on the Morúa estuary and really had a nice hike full of excellent birds there.

AZ Fish and Wildlife's Troy Corman and Wrenegade team member Tim H scope the horizon for possible rare birds

It's hard to navigate areas with large groups of people.  Many were there to spot the Yellow-footed Gull which is a bird of interest for many people.  These gulls live around the Sea of Cortez in good numbers.

Yellow-footed Gull
We said our good-byes and then were off to our sector of Rocky Point to get some work done.

At Morúa Estuary, we do a major bird count
The first bunch of birds we crossed paths with were plovers.  Snowy Plovers were everywhere.  They are the cutest of the bunch.   

Snowy Plover
Another common plover along the Pacific waters is the Black-bellied Plover.  Most of the shorebirds are in their winter plumage right now so they all look rather gray together.  Some can be downright tricky!

Black-bellied Plover
Another special bird that people come to see in Rocky Point is the Wilson's Plover.  They have a big bill and are the sassiest of the bunch.  In the pic below, the bird is throwing a little "tude" at an oncoming Snowy Plover. 

Wilson's Plover is the sassiest of the bunch
Even though it is cooler and pleasant, the sun can be quite strong as it bleaches the landscape.  In the pic below, we arrived at the mouth of the estuary where the bird life was at its highest.  I discovered my first Black Skimmers for Mexico here.

The bright light of the dunes and the ocean create a bleaching of color affect
Another great bird to see was the Elegant Tern.  They were the most common tern in this area next to the Forster's Tern. This species is listed as Near Threatened.

Elegant Tern
There were schools of fish everywhere.  And where there were large numbers of fish, there were hundreds of birds diving into the waters. Heermann's Gulls closely followed Brown Pelicans and tried to steal the food from their bills. 

A near threatened Herrmann's Gull sits on the back of this Brown Pelican
On Sunday morning, Gordon wanted to do his survey at Cholla Bay.  So he showed a couple birders how he likes to do his count.  As always, we had a great time and finished our counts with a nice list of bird species there.  The key is to go at low tide if you're a photographer.  At high tide, Cholla Bay is great with a scope.  

Short-billed Dowitchers
Short-billed Dowitchers had to be carefully ID'd by listening to their flight call.  As they flew, we were quickly able to ID them as Short-billed and not Long-billed.

Birding Cholla Bay at low tide is great for photographers wanting to get up close to the birds
As the bay drains of water, shorebirds, like the Red Knot below, go crazy on the crabs. 

A dull winter plumaged Red Knot forages for food
I've seen Red Knots in a lot of places but they are often too far to get clear views. One of my goals for this visit was to observe this species better. And it was great! 

Western Willet
Our special find, and definitely off my radar, was this gorgeous Fox Sparrow, the Sooty-colored subspecies. At the Morúa and Pinto Estuaries, there are specific green spaces or migrant traps that have green lawns and mesquite bosques.  I looked over at the trash bin and saw a bird scratching on the ground.  At first I thought it was a towhee until we put our bins on it!  HOLY COW!  We ended up with a Fox Sparrow on our Mexican life list. I also added a Dark-eyed Junco which was yet another bird I had not expected for Mexico.  Anyhow, the migrant traps around the hotels are great near the estuaries!!  I've had so many surprise warblers and sparrows show up in these green spaces. 

A rare Fox Sparrow
Our adventures continue......