Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Secret Agent Man

Gordon scans one of the many watering holes in our waterbird count
I have left the birding open to....whatever.  This year, unless it's a new state bird, I've decided to only bird within Pima County.  It's less gas and less stress and less MONEY!  

a random Northern Pintail shows up on one of my counts
 I've also taken up the challenge to ebird at least once a day.  So wherever I am, I have to make the time to stop and look at birds.  

One of our watering holes in Phoenix had lots of cool Black Vultures flying around
 These past two weekends have been fun.  Last weekend, I went with my friend Gordon to count waterbirds in the urban spaces around the Phoenix area.  I think most of the places we went to count birds were at golf courses. 

Good form!  Personally I think golf is boring but I do like their ponds that they have around the areas
 During our count this year, we noticed stable numbers of certain bird species around the area.  And we also noticed lower numbers in other species like the American Wigeon population.  I also noticed that certain golf courses had less waterfowl when compared to the ones who didn't treat their ponds. Overall, I found that our waterfowl numbers were lower this year. 

American Coot
 I don't know if I would do that count alone as it could get kind of boring counting wigeons after awhile. That's why I wanted to help Gordon.  He does an excellent job monitoring his section of the count.  And it's more fun when we bird together. I always enjoy spending time with him. Plus when we both count, we get the work done faster. 

Ring-necked Duck
In other news, I have a million projects to get done before the summer heat hits us again.  I'm working on the second hummingbird garden in the courtyard.  This well will contain the shade friendly Turk's Cap which is popular with our Anna's Hummingbirds.  

 Meanwhile, I've been researching the birds of Britain before our trek in March and look forward to the new challenges. In other areas, we've secured several photo shoots in other states and are continuing to work on others.  There's one tricky bird that I'm hoping we'll be able to secure for April's trek, but we'll see.  A LOT of planning is going on right now.  In May, Ms. Brown and myself have secured a spot on a chartered vessel out to Machias Island for breeding ocean birds off the coast of Maine. 

Every year I do an in depth winter count at my local patch. I've just completed my annual winter count for Reid Park which requires half of a day and a trek inside the zoo for a more accurate count of birds inside the park boundaries. The zoo seems to be going through a Chinese phase right now and was filled up with Asian decor. 

Sharp-shinned Hawk
I had an up close and personal encounter with a Boat-billed Heron in the South American aviary which was fun.  I check ALL the aviaries inside the zoo for trapped wild birds.  A weird thing has happened this year to our large Great-tailed Grackle population in the Reid Park area.  Normally, there are hundreds of these birds at sunset flying around the zoo.  But for the past several months, there hasn't been a single one....until a few days ago.  I found one trapped inside the aviary with lots of House Sparrows. 

I've been having fun chasing birds ONLY within the Pima County line.  No I'm not doing a silly big year.  Just challenging myself to look a little harder and zone in my detective skills on harder birds within a confined space. It requires some skill! Pima County is quite beautiful and is home to rare populations of some unique US species like the Rufous-capped Warblers and Black-capped Gnatcatchers. 

I had a very personal up close interaction with this Northern Beardless Tyrannulet(above). This is one species of bird that I can communicate with well.  I know its voice and often can get the bird to come closer by pishing it out of the branches. 

Rufous-capped Warbler
 The Rufous-capped Warbler, however, is a species that can give me headaches.  Every year, it takes me time to locate these birds and I really have to listen to find this smaller population of birds. Plus they are super tricky to capture on camera.  The reliable location for this very popular bird is in an area that I don't like very much.  There's an okay trail that takes birders up in elevation across several streams to a dam.  The dam is my issue.  Every year I almost fall because I'm a clutz. These warblers hang out ABOVE the dam which really requires a walking stick for balance(especially with my heavy camera), but every year I forget to bring one with me! This year I only tripped a few times.  Florida Canyon is a beautiful location full of incredible birds BUT go with a friend or walking stick.  And be careful in the summer.  Too hot!  That's why many of us go in winter when the temps make this trail a breeze.  Literally.

I've been working on TWO home projects.  One is to reduce the crap we have in the house and free up space.  And two is the addition of our catio(patio for cats).  It has been a hit.  I feel safe. We have an extra room for storage.  The cats can take naps out there.  Phase 1 was securing the gate with 2 locks.  Phase 2 was cleaning out that nasty closet full of garden tools.  Phase 3 is painting.  Phase 4 is moving bulky furniture pieces into that closet for storage. Phase 5 is the fun decoration part. I'm at Phase 3 right now.

For now we rest.  It's good to take a break.  Until next time......

Monday, January 14, 2019

AZ Rare Bird of the Week

This is my favorite pic of the week.  I'm actually having this framed and hanging it up in my house.
These days, it seems like every week in Arizona, we have a special bird showing up.  Over the past several months, we've added 2 new state birds to our state list, the Ringed Kingfisher and now the White-throated Thrush. Both these birds were first records for the state.

The Elegant Trogon is the cherry on top after finding the main star, the White-throated Thrush.  Although, I will admit the Trogon gets everyone excited.  This photo taken in the rain.
First records draw everyone who I thought had passed away years ago to the current birders that I see on the trails now.  The White-throated Thrush is also an ABA bird which is not often seen in the US.  Therefore, it attracts many birders from Canada and the US who like to play the ABA game. Forget Mexico.  They aren't considered part of the North American ABA game so I don't take the ABA thing seriously.  Yet it is a Mexican bird that is making the news.

The male Elegant Trogon feeds from the Pyracantha bush
While this wasn't a life bird, it was an incredible state bird.  I went right away to observe the bird before the masses arrived.  I was pretty lucky as there were only 20 birders present when I arrived at sunrise. Those numbers don't even compare to the numbers that showed up after its initial appearance.  Hundreds have since observed this bird feed from the berries along the trail. 

The Arizona White-throated Thrush after hitting several ladies with my lens
I tried for a shot, but I kept hitting people in the head with my lens so I gave up:) I observed it well and was fine with the ID-able photo.

A nice close up of a White-throated Thrush, taken in Monteverde, Costa Rica
When a rare bird shows up that I haven't observed often, I have to dig up the data from where I had seen it before. AND I mixed this bird up with my recent observation of a White-necked Thrush in Trinidad which is quite different from the White-THROATED Thrush that is found in Mexico and Central America:)  It appears I had a nice photo of the White-throated Thrush from Costa Rica.  So I didn't need to get a better shot!  I love when I can just be a birder and not have to lug around my camera for that perfect shot. I'm still confused.

A Brown Creeper is new for the 2019 birding tick
Madera and Florida Canyons are where it's at right now in the AZ birding world.  I can't go up to Mt. Lemmon because the highway is either blocked from snow storms OR there are too many people wanting to go up the mountain!  And I have been wanting to do some high elevation birding because Varied Thrushes can still be found here in the state in several key areas of the Catalina Mountains.  I don't have that bird for my state list yet and I am hoping to add it this year.

Townsend's Warbler
But for the moment, I am enjoying the rainy weather.  It's absolutely refreshing to be outdoors.

A curious birder hopes to see this bird closer. 
And while there are birds, I have been working on home projects.  The catio(a patio made for cats) was installed and it's like I'm living in a new home.  I can drink my coffee outside or leave the doors open all day long.  Some people call it an Arizona room, or screened outdoor room.  All I know is that it's wonderful.

Anyhow, I always wonder what amazing bird will show up every new year in Arizona.  This White-throated Thrush did not disappoint.  It's incredible what shows up in this state.  Next week, I join Gordon Karre up in Phoenix as we count water birds around the urban parks and golf courses.  Will we find a rare Eurasian Wigeon or Tufted Duck?   Stay tuned for more!  Until next time:)

Olive Warbler

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

A Season of Studies

During my weekly count at Reid Park, I capture this cold and wonderful moment
This new year has taken a strange yet welcome turn of events here in Tucson.  Things I had thought about separately are now merging into one big blur. 

Monk Parakeets
First, I need to write about the projects. I have been serious for years about the Monk Parakeets of Arizona.  There was once a feral population back in 2004.  While most people blew the bird off(it's an exotic non-countable bird for listers), I was actually interested in finding out what had happened to them. And like a good detective, I interviewed neighbors over the years who had told me that they had hired someone to "take them out".  I didn't want to get into specifics, but I understood that they were removed from the area.

The Rosy-faced Lovebird was once considered an exotic bird.  Today they number in the tens of thousands around the Phoenix area.
On January 1st, I did a study with Magill Weber on the exotics that have established themselves in the state.  I have been ebirding my data on the Monk Parakeets for several years with detailed data. Gordon Karre has also followed up on reports around the Phoenix area. A couple weeks ago, an AZFO(Arizona Field Ornithology) member by the name of Kurt Rademaker found an old report of mine and asked if I would be interested in writing up a paper and organizing a census.  He is also the same person who is responsible for getting the Rosy-faced Lovebirds on the state list. 

the Nanday Parakeets of Tempe, AZ do not show signs of breeding.  These birds were escapees who have managed to survive Phoenix's harsh climate
I know Monk Parakeets well. I grew up with them and I raised them with my Mom from egg. But to do a paper on 4 or 6 random parakeets found around the Phoenix area?  No.  So Magill and I both decided to visit several of the historical areas where Monks had been seen in smaller numbers. For years, I have been searching for this colony.  Every year, a Monk or 2 would show up in random spots like a hotel or person's backyard. I knew that they weren't escapees and that they were coming from a large colony somewhere in the Phoenix area. So we followed the electronic trail. We needed answers.

I needed breeding evidence to seriously consider this request.  And by pure accident, we found TWO colonies of Monk Parakeets in an area south of Phoenix.  It was like the Holy Grail for me and finally answered the 8 year question that had bothered me for so long.  Where did the Arizona Monk Parakeets go?

It is a serendipitous moment that I won't soon forget. I'm supposed to be the "navigator" but everyone knows that I am terrible at it:)  Magill asks me, "Where do I turn?"  Me, thinking I know the directions, tells her to turn down the wrong road in the wrong direction.  Classic me.  Then a flock of Mourning Doves flies over her vehicle? NO! WAIT! A flock on Monk Parakeets!!!! We both pull over and gather our whits. It's something we both witness for the first time in Arizona.  Monk Parakeets calling from all over the place! We have a moment and witness something very rare and special.  There was evidence of breeding as a parakeet flew out carrying a branch to a secret nest on private property.  And there was evidence to prove that the colonies were feral/wild as they flew away as I approached them.  We are hoping to have the first of our population census at the end of February.

This January, I helped with a CBC count in Pinal with Keith Kamper.  Keith had access to private property along the San Pedro river and I was immediately interested.  

a private piece of conservancy land  after a fire in 2018 is full of brush piles, perfect for sparrows
 Part of the riparian area had burned thanks in part to an ignorant resident burning brush during the driest month of the year!  But not all things are terrible.  The fallen branches and trees created brush piles for hundreds if not thousands of sparrows!  It was amazing!

Blue-throated Hummingbird, Madera Canyon
In a couple weekends, I'll be working with Gordon Karre on his water bird count up in Phoenix.  Over the course of February, I'll be working with Tucson Audubon in the grasslands to count the declining populations of Chestnut-collared Longspurs. 

Mexican Jays on a cold day at the Santa Rita Lodge feeders of Madera Canyon
Along the way we'll be meeting old and new friends alike discovering new things.  In March, I'll be giving a lecture in Wales about Arizona birds. Then the busy season of guiding happens.  My friends will have finished their birder's casita and I'll be there to guide when needed. 

Olive Warbler in Madera Canyon
Birding requires a strict budget with strict planning.  I think in one day I was working on the details of my Wales' trek, talking to Gordon about our lek trek in April AND planning for a pelagic in Maine with Kathie Brown for a very special photo shoot this summer.  I love it but I am definitely not a casual birder.  There are goals!  On top of that, a budget and savings account are needed!  Any extra cash flow goes into the treks.

American Kestrel
I've also been working on other projects.  In winter, I really enjoy being outdoors.  I've finished the hummingbird part of my garden which has plants that are favored by butterflies and hummingbirds.  I utilize plants with red, orange and yellow tubular flowers. Plus I hung up some solar lights on a curved metal piece for honeysuckle to climb, another popular treat for my Broad-billed Hummingbirds.

a confiding Greater Roadrunner at Sabino Canyon
January is a great time to get any artificial nests all situated.  As you may recall from this blog over the years, we have a pair of Great Horned Owls who nest during this time every year under our Ironwood Trees.

Great Horned Owl nest
Over winter break, me and a couple friends fixed up their nest box.  We now wait.  She will begin to lay eggs either this month or next.

friend and co-worker Mike secures the box securely against the Ironwood tree without damaging the bark
And at home, I have put up Lucy's Warblers nest boxes to help promote nesting in my garden. If you have a mesquite or several, it's a great idea to get a couple boxes from Tucson Audubon.  They're 5 dollars a box.  If you live in Arizona, I highly recommend checking it out. They're easy to install. Lucy's Warblers will begin to arrive in March and will begin their nesting right away.

Lucy's Warbler nesting box
I have a regular job, but it seems that every year, I am pulled more and more into the birding world. I don't mind it.  It provides escape, something I much need these days.  The world sometimes feels like it's tearing itself up.  I don't recognize my country anymore and it's the wild spaces that prevent me from going crazy. But now even that is a mess!

During a moment of anxiety, in the middle of the ridiculous government shutdown, caused by the orange baboon, I needed to breathe and walk in the snow landscape of Madera Canyon. He's a complete idiot.  The wall is an ecological disaster that will cause great harm to the wildlife here. AND currently, I have friends who are not getting paid at their National Park Jobs.  And the National Parks are getting trashed.  It's horrible. I see it.  It's not made up. Now I can't even escape it.

So I walked and found this perfect moment. My talented friend Kathie Brown wrote this beautiful poem based on the pic below, 

"When sunlight through the forest streams
and plays its little dancing beams
like golden fingers in the creek
this woodland magic makes me seek
the beauty of these Nature places
which soothes my soul and then erases
the worries that the world imposes
on our hearts and mind, exposes
why we need this quiet place, 
this woodland glen, this open space, 
We leave renewed and refreshed 
From all this lovely wildness."
~Kathie Brown, 2019

rare snow event in Madera Canyon
I'm glad I'm not alone in this world and that others are also going through this madness as well. This poem brought a smile to my face. In other news, the blog has hit one million views. Thank you for following! Until next time......