Monday, January 27, 2020

Turkey Invasion

Tradition dictates that we walk the Proctor Trail up to the Whitehouse Picnic area of Madera Canyon each year. 

It was just the two of us strolling along the empty trail early in the morning.  We found ourselves walking with the deer. And eventually....

.....among a lot of Gould's Wild Turkeys!!!  Chicken birds have always captured my interest, even if I've seen them over and over again.  I am still fascinated by the Wild Turkey.  

I took videos of them scratching the dirt.  I can't believe how fortunate we were to be in the middle of the rafter(flock) observing these birds just inches from our bodies. They were not skittish at all. 

There were turkeys along the creek, in trees, resting in the grass, on the trail and around the feeders further up. 

Gould's Wild Turkey
I discovered by accident last year that there is a good spot for small flocking birds like Bridled Titmouse, Townsend's Warbler, the Ocotero(or Olive Warbler) and Elegant Trogon. 

Townsend's Warbler
It was a lovely morning stroll out full of wildlife. Celeste even mentioned that it was like being at a Wildlife Park.  The secret?  Go slow and go before people destroy the magic.  There are so many loud people with annoying kids who chase the wildlife further back into the forests along the hills. On this day though, we didn't see many wild and young human banshees . 

We sat and waited for our male friend, the Elegant Trogon to show up.  It was a lifer for Celeste.  It's amazing how many people dip on this bird.  And in my humble opinion, trogons are much easier to spot in the winter than in the summer when they are on nests. In winter, you don't have to get up early to see them.  But in the spring and summer, it's an early rise for the birder in the dark driving to the canyons to hear them bark out their territories first thing in the morning. 

Elegant Trogon, male
I did a social experiment to really get a feel for how hot certain Arizona species can be for the public.  This above pic received close to 500 likes on a popular Arizona birding fb page while my personal favorites like the Bell's Sparrow or Northern Beardless Tyrannulet got a little over a 100 likes. It just keeps me in check with what bird enthusiasts want to observe.  

Mexican Jays
As we left for the day, we had a pair of Mexican Jays say good-bye.  It was a lovely walk full of beautiful sightings.  Until next time.....

Monday, January 20, 2020

From Scratch

Crested Caracara
Every year, as birders, we start over at zero bird species seen. All of the species we saw back in 2019 are locked into the 2019 vault.  And we simply start over at zero in ebird. 

People ask me if it gets old searching for already seen bird species.  And my answer is simply, "No."

Black Vultures
Perhaps if people went to the same spots year after year.  Then that would get old for me. But I like to mix it up.  Plus there are always new rare birds to find here. 

Nothing beats a nice winter walk out in the open.  

This year, we took a walk down in the town of Arivaca.  And we discovered these ruins!

Cheroot always is happy to volunteer his time to help us bird new places. 

Happy Cheroot
The thing is that you never know who's going to fly by your radar.  Take for example, these Crested Caracaras(below).  While not super common for Pima county, they seem easier these days to find on the outskirts of town.  Their population may be growing. 

And of course, when I see these beautiful birds over and over again, I like to pause and take a longer look. 

Vermilion Flycatcher
It never gets old. January is a lovely month to stroll out in the open and observe nature in action. I just wish I had more daylight!  But that too will come, along with the heat! So no rush. I'm just glad to be outdoors.  Until next time....

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Road Trip

This Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay isn't stupid.  The bird is waiting for a handout in the tourist heavy Garden of the Gods

I love the idea of road trips, but as I'm getting older, I don't have the patience to sit for 11 hours in a vehicle like I used to. That is the amount of time it takes to get from Tucson to Colorado Springs IF you don't make long stops. And how can a birder pass up such fantastic birding hotspots like Bosque Del Apache?!  I like to meander to my final destination spot. 

Orion is a human beaver hybrid
I agreed to do the trek because I wanted to see our family and because I didn't want Micheal driving alone during the holidays.  It's a dangerous drive between the border of New Mexico and Colorado.  We've had so many issues going through the Raton Pass.  Between a serious tire blow out to the pass becoming slippery due to an icy storm passing through the area, we've had our share of mishaps.  This trip would be no different.  A rock fell off a cliff and hit a car knocking the car off the highway.  The other car driving behind that car ran over the huge rock and blew their tires out.  The rock pieces?  Well those flew onto my windshield cracking my front window! We dodged a bullet and I called my insurance to have the crack fixed.  Thankfully no one was hurt, but unfortunately both cars were in bad shape. 

During a stroll in a nearby cemetery, I enjoy watching Fox Squirrels chase each other around the grounds. 

I like to take things slow and I needed to take a break.  My body has been healing and I didn't want to overdo it.  So there were two requirements.  If I took my car Betty to Colorado, we needed to stay an evening in Socorro, close to Bosque El Apache.  I needed that moment when the sun began to set and the birds began to fly over our heads to put myself together. No matter how many times I see it, it never gets old. The video below is just one moment from a long one I had while watching the miracle of Sandhill Cranes and other waterfowl fly over my head. 

The following morning we left Socorro for Colorado Springs, but we stopped in Pecos, New Mexico for breakfast.  And at this cozy restaurant, we saw the most beautiful holiday tree.  I sat sipping my coffee next to the fire trying to memorize all the details of that gorgeous tree. Those are the moments from a road trip that I enjoy.  

Sometimes I'd love to shrink myself and get lost in the majesty of a holiday tree like Chip and Dale did in that Christmas special so many decades ago.
As we headed north towards the Colorado border, we began to see Black-billed Magpies, a sign that we were getting closer. 

Black-billed Magpie
We arrived at a nice time in the Colorado Springs area.  It was still light out.  Never drive into or out of this city at night.  There are many elk and deer along the way.  And had we been driving through the Raton area at night, I would have never seen that rock fall onto the pass. I have never experienced near death experiences like the one we had during our wedding when our tire blew out at night while trying to get home.  A man with a hook for a hand came and towed Micheal's car to his place to pick "some things up".  He proceeded to get into a fight with his girlfriend and then left his trailer.  Once inside his tow truck during that LOOOOONG drive to Trinidad, he began telling us about how Trinidad was the transgender capital of the world. Where was he going with that story? In fact, where am I going with this story? Once we got to Trinidad, a tire shop tried to sell us huge tires because Micheal's car was foreign and they didn't have his tires. Our only spare was not going to get us home as it was 8 hours away. I walked all over that small town the following morning finding the only two foreign tires that would fit his car for that long drive home. 26 bucks!  That's all it cost. Had we gone with the bigger tires, we would have paid around 400 dollars and had vehicle damage!  As you can imagine, it probably explains why I am not a big fan of the Raton Pass and I'm traumatized for life. 

Poor Bee Bee.  She's not a lap dog at all. 
Once we arrived into the Colorado Springs area, we had a nice visit with the family. And while there wasn't anything new in the birding category for me to find, I finally got to observe not one or two Cackling Geese but thousands! In Arizona, they are rare. But in the Springs area, they were everywhere!  Many years ago, I created several Ebird Hotspots in that city so I felt like it was my duty to do a count around those three local parks. And that is where I discovered my Cackling Geese.  

A Cackling Goose comes in for a landing
Just when I thought there was nothing new to discover, I was reminded again about how wrong I can be.  I assumed all the geese were Canada Geese, but while out in the field, I was getting a Cackling Goose vibe. Surely, Cackling Geese were rare for Colorado.  When I went back to the in laws, I got on my computer and looked up the data and discovered that Cackling Geese(Richardson's subspecies) wintered in the Colorado Springs area!  So cool!

An easy ID for this Cackling Goose, a white line at the base of the short neck, dark back, short bill, square head makes it perfect for the Richardson's subspecies. 
I went back the next day at the same time and studied the various subspecies really well.  It was the first time that I was able to really get close and observe field marks. It's not always obvious.  How does one tell the difference between the Taverner's subspecies from a "Lesser" Canada Goose!?!  It's not easy.  But the bill is usually the first field mark we have to look at.  And that's not always a great one to use.  A Taverner's bill isn't as small and triangular like the other subspecies of Cackling Geese.  But it's not quite as long as the Lesser Canada Goose either. 

Cackling Geese are easy to pick out when next to their larger relatives, the Canada Goose.  This Richardson's subspecies is about a third of the size of the related Canada Goose
I spent so much time studying them that I forgot about the time. I went in the morning and the next thing I knew, it was lunch time!  I had told Gordon before our road trip that Colorado birding this time of year is pretty uneventful.  And I was wrong in a good way. It's not Arizona birding but it's fun.  Plus I got to add American Tree Sparrow to my 2020 year list!

The Richardson's Cackling Goose is the main subspecies to winter in Colorado.  It is possible to find Taverner's mixed in with this group.  Source: Utah Birds
We took nature walks during the early afternoon.  It would be cool to cold depending on wind gusts. And daylight was a premium.  It was a constant battle to get any birding done because the sunrise was late and due to the shadow of the mountain, the sun set early. 

There's a great place to bird near Colorado Springs in the town of Fountain.  It's a lovely preserve that goes along a river.  During our walk we discovered that beavers had been busy.  We also had a Great Horned Owl fly out from the trees over our heads.  

My nephew Orion finds an old wasp's nest. I spy my first-of-the-year(FOY) American Robin. 

American Robin
There are places that we always seem to go visit when we're in Colorado Springs like the Fountain Creek Regional Park, Pike's Peak, and of course, the amazing Garden of the Gods

Now I've taken you all there once or twice before, but it's impossible not to enjoy these spaces over and over again. 

I personally like the gift shop there.  They have affordable art to hang on your walls and a fun restaurant where you can enjoy the beautiful outside.  And it was there, I added my first 2020 Townsend's Solitaire!

We had a lovely time.  It seems to speed up when we are there.  I also noticed my pain was gone for most of our visit.  Strange but it was a nice break from my side aches. 

Honestly, I don't know what this year will bring.  I've left much of it open.  I have visitors coming to go birding with me and I am really looking forward to spending some great time outdoors showing them my beautiful part of the world. If and I mean IF, this body gets back on track, I am organizing treks to Florida, the Darien Gap in Panama, and on the big island of Hawaii (or O'ahu). For now, I look forward to peaceful weekends with my cats in the catio, a nice stroll close to home, and doing some work in my garden. Until next time....

Sunday, January 5, 2020

The Christmas Bird Counts

The team spies Mexican Jays across the lake
The CBC, or Christmas Bird Count, has been around for 119 years.  It has been a long lasting tradition for many birders around the United States during the months of December and January. And it continues to grow in popularity. And before I get started, I hope everyone had a wonderful start to their New Year! 

Orange-crowned Warbler along a remote lake
Each year I try to do at least 2 CBC's.  Anything more than two is too much:)  The CBC is a great way to meet birders from all over.  It's also a chance to explore areas that are generally off limits to the public or too difficult to enter.  There are several Arizona "circles" where the birding is rather difficult due to the remote unmarked and rough dirt road conditions. Often the leaders are given permission to get onto private land. This "circle" requires a lot of powerful vehicle driving and 4 wheel driving is a must. There's a bit of danger involved which is why it's exciting.  One of my favorite places to bird is in the Atascosa Highland area as it has some of the wildest spaces in Southeastern Arizona. But getting there is no easy task. Getting lost is a given and a road map is needed!

a secret lake in the middle of nowhere in the Atascosa Highlands
This area is also excellent for a secretive species of quail known as the Montezuma Quail. If you are going to see them well, you have to be quiet.  We were not. 

And that's why a covey flushed off into the dry wash.  Not only did we find these birds, but we also had sightings of Townsend's Solitaires and many other bird species.

This CBC count is special because it's right along the border.  You'll find water depots and buckets with food for people looking to call the US home. Every year, I have fun doing this count because I get to explore new areas that I normally don't visit.  This year we explored Apache and Jalisco Canyons.  At one point, a road became a small running creek.  There was no cell service so we packed our things well.  

Sharon spies a Hermit Thrush on a hill across the lake
The CBC is a great way to meet new people in the birding community and true to form, I met 2 new birders on this count.  

A Bewick's Wren greets us
Unfortunately, I couldn't stay for the dinner party at Wisdom Cafe because I had several doctor's appointments to attend the following day.  However, it was a lot of fun.  

The gray ghost, a male Northern Harrier
Then for the second CBC, because I only do two, I helped my friend Gordon with his area.  We went into the Buckeye area full of agricultural lands and canals.  On that day it was wonderfully cold and rainy.  I learned several new things about Maricopa birding.  I don't often bird around the Phoenix area and while Buckeye is outside of the Phoenix area, it's still in Maricopa County.  

One of the 14 Common Ground Doves we discovered along a Palm nursery
I never knew this but two rather difficult-to-find doves in Arizona are somehow breeding in this area.  We went into a palm tree nursery and found a lot of Common Ground Doves.  I can see why they'd breed in this area as it has the scrubby palm orchard necessary for cover. 

The gray skies made photography almost impossible, but on rainy days, at least for Arizona, the birds can be quite active.  However heavy wind and rain can make birding a challenge.  Our big challenge for the day was not to get stuck in the mud which there was plenty!

Long-billed Curlew
 Phoenix birders get to see certain birds more frequently than we do around the Tucson area.  Tucson gets colder than Phoenix in winter and we don't have the amount of water that Phoenix does. So finding birds like White-faced Ibis, Long-billed Curlews and Black-necked Stilts made me happy. 

Black-necked Stilt
While we were on the road, Gordon ran into some friends looking for the second rare ground dove of the day, the Ruddy Ground Doves.  Apparently these birds are at this property year round!  What the heck?  I never knew that.  All I knew was that Ruddy Ground Doves once bred in the Phoenix area, but housing projects destroyed their habitat and watering holes. I know this first hand because I researched old ebird reports where ancient birders reported hundreds of them. The old hotspots are now replaced with cookie cutter homes.

We were thrilled to spy 5 Ruddy Ground Doves on this day. So many people come to see these birds and they often dip.  Thankfully Gordon's friends were spared that feeling of a dipping disappointment. 

Ruddy Ground Dove
CBC's are wrapping up across the United States.  It will be interesting to see what their results will find.  If you are interested in the data collected, click here

Botta's Pocket Gopher
There's more to birding than just counting birds or finding new species.  During our time out in the field, we saw a small tornado forming.  To our knowledge, it never touched down but it was fun to watch. 

The rain kept the dust down around our count areas and made for some optimal birding.  Ferruginous Hawks are one of my favorite buteos. During our counts, we found several around the area. 

Ferruginous Hawk
Have you thought about doing a CBC?  If you've done one or more, where did you do it?  And what was the craziest bird you found? Below, I took a video of thousands of blackbirds getting ready to eat out in the ag fields. Until next time.....