Saturday, November 25, 2017

Gila County: The Continuing Fun

Hi all!  It's been two months since my Gila County update on this blog.  I haven't had time to do any more posts on the county lately, probably because I've been too busy birding it.  We left off with my Gila lifelist at 255 species on that last post ending September.  The last two months have been great, as I've most likely finished November 2017 in the county.  Highlights and adventures have been many, and I will summarize the latest here.

On September 27th, I went back up to one of my favorite areas in Gila County, the riparian corridor of Tonto Creek adjacent to Tonto Basin, as well as Roosevelt Lake.  I was hoping to find eastern vagrants in the extensive Tonto Creek stands of willows and cottonwoods via Bar X Crossing Road, but I had my first Gila County Evening Grosbeak instead.  I was hoping for more gulls and possibly some shorebirds at Roosevelt Lake.  This year was not good for shorebirds at Roosevelt Lake based on what I have seen on eBird in the past.  At my last stop of the day, I lucked out with two calling Pectoral Sandpipers flying overhead.  They continued to the far eastern side of the lake, and out of my scope's sight.

On the 27th, I photographed a Lewis's Woodpecker at Bar X.  Terrible photo, but awesome memory of an awesome woodpecker.

Here is an awesome Osprey soaring over Roosevelt Lake.

Due to money issues and catching up in my life outside of birding, unfortunately, most of October saw me skip Gila County.  My one county lifer was an American Goldfinch at Bar X at Tonto Creek on October 7th.

This month of November has been incredible for my birding in Gila County.  On November 3rd, I took a trip to spend most of my day scanning the extensive Roosevelt Lake.  At the south end of the lake, Schoolhouse Point, I got three county lifers, all within 5 minutes.  Two were rarer species, Herring Gull and Lawrence's Goldfinch, and the other was more overdue and very common, a Horned Lark.  The gull was distant, and the goldfinch and lark were high flyovers.  Fortunately, the flyovers give distinctive calls!  I did find a very late Sabine's Gull at the Grapevine Group site, which was a big surprise.  This was where I found my first Gila County Sabine's Gulls in late September, when they were much more likely throughout Arizona.

To close out the day on the 3rd at the north side of Roosevelt Lake near Bermuda Flat, I got another county lifer and another overdue one, a group of Long-billed Dowitchers.  The northern inlet of Tonto Creek flowing into the north side of the lake had great shorebird habitat, and I wished it had been like that two months earlier.  But the sighting felt good!

On November 8th, I went up the US 60/77 N to bird Jones Water Campground, the Timber Camp area, and later in the day, to the sites along the Gila River south to Winkleman.  It was a pleasant day, but I didn't have any highlights.   I only got home to find out that David Pearson, Doug Jenness, and Keith Kamper had a monster of a day at San Carlos Lake, which of course is not only in Gila County, but is in Pinal and Graham Counties too.  They had an ICELAND GULL in Pinal, as well as Red-breasted Mergansers and a Surf Scoter in Gila.  I wanted in on those birds badly, so I went to San Carlos Lake on the 9th.  On the 8th though, it was epic to see a Merlin up close at Winkleman Flats Park.

Birding the San Carlos Indian Reservation was very productive on the 9th.  I made my way straight for the Lake, but I did stop at some fields north of the lake on the way.  I was very excited to see my Gila County first Prairie Falcon in the area of the fields.  This bird can be very hard to find at times in parts of Arizona, and Gila County is one of those counties that it is difficult to find.

The long and lengthy scan of San Carlos Lake was here and there.  Birds were everywhere.  I may have seen the Iceland Gull, but it left before I could get any closer.  I did find my Gila County first Red-breasted Mergansers, which were very distant.  It looked as if they would be my only good waterbirds for Gila at San Carlos Lake.  I didn't see the Surf Scoter at first by the dam where the guys saw it the previous day, but on my way out of San Carlos Lake, I lucked out and saw that it was still there after all!  My first Gila County Scoter was a score.

After San Carlos Lake, I went north to Talkalai Lake, still on the San Carlos Indian Reservation.  The day continued to be successful.  The reeds and marsh habitat were key during my visit to Talkalai, and they gave me 2 more Gila County lifers.  One was a surprise in a calling Least Bittern, and the second were two Swamp Sparrows in the reeds and weeds.  Here is one of the Swamp Sparrows, and of course, I didn't visually see the Least Bittern.

The next Gila County birding I did took place November 15th at Tonto Creek via my Bar X, and Roosevelt Lake.  I lacked on getting an eastern warbler species that I have been striving for, but a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, my 267th Gila County bird, was awesome at Bar X.  Roosevelt Lake didn't produce anything too exciting.

This Raccoon at Bar X was freaking awesome too!

On November 17th, I went up north to bird Tonto Creek via the town of Gisela.  This area is fantastic for birding, and it has loads of potential.  Not only does it's creekside riparian have great habitat, but the neighborhoods in town look incredible for birding potential.  Before birding near the creek, I went to the north side of town to check out a farm field.  The field held my Gila County first Mountain Bluebird!

When I started to bird the area near Tonto Creek, I ventured shortly into the neighborhood at Gisela near the creek.  I heard a Phoebe chip that sounded interesting, and sure enough, it was an Eastern Phoebe.  I was pumped, and ironically, it was the first eBird record for this species in Gila County.

Minutes later, I heard an interesting warbler call, and that turned out to be my 270th bird for Gila County, and a great surprise in a first-year Chestnut-sided Warbler!

With the great start I had barely into my expedition, I wondered what else was in Gisela.  In the long run, there wasn't anything else on the rare side, but I did get my 271st Gila lifer, an overdue Townsend's Solitaire.

Gisela is a great place, and is one I hope to visit a lot more often in the future!

Brian Ison went to Gisela shortly after I did and found a Tennessee Warbler.  I don't get the opportunity to chase much in Gila County because, well, it's under-birded, but I tried for the Tennessee without any luck.  However, I did find a late Virginia's Warbler, a very low-in-elevation Olive Warbler, and my continuing Eastern Phoebe.

Yesterday, on November 24th, I ventured back to the San Carlos Indian Reservation to bird the San Carlos River, Talkalai Lake, and maybe San Carlos Lake.  I ended up birding all three, but the best excitement came from San Carlos River.  This river is the hardest river I have ever birded.  It's like a maze, full of water, thorns, fallen branches, everywhere, you name it.  To top it all off, the surrounding habitat isn't much different in order to get to the riparian!  Jeez leweez.  I did strike gold when I found a Brown Thrasher in the thick mess, which was of course a Gila lifer for me, and actually may be the first Gila record.  It is for eBird that is.  The Brown Thrasher was skittish for the most part, but I did manage these photographs.

Not long after the Brown Thrasher, I heard my second Gila lifer of the trip, an out-of-season Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet!  The Ty was calling from a thick thick mesquite bosque, and I wasn't able to get a visual after hearing it's high and descending "teeeiiiii-unk" call.  It was one that I tried to get in season this year, and getting it this way was awesome.  In place of a Tyrannulet photo, here is a Swamp Sparrow I saw near the Brown Thrasher.

The San Carlos River below Talkalai Lake Dam where I spent a lot of time birding at has loads of potential, too bad that potential isn't easier to access.  I love bushwhacking, but this place really tore me up!

Right now my Gila County explorations have really taken me for an awesome ride.  I want to know this county well, and keep on birding it.  My list is at 273 species for life, and I hope to get that above 300 someday.  Gila County needs more birders and more exploration, and I hope to chip into that need!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

One on One With Scaled Quail

I took these photographs awhile back in Wilcox at the famous Lake and Golf Course.  They haven't made it onto this blog yet, and I know this experience was too cool for me not to post about it.  I'm not going to say much about it, just enjoy the series of photographs I was able to capture of this neat but quite comical quail, and of a bird that I don't get to enjoy very often.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

When Maricopa County Birding Explodes

I haven't birded in Maricopa County as much lately this year.  It seems kinda weird for me to be saying this, and yet, writing this too.  Birding in other counties, especially Gila County, have outnumbered my birding reps in Maricopa County this year.  Exploring is a blast, and it's fun dissecting other counties.  Especially ones that are under-birded, such as Gila County and rarely explored Greenlee County.  Although fun, those counties fade when the idea of a new Maricopa County life bird comes into play.  Because I've spent the last eight years of obsessively birding Maricopa, it's been fun doing Gila County as well as others.  Most of the time, I rarely find a new bird for Maricopa, but when I get that chance...

Earlier this week, word came out that a Prairie Warbler was at Gilbert Water Ranch on Wednesday, October 25th.  The bird was announced on an online forum later on Thursday night, October 26th.  I was amazed by the sighting and photographs, but then I was irritated, because I would have a work shift that wouldn't allow me to get to the bird until the evening of Friday, October 27th.  And when October 27th came around, it was about 7:30 A.M. in the morning when Caleb Strand texted me that it was continuing.  The Prairie Warbler continued throughout the day for many birders and I had to go through work annoyed and wanting to get out there as soon as possible.  Things didn't help when the time had finally come and Brian Johnson told me the bird hadn't been seen in over two hours.  A 50 minute route turned into much longer on the freeway because of an accident.  By the time I got to Gilbert Water Ranch, I had about 20 minutes of light left before it would get dark.  I found my friends Brian Johnson and Muriel Neddermeyer, and they both were waiting in hopes of the bird to show back up.  This was not a good sign for me.  I was angry for the drive and the little time I had left to look.  Since Brian and Muriel were stationed where the bird was being seen at most, I decided to walk further south just "in case".

Truth be told, birders are an interesting bunch.  I'll throw myself on the line for this one.  There was a younger couple taking pictures along the trail, I'll call them John and Jennie.  They had a baby.  I walked by them determined, with tunnel vision, I didn't say anything, and I can remember John looking at me seemingly thinking something along the line like, "Wow, what's with this dude.  He is geared up.  It looks like he has to document some emergency".  After I walked by them and continued past Brian and Muriel further south, it then came to that time where John and Jennie would cross paths with Brian and Muriel.  At this point and time, Brian had just spotted that coveted rarity, the Prairie Warbler.  Seeing that John and Jennie were right there with their child, Brian said, "Don't be alarmed, but I have to yell to my friend".  And perhaps everyone at the Water Ranch heard the scream, "TOMMY!!!!".  As John and Jennie kept walking south past Brian and Muriel and towards my direction, they saw me sprinting by, in my gear and looking more psychotic then ever.  I may have heard John say to Jennie, "Wow, what kind of geek club is this".  Whether he said it or not, they may have thought it.  And honestly, I was laughing brutally at the way I must have looked to these people after the fact.

It didn't matter after my sprint, because I was with Brian and Muriel, and we were all staring at the Prairie Warbler.  It emerged for us at "the buzzer" and the three of us were now in a great mood.  For Muriel and me, it was a life bird overall.  Prairie Warblers are an eastern warbler, mainly in the southeast of the United States.  They prefer brushy and old fields and other open areas.  Adult birds are striking.  In Arizona, this warbler is very rare, and the last known Prairie Warbler in Maricopa County was in the winter of 2005.  Ironically, it wintered for a several months and it was also at Gilbert Water Ranch.  While adult Prairies are unmistakable and striking, first year birds aren't so much.  And this Prairie was a first year.  While first year Prairies aren't as striking, they still have distinctive field marks.  The semi-circle under the bird's eye as well as the side streaking and lack of strong wingbars are other good marks to go by.  This bird is also very yellow below.  Muriel, Brian, and I didn't get any looks or photographs to really brag about as the lighting as quickly fading, but we were content!

The Prairie Warbler became my second addition to my Maricopa County list for the year of 2017, with the first being Dale Clark's epic Royal Tern.  Prairie Warbler was my 385th Maricoper.  Brian Johnson was clutch on this bird, as he spied it with hardly any time left on the clock.  Thanks to Brian and if it weren't for Brian I would have had a frustrating drive home, and then a definite return to Gilbert Water Ranch on the following day.  Here is a Prairie Warbler celebration selfie taken by Muriel!

After our sighting, Muriel and I had minds that thought alike.  The Prairie Warbler was a life bird for her, too.  We both wanted to see it in better lighting, get more extended views of it, and we also wanted to get better photographs.  So we both came back on Saturday, October 28th.  And we both ran into each other and got to the parking lot at the same time.  As Muriel and I worked our way over to the Warbler spot, we ran into Robert Bowker, who had just photographed the bird minutes before we got there.  For the next hour, it was more of a waiting game.  Birders were flocking to the spot.  Everyone was waiting for the Prairie to appear.  Conversations were lit up to shoot the breeze.  One conversation was about warblers.  I remember saying, "Blackburnian Warbler is my favorite warbler".  As we waited, the sun was starting to really hit the Prairie Warbler haunt and we were thinking it would emerge in any moment.  I was walking back and fourth and so were many other birders.  Muriel was with me often, and we went back to the exact spot where we saw the Prairie Warbler the previous night.  A warbler caught my attention who was flitting around and feeding in that exact spot.  Expecting it to be the Prairie, I lifted my binoculars to not see a Prairie Warbler, but to see another rarity and new Maricoper, a Blackburnian Warbler!  My favorite warbler at that!  I was stunned, and I couldn't believe what I was seeing.  Before I had a good look at this Blackburnian Warbler, which was a first-fall bird, I had a brief glimpse of it before I had THE LOOK at it.  The first half-second of the sight had me thinking Townsend's Warbler, but when it popped out into the open I immediately exclaimed to Muriel, "Get photos of this bird, quick!!!".  We both got photos.  Mine were crap, and Muriel's were good.  I couldn't be more thankful that I had Muriel there with me.  She is an excellent photographer, and really documents things well.  Her picture gave us immediate proof without any doubt that a Blackburnian Warbler had crossed our paths.  We made the birding crowd around us aware of the new arrival, as well as the online birding forums.  And sadly, the bird wasn't seen again.  As this Blackburnian Warbler was my 386th Maricoper and was also my first in Arizona, it wasn't a life bird.  Blackburnian Warbler is my favorite warbler because of the striking breeding plumaged males of the species.  Go back to a recent blog I wrote, called Wisconsin Warblers, to see that fun!  Here is what I managed of the Blackburnian, which I consider to be dumb luck and truly being in the right place at the right time!

Tracy McCarthey was another one of the birders on site.  She had a brief look at a warbler she thought to be a Townsend's before Muriel and I had the Blackburnian, but once she saw Muriel's photograph, she knew it was the Blackburnian she had seen.  When Tracy saw it, it was a little further south than where Muriel and I saw it.  When Muriel and I lost it, it kept foraging and heading to the north.  Two new Maricopa Warblers for me 14 hours apart was ridiculous and a sequence that may never happen to me again..

Dozens of birders were at Water Ranch throughout the day.  Right after Blackburnian made it's brief appearance, out came the Prairie Warbler.  Every birder who came that day got to see the Prairie, as it put on a show.

My buddy Mark Ochs came for the Blackburnian and we spent a lot of time searching for it and we hung out with a lot more of our friends.  Dara Vazquez added to the rare warbler fun when she found a Northern Parula!

Outside of these two incredible warblers for Maricopa County, the County has had a lot of awesome birds in the last few weeks.  I will highlight some of them!

Verrado is a spot that is really picking up with birding, thanks to birder Lyndie Warner.  Lyndie has found this place to be a migrant trap, and it certainly is.  Rufous-backed Robin, Varied Thrush, and Lewis's Woodpeckers.  Mark and I made the trip on a break from the Blackburnian search to get these awesome birds.  Sometimes the Rufous-backed Robin and Varied Thrush were seen feeding in the grass side-by-side!

Here is a big clan of birders enjoying the two rare thrushes.  Yours truly documented the birders at this upcoming birding area in Verrado.

My friend Laura Ellis has a backyard in Avondale that is good for birding.  Laura has water features in her yard, many different bird feeders, as well as a lake behind her house.  Recently, she has had two awesome rarities in her backyard.  The first one was a Golden-crowned Sparrow.  The sparrow is a good bird to find anytime and anywhere throughout Arizona.  Then a Dickcissel showed up, which is a big surprise for a yard bird!  Both birds stayed for a good amount of time, and Laura kindly hosted many many birders at her house so they could see her two rarities.  I was one of them, thanks Laura!

Before I went to Verrado on the trip to chase the Varied Thrush, Lewis's Woodpecker, and Rufous-backed Robin, I went a week before that to see the Rufous-backed Robin when it was first found by Lyndie.  The Robin was cooperative for me during the first time I saw it.  After looking for the bird for about thirty minutes, I found it foraging alongside a neighborhood street.  It allowed me to get close and I also got to study it's flight calls when it flew around.  Hearing the Rufous-backed Robin was neat, and it was the first time I got to study any vocalizations of the species.  Here's some photographs from that outing.

The Glendale Recharge Ponds always put up some sort of a good show.  Here's my spark bird with my birding obsession, the Osprey.  If it weren't for the Osprey, I don't know if I'd be a birder!

When a Peregrine Falcon shows up, it usually means turmoil for the shorebirds and ducks.  For me, the Peregrine pursuit can be fun to watch.  After all, it is nature.  Unless there is a rare bird I'm trying hard to find, I don't mind a Peregrine flying around and terrorizing the bunch.  The one photographed below is a juvenile Peregrine of the Tundra race.  This race sure is cool looking!

A Black-bellied Plover had also been frequenting the ponds for some time!

Also recently I enjoyed a few Long-eared Owls somewhere in Maricopa County.  These guys are fun to see, but because they are a very sensitive bird, I will not say where they were seen at.  They do not like people, including me.

Maricopa County is huge!  What other birds are lurking and waiting to be found around the corner?!...