Sunday, March 31, 2013

Exploring Tres Rios Wetlands...

Tres Rios is like my "birding home".  It takes me 30 minutes to get there and it's close and convenient.  This is a little late for this post, but I went out there on March 31st, 2013, to see some goodies and get some photos.

I really wanted to get photos of Yellow-headed Blackbirds.  Yes yes yes!  These birds are some of the coolest around.

This is the more common Red-winged Blackbird...

I realized I photographed a Bronzed Cowbird flying by without recognizing it!  A new Tres Rios bird for me!   

Here is the other Cowbird, the Brown-headed..

An Osprey fished overhead..

And a Black-bellied Whistling Duck flying away..

Neo Corms fly by all day...

Here is a Common Gallinule..

As well as a dapper drake Ruddy..

A Spotted Sandpiper can usually be found at the pond edges..

Western Kingbirds are starting to dot the powerlines..

Here are four species together in one shot.  What are they?

Always good birding, always at Tres Rios...

Birding the awesome Flagstaff Area!

Hi everyone,

Yesterday on March 30th, 2013, Dominic Sherony and I ventured north to Flagstaff to explore the areas of Mormon Lake and Lake Mary.  It was an amazing day of birding, and Dominic and I had plenty of good highlights.  The highlights included many of the previously reported birds in the area, as well as several unexpected surprises.  We spent about seven hours in the area, and it was overcast and cloudy conditions during the entire day.  Any outing to this beautiful and scenic area is always awesome.

Lake Mary Road

Our first birding stop came along Lake Mary Road before we reached Upper and Lower Lake Mary.  A perched accipiter caught our attention, and when we turned around to study it, it turned out to be an adult COOPER'S HAWK.  RED CROSSBILLS were singing nearby at this spot we pulled over alongside the road.  PYGMY NUTHATCHES, STELLER'S JAYS, and WESTERN BLUEBIRDS were also nearby.

Dominic getting photo's of the Coop

Along Upper and Lower Lake Mary, birds included two young BALD EAGLES perched along Lake Mary Road, a singing CANYON WREN on rocky bluffs north of the road, and more RED CROSSBILLS.  The waters held GREAT BLUE HERONS, 3 fishing OSPREYS, CINNAMON and GREEN-WINGED TEAL, AMERICAN WIGEON, and a few PIED-BILLED GREBES.

Bald Eagle

Cinnamon Teal on Lake Mary

Lower Lake Mary

The real fun then began at the Mormon Lake Overlook.  There is a lot of water in the lake right now from snow melt, and it's a perfect bird sanctuary right now.  When we pulled up to the Overlook, we had a nice male NORTHERN HARRIER cruising over the grasslands.  As others have reported, waterbirds have been abundant from this overlook.  A nice surprise we had was an amazing flock of 70+ AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS in the middle of the lake.  I counted at least 70 birds when I scanned through the scope, but there were definetely a few more.  The flock of pelicans were huddled in together very close.  Another great highlight for us was a flock of FRANKLIN'S GULLS.  It's always nice to see this good-looking gull, and it was a state bird for Dominic!  A few RING-BILLED GULLS were also present.  The abundant waterfowl on the lake included CANADA GOOSE, RING-NECKED DUCK, LESSER SCAUP, CANVASBACK, REDHEAD, BUFFLEHEAD, RUDDY DUCK, NORTHERN SHOVELER, NORTHERN PINTAIL, GREEN-WINGED and CINNAMON TEAL, and MALLARD.  Songbirds around the lake included both WESTERN and EASTERN MEADOWLARKS, COMMON RAVEN and AMERICAN CROW, and VESPER SPARROW.  We weren't seeing the Rough-legged Hawk so we decided to try for it a few hours later.  As we were about to leave, I spied a shrike perched on top of a juniper tree knowing that a Northern Shrike has been here in recent winters.  I quickly got the scope on the bird and saw it was indeed a NORTHERN SHRIKE!  This bird was an adult and had a thin mask that was well below the eye, had a longer bill with a noticeable "hook", was a lighter gray color than Loggerhead Shrike, and it had barring on it's chest.  After the bird gave us good views, it disappeared on us and we didn't get a photograph of it.  This was a life bird for me, and a state bird for Dominic!  There has been a Northern Shrike at the Overlook in previous winters, perhaps this is the same bird.  Deciding we would come back to attempt another shot at the shrike and Rough-legged Hawk, we decided to head down to the Mormon Lake Lodge.   We then had another interruption and great surprise, as a juvenile GOLDEN EAGLE flew across the grassland on the north side of Lake Mary Road (across from the lookout) and perched on a juniper.  Dominic and I both got incredible scope views of the bird, but it was too far away for photos.  We both have never seen a Golden Eagle well before other than horrible "ridgeline" views, so this was a huge deal for both of us.

View of Mormon Lake from Mormon Lake Overlook

Western Meadowlarks sang everywhere!

The Golden Eagle in the distance

Up next was Mormon Lake Lodge and the adjacent RV Trailer Park (accessed on Mormon Lake Road) to look for the Evening Grosbeaks and other goodies others have seen.  As soon as we got out of the vehicle, we heard plenty of EVENING GROSBEAKS calling loudly in the area.  Over the course of the next two hours, we walking around this area looking at the Grosbeaks and other cool birds.  This was also a state bird for Dominic, his third of the day.  Both male and female Evening Grosbeaks were very viewable during this time.  At first they stayed high in the trees and weren't as easy to view, and in the latter hour of our time in the area, they feed and drank water from the ground at close range.  Fellow birders Moe and Carrie Bell also enjoyed the Grosbeaks with us for awhile.  Also in this area were plenty of RED CROSSBILLS, who were also pretty easy to find.  In a few dead snags on the south side of the road were a few LEWIS'S WOODPECKERS.  This woodpecker is a favorite of mine that I don't see enough of.  Other woodpeckers were numerous too, and were represented by a few RED-NAPED SAPSUCKERS, a HAIRY WOODPECKER, and a few ACORN WOODPECKERS.  Other birds in the area were WESTERN BLUEBIRD, VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS, WHITE-BREASTED and PYGMY NUTHATCHES, DARK-EYED JUNCOS, CHIPPING SPARROWS, and a female MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD in the grassy areas nearby the Lodge.  We headed down to the fire station after the Lodge (shortly east of the Lodge) and at the pond there we had the continuing HOODED MERGANSERS, BUFFLEHEADS, and COMMON MERGANSERS.

Evening Grosbeaks

Lewis's Woodpecker

Western Bluebird

Red-naped Sapsucker

Acorn Woodpecker

Common Mergansers

 Mormon Lake Lodge

After birding the area of the Lodge, we headed back up to the Mormon Lake Overlook hoping for the hawk and another view of the Northern Shrike.  As we drove up, we saw two hovering hawks, and one of them was the ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK.  It was close to the road as we spied it, and over the next thirty minutes I ran back and fourth along the bluff trying to get close looks at the bird.  This was only my second ever Rough-legged Hawk, and I think they are AWESOME!  I managed to get fairly close to it, and get several decent photos of it.  Several RED-TAILED HAWKS and young BALD EAGLES flew around also, in which the wind had picked up, making the raptor viewing party a nice one (it wasn't windy at all on our first stop).  We spent more time looking for the shrike without luck, thinking this go around was going to be a Shrike-out.  Ironically, as we pulled out from the Overlook and started to head west again to Lake Mary, the NORTHERN SHRIKE flew across the street right in front of the vehicle!  A quick u-turn and ten minutes later, I was in front of the shrike after following it down the bluff a short distance.  I got a few good pictures off of the bird and I was very thankful to get pictures!  Both times that Dominic and I saw the shrike, it mainly stayed just west of the Overlook.  It would be at the level of the Overlook at times and other times would perch on trees and bushes on the bluffs below the overlook.  Certainly a cool bird to see!  Dominic and I also discussed that this area of the Mormon Lake Overlook is very "tundra-like", and is very similar to actually being in the Rough-legged Hawk and Northern Shrikes regular habitats.  Seeing these birds here with the snow-covered San Francisco Peaks in the background will stick with my memory for a long time coming.

Rough-legged Hawk

Northern Shrike (Lifebird and # 401 for Arizona!)

Bald Eagle

The "tundra" at Mormon Lake

On the way back we birding the first mile of the road to the nearby Marshall Lake (adjacent to Upper Lake Mary on the north side of Lake Mary Road).  Highlights here was a nice mixed group of birds, which included AMERICAN ROBINS, PYGMY and WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCHES, MOUNTAIN CHICKADEES, WESTERN BLUEBIRDS, and a singing TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE.  Coming back down the road we closed our birding day out on a good note as three PINYON JAYS landed in a pine alongside the road.  They quickly flew off and gave their distinctive loud and then descending call.

Mountain Chickadee

I can't say enough about how much I enjoyed birding this beautiful and spectacular area.  Hopefully I'll be able to bird Flagstaff in the near future, the birding is excellent! I also want to thank Charlie Babbitt and everyone else who has reported the awesome birds up there!

Good Birding,

Tommy DeBardeleben

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Birding at the Phoenix Mountains Preserve

For Arizona residents, the desert is something we commonly take for granted.  I'll admit to it as well.  For Arizona residents who are birders, the common desert birds are something we commonly take for granted also.  I'll also admit to that as well.  I rarely go out just to "desert bird" and I sometimes miss out on how cool these species of "eye candies" really are.  Any out of state visitor from the eastern half of the United States dreams of seeing these birds that are everyday and ordinary sightings to me.  I've done a lot of birding in the desert lately and I've really enjoyed these cool birds more and more that call the hot desert southwest their home.

Before I get to the birds, I'll talk about the location.  This location is located in Phoenix and is called the Phoenix Mountains Preserve.  It is a very popular park for hikers and bikers.  One wildlife watcher/birder is probably found per every five-hundred folks who come into the park (who really knows, I'm just guessing?).  I've always enjoyed the Phoenix Mountains, and I've also enjoyed desert birding here more than other desert birding locations.  I started hiking in the Phoenix Mountains when I was very young, due to the fact I have relatives who live in the surrounding and bordering neighborhood.  When my family would visit our relatives, we would often hike in this popular but yet peaceful preserve.  I was just starting to bird during these times, and a lot of my first time "desert lifers" came from this preserve.

The awesome Phoenix Mountains gives good views of the surrounding city.

And now onto the birds.  In the Phoenix Mountains, the call of the Ash-throated Flycatcher is commonly heard.  It's loud voice seems to drown everything else out.  With this guy photographed below, he obviously vocalized, and I tracked him down to get a photograph.

The Ash-throated Flycatcher

The desert is also surprisingly home to three species of breeding woodpeckers.  The trio is the Gila Woodpecker, the small Ladder-backed Woodpecker, and the Gilded Flicker.  The latter mentioned is the desert counterpart of the familiar Northern Flicker who breeds in forests.  But the similar looking and sounding Gilded is found in deserts, and is most often seen sitting atop a Saguaro cactus.  

Gilded Flicker

This next bird is one of my favorite of the southwestern desert birds.  This is the tiny Black-tailed Gnatcatcher.  These birds are commonly heard giving their scolding calls, and are usually easy to find and locate despite their tiny size.  This is a male that I photographed below.  For a gray bird, I think it is actually very striking, particularly the white eye-ring contrasting with it's black cap.

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

One of the most common birds found in the southwest is the Curve-billed Thrasher.  It's distinctive "whit-weet" call is heard throughout the day, especially in the early morning.  Take it from me, this loud call has woken me up plenty of times in morning in my time.

Curve-billed Thrasher

The Curve-billed Thrasher is usually the only thrasher that can be found in the Phoenix Mountains, except during spring and fall migration, where the Sage Thrashers pass through Maricopa County in migration.  The habitat at the Phoenix Mountains is good for this small thrasher in spots, and they may be found in decent numbers.  A recent high count for me numbered four individuals.

Sage Thrasher

The Rock Wren is also one of the cooler birds in the park, and is not just a desert bird but a rock bird.  It is also very friendly and welcoming and wants attention.

Rock Wren

Not many birds would be willing to share their singing perch with another bird, as this Rock Wren is willing to do with a much bigger Curve-billed Thrasher.  The Rock Wren is a bird of good moral and integrity.

With hummingbirds in the park, Anna's, Black-chinned, and Costa's Hummingbirds are most common and frequently seen.  The Black-chinned Hummingbirds are fun to watch, especially when they do their U-shaped courtship flight display.  That is impossible to photograph, but not perched and hovering birds, who make things much easier.

Black-chinned Hummingbird

The Loggerhead Shrike is another bird seen in the park regularly.  This is a predatory songbird, and it ruthlessly sticks it's prey on barbwire fences and Phoenix Mountain cactus needles.  Seeing one on an octotillo is pretty cool!

Loggerhead Shrike

Sparrows are fun to see in the Preserve also.  The songs of migrant Brewer's Sparrows often fill the desert.  

Brewer's Sparrow

The best sparrow to be found here is the desert-dwelling Black-throated Sparrow.  This sparrow is very striking to look at, and it is easily watchable.  Black-throated Sparrows are a favorite among Arizona birds by many.  

Black-throated Sparrow

Even in the desert, avian surprises can be found, both big and small.  In migration, anything can happen in any given habitat.  Every birder knows that.  Well out at the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, I had a case of an avian surprise.  This was the main highlight of my birding time spent out here over the course of a few days.  I won't name this bird on this line exactly, but I'll say it's an owl.  And it may be the king of camouflage in the bird world.  Look at the picture below, can you spy the owl?

There is an owl somewhere in the picture below, can you pick it out?

If you spied it......well done.  It's even being "generous" with the view here.  Can you guess what kind of owl it is?  This Say's Phoebe probably knows the owl by now.  Think about the answer to this visual owl quiz and stare at the Say's Phoebe.  I command you to stare at the Phoebe!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Here is a closeup cropped up view of this owl from the picture above, a very elusive owl.  Now this is a good clue.  What owl is it?

It is a Long-eared Owl.  If you guessed it right by the closeup picture, good job.  It's worth 2 points.  If you guessed it right from the distant picture where you have to search for him, give yourself a huge wack.  That is worth an Arizona vagrant bird of your choice.  If you guessed wrong on both, sorry, better luck next time.  Look outside your house and your reward is a Say's Phoebe on your wall.  That is worth 0 points.  I decided to name this Long-eared Owl, it's name is Waldo.  Contrary to the popular fictional character who annoys all of us by his incredible hiding techniques, the Long-eared Owl is no different.  One can search for him and say "Where's Waldo".  But sometimes I'll get lucky and spy Waldo before he flies.  

Long-eared Owl

I was nervous when I took the shot above, because I knew the Long-eared Owl was nervous and wouldn't stick around long.  That's why the bird isn't in perfect focus as I wished.  They are very shy birds and DON'T like people.  A second after I took this picture, the bird did decide to take off, which I captured much better.  

Waldo the Long-eared Owl taking off

For more of a serious factoid about the Long-eared Owl:  The Long-eared Owl is a very nocturnal and widespread owl in North America.  However, it's nature and color give it the camouflage factor.  This owl is rather large and is never easy to see despite it's size.  It favors a variety of forested habitats, and in winter in migration, will roost in a variety of habitats as well.  Here at the Phoenix Mountains, this bird was found in a dense wash were it hid in large paloverde trees.  During Long-eared Owl migration, they will often stop in these desert washes with thick habitat.  Keep your eye out!  The Long-eared Owl is hard to see 99.999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999% of the time, but is easily flushed.  One can be literally right under this owl and looking right in it's general direction, only catching sight of the owl when it takes off.  Here is a shot of one that I took several years back, who admired me for once.

Tommy's first ever wink from a bird

Here are a few more scene shots with Waldo the Long-eared Owl in them.  They aren't as hard as the first one, can you spy the owl in these pictures? 

Where's Waldo (Take 3)

Did you find the bird?  These are actually pictures after I spied the owl.  Of course this means after the bird took off, and I saw the general area where it flew into.  It's not talent of me spying things by any means.  The next three shots will now show up close cropped visuals of the three pictures above.

Waldo discovered

Have time for one more Where's Waldo exercise?  I promise this is the last one.  Where's Waldo?

The picture above is just a joke.  There is no Long-eared Owl, or any bird for that matter, in the picture below. Made you look!  

To me, the Long-eared Owl is the king of camouflage in the bird world.  One would argue with me and say Flammulated, Boreal, and Northern Saw-whet Owls are better.  That may be the right case also, but the Long-eared Owl is much bigger than the small trio and does such an amazing job at hiding and being a big guy at the same time.  The Long-eared Owl has outsmarted me plenty of times, and my hat goes off to it.  If Long-eared Owls weren't so scared of people and didn't flush so easily, most of them would never be detected.  Do Flammulated, Boreal, or Saw-whet Owls flush regularly?  No.  

Because the Long-eared Owl is a very sensitive bird, I can't share where this exact location in order to protect the sensitivity of the bird.

In the days that I spent at the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, they were very fun.  Ending them on a full moon was very cool also.

Good Birding!