Monday, September 30, 2013

A Morning Up Close with a Swainson's

A pair of Mississippi Kites chose to breed in a rural neighborhood area in the summer of 2013.  This area is a very rare occasion to see this species in, and it was in the Chino Valley north of Prescott.  While they were discovered and all of Prescott's birders were able to see this Mississippi Kite pair and they young they hatched, I was sitting in Phoenix...broke.  I haven't seen Mississippi Kite much at all, two times in my life to be exact..with the most recent being in June of 2010.  Well, one of the Mississippi Kites decided to stay longer than usual, as a group of Yavapai County birders came and saw the bird in the same place as it was being seen during their breeding duration.  I saw the report and came up to Chino Springs in hopes of finding one after I thought I missed my chance.  Spoiler alert, well...I drove up and missed the Kite after nearly three hours of searching for it.  Maybe it did head south as it should have by now, or maybe I just missed it.  Despite the disappointing miss, I surprisingly did have something that made my search very enjoyable.  In fact, it was awesome.  It came in the form of a raptor.  Speaking of raptors, I saw plenty of other raptors that seemed like everything else besides the Mississippi Kite.  Every medium-sized raptor made me jump, but after awhile, I got used to the Kite not being around.

The sun was in my eyes as I arrived, and I noticed a raptor flying in my direction as I was looking into the sun.  It wasn't my wanted Kite, but it is probably one of the best looking hawks in North America.  It almost seemed like this raptor knew my situation, and this was his way of saying good morning.  And he made an epic appearance...

This is a Swainson's Hawk.  While I walked around the fields and neighborhoods of Chino Valley looking for the Kite, there were at least four of these handsome raptors, and they really made it a fun morning.  But one of them was particularly cooperative.  At first, he soared up high and flew around for awhile.  Chino Valley was cold at first, but once it warmed up as the sun rose, the Swainson's wanted to have a taste of the warmth. 

After getting in a tussle with another Swainson's Hawk, he decided to come in for a landing after an unsuccessful attempt at a small critter he was preying on in the field.  His landing happened to be pretty close to me!

I was amazed at the sight of the hawk!  So close!  We decided to have a staring contest....

Over the next ten minutes, I probably snapped 100 photographs of the Swainson's Hawk, who didn't even care that I was 20 feet away...

Studly raptor huh?  I think so!  Swainson's Hawks are a variable raptor, having three distinct color morphs.  This one appears to be the intermediate morph.  When the hawk and I parted ways, it left me with the best looks I've had of this species up close!

Besides the Swainson's Hawk, here are a few other birds that were present in the Chino Valley.

Vesper Sparrow

Cassin's Kingbird

And non-bird-wise, here's a few Pronghorn Antelope

Monday, September 23, 2013

Birding the Lower Salt River Recreation Area

I spent a nice morning birding the beautiful Lower Salt River Recreation Area.  This area is awesome, and it is located just northeast of Mesa.  It is one of my favorite birding areas in Maricopa County, and I haven't birded it since March.  With the reasonable temperature and the fact I haven't visited this area in a long time, I decided to bird it today.  I had several first-of-fall birds in the pleasant morning.

There are 10 recreation sites at the Salt River in a 13 mile stretch, and all of them are good for birding.  I had time for 3 of them this morning.  My first stop was at the Granite Reef Recreation Area.  In two hours of birding at Granite Reef, I recorded nearly 50 species.

Granite Reef

Migrant diversity wasn't as high as I expected it would be here today, but there were still some highlights.  I had my first-of-fall "AUDUBON'S" YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS (5-6), 2 RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS, and a GRAY FLYCATCHER.  Most of these birds were in the picnic area.  I particularly enjoyed seeing the Gray Flycatcher pump it's tail like a Phoebe over and over while I observed it.

Gray Flycatcher

2 different CRISSAL THRASHERS called during the morning, one along the thick trail through Granite Reef, and the other on the adjacent north side of the Salt River.  The only duck of note was a female CINNAMON TEAL.  A BALD EAGLE was on the north side of the River.  An INCA DOVE called in the habitat, one I don't observe often at the Salt River.  Several VERMILION FLYCATCHERS were in the picnic area, one of which was a first year male.  Other migrants included WARBLING VIREO, ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, YELLOW WARBLERS, WILSON'S WARBLERS, a YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT, and 3 GREEN-TAILED TOWHEES.

Wilson's Warbler

Vermilion Flycatcher (first year male)

Bewick's Wren

Black Phoebe

Granite Reef Picnic Area

The Salt River:  Where the Great Blue and other Great wade

My next stop was at the area between the old Sheep's Crossing and Foxtail Recreation Sites.  This area is accessed by parking at the Great Western Trailhead and hiking into the good habitat.  This area is one of my favorites at the Salt River, and there is a wash along the south side of the River that is lined with tall willows, tamarisk, and a few cottonwoods.  I call the wash, "Willow Wash", and it serves as a migrant trap.  There are always migrants here in season, and today there were quite a few, although none of them were rare.

"Willow Wash"


Nashville Warbler

Salt River Wild Horses

The wash has water flowing through it seasonally as a water run-off during the tubing season.  There isn't any water running through it now, although there were spots with a few small pools.  The upside to this is that it's easier to walk through the wash, but the downside is there are usually a lot more birds with the water running through.  I had my best looks ever at a Northern Waterthrush at this location, which was a bird I was hoping for when I came today.

Blast from the past-a Northern Waterthrush at Willow Wash in 2011

My final stop was at the Butcher Jones Recreation Area and Saguaro Lake.  I scanned the Lake in hopes of finding unusual waterbirds, but I came up with a distant flock of Western/Clark's Grebes, Pied-billed Grebes, and a handful of coots.

Saguaro Lake

Once at Butcher Jones, I heard and found my only BELL'S VIREO of the day, which it is getting late for that species.  In the mesquite bosque at Granite Reef, I had my third GRAY FLYCATCHER of the day, a WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE, and a young female VERMILION FLYCATCHER.  Activity wasn't high at Butcher Jones as it was almost noon-time.  It was a good day to be out birding, and the weather will be very nice soon!

Gray Flycatcher

Ladder-backed Woodpecker (what looks uncomfortable to us is this bird's routine life-upside down!)

Butcher Jones mesquite bosque (winter Gray Flycatcher habitat)

Butcher Jones Beach

Till next time....Good Birding!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Low Budget Birding: Part Four

This is the fourth installment of Low Budget Birding, the longest on-going series on Tommy D's Birding Expeditions.  Low Budget Birding is also the first series I have written on my blog.  As I mentioned earlier, Low Budget Birding pertains to making the best out of little.  In other words, I can't go far and can only spend a little to go close.  But birding close has amazing rewards, especially because I have two amazing locations that practically feel like they are in my neighborhood.  Those two locations are the Glendale Recharge Ponds and the Tres Rios Overbank Wetlands.  Both of these locations are in the "Top 5" for Maricopa County birding hotspots, and I am blessed they are so close to home.  In the last two months, these are the only locations I have been able to visit other than 3 trips out of town to locations like southeastern Arizona and Lake Havasu.  This installment of Low Budget Birding is a very good one!

Let's start with the Glendale Recharge Ponds.  These large basins are closer to me than Tres Rios, and I visit Glendale the most.  The water levels have been interesting this last month, and have attracted an interesting array of birds.  Some of the birds have been spectacular.  One experience left me remembering the first bird I really became interested in.....the Osprey.

The Majestic Osprey

Before I even got into birding, the Osprey blew me away.  I watched it catch fish effortlessly in the White Mountains every summer, and it was the only other wild creature that interested me other than the large mammals.  I would often hike into the woods behind the lake where the Osprey fished to observe it at it's nest site.  Being unfamiliar to all birds, I liked the Osprey without knowing what it's real name was.  I eventually found out, and I never did forget.  I believe I called it a Bald Eagle or even something like a Water Hawk, I can't exactly remember.  The Osprey was one of my very favorites when I took up birding in 2000, a few years later.  The more I have birded, the less I have unfortunately enjoyed the Osprey while being in search of other birds.  However, in a trip to Glendale, I came to a pond that had a fairly deep section of water in it.  This pool was close to the path and was full of fish.  This Osprey saw it as it's main fishing option, and fished very close to me.  I sat back and watched this ridiculously awesome bird, feeling stupid that I haven't paid it the due attention it really deserves in recent years.  This has been one of my favorite sightings during this month actually, and I snapped a ton of pictures.  Take a look at this awesome raptor!

One of the most numerous and definitely the most noisy of birds at the Glendale Recharge Ponds is the Killdeer.  What I like about the Killdeer is that even though it can be annoying, it always stands it's ground.  It doesn't take white wash from most of the other birds.

The other shorebirds at Glendale spook very easily.  They do of me, I know that, but some birds that patrol Glendale are very intimidating.  It takes the birds awhile to catch on the Osprey doesn't care for their meat and neither does Tommy.  When I focus on the distant shorebirds, it's regular for them to burst into flight, which looks a lot like this.  They are in a frenzy!

But who wouldn't find the Peregrine intimidating.  This is what the shorebirds run from.  The Killdeer is even scared of it, but who wouldn't be.  This guy is fierce, and if he was a little bigger, I would be terrified of him too.  I suppose if it came down to me and him, he would win in a fight easily.  The Peregrine Falcon has been clocked as the fastest flying animal in the world, and watching them swoop in out of nowhere, is beyond awesome!!!

The Glendale Recharge Ponds are a great place to simply observe nature.  The shorebirds feed on the insects.  The insects feed on the dead peep that got sick.  The Peregrine feeds on the the peep.  The birder feeds on the amazement of the birds.  The heat then feeds on the birder.  Just kidding on the last one, I hope.  Back to the birds.  The shorebirds are usually the main draw at the ponds, and I like to look for a variety of them.  Unfortunately, most of the shorebirds do feed far away from the shore.

Every now and then, one will get lucky and have a neat shorebird close to shore.  During this time period, the best for me was this Solitary Sandpiper.  I find this sandpiper to usually be very shy and wary.  It has never been an easy bird to get close to.  And it's always by itself was named very well.  I always like detecting these guys, whether by sight or their sharp callnotes when in flight.

Solitary Sandpiper

It's also cool to observe the Least Sandpiper up close.  It is usually the most common of the shorebirds other than the Killdeer here in Arizona, but it is very awesome due to the fact that it is the smallest shorebird in the world.  Like the Solitary Sandpiper, the Least Sandpiper was also named very well.

Least Sandpiper

Western Sandpipers are small peeps also, but look much larger than the Least Sandpiper even though they aren't too much larger.  These guys have been close to shore regularly over the last month, and have been cooperative for photographs.  Cool beans huh!

Western Sandpipers

One of the coolest sightings of the mornings I have spent here came in the form of the graceful Black Tern.  Terns are awesome at all times and all places, and I love to see them.  This Black Tern was very cooperative and foraged over the Basins at close range in accordance to the paths.  My birding buddies Steve Hosmer and Moe Bertrand also get really good pictures.  

Black Tern

I also have made a trip to the Tres Rios Overflow Wetlands during this recent duration, which!  This location is probably the best birding location in Maricopa County, as an overwhelming array of birds are found here per visit.  This visit had good highlights as usual, which makes for a classic visit to Tres Rios.  I was joined by six of my birding friends, and we make a great group of birders.  I enjoy birding and talking with every one of these six awesome individuals, and the seven of us combined forces to find 60 plus species at the Wetlands.  Susan Fishburn and her daughter Heather Eaton made plans to bird here today, and the rest of the group decided to join.  Thanks Heather and Susan for the awesome idea of Tres Rios birding.  The group met early at 6 A.M., and I was the last to arrive.  (Shame on me, I live the closest!)

My birding group from left to right:  Moe Bertrand, Babs Buck, Susan Fishburn, Heather Eaton, Joan Hosmer, Steve Hosmer

From the start birds where everywhere as usual.  Luck found our way as our year's first Vaux's Swift flew overhead.  It was my 350th bird of the year for Arizona for 2013.  The most numerous bird was the Yellow-headed Blackbird.  Hundreds of them flew by and were perched in the surrounding cattail marshes.  They are one of the coolest birds around!

Yellow-headed Blackbird

We were hoping to see many birds, including some that are elusive.  Now here is a birding test.  Can you spy the bird in the picture?  It's not really in focus, but it's there and by looking hard enough you should see it  Once you spy it, can you tell what species it is?  Stay tuned for the answer later in the post.  

Walking down the path, we saw that the Belted Kingfishers are starting to come in and will stay through the winter months and some of spring.  They are always great to have around with a rattle call by the water!

White-faced Ibis flocks were also a very common sight throughout the morning.  Their flock formations are incredible and remind me of the bucket of army men I would play war with back in the day.  Reason being, there are far more than what it looks like at a first glance.

Down the trail, Susan then spied the bird of the day!  None of us were expecting this.  As the group was looking at a Vesper Sparrow in the grass, Susan called me over to look at another sparrow she spied in a mesquite.  When I took a look at the bird, I saw that it was very concealed in the branches, but I did see that it looked a lot like a Grasshopper Sparrow!  When I placed it's field marks together despite the bird being hidden, I called out what I thought it was.  Steve and Moe went over to the other side of the mesquite to get better looks and Steve also agreed about the bird.  Moe then got a diagnostic photo before the bird disappeared on us.  As we waited for awhile, the bird than appeared where we didn't think it would appear.  Heather than spied it on a reed in the open!!  The seven of us got to enjoy the Grasshopper Sparrow in the open for an extended amount of time.  Grasshopper Sparrows are rare in Maricopa County (only my 3rd), and this was my first for Tres Rios (#198).  I was on cloud nine with this sighting!  

Grasshopper Sparrow

There was also a huge increase in Ospreys at Tres Rios today compared to my last visit.  We counted 5-6 individuals.  With all the water at Tres Rios, it is a designated Osprey Option.

One of our best birds today was a migrant.  It's the king of having Three Quick Beers.  It's the Olive-sided Flycatcher.  This bird is an inhabitant of high mixed conifer forests further north, but it can be seen anywhere in migration with some luck.

Olive-sided Flycatcher

While most of the American White Pelicans of Tres Rios were inside the fenced-in Flow Regulating Wetlands, this flock of six decided to give it a soar.

Another good highlight in the area was the continuing Red-shouldered Hawk, who didn't allow us to get very close.  We had over 60 species, and it was a great morning of birding with awesome people.  We also had Virginia Rail, Sora, a Barn Owl in flight, Western Tanager, Green-tailed Towhee, as well as Brewer's, Lark, Vesper, and our first of fall White-crowned Sparrows.  Here is a result to the bird search photo quiz posted above.  It's a............

LEAST BITTERN!!  The King of being Elusive

So that raps up this segment of Low Budget Birding.  Despite the fact I don't have the option of really going elsewhere, these days of birding close to home have been extra awesome.  With the addition of the Grasshopper Sparrow to the Tres Rios list, I think I have in back in me again to get into hardcore listing for the spot again.  We will see!  Tres Rios and Glendale, I'll probably see you soon