Monday, November 18, 2013

Fresh Out of the OVEN

Hi everyone,

I spent a fun morning and afternoon birding Lake Pleasant and Morgan City Wash.

My first stop of the two was Lake Pleasant, which I usually would do second of the two.  Because it seems to usually get windy every time I go to Lake Pleasant, I wanted to start there, in hopes of unusual waterbirds.  I didn't find anything out of the ordinary, a COMMON LOON was my best find on the north side of Lake Pleasant.  Out of the hundreds of Western/Clark's Grebes scattered throughout the reservoir, some were in range of safe identification.  I was able to pick out two CLARK'S GREBES out of this bunch.  A distant mixed flock of ducks held REDHEAD, LESSER SCAUP, RING-NECKED DUCK, and a male AMERICAN WIGEON.  RING-BILLED GULLS were the only gulls present, no sign of the Mew Gull.

It then came into my head that Troy Corman's Ovenbird was still probably at Morgan City Wash.  Having only seen this species once in my life previously, I really wanted to see it a second time.  After receiving excellent text message directions from Justin Jones (thanks Justin!), I made a blitz through Morgan City Wash starting at 11:20 A.M. to the location where Troy and Justin observed the Ovenbird over a week ago.  On my way there during my rush, a few birds caught my attention, and they were the only birds I looked at on my way there.  As I crossed under the bridge at the access point to Morgan City Wash, I saw a small wren that I got on quickly that turned out to be a WINTER WREN.  The wren favored dense tangles of fallen wood around the bridge, and in a funny sense, on both sides of the bridge.  It didn't fly over the bridge to get to the other side, but flew down the tunnel.  It gave it's distinctive double-call note that sounds similar to a Song Sparrow.  As I continued up Morgan City Wash quickly without stopping, I stopped for a quick water break at one of the stream crossings.  A sparrow was foraging in some of the marshy habitat near the trail, and it turned out to be a SWAMP SPARROW.  My next stop was at the spot was where Troy and Justin observed the Ovenbird last week.  As I approached the spot, I looked on the ground and the OVENBIRD was walking across the wash!!  I got a 20 second look and managed very poor, but still diagnostic photos.  It was great to see this bird, and it was less than an hour later from when I parked and started the quick hike through the dense wash.  The Ovenbird was walking along a clearing with many leaves on the ground, and it quickly vanished and didn't resurface in the hour I spent waiting for it to come back.  Troy finds a plethora of great rarities at this place annually, and I usually chase the birds and miss them.  It was nice to be on the lucky side today!

Winter Wren

Ovenbird (Crappy but diagnostic)

Other highlights at Morgan City Wash included a GREAT HORNED OWL, COOPER'S HAWK, and 5 other WREN SPECIES (Rock, Canyon, Marsh, House, and Bewick's).  At Lake Pleasant, I did see plenty of CACTUS WRENS, which ended in a 7 Wren day.  Almost four hours later, I got done with Morgan City Wash in an excellent outing for a mid-day.  37 species for Morgan City.  Another great day of birding.

Great Horned Owl

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Birding with the Witzemans!

Hi everyone,

Yesterday on November 12th, 2013, I spent a very fun day of birding with Janet and Bob Witzeman.  We birded the Thrasher Spot, the Arlington Area, Lower River Road Ponds, the Old Highway 80 almost south to Gila Bend, and the beginning stretch of Tres Rios.

We started our day at the Thrasher Spot.  The main objective of the trip was to find Bell's Sparrow, which Janet and Bob haven't gotten to see since the split.  We didn't suspect it would take too long to come up with a Bell's, but we were wrong.  SAGEBRUSH SPARROWS were everywhere, and we estimated between 40-50 birds as we covered both sides of the Highway at the Salome Highway/Baseline Road intersection.  After 2.5 hours of searching, we got tired of looking for them and decided to call it quits as the bird activity was very low at 10:30.  As we were almost back to the vehicle, we saw a few Sage Sparrow species running around and we investigated.  One of them popped up cooperatively, and it was a nice BELL'S SPARROW!  It's field marks really stood out (thick black malar, plain unstreaked back etc.) and we left the Thrasher Spot successfully.  We also heard two LE CONTE'S THRASHERS giving their "wiieerrrp" call, and we also had great visuals of a perched and singing BENDIRE'S THRASHER.  After I went out there a few weeks ago and the first Sage Sparrow species I looked at was a Bell's, it seemed weird to have the last one we looked at be a Bell's.  Crazy how things turn out!

Sagebrush Sparrows

Bendire's Thrasher

At the Lower River Road Ponds, we had about 40 AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS loafing on the ponds, as well as a flyby flock of RING-BILLED GULLS.

American White Pelicans

In the Arlington Valley, we noted 25 SANDHILL CRANES, and there was also a large kettle of BLACK VULTURES.  In a stretch of less than a mile, we had 4 GREATER ROADRUNNERS cross the road!

We didn't see as many raptors on the route as usual, but 3 FERRUGINOUS HAWKS were nice.

On our way to Tres Rios, we enjoyed a pair of BURROWING OWLS along Broadway Road.  At Tres Rios during a 20 minute stop, we enjoyed large flocks of YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS and heard several LEAST BITTERNS calling.  Thanks for a fun and awesome birding day Janet and Bob!

Burrowing Owls

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Bravest But Dumbest of Birds in Maricopa County

The name of this post might sound strange.  It is definitely very strange, but it's also true.  Birds may be brave, but yet so dumb at the same time.  Some of these birds are practically asking to be killed, others are just satisfied for a seed, even if it is way far and away from home.  Recently, Magill Weber and I went birding, and it seemed if our day was highlighted by brave and dumb avains.  On a quest into Maricopa County's higher elevation to see if we could win the Nutcracker lottery (without luck!), we were entertained by "dummies".

Let's start with this Horned Lark.  We went to Scottsdale's Rousseau Sod Farms in search of Longspurs, but we found this Horned Lark instead.  He decided to run up to my truck and then run along with it as we drove.  On one of the pictures below, the forward motion is obvious.  It was awesome to see it this close, but hey this lark drank too much larkquor.

Just down the street from the Horned Lark was this moron of an Osprey.  I wouldn't call this bravery, but stupidity.  We drove up on this Osprey, and he was eating his spectacular catch on the grass.  Who would want their meal to be covered in grass?  I know I wouldn't, and the Osprey couldn't fly to a nearby powerpole that abound nearby to eat his fish just scaly instead of the scaly-grassy combination.  But once again, it was awesome to see it this close, despite the fact the bird has issues.

On a stop at the Salt River, we knew about a few Mountain Chickadees that have been hanging out in the area.  The Salt River isn't in the Rockies by any means, but is in a desert dominated region.  The chickadee flew over nearby Transition Zones in order to have the mesquite seeds and beans, whatever they are.  Just northeast of the Salt River is the Mazatzal Mountains, which are full of good wintering Chickadee habitat.  But this guy ignored them.  Once again, it was cool to see them here, but the word "Dummie" still came out of our mouths.

When we drove up to a Least Sandpiper, it boldly stood it's ground.  After all, it was on it's favored cement drain.

We then stumbled upon this American Pipit on the same cement canal drain.  It ran down into the drain at first, but after awhile, it came back up and stood it's ground, while the Least Sandpiper still stood nearby.

The Clark's Nutcrackers didn't show up at Mount Ord like Magill and I had hoped for.  Instead, we found a handfull of crazy birds, represented in these photos.  It was a great day of birding, and some days are fun when you just have a lot to laugh at.  The following day, I went out to Lake Pleasant, and I found another brave and dumb bird.  A pair of Rock Wrens that seem to find their home right in the Scorpion Bay parking area.  Here they hopped on the sidewalk, ran under and on vehicles, sat on lightposts, and acted more hard core dumb than even a rock.  As long as these birds are cooperative for photographs, I don't mind the Bravest but yet Dumbest Birds in Maricopa County!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Other Great Birds You see on a Quetzal Chase

On November 9th, Laurence Butler and I headed to southeastern Arizona.  I think I've lost count on how many times we've come to Southeastern Arizona this year, but all I can remember is that all visits have been beyond awesome.  And this one was awesome as usual.  What really brought us down here this time was an Eared Quetzal found above Madera Canyon 1.5 miles up on the Carrie Nation Trail.  Laurens Halsey found the bird several days before our trip, and we were hoping to see it.  However, since Laurens discovered the remarkable bird, that remarkable bird turned into a remarkable hider.  No birders had located it since.  But we headed down anyways, with another strong target we were after and a handful of other previously reported goodies.  Because the rare trogon hadn't been reported since we got there, we went after the other strong target first, and the elusive Quetzal later.

A Green Kingfisher was found along the Santa Cruz River right were Santa Gertrudis Lane crosses the river.  Laurence and I wanted this bird very bad, and it was a lifer for Laurence and was only the second time I was attempting to see one in my time.  That is if...we saw the bird.  Santa Gertrudis has hosted a handfull of rarities over the years, especially along the berry bushes near the entrance to the Lane.  We checked for a rare thrush feeding and getting high of the berrries, and we didn't find one.  As we approached the river, I was shocked to hear the "clicking" call of the Green Kingfisher!  I was ahead of Laurence, and I yelled to him that I was hearing our hopeful target.  We rushed down to the river, and started to head down the river, just south of Santa Gertrudis Lane.  I told Laurence how low these little green birds like to perch as we started down the river.

Santa Cruz River (is the Kingfisher around?)

Just seconds after I mentioned the birds low behaviors, the Green Kingfisher blew out beneath us and flew shortly down the river.  The Green was a female bird, and she perched in plain view for us and started to successfully fish in the river!  It was quite the show!

The Green Queenfisher was one nice looking girl!  She flew down to a fence and perched right in front of us.  It seemed as if this fence was one of her very favorite fishing spots.  We watched her plunge into the water several times, and she captured some of Santa Cruz's tiny fish.  Anything larger than a small minnow would probably choke her to death.  

After leaving the fence, she flew right by us north along the river, just feet away.  She then crossed the lane an was barely north of Gertrude.  We got to enjoy her even longer.  After saying each perch she landed on was probably her favorite, we then concluded all of the perches were her favorite.  The tiny Queenfisher was one active bird.

We spent an hour in the immediate area of the Kingfisher, and how awesome it was!  The area was also filled with hyper Black Phoebes, who were also excited to add the Green Kingfisher to their year and life lists.

After seeing the Queen of Gertrudis, we headed up into the Santa Ritas to search for the Eared Quetzal, or at in the area.  Nice looking woodpeckers are always worth a stop along the way, and we had that option.  We decided to look at one of them, and we soon got carried away with how cool it was.

It's a Red-breasted Sapsucker, which is a birder's piece of eye candy.  This bird has been hanging out in the White House Picnic Area in the beginning stretches of Madera Canyon. It was a rather exciting life of drilling sap wells and feeding on insects.  A kind woman showed Laurence and I the sapsucker, and we eventually crawled within 10 feet of the Sapsucker!  He didn't want to leave his precious wells, so he didn't really care too much about us.  

After the Sapsucker, we then headed up canyon to the Carrie Nation Trail.  We both had the gut feeling that the Quetzal bird was gone, at least from the original spot.  Was it somewhere in the Santa Ritas, of course.  We weren't really wanting to go wait with the other birders, so we pretty much pulled a Kenny Bostick move.  After seeing the first birders come down canyon who were stationed there for hours, we got a simple "NO" and moved on.  Kenny Bostick let the other birds do that in the Big Year, hence he never really did any of the work.  Laurence and I are usually hard working birders, but not this time.  There were Rufous-capped Warblers to be seen.  After a trek up and down the neighboring Florida Canyon, all we got out of the Warblers was a Laurence quick glance and a Tommy heard only.  Boo!  But the Golden Eagle and the Raven showed up overhead.

Time was flying by, and we wanted to bird the Santa Cruz Flats on the way home to hopefully see Crested Caracara and Mountain Plover.  By the time we reached the Flats, it was late and we had 40 minutes to speed through the area.  With Laurence's well placed navigational and professional driving skills, it wasn't a problem at all.  We started with the Caracara as the first search.  There is a traditional spot on Baumgartner Road at an ugly farm where Caracaras often gather to feast.  It's not a pretty spot, but if there's a neat bird, than who really cares!  As we drove up, Laurence spied the silhouettes we were strongly hoping for...

There are five Crested Caracaras in the above photo.  Neat birds, but a dump of a place.  That cow accounts for 90 percent of the dump after he dumps it out.  We looked at the Caracaras with extreme satisfaction.  It was a year bird for both of us, and only the second time I have ever seen this species in my life, so it was a huge deal for me.  We had decent looks, but our greedy birdy ambitions drove us to get closer than our average looks.

As we went into the heart of Caracara Country, we were amazed.  There were several of them close by!  This younger Caracara was obliging.  We mentioned that this bird looks like a cross between a Vulture and an Eagle.  But oddly, it is in the Falcon family.

We were so shocked at the sight of the birds, that Laurence accidently drove off the road and landed right by the Caracaras!!!!  One of the local scare crows scared us off ironically just after that, and we had to leave the Caracaras behind, simply because there was one more awesome bird to be seen.  Until next time, later Crested Caracaras!

Our last awesome bird of the day was the Mountain Plover.  As we drove up to the Western Sod Farms, we quickly spied this unique birds running around and chillaxin right by the road.  This is what I mean by right by the road.  

The Plovers were cooperative, and I enjoyed this species for only the 3rd time in my life.

As the Mountain Plovers took off into the barren dirt, we decided to head back to Phoenix.  The Mountain Plovers were an excellent ending to another fun day of Southeastern Arizona birding.  Thank you Laurence for a great trip!

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Continuing Fun at Tres Rios

Tres Rios continues to be good as always.  There aren't many dull moments here!   I birded here for eight hours on November 8th, and I had 81 species for the day.  I also had the privilege of showing Sue and Carl Horton around the area for half of the day.  The bird life is quickly starting to increase rapidly at Tres Rios.

When you see both Pelicans flying close to each other, you know your in an awesome place.  I didn't sneak off to California or anything, this is really in Phoenix!!

Brown Pelican and American White Pelican

Tres Rios is always full of Ospreys, as I always mention.  When one of these raptors flies overhead with a fish, I can never resist watching it and snapping away!


November is the time for good rarities to show up.  At Tres Rios, it is often an eastern warbler, such as this female American Redstart.  She's quite the show off too.

American Redstart

When I was with Sue and Carl, we even came across an area where 4-5 Soras remarkably came out of the reeds and walked around in the open in front of us.


We also didn't Shrike-out on Loggerheads

Sue and Carl also got their first Gambel's Quail, which was awesome to see them see it for the first time!

At this time of year, White-crowned Sparrows are abundant.  But they do sing some great music!

On the Tres Rios outing, I showed Sue and Carl one Roadrunner, but because While E. Coyote was out and about, the Roadrunner was busy outwitting him.

What Tres Rios highlights are next?  I always ask myself that.