Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Final Frontier of 2013

I woke up at 4:00 A.M. today on December 31st, 2013.  It was the last day of the year for everything, including adding any potential new species to my Arizona year list.  I had a full day ahead of me, and I was planning on seeing some cool birds.  One of them was found in Tucson a few days ago, and is a life bird for me.  This was a Harris's Sparrow, which was found by Scott Olmstead in Himmel Park.  My plan was to find this bird as well as searching out for several other cool birds for 2013's final expedition.  I called my friend Moe Bertrand and invited him to join me on my last trip of the year, and he came on the trip which made it extra fun.  By the end of the day, Moe and I had a handfull of highlights, and it was a great end to 2013.

Himmell Park was our first stop.  We left Phoenix at 5:00 A.M., and arrived at Tucson and the park before it really got light out.  After stopping at McDonald's to eat and kill time, we went back to the Himmel Park in search of the Harris's Sparrow.  Once parking, we walked a short distance across the park to where the Harris's Sparrow was being seen.  As we came upon the location, I heard a sparrow calling that sounding like a call of a Zonotricia sparrow.  When I looked up on the tree where the sound was coming from, it was none other than the Harris's Sparrow!

We found this continuing rarity within the snap-of-a-second, and it was a nice lifer for both of us!  The Harris's Sparrow is one of the largest sparrows in North America, and it is one that I have been wanting to see for awhile.  This sparrow is rare but usually annual in Arizona.  The other rarer members of the Zonotricia genus, the Golden-crowned and White-throated Sparrows, are found more often.  This Harris's Sparrow gave us great views for about 30 minutes before we moved onto our next stop.

After the Harris's excitement, we then headed to Florida Canyon in hopes of seeing Rufous-capped Warblers.  This beautiful canyon is always fun to visit.

On our way in, we were greeted by a Pyrrhuloxia!

Once above the dam, we started to search for the Rufous-capped Warblers in their usual haunts.  Having seen this species only once in my life before, I was dying to see another one.  Four of them were reported, and I felt like our stakes were high for seeing them.  These rare Mexican warblers have bred in this canyon, and are very reliable here in Florida.  Many travel to this location hoping to get lucky with this neat bird.  It didn't take Moe and I long, and as a turned a corner, the Rufous-capped Warbler was foraging in a bush only a few feet from me!

Moe was shortly behind me, and I quickly called him over to get looks at this spectacular bird.  This quickly turned into one of my very favorite highlights of 2013!

Fellow birder Chris McCreedy referred to the Rufous-capped Warbler as being, "beastly cute".  I think McCreedy has a strong point there.  As Moe and I continued to snap photos and watch the birds, the warbler continued to forage.  We didn't even need binoculars.

The Warbler then decided to move and forage directly underneath us..

When a Rufous-capped Warbler finds Arizona, it favors habitats similar to Florida Canyon, which are streamside vegetation in medium elevations between 4 and 5,000 feet.  What a neat bird to see on the last day of the year, or just anytime in general!

The Warbler started calling actively and we heard another singing nearby, which was the first time I have heard the song of this species live when in the field.  It was amazing!  I then spied a previously reported male Elegant Trogon in the canyon, who we were able to get brief looks at.  The Rufous-capped Warblers were amazing, clearly the main highlight of our day.  And here is Moe enjoying the canyon and celebrating his first ever Rufous-capped Warbler!

After Florida Canyon, we decided to head down to the Santa Cruz Flats after passing up on Tubac to look for Mountain Plovers and Crested Caracaras.  We saw a distant flock of Mountain Plovers, and had great looks at the Caracaras.  We counted at least 20 Crested Caracaras, which was a lifer for Moe and was only my 3rd time ever of seeing one.  It was very neat to observe them in numbers and have extended views.  Several tractors were plowing the fields and were being chased by eager and hungry Caracaras.

The Crested Caracaras and Santa Cruz Flats were my final birds and birding location of an epic 2013.  By the end of the day, I had one lifer and Moe had 7 lifers to conclude an excellent birding day.  Thank you Moe for the fun day and company!  

I ended my Arizona list with 377 species, my personal best list for a year in Arizona.  It was overall my best year of birding yet, stay tuned for an extensive recap of the year with summaries of birds, trips, lifers, and more!  What will 2014 bring?  What will be my first bird next year?  How about my first lifebird?  Will any new state records be discovered by a lucky birder?  Its going to be exciting.  But I will never forget my Arizona birding year of 2013.  

Happy New Years!  In 20 minutes and counting.............

Monday, December 30, 2013

Red Robins and Feisty Finches

In a birder's world, the end of the year can often be the time to quickly try and add species for the year list.  This includes birds that one has even seen on the list plenty of previous times.  But if it is missing for the year, "what a shame!".  There are a few birds like that on every list, or ones that usually turn up at a reliable location, but just don't seem to in the year that apparently matters the most.  Here in 2013, I have had a few birds like that as frustrating species I felt I should have by the end of this year.  Every year has different results though!  One of those species was the Rufous-backed Robin.  This species is rare, but is usually annual in Arizona with several birds found in central or southeastern Arizona.  Despite the norm, there haven't been many Rufous-backed Robin discoveries in 2013 in these areas.  But yet, one of them showed up at the Cameron Trading post 50 miles northeast of Flagstaff, well north of the Robin's usual records.  Another year bird I feel I should have by now is the Cassin's Finch.  The Cassin's Finch is a very irruptive species who's numbers may be abundant some years and very low the next year.  Regardless, a few Cassin's Finches should be around.  I felt my chances were good by going up to the Flagstaff area.  My friend Steve Hosmer also needed the same birds for his year list as well as an American Goldfinch, and we decided to join forces on December 30th, 2013, in pursuit of these species who were eluding both of our year lists.  Steve and I braved the cold temps on the day, and headed north!

After meeting at 5 A.M. at the intersection of the 1-17 and Carefree Highway, Steve and I made our way to the Cameron Trading Post to search for the Rufous-backed Robin.  The Robin has been present at this location for well over a month, and has been in a courtyard in midst of the motels at the Trading Station.  As I mentioned before, the Trading Post was quite the drive from Phoenix, as it is 50 miles northeast of Flagstaff.  Before I made the trip, I emailed northern Arizona birder Tom Linda and asked him about the Robin and Cassin's Finches.  Tom told me the Robin favors a bush in front of motel room 217 in the courtyard area, and that it often returned to that bush during the day.  Steve and I kept that in mind.  After nearly three hours of driving, we arrived at the Cameron Trading Post.  The scenery surrounding the area was neat, and we geared up appropriately for the 20 degree weather we were getting out of the truck to.  Luckily, there wasn't any wind blowing, or it wouldn't been bad.  We quickly found the courtyard, and started looking.  The courtyard was a neat-looking place, and it's many trees and fruiting bushes were definitely eye pleasing to a thrush.

Steve and I then had the job of location room 217, and then the bush in front of room 217.

After a few minutes, we saw room 217, and then we saw a bush in front of it.  I started to look for the robin in the bush, and I did see a bird in there right away, and it looked very Rufous-backed Robin-ish.

With no white "eye-archs" around it's eyes and a white throat with black streaks, it was quickly nailed down as a success for our first target-the Rufous-backed Robin!

The Robin was giving a high call note, which is different from the typical call of an American Robin. After sitting in the bush for some time, it flew out and started to move around quite-a-bit.  Steve and I had great views of the bird from many different angles.  

Here is one of my favorite views of the Rufous-backed Robin, which this view really says everything about the bird!

The Rufous-backed Robin is much more expected at central Arizona's Boyce Thompson Arboretum or somewhere immediately in southeastern Arizona.  There's been a shortage of them in Arizona this year, but at least this one in Cameron helped us out.  Sometimes a chase further north into an area that isn't birded often can be all the more fun!

The Rufous-backed Robin was also joined by it's more common relative, the famous American Robin.

At times, they are seen perched by each other.

Other than the Robin, our newest year bird, the Cameron Trading Post had some neat scenery nearby.

And for the successful chase, Steve had a big thumbs up!

After Cameron, we headed back south into Flagstaff, where we searched wooded neighborhoods and forested areas for Cassin's Finches as well as weedy fields for American Goldfinches.  After four hours of searching and getting weird looks from the neighborhood folks, we finally decided we weren't going to get a 2013 Cassin's Finch and Steve wasn't going to get a 2013 American Goldfinch.  But the day was awesome, and the scenery around Flagstaff was very awesome!

As most of the waterways were iced over, there were a few ponds with water.  Gadwalls and a Ring-necked Duck were among the ducks at one of these ponds.

After we got back to the Valley, my Arizona year list was at 376.  I had another day for hardcore birding on the final day of the year, the 31st.  A Harris's Sparrow was found in Tucson, and is a lifer for me.  Seems like it would be a great way to end the year.....

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Some Recent Sightings...

Sightings over the last month-and-a-half have been numerous, as I have been out in the field a lot.  I haven't had time for posts as much, other than the really good trips and birds that I have seen.  But there are many good trips in the field or stops I have made that I haven't gotten to post about.

In late November, I went with my uncle Gene Scharer into Yavapai County's beautiful Bradshaw Mountain Range.  It wasn't really a trip for birding although we saw a few cool birds, and I got to hang out with my awesome uncle.  Gene showed me some of the land he dreamed of owning, which had amazing surrounding scenery.

Although we didn't see too many birds, we had a close encounter with several Band-tailed Pigeons.

Then, my friend Peggy Coleman found two Lewis's Woodpeckers in a line of palm trees in her front yard in the heart of downtown Glendale.  I came to find out that Peggy only lives .5 miles away from me!  And when I got to her house, we both enjoyed the Lewis's Woodpeckers.

When I'm guiding people to well known birds, it always helps when the target birds are cooperative.  When I was guiding on Thanksgiving morning, I was extremely thankful for cooperative Le Conte's Thrashers who decided to kindly help me out.

One day, I went out to Lake Pleasant in hopes of any rare gulls.  I brought a loaf of bread with me to attract the gulls, and it worked!  After I attracted one Ring-billed Gull, I then attracted all of the gulls on Lake Pleasant, which were all Ring-billed Gulls.  Nothing rare, but still cool.

At Lake Pleasant I also spied a Red-tailed Hawk on top of a cactus.  Cactus perched raptors are always a cool sight, and this fearless Red-tail gave me quite the show!

It also let me know that it was indeed a RED-TAILED HAWK...

On an early Saturday morning, the Phoenix area was filled up with fog.  The idea of birding in the fog is a fun one, and I went to Hassayampa River Preserve.  It was very foggy, and I couldn't see much ahead of myself, which give the birding an exciting feel to it.

It seemed like something was lurking around the corner, and my assumption was right.  It was a hawk silhouette.  

I realized it was one of the resident Red-shouldered Hawks...

As things cleared up at the Preserve, I found a few Golden-crowned Kinglets foraging in the cottonwoods.  This species is pretty rare in the lowlands.

As I was about to leave, this pair of Hooded Mergansers floated on top of Palm Lake..

Closer to home and in Peoria, I has this very close encounter with this male Costa's Hummingbird..

Now, this wasn't a huge post, but was one I was wanted to do to recap these awesome sightings that I didn't have time for individual posts for.