Monday, February 24, 2014

Birding The White Tanks

I love the White Tank Mountains Regional Park.  It is a great place for hiking, talking, biking, picnicking, parking lot football, parties, family gatherings, water balloon fights, camping, wilderness exploration, and desert birding.  The very latter end of the list was why I was here today.  Take a look at a scene from the White Tanks, neat huh?

The White Tanks are in my opinion one of the best locations to see the usual desert birds in their entirety as well as several other western species up close such as Canyon and Rock Wrens as well as White-throated Swifts.  There is a very nice trail system in the White Tanks with many neat trails to hike.  Perhaps the most popular for sure is the one mile long Waterfall Trail.  I find this trail to be awesome for birding for several reasons.  I'll cover that in this post.  Today at the White Tanks, I was joined by my friend Dominic Sherony.  We wanted to photograph one swift flying bird as well as any other avian creatures who wanted to come close.  We started at the Waterfall Trail, which has a "trickle" drop at the end of the hike in a shady canyon.  The trickle is a what the poorly named trail is named after, and it drops only one day out of the year.  This Costa's Hummingbird started the hike off on our way up the Waterfall Trail.

The Canyon Towhee was common around the trail edges also, and they could be heard singing all throughout the desert.  Oddly, we saw a group of three Spotted Towhees in the trail side wash, but we didn't see any Abert's Towhees.  This particular Canyon Towhee had a feast going for itself.

A single Curve-billed Thrasher also found this side of the trail, and it didn't seem to care about the fact that we were very close.  The Curve-billed Thrasher is a lot more tolerant of people by far as compared to any of the other thrashers.

The Waterfall Trail and surrounding desert was filled with the high pitched songs and calls of the Black-throated Sparrow.  This sparrow lives completely in the desert and loves this habitat.  It's a very striking bird, one that I always find myself staring at when it pops up.

We then headed up to the end of the trail.  The end is cool, and is engulfed by large cliffs and a shady canyon.  This makes the perfect habitat sequence for a very cool wren that likes canyons.  It's song commonly haunts western cliff edges and canyons.

Everyone likes to see the Canyon Wren, and Dominic and I were pleased when this long-billed bird made his epic appearance.  

I've come up the Waterfall Trail many times, and the ending stretches of the trail have always been good for Canyon Wren.  And today, he did not dissapoint.  Perhaps this particular Canyon Wren is the same one I've always seen.  That would make him at least 8 years old.

Dominic and I then focused our attention on the cliffs, for a swift of a bird was our main reason for coming up here.  The Canyon Wren made the day, but our main target is one that is a pain in the rear to photograph.  The cliffs are pretty cool to look at also while waiting....

While we waited, several hikers who were non-birders asked us what we were doing.  Dominic said, "Well, we are attempting to photograph a bird called a White-throated Swift.  Photographing them is equivalent to attempting to photograph a mosquito with a point-and-shoot camera".  The hikers and I laughed what Dominic said, and when the White-throated Swifts came into view, they could see what Dominic was talking about.  White-throated Swifts, as any swift, are too swift and fast for most cameras to get killer shots.  But with the persistant efforts from Dominic and I, we managed to get several decent shots of the swifts.

As the hikers were saying goodbye, Dominic also added, "they also look like a flying cigar with wings".  And that is also true, most swifts do look like flying cigars with wings.  These spectacular flyers nest on at the end of the Waterfall Trail on the tops of the cliffs.  For anyone wanting to photograph this bird, it would be a good bet to try here.  But the birds are swifts, and they are very challenging for that wanted picture.

A morning at these wonderful White Tanks Mountains is a great way to go birding!

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