Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Gila County: Eastern Bluebirds

On December 15th, I did another day full of Gila County Birding, likely my last day in 2017 in Gila County.  Hopefully much more birding in this awesome county will follow in 2018.

I visited an RV park near the Bar X Crossing Road area that I like to bird along Tonto Creek.  I had a huge highlight when I found a small flock of four Eastern Bluebirds.  The flock came to my attention when I heard their distinctive "tur-a-lee" calls.  After following the sounds, I got to see and photograph these awesome birds.  It was my 274th lifer for Gila County, and my 266th for 2017.  Also, it appears to officially be a first Gila County record.  There has been an invasion of Eastern Bluebirds into Arizona this year, most of which likely belong to the nominate eastern race.  The Mexican race of southeastern Arizona and Mexico isn't known to migrate, and isn't as bright as the nominate eastern race.  I consider myself lucky to have found these birds, which is one of the best I have been able to find in Gila County.

Here are some photographs of the Eastern Bluebirds!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

A Story of An Owl and A Goose

In Maricopa County, things can really get hyped up in a short amount of time.  Examples of a short amount of time can be over the course of a few days, and it can even be over the course of a few hours.  Maricopa County has exploded this year with more and more birders taking up interest in birding the region.  In this case, I got lucky to have two great experiences.  Let me tell you a short story of an owl and a goose.

On November 21st, someone located a Northern Saw-whet Owl at Gilbert Water Ranch during the day.  The owl was on a day roost and stayed in that day roost for hours.  Word didn't get out about the owl until much later in the day.  I didn't think too much of it to the fact that I was going to chase it.  On November 22nd, I had to work and didn't get off of work until 2 P.M.  I was thinking about driving to the very northwestern tip of Maricopa County to the agricultural farm fields of Aguila to check for Short-eared Owls once dusk would arrive.  Knowing it would be a long shot, I wasn't overly excited about the potential trip to Aguila.  And then news came to the listserv from Lindsay Story, and she had been shown the Northern Saw-whet Owl at Gilbert Water Ranch.  Lindsay told the birding community about the owl's perch, and right then and there, I made up my mind that I was going to go see an epic owl that was a sure thing rather than another epic owl that would only be a remote change of finding it at best.  After work, I drove through heavy Thanksgiving traffic and arrived at Gilbert Water Ranch around 3 P.M.  I went to the spot and found plenty of birders, and also, the Northern Saw-whet Owl itself.  The Saw-whet Owl was epic, and it was the first time I've ever gotten to see one of them in the day time.  Because I love to collect owl experiences, this one was one that was a great addition to the collection.  Here is a selection of photographs of this owl, enjoy..

The Northern Saw-whet Owl was seen by many for one more day after I got to see it, which was on Thanksgiving Day, at Gilbert Water Ranch.  Then November 25th came around.  It didn't look to have birding included in it at all.  With birding, things can change in seconds.  I was walking out the door of my home and on my way to responsibility when I got a phone call.  It was Melanie Herring, when I saw that she was calling me, I knew that she had something good.  Melanie has found a lot of rare birds, and this time, she was calling me to tell me that she had a Brant at Glendale Recharge Ponds.  I couldn't believe it!  A Brant!  The birding listserv was acting funky, and her attempted posts weren't going through.  She called me and I relayed the message.  Now, let's go back to my responsibility I had to attend.  For the first time in my birding, I called the responsibility off for 40 minutes and said I would be late.  And it didn't matter in the long run, there was a Brant at Glendale Recharge Ponds!  Brant is one in Arizona that doesn't stick around long after it shows up, and I didn't want to take any chances.  I sped to Glendale Recharge Ponds, ran up to basins 1 and 2 where the Brant was discovered by Melanie, I found Melanie and the Brant, thanked Melanie and enjoyed the Brant for a whole five minutes, sprinted back to my truck, and then I went to responsibility thirty minutes late.  It didn't matter, I had an epic new addition to my Maricopa County birding as well as my Arizona lifer.  Prior to this day, I had seen Brant a few times in southern California, where they are much more home in their preferred coastal habitat.  This one, at my patch at Glendale Recharge Ponds, will have a lasting effect...

Good thing that I went and saw the Brant that day.  I went back the next day in hopes of getting longer and more relaxing looks that weren't rushed.  I got there early too, and it left a minute before I got to where it was being seen by a few who got there earlier than me.  And it wasn't seen again.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Gila County: The Continuing Fun

Hi all!  It's been two months since my Gila County update on this blog.  I haven't had time to do any more posts on the county lately, probably because I've been too busy birding it.  We left off with my Gila lifelist at 255 species on that last post ending September.  The last two months have been great, as I've most likely finished November 2017 in the county.  Highlights and adventures have been many, and I will summarize the latest here.

On September 27th, I went back up to one of my favorite areas in Gila County, the riparian corridor of Tonto Creek adjacent to Tonto Basin, as well as Roosevelt Lake.  I was hoping to find eastern vagrants in the extensive Tonto Creek stands of willows and cottonwoods via Bar X Crossing Road, but I had my first Gila County Evening Grosbeak instead.  I was hoping for more gulls and possibly some shorebirds at Roosevelt Lake.  This year was not good for shorebirds at Roosevelt Lake based on what I have seen on eBird in the past.  At my last stop of the day, I lucked out with two calling Pectoral Sandpipers flying overhead.  They continued to the far eastern side of the lake, and out of my scope's sight.

On the 27th, I photographed a Lewis's Woodpecker at Bar X.  Terrible photo, but awesome memory of an awesome woodpecker.

Here is an awesome Osprey soaring over Roosevelt Lake.

Due to money issues and catching up in my life outside of birding, unfortunately, most of October saw me skip Gila County.  My one county lifer was an American Goldfinch at Bar X at Tonto Creek on October 7th.

This month of November has been incredible for my birding in Gila County.  On November 3rd, I took a trip to spend most of my day scanning the extensive Roosevelt Lake.  At the south end of the lake, Schoolhouse Point, I got three county lifers, all within 5 minutes.  Two were rarer species, Herring Gull and Lawrence's Goldfinch, and the other was more overdue and very common, a Horned Lark.  The gull was distant, and the goldfinch and lark were high flyovers.  Fortunately, the flyovers give distinctive calls!  I did find a very late Sabine's Gull at the Grapevine Group site, which was a big surprise.  This was where I found my first Gila County Sabine's Gulls in late September, when they were much more likely throughout Arizona.

To close out the day on the 3rd at the north side of Roosevelt Lake near Bermuda Flat, I got another county lifer and another overdue one, a group of Long-billed Dowitchers.  The northern inlet of Tonto Creek flowing into the north side of the lake had great shorebird habitat, and I wished it had been like that two months earlier.  But the sighting felt good!

On November 8th, I went up the US 60/77 N to bird Jones Water Campground, the Timber Camp area, and later in the day, to the sites along the Gila River south to Winkleman.  It was a pleasant day, but I didn't have any highlights.   I only got home to find out that David Pearson, Doug Jenness, and Keith Kamper had a monster of a day at San Carlos Lake, which of course is not only in Gila County, but is in Pinal and Graham Counties too.  They had an ICELAND GULL in Pinal, as well as Red-breasted Mergansers and a Surf Scoter in Gila.  I wanted in on those birds badly, so I went to San Carlos Lake on the 9th.  On the 8th though, it was epic to see a Merlin up close at Winkleman Flats Park.

Birding the San Carlos Indian Reservation was very productive on the 9th.  I made my way straight for the Lake, but I did stop at some fields north of the lake on the way.  I was very excited to see my Gila County first Prairie Falcon in the area of the fields.  This bird can be very hard to find at times in parts of Arizona, and Gila County is one of those counties that it is difficult to find.

The long and lengthy scan of San Carlos Lake was here and there.  Birds were everywhere.  I may have seen the Iceland Gull, but it left before I could get any closer.  I did find my Gila County first Red-breasted Mergansers, which were very distant.  It looked as if they would be my only good waterbirds for Gila at San Carlos Lake.  I didn't see the Surf Scoter at first by the dam where the guys saw it the previous day, but on my way out of San Carlos Lake, I lucked out and saw that it was still there after all!  My first Gila County Scoter was a score.

After San Carlos Lake, I went north to Talkalai Lake, still on the San Carlos Indian Reservation.  The day continued to be successful.  The reeds and marsh habitat were key during my visit to Talkalai, and they gave me 2 more Gila County lifers.  One was a surprise in a calling Least Bittern, and the second were two Swamp Sparrows in the reeds and weeds.  Here is one of the Swamp Sparrows, and of course, I didn't visually see the Least Bittern.

The next Gila County birding I did took place November 15th at Tonto Creek via my Bar X, and Roosevelt Lake.  I lacked on getting an eastern warbler species that I have been striving for, but a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, my 267th Gila County bird, was awesome at Bar X.  Roosevelt Lake didn't produce anything too exciting.

This Raccoon at Bar X was freaking awesome too!

On November 17th, I went up north to bird Tonto Creek via the town of Gisela.  This area is fantastic for birding, and it has loads of potential.  Not only does it's creekside riparian have great habitat, but the neighborhoods in town look incredible for birding potential.  Before birding near the creek, I went to the north side of town to check out a farm field.  The field held my Gila County first Mountain Bluebird!

When I started to bird the area near Tonto Creek, I ventured shortly into the neighborhood at Gisela near the creek.  I heard a Phoebe chip that sounded interesting, and sure enough, it was an Eastern Phoebe.  I was pumped, and ironically, it was the first eBird record for this species in Gila County.

Minutes later, I heard an interesting warbler call, and that turned out to be my 270th bird for Gila County, and a great surprise in a first-year Chestnut-sided Warbler!

With the great start I had barely into my expedition, I wondered what else was in Gisela.  In the long run, there wasn't anything else on the rare side, but I did get my 271st Gila lifer, an overdue Townsend's Solitaire.

Gisela is a great place, and is one I hope to visit a lot more often in the future!

Brian Ison went to Gisela shortly after I did and found a Tennessee Warbler.  I don't get the opportunity to chase much in Gila County because, well, it's under-birded, but I tried for the Tennessee without any luck.  However, I did find a late Virginia's Warbler, a very low-in-elevation Olive Warbler, and my continuing Eastern Phoebe.

Yesterday, on November 24th, I ventured back to the San Carlos Indian Reservation to bird the San Carlos River, Talkalai Lake, and maybe San Carlos Lake.  I ended up birding all three, but the best excitement came from San Carlos River.  This river is the hardest river I have ever birded.  It's like a maze, full of water, thorns, fallen branches, everywhere, you name it.  To top it all off, the surrounding habitat isn't much different in order to get to the riparian!  Jeez leweez.  I did strike gold when I found a Brown Thrasher in the thick mess, which was of course a Gila lifer for me, and actually may be the first Gila record.  It is for eBird that is.  The Brown Thrasher was skittish for the most part, but I did manage these photographs.

Not long after the Brown Thrasher, I heard my second Gila lifer of the trip, an out-of-season Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet!  The Ty was calling from a thick thick mesquite bosque, and I wasn't able to get a visual after hearing it's high and descending "teeeiiiii-unk" call.  It was one that I tried to get in season this year, and getting it this way was awesome.  In place of a Tyrannulet photo, here is a Swamp Sparrow I saw near the Brown Thrasher.

The San Carlos River below Talkalai Lake Dam where I spent a lot of time birding at has loads of potential, too bad that potential isn't easier to access.  I love bushwhacking, but this place really tore me up!

Right now my Gila County explorations have really taken me for an awesome ride.  I want to know this county well, and keep on birding it.  My list is at 273 species for life, and I hope to get that above 300 someday.  Gila County needs more birders and more exploration, and I hope to chip into that need!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

One on One With Scaled Quail

I took these photographs awhile back in Wilcox at the famous Lake and Golf Course.  They haven't made it onto this blog yet, and I know this experience was too cool for me not to post about it.  I'm not going to say much about it, just enjoy the series of photographs I was able to capture of this neat but quite comical quail, and of a bird that I don't get to enjoy very often.