Sunday, May 20, 2018

A Birding Medley

Birding has been fun as of late.  I've been busy to the point that I haven't been able to blog as much.  The highlights that I've had over the past few months have had a lot of variety to them, and a really good blend.  I'll combine them all on here with a medley of short stories that include great birds and great people.

A focal point expedition came when the great Minnesotans Josh Wallestad and Steve Gardner planned a three day trip to visit Arizona.  You all know Josh if you read my blog, he made TOBY happen!  It was going to be three days of searching Arizona with Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl being our main target.  Josh is sitting on 18 owls for the United States/Canada, and the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl is the epic finale for him.  Josh, Steve, and I thought we would be spending most of our trip trying to locate this small, endangered, and rare owl, and to start things off, we were as serious as can be.  Especially Josh.  Josh has raved and raved and raved and raved and raved and raved and raved and raved and raved about landing this owl.  I "knew" there wasn't going to be any force in heaven or hell that would stop him.

Left to right:  Yours truly, Josh Wallestad, Steve Gardner

It took one lopsided morning of scouring Organ Pipe National Monument without luck for Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (FEPO) and one taste of southeastern Arizona rarities for Josh to cavalier it and say, "Forget FEPO.  I'll just get it in Texas".  I was shocked, freaking shocked.  But I wasn't complaining either.  It was awesome.  Josh wanted to chase a Mexican rarity I had never seen before, and there were going to be attempts at a handful of other crazy birds.  Steve liked the idea just as much as I did.  In fact, I loved Josh's idea.  I found myself saying to myself, "Forget FEPO".

I sat back and watched Steve and Josh talk about which birds they wanted.  It was their trip, I was along for the ride, and their ideas kept on getting more and more awesome.  After ending a day full of birding and succeeding and striking out on multiple birds (including a success of landing Rufous-backed Robin but a Sinaloa Wren strikeout), we went night birding at Madera Canyon.  Visuals of both Whiskered Screech and Elf Owls provided a show.  In particular, the Elf Owl, the world's smallest owl, was most of the show.

The second day of the trip was the major bomb.  We started our day off landing the epic Montezuma Quail for Steve and Josh at Ash Canyon Bed and Breakfast.  These secretive quail feed briefly inside of this yard quite often.  It was a thrill lifer for Josh and Steve, and for me, it was the first time I've been able to document Montezuma Quail.  My first Montezuma Quail came in the Greer Area in 2004, and this pair at Ash Canyon were the first ones I've visually seen since.  Better late than never, Mr. 14 years later!

Throughout the trip, lifer after lifer came for Steve, and Josh had plenty too.  Reports and photos of a Fan-tailed Warbler in the foothills of the Chiricahua Mountains is what really made Josh change his mind about FEPO.  Who could pass up a Fan-tailed Warbler.  What was a lifer in the making for me for years turned into a reality.  The Fan-tailed Warbler was being seen in a yard north of Portal, and it was found by the famous Rick Taylor.  To have Fan-tailed Warbler as a yard bird would be something else!  Josh, Steve, and I had a long drive ahead of us, but after 3 hours, we arrived at the house.  Many many birders had been there throughout the day, and after we parked and went to Rick's yard, we saw and enjoyed the Fan-tailed Warbler immediately.  This lasted for an hour.  Point blank views of this Mexican warbler, and my latest life bird.

 A huge thanks goes out to Rick Taylor for finding this bird and to both Rick and his wife for opening up their yard to hundreds of birders.  The Fan-tailed Warbler is a Code 4 in the ABA area.  It is usually quite the skulker of a warbler and stays in thick habitat.  We weren't complaining about it's behavioral change one bit!

From there, we went into the heart of the Chiricahua Mountains and drove up to Pinery Canyon to look for another ABA Code 4 warbler, the Slate-throated Redstart.  This particular Slate-throated Redstart has returned to the same canyon/drainage for the third year now.  Our trio didn't see it during the evening we first tried for it, but we returned in the morning.  Luckily, it didn't take long for this Mexican warbler, who is sought after by many, to make a grand appearance.  In less than 24 hours, Josh and Steve had landed two great warblers that they didn't think they would have a chance at getting before the trip started!

After seeing the Slate-throated Redstart, Josh, Steve, and I went up to Barfoot Park, which is in midst of the highest elevations of the Chiricahuas, to look for the Mexican Chickadee.  Mexican Chickadee is a big deal for ABA birders, and can only be found in two mountain ranges in the United States, including the Chiricahuas.  A range in New Mexico has the Chickadees too, but is access isn't a possibility.  We started looking for the Chickadees in the pine and fir forest in those high elevations.  We got lucky within our first ten minutes and found a few Mexican Chickadees.  It was great for Steve and Josh to get this bird too, and I had a blast as well, because I had seen this species only one other time.

The three of us had a great trip and it was a ton of fun.  Steve got about 34 lifers, Josh 18, and yours truly, 1!

Left to right:  Yours truly, Josh Wallestad, Steve Gardner

Something that has been really fun for me is showing Dara Vazquez and Jeff Ritz owls at night, as well as showing them some of the techniques I use to find owls.  We've owled several times at the Lower Salt River Recreation Area, and each night has been epic.  Each night we have had wild horses and coyotes to deal with, but each night we cut through the herds and cut through the pack to get to our owls.  The best way to start off was to go with Western Screech-Owls, and Western Screech-Owls we got!

Here Dara and a Screech are seeing each other for the first time!  Jeff was right alongside Dara (insert Jeff to Dara's right)

Once April hit, the owl team shifted our focus to Elf Owls.  One night we only heard one and could never see it.  I planned the outing a little early for the Elf Owl's arrival, but we still had a lot of fun.  All it took was to go back two weeks later, more in mid-April.  And that night, an Elf Owl pair put on a show for Dara and Jeff!

A drake Barrow's Goldeneye wintered at Lake Pleasant this year and chilled with female Common Goldeneyes.  I don't think I mentioned it on my blog yet, but I want too, because it's cool.

Caleb "The Boy" Strand found a Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet at the Higley Ponds in Gilbert during the winter, earlier this year.  I don't think I mentioned it on my blog yet, but I want too, because it's cool.

For the second time ever, I got to see Eastern Bluebirds in Maricopa County, earlier this year.  I don't think I mentioned it on my blog yet, but I want too, because it's cool.

Earlier this year, I enjoyed a Northern Saw-whet Owl at Gilbert Water Ranch.  I don't think I mentioned it on my blog yet, but I want too, because it's cool.

Gordon Karre and I went to Slate Creek Divide recently.  We found a Northern Pygmy-Owl.  It was cool, but was really high up!

And every once in awhile, you may get the crap scared out of you when birding.  Gordon and I both had our turns of it that day.  It led me to investing in two sets of snake gaitors/shields.

Northern finches, such as Cassin's Finches, lingered into lower reaches of Arizona for a significant amount of time this year.  Also noteworthy was a small flock of Evening Grosbeaks at Mount Ord.  Cool looking bird, huh!?

Dara Vazquez is one of the fastest birders in Maricopa County to reach 300 species so quickly.  She is an amazing birder.  Her 300th species for the County was a Golden Eagle soaring over Mount Ord, and I happened to be birding with her on that epic day to see her reach that milestone!

Speaking of Eagles, I have another eagle story.  While I was in a very remote section of the Mazatzal Mountains, I looked up to see an eagle flying over the area.  It was flying low, and I initially thought it would undoubtedly be a Golden Eagle.  I snapped photographs away instead of looking through my binocs because Golden Eagles don't fly low very often.  Well, it turned out to be a younger Bald Eagle.  I rarely see Bald Eagles in wilderness areas such as this and well away from water, which means it was the Explorer Bald Eagle!

Migration is truly a great thing to enjoy in birding.  Anything can happen at anytime.  Shorebirds are an example of this, and seeing shorebirds in spring is a great event.  Wilson's Phalaropes in breeding plumage are memorable.

This is a Common Black-Hawk I photographed in Gisela, Gila County.  Gisela is a great spot and I've found some cool birds there.  As I planned on doing a full expedition, the place became windy to the point that I was violently getting blown around.  If I couldn't function, how could birds.  In the midst of it all, this Black Hawk stood it's ground.  I still don't know how he did it, but he should be saluted.  

A stretch of mountain terrain in the Slate Creek Divide area (west by over a mile of the main area people go) has always looked promising and I've been curious to explore it.  Last year, Felipe Guerrero found a pair of Montezuma Quail that were only 500 feet away from the Maricopa County line in this area.  A record of this quail in Maricopa would mean an official first County record!  Dara came on the trek with me and we explored a spot in Maricopa County while scouring a steep ridge-line.  This is a spot that hasn't been covered by birders.  The habitat looked good for quail in many places.  It is a rugged area, but there are more Douglas fir, pine, and oak canyons that probably have more surprises that have yet to be unlocked.  We didn't find that Maricopa County record Montezuma Quail, but we found a singing Red-faced Warbler to start off the day in the usual area that we bird at Slate.  Red-faced Warbler is a big deal in Maricopa County.  The warbler was incredible to see, Dara and I were on Cloud 9, and perhaps they will soon return to Slate Creek Divide again as breeders in Maricopa County!

Here is an overview of one of the canyons that we scouted and looked over from the ridge-line.  It looks treacherous, but it also looks awesome...

During the Global Big Day for birding on May 5th, I covered more of the Mazatzal Mountains in Maricopa County.  I covered a new drainage area that has Douglas fir, pine, and oak.  The habitat wasn't too extensive, but was still awesome.  A few Dusky-capped Flycatchers called in the canyon, giving the county another drainage that they can be found in.

Upcoming and young birder Jared Conaway, Caleb, Dara, and I went to Desert Botanical Garden the other day to look at a lowland Flammulated Owl.  Dara had seen it earlier in the day, and she kindly invited us to see it and show it to us.  The Flam was tucked deep into the tree it was roosting in, and it was awesome to see one in the lowlands.  Flammulated Owls are probably common migrants in the lowlands and are very hard to detect.  By the way this one well hidden, it shows why they remain elusive!

Caleb "The Boy" Strand and I went on a big trek for a Gila County birding day to the Sierra Ancha Wilderness and Roosevelt Lake.  The Boy makes the birds obey him.  The Sierra Anchas are a blast, and most of our time was spent there.  One canyon provided some awesome birds...

The best highlight in the canyon was a pair of Spotted Owls.  Caleb and I located them right along the trail, and it was epic!

Any day when a Spotted Owl is spotted is a great day!

In the Anchas, Red-faced Warblers and migrant Olive-sided Flycatchers were bouncing around just as much as a beach ball at a Nickleback concert.

Yesterday on May 19th, Caleb "The Boy" Strand and I were back at it again.  Unlike the canyons and forests of the Sierra Ancha Mountains, we went to the lowlands of Yuma County.  Yuma is a county I'm not too fond of due to a lack of high elevations, but there are some great spots.  The Boy likes to bird migrant traps, such as Dateland.  The many trees around Dateland make the place a perfect migrant trap, and I think we've all lost count of how many rarities have been found there.  We were after a rare Kentucky Warbler that was found by McCreedy during the morning.  We looked for four hours without luck.  Even though we didn't find Kentucky, The Boy will be The Boy.  Caleb spied a rare Baltimore Oriole, which was a female.  Not bad!

Spring is coming to a close and summer is right around the corner.  Everyone here in Phoenix is about to get grilled.  Over these next months, I hope to do more high elevation birding, lots of intense owling, and maybe photograph a Buff-collared Nightjar.  What will the summer bring for all of you?  Make sure you make some time for some good birding!  That's all for now guys, don't know when I'll be back with the next post.  But I'll leave you with one more photograph of a Spotted Owl...