Journal - June, 2004
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This log is in chronological order and the most recent entries
are at the bottom of the page.
The last update was on Wednesday, June 30, 2004
Tuesday, June 1, 2004
I had a slight dilemma this morning. I wanted to head to higher elevation to look for Blue Grouse and Three-toed Woodpecker but I had the nagging problem of a flat spare tire. Common sense prevailed and I postponed a high country visit in favor of some peace of mind. It was another warm day (in the mid 80s), perhaps a tad cooler than yesterday with slightly more of a breeze and some afternoon clouds. I spent most of my morning birding along Rudd Creek and along West Fork in Greer, sandwiched between brief checks of Nelson Reservoir and Becker Lake. The only regular "target species" that I specifically looked for was American Dipper, which I didn't find. Nevertheless, despite that miss it was a good day and I found three species that I really didn't expect to find on this trip. I'll warn you that the photos that I took today were mediocre due either to distance or bad light, nothing like yesterday's bluebird image.
Calling MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRDS and a singing GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE greeted me as I had my first cup of coffee at 5:00am this morning. I looked at Nelson Reservoir as I headed out and quickly recorded 20 species including VIRGINIA RAIL and SPOTTED SANDPIPER.
Next, I returned to the Rudd Creek location (just north of the reservoir) where I birded yesterday -- with one major difference: I was 3 hours earlier. I soon found all the same species as yesterday and then I heard a bird that made me stop and listen carefully -- CASSIN'S KINGBIRD, a pretty scarce bird in this part of the White Mountains. (I checked my records later and found that I had only seen them twice in the last ten years. Even allowing for the fact that I'm only in the White Mountains sporadically, they are scarce!). Remembering yesterday's Gray Flycatcher Mockingbird, I stopped to make sure of what I was hearing. Normally, you can eliminate Mockingbird by listening for 30 seconds or so -- a mocker typically mimics several species in sequence and/or lapses into its own song. Nevertheless, I wanted to be sure so I tracked down what was presumably a pair of very noisy birds. Two hours later I didn't hear them at all.
Next, I put a cockamamie theory to work. I postulated that since I had heard a Mockingbird imitating a Gray Flycatcher yesterday, the chances were reasonable that the mocker had heard one in the area. In reality, I've heard mockers mimic the song of birds that do not even occur anywhere near the area, so this was a long shot at best. I walked west along Rudd Creek and after about 0.75 mile I came across a nice looking drainage coming in from the south with suitable habitat. About 5 minutes later I could hardly believe my ears -- I heard not one but two singing GRAY FLYCATCHERS about 200 yards apart. The birds were singing spontaneously, I wasn't even trolling. After I regained my composure, I tracked them both down for a positive identification. Of course, GRFL will occasionally sing in winter and definitely sings in migration; and at this date it's possible the birds are just passing through. I'll need to check back to make sure they stick around before I can consider the notion of breeding birds. The location was a fairly narrow, steep walled section of drainage with pinyon juniper, pinyon pine and a few ponderosa pines.
The day got a little better shortly after I saw the flycatchers when I came across a DOWNY WOODPECKER, another fairly scarce bird in this neck of the woods. Also in the same location were a couple of PINYON JAYS. I recorded the following 25 species in the main Rudd Creek riparian section plus the south drainage. Species in italics were not seen at this location yesterday.
Red-tailed Hawk, Downy Woodpecker, N. Flicker, Western Wood-Pewee,
Gray, Dusky & Ash-throated Flycatchers, Cassin's Kingbird,
Rock & Canyon Wrens, N. Mockingbird, Western Bluebird, Am. Robin, Bushtit, Western Scrub-Jay, Pinyon Jay, Common Raven, Plumbeous Vireo, Warbling Vireo (a photo first for me), Yellow Warbler, Spotted Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Brown-headed Cowbird & Lesser Goldfinch.
I checked in at the Springerville Forest Service office in an attempt to put a name to the above drainages. The FS maps that I have show very little information and, unfortunately, the topo maps that I looked didn't provide any details. Over the years, I've been calling the Rudd Creek drainage where it meets Nutrioso Creek "Rudd Creek #3" (one of three places that I bird along Rudd Creek) and it looks like I'll be keeping that name! I'll have to come up with a name for the south drainage, perhaps Gray Flycatcher Canyon?
I didn't get to West Fork until nearly 10:00am, much later than I wanted to be here. I started looking for Dipper but got seriously sidetracked by a sadistic male WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER that was constantly flying from tree to tree, staying about a minute in each location (a typical behavior, I might add). I was unable to obtain a useful image before the bird finally vanished. Wasn't it Peterson who said "at first I didn't see the bird very well and then it flew away".
RED-FACED WARBLERS were fairly common singing at regular intervals along the river. I also came across several (silent except for a few chips) MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLERS and just one singing VIRGINIA'S WARBLER. I recorded about 25 species here including HAIRY WOODPECKER, DUSKY FLYCATCHER, about a dozen CLARK'S NUTCRACKERS in the Four Seasons' yard, both kinglets, PINE SISKIN and several singing GREEN-TAILED TOWHEES.
On the way back into Springerville I stopped to check the cottonwoods at mp 395 on highway 260. Over the years this has been a good spot for Lewis's Woodpeckers but I couldn't find any today. Something is going on with Lewis's Woodpecker -- I've checked "downtown" Nutrioso twice, Becker Lake three times and the above spot without seeing a single bird. In previous years they have been hard to miss at each of these locations.
I finished up at Becker Lake in the heat of the day. The only birds of note were 2 WESTERN GREBES (breeding pair?).
Day List (72 species recorded):
Pied-billed & Western Grebes, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Am. Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Cinnamon Teal, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Ruddy Duck, Red-tailed Hawk, Am. Kestrel, Virginia Rail, Am. Coot, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Mourning Dove, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Williamson's Sapsucker, Downy & Hairy Woodpeckers, N. Flicker, Western Wood-Pewee, Gray, Dusky & Ash-throated Flycatchers, Say's Phoebe, Cassin's Kingbird, Violet-green, N. Rough-winged, Cliff & Barn Swallows, Golden-crowned & Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Rock & Canyon Wrens, N. Mockingbird, Western & Mountain Bluebirds, Am. Robin, Bushtit, Mountain Chickadee, Western Scrub-Jay, Steller's & Pinyon Jays, Clark's Nutcracker, Common Raven, European Starling, Plumbeous & Warbling Vireos, Virginia's, Yellow, Yellow-rumped, MacGillivray's & Red-faced Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Western Tanager, Green-tailed & Spotted Towhees, Chipping Sparrow, Black-headed Grosbeak, Eastern & Western Meadowlarks, Red-winged, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbird, Bullock's Oriole, House Finch, Pine Siskin, Lesser Goldfinch and House Sparrow.
Wednesday, June 2, 2004
Today I made it to high elevation for the first time on this trip with a visit to the Big Lake area. Although this area is just as scenic as many others (perhaps more so) and has all the high elevation species, it's also a popular recreation area and I generally spend less time here than most other White Mountain locations. Midweek is probably the best day to go and only Big Lake itself could be called "busy" today (it's all relative, of course). I found both my target species and as a bonus I stumbled across a new species for my White Mountain list.
I took FR 81 (one of the back roads out of Nutrioso) over to FR 249 and rolled to halt at the top of Big Lake Lookout at 6:07am. A few minutes later I was looking at a very cooperative DUSKY GROUSE wandering around the parking area. I wish that I could show you a wonderful photo with a backdrop of rocks and firs, where the bird occasionally wandered. Unfortunately, those locations were way too gloomy for a decent image. Instead, the photo is of the bird eating construction gravel! Oh, well. I walked around with this very tame bird for over 30 minutes and took over 100 images, trying for the perfect shot that never happened. You'll notice that the bird has what seems like a thin metal rod stuck in its neck. I thought about trying to get close enough to remove it, but only for a moment. After a while I thought the rod was impacting the bird's ability to fly, however, that certainly wasn't the case. Eventually, the grouse decided that I was no longer fun to be with and hopped up onto a large rock overlooking a steep drop off; then flew in typical noisy and ungainly fashion into a tree giving me a somewhat disdainful parting look. A few seconds later it flopped into some dense fir needles and instantly became invisible. Amazing for such a large bird.
While I was with the grouse, I ignored photo opportunities of several other birds that were singing very close to me including CORDILLERAN FLYCATCHER, a super looking RED-FACED WARBLER that I missed out on completely and a rather drab TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE. Also during the grouse encounter, I heard some light tapping and zero calls so I figured it wasn't a Hairy Woodpecker nor Flicker. What's left? -- well, it could have been a Williamson's Sapsucker but as it turns out it was indeed what I was hoping for -- a (female) AMERICAN THREE-TOED WOODPECKER, my other target bird for the day.
Next, I headed over to Big Lake where I really didn't expect to see anything of note on the water. Wrong! As I was scoping a WESTERN GREBE, a large white bird passed through my field of view and I quickly switched to binocular view to find it. I was extremely surprised and pleased when I caught up with the bird and realized that it was a CASPIAN TERN, a new White Mountain species for me. There can't be many records of this species here -- the rather outdated Monson & Phillips reference shows zero records, but that was only through 1981. Away from SE AZ, I've seen them in Flagstaff and on the Colorado River. M & P lists a record for Ganado Lake to the north of the White Mountains. I watched the bird circle around the lake for about five minutes. Also present were COMMON MERGANSER and SPOTTED SANDPIPER.
I moved on a couple of miles to Crescent Lake where there wasn't another soul. On the water I saw more Mergansers, a dozen DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS and a graceful OSPREY. Lots of AMERICAN CROWS around the edge of the lake and HORNED LARKS and VESPER SPARROWS in the grass.
Heading back east I stopped at Three Forks where I saw my first OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER of the trip along with ROCK WREN, GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE, WESTERN TANAGER and PINE SISKIN. At Sierra Blanca Lake I added my first SORA of the trip in the company of a grunting VIRGINIA RAIL. On the water I noted a handful of ducks including REDHEAD, a couple of EARED GREBES and a few YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS.
Approaching Nutrioso on County Road 2269, I paused to check a regular spot and finally saw my first LEWIS'S WOODPECKER of the trip. A good end to an excellent morning.
An evening sortie into Nutrioso yielded another LEWIS'S WOODPECKER high atop a regular snag on highway 180 and yet another on a snag at (dry) Nutrioso Reservoir. Just like waiting for a bus, five days without seeing one and then they all come along at once. EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVES were in town along with BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK and BULLOCK'S ORIOLE, while CORDILLERAN FLYCATCHER, BLUE GROSBEAK, WESTERN BLUEBIRD, GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE were all along Nutrioso Creek.
Day List (65 species recorded):
Pied-billed, Eared & Western Grebes, Double-crested Cormorant, Gadwall, Mallard, Redhead, Common Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Osprey, Blue Grouse, Virginia Rail, Sora, Am. Coot, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Caspian Tern, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Mourning Dove, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Lewis's, Hairy & Am. Three-toed Woodpeckers, N. Flicker, Western Wood-Pewee, Olive-sided & Cordilleran Flycatchers, Horned Lark, Violet-green & Barn Swallows, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Rock & House Wrens, N. Mockingbird, Western & Mountain Bluebirds, Townsend's Solitaire, Hermit Thrush, Am. Robin, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Steller's Jay, Am. Crow, Common Raven, European Starling, Plumbeous & Warbling Vireos, Yellow-rumped & Red-faced Warblers, Western Tanager, Green-tailed Towhee, Chipping & Vesper Sparrows, Dark-eyed Junco, Black-headed & Blue Grosbeaks, Eastern Meadowlark, Red-winged, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds, Bullock's Oriole, House Finch, Pine Siskin, Lesser Goldfinch and House Sparrow.
Thursday, June 3, 2004
Another warm day by White Mountains standards, although some clouds and a breeze did provide a little relief at times. In order I visited South Fork (lots of mosquitoes); Butler Canyon and West Fork in Greer (both pleasant at 8500 feet), Becker Lake (very warm, ~90 degrees) and Nelson Reservoir. I looked specifically for three species and went 2 for 3 (dipped on Dipper again). The first new trip species of the day, get this, was ROCK PIGEON on the outskirts of Eagar. My retirement plans are confirmed, who wouldn't want to live in a place where Eurasian Collared-Doves are easier to find than Rock Pigeons!
I started in the riparian section of South Fork where I found my first target species immediately -- GRAY CATBIRD along the river just after the first cattle guard where the riparian access begins. I continued to bird the riparian area above and below the bridge but I wasn't having fun and quit after about 30 minutes. The river is quite high and running swiftly and the noise was really bugging the hell out of me; as were the mosquitoes, numerous but not vicious. The north trail close to the river was flooded, reducing access somewhat, although a detour along the base of the hill allowed me to reach where public access ends at the private property line. In addition to the above inconveniences, birds were not plentiful! All in all, a lose - lose situation. Perhaps the best bird was a migrant WILSON'S WARBLER. Since I only have one other June record (June 1, 2000 on Nutrioso Creek), I don't have enough data to know how late they pass through the White Mountains. YELLOW-BREASTED CHATS were plentiful and vocal. VIRGINIA'S WARBLER was just as elusive as in SE AZ (I followed a bird for 15 minutes and didn't see it once, even though it was just feet away from me in the dense vegetation).
I moved on to the campground area where I expected a hike of a mile or so to find my next target species. However, without a word of a lie, as I stepped out of my vehicle I heard the repeated "single toot" call of the "northern" NORTHERN PYGMY-OWL. All I had to do to see the bird was walk about 100 yards or so along the trail then risk life and limb by scrambling up a steep slope with loose rocks. The bird was in less than ideal light for a photo -- but it's better to get a fairly decent photo and live than to get a perfect shot and die. I like this "if looks could kill" shot which was worth the price of admission. A few PYGMY NUTHATCHES came in to mob the bird but they soon lost interest. HEPATIC TANAGER was another bird that showed a passing interest and was a nice bonus for my efforts. They're common as dirt in SE AZ but always a good find in the White Mountains. CLARK'S NUTCRACKER'S called from the rocky bluffs above me but didn't come down to investigate.
Driving out of South Fork, I paused at the rocky area just before the grassland starts to pick up CANYON and ROCK WRENS and a couple of stops in the grassland produced HORNED LARKS and VESPER SPARROWS.
I moved on to Greer where I birded first in East Fork/Butler Canyon. I was really looking for sapsuckers but I'm not one to look a gift AMERICAN THREE-TOED WOODPECKER in the mouth -- the photo is somewhat of an improvement over yesterday. Maybe before this trip is over I'll get a good image of a male. There seemed to be a family group with the female in the photo, a drumming male and this bird that I think is a juvenile. As I followed the woodpeckers, I heard RED-FACED and MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLERS and a few other common species. Back at my vehicle, I watched a pair of PLUMBEOUS VIREOS building a nest. A fairly uncommon in the White Mountains SONG SPARROW was a trip first.
Time for a late breakfast at the Rendezvous Diner in Greer (highly recommended).
My successful morning took a nose dive in West Fork where I again failed to find Dipper. I checked about a mile of the river (twice) and the Red Setter and Four Seasons bridges. I saw lots of Dipper shit so the birds are around! A female WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER and good looks at RED-FACED WARBLER were somewhat of a consolation. CLARK'S NUTCRACKERS were at the Four Seasons and RED CROSSBILL'S at the Red Setter.
Day List (75 species recorded, 7 new for the trip in italics):
Pied-billed & Western Grebes, Gadwall, Mallard, Cinnamon Teal, Ruddy Duck, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Am. Coot, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, N. Pygmy-Owl, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Williamson's Sapsucker, Hairy & Am. Three-toed Woodpeckers, N. Flicker, Western Wood-Pewee, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Black Phoebe, Horned Lark, Violet-green, N. Rough-winged, Cliff & Barn Swallows, Golden-crowned & Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Rock, Canyon & House Wrens, Gray Catbird, Western & Mountain Bluebirds, Am. Robin, Bushtit, Mountain Chickadee, Pygmy & White-breasted Nuthatches, Brown Creeper, Steller's Jay, Clark's Nutcracker, Common Raven, European Starling, Plumbeous & Warbling Vireos, Virginia's, Yellow-rumped, MacGillivray's, Wilson's & Red-faced Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-breasted Chat, Hepatic & Western Tanagers, Green-tailed & Spotted Towhees, Chipping, Vesper & Song Sparrows, Dark-eyed Junco, Black-headed Grosbeak, Eastern & Western Meadowlarks, Red-winged, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbird, Bullock's Oriole, House Finch, Red Crossbill, Pine Siskin, Lesser Goldfinch and House Sparrow.
Friday, June 4, 2004
One of the advantages of my extended trip to the White Mountains is that I don't have to focus all my efforts on finding the area specialties. Although I need to keep tabs on birds that I often have to find, I also want to expand my knowledge of regular birdlife that occurs in the under-birded White Mountains. Today I relaxed a little and took some time to "smell the roses" by giving pride of early morning place to Hulsey Lake, a small fishing lake on the road up to Escudilla. On most visits to the mountains I'm unable to find the time to bird here (or at best make a quick visit), since it's not a place to find typical target species. Today I decided to spend some time exploring the pines away from the lake. The lake itself rarely has anything of note in summer because it's so small and is a very popular fishing spot. Only MALLARD and BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERONS were on the water.
Even though I didn't find any species that I haven't seen here before, I was able to confirm the likely breeding of RED-FACED, GRACE'S and OLIVE WARBLERS. I had to work for a while (walking and listening) for the Olive, but it was worth it -- a cracking full adult "orange headed" male. I stayed with the bird for a while trying to figure out what was it was doing. The warbler sang from the same tree for about 1-2 minutes, then flew about 50 yards to another tree and repeated; covering a circle of perhaps 200 yards diameter. In the end I couldn't decide if the bird was defending territory or trolling for a mate. I already had a pretty good idea that they bred at this location having seen a number of juveniles in fall. It was also interesting to note a significant difference in the song compared to SE AZ birds.
None of the 20+ species that I saw were particular common and most were not very vocal. This GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE was an exception, perched up singing for all the world to see (but I was the only person present, often the case when you get up early). However, I have to admit that getting up at 4:30am day after day (and staying up late) is taking it's toll, so something will have to give! My reward? The Olive Warbler and (finally) a photograph of a Green-tailed Towhee that shows the green tail quite well.
Next, I spent a couple of hours at an already quite warm Luna Lake. It was a little smoky again here (and I could smell smoke in Nutrioso this morning); I don't know whether it was from the Hannagan fire or from the fire now burning in New Mexico. Two immature BALD EAGLES were perched in snags near the nest and I saw a couple of fly-bys from an adult. The only bird of note among the 35 that I recorded was one that I was hoping to see -- SANDHILL CRANE. Amazingly, one has been present annually since 1999 (to my personal knowledge). I thought I heard the bird on my last visit but couldn't locate it. Also present was a lone WESTERN GREBE, continuing (migrant?) SPOTTED SANDPIPERS, CORDILLERAN FLYCATCHER, PYGMY NUTHATCHES, PLUMBEOUS VIREO and GRACE'S WARBLER (many singing).
Heading back to Nutrioso I checked the creek and in town without seeing anything new. As usual, EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVES were conspicuous.
When I got back to Juniper Hill, increasing clouds brought thunder and something that I didn't expect -- rain! Unfortunately, it was short lived and didn't drop the temperature much. WESTERN SCRUB-JAY was a new yard bird.
Day List (61 species recorded):
Pied-billed, Eared & Western Grebes, Great Blue Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Canada Goose, Gadwall, Mallard, Cinnamon Teal, Common Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, Am. Kestrel, Sandhill Crane, Am. Coot, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Mourning Dove, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, N. Flicker, Western Wood-Pewee, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Say's Phoebe, Violet-green, Cliff & Barn Swallows, House Wren, N. Mockingbird, Western & Mountain Bluebirds, Am. Robin, Mountain Chickadee, Pygmy & White-breasted Nuthatches, Brown Creeper, Steller's Jay, Western Scrub-Jay, Am. Crow, Common Raven, European Starling, Plumbeous & Warbling Vireos, Olive, Yellow-rumped, Grace's Warbler & Red-faced Warblers, Western Tanager, Green-tailed Towhee, Chipping & Vesper Sparrows, Dark-eyed Junco, Black-headed Grosbeak, Eastern Meadowlark, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds, House Finch, Pine Siskin, Lesser Goldfinch and House Sparrow.
Saturday, June 5, 2004
Another warm day in the White Mountains with very little wind or cloud cover to provide any relief. I visited Sipe Wildlife Area, Rudd Creek Canyon and Nelson Reservoir.
I took the back entrance to Sipe on N2171 (very close to where I am staying) and the first species of the morning was a small group of PINYON JAYS. Shortly afterwards I picked up the first (and only) new trip bird of the day -- a couple of LARK SPARROWS.
I wanted to get to Rudd Creek Canyon as early as possible so I walked the approximately one mile trail from Sipe HQ to the wildlife area boundary without doing much birding along the way. However, a very raucous CASSIN'S KINGBIRD and a few PINYON JAYS were hard to miss. I birded slowly through the canyon, taking several hours to cover two miles, then headed back the 3 miles to Sipe HQ at speed and spent 2 hours birding there. I was pretty pooped, did I mention it was warm?
The first mile or so of Rudd Creek Canyon was quite birdy. I recorded 30 mostly common species including ASH-THROATED & CORDILLERAN FLYCATCHERS, MOUNTAIN CHICKADEES and PYGMY NUTHATCHES that came in to scold me, three jays: PINYON & STELLER'S JAYS and WESTERN SCRUB-JAY, VIRGINIA'S WARBLER, numerous GRACE'S WARBLERS, a couple of RED-FACED WARBLERS and an impressive haul of at least three HEPATIC TANAGERS (more than WESTERN on this day!)
Photographically, the highlight was a RED-TAILED HAWK in flight. I consistently find that flight shots are very difficult -- focusing on a moving target requires some skill and I don't practice enough. Also, the light situation is somewhat in the lap of the gods. Consequently, I was happy to fluke this shot when I rounded a corner and surprised the bird. I'm not sure who was more surprised, me or the hawk.
When I returned to the Wildlife area HQ, I watched a female MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD and a male WESTERN BLUEBIRD feeding young. I eventually found the distance at which they were comfortable with me (although this area gets plenty of traffic so they are used to seeing people). A pair of CORDILLERAN FLYCATCHERS were also very active and easy to see. I saw 32 species at Sipe.
I spent about 30 minutes at Nelson Reservoir in the heat of the day but it didn't take long to find this VIRGINIA RAIL.
Back at Juniper Hill, PINE SISKIN was a new yard bird bringing my total here to 20.
At the start of this trip I estimated that I would end up with a total of 140 species. However, having seen a few less common species and a couple of iffy species, I'm revising the estimate to 150. I've added a composite trip list (currently at 122) with photo links to the trip index, accessible from the top of page header and here for convenience.
Day List (64 species recorded):
Pied-billed Grebe, Am. Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Cinnamon Teal, Redhead, Ruddy Duck, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Virginia Rail, Am. Coot, Killdeer, Mourning Dove, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Hairy Woodpecker, N. Flicker, Western Wood-Pewee, Cordilleran & Ash-throated Flycatchers, Black & Say's Phoebes, Cassin's Kingbird, Violet-green, N. Rough-winged, Cliff & Barn Swallows, Rock Wren, N. Mockingbird, Western & Mountain Bluebirds, Hermit Thrush, Am. Robin, Bushtit, Mountain Chickadee, Pygmy & White-breasted Nuthatches, Brown Creeper, Steller's Jay & Pinyon Jays, Western Scrub-Jay, Common Raven, Plumbeous &
Warbling Vireos, Virginia's, Grace's & Red-faced Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Hepatic & Western Tanagers, Green-tailed & Spotted Towhees, Chipping, Vesper & Lark Sparrows, Dark-eyed Junco, Black-headed Grosbeak, Red-winged, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds, Eastern Meadowlark, Brown-headed Cowbird, Bullock's Oriole, House Finch and Pine Siskin.
Sunday, June 6, 2004
This morning I checked Rudd Creek #3 (Oh for a real name), Nelson Reservoir and "Quarry Canyon" (ditto on that name thing). As I got underway at 5:20am, a lone and miserable looking COMMON RAVEN (sitting on a post in the front yard) was Juniper Hill species #21 Perhaps the bird knew another hot day was in store. Fortunately, after a warm morning, significant cloud cover built up and made life hunky dory again.
Although Rudd Creek was significantly quieter this morning than on my previous two visits (less birds singing), I actually a recorded a couple more species. I was somewhat surprised to hear an HEPATIC TANAGER singing as I stepped out of the car. It turns out that the bird was trolling for a mate because over the next 90 minutes or so, it covered the same ground that I did into the south drainage and then continued south beyond that area. Before heading out on the trail, I first tracked down the tanager that was well concealed in a very leafy tree, despite its red color. While so doing, I noticed a VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW perched high on an open branch. The bird seemed like a dot in the camera viewfinder but the image turned out to be usable.
My main objective on this visit was to confirm the continued presence of GRAY FLYCATCHER in the south drainage, where I found a bird on June 1. I'm happy to say that I relocated what appeared to be a courting pair (lots of interaction). The male defended territory very aggressively so I think it's safe to say that they are breeding here. I also heard DOWNY WOODPECKER again, so now I need to go back and work on finding a nest. A birders work is never done.
Other species included a continuing pair of noisy CASSIN'S KINGBIRDS (in a tree next to a RED-TAILED HAWK nest with a couple of young birds), singing DUSKY FLYCATCHER, ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER on the dry slopes, WESTERN BLUEBIRD and WESTERN SCRUB-JAY; 27 species in all.
Nelson Reservoir is into the summer doldrums and I don't expect to find anything new here until southbound migration starts at the end of my time in the White Mountains in July. Nevertheless, if you don't buy a ticket you won't win the raffle, as I'm fond of saying. Nothing of real note was present today -- VIRGINIA RAIL continues (obviously breeding here), I noted at least 3 SPOTTED SANDPIPERS wandering around on the mud flats, and PINYON JAYS were calling from the eastern slopes (I haven't been hearing them on most visits); 20 species in all.
A couple of years ago, during a visit to Sipe Wildlife Area, I followed N2171 to where it dead ends at a quarry site. Just before the end of the road is the entrance to a wide, flat "canyon" with fairly low rocky bluffs and rather sparse vegetation (mostly pinyon pine & juniper, some ponderosa pine and scattered brushy habitat). I thought it looked good for quail and Canyon Towhee and today I finally decided to check it out. It was only 8:00am when I started walking yet it was already too hot.
Not surprisingly, the place was loaded with ROCK WRENS and to a lesser extent CANYON WRENS. A singing DUSKY FLYCATCHER took me by surprise so I tracked it down to make sure my ears weren't deceiving me. The habitat seems way too sparse and dry, but I guess the bird knows best. Not too far into the canyon I heard male and female MONTEZUMA QUAIL calling back and forth to each other (their quavering calls are a little different). This was the first time that I've found them in the Nutrioso area, all of my (few) White Mountain records are from the west side of Nelson Reservoir where the same rocky habitat exists. My efforts for checking such an apparent birdless place were rewarded and it turned out to be a worthwhile visit. Trip bird #123.
The afternoon cool down enticed me to go out for some evening birding around Nutrioso. I was hoping for Common Nighthawk but they are either not back yet or I missed them. I saw most of the usual suspects including EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVES near the Post Office. I was pleased to see LEWIS'S WOODPECKER along the creek since they've not exactly been easy to find.
Day List (63 species recorded):
Pied-billed Grebe, Am. Wigeon, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, Cinnamon Teal, Red-tailed Hawk, Am. Kestrel, Montezuma Quail, Virginia Rail, Am. Coot, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Mourning Dove, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Lewis's, Downy & Hairy Woodpeckers, Northern Flicker
Western Wood-Pewee, Gray, Dusky, Cordilleran & Ash-throated Flycatchers, Black Phoebe, Cassin's Kingbird, Violet-green, Cliff & Barn Swallows, Rock & Canyon Wrens, N. Mockingbird, Western & Mountain Bluebirds, Am. Robin, Bushtit, Mountain Chickadee, Pygmy Nuthatch, Steller's & Pinyon Jays, Western Scrub-Jay, Common Raven, European Starling, Plumbeous & Warbling Vireos, Common Yellowthroat, Hepatic & Western Tanagers, Green-tailed & Spotted Towhees, Chipping Sparrow, Black-headed Grosbeak, Eastern & Western Meadowlark, Red-winged, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbird, Bullock's Oriole, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch and House Sparrow.
Monday, June 7, 2004
Another very warm day -- I could have stayed in SE AZ for this! I spent some time in the Green's Peak and Greer areas then checked Becker Lake and Nelson Reservoir in the heat of the day. I couldn't have picked a worse day for my first visit of this trip to Green's Peak -- it was blowing a gale up there at around 10,200 feet. After walking around for a while and scrambling up and down the steep slopes, my body reminded me that with each passing year at this elevation, Elvis's disease creeps up on me (my legs are shaking and my knees are weak!).
I hit the road at 5:00am full of enthusiasm for the Blue Grouse challenge on Green's Peak. However, I knew as soon as I arrived and found the windy conditions that I probably wouldn't have any success, and that's the way it turned out. I gave it the old college try for about 90 minutes which, as we all know, together with $5 will get you a gourmet coffee at Starbucks. The slope on the lee (east) side of the peak had the most bird activity (at least that's where I could hear birds). The pick of the bunch was this OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER perched atop a snag in typical fashion. Unfortunately, because of the steep slope, I couldn't maneuver into a favorable light position without increasing the already too great a distance from the bird. I took 30 shots over a 10 minute period and managed just one decent pose. Other species included a soaring RED-TAILED HAWK somehow managing to stay motionless in the wind, CLARK'S NUTCRACKER, RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH & PINE SISKIN; and VESPER SPARROW and EASTERN MEADOWLARK on the lower slopes.
I checked a nearby knoll for Gray Jay (seen them there before but not today) and then spent a few minutes at Carnero Lake. Lot's of breeding plumage EARED GREBES, a few REDHEADS, a GREAT BLUE HERON for my Green's Peak area list and very little else.
When I reached Greer the first thing that I did was to check on a PLUMBEOUS VIREO nest that I saw being built in Butler Canyon a few days ago. As you can see, incubation is now in progress. The second thing I did was get a Breakfast Burrito at the Rendezvous Diner. I was starving, Green's Peak will do that to you.
After breakfast, I spent 3 hours in West Fork for a rerun of the movie "Dipperless in Greer". I'm now 0 for 3 on finding a Dipper. Time to check the Black River. First I checked the area around Four Season's bridge and then hung out at the Red Setter bridge for 30 minutes. "Brewer's Dippers" were everywhere -- female BREWER'S BLACKBIRDS flying low to the water and landing on rocks. However, it wasn't all bad standing here -- a male WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER and 2 RED-NAPED SAPSUCKERS (a trip first) came by and provided excellent views. There's something to be said for the standing still approach but it didn't work for the Dipper.
I then walked about 2 miles upstream searching diligently without success. The best bird along the route was a DOWNY WOODPECKER. Most of my White Mountain records for this species are in the Greer area. Add HAIRY WOODPECKER and FLICKER to the sapsuckers and it was a woodpeckery day!. The lack of warbler song was evident today compared to my last couple of visits -- this MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLER gave itself away by its characteristically loud chip. A not so great but novel image. I also surprised a bathing "red-backed" DARK-EYED JUNCO, all fluffed up and somewhere to go in a hurry -- the bird soon rocketed away. Among the 20 or so other species were DUSKY & CORDILLERAN FLYCATCHERS, a few CLARK'S NUTCRACKERS, half the world's population of RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS (do they ever stop singing?), an inquisitive TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE that didn't quite perch for long enough, and several singing GREEN-TAILED TOWHEES.
A stopped at a very warm (~90 degrees) and windy Becker Lake long enough to find WESTERN GREBE. It was a tad cooler at Nelson Reservoir where I picked up a dozen or so waterfowl before calling it a day at 3:00pm.
Day List (62 species recorded):
Pied-billed, Eared & Western Grebes, Great Blue Heron, Am. Wigeon, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, Cinnamon Teal, Redhead, Ruddy Duck, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Am. Kestrel, Am. Coot, Killdeer, Mourning Dove, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Williamson's & Red-naped Sapsuckers, Downy & Hairy Woodpeckers, N. Flicker, Western Wood-Pewee, Olive-sided, Dusky & Cordilleran Flycatchers, Horned Lark, Violet-green & N. Rough-winged Swallows, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, House Wren, Western & Mountain Bluebirds, Townsend's Solitaire, Hermit Thrush, Am. Robin, Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Steller's Jay, Clark's Nutcracker, Common Raven, Plumbeous & Warbling Vireos, Yellow-rumped & MacGillivray's Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Western Tanager, Green-tailed Towhee, Chipping & Vesper Sparrows, Dark-eyed Junco, Black-headed Grosbeak, Eastern & Western Meadowlarks, Red-winged, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds, House Finch, Pine Siskin, Lesser Goldfinch and House Sparrow.
Tuesday, June 8, 2004
A cooler and breezier day that went well from a birding and photography standpoint but one that ended badly with the outbreak of new fire. As I understand it, the fire started near Three Forks which is less than 10 miles (as the Three-toed Woodpecker flies) from where I am staying in Nutrioso. I can see and taste the smoke and my eyes are stinging as I write these notes.
I began the day with a trip to the Diamond Rock area along the East Fork of the Black River, a journey of only 17 miles from Juniper Hill. I arrived at 6:00am and couldn't believe how cold it was when I stepped out of the car -- somewhere in the middle 30s I would guess, deep in the bottom of the canyon. I bundled up, loaded up my equipment and proceeded to the river to do battle once again with the wily dipper. Today it was my turn to win. Within 15 minutes I found an adult AMERICAN DIPPER only to lose it immediately as I tried to find a better vantage point. I continued to do some general birding, keeping my eye on the river, and an hour later I caught up with the bird again. This photo of an adult was taken from quite some distance and shows some interesting early morning light on the water. Once again I continued birding, staying close to the river, and my real reward came around 7:30am when I found a juvenile bird (actually, the bird found me). Lacking the experience to be scared of humans who point cameras at it, the bird stayed put and I managed a couple of quite decent close range shots: to wit -- juvenile image #1, juvenile image #2. Finally, after all that work in Greer! I could say the birding gods smiled on me, but that's bullshit. No, I just did the grunt work. Birding success often depends on any or all of patience, persistence, timing and grunt work -- and even with all that you can just as easily fail!
The birding along a less than 0.5 mile stretch of the river between Diamond Rock campground and Diamond Rock itself was very good. I managed photographs of HOUSE WREN (image #2), STELLER'S JAY, RED-FACED WARBLER (image#2) and DARK-EYED JUNCO. The wren was singing away full of the joi de vivre as the sun hit the bottom of the canyon. The jay was caught in the act carrying food to young. I was really pleased to finally get a photograph of the Red-faced, one of my three favorite birds and one that I've never even come close to shooting before, although it's certainly not for the want of trying! The first shot is a nice pose with a less than satisfactory image quality. The second is just the opposite, a good quality image with a less than satisfactory pose. Now why can't I have it all. The Junco shot improves on yesterday's fluffed up bird.
Early activity was impressive despite the cold and I soon saw RED-NAPED and WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKERS, CLARK'S NUTCRACKERS, many singing RED-FACED WARBLERS and a few elusive MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLERS. Later I added a couple of BELTED KINGFISHERS (new for the trip along with Dipper), TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE and several also-rans. 25 species in all.
On the way back to Nutrioso, I detoured slightly to check Sierra Blanca Lake where I was quickly able to confirm the presence of VIRGINIA RAIL and SORA. I was then treated to a mini raptor show -- I watched a KESTREL dive bombing an adult BALD EAGLE as a RED-TAILED HAWK glided effortlessly overhead on a strong wind. Neat.
My next stop was at Divide Hill trailhead on FR 249 where I was hoping to pick up Olive-sided Flycatcher and Williamson's Sapsucker. This is a good spot for both species but I struck out today. The stop wasn't a total loss though. I heard the annoying whining of a juvenile CLARK'S NUTCRACKER (image #2) that was begging this adult to be fed. I was in the area for almost an hour and the bird never shut up. I know you can get great close up photos of Nutcrackers in places like Trail Ridge Road in Colorado (as they are fed by tourists), but where's the challenge in that?
Approaching Alpine, I stopped along the San Francisco River for another (unsuccessful) try at Olive-sided. I saw more RED-FACED WARBLERS and VIRGINIA'S WARBLER.
A cruise through Nutrioso produced the inevitable EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVES and a LEWIS'S WOODPECKER along the creek near the lumber yard.
WESTERN TANAGER was a new Juniper Hill bird bringing my total seen here to
Day List (58 species recorded):
Am. Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Ruddy Duck, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, Am. Kestrel, Virginia Rail, Sora, Am. Coot, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Williamson's & Red-naped Sapsuckers, Lewis's & Hairy Woodpeckers, N. Flicker, Western Wood-Pewee, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Say's Phoebe, Violet-green,, Cliff &, Barn Swallows, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Am. Dipper, House Wren, N. Mockingbird, Western &, Mountain Bluebird, Townsend's Solitaire, Hermit Thrush, Am. Robin, Mountain Chickadee, Pygmy Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Steller's Jay, Clark's Nutcracker, Common Raven, European Starling, Warbling Vireo, Virginia's,, Yellow-rumped,, MacGillivray's & Red-faced Warblers, Western Tanager, Chipping Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Black-headed Grosbeak, Eastern & Western Meadowlarks, Red-winged, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds, House Finch, Pine Siskin, Lesser Goldfinch and House Sparrow.
Wednesday, June 9, 2004
It seems trivial to be talking about birds when a major fire is raging. The high wind that is just an annoying inconvenience to me as an ear birder is a major problem for firefighters. Judging by the billowing smoke and the many fire and support vehicles that I saw today, the fire is now very serious. I haven't heard any official news.
For the first time on this trip, I headed to the high elevation locations of MT. Baldy and Sunrise today (as far west of the fire as I could get and still stay within my normal birding areas). I started at Sheep's Crossing, moved on to Winn Campground and finished up at Sunrise Lake. I'll leave the long hike up to the top of Mt. Baldy to a later date when all the smoke has cleared.
Just like East Fork yesterday, Sheep's Crossing was very birdy when I got started at 6:00am. I've seen it many times but as I parked and stepped out the car, a GREAT BLUE HERON sitting atop a Spruce tree at 9000+ feet was still somewhat of a novelty. A small group (~6) of RED-CROSSBILLS were feeding and "jib-jibbing" atop the closest tree to my vehicle.
I walked south on the Mt. Baldy trail and soon heard and then saw three species of flycatchers -- OLIVE-SIDED, DUSKY and CORDILLERAN. I could hear LINCOLN'S SPARROWS singing in many locations and eventually I snuck up on this one! Best photo of the day. On the slow moving upstream side of the Railroad Grade river crossing, just about the easiest AMERICAN DIPPER that I'll ever find was busy fetching food for its young. (Perhaps some "fish" person out there can identify the prey item in its bill.) I watched the bird come and go for a while, swimming and "dipping" as well as rooting around in the mud and grass for food. At one point I was eight feet from the bird, almost eyeball to eyeball, talking to it and asking it to move out of the shade and into the sun. The bird just looked at me and blinked showing its white eyelids. No fear.
During the dipper encounter I could hear the fairly quiet whistled calls of a GRAY JAY as it fed at the top of a nearby spruce. As soon as I thought "photo op", the bird flew several hundred yards and I never saw nor heard it again. I thought it was a little odd just to see one bird. Next, I heard drumming that I tracked to this RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER after much huffing and puffing up a steep slope.
In addition to those already mentioned, species from a total of 33 seen as I ambled around included 3 BAND-TAILED PIGEONS, GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET, MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLER and GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE.
Nearby Winn Campground is an excellent spot for woodpeckers but with the very windy conditions I didn't really expect much. However, what do I know, a couple of hours produced the typical species for this location -- WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER, AMERICAN THREE-TOED WOODPECKER, HAIRY WOODPECKER and a male NORTHERN FLICKER at a nest hole feeding young. Here's a shot of the female at the nest hole. CLARK'S NUTCRACKERS were also present, no doubt mooching from the campsites. 21 species total.
By now (11:15am) the wind was becoming a major problem and I almost skipped going to Sunrise Lake. Somewhat reluctantly, I followed my own advice from elsewhere on this site -- "When in this area, be sure to always check the lake for the unexpected -- this goes double during migration. Remember, this area is very underbirded and anything is possible." Well, wouldn't you know it, two distant white blobs turned out to be CASPIAN TERNS! As far as I know, the bird that I saw on June 2 at Big Lake (~12 miles SE of Sunrise) was the first record for southern Apache County and the White Mountains. One good Tern deserves another. I had to walk a long way just to be sure of the identification and even at the closest point I was still a long way from the birds. I decided to try some digiscoping for documentation. It's been so long since I've used the Coolpix 4500 that I almost forgot how to twiddle the controls. As I reached a point 50 yards from the edge of the lake, the water in the muddy grass was deep enough to keep me at that distance. My wellies were in the car, Damn! I'm not sure how far the birds were from me but, thankfully, even with the wind and distance, I managed to at least get an image that is definitive. Walking towards the birds, I had a scare when all the ducks took flight. I thought "Oh no, that can't be me, terns please stay put". It turned out to be an immature BALD EAGLE going by and the terns didn't even flinch.
Day List (65 species recorded):
Eared Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Am. Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Redhead, Ruddy Duck, Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, Am. Coot, Caspian Tern, Rock & Band-tailed Pigeons, Mourning Dove, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Williamson's & Red-naped Sapsuckers, Hairy & Am. Three-toed Woodpeckers, N. Flicker, Olive-sided, Dusky & Cordilleran Flycatchers, Western Kingbird, Horned Lark, Violet-green Swallow, Golden-crowned & Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Am. Dipper, House Wren, Northern Mockingbird, Western & Mountain Bluebirds, Hermit Thrush, Am. Robin, Mountain Chickadee, Pygmy, Red-breasted & White-breasted Nuthatches, Gray & Steller's Jays, Clark's Nutcracker, Am. Crow, Common Raven, European Starling, Warbling Vireo, Yellow-rumped & MacGillivray's Warblers, Western Tanager, Green-tailed Towhee, Chipping, Vesper, Savannah & Lincoln's Sparrows, Dark-eyed Junco, Black-headed Grosbeak, Eastern & Western Meadowlarks, House Finch, Red Crossbill, Pine Siskin, Lesser Goldfinch and House Sparrow.
Thursday, June 10, 2004
The Three Forks fire is still producing tons of smoke in the Nutrioso area -- nasty stuff. As of today, the Forest Service reports the (human caused) fire as 6,500 acres; 10% contained with containment expected on 6/12. The windy conditions persist to make matter worse. Forest Road 249 between Alpine and Big Lake is closed as well as a few other roads leading north and south so I won't be doing any birding in this area anytime soon. It was much chillier this morning, no doubt as a result of lower daytime highs because of the smoke. I headed west again where the skies were clear. I spent the morning in Greer and briefly checked South Fork and Nelson Reservoir in the early afternoon.
I started in a very cold East Fork/Butler Canyon where I only stayed for an hour. Highlights were two RED-NAPED SAPSUCKERS, a few BAND-TAILED PIGEONS, DUSKY FLYCATCHER and VIRGINIA'S & MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLERS.
I moved on to West Fork where I intended to do my ritual checks of the Four Seasons and Red Setter bridges and then to walk the river. CLARK'S NUTCRACKERS were very noisy and obvious (including begging juveniles) as I parked near the Four Seasons. I started to walk towards the bridge and immediately heard a singing AMERICAN DIPPER even over the raucous Nutcrackers. Oh, the irony. I've checked West Fork on three occasions recently and failed to find a dipper. So I go elsewhere and find them in two locations only to find one here. Arrrrgh! On the plus side I was able to get my best photograph to date of an adult -- a good pose and reasonable light conditions. Sometimes Murphy gets screwed.
With such quick success, I decided to skip the lower stretch of the river and walk the river trail above the upper parking area where fewer people go. I spent a pleasant couple of hours without seeing anything special. The best bird was a DOWNY WOODPECKER, uncommon here as I've mentioned previously. HAIRY WOODPECKERS were around for comparison. Warblers were represented by MACGILLIVRAY'S and RED-FACED as well as the more common YELLOW-RUMPED. I watched a RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET gathering nesting material and MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE carrying food. Only a noisy BELTED KINGFISHER and the flapping of BAND-TAILED PIGEONS disturbed the peace.
Before enjoying another rendezvous with a breakfast burrito at the Rendezvous Diner, I doubled back to Butler Canyon in an attempt to relocate the family of Three-toed Woodpeckers that I saw a few days ago. I had to settle for a male WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER.
Before leaving town I checked Greer Lakes. A singing GRACE'S WARBLER was in the pines near the highway. River Reservoir is usually the only one of the three reservoirs with any bird activity. However, presumably due to work activity the water is very low and I saw nothing. Bunch reservoir had a bunch of birds including a couple of male LESSER SCAUP, my first June record in the White Mountains (albeit with limited birding days over the last 10 years). Also present were a few DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS, 3 GREAT BLUE HERONS and 20+ CANADA GEESE with young.
At South Fork I was hoping to pick up White-throated Swifts but even the swallows weren't active. YELLOW-BREASTED CHATS were the most active species. I looked near the bridge for Dipper (a spot that the bird may have deserted) and found only SPOTTED SANDPIPER.
Conditions between Nelson Reservoir (nothing special seen) and Nutrioso were dismal with the smoke and I couldn't even see Escudilla! We could use some rain but I don't think there'll be any for a while.
Day List (71 species recorded):
Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Canada Goose, Am. Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Cinnamon Teal, Redhead, Lesser Scaup, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Band-tailed Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Williamson's & Red-naped Sapsuckers, Downy & Hairy Woodpeckers, N. Flicker, Western Wood-Pewee, Dusky & Cordilleran Flycatchers, Say's Phoebe, Horned Lark, Violet-green, N. Rough-winged & Cliff Swallows, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Am. Dipper, House Wren, Western & Mountain Bluebirds, Am. Robin, Bushtit, Mountain Chickadee, Pygmy & White-breasted Nuthatches, Steller's Jay, Clark's Nutcracker, Am. Crow, Common Raven, European Starling, Plumbeous & Warbling Vireos, Virginia's, Yellow-rumped, Grace's, MacGillivray's Red-faced Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-breasted Chat, Western Tanager, Green-tailed & Spotted Towhees, Chipping & Song Sparrows, Dark-eyed Junco, Black-headed Grosbeak, Eastern & Western Meadowlarks, Red-winged, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbird, House Finch, Pine Siskin, Lesser Goldfinch and House Sparrow.
Friday, June 11, 2004
Out today with Dean and Joan Luehrs from Sun City, AZ, who I've birded with on three previous occasions. We birded at Sheep's Crossing and Winn Campground in the Mt. Baldy area, Sunrise Lake, Butler Canyon and West Fork in Greer and at Nelson Reservoir. The areas that we visited were smoke free and the smoke in Nutrioso was not as bad this afternoon, although still very ugly.
The main reason for a visit to Sheep's Crossing was to pick up AMERICAN DIPPER and we watched two birds foraging and bringing food back to a nest. It was interesting to watch them fly a circuitous route over the river instead of a much shorter direct line of sight route to the nest. OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER also obliged us by perching in the open on a snag. We also observed the bird feeding on the ground, a behavior that I haven't seen too often from this species. Other birds here included a drumming RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER, a DOWNY WOODPECKER in the willows, a perched up and singing LINCOLN'S SPARROW, a few PINE SISKINS and calling RED CROSSBILLS. Eagar birder Donna Roten had seen a couple of female Pine Grosbeaks here yesterday but we didn't see nor hear them during a short one hour visit.
At Winn Campground we looked in vain for Three-toed Woodpecker. Two male and a female WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER were some consolation.
A check of Sunrise Lake failed to turn up the Caspian Terns. I'd told Donna about them and she checked yesterday without success so it wasn't a big surprise.
Next, we headed over to Greer where we struck out again on Three-toed in Butler Canyon. It was very quiet there around midday. West Fork was a little more active. As has been the case for a couple of weeks, CLARK'S NUTCRACKERS were near Four Seasons. A search of the tall timber produced a couple of HAIRY WOODPECKERS and a WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER but again, no Three-toed. But wait. Strong drumming told us that an AMERICAN THREE-TOED WOODPECKER was around and we soon saw it fly across the canyon. Unfortunately, we couldn't relocate it. Half a loaf is better than none.
We finished up around 3:00pm at Nelson Reservoir where Virginia Rail was a no show to end a day of mixed success.
I'm currently wrestling with a decision to stay in the mountains or to return home. The location where I'm staying is in the middle of a heavy smoke zone and it's certainly not fun nor healthy. I know it will improve but how long before the next fire and what about the impact of fire related closures on my birding activity. As I said, I'm wrestling with a decision.
Day List (67 species recorded):
Pied-billed & Eared Grebes, Great Blue Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Canada Goose, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, Cinnamon Teal, Common Merganser, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Am. Kestrel, Am. Coot, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Band-tailed Pigeon, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Williamson's &
Red-naped Sapsuckers, Downy, Hairy & Am. Three-toed Woodpeckers, N. Flicker, Western Wood-Pewee, Olive-sided & Cordilleran Flycatchers, Horned Lark, Violet-green, N. Rough-winged, Cliff & Barn Swallows, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Am. Dipper, House Wren, Mountain Bluebird, Hermit Thrush, Am. Robin, Mountain Chickadee, Pygmy & White-breasted Nuthatches, Brown Creeper, Steller's & Pinyon Jays, Clark's Nutcracker, Am. Crow, Common Raven, Plumbeous & Warbling Vireos, Yellow-rumped & MacGillivray's Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Western Tanager, Green-tailed Towhee, Chipping, Vesper & Lincoln's Sparrows, Black-headed Grosbeak, Eastern Meadowlark Red-winged, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds, House Finch, Red Crossbill, Pine Siskin and Lesser Goldfinch.
Saturday, June 12, 2004
I made the decision to return home today. Not so much because of the current fire, more because of the fire related closures and the potential for more before the monsoons arrive in July. I was disappointed to be leaving the White Mountains, a place where I always enjoy spending time and taking a break from all the boring birds of SE AZ (in case it's not obvious; yes, I am joking). I also very much enjoyed my stay at The Bunkhouse at Juniper Hill in Nutrioso, a home away from home. I can highly recommend it -- for information contact Ken and Karen Struthers at email@example.com.
I still have 4 weeks of vacation time scheduled so after I've had time to regroup and think about what I want to do, I'll likely head out again to somewhere a little cooler and wetter where (hopefully) there won't be much chance of fires and closures! I probably won't do much birding in the next few days.
I didn't do much birding today either. Before leaving the mountains I made a short stop at Luna Lake where I only checked the lake, not the pines. I saw just one immature BALD EAGLE scaring up all the coots and ducks; no adults today. The lone SANDHILL CRANE continues. CANADA GEESE were very common and just about outnumbered fishermen, out in force on the glassy water.
I left Luna Lake at 8:40am and arrived at Willcox "Twin Lakes" at 12:00pm after a traffic and roadwork free journey. It was pretty toasty here and I only stayed long enough to check the main pond (and even there I didn't do a very thorough job). At least 50 AMERICAN AVOCETS (one pair already with young) and over a dozen BLACK-NECKED STILTS were present. Highlights were a handful of BLUE-WINGED TEAL (regular here in June) and a lone LONG-BILLED CURLEW (also regular in June).
I noted 4 EARED GREBES (perhaps breeding here this year as in some previous years), 1 WESTERN GREBE, 2 RING-BILLED GULLS and a number of common species (22 in all).
I saw EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVES in three places on my journey today -- three in Luna, New Mexico, one at Willcox where they have become established, and finally, get this (drum roll please), one on French Fry Boulevard in Sierra Vista. What is the world coming to!
White Mountains trip list (130) Trip Photo List
Tuesday, June 22, 2004
The past week or so has seen a spate of near 100 degree days in Sierra Vista. Of course, now that I've decided to hit the road again, Monday was cloudy with thunderstorms and we even had some decent rain. Unfortunately though, I don't think that it's the start of an early monsoon season. I've spent my time relaxing and not thinking much about birds (from April 1 through June 12 I was in the field 61 of 73 days so I guess I was due for some time off). I watched England's group games in the Euro 2004 qualifying rounds in Portugal. It's amazing to me that they have qualified for the quarter finals tied as the top scoring team, with the top scoring individual and probably the tournament's best performer so far -- and yet they haven't really been totally convincing in any game. What else is new!
After my disappointingly short trip to the White Mountains (16 days of a scheduled 6 weeks), I got part two of my June escape underway today. Since there have been more closures in the White Mountains, I think I made the correct decision to return home early. For the rest of the month and into July, I decided to visit Wyoming again (4th consecutive June that I've spent some time in the state). I'll likely visit Montana and perhaps North Dakota as well. Not much in the way of life birds for me on this trip (compared to many on my initial plan to visit Maine) so I'll have to be content with cooler temperatures, great scenery and the sheer enjoyment of seeing birds (what a concept). Perhaps I can push my Wyoming state list over 200 (possible but not likely since I'm currently only at 174).
Today was mostly a travel day. I left home at 10:30pm Monday night and rolled into Cheyenne at 2:30pm Tuesday afternoon (3:30 local time) after a journey of 16 hours and 1000 miles, many of which were tough going. The journey in darkness on I-25 from Hatch to Socorro in New Mexico was very scary due to high winds. Travel from Colorado Springs to well north of Denver was marred by heavy traffic, roadwork and badly surfaced roads, especially near Denver tech center. It's amazing what people will put up with every day and kid themselves that the quality of life is high. I know because I did it for many years in the Bay Area. Thank god I escaped!
Obviously, I didn't do much birding along the way. PINYON JAY in New Mexico was the best of a bunch of common highway birds.
After checking into a motel in Cheyenne, I headed out into the grasslands specifically to find CHESTNUT-COLLARED LONGSPURS in breeding plumage, the only longspur species that I haven't photographed. I found quite a few of them off Hwy 85 north of the city. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to create a photo opportunity -- maybe later in the trip. Grassland birding is not known for it's diversity. The most common species were LARK BUNTING, HORNED LARK and WESTERN MEADOWLARK. Check out the fluked flight shot of the meadowlark -- I couldn't do that by design in a million years. VESPER SPARROWS were scarce with just a few singing. WESTERN KINGBIRDS were very common. Raptors were not numerous although I did see SWAINSON'S, RED-TAILED and FERRUGINOUS HAWKS.
It was actually a little warm in the grasslands. Tomorrow I'm looking forward to being in the snow! (in the Snowy range west of Laramie).
Wednesday, June 23, 2004
Today I traveled a short distance west to the Laramie area where I spent a couple of hours at Lake Hattie and the rest of the day in Medicine Bow National Forest in the Snowy Range (my third visit to both locations). The weather ranged from pleasantly warm to freezing my ass off. In the mountains, I thoroughly enjoyed clambering over snow banks, sloshing through melt water and trying not to sink into boggy ground. Quite a change from the unpleasantly high temperatures last week in Sierra Vista. I don't think I'm in Kansas any more Toto. It was a fun day and I found a rarity to boot. The only downside was that most of my photos were somewhat over exposed because I inadvertently changed a setting on the camera.
I started the day with a rare occurrence for me -- a sit down breakfast before going birding. I could get used to such a decadent lifestyle. Fortunately, all the birds waited for me and Lake Hattie and surrounding area was quite productive (35 species in all). CALIFORNIA GULLS were very common, FRANKLIN'S GULLS far less so and RING-BILLED GULLS were well in the minority. The only terns were a couple of FORSTER'S TERNS. Many WESTERN GREBE types were present and I should probably have taken the time to check them since I've seen Clark's here once before. WILSON'S PHALAROPES were plentiful. Among the landbird highlights were SAGE THRASHER, VESPER SPARROW & BREWER'S SPARROW (all singing and easy to see); and McCOWN'S LONGSPURS which, disappointingly, were not displaying or singing much. The best moment of the morning came when I noticed all the birds taking flight -- I quickly looked around and spotted a PRAIRIE FALCON streaking by.
In some areas of the mountains it was pretty cold, especially when the sun went in and the wind blew across the snow banks. This photo of Medicine Bow Peak can't really do the scenery justice but it will give you a feel for what it was like. Numerous WILSON'S WARBLERS were singing and foraging in the barely leafing out vegetation around the edge of Lake Bellamy, visible in the scenery photo. The lake is at almost 10,700 feet, the peak over 12,000 feet. I was shivering with my hands deep in my pockets as the wind chill kicked in. The willy warbs just went about their business. I can certainly appreciate why they are often a late migrant -- look where they're headed. A pair of SPOTTED SANDPIPERS were also going about their business by copulating on a snow bank.
It was somewhat ironic that I struck out on Cassin's Finch, Pine Grosbeak and Red Crossbill (all species that I've seen in Medicine Bow NF before) and yet I stumbled into a family of WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS. I walked the Sugarloaf Recreation Area trail and was birding at the east end of Libby Lake where it meets the west end of Lewis Lake. I was looking at WILSON'S WARBLERS and tracking down a FOX SPARROW when I happened upon several birds on the ground, foraging in the willows and meltwater. It took me a few moments to realize that they were crossbills and even longer before it dawned on me that they were White-winged! I think there were actually four birds although I only positively identified a male, female and one juvenile (the other bird was probably another juvenile). The best and closest image that I managed was a partial view of a male on the ground which doesn't show the white wings too well, although you can certainly tell what it is from other features. I also managed a smaller image of a male perched atop a tree which is diagnostic. Wow, quite a surprise. This LINCOLN'S SPARROW was very responsive to my pishing.
[Added after returning home. At Libby Lake, I photographed a WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW that I had a little difficulty with after I looked closely at the image. The bird has black (not gray) between bill and eye and is therefore Zonotrichia luecophrys oriantha, or Z. l. luecophrys if you are in the non believer in oriantha. Anyway, the bill is supposed to be pink, not orange-pink or yellow. I really can't find much in the way of pink tones in this photo (or others that I took of the same bird). Is this just typical variation or does it indicate hybridization I wonder?]
I tried to visit Brooklyn Lake but the road is still closed because of snow so I headed into Centennial for a late lunch. I returned to a small lake about 5 miles above Centennial, at a much lower elevation than where I had been earlier. I was able to add a few new species for the day such as RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER, WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE, WARBLING VIREO and WESTERN TANAGER.
Tomorrow I'll do some grassland birding as I work my way northeast to the Devil's Tower area. England play Portugal in the Euro 2004 quarter finals and I haven't been able to find a sports bar that can get the game. Bummer.
Day list (72 species recorded):
Eared & Western Grebes, Am. White Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Canada Goose, Am. Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Cinnamon Teal, Canvasback, Redhead, Lesser Scaup, Common Merganser, Swainson's Hawk, Prairie Falcon, Am. Coot, Am. Avocet, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Wilson's Phalarope, Ring-billed, California & Franklin's Gulls, Forster's Tern, Common Nighthawk, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Red-naped Sapsucker, N. Flicker, Western Wood-Pewee, Say's Phoebe, Horned Lark, Tree, Bank & Cliff Swallows, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Rock, House & Marsh Wrens, Sage Thrasher, Mountain Bluebird, Hermit Thrush, Am. Robin, Mountain Chickadee, Black-billed Magpie, Clark's Nutcracker, Am. Crow, Common Raven, European Starling, Warbling Vireo, Yellow-rumped & Wilson's Warbler, Western Tanager, Lark Bunting, Chipping, Brewer's, Vesper, Savannah, Fox, Lincoln's & White-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed Junco, McCown's Longspur, Red-winged, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds, Western Meadowlark, Brown-headed Cowbird, White-winged Crossbill, Pine Siskin and House Sparrow.
Thursday, June 24, 2004
The day began well on the Laramie plains and then turned to shit when I got an unrepairable flat tire, my second flat in three weeks. This time last year (almost to the day) I was in Wyoming and got an unrepairable flat so it must be something in the water. Every cloud has a silver lining, so they say, and for me that was Ayres Natural Bridge just off I-25 near Douglas. After a delay of several hours dealing with the tire problem, I abandoned my plan for the day and spent several hours at the Natural Bridge site which turned out to be a very pleasant and birdy place.
This morning I began on County Road 51 (off highway 287 north of Laramie) where I was hoping to find MOUNTAIN PLOVER. I've birded this area just once before and on that occasion I did see plovers. However, I really wasn't too hopeful. Although the birds are breeding and you know they will be around somewhere, this area has literally miles and miles of habitat so, unless you know a specific spot, it's like the proverbial needle in a haystack. In Arizona, in winter, their potential locations are quite limited which makes searching (relatively) easy. Also, medium sized flocks are usually present whereas in breeding habitat they are in ones and twos. Driving along with just one person in the car (me!) makes it difficult to adequately search both sides of the road. Stopping to scan on a regular basis is not practical because it would take forever. All in all, a tough proposition.
Having said all that, I was certainly in the right place at the right time this morning because I stumbled into a bird sitting in the roadway! The location was 4.2 miles from the southern end of CR 51. Of course, the bird flushed and flew away, then to my surprise returned to the road behind my vehicle. I tried to maneuver the vehicle for a chance at a photo, all the while watching my mirrors to keep track of the bird. Not well enough though because by the time I was in position the bird was gone. Damn! I searched the area for 30 minutes without relocating the bird.
I drove a total of 17 miles through on and off plover habitat and only came across that one individual. Most birds were fairly scarce although I managed to record most of the species you might expect including SWAINSON'S & FERRUGINOUS HAWKS, SAGE THRASHER, LARK BUNTING, SAVANNAH, VESPER & BREWER'S SPARROWS and McCOWN'S & CHESTNUT-COLLARED LONGSPURS. Also present were COMMON SNIPE, WILLET and a YELLOWLEGS species that was too far away to identify. I suppose that Lesser would be the more likely but it seems a little early for either species (although I have seen Lesser Yellowlegs in Wyoming in June before).
Leaving the plains behind I headed northeast through the Laramie Mountains on highway 34. I think it was the roadwork here (on a very rough section of road) that did in my tire. Fortunately, even though I wasn't aware of the problem, it held until I reached an I-25 rest area. At least I had a hard and level location to change the tire. In addition to the typical highway birds (wish I had $1 for every HORNED LARK) I recorded a few trip firsts -- LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE, YELLOW WARBLER, GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE and SONG SPARROW.
After wasting several hours in Douglas with the tire problem, I got underway again in the early afternoon and headed over to Ayres Natural Bridge. What a delightful little spot on La Prele Creek. Very scenic and loaded with birds. It also looks like a popular picnic spot, although few people were there on a weekday (it was obvious that most birds were very used to people). There's some great riparian habitat here and most of what I saw was common for the habitat. None more so than YELLOW WARBLERS -- and I thought they were common on the San Pedro! Several GRAY CATBIRDS were in full voice and fairly approachable. CLIFF SWALLOWS were abundant nesting on the canyon walls and here I just failed to properly catch a bird as it left the nest (and I tried lots of times just to get this!). Nice to see them in natural habitat instead of the usual freeway underpasses and the like. Ditto for ROCK PIGEON. Other species included SHARP-SHINNED HAWK, BELTED KINGFISHER, WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE, WHITE-THROATED SWIFT, HOUSE WREN (very common), CEDAR WAXWING, WARBLING VIREO, YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT, SONG SPARROW, BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK, LAZULI BUNTING, AMERICAN GOLDFINCH and BULLOCK'S ORIOLE.
The birding here redeemed my day a little and I drove north to Gillette for an overnight stay feeling much better than I did a few hours earlier,
Friday, June 25, 2004
Well, England are out of Euro 2004 after losing to host country Portugal. Looking for the silver lining -- at least I don't have to find somewhere to watch their next game! Today I decided to take it a little easier and I spent the day birding in the Wyoming portion of the Black Hills, staying a second night in Gillette. It was cloudy and fairly cool for most of the day and the threat of rain didn't materialize.
I began at Devils Tower National Monument, although I'm not quite sure why, maybe because it's there. I first visited here many years ago as a tourist and have since returned a number of times looking unsuccessfully for Black-backed Woodpecker. Now that I've seen them in Spokane, WA; Yosemite NP, CA and Grand Teton NP, WY, perhaps this was just a sentimental journey or maybe I was looking for a close encounter of a different kind (for those that don't know, that movie was filmed here). I took the tower trail (1.3m loop around the base) and checked a few other locations. I thoroughly enjoyed the birding even if I didn't see anything spectacular (like a Black-backed Woodpecker, for example!).
Highlights from 30+ species seen were LEAST FLYCATCHER (a couple chi-beking in the lower part of the monument), several singing TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRES, a ROCK WREN that could not have posed any better, PLUMBEOUS, WARBLING & RED-EYED VIREOS all singing and heard from the same visitor center location simultaneously, BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES feeding young, a very cooperative RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH family with an adult on the ground and a juvenile learning the upside down thing, and a small flock of RED CROSSBILLS. Many WHITE-THROATED SWIFTS were constantly whizzing over the tower. Several humanoids were climbing the tower -- how do you know you're any good at that the first time you do it?
Afterwards I peedled around some of the forest roads south of Sundance in a mixture of pine and grassy habitats. The highlight of the day for this western birder was finding a number of BOBOLINKS, apparently only occasional in the Black Hills. At least 4 males were singing in a meadow on FR 876, approximately 2 miles east of the intersection with highway 585. They mostly sang from the grass and only did their display flights a handful of times. In the same general location I saw VESPER, LARK and GRASSHOPPER SPARROWS. Elsewhere on the road, the cool and cloudy conditions had encouraged a few COMMON NIGHTHAWKS to forage in the early afternoon.
I finished the day at Keyhole State Park which was a waste of time from a birding standpoint. I remember birding here once before with similar results. The only bird that I saw on the water (at the east end of the reservoir) was a lone WESTERN GREBE. A few RED CROSSBILLS and a singing PLUMBEOUS VIREO were in the pines.
After 3 and a bit days in Wyoming I've recorded 117 species and added 6 species to my state list which now stands at 180. If I add any more, I'll be tempted to make a try for 200 which would ruin everything I suspect.
[Note: I really can't get the hang of brightness and contrast using Photoshop on my laptop screen and I apologize if images are too bright or dark. Also, I've added some photo links to yesterday's journal that I was unable to publish yesterday.]
Saturday, June 26, 2004
A slow day for a couple of reasons, but one that was nonetheless interesting and productive. I needed to get some minor vehicle repairs done in Gillette this morning so I was delayed getting started. I then birded my way from Buffalo to Sheridan where I had planned to head into the Big Horn Mountains. However, it was extremely windy and raining near the mountains in the early afternoon so I decided to stay the night in Sheridan and head into the mountains tomorrow. The weather improved and I birded in Tongue River Canyon later in the day.
My original intention in Buffalo was to look for Black-billed Cuckoo, one of only two potential lifers for me on this trip. [Although I've missed this species many times when I've been in range and potential habitat, I can hardly call it a nemesis bird because I've never really looked for it.] Instead, I couldn't resist the temptation to visit my namesake Healy Reservoir. I saw nothing of note among 20 species although OSPREY was new for the trip. Out on the water were EARED & WESTERN GREBES and lots of CANADA GEESE and CALIFORNIA GULLS. I also saw EASTERN KINGBIRD, ROCK WREN, LARK SPARROW, LARK BUNTING and BULLOCK'S ORIOLE.
Next, I checked Lake De Smet, just a few miles to the north. Years ago I remember looking for Snow Buntings here in winter (didn't find them). Very quiet there today -- same stuff on the water as at Healy plus DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT.
I continued north and resumed birding on Wagon Box Road near Story. Despite the midday hour, the birding was very productive and I picked up 40 species along this very scenic riparian and grass bordered road. Highlights for this westerner were VEERY and OVENBIRD. [You can tell how often I write "Veery" because FrontPage flagged it as a spelling error.] This WILSON'S SNIPE dared me to take its photograph so I duly obliged. A little further along the road, a RING-NECKED PHEASANT wasn't quite so obliging. BOBOLINKS were "locally common" -- numerous in two areas of appropriate habitat. Other stuff included the ubiquitous BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE (I think this bird is a juvenile), GRAY CATBIRD, BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK, LAZULI BUNTING and BULLOCK'S ORIOLE.
In Story, I added CEDAR WAXWING. Bird Farm Road wasn't very productive and only GRASSHOPPER SPARROW was new for the day from 20 species. I noted more BOBOLINKS in a couple of locations along the road. WESTERN KINGBIRD greeted me in Sheridan.
Tongue River Canyon didn't have a lot of birds in late afternoon but it sure was delightful to see so many colorful male AMERICAN REDSTARTS after all those boring Painted Redstarts in Southeast Arizona. (Seriously, Painted Redstart is one of my favorite birds). WHITE-THROATED SWIFTS were quite common. SPOTTED TOWHEES sang from the slopes.
After 4 and a bit days in Wyoming, the trip list is at 124 species with my state list inching up by four more to 184.
Day List (62 species recorded):
Eared & Western Grebes, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Canada Goose, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, N. Harrier, Ferruginous Hawk, Am. Kestrel, Ring-necked Pheasant, Wilson's Snipe, California Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Common Nighthawk, White-throated Swift, N. Flicker, Western Wood-Pewee, Say's Phoebe, Western & Eastern Kingbirds, Horned Lark, Tree, Cliff & Barn Swallows, Cedar Waxwing, Rock & House Wrens, Gray Catbird, Veery, Am. Robin, Black-billed Magpie, Am. Crow, European Starling, Warbling Vireo, Yellow & Yellow-rumped Warblers, Am. Redstart, Ovenbird, Common Yellowthroat, Western Tanager, Spotted Towhee, Lark Bunting, Chipping, Brewer's, Vesper, Lark, Savannah, Grasshopper & Song Sparrows, Black-headed Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, Bobolink, Western Meadowlark, Red-winged & Brewer's Blackbirds, Bullock's Oriole, House Finch, Pine Siskin, Am. Goldfinch and House Sparrow.
Sunday, June 27, 2004
Today I traveled somewhat indirectly from Sheridan to Cody and spent the day sightseeing and birding in and around the Bighorn Mountains. My general route was Sheridan-Greybull-Lovell-Cody on highways 14, 793 and 14A. The high elevation areas were mostly cool and cloudy, lower elevations were partly cloudy with temperatures near 80 degrees.
The eastern approaches to the Bighorns are quite flat, lush and grassy. The climb is steep and rapid and I guess you could call it an escarpment. This is followed by a plateau at around 9000 feet and then a gradual drop into the dry Big Horn basin. As I worked my way up the mountain this morning, it didn't take long to get into swirling low clouds and low visibility once I reached the Bighorn National Forest. Fortunately, that soon cleared away and I enjoyed decent visibility for the rest of the day. A stop at Sibley Lake didn't produce much in the way of expected high elevation birds but it was a pleasant spot. I saw about 20 common species with only CLARK'S NUTCRACKER, WILSON'S WARBLER and LINCOLN'S SPARROW of note. I starting hearing BROAD-TAILED HUMMINGBIRDS as a climbed higher and on the high elevation flats I picked up MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD and singing WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS.
As I dropped down the west side, a stop at Granite Creek Picnic Area produced the first MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLER of the trip. WARBLING VIREOS were extremely common here. The song of a SONG SPARROW made me think twice and then I realized that they nest in Greer, AZ at 8500 feet. It's always wise to force yourself into a reality check when you're birding in a new location. Further down the mountain I stopped at Shell Falls in Shell Canyon. The canyon is narrow here but soon opens up as you descend into a rocky canyon with some spectacular views. Lots of grockles (tourists) at the falls, of which I was one, and the only new species for the day was TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE. Continuing downwards a ROCK WREN was perhaps inevitable. Along Shell Creek I added BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE, YELLOW WARBLER and LAZULI BUNTING.
After I reached Greybull my fortunes went south a little. I decided to go out of my way by heading north to Lovell so I could check Bighorn Lake. I was mighty pissed some 40 miles later when I discovered the lakebed was dry (and it looks like it's been that way for a while). A stop at one the of nearby units of Yellowtail Wildlife Management Area (also dry but still with lots of mosquitos) was loaded with BULLOCK'S ORIOLES and also had EASTERN KINGBIRD, YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT, SPOTTED TOWHEE and LAZULI BUNTING.
Nursing my fresh bites, I managed to find that silver lining again. Earlier, while passing through Lovell, I had noticed a couple of decent sized ponds. I pulled out the trusty DeLorme and figured out how to get to what I found out were Lovell Lakes. Confusing numbered roads didn't help e.g. road 12 running in one direction, lane 12 running the other. If you don't pay attention (and I didn't) it will drive you crazy with thoughts of "you can't get there from here".
A causeway passes through two separate lakes, once of which has a decent marsh -- enough to support nesting MARSH WRENS and YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS. I worked the area for about 45 minutes and turned up about 30 species. Highlights were CASPIAN, FORSTER'S and BLACK TERNS with the latter perhaps nesting in the marsh. One of the lakes was loaded with nesting WESTERN GREBES and I figured that if I looked long enough I would be sure to find a Clark's. Well, I guess that I didn't look long enough! It was worth the price of admission to see a Western Grebe out of the water "walking", something that I don't remember ever seeing before. Quite comical. Other species here included GREAT EGRET, OSPREY and BLUE-WINGED TEAL.
The last birding of the day was at a small roadside pond about one mile into Park County on Hwy 14. RUDDY DUCK was new for the trip, BELTED KINGFISHER for the day. More YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS were in the marsh. The drive to Cody was uneventful, just the joys of near National Park motel room prices lay ahead.
I added 6 species to the trip list, now at 130, and just one to my state list, now at 185. I won't add many tomorrow on the Beartooth highway but I'm looking forward to the cold.
Day List (78 species recorded, new for trip in italics):
Eared & Western Grebes, Am. White Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Canada Goose, Am. Wigeon, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, Ruddy Duck, Osprey, N. Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Am. Kestrel, Am. Coot, Killdeer, Ring-billed & California Gulls, Caspian, Forster's & Black Terns, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, N. Flicker, Western Wood-Pewee, Western & Eastern Kingbirds, Horned Lark, Violet-green, Cliff & Barn Swallows, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Rock, House & Marsh Wrens, Mountain Bluebird, Townsend's Solitaire, Hermit Thrush, Am. Robin, Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Black-billed Magpie, Clark's Nutcracker, Am. Crow, Common Raven, European Starling, Warbling Vireo, Yellow, Yellow-rumped, MacGillivray's & Wilson's Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-breasted Chat, Western Tanager, Spotted Towhee, Chipping, Brewer's, Vesper, Lark, Savannah, Song, Lincoln's & White-crowned Sparrows, Lazuli Bunting, Western Meadowlark, Red-winged, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Bullock's Oriole, House Finch, Pine Siskin, Am. Goldfinch and House Sparrow.
Monday, June 28, 2004
Today I traveled from Cody, WY to Red Lodge, Mt over the Chief Joseph and Beartooth highways. Of all the habitats that I visit, Alpine is my favorite and the Beartooth highway has that in spades. Furthermore, of all the Alpine roads that I have visited, the Beartooth is my favorite. It's perhaps not coincidental (in fact, I know it isn't) that this type of habitat has the least number of people. Of course, it also has a low species diversity. Nevertheless, it's a good compromise as far as I'm concerned because the species of this habitat are usually those that are highly sought after. Given the preceding statements, it's not hard to see why I was looking forward to today. In fact, I stayed in Red Lodge just so I can travel the Beartooth again tomorrow as I head down to Jackson via Yellowstone. Although I saw some rain, hail and even a few snowflakes near the summit (to be expected here), the weather was generally cooperative. Even better, I found all the high elevation species that I was hoping to see.
Before leaving Cody I briefly looked at some of the bodies of water around town -- Beck Lake, Alkali Lake and the rather over-glamorously named Loch Katrine (a Willcox-like area only much larger and harder to get to). Selected species seen at these locations: -- AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN and WESTERN GREBE at Beck; COMMON GOLDENEYE, AMERICAN AVOCET, MARBLED GODWIT, SPOTTED SANDPIPER, RING-BILLED & CALIFORNIA GULLS and YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD at Alkali; all three teal species, RING-NECKED DUCK, LESSER SCAUP, WILLET, WILSON'S PHALAROPE, SAY'S PHOEBE, SAGE THRASHER, BREWER'S & VESPER SPARROWS and YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD at Loch Katrine.
At Loch Katrine, I bumped into Peter Dedicoat who I've worked with in AZ. Peter leads tours for Avian Adventures in the UK; small world! He mentioned having seen the Goldeneye at Alkali -- I hadn't seen it earlier but it was front and center as I passed by later so it either flew in or was hiding before.
Now it was time to get down to the serious business of the day -- birding in the mountains. Chief Joseph Scenic Highway was just as scenic as ever. The panoramic view from Dead Indian Pass overlook makes birds superfluous (another view from the same spot). Good numbers of CLARK'S NUTCRACKERS were present here. In fact, one by one they launched themselves from the trees and whizzed right by me as they flew over the vista point. This COMMON RAVEN perched on a snag at the overlook looked content with life.
A stop at Beartooth Lake produced the first "target" of the day -- GRAY JAY, a bird that has a very endearing quality for me. A small group were raiding a table where somebody had just eaten lunch. I pestered them until one posed for me. Surprisingly, this was the first Gray Jay of the trip, a ""big miss" until today.
Continuing upward, my next stop was at Island Lake. I stepped out of my trusty steed at the trailhead parking area and immediately heard a CASSIN'S FINCH singing. I tracked it down and found that it hadn't yet acquired full adult male plumage (very little red). I wandered around for a while seeing MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD and RED CROSSBILL. However, the real prize was back near the vehicle -- PINE GROSBEAK. I came upon a small group of females on the ground and they immediately flew into the trees and resumed feeding after a few minutes. I'd forgotten how large a bird Pine Grosbeak really is. The light wasn't good for photography (mostly backlit) but I persevered for a while, too long really. A few sprinkles reminded me that I'd better get going before the weather closed in, as it is prone to do in this environment.
As I drove on, hail pelted the car such that I couldn't hear a thing. Fortunately, I came out of it quickly and by the time that I reached the West Summit at almost 11,000 feet the weather wasn't bad at all; and not really cold (it's all relative of course!). I soon heard then saw AMERICAN PIPITS on the snow. I started walking along the edge of a snowfield, searching methodically, and soon came across this BLACK ROSY-FINCH. Note the leg bands. Once again, the light was really poor for photography. Maybe tomorrow morning will be better (of course, I have to find the birds again!),
Today I added 10 species to the (Wyoming) trip list which is now at 140. As expected, I didn't add to my state list. Nevertheless, a splendid day. Makes me want to forget about places like California Gulch forever.
Day List (70 species recorded, new for trip in italics):
Eared & Western Grebes, Am. White Pelican, Canada Goose, Am. Wigeon, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, N. Pintail, Blue-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Common Goldeneye, N. Harrier, Am.. Kestrel, Am. Avocet, Killdeer, Marbled Godwit, Spotted Sandpiper, Willet, Wilson's Phalarope, Ring-billed & California Gulls, Common Nighthawk, N. Flicker, Say's Phoebe, Eastern Kingbird, Horned Lark, Violet-green, Cliff & Barn Swallows, Am. Pipit, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Cedar Waxwing, Rock & House Wrens, Sage Thrasher, Mountain Bluebird, Hermit Thrush, Am. Robin, Mountain Chickadee, Gray Jay, Black-billed Magpie, Clark's Nutcracker, Am. Crow, Common Raven, European Starling, Warbling Vireo, Yellow & Yellow-rumped Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Chipping, Brewer's, Vesper & White-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed Junco, Western Meadowlark, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Brewer's Blackbird, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Black Rosy-Finch, Pine Grosbeak, Cassin's Finch, House Finch, Red Crossbill, Pine Siskin and House Sparrow
Tuesday, June 29, 2004
I doubled back from Red Lodge this morning and traveled across the Beartooth Highway again, then headed south to Jackson via Yellowstone National Park (or should I say Yellowstone National Construction Project). The road that I wanted to take through the park, (Tower to Canyon) was closed and the other route south was on and off construction. First I had to drive an extra 50 miles to get around the closure, then I had to contend with wall to wall trucks, RVs, diesel fumes, construction dust and crappy roads. Not to mention the traffic that just stops in the road on both sides whenever a Grizzly Bear happens to be around (I saw three). What a mess. This definitely qualifies as the crappiest day of the trip so far. The day began well on the Beartooth and I relocated the species that I was hoping to photograph again in better light. Unfortunately, that part didn't happen. The day began sunny in Red Lodge but clouded up quickly when I reached high elevation and continued mostly cloudy and cool for the rest of the day. Light rain fell a few times.
I reached West Summit a little before 7:00am and immediately found about a dozen or so BLACK ROSY-FINCHES (photo #2); about 30 in all over the next few miles. The light wasn't good but I managed better images than yesterday. The birds were fairly confiding although constantly on the move. The snow that you see here at almost 11,000 feet was well frozen .
At Island Lake I had the opposite experience to yesterday -- I found only male PINE GROSBEAKS (photo #2), initially feeding in a tree and then moving to the ground. I wandered around the campground looking for woodpeckers without success. The elevation here is 9600 feet and the temperature yesterday was 54 degrees with an overnight low of 36. It felt pretty good to me. I took the opportunity to photograph a couple of DARK-EYED (pink-sided) JUNCOS. In this second shot (photo #2) of the same individual, note the apparent flank color difference on each side of the bird. Photo #3 is another individual, a singing male. Other species here included WILSON'S SNIPE, CLARK'S NUTCRACKER and MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD.
I haven't seen much in the way of woodpeckers on this trip so far but I made a dent in remedying that today. I saw three species (two new for the trip) and all came serendipitously along the roadside as I was driving. It was definitely a case of "timing is everything" as I continued on the Beartooth. I pulled to a halt at the back of a line of traffic in a road work delay and, as I turned of the engine, I immediately heard tapping. Imagine my surprise when I glanced to my left and saw this male AMERICAN THREE-TOED WOODPECKER. I had to be content with a distant shot because I didn't have enough time to scramble up the hillside to get closer because the traffic was ready to move again! I also stumbled across a roadside WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER (male in Yellowstone) and a RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER in Grand Teton.
In Yellowstone, other new species for the day (and trip) were several BARROWS GOLDENEYES (female with young, separate males), a couple of AMERICAN DIPPERS at Soda Butte Creek, a soaring GOLDEN EAGLE at the same location, and numerous singing SWAINSON'S THRUSHES in multiple locations. At LeHardy Rapids on the Yellowstone River, I watched an AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN repeatedly fly up the river and drift downstream with the current. I made lots of attempts to get a shot of the bird in flight without success. I had stopped at the rapids to look for Harlequin Duck. Apparently, since the viewing platform was installed some years ago the birds are not as regular at this location, although I did see one here in June 2001.
Today I added 6 species to the trip list which is now at 146 and Williamson's Sapsucker to my state list to reach 186.
Day List (54 species recorded, new for trip in italics):
Am. White Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Canada Goose, Am. Wigeon, Lesser Scaup, Barrow's Goldeneye, Common Merganser, Osprey, Swainson's & Red-tailed Hawks, Golden Eagle, Wilson's Snipe, Spotted Sandpiper, California Gull, Rock Pigeon, Belted Kingfisher, Williamson's & Red-naped Sapsuckers, Am. Three-toed Woodpecker, N. Flicker, Horned Lark, Violet-green & Cliff Swallows, Am. Pipit, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Cedar Waxwing, Am. Dipper, Rock & House Wrens, Mountain Bluebird, Swainson's Thrush, Am. Robin, Mountain Chickadee, Black-billed Magpie, Clark's Nutcracker, Am. Crow, Common Raven, Warbling Vireo, Yellow & Yellow-rumped Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Western Tanager, Chipping, Brewer's, Vesper, Savannah & White-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed (pink-sided) Junco, Brewer's Blackbird, Black Rosy-Finch, Pine Grosbeak, House Finch, Pine Siskin and House Sparrow.
Wednesday, June 30, 2004
Today I birded in Jackson and in Grand Teton National Park. It took some will power to get motivated this morning when I looked out the window at 5:00am and saw gray skies. It was drizzling when I finally hit the road and the heavy, low clouds and on/off drizzle stuck around for a while. The rain stopped and it warmed a little but the gray skies persisted. In the end it was a reasonable day but the views of the high peaks in the Teton range were obscured (like this). Still spectacular though. Although I had a decent day of birding, getting sharp and bright photo images was very difficult.
I checked Flat Creek as I left town and picked up a couple of TRUMPETER SWANS.
I kissed off a trip up Rendezvous Mountain that I had planned for later in the morning. I've already seen Black Rosy-Finch on this trip but I was still looking forward to another high elevation experience. I was undecided where to start, Jenny Lake or Signal Mountain. Both get a high number of grockles as the morning wears on and only the first location would be optimum. I chose to go to Jenny Lake with the primary objective of finding woodpeckers. Well, I obviously didn't use up my woodpecker Mojo yesterday. I had very quick success only a few hundred yards along the west trail of Jenny Lake (that parallels String Lake outlet). However, I make no excuses for being lucky. As in life, much of what birding is all about is just showing up -- you have to be there to find the birds and it would have been very easy to be lazy this morning given the weather and the crappy day I had yesterday. But I digress.
Soon after I got started I saw a bird fly by me and land on a dead tree (lots of standing burned trees here). Just as I got on the bird and figured out that it was a female BLACK-BACKED WOODPECKER she was gone. Lots of expletives deleted as I missed a good photo opportunity because I couldn't react quickly enough (I later managed to salvage one very dark shot with Photoshop). I hung around for about 10 minutes until I heard woodpecker noises. I huffed and puffed up a hillside and was rewarded with a male BLACK-BACKED WOODPECKER. The male and female interacted a few times and I hoped they would lead me to a nest. They didn't. Here's another shot of the male on a seriously burned tree.
Compare features with yesterday's Three-toed male -- Black-backed has larger bill, thicker white facial line, no line from eye and, of course, black back (both species have three toes). The Black-backed is noticeably larger, although you can't tell that from the photos. On the female Black-backed, note solid black head and very small squiggly line behind the eye compared to the speckled head and stronger and much longer line on a female Three-toed (plus back differences).
I continued a hundred yards or so along the trail and caught sight of another woodpecker in flight. I watched the location and got a repeat after a few minutes. Of course, now I'm thinking nest so I head over there. What do you know, it was a female AMERICAN THREE-TOED WOODPECKER seen here flaking away bark. I soon found the nest cavity located about 10 feet above the ground in a dead tree. I watched the female come and go a few times (shown at the nest cavity in the this photo) but saw no sign of a male.
It was still fairly early so I decided to head north to Signal Mountain instead of walking the entire Jenny Lake trail. Besides, the mosquitoes were pretty fierce and they had my number. Other species noted as I chased the woodpeckers around included OLIVE-SIDED & HAMMOND'S FLYCATCHERS, RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH, HERMIT & SWAINSON'S THRUSHES, MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLER, WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW, female WESTERN TANAGER and PINE SISKIN.
Signal Mountain was generally unproductive, perhaps due to the many vehicles on the road. Anyway, I missed Blue Grouse despite a 90 minute search Visits here in June 2001 and 2002 both produced a cooperative grouse. Among the birds I saw were HAIRY WOODPECKER, OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER and GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE (both singing) and a small flock of RED CROSSBILLS.
Next, I checked Jackson Lake from the Dam area where I immediately saw OSPREY and WHITE PELICAN. I was a little dismayed when I saw a group of shorebirds way in the distance because now it meant I had to walk the trail and lug the scope! The birds turned out to be 10 MARBLED GODWITS. Also present were WESTERN GREBE, CANADA GOOSE, AMERICAN WIGEON, BUFFLEHEAD and RING-BILLED & CALIFORNIA GULLS.
I moved on to nearby Willow Flats, a name that can be a little misleading. There is indeed an extensive area of willows but there are quite a few conifers, aspens and other vegetation. I spent a productive 90 minutes here in on and off light rain and yucky gray skies. BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES were feeding young next to the parking lot. Just as I started walking, this YELLOW WARBLER zipped in so I said, okay, thank you, I'll take your photo. I watched a GRAY CATBIRD foraging and then fly off with food to a (presumed) nest. A little further on some cheeping "feed me" noises led me to a RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER nest cavity and a parent soon came by. That was the end of my fairly woodpeckery day; can't be too greedy. DUSKY FLYCATCHERS were singing and easy to see but I had to be content just listening to the fitz-bew of WILLOW FLYCATCHER. A singing FOX SPARROW was perched up forever but there wasn't a hope in hell of a photo. Not so for this BREWER'S BLACKBIRD with a somewhat surreal background. 25 species in all.
Driving back south to Jackson I stopped at Sawmill Ponds, one of the first places that I birded in the park on my first visit many years ago. Today, as in the past few years, the ponds were dry although the creek is still flowing. DUSKY FLYCATCHERS were in evidence, albeit silent, which was definitely not the case with a few noisy CLARK'S NUTCRACKERS. The "song" of a SORA rang out several times (regular here). 20 species in all.
In the evening, I returned to a very cold and windy Flat Creek where I was finally able to locate a SANDHILL CRANE (one juvenile) that I had missed up to this point. The pair of TRUMPETER SWANS with two cygnets were distant but easy to spot. MARSH WREN and VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW were new for the day.
On the day I added 9 species to the trip list which is now at 155 and none to my state list, still at 186. Correction from yesterday: I determined that the Three-toed Woodpecker was seen just on the Montana section of the Beartooth highway. However, it makes no difference because I saw one in Wyoming today.
Day List (75 species recorded, new for trip in italics):
Western Grebe, Am. White Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Trumpeter Swan, Canada Goose, Am. Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, Osprey, Sandhill Crane, Sora, Am. Coot, Killdeer, Wilson's Snipe, Marbled Godwit, Ring-billed & California Gulls, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Red-naped Sapsucker, Hairy, Am. Three-toed & Black-backed Woodpeckers, N. Flicker, Western Wood-Pewee, Olive-sided, Willow, Hammond's & Dusky Flycatchers, Tree, Violet-green & Barn Swallows, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Cedar Waxwing, House & Marsh Wrens Gray Catbird, Mountain Bluebird, Swainson's & Hermit Thrushes, Am. Robin, Black-capped & Mountain Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Black-billed Magpie, Clark's Nutcracker, Am. Crow, Common Raven, Warbling Vireo, Yellow, Yellow-rumped, MacGillivray's & Wilson's Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Western Tanager, Green-tailed Towhee, Chipping, Brewer's, Vesper, Savannah, Fox, Song & White-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed Junco, Red-winged, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbird, Bullock's Oriole, House Finch, Red Crossbill, Pine Siskin and House Sparrow.
This log is in chronological order and the most recent entries
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The last update was on Wednesday, June 30, 2004
Journal - June, 2004
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