Journal - November, 2005
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This log is in chronological order and the most recent entries
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The last update was on Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Tuesday, November 1, 2005
It may be November on the calendar but the wonderful weather continues. Sure, it's a little chilly in the mornings due to the continued clear blue sky days, but by late morning the temperature has climbed into the mid 70s every day recently. Best of all, from my point of view, are the completely calm conditions. I like the beginning of the month because it brings fresh enthusiasm and the chance to extend a late departure date. I gave pride of place to the San Pedro where the birding was slow but steady with a few species of note.
The highlights belonged to a few continuing species -- two sedate male WOOD DUCKS, an active MERLIN and a beautiful male VERMILION FLYCATCHER all at Kingfisher Pond; a gently tapping RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER, a calling and very actively foraging HAMMOND'S FLYCATCHER, two each HUTTON'S & CASSIN'S VIREOS (both singing), two WILSON'S WARBLERS and a LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH (the latter two calling). This group of species were along the river north of Kingfisher Pond, essentially in the same area where I've seen them recently.
The Vermilion is of note because it's only my second record here in November (none in December and January). Although they breed in profusion on the river and at Patagonia Lake State Park, they essentially leave these areas by late fall and the birds that stay for the winter seem to prefer small ponds such as those at Kino Springs, Arivaca Cienega and Palominas Pond. I've always thought that Kingfisher Pond should fit the bill as a wintering spot but obviously the birds don't agree. Vermilion is one of my three favorite birds and I can never have too many photographs (note that the bird is banded). By the way, my other two favorites are Painted Redstart and Red-faced Warbler.
In terms of the San Pedro location, Red-naped Sapsucker is an uncommon migrant; I'd never seen a Hutton's Vireo until a few weeks ago and have now seen them on several recent trips; Cassin's Vireo is always a good migrant to come across; and the Wilson's Warblers were a November first for me.
I heard the waterthrush in the same place where I found it last month and decided to make a serious effort to see the bird (see journal for October 21 for location). I tracked it down and walked into the middle of the river to try for a photograph. I waited stealthily (or so I thought) for fifteen minutes without success. I saw the bird several times but didn't get a photo opportunity because of poor light. It was interesting to note that when the bird was visible, standing in the clear in the shadow of overhanging brush, the fastest shutter speed I could manage was 1/20 of a second even at ISO 800! Just a few feet away in good sunlight it was 1/1000s. Move, damn you, move.
Other species at Kingfisher Pond included GREAT BLUE HERON, three or more GREEN HERONS, several duck species, the continuing immature COMMON MOORHEN, BELTED KINGFISHER and CASSIN'S KINGBIRD.
SPOTTED TOWHEES are back on the river making for a four towhee day. GREEN-TAILED TOWHEES continue very common as do BREWER'S SPARROWS. I found only a single LAZULI BUNTING and a very cooperative female PYRRHULOXIA. Not quite cooperative enough though, because as I tried to maneuver to get rid of a stray leaf, the bird departed. I could spend time with Photoshop to get rid of it but life's too short.
Encouraged by a modicum of success, I stopped at Sierra Vista EOP to look for a late WESTERN KINGBIRD. It took 30 minutes but I found three of them to extend my late date for this location into November. A handful of BARN & TREE SWALLOWS were present; getting late but I've seen both species here into December. I failed to find a single falcon after a four falcon day here on Sunday. Go figure. I couldn't even lay eyes on the "ever present" Peregrine. The birding was very unpleasant due to smoke. City workers were hard at work spending your tax dollars burning sparrow habitat (but my oh my, doesn't the place look pretty).
66 species recorded (48 SPRNCA, 25 SVEOP) :
Pied-billed Grebe, Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, Wood Duck, Am. Wigeon, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, N. Shoveler, N. Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Merlin, Gambel's Quail, Sora, Common Moorhen, Am. Coot, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Gila & Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Red-naped Sapsucker, N. Flicker, Hammond's Flycatcher, Black & Say's Phoebes, Vermilion Flycatcher, Cassin's & Western Kingbirds, Tree & Barn Swallows, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Cactus, Bewick's, House & Marsh Wrens, Curve-billed Thrasher, White-breasted Nuthatch, Verdin, Loggerhead Shrike, European Starling, House Sparrow, Cassin's & Hutton's Vireos, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch, Yellow-rumped & Wilson's Warblers, Louisiana Waterthrush, Green-tailed, Spotted, Canyon & Abert's Towhees, Chipping, Brewer's, Vesper, Song, Lincoln's & White-crowned Sparrows, Pyrrhuloxia, Lazuli Bunting, Eastern Meadowlark, Red-winged, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds and Great-tailed Grackle.
Wednesday, November 2, 2005
This morning I joined the regular Wednesday morning outing at San Pedro River Inn, a location that I hadn't visited since the winter of 1998-99 (my how time flies). The Inn hosts regularly scheduled birding sessions throughout the year (most are led by owner Michael Marsden, some by Friends of the San Pedro docents). Day birders are also welcome. A slight change in the weather today with a few thin clouds and a little bit of a breeze. It was also warmer by almost 10 degrees; up to 84 in Sierra Vista at noon.
Just as yesterday at the Hwy 90 area of the San Pedro, the birding was a little slow which is somewhat expected at this time of year. Activity was highest around the Inn's ponds and in the mesquite grassland adjacent to the cottonwood gallery along the river. Sparrows were the most common species in the mesquite areas -- WHITE-CROWNED, BREWER'S & VESPER were all numerous. HOUSE WRENS and LINCOLN'S SPARROWS were common along the river proper; a few CHIPPING & SONG and one SAVANNAH SPARROW rounded out the sparrows.
Highlights were two male WOOD DUCKS, GILDED FLICKER (fairly scarce on the river) and a singing but unseen CASSIN'S VIREO (the bird went silent after we decided to track it down).
Other species included a lone WHITE-WINGED DOVE, a couple of ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRDS, a lingering CASSIN'S KINGBIRD (perhaps for a couple more weeks), ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, plenty of GREEN-TAILED & ABERT'S TOWHEES, a handful of LARK BUNTINGS and the Inn's first WESTERN MEADOWLARKS of the season.
When I checked my records, I learned that the White-winged Dove was my first on the SPRNCA in November. I've now seen them in every month of the year on the river. It seems that I manage to squeeze out a new record for something every birding day.
A bizarre moment came when a calling Crissal Thrasher turned out to be trees scraping together in the wind. The noise was very convincing.
I recorded the following 45 species on the ~3.5 hour walk:
Green Heron, Wood Duck, N. Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Am. Kestrel, Mourning & White-winged Doves, Anna's Hummingbird, Gila & Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Northern & Gilded Flickers, Black & Say's Phoebes, Cassin's Kingbird, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Marsh Wren, Curve-billed Thrasher, Bushtit, White-breasted Nuthatch, Verdin, Loggerhead Shrike, Chihuahuan Raven, House Sparrow, Cassin's Vireo, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch, Orange-crowned & Yellow-rumped Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Green-tailed, Canyon & Abert's Towhees, Lark Bunting, Chipping, Brewer's, Savannah, Song, Lincoln's & White-crowned Sparrows, Pyrrhuloxia, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern & Western Meadowlarks and Great-tailed Grackle.
Sunday, November 6, 2005
Overall activity at Sierra Vista EOP continues to dwindle and I recorded only 46 species during the regular Sunday outing this morning. The weather couldn't have been better with clear and calm conditions and a temperature ranging from 53-74 degrees from 7:15-10:15am. A beautiful morning.
Highlights were all continuing species -- (1) GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE, (1) WHITE-FACED IBIS (my first here in November), PEREGRINE FALCON and MERLIN. Once again, the regular Peregrine put on a spectacular aerial display when it streaked through a large flock of Wigeon.
Less common species included GREEN HERON, ROCK PIGEON, ROCK WREN, COMMON RAVEN and TREE & BARN SWALLOWS, now fairly thin on the ground.
Except for plenty of AMERICAN WIGEON, ducks have not increased significantly in numbers. VIRGINIA RAILS, SORAS and MARSH WRENS were all vocal in the marshes.
Among the Regular wintering species were AMERICAN PIPITS and HORNED LARKS (both heard only), lots of YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS and a few WESTERN MEADOWLARKS.
Not a single shorebird nor a Killdeer seen.
Highlight of my morning was watching Manchester United beat Chelsea. It's about time, United have been awful in their previous three games.
Back in February, I began my MP3 project with a search of the player market and since then I've spent lots of time bringing the project to fruition. I'm pleased (and relieved!) to announce the availability of "Using a Dell MP3 player for field playback of bird songs" which documents my efforts (Adobe PDF ~750KB). A job isn't finished until the paperwork's done! Now I can go birding again.
46 species recorded at Sierra Vista EOP:
Green Heron, White-faced Ibis, Greater White-fronted Goose, Am. Wigeon, Gadwall, Green-winged & Cinnamon Teal, Mallard, N. Shoveler, Ring-necked Duck, Ruddy Duck, N. Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Am. Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Virginia Rail, Sora, Am. Coot, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Say's Phoebe
Horned Lark, Tree & Barn Swallows, Am. Pipit, Rock & Marsh Wrens, Curve-billed Thrasher, Verdin, Loggerhead Shrike, Chihuahuan & Common Ravens, European Starling, House Finch, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Vesper, Savannah, Song, Lincoln's & White-crowned Sparrows, Eastern & Western Meadowlarks, Red-winged & Yellow-headed Blackbirds and Great-tailed Grackle.
Monday, November 7, 2005
I'd intended to venture a little further afield this morning after slaving over a hot computer for much of last week. However, despite getting up at 4:00am, I didn't make it out of the door until 7:30am and only made it as far as the San Pedro. A cloudy and mild start to the day becoming quite warm (almost 80 degrees) by late morning under mostly clear skies.
I spent 15 minutes or so near the San Pedro House then walked my regular route south on the Del Valle road, east down Garden Wash (detouring to Black Phoebe Pond) then north along the river with a stop at Kingfisher Pond. Where did all the birds go? I saw far fewer birds than on recent visits and the only location with plenty of activity was the immediate vicinity of the San Pedro House. I didn't see any of the recent "goodies".
Highlights were a singing HAMMOND'S FLYCATCHER and latish CASSIN'S KINGBIRD in the big cottonwood next to the house; a ROCK WREN singing while perched up on a stump, also near the house; and a group of five INCA DOVES near Black Phoebe Pond. My records indicate that Rock Wren is very scarce on this part of the San Pedro (5 records) as is Inca Dove (25 records). Cassin's Kingbirds are usually all gone from this location by mid November and I only have one other record from the second week.
Last trip I was happy to find an adult male VERMILION FLYCATCHER at Kingfisher Pond -- today there were two of them! I was also pleased to find a CRISSAL THRASHER in Garden Wash and a CASSIN'S SPARROW along the Del Valle Road. The sparrows are not rare, just super difficult to detect after they stop singing..
Photo opportunities were few and far between and I cursed this LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE when it flew just as I was about to pull the trigger. As things turned out though, it was a "Murphy gets screwed moment" because the bird flew to a closer perch in good light.
I've added a Recent Photos section to the Photo Gallery (displayed when gallery starts). You'd think it wouldn't have taken me so many years.
43 species recorded on SPRNCA (Hwy 90 area):
Great Blue & Green Herons, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, N. Shoveler, Sharp-shinned & Cooper's Hawks, Mourning & Inca Doves, Gila & Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, N. Flicker, Black & Say's Phoebes, Hammond's & Vermilion Flycatchers, Cassin's Kingbird, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Rock, Bewick's & House Wrens, Crissal Thrasher, Bridled Titmouse, Verdin, Loggerhead Shrike, European Starling, House Sparrow, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Green-tailed, Canyon & Abert's Towhees, Cassin's, Brewer's, Vesper, Black-throated, Song, Lincoln's & White-crowned Sparrows, Pyrrhuloxia and Eastern Meadowlark.
Tuesday, November 8, 2005
Today I spent some time in Sulphur Springs Valley. I left home in darkness to reach Whitewater Draw early enough to see the cranes leave. After birding there for a couple of hours, I worked my way north to Elfrida on the back roads, checked the Granites to the east of town, then continued on to Willcox. It was certainly a weird weather day; quite cold at first becoming very warm and sultry under cloudy skies as the day progressed. Another day without wind; 84 degrees in Sierra Vista when I returned at 3:00pm.
For the first time this season there was a wintry feel to the air this morning (Arizona style, of course) -- I wore long sleeves, long pants, sweater and gloves. It's amazing how much colder it was at Whitewater Draw than when I left Sierra Vista. The sense of approaching winter was reinforced by the presence of recently arrived diving ducks -- REDHEAD and CANVASBACK, half a dozen NORTHERN HARRIERS coursing over the marshes and the racket made by scads of SANDHILL CRANES. Can the white geese and Bald Eagles be far behind? I think not -- perhaps they'll be here by the end of the month.
Overall activity at Whitewater Draw wasn't too impressive. Highlights included (1) EARED GREBE, (9) LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS, the usual impassive GREAT HORNED OWLS, a cold looking BENDIRE'S THRASHER, an adult male VERMILION FLYCATCHER (regular here in winter), (200) TREE SWALLOWS down from 2000 on my last visit and a few AMERICAN PIPITS.
The south willow grove that was very productive in September and October was almost devoid of birds today. It won't be long before all the leaves are gone. The most common ducks were GREEN-WINGED TEAL while SAVANNAH SPARROWS were the most numerous (or at least the most conspicuous) landbirds. Just over 40 species in all.
As I progressed northwards, RED-TAILED HAWKS (including quite a few Rufous morphs), LOGGERHEAD SHRIKES and LARK BUNTINGS were all very common. Sparrows seemed rather inconspicuous, especially VESPER, and even the normally abundant BREWER'S SPARROWS were uncommon. SCALED QUAIL were also hard to come across. I found EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVES on highway 191 in "downtown" Elfrida and I also saw several on Mormon Road near the intersection with Webb Road. I was surprised not to see a single Ferruginous Hawk all day. I sometimes see them in October and they are usually fairly easy to find by early November. Maybe they are dawdling on their way down here because of the mild weather.
Every time that I visit the Granites I'm reminded of how much warmer it is here than in the valley just a few miles away. Even though it's a few hundred feet higher, I think the large expanse of rock holds the heat. Today it was uncomfortably warm at 11:00am. I was successful in finding my target BLACK-CHINNED SPARROWS, perhaps as many as 8 birds in winter plumage (sans black chin). Other stuff present in this always interesting place were ROCK & CANYON WRENS calling from the rocky slopes, a couple of calling and foraging BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS, a soaring COMMON RAVEN, lots of BLACK-THROATED SPARROWS, several GREEN-TAILED & CANYON TOWHEES and a pair of NORTHERN CARDINALS eating hackberries.
I really don't like visiting Willcox in the afternoon because the landbirding is so poor. However, economics rule and it was case of killing two birds with one stone. NORTHERN SHOVELERS are now abundant and every last one of them is afraid of their own shadow. It's very annoying to be scanning and counting when they spook en masse. I couldn't make any Clark's and Horned Grebes or any scaup out of the (4) WESTERN GREBES, (56+) EARED GREBES and (47+) RING-NECKED DUCKS. Apart from LEAST SANDPIPERS and KILLDEER, the only shorebird was (1) WILSON'S SNIPE. Only 25 species in all.
73 species recorded:
Pied-billed, Eared & Western Grebes, Great Blue Heron, Am. Wigeon, Green-winged & Cinnamon Teal, Mallard, N. Pintail, N. Shoveler, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Ruddy Duck, N. Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Am. Kestrel, Scaled & Gambel's Quail, Sandhill Crane, Sora, Am. Coot, Killdeer, Wilson's Snipe, Long-billed Dowitcher, Least Sandpiper, Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Mourning Dove, Greater Roadrunner, Great Horned Owl, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Black & Say's Phoebes, Vermilion Flycatcher, Tree Swallow, Am. Pipit, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Cactus, Rock, Canyon, House & Marsh Wrens, Bendire's & Curve-billed Thrashers, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Verdin, Loggerhead Shrike, Chihuahuan & Common Ravens, House Sparrow, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Green-tailed & Canyon Towhees, Lark Bunting, Brewer's, Black-chinned, Vesper, Black-throated, Savannah, Song, Lincoln's & White-crowned Sparrows, N. Cardinal, Eastern & Western Meadowlarks, Red-winged, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds and Great-tailed Grackle.
Wednesday, November 9, 2005
This morning I visited Sawmill Canyon in the Huachucas, a location that I've neglected in recent weeks. The canyon isn't a place to see lots of species at this time of year but I wanted to check for returning Williamson's Sapsucker. The clouds from yesterday persisted overnight and it was a very mild morning (if I'm able to wear shorts and don't need a sweater in Sawmill in November..... it's mild!).
Although the drive up Garden Canyon was fairly birdless, I enjoyed the gorgeous colors and the awful condition of the road didn't seem to matter. I didn't take any photos but this image of fall colors from almost the same date last year will give you an idea. An increase in the number of RED-TAILED HAWKS in the lower grassland was quite noticeable (5 seen). Sparrows, on the other hand, were non existent or in serious hiding.
I was quite surprised to find a fair amount of activity when I reached Sawmill. In fact, the first couple of species made it seem more like summer than almost winter -- HEPATIC TANAGER and OLIVE WARBLER. Hepatic Tanagers really thin out in November and today I found just one. My latest date in the canyon is November 19. On the other hand, Olive Warblers always seem to increase in mid November before tailing off at the end (see bar graph). I've noticed this before and checked to see if the increase is artificial due to insufficient visits. It certainly isn't as the graphic will attest. I found at least 6 very vocal and active warblers and I almost got sucked in to chasing them around to try for a photo. That's a mug's game -- been there, done that.
I stuck to the task at hand and started listening for tapping. I spent about three hours looking unsuccessfully for Williamson's Sapsucker. I checked a number of regular territories and none of the regularly used sapwell trees had fresh sap. So, the birds are either not back yet or they aren't using those trees. However, I didn't end up empty handed in terms of woodpeckers -- I found RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER, ACORN WOODPECKER, (4) ARIZONA WOODPECKERS and plenty of NORTHERN FLICKERS.
The sheer numbers of MEXICAN JAYS banging the hell out of juniper berries and pine cones made it difficult to listen for the quieter tapping of sapsuckers and woodpeckers. The lack of finesse by the jays makes it (relatively) easy to eliminate them, but some are marginal and I just have to check for fear of being wrong. I wandered into a clearing and caught the juvenile in the photo somewhat unaware and ended up with a fairly decent image. I' haven't been able to sneak up on these babies too often. Being a juvenile, perhaps it hasn't learned to be afraid yet.
DARK-EYED JUNCOS are now back in numbers to join the resident YELLOW-EYED. I checked every group that I saw and found only Gray-headed, not a single Oregon nor Pink-sided. A flock of 20 or so PINE SISKINS added to the seasonal feel (tanagers and warblers notwithstanding).
The only real birds of note (from a date/occurrence standpoint) were RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH and HOUSE WREN. Apart from a sighting earlier this year back in August, I hadn't seen a Red-breasted Nuthatch in Sawmill since 1998. House Wren breeds in the canyon but normally heads to lower elevations by mid October. This is my latest record here by a fair margin (previous October 23).
Highlight of my time in the canyon was a NORTHERN (MOUNTAIN) PYGMY-OWL even if it wasn't very confiding (the bird fell silent and disappeared after hanging around for only a minute or so).
Back in Garden Canyon I stopped at the lower picnic area to look for Painted Redstart. A thirty minute search was unsuccessful but I did turn up a smart looking male BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER for my trouble.
36 species recorded:
Red-tailed Hawk, Am. Kestrel, N. Pygmy-Owl, Acorn, Gila & Arizona Woodpeckers, Red-naped Sapsucker, N. Flicker, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Bewick's & House Wrens, Curve-billed Thrasher, Bushtit, Bridled Titmouse, Red-breasted & White-breasted Nuthatches, Brown Creeper, Verdin, Loggerhead Shrike, Steller's & Mexican Jays, Common Raven, House Sparrow, Hutton's Vireo, House Finch, Pine Siskin, Lesser Goldfinch, Olive, Yellow-rumped & Black-throated Gray Warblers, Hepatic Tanager, Chipping Sparrow, Dark-eyed (Gray-headed) & Yellow-eyed Juncos, Eastern Meadowlark and Great-tailed Grackle.
Thursday, November 10, 2005
My first visit of the month to Patagonia Lake State Park was a very productive affair. Nothing particularly rare, just all-around good birding with a number of decent birds and a solid 75 species. Weather-wise, it was another mild start to the day and just a tad cooler later in the day compared to recent days. Hard to beat in mid November.
I began at the west end of the lake by scanning from a couple of deep water vantage points and managed 40 species in the first hour. Out on the water I noted at least (3) WESTERN GREBES and two flotillas of ducks that tuned out to be (20) LESSER SCAUP and (14) NORTHERN PINTAIL (pintail is decidedly uncommon at the lake). Among the marginal birds (that's birds along the lake margins; ain't English grand) were the typical heron species -- multiple GREAT BLUES and one each GREAT EGRET, GREEN HERON and BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON (probably more had I kept looking). Also present were several SORAS, VIRGINIA RAILS and COMMON MOORHENS. I watched a BELTED KINGFISHER dart out over the water, hover for a few seconds at 40 feet above the water, dive into the water completely submerging itself, then emerge successfully with a fish. Color the nearby fisherman crestfallen. Both DOUBLE-CRESTED and NEOTROPIC CORMORANTS flew back and forth as boats disturbed them.
Initially, landbirds were not conspicuous but I eventually weeded out a fair number including COOPER'S HAWK, a flock of (20+) WHITE-WINGED and a few INCA DOVES, the usual GILA & LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKERS, a handful of LINCOLN'S SPARROWS and a couple of mewing GREEN-TAILED TOWHEES.
Okay, now it was time to work for some birds. I moved on to the trail at the east end of the lake where I immediately got bogged down with gnatcatchers. It took me another hour to progress from the trailhead to the steps, just a couple of hundred yards!. As I approached the bench, I heard the "pip" calls of an ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER and headed towards the sound. This is a bird that I've never photographed so I thought that I'd try my luck. I never made it to the bird because I immediately heard the calls of two BLACK-CAPPED GNATCATCHERS up on the hillside. I scrambled up there and soon caught up with several gnatcatchers that turned out to be BLACK-TAILED GNATCATCHERS. Before long, I was in the middle of a gnatcatcher party with multiple birds of both species. Hard to know for sure how many, but I'd estimate at least 8.
I was distracted from the gnatcatchers by a flock of sparrows containing a singing RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROW and a handful of BLACK-CHINNED SPARROWS (this bird looks like it's singing but it wasn't). They were quite flighty but I did manage a second image. This is an understated yet very dapper species to my eye, even in winter when the male loses his black chin. I wish they were a winter regular at the lake -- I've only found them in 6 of the 12 years that I've birded here. Perhaps they'll stick around for the rest of this winter. A calling CRISSAL THRASHER on the hillside represented a fairly scarce bird here. Back to those pesky gnatcatchers ....
I have plenty of Black-capped photos but only one of Black-tailed so I spent some time following a couple of birds around. I managed two useful images from about 150 shots -- those buggers know how to hide and they don't sit still very long. BTGN image #1 is a bird that had just finished preening and decided to pause for a moment. I managed to catch BTGN image #2 (a different bird) as it foraged. In winter plumage, they look superficially similarly to Black-capped Gnatcatchers (although you can see the undertail in the first image). However, note the bill length in image #2 and compare it to the Black-capped photos in the gallery, especially this shot (taken last year) in a similar pose.
An hour zipped right by as I messed with the gnatcatchers. I was finally bailed out by the Ash-throated Flycatcher calling again. Although I quickly managed to locate the bird, I absolutely could not maneuver into an obstacle free location without fear of falling (I wasn't worried about myself, just the $7000 in camera, lenses and binocular equipment around my neck).
Eventually, I continued along the marsh trail that had surprisingly little activity. That was remedied when I reached the willow forest near the mouth of Sonoita Creek; a veritable hive of activity with birds everywhere. I walked along the creek only as far as the loop back to the main trail.
The lake near the creek mouth had (10) EARED GREBES, a pair of GADWALL, plenty of CINNAMON TEAL (males now with strong color) and (4) AMERICAN PIPITS.
Once in the willow forest I didn't know where to turn first. A soon-to-be-gone calling CASSIN'S KINGBIRD got my attention first; then it was a singing CASSIN'S VIREO. Several ORANGE-CROWNED and a single BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER were also worth a look. A flycatching male ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRD was next up followed by another ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER and squabbling HAMMOND'S and DUSKY FLYCATCHERS to complete the winter empid trifecta -- I had already seen GRAY FLYCATCHER earlier in the mesquite bosque. HUTTON'S VIREO, ABERT'S TOWHEES and the usual titmice, nuthatches and sparrows rounded out the birds here.
The walk back was pale in comparison to what had gone before but I did add another VIRGINIA RAIL, HERMIT THRUSH and a flock of BUSHTITS. My final bird of the morning was a CASSIN'S SPARROW along the entrance road.
An excellent morning.
75 species recorded at Patagonia Lake State Park:
Pied-billed, Eared & Western Grebes, Double-crested & Neotropic Cormorants, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Gadwall, N. Pintail, Cinnamon Teal, Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Duck, Cooper's Hawk, Am. Kestrel, Virginia Rail, Sora, Common Moorhen, Am. Coot, Killdeer, Mourning, White-winged & Inca Doves, Anna's Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Gila & Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, N. Flicker, Hammond's, Gray, Dusky & Ash-throated Flycatchers, Black & Say's Phoebes, Cassin's Kingbird, Am. Pipit, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Rock, Bewick's, House & Marsh Wrens, Curve-billed & Crissal Thrashers, Hermit Thrush, Black-tailed & Black-capped Gnatcatchers, Bushtit, Bridled Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Verdin, Common Raven, House Sparrow, Cassin's & Hutton's Vireos, House Finch, Orange-crowned, Yellow-rumped & Black-throated Gray Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Green-tailed & Abert's Towhees, Cassin's, Rufous-winged, Chipping, Black-chinned, Vesper, Black-throated, Song, Lincoln's & White-crowned Sparrows, Pyrrhuloxia, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark and Great-tailed Grackle.
Friday, November 11, 2005
Another beautiful blue sky morning with pristine views that unfortunately didn't come without a price -- very windy conditions. I knew that my time would be better spent at the computer than in the field and I only made the short journey down to the San Pedro. When I saw the cottonwoods blowing wildly near the San Pedro House, and the almost complete absence of birds, I realized that passerine birding would be poor and my data collection efforts would be meaningless. Consequently, I decided to check Kingfisher pond to look for photo opportunities to test my new camera..
This turned out to be a good move since I found a couple of decent species at the pond. I thought that the WOOD DUCKS had long since departed. On the contrary, today I found that their population has increased again. What started out as one male a couple of months ago then became two last month is now four birds, 3 males and a female. As I mentioned previously, prior to these birds showing up I hadn't seen Wood Ducks on the San Pedro. However, the Wood Ducks were trumped by a single SNOW GOOSE as best bird on the pond. This was only the second year that I've recorded Snow goose on the San Pedro; a couple of birds were present in December, 1998. I tried to get a photo to document the occasion but I couldn't get anywhere near close enough to the bird.
It's rather unfortunate that Kingfisher Pond is such a small pond with lots of human activity, Ducks don't get much peace and they're constantly flushing whenever anyone shows up (me included). That was the case today as several parties came by and the goose was back and forth. This distant context shot provides a size comparison of the goose relative to a MALLARD in the foreground and a GREEN-WINGED TEAL in the background green slime. When all else fails and details can't be seen, a size comparison against other species present can often help determine if a bird is Snow or Ross's.
I did a little experimentation with my camera to see what kind of image I could get of a moving bird on the other side of the pond (150+ feet away). I cranked up the ISO to get a fast shutter speed to freeze the action and I used A1-Servo mode focusing to track the moving bird. This represents the height of sophistication for this heretofore point-and-shoot merchant. I managed a fairly useful and relatively close image after cropping and photoshopping.
I walked back north along the river and came to a location where lots of BREWER'S SPARROWS were coming down to the water's edge to drink. I dropped down the bank to try for a photo only to have all the birds suddenly take flight. I thought to myself "that can't be me" and looked around to see who the culprit was. Imagine my surprise to see a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK standing in the river about 100 feet away. I tried for a photo and just managed a shot before the bird spotted me and flew away as quickly as it had arrived. Given the circumstances, I didn't expect any kind of result at all. The bird wasn't in good light (note shutter speed) and I was standing on tip toes wobbling around, trying to avoid the blades of grass waving in front of the lens. Somehow, I got a half decent image, albeit not as crisp as I would have liked. Nevertheless, I gained more respect for the capabilities of the image stabilized lens and focusing system of the 1D.
Thanks to the wind, I only recorded a meager 26 species:
Green Heron, Snow Goose, Wood Duck, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, N. Pintail, N. Harrier, Sharp-shinned, Cooper's & Red-tailed Hawks, Am. Coot, Mourning Dove, Anna's Hummingbird, Gila Woodpecker, Black & Say's Phoebes, House Wren, Loggerhead Shrike, House Sparrow, Green-tailed & Abert's Towhees, Brewer's, Vesper, Lincoln's & White-crowned Sparrows and Pyrrhuloxia.
Sunday, November 13, 2005
A chilly start for the regular Sierra Vista EOP outing on a beautifully clear and calm morning (43 degrees at 7:30am up to 71 by 10:15am). Activity has dropped yet again and I recorded my lowest total species count over the past couple of months
The birding was less than inspiring and the highlight of the morning was provided by a BOBCAT to the delight of all the participants. The locals didn't share our enthusiasm and the animal was harassed by a posse of four CHIHUAHUAN RAVENS and yelped at by a COYOTE. The Bobcat remained impassive and just got on with its business (which didn't seem to be much!). I was way too far way for a detailed photograph, but here's a documentary shot of a cat on cold blacktop, my first at the EOP.
But I digress. Raptors were generally conspicuous by their absence today with only a rufous morph RED-TAILED HAWK and a few each HARRIERS and KESTRELS on offer. The "always present" Peregrine and often seen Merlin were both AWOL.
Less common species were a calling GREEN HERON, ROCK PIGEON, a distant NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (really a stretch to include it as an EOP bird) and the formerly common here PIED-BILLED GREBE. A few "almost late" TREE and BARN SWALLOWS passed overhead. Perhaps as many as 10 WESTERN MEADOWLARKS were out in the fields.
The most common species were YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD and AMERICAN WIGEON.
The only shorebird was a single SPOTTED SANDPIPER.
41 species recorded at Sierra Vista EOP:
Pied-billed Grebe, Green Heron, Am. Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, N. Pintail, Green-winged & Cinnamon Teal, N. Shoveler, Ring-necked Duck, Ruddy Duck, N. Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Am. Kestrel, Virginia Rail, Sora, Am. Coot, Spotted Sandpiper, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Black & Say's Phoebes, Horned Lark, Tree & Barn Swallows, American Pipit, Marsh Wren, N. Mockingbird, Loggerhead Shrike, Chihuahuan Raven, European Starling, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Vesper, Savannah, Song & Lincoln's Sparrows, Western Meadowlark, Red-winged, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds and Great-tailed Grackle.
New Feature note: I've added the ability to display all the bird photos for the current month in separate windows, while at the same maintaining the journal text on screen. Access this feature by clicking on the symbol wherever it appears in the journal (will usually be in the date header for days with photos). Read the operational notes accessible from a link on the monthly photo list page that appears (replacing the journal index). If you have trouble getting multiple photos to display on screen at the same time, please let me know -- thanks. Eventually, when photo lists for several months and years are available, it will be possible to navigate through the journals for those months in order to compare any photos side by side.
Monday, November 14, 2005
My birding this morning was minimal and delayed considerably due to the fact that I needed to get a flat tire fixed before leaving town. It turned out there was a screw in the tire. I'm not surprised because I'm always getting screwed by one thing or another. I'm always amazed how cold it can be early in the morning at this time of year (almost turned on the heater today!) and how warm it gets by mid morning. Another clear blue sky day, up to 80 degrees today by noon.
Because of the late start, I wanted somewhere close and convenient and decided to visit the lower section of Garden Canyon. A fly-by GREAT BLUE HERON near the range control building represented an unusual sighting for this location. I occasionally see them here as they move from one location to another.
I checked the fishing ponds for Lawrence's Goldfinch (very few reports in SE AZ this season so far) and the lower picnic area for a potential wintering Painted Redstart, striking out on both. The fishing ponds have plenty of weedy habitat for the goldfinches as evidenced by the LESSER GOLDFINCHES and tons of sparrows present. There isn't much water apart from an area of flooded grass thick with LINCOLN'S SPARROWS; and a small, deep section in the Gravel Pit pond, good enough for a COOT and a BLACK PHOEBE.
The most interesting birds were a small group of COMMON GROUND-DOVES (possibly a Ruddy as well but I didn't get a good enough view) and the continued visibility of CASSIN'S SPARROWS. I've found Cassin's twice already this month (San Pedro River and Patagonia Lake) which is somewhat surprising in November. Although they are permanent residents, Cassin's Sparrows don't normally vocalize at this time of year. Today I came across as many as 6 birds. Perhaps they had an exceptionally good year or they like the mild weather we're having. Either that or I'm getting better at detecting their calls, which is how I picked up on them today.
I noted about 25 species at the ponds and surrounding grassy areas including a COOPER'S HAWK hunting sparrows (unsuccessfully), this CURVE-BILLED THRASHER giving me the cold shoulder, GREEN-TAILED and CANYON TOWHEES, RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROW and PYRRHULOXIA.
Continuing on through the grassland I added (4) KESTRELS, a hard case GREATER ROADRUNNER that didn't seem to want to get out of my way, LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKER, a few SAY'S PHOEBES, (2) LOGGERHEAD SHRIKES and a nicely posed PHAINOPEPLA. I was a fair distance from the bird which was on the other side of the road and I shot this image from the car.
The lower picnic area was depressingly quiet as midday approached and I had trouble finding any birds at all for a while. Eventually, I turned up a few common species with RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER being the pick of a small bunch.
36 species recorded in lower Garden Canyon:
Great Blue Heron, Cooper's & Red-tailed Hawks, Am. Kestrel, Am. Coot, Common Ground-Dove, Greater Roadrunner, Red-naped Sapsucker, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Black & Say's Phoebes, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Phainopepla, Bewick's Wren, N. Mockingbird, Curve-billed Thrasher, Hermit Thrush, Bridled Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Verdin, Loggerhead Shrike, Mexican Jay, Chihuahuan Raven, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Green-tailed & Canyon Towhees, Cassin's, Rufous-crowned, Chipping, Brewer's, Lincoln's & White-crowned Sparrows, Pyrrhuloxia and Western Meadowlark.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
What a difference the weather makes. My experience on the San Pedro this morning was infinitely better than on Friday -- a miserable, windy day with few birds on offer. Today was clear and calm and I enjoyed a productive morning with double the number of species versus Friday. On a seasonal note, the cottonwoods are noticeably changing color now and leaves are starting to fall in earnest. The temperature ranged from 59 to 73 degrees through late morning
I normally spend fifteen minutes or so birding around the San Pedro House but I skipped that today because of construction work. I couldn't stand the noise and the smell of diesel fumes. The birds didn't seem to like it either because I didn't notice too many. However, perhaps this SHARP-SHINNED HAWK was the culprit, hiding in plain sight in a mesquite. This was a very small individual, not the large female that I saw on Friday.
Kingfisher pond had plenty of waterfowl including the continuing WOOD DUCKS. I was again delighted to find my little friend, this male VERMILION FLYCATCHER still hanging in at the pond. Although I got a steely stare as I approached, the bird didn't fly away -- perhaps he recognizes me! Seconds after this shot the flycatcher swooped down to take something from the surface of the pond and returned to a different perch. This second image isn't as good but shows the bird with a beetle looking thing in its mouth and you can also see its tongue (the bird, that is, not the beetle). Neat. If I ever fail to be inspired by this bird, check my pulse. Believe it or not, I get many clients who are too ____ fill in the blank (jaded) to lift a binocular to look at one. Very sad.
While messing with the flycatcher I heard the loud, urgent chip of my first of season SWAMP SPARROW and was able to track down the bird with a little effort. In fact, I got a documentary photo but it's not fit for birder consumption. Swamp Sparrows are scarce on the San Pedro and this is only my seventh record in four of the thirteen years that I've birded here. Nearby, a calling CRISSAL THRASHER eluded me even though it seemed I was almost next to the bird.
I continued on to Black Phoebe pond where there was nothing of note. However, it was here that I saw the bird of the day (and likely, the month). I looked up to see a CRESTED CARACARA flying overhead. Wow, what a shock to the system! This was a new location bird for me (#221) and also a new Cochise County species. Caracaras are quite local in southeast Arizona and are mostly confined to areas well west of I-10 in Pima County. However, there have certainly been a smattering of sightings in eastern SE AZ including on the San Pedro and at Sierra Vista EOP. I wonder where today's individual was coming from? As I was driving home later, I was thinking that this was a good sighting to mark my 550th visit to the San Pedro. However, it turns out that today was my 551st visit. Boo bloody hoo.
This sighting reminded me of three clichés and I'm a great believer in all of them: 1) "you never know" -- a good reason to stick at it even when another "so-so" day is in prospect. 2) "Timing is everything" -- not only was I in the right place at the right time today, I also happened to be looking skyward at the precise moment that the bird few past. What are the odds? 3) "It rarely pays to be lazy" -- I was feeling a little weary and almost skipped the check of Black Phoebe pond. It's amazing how often I've been rewarded when I push myself.
Walking along Garden Wash, I rounded a bend and came upon this AMERICAN KESTREL perched completely in the clear. I did what most folks with a camera would do with a species that spooks easily (and Kestrel is high on that list) -- I took a shot, walked forward a few feet, took another shot ... and so on. The closest I got was about 70 feet which is about the limit of usefulness with the hand-held lenses that I have. I don't get much detail at this distance. I've included a thumbnail of the original in this image so you can see how little of the frame the Kestrel represented. Note how the bird's feet are clenched together -- one slip could be very painful.
[RFI: Some of the lenses in the Canon range (including those that I own) pass distance information to the camera. If anyone knows of software that can process the data in the image files to extract the distance info, I'd appreciate hearing from you. I often guesstimate the distance to a bird and it sure would be useful to have an accurate figure.]
50 species recorded on SPRNCA (Hwy 90 area):
Pied-billed Grebe, Great Blue & Green Herons, Wood Duck, Am. Wigeon. Gadwall. Green-winged Teal. Mallard. N. Pintail. N. Shoveler, Sharp-shinned & Red-tailed Hawks, Crested Caracara, Am. Kestrel, Am. Coot, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Gila & Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, N. Flicker, Black & Say's Phoebes, Vermilion Flycatcher, Barn Swallow, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Bewick's & House Wrens, Curve-billed & Crissal Thrashers, White-breasted Nuthatch, Verdin, Loggerhead Shrike, Chihuahuan Raven, House Sparrow, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch, Orange-crowned & Yellow-rumped Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Green-tailed, Canyon & Abert's Towhees, Brewer's, Vesper, Savannah, Song, Lincoln's, Swamp & White-crowned Sparrows and Red-winged Blackbird.
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Despite the fact that it was another gorgeous morning, it took some will power to force myself to check Sawmill Canyon -- a location where few species frequent at this time of year. An educated guess about what might be present is not the same as knowing for sure (always assuming I can find whatever is present, of course).
The drive through Garden Canyon grassland yielded (5) RED-TAILED HAWKS and (5) AMERICAN KESTRELS along with a large flock of EASTERN and a few WESTERN MEADOWLARKS. As is typical throughout the winter, PHAINOPEPLAS and NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRDS are back on duty, perched atop mesquites guarding mistletoe clumps. Several SAY'S PHOEBES, LOGGERHEAD SHRIKES and VESPER SPARROWS were the only other species that I noted.
The shady and cold middle part of the canyon was birdless and I enjoyed the still spectacular fall colors in silence, save for a distant CANYON WREN.
Since the overnight low in town dipped below 40 degrees last night, I figured that Sawmill was going to be on the nippy side and I was right. There was a fair amount of frost on the grass and a thin layer of ice on the puddles. 'Tis the season. Clear skies and a light breeze kept the temperature at long pants and sweater level through mid morning. Compared to my last visit on November 9, the canyon was like a graveyard.
I'm happy to say that my efforts paid off and I found my first of season (male) WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER at a site the birds use each winter. It's about time -- I was hoping to have found them earlier in the month (or even in late October). I don't know of a more reliable place than Sawmill to find them on a regular basis and this is the main reason I come here during the colder months. Every male Williamson's that I've tried to photograph seems to be in the exact same pose in a very gloomy and high location. Woodpeckers were not particularly conspicuous today but I came across several ARIZONA and a few ACORN WOODPECKERS along with NORTHERN FLICKER as I searched for the sapsucker.
WESTERN BLUEBIRD was another first of season bird. They are uncommon at best in Sawmill (closer to rare) and I usually see them for the first time each winter in November. Other parts of the Huachucas have more of them, along with the resident Eastern. Wintering DARK-EYED JUNCOS are now very common. I saw lots of Gray-headed and a few Pink-sided today, no Oregon yet. The resident YELLOW-EYED JUNCOS are now very much in the minority. A found a single RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH (uncommon here) in exactly the same place as last week. A flock of PINE SISKINS swirled around; BROWN CREEPERS crept, RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS hover gleaned and a COMMON RAVEN croaked as it soared above a ridge. Then there's always the squawking and screeching MEXICAN and STELLER'S JAYS. Yes, it's already winter in Sawmill Canyon.
Back in Garden Canyon, a late morning stop at the fishing ponds produced lots of sparrows. BREWER'S SPARROWS remain very common and it seems like an exceptional year for them (Brewer's is one of the most common wintering sparrows). PINE SISKINS were also present here, although in lesser numbers than in Sawmill. A "flock" of (3) CASSIN'S KINGBIRDS are probably not planning to hang around much longer. In fact, I distinctly heard one of them say "vamos a México, hoy!". Or was that "chibeer"?
46 species recorded:
Red-tailed Hawk, Am. Kestrel, Am. Coot, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Acorn, Ladder-backed & Arizona Woodpeckers, Williamson's Sapsucker, N. Flicker, Black & Say's Phoebes, Cassin's Kingbird, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Phainopepla, Cactus, Canyon & Bewick's Wrens, N. Mockingbird, Curve-billed Thrasher, Western Bluebird, Bridled Titmouse, Red-breasted & White-breasted Nuthatches, Brown Creeper, Verdin, Loggerhead Shrike, Steller's & Mexican Jays, Chihuahuan & Common Ravens, House Finch, Pine Siskin, Lesser Goldfinch, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Green-tailed Towhee, Chipping, Brewer's, Vesper, Lincoln's & White-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed (Gray-headed & Pink-sided) & Yellow-eyed Juncos, Eastern & Western Meadowlarks and Great-tailed Grackle.
Friday, November 18, 2005
Out today with Connie and Bryce Hunter from Toronto, ON. We birded at Patagonia Lake State Park without looking for anything in particular; A fairly low key morning by design, although we did come up with almost 70 species.. Another blue sky warmish day after a chilly start and just a little windy.
We worked my "standard" route starting at the west end of the lake then walking the Sonoita Creek trail to the creek mouth. We didn't spend any time along the upper creek trail looking for rarities. BLACK-CAPPED GNATCATCHER was our only real bird of note; in two locations -- on the hillside above the bench and in the second wash. However, when you're not looking for specific birds, you cannot fail to be successful! Birds seen by others included Elegant Trogon, Green Kingfisher, Eastern Phoebe, Winter Wren and Louisiana Waterthrush.
WESTERN GREBE was the only bird of note on the lake. Three species of shorebirds (not including Killdeer!) was a good return for this location -- WILSON'S SNIPE, GREATER YELLOWLEGS and SPOTTED SANDPIPER.
We recorded the typical winter flycatchers -- HAMMOND'S, several GRAY, DUSKY and ASH-THROATED (near the visitor center). YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS are now present in annoying numbers We also saw a handful of ORANGE-CROWNED and a BLACK-THROATED GRAY. A singing CASSIN'S VIREO was near the creek mouth. LARK SPARROWS were very common.
68 species recorded at Patagonia Lake State Park:
Pied-billed, Eared & Western Grebes, Great Blue & Green Herons, Am. Wigeon, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, N. Pintail, N. Shoveler, Ring-necked Duck,
Ruddy Duck, Cooper's Hawk, Virginia Rail, Sora, Common Moorhen, Am. Coot, Wilson's Snipe, Greater Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Mourning, White-winged & Inca Doves, Anna's Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Red-naped Sapsucker, Gila & Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Hammond's, Gray, Dusky & Ash-throated Flycatchers, Black & Say's Phoebes, Am. Pipit, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Rock, Bewick's, House & Marsh Wrens, Curve-billed Thrasher, Hermit Thrush, Black-capped Gnatcatcher, Bridled Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Verdin, Common Raven, House Sparrow, Cassin's & Hutton's Vireos, House Finch, Orange-crowned, Yellow-rumped & Black-throated Gray Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Green-tailed & Abert's Towhees, White-crowned, Chipping, Lark, Black-throated, Song & Lincoln's Sparrows, Northern Cardinal, Pyrrhuloxia, Red-winged Blackbird and Great-tailed Grackle.
After leaving the lake we made a short visit to Kino Springs to pick up VERMILION FLYCATCHER. A beautiful adult male duly obliged us at the club house pond. Lot's of AMERICAN WIGEON on the main pond -- time to start checking for Eurasian.
Monday, November 21, 2005
An absolutely splendid morning prompted me to forsake computer work and head down to the San Pedro. A mostly clear blue sky coupled with crisp and completely calm conditions were too good to forgo (super clear views of the Huachuca Mountains). I delayed my start until 8:00am to let the overnight freezing temperature climb a little. The temperature ranged from 43 to 63 degrees during my time on the river.
The birding was fairly decent -- several flavors of sparrows were "hanging from the grass" (not to be confused with "warblers dripping from the trees") and Kingfisher Pond had a fair selection of waterfowl. However, as always, I could have used a few more species.
I spent over an hour working Kingfisher Pond where the noisy rattle of a BELTED KINGFISHER regularly broke the silence. Highlights here were a couple of continuing species -- a female or immature columbarius MERLIN and a male VERMILION FLYCATCHER. I searched high and low but couldn't find any of the Wood Ducks. Other species included GREEN HERON, half a dozen species of waterfowl and a MARSH WREN that seems to want to stay even though there isn't much habitat.
Going the extra mile (round trip) to Black Phoebe Pond paid off big time with a male GREEN KINGFISHER (unfortunately, the photo is "documentary quality" only). Formerly an uncommon regular on the river, Green Kingfisher is now decidedly rare and sporadic with most sightings occurring in late fall and winter. I heard the bird's tick-tick calls as I approached the pond but it took some time to locate. I was amazed how difficult it was to see the bird when perched in the not-so-dense vegetation, even though I "knew" exactly where it was! Occasional ticking calls helped me to keep the faith but it was the sharp, squealing call (given whenever the bird changed its perch) that was the main location aid. The kingfisher was fairly skittish, perhaps due to my presence (unusual for this species), and I was never able to get close enough for a decent photo. I have several images of females but none of males so I've included what I was able to get despite the poor quality. I was about 100 feet away and, as you'll see from the inset, it was hardly a frame filling shot. In fact, it barely filled the focusing square. Gotta start somewhere.
A lone COMMON MOORHEN was also present on Black Phoebe Pond. This is another former regular that is now rare here.
48 species recorded on SPRNCA (Hwy 90 area):
Green Heron, Am. Wigeon, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, N. Pintail, N. Shoveler, Cooper's Hawk, Merlin, Gambel's Quail, Common Moorhen, Am. Coot, Mourning Dove, Greater Roadrunner, Belted & Green Kingfishers, Gila & Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, N. Flicker, Black & Say's Phoebes, Vermilion Flycatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Bewick's, House & Marsh Wrens, Curve-billed Thrasher, White-breasted Nuthatch, Verdin, Loggerhead Shrike, House Sparrow, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch, Orange-crowned & Yellow-rumped Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Green-tailed, Canyon & Abert's Towhees, Chipping, Brewer's, Vesper, Savannah, Song, Lincoln's & White-crowned Sparrows, Pyrrhuloxia and Eastern Meadowlark.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Most of my non-client birding days are spent visiting a small number of locations on a regular basis to keep track of the birds present and to determine arrival and departure dates, etc. This is very routine stuff (even monotonous one might say) with a little excitement thrown in every now and again. (Un)fortunately, it's this routine that significantly contributes to being a successful guide so there's plenty more of it in my future. However, since it's said that a change is as good as a rest, I tried a change of pace today. With gas down to $2.25 should I go charging up to Phoenix with everybody else?
I decided to visit the south end of the Huachucas in the vicinity of Coronado National Memorial. Access to this area is via FR61 that leaves Hwy 92 about 15 miles south of Sierra Vista. The road passes through the memorial then climbs over Montezuma Pass before dropping down to the west side of the mountains. This is an area that I used to visit regularly when I first moved to Sierra Vista in 1993 but now I'm here only 2-3 times per year (my last visits were back in January and February). Although the birding isn't spectacular, the grassland and oak habitat and mountain views are easy on the eye so perhaps I should come here more often.
It was fairly mild when I began birding in the picnic area adjacent to Coronado National Memorial at 8:00am and many of the typical species of the habitat were very active. Among the species that I found in short order were numerous ACORN WOODPECKERS, this confiding (but not very close) ARIZONA WOODPECKER, lots of noisy MEXICAN JAYS, a couple of scolding HUTTON'S VIREOS, several HERMIT THRUSHES, (6) SPOTTED TOWHEES and scads of DARK-EYED JUNCOS. The usual kinglets, titmice, and nuthatches were also present plus GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE and the two "P" birds, PHAINOPELA and PYRRHULOXIA.
I continued up the mountain to Montezuma Pass where the views on this somewhat hazy day didn't reward me for the drive on the heavily washboarded two mile section of the road. The elevation here is almost 6600 feet and the area around the saddle is an interesting place. The oaks thin out and the habitat consisting of grassy slopes with lots of rocks and cacti serves to attract a different group of species versus those just a few hundred feet below. For example, LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKER, CACTUS WREN and CURVE-BILLED THRASHER are all regular here. Other typical denizens of the habitat included ROCK WREN, VERDIN, WESTERN SCRUB-JAY, RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROW, lots of CHIPPING SPARROWS, a handful of BLACK-CHINNED SPARROWS and a couple of CANYON TOWHEES.
Driving down the mountain, I was about to detour around some rocks in the road when "hoooooly shit", the rocks became MONTEZUMA QUAIL! Three birds seemed to be simply sunning themselves on the blacktop while another five were in the ditch at the side of the road. As soon as I realized I reached for my camera, although by this time the birds had also realized that I was paying attention to them and started to waddle way. Of course, the one that was on my side of the road wasn't in particularly good light and I was stretching to avoid my wing mirror. I gave it a shot and managed a usable image of an immature male. You'll note that adult male plumage is fairly well developed but the bird definitely looks a little ratty. By the way, the location was approximately 0.5 mile above the visitor center (they'll be there again tomorrow <grin>).
A day of few birds but I was able to find some solitude and I had very enjoyable "day off". Now back in the barrel...
31 species recorded at Coronado National Memorial and Montezuma Pass:
Montezuma Quail, Acorn, Ladder-backed & Arizona Woodpeckers, N. Flicker, Say's Phoebe, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Phainopepla, Cactus, Rock & Bewick's Wrens, Curve-billed Thrasher, Hermit Thrush, Bridled Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Verdin, Western Scrub-Jay, Mexican Jay, Hutton's Vireo, House Finch, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Green-tailed, Spotted & Canyon Towhees, Rufous-crowned, Chipping, Black-chinned, Vesper & White-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed (Gray-headed & Pink-sided) Junco and Pyrrhuloxia.
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
The discovery of Groove-billed Ani and Little Blue Heron at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area yesterday almost caused me to postpone my planned visit this morning. Whenever possible, I prefer not to do routine birding (or client birding, for that matter) at locations where rarities are present. However, today was the last day of my "week 3" so I decided to proceed anyway. I was surprised (but not disappointed) that I was the only birder present for over an hour.
It was a very mild 46 degrees under (dark!) cloudy skies as I got some of that cheap gas on Fry Blvd. at 6:00am this morning. Who'd ha' thunk I'd be happy to buy gas at $2.25 per gallon. I arrived on Coffman Road a little after 7:00am hoping to catch the SANDHILL CRANES departing Whitewater Draw. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, their flight was very fragmented this morning and the spectacle was somewhat diminished. Activity along Coffman Road was minimal and I didn't see a single sparrow along the entire 2.5 miles stretch from Davis Road to Whitewater Draw. In fact, I didn't see a single Brewer's or Vesper Sparrow all morning. Unbelievable! We're talking sparrowville here.
A cold looking BENDIRE'S THRASHER stared me out at the entrance to the wildlife area and a GREATER ROADRUNNER could hardly be bothered to get out of my way. A single LARK BUNTING perched on the fence seemed odd (like seeing just one Bushtit, it rarely happens). My first of season FERRUGINOUS HAWK represented a fairly uncommon sighting at this location -- far from unprecedented here but they normally peter out at Davis Road.
I worked my way around the northeast pond to the north viewing platform and picked up most of the expected ducks. The only shorebirds were WILSON'S SNIPE and KILLDEER. Best birds were SNOWY EGRET, RING-BILLED GULL, an immature male and two adult male VERMILION FLYCATCHERS, a fair sized flock of AMERICAN PIPITS, CRISSAL THRASHER and SWAMP SPARROW. I really I struggled to get a photo of an elusive sparrow and ended up with barely a documentary shot. Eventually, I saw three, possibly four Swamp Sparrows by the time I was done (an excellent total for this species anywhere in SE AZ; once I saw five at Patagonia Lake). VIRGINIA RAIL and SORA called from the marsh, perhaps laughing at my efforts.
After looping around the northeast pond, I walked west along the east-west dike to scan the vast expanse of vegetation on the south side. SAVANNAH SPARROWS were very common here, the only common sparrow of the morning. I also found a few AMERICAN GOLDFINCHES feeding in the weedy stuff. Apart from a very unusual early sighting on the San Pedro back in August, the goldfinches were my first of season birds. I later discovered they were a first for me at Whitewater Draw.
I'd been birding for about 90 minutes when I met Jack Short who told me that the Ani was just ahead in the direction that I was headed. I soon saw the GROOVE-BILLED ANI perched fairly low in a willow just sitting quietly, perhaps enjoying the rays of the sun finally breaking through the clouds. I'm sure it was very cold here overnight. The bird didn't call and seemed reluctant to move, although it did so occasionally. Here's a second image in a vertical posture. I eventually heard the bird give one very subdued call. This is only my third Ani record for SE AZ (previously on the San Pedro in August 1994 and at Sierra Vista EOP in November, 1997). Interestingly, there's also a bird up in the Phoenix area at the moment. Of course, it was also new location bird for me bringing my total here to 195.
While checking the south willow grove, I saw an immature RED-TAILED HAWK and an adult male NORTHERN HARRIER almost have an (inadvertent) mid air collision. The Red-tail seemed a little flustered and headed for the nearest tree. The Harrier must have been pissed because it buzzed the Red-tail several times causing it to flinch even though it held its ground. Otherwise, the willow grove was almost devoid of birds and I picked up just three species that I didn't see elsewhere on my rounds -- RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET, HOUSE WREN and a handsome male PYRRHULOXIA. I was unable to find the "regular" Great Horned Owls either here or in the open sided barn structure in the parking lot. I usually find them in one of these two locations, but not today.
49 species recorded at Whitewater Draw:
Pied-billed & Eared Grebes, Snowy Egret, Green-winged & Cinnamon Teal, Mallard, N. Pintail, N. Shoveler, Canvasback, Ruddy Duck, N. Harrier, Red-tailed & Ferruginous Hawks, Am. Kestrel, Sandhill Crane, Virginia Rail, Sora, Am. Coot, Killdeer, Wilson's Snipe, Ring-billed Gull, Mourning Dove, Groove-billed Ani, Greater Roadrunner, Black & Say's Phoebes, Vermilion Flycatcher, Am. Pipit, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Cactus, House & Marsh Wrens, Bendire's & Crissal Thrashers, Verdin, Loggerhead Shrike, Chihuahuan Raven, Am. Goldfinch, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Lark Bunting, Savannah, Song, Lincoln's and Swamp Sparrows, Pyrrhuloxia, Eastern Meadowlark and Red-winged & Brewer's Blackbirds.
Monday, November 28, 2005
I followed my "stay home on a major holiday when not working" policy and didn't leave the house at all over the last four days. Saturday and Sunday were both really windy days so I probably didn't miss out very much. I used the time to work on the web site and finished the "view photos by date" journal feature. Click the "Photos" link in the index header (top left of page) for a complete index, or anywhere that it appears in the journal to view the links for the current month. Images viewed via this method appear in separate, appropriately sized windows that leave the journal still visible in the main window. I also added the ability to access my species seen lists for any month directly, without the need to visit the journal (click Species link in the index header).
Last night was probably the coldest of the season so far -- about 20 degrees where I live, a record low for the date of 16 degrees in Douglas and -5 degrees in Greer (crisp birding along the Little Colorado!). Although I delayed my departure this morning, it was still only 30 degrees when I started birding on the San Pedro around 8:15am. Thankfully, the high winds had subsided and there was just a light breeze. The clearing effect of the wind coupled with the cold temperature made for a pristine view of the Huachucas and all that was missing was some snow on the peaks. More of the same cold temperatures are on tap for the next day or so.
The San Pedro House feeders had plenty of customers and the activity level here was much higher than what I saw on my walk over the next few hours. The large cottonwoods near the house have now lost most of their leaves making it easy to see a fair sized flock of WHITE-WINGED DOVES. This species withdraws from much of Arizona in the colder months but can always be found in places like Bisbee, Patagonia Lake, Sierra Vista and St. David throughout the winter (not an exhaustive list). PYRRHULOXIAS were particular common this morning, especially males, and the usual mooching sparrows and towhees were on duty, front and center. A male BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD represented a scarce species here in November (my second record). They are fairly common at this location from spring through the breeding season then generally absent from mid August until December, becoming uncommon through the winter months.
I spent time at Kingfisher and Black Phoebe Ponds and along the river but didn't turn up Green Kingfisher, Vermilion Flycatcher or Louisiana Waterthrush. Other than a handful of common sparrow species (particularly VESPER & BREWER'S) and a few ducks and herons on Kingfisher Pond, activity was nothing to write home about (and yet, here I am writing to you). It was interesting to watch a BLACK PHOEBE dealing with the lack of insects by gleaning from tree crevices and scratching around in the leaf litter like a towhee. Less common species were a continuing RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER at Black Phoebe Pond, HAMMOND'S FLYCATCHER along the river and the aforementioned Cowbird.
45 species recorded at SPRNCA (Hwy 90 area):
Pied-billed Grebe, Great Blue & Green Herons, Am. Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, N. Shoveler, Cooper's & Red-tailed Hawks, Gambel's Quail, Am. Coot, Mourning & White-winged Doves, Belted Kingfisher, Red-naped Sapsucker, Gila & Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, N. Flicker, Hammond's Flycatcher, Black & Say's Phoebes, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Bewick's & House Wrens, Curve-billed Thrasher, White-breasted Nuthatch, Verdin, Loggerhead Shrike, Chihuahuan Raven, House Sparrow, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch, Yellow-rumped, Common Yellowthroat, Green-tailed, Canyon & Abert's Towhees, Brewer's, Vesper, Song, Lincoln's & White-crowned Sparrows, Pyrrhuloxia, Red-winged Blackbird and Brown-headed Cowbird.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
I made my final visit of the month to Patagonia Lake today on what turned out to be an absolutely beautiful day. It was crystal clear and finger numbing cold at the west end of the lake when I started at 7:15am. By 9:30am, I was able to shed sweater, gloves and long pants and I was almost tempted to turn on the A/C as I drove home. Mostly calm with just the hint of a breeze by midday. Today's good news was that I found two pairs of Black-capped Gnatcatchers. Today's bad news was that I found two pairs of Black-capped Gnatcatchers. Although I have plenty of decent images of these birds, I wasted an inordinate amount of time following them around trying to get "that perfect image" and never even made it as far as the creek. Consequently, I missed the opportunity to look for a fair number of species. Nevertheless, I still managed to record over 60 species.
It would be a major understatement to say that I had the place to myself when I started birding the various shoreline vantages at the west end of the lake. Landbird activity was slow to get going so I worked the waterbirds and turned up more than 40 species in the first hour before heading to the trail at the east end. Most of the usual suspects were present although I missed both cormorants, Green Heron and Virginia Rail. I also expected to find that Common Mergansers had returned (didn't find any). However, I was more than pleased to settle for my season first BUFFLEHEAD, a dapper looking male seen later in the morning. COMMON MOORHENS were surprisingly numerous and uncharacteristically bold. AMERICAN PIPITS were common along the shoreline at Boulder Beach where a couple of SPOTTED SANDPIPERS and a noisy BELTED KINGFISHER were also present. I found a very cold looking but obviously hardy ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRD near the visitor center along with a large flock of WHITE-WINGED DOVES.
I started the trail at 8:30am but after 45 minutes I had only made it as far as the bench. The calls of a pair of BLACK-CAPPED GNATCATCHERS alerted me to their presence. The birds worked the slopes above and below (lakeside of) the bench (basically, the opposite side to wherever I went!). I followed the little buggers around without getting a single photo opportunity and was attacked by the chollas for my trouble. Other species here included plenty of chattering VERDINS, a few RUFOUS-WINGED, BLACK-CHINNED & BLACK-THROATED SPARROWS and GREEN-TAILED & CANYON TOWHEES.
It was already 9:30am and I hadn't even started the trail; still I was able to get changed and feel more comfortable. The willow corridor that runs between the mesquite bosque and marsh (from the second to fourth wash) was alive with birds. I came across a BRIDLED TITMOUSE flock containing a HUTTON'S VIREO and (as in previous winters) a pair of BLACK-CAPPED GNATCATCHERS. Here we go again. Another 45 minutes lost as they led me a dance, always on the move and calling to give me false hope. I shot plenty of images but nothing better than what I already have.
I turned my attention to the edge of the marsh where I found at least four SWAMP SPARROWS, another photo nemesis bird. However, in this case I was able to improve somewhat on previous efforts. If it looks like the bird is not moving, it was only for a nanosecond. Based on my sightings at Whitewater Draw last week and again today, it appears to be a good year for Swamp Sparrows in SE AZ. Despite the poor light, I took advantage of a weak moment by this MARSH WREN.
I continued on as far as the small inlet (before reaching the creek) then turned around, the morning was already shot and I had other stuff to do. GRAY FLYCATCHERS were very common and vocal. I found a singing CASSIN'S VIREO along with several ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS and a large flock of LARK SPARROWS.
At least three CASSIN'S SPARROWS were calling (if you can call it that) along the lake access road as I headed back to the highway. I stopped to make sure that my ears weren't deceiving me and was able to see one of them.
By the way, in case you're wondering about the digiscoping equipment -- it sold almost immediately. You snooze you lose.
recorded at Patagonia Lake State Park:
Pied-billed & Eared Grebes, Great Blue Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Am. Wigeon, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, N. Shoveler, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck, Cooper's Hawk, Am. Kestrel, Sora, Common Moorhen, Am. Coot, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Mourning & White-winged Doves, Anna's Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Gila & Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Gray Flycatcher, Black & Say's Phoebes, Am. Pipit, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Rock, Bewick's & Marsh Wrens, N. Mockingbird, Hermit Thrush, Black-tailed & Black-capped Gnatcatchers, Bridled Titmouse, Verdin, Common Raven, House Sparrow, Cassin's & Hutton's Vireos, House Finch, Orange-crowned & Yellow-rumped Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Green-tailed & Canyon Towhees, Cassin's, Rufous-winged, Chipping, Brewer's, Black-chinned, Lark, Black-throated, Song, Lincoln's, Swamp & White-crowned Sparrows, N. Cardinal, Pyrrhuloxia, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark and Great-tailed Grackle.
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
I decided to spend the final day of the month at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area. This is a location that I rarely get to visit when working with clients so I try to go as often as I can at other times to build a solid base of sighting data. It was another gorgeous day very similar to yesterday, just not quite as cold. Nevertheless, the shallow water had a covering of ice. Pleasantly warm by 9:00am.
The SANDHILL CRANE exodus a couple of minutes after sunrise comprised some very large flocks today and was quite a spectacle compared to last week. Definitely worth getting up early for (or normal time in my case).
Just as yesterday, I became distracted when I heard the call of a CRISSAL THRASHER just as I was getting started at Whitewater Draw -- the bird was in the same location as last week (NE of the pump equipment). "What the hell", I said, and proceeded in that direction. I soon discovered that there were two birds with lustful intentions in mind, even though their breeding season doesn't start in earnest until later in December. However, I doubt they look at a calendar much. What do you think dear, Thanksgiving is over, it's a nice day so let's get to it.
Just as the gnatcatchers yesterday, the birds ran me ragged. However, I think the fact they were so preoccupied with other matters was the reason that I got a sniff of a photo opportunity, something I've never had before. Of all the thrashers that I've come across, Crissal is consistently the most skittish. Not necessarily hard to find, just not very cooperative most of the time. I was very pleased that my first photo encounter produced a decent result. It would be tough to do better from 50 feet with the hand held lens that I'm currently using. The pose is such that you can see the key characters very well -- crissum, bill and brick-red eye. Murphy gets screwed for a change.
Okay, that's 45 minutes of my life that I won't get back, better go find some birds. I walked around the various ponds and dikes then checked the south willow grove. Even though I didn't see the Groove-billed Ani, I didn't really expend any serious effort to find the bird so it may well still be around.
I had a fairly good return on raptors with the usual NORTHERN HARRIERS & RED-TAILED HAWKS being the most numerous. I saw singletons of COOPER'S and SHARP-SHINNED HAWKS both with prey, a perched FERRUGINOUS HAWK, a perched MERLIN (in the yard of the HQ house) and a soaring GOLDEN EAGLE. Later (on Lee Road), I saw what may have been the same eagle perched.
I was interested to see a Ferruginous Hawk on the same pole as last week. The recent land use changes on Coffman Road may be attracting the bird, or it may be working the fields at the corner of Lee and Central.
I saw very few Shorebirds -- a couple of KILLDEERS, (5) LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS and a distant flock of LEAST SANDPIPERS. Ducks were plentiful; I saw 11 species with SHOVELER and GREEN-WINGED TEAL being most common.
In the willow grove, a very openly roosting GREAT HORNED OWL (that I wasn't able to find last week) could hardly be bothered to open its eyes. I found very little else there.
The best birds were probably (7)
RING-BILLED GULLS, (1) ROCK WREN (scarce here in winter) and (3) TREE SWALLOWS
which would be a better sighting tomorrow (I have one December record at this
location). Of course, a couple of bright male VERMILION FLYCATCHERS were a
welcome sight on a cold morning. Hell, they're a welcome sight anytime.
63 species recorded at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area:
Pied-billed & Eared Grebes, Am. Wigeon, Gadwall, Green-winged & Cinnamon Teal, Mallard, N. Pintail, N. Shoveler, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Ruddy Duck, N. Harrier, Sharp-shinned, Cooper's, Red-tailed & Ferruginous Hawks, Golden Eagle, Merlin, Sandhill Crane, Virginia Rail, Sora, Am. Coot, Killdeer, Long-billed Dowitcher, Least Sandpiper, Ring-billed Gull, Mourning Dove, Greater Roadrunner, Great Horned Owl, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Black & Say's Phoebes, Vermilion Flycatcher, Horned Lark, Tree Swallow, Am. Pipit, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Cactus, Rock, House & Marsh Wrens, Curve-billed & Crissal Thrashers, Verdin, Loggerhead Shrike, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Lark Bunting, Brewer's, Vesper, Black-throated, Savannah, Song, Lincoln's & White-crowned Sparrows, Pyrrhuloxia, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark and Yellow-headed Blackbird.
On the way hone I
needed to make a stop at San Pedro River Inn. My timing was impeccable and I was
able to see a recently discovered EASTERN PHOEBE for yet another SE AZ three
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The last update was on Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Journal - November, 2005
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