Journal - January, 2006
If you use the contents of my journal for commercial purposes,
please acknowledge the source to your clients - thanks.
Bottom of Page
This log is in chronological order and the most recent entries
are at the bottom of the page.
The last update was on Monday, January 30, 2006
Sunday, January 1, 2006
Happy New Year everyone. A good start to the year in Sierra Vista with gas down to $2.19 and a beautiful blue sky day (68 degrees at 1:00pm). I apologize to all of you that had to shovel snow this morning (but June will be here all too quickly for my liking). I got my 2006 birding underway with a visit to Scheelite Canyon (I figured that there wouldn't be too many people up there first thing this morning!).
First, a quick review of 2005, a year in which I spent less time birding than any of the previous 10 years with just 252 days in the field. I also traveled less with only three significant trips (a few rainy days in CA in January; a month in ND, WY, etc., in June; and two weeks in the White Mountains in August). As you might expect, I recorded far less birds than I usually do -- 388 in total, only 315 in Arizona. I didn't add a single species to my AZ state list that still stands at 428 (and I only added one in 2004). Of course, I didn't chase anything. I did pick up a few lifers and U.S. birds on the June trip.
My first bird of 2006 came as I checked my email this morning -- a raucous GILA WOODPECKER followed shortly by WHITE-WINGED DOVE and CURVE-BILLED THRASHER, both singing strongly. My "resident" Curve-bill has been singing for a couple of weeks now (this is the start of thrasher breeding season). The White-wings have only just started which is normal for January (although usually a little later in the month).
I enjoyed a traffic free drive along French Fry Blvd. adding a few trash birds along the way -- ROCK PIGEON, MOCKINGBIRD, CHIHUAHUAN RAVEN, STARLING, HOUSE SPARROW and GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE. I could tell the security guys at Fort Huachuca didn't have much to do when they singled me out for a security check.
Scheelite Canyon was gloomy and chilly when I started and it was also a little breezy. To say that there wasn't much bird activity would be the understatement of the year, even if it is only one day old. Disappointingly from my perspective (most folks wouldn't agree), I found a SPOTTED OWL rather easily in a regular location so there was no challenge at all. When I'm not with a client, I'd rather the bird(s) be hard to find so that I learn more. As I approach 900 visits, it gets harder to collect new data and it's usually a case of data reinforcement (of course, this isn't a bad thing)
During the winter months in most years, it's possible (even likely) to find an owl roosting in the lower canyon in the 1/8m to 3/8m section of the trail (well below the normal "lower roosting area" that begins at 1/2m). However, since we haven't received any snow yet and the weather has been very mild, I didn't expect this to be the case today. Before leaving home I reviewed my own roost site data and decided on a couple of likely roost locations -- "Granville Smith Tree" and "McMoran Tree". The bird was in the latter, a decent sized oak in the lower roosting area.
Many of you will have noticed that I haven't visited Scheelite Canyon very much of late (and some have asked why). Although I certainly don't need go from a data collection standpoint, that's not the reason. Some of you might remember that back in late winter 2004, I took the time to re-measure and re-mark all of Smitty's original trail markers. I also began the slow process of documenting the trail, landmarks and roost sites that I knew would take lots of time (years) and I published my initial data. Shortly after I updated the trail markers, I was contacted by Fort Huachuca staff and asked to remove them. I wasn't given an explanation. To add further insult, I started receiving requests for information from people who get paid to study these birds. It was at this point that I pondered the value of my efforts -- all the blood, sweat, tears, gas and boot leather that I have invested over the years. There's nothing like getting shit upon from a great height to dampen the enthusiasm. Since then, most of my visits have been client trips rather than research. Today was my first visit since September.
After enjoying my first owl of 2006, I spent some time near the pools that were now bathed in sunshine and receiving plenty of avian visitors. ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK was by far the best of the bunch -- my second record in Scheelite (previously seen here in November 1999). Although it has been recorded in almost every month, this is a very rare/casual species in AZ. Personally, I have 7 records dating back to 1994: 1 in the Dragoon Mountains, 2 in French Joe Canyon, 1 in Nutrioso, 1 at Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary and now 2 in Scheelite Canyon.
Also of note was a very vocal HAMMOND'S FLYCATCHER, a fairly common to common spring migrant and uncommon fall migrant in Scheelite. To my feeble mind, the canyon at this time of year seems very inhospitable to small flycatchers yet they are rare and somewhat regular during the winter months. Go figure.
HERMIT THRUSH was the most conspicuous species along with DARK-EYED (pink-sided & gray-headed) JUNCOS and, to a lesser extent, YELLOW-EYED JUNCOS. Other species included a couple of ARIZONA WOODPECKERS; a few WESTERN SCRUB-JAYS calling from high up on the slopes; and flocks of BUSHTITS and PINE SISKINS. By the time all was said and done, I was surprised to record a total of 21 species during my two hours in the canyon.
Garden Canyon had the usual mesquite-grassland species to bolster my day list to a respectable number.
By the way, I've completely revised the services section of the site (no, there isn't a rate increase!).
51 species recorded:
N. Harrier, Cooper's & Red-tailed Hawks, Am. Kestrel, Rock Pigeon, Mourning & White-winged Doves, Spotted Owl, Acorn, Gila & Arizona Woodpeckers, N. Flicker, Hammond's Flycatcher, Black & Say's Phoebes, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Phainopepla, Canyon & Bewick's Wrens, N. Mockingbird, Curve-billed Thrasher, Hermit Thrush, Bushtit, Bridled Titmouse, Brown Creeper, Verdin, Loggerhead Shrike, Western Scrub-Jay, Mexican Jay, Chihuahuan & Common Ravens, European Starling, House Sparrow, Hutton's Vireo, House Finch, Pine Siskin, Lesser Goldfinch, Green-tailed, Spotted & Canyon Towhees, Chipping, Brewer's, Vesper, Lincoln's & White-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed & Yellow-eyed Juncos, Pyrrhuloxia, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Eastern Meadowlark and Great-tailed Grackle.
Tuesday, January 3, 2006
Out today with Marvin Cooper from Seattle, WA, who I've birded with three times before. This time, Baird's Sparrow was our only target bird (I always end up painting myself into a corner). Nevertheless, even though this is always a tough proposition in winter in AZ, I was reasonably confident. My records indicate that I have the best success in October and November, but I've also enjoyed a fair amount of success in January Week 1 (7 sightings in 14 visits). I'm happy to say that the numbers are now 8 for 15.
Another super mild morning (50 degrees on Fry Blvd at 6:30am) allowed me to wear shorts in San Rafael Valley. Definitely not the norm here in January when it can be really cold and, worst of all, windy. Fortunately, it was a very calm day which meant that we had a good chance. The drive through the west gate of Fort Huachuca was birdless in the pre dawn gloom and valley activity was minimal around dawn (7:20ish). Clouds in the eastern sky prevented the sun from hitting the west end of the valley until a little after 8:00am. The first rays of the morning sun are a good time to catch BAIRD'S SPARROW perched up and we enjoyed super scope looks for a full 10 minutes between 8:05 and 8:15am. Plenty of time to see and discuss all the field marks -- a far better result than I had hoped for. As usual, SAVANNAH SPARROWS were very common and we also saw a few VESPER and just one GRASSHOPPER SPARROW.
Now what to do. We decided to spend a couple of hours at Patagonia Lake State Park. We birded only at the east end of the lake and didn't look for anything in particular. Our casual stroll turned up ~60 species. Among the highlights were several BLACK-CAPPED GNATCATCHERS in three separate locations -- top of the steps, mouth of the 4th wash (near the location of the first nest in 2003) and near the bathroom a couple of hundred yards west of the trailhead.
A female GREEN KINGFISHER was at the mouth of Sonoita Creek. The bird was fairly cooperative and quite vocal (allowing us to track it), but just a tad too active. The only photo I could manage was a back view.
The male GREATER SCAUP that I first saw on December 22 was present at the east end of the lake in with the large COMMON MERGANSER flock. I also saw a distant (probable) female that was a little too far away to be certain.
No sign of the recently reported Horned Grebe. I saw one bird from a distance that I thought had a shot. I made the effort to relocate it after getting the scope and sadly, it turned out to be an EARED GREBE (of which there were plenty). The reason I thought it had a shot was because it appeared to have a clean black head instead of the diffused gray of the Eared. However, this is often the case at a distance. There could well be one present at the lake, I don't know.
The (mis)identification of winter plumaged Horned Grebes in SE AZ is one of my pet peeves, but I'll save my rant for another day. For now, I'll just publish a side by side Horned-Eared head comparison image. Note several differences -- head shape, bill shape, facial pattern and neck pattern. It's not difficult if you get a good look.
A few weeks ago, a Horned Grebe was reported in the sign-in log at Whitewater Draw. On one visit, I met a guy (name forgotten) who turned out to be the person who had reported the bird. He asked me if it was still there and I replied "no, just the lone Eared Grebe that's been around for 3 weeks". At that point he said that he had photographed the bird and I asked him to send me a copy. I haven't received anything so if that person is reading this, please send. Thank you.
Other species at the lake today during the short visit included an adult BALD EAGLE, good views of SORA, several GRAY & DUSKY FLYCATCHERS heard and seen, a calling ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER and BLACK-CHINNED & RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROWS near the trailhead parking.
73 species recorded:
Pied-billed & Eared Grebes, Great Blue Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Green-winged & Cinnamon Teal, Mallard, N. Shoveler, Greater Scaup, Common Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Bald Eagle, N. Harrier, Sharp-shinned & Red-tailed Hawks, Am. Kestrel, Virginia Rail, Sora, Common Moorhen, Am. Coot, Killdeer, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Green Kingfisher, Gila & Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, N. Flicker, Gray & Dusky & Ash-throated Flycatchers, Black & Say's Phoebes, Am. Pipit, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Rock & Bewick's Wrens, N. Mockingbird, Hermit Thrush, Blue-gray & Black-capped Gnatcatchers, Bridled Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Verdin, Loggerhead Shrike, Mexican Jay, Chihuahuan & Common Ravens, European Starling, House Sparrow, Hutton's Vireo, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Rufous-crowned, Rufous-winged, Chipping, Brewer's, Black-chinned, Vesper, Black-throated, Savannah, Baird's, Grasshopper, Song, Lincoln's & White-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed Junco, Pyrrhuloxia, Eastern Meadowlark, Red-winged & Brewer's Blackbirds and Great-tailed Grackle.
Thursday, January 5, 2006
First of two days with Connie and Martin Goldman from Churchville, PA. We birded at Patagonia Lake (~70 species), Kino Springs (40 species) and in the Paton's Yard (20 species) looking for a fair number of target species. After a slightly chilly start, the day turned out to be the warmest day for some time. Just not fair in January. It was also quite windy at times which certainly made it a little difficult to find flycatchers and probably cost us a few other birds.
We worked hard for over 5 hours at Patagonia Lake but failed to find Green Kingfisher and Elegant Trogon, missing the latter by 5 minutes. On Tuesday I didn't "need" the Kingfisher and just stumbled into the bird. BLACK-CAPPED GNATCATCHERS seem hard to miss at the moment and we found them in several locations including the third wash where I managed a few photos (but nothing better than I already have). We did well on the less common sparrows and managed decent looks at RUFOUS-CROWNED, RUFOUS-WINGED and BLACK-CHINNED on the hillside above the bench.
Juvenile COMMON MOORHENS were very common at the edge of the marsh where we also saw VIRGINIA RAIL, SORA and SWAMP SPARROW.
Best birds on the lake were a male COMMON GOLDENEYE (west end) and a male GREATER SCAUP (east end). COMMON MERGANSERS remain very common.
Birding along the creek eventually yielded HAMMOND'S, DUSKY and GRAY FLYCATCHERS, but only the latter could be termed easy. ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS were common. The LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH was about 3/4 mile upstream; the Elegant Trogon was closer to the lake, west of the creek split but unfortunately not seen by us.
We made a short visit to Kino Springs to pick up RUDDY GROUND-DOVE, eventually seen on the club house lawn with many INCA DOVES after we had done a considerable amount of fruitless searching. A more mundane ABERT'S TOWHEE was our 10th target of the morning, seen in flight only. This was unfortunate since it would have been Connie's 500th species. Other birds included 2 female HOODED MERGANSERS on the first pond (no sign of the immature male); a female or immature columbarius MERLIN in the nearby wash; and a cracking male VERMILION FLYCATCHER at the club house.
We finished up in Marion Paton's yard where the irony of a couple of ABERT'S TOWHEES out in plain view wasn't lost on us. A wait of 15 minutes produced a spiffy looking male LAZULI BUNTING -- pity it didn't show before the towhees.
86 species recorded:
Pied-billed & Eared Grebes, Great Blue Heron, Am. Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, N. Pintail, Green-winged & Cinnamon Teal, N. Shoveler, Ring-necked Duck, Greater Scaup, Common Goldeneye, Hooded & Common Mergansers, Ruddy Duck, N. Harrier, Sharp-shinned & Red-tailed Hawks, Merlin, Gambel's Quail, Virginia Rail, Sora, Common Moorhen, Am. Coot, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Mourning, White-winged & Inca Doves, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Anna's Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Acorn, Gila & Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Northern Flicker, Hammond's, Gray, Dusky & Vermilion Flycatchers, Black & Say's Phoebes, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Phainopepla, Cactus, Rock, Bewick's, House & Marsh Wrens, N. Mockingbird, Curve-billed Thrasher, Hermit Thrush, Blue-gray & Black-capped Gnatcatchers, Bridled Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Verdin, Common Raven, House Sparrow, Hutton's Vireo, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch, Orange-crowned & Yellow-rumped Warblers, Louisiana Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat, Green-tailed & Abert's Towhees, Rufous-crowned, Rufous-winged, Chipping, Brewer's, Black-chinned, Lark, Black-throated, Song, Lincoln's, Swamp & White-crowned Sparrows, N. Cardinal, Pyrrhuloxia, Lazuli Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark and Great-tailed Grackle.
Friday, January 6, 2006
Out again today with Connie looking for a handful of target species. We started in Sulphur Springs Valley and finished up in Scheelite Canyon in mid afternoon. It was another sunny day with an afternoon temperature well above average. Thankfully, the predicted high winds didn't materialize and we enjoyed perfect conditions. As for the birding, well, that was a different story. Although we found all five species that we sought, it was definitely a day of ups and downs (literally, in Scheelite) and plenty of grunt work.
MOUNTAIN PLOVER, a target that I thought would perhaps be our most difficult, turned out to be almost the easiest bird of the day (scads of LARK BUNTINGS, present in large flocks throughout, held that distinction). Just a few minutes of scanning the fields on Central Highway north of Davis produced the plovers where I first found them this season on December 9. Counting the buggers took a little longer -- we came up with about 40 in the end. While counting plovers we enjoyed wonderful views of several FERRUGINOUS HAWKS. Little did we know that we would pay for these early successes throughout the rest of the day.
Target #3: Bendire's Thrasher. After leaving the plovers, it didn't take long to locate a bird perched in a leafless bush on Davis Road. We stopped and just about got the scope on the bird only to have it drop to the ground and out of sight -- and no amount of encouragement brought the bird back. As it turned out, those few seconds of delay in getting on the bird cost us well over an hour. How often does that happen! We worked diligently checking seven regular nesting locations in turn (Coffman-Lee-Central) without a sniff of a bird. However, site #8 paid off. As we stepped out of the vehicle, a very cooperative BENDIRE'S THRASHER popped up onto a pole and sat there for several minutes allowing very close scope views.
Other species seen during the search included several coveys of SCALED QUAIL, a couple of GREATER ROADRUNNERS, EURASIAN COLLARED DOVE, VERMILION FLYCATCHER, a somewhat out of place ROCK WREN in a yard on Central (I'm often surprised by where this species spends the winter), many LARK BUNTINGS, PYRRHULOXIA and the usual common sparrows.
Target #4: Prairie Falcon. We spent almost two hours cruising suitable habitat on the back roads east and north of Elfrida without a single potential candidate. It was getting late so we decided to leave the valley and head to the Huachucas. After a final check of the plover field (where I've seen a falcon recently), we turned onto Davis Road for the drive back west. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a GOLDEN EAGLE above us and we immediately pulled over and charged out of the car (probably much to the amusement of the Border Patrol guys parked on the corner of Davis and Central). We quickly relocated the eagle, an adult, now circling. The bird was soon confronted by a RED-TAILED HAWK that was obviously not happy with the eagle's presence. Connie spotted a third raptor that turned out to be, guess what, a PRAIRIE FALCON! We watched the bird make a spectacular, steep stoop almost over our heads, looking very much like an avian arrow with its wings folded backwards. A fantastic view. If it wasn't for the last minute, nothing would ever get done.
Target #5: Spotted Owl. Well, this one turned out to be a big fiasco. As I signed in at the trail head, I noted an entry in the log for today -- "immediately left of the tallest ponderosa in the canyon". My immediate thought was "what the hell do I make of this nonsense". First of all, there aren't any Ponderosa pines. Did the guy mean Douglas Fir? (of which there are many). Did he run up and down the canyon to check 'em all to see which was the tallest?. What part of the canyon was it? [Many times when I make a log entry, I only give the roost tree name for posterity. However, if you are making an entry for directional purposes, what's the point of being unclear?] What I should have done today was ignore the (mis)information. What I did was to interpret, trying to envisage where the bird was in relation to tall Douglas Fir trees. Consequently, I didn't approach the search with an open mind. Shame on me.
Bad information is worse than no information at all. I long ago learned not to put much stead in directions and other information relating to Spotted Owl sightings. Whenever I do, I always get burned Yet, I did just that today and, guess what, I got burned!. After lots of unnecessary walking, I eventually found a pair of SPOTTED OWLS in a regular roost location that had absolutely no relation to the information given. All's well that ends well you might say. However, the time wasted cost us the chance to head up to Sawmill to look for Williamson's Sapsucker and Olive Warbler. The round trip took over 2.5 hours instead of about an hour for this particular roosting location. In the end though, I was more annoyed with myself than with the guy who wrote in the log (name withheld to protect the guilty). A couple of other guys that we met in the canyon were equally as disgusted. I must learn to ignore stuff like this, especially when it's clear than someone doesn't know their ass from a hole in the ground. However, it's difficult to unring a bell and disregard information.
In contrast to yesterday, it was a day of few birds. Nevertheless, we didn't miss anything that we looked for today; and the two days as a whole were very successful.
42 species recorded:
N. Harrier, Red-tailed & Ferruginous Hawks, Golden Eagle, Am. Kestrel, Prairie Falcon, Scaled Quail, Sandhill Crane, Killdeer, Mountain Plover, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Mourning Dove, Greater Roadrunner, Spotted Owl, Acorn & Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Say's Phoebe, Vermilion Flycatcher, Horned Lark, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Phainopepla, Cactus & Rock Wrens, N. Mockingbird, Bendire's & Curve-billed Thrashers, Bridled Titmouse, Brown Creeper, Loggerhead Shrike, Mexican Jay, Chihuahuan Raven, European Starling, Lark Bunting, Brewer's, Vesper, Black-throated & White-crowned Sparrows, Pyrrhuloxia, Eastern & Western Meadowlarks and Red-winged & Brewer's Blackbirds.
Monday, January 9, 2006
I had very little time for birding today so this is a very short report! I made my first visit of the year to the San Pedro. The weather continues sunny and just a little cooler (60 degrees when I left the San Pedro House at 11:00am this morning).
It was generally pretty quiet on the river. However, I was able to confirm the continuing presence of a male GREEN KINGFISHER, male VERMILION FLYCATCHER and at least two SWAMP SPARROWS all at Kingfisher Pond. EASTERN (LILIAN'S) and WESTERN MEADOWLARKS were also by the pond (silent, identified by tail pattern). Today was the first time that I've seen a Vermilion Flycatcher on the San Pedro in January.
WHITE-WINGED DOVES continue near the San Pedro House and they are singing strongly in my neighborhood. Although Spring seems to have sprung in early January, I sure hope that winter is just around the corner because we definitely need the rain.
34 species recorded on SPRNCA:
Green-winged Teal, N. Shoveler, Red-tailed Hawk, Gambel's Quail, Am. Coot, Mourning & White-winged Doves, Green Kingfisher, Gila & Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Black Phoebe, Vermilion Flycatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, House Wren, White-breasted Nuthatch, Verdin, Loggerhead Shrike, Chihuahuan Raven, House Sparrow, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch, Common Yellowthroat, Green-tailed & Abert's Towhees, Brewer's, Vesper, Song, Lincoln's, Swamp & White-crowned Sparrows, Pyrrhuloxia, Red-winged Blackbird and Eastern & Western Meadowlarks.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
What's that saying about the cobbler's son being the poorest shod. Despite the fact that I'm meticulous when it comes to planning client birding, I'm usually fairly laid back when it comes to my own birding trips. This is partly because I like to be as spontaneous as possible when I'm traveling and I try not to get tied down by scheduling lodging, etc, in advance. However, this approach sometimes backfires! This week I had planned to head over to the central coast of California, an area that I really enjoy because it isn't as crowded as southern California. Fortunately, as I got down to some semi-serious planning on Tuesday, I realized that the upcoming weekend is a holiday weekend and, even worse, there's a birding festival in Morro Bay! Add the fact that rain is likely (especially if I head north up the coast) and you've got the makings of a miserable trip. Consequently, I decided to postpone until next week.
This morning I made my first visit of the year to Sawmill Canyon where I enjoyed 3+ hours of pleasant, albeit low key birding. Even though conditions were fairly calm and mild, overnight lows here are obviously very cold as evidenced by frozen puddles and runoff even at 1:00pm. I managed to record 20 species which ties my previous high for a January visit.
I was pleased to find my two principal targets -- OLIVE WARBLER (3-5 birds) seen in two different locations and a male WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER. One of these days I'll get a good image of this species. Almost every photo opportunity is like today's situation -- a bird hanging off the side of a tree in the shade with a bright sky behind to ensure maximum difficulty. Since I was last here, the bird has been very busy creating some serious sapwells, a portion of which you can see in the inset.
Other woodpeckers included several ACORN & ARIZONA WOODPECKERS and RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER. A small flock of fly-by WESTERN BLUEBIRDS and a CHIPPING SPARROW were the only uncommon species for this time of year.
Driving back through the mesquite-grassland in lower Garden Canyon, I saw four GREATER ROADRUNNERS at roughly 200 yard intervals. On most days, if someone held a gun to my head and said "show me a roadrunner" I could very well be dead at the end of the day. EASTERN (LILIAN'S) and WESTERN MEADOWLARKS were close together (by design or accident, I don't know). A few WESTERN BLUEBIRDS (also uncommon in Garden) were in the mesquites with mistletoe.
33 species recorded in Garden and Sawmill Canyons:
N. Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Am. Kestrel, Greater Roadrunner, Acorn, Ladder-backed & Arizona Woodpeckers, Williamson's & Red-naped Sapsuckers, N. Flicker, Say's Phoebe, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Bewick's Wren, Western Bluebird, Hermit Thrush, Bridled Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Loggerhead Shrike, Steller's & Mexican Jays, Hutton's Vireo, House Finch, Pine Siskin, Lesser Goldfinch, Olive Warbler, Canyon Towhee, Chipping & Vesper Sparrows, Dark-eyed (Pink-sided & Gray-headed) & Yellow-eyed Juncos and Eastern & Western Meadowlarks.
Thursday, January 12, 2006
Today I made my first visit of the year to Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area at the south end of Sulphur Springs Valley. Although I was in the valley last week, it was a working trip and I didn't have the opportunity to stop at the wildlife area. You see, work is the curse of the birding class even when birding is your work.
I arrived at Whitewater Draw about 30 minutes after sunrise, early enough to see thousands of SANDHILL CRANES still streaming north in large flocks. By the way, some of you may be interested to know that the recently completed Arizona Game & Fish annual census turned up a record high 30,570 cranes wintering in SE AZ, with 20,936 roosting at Whitewater Draw (also a record).
It was extremely cold down by the water's edge and this LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER (standing in the icy water) simply did not want to move. Other shorebirds noted were 2 GREATER YELLOWLEGS, many KILLDEER and a lone AMERICAN AVOCET. Avocets are very rare in the southeast part of the state in winter and published records are few. Apart from a small group that wintered at Sierra Vista EOP in winter '96-'97 (one of which died), today's bird is my only other January record in SE AZ (I have seem them in the Phoenix area).
Raptors were particularly scarce today and the only bird of note was a juvenile (first winter) BALD EAGLE.
Sparrows were also scarce except for fair numbers in the south willow grove. Here I found many LINCOLN'S SPARROWS and one each GREEN-TAILED & ABERT'S TOWHEES. Abert's has expanded its range to this location but is still unreliable here. A couple of SWAMP SPARROWS continue just west of the south viewing platform.
I spent a fair amount of time in the willow grove looking for owls. I failed to find Long-eared (reported regularly) and Great Horned and managed only a couple of BARN OWLS. I had great difficulty in getting a photograph due to a combination of poor viewing angles in terms of light and lots of twiggy obstructions. Barn Owl image #1 is in the clear but the light wasn't good. Barn Owl mage #2 is of a different bird, taken vertically; and I've published a larger image than normal to do justice to the bird and the camera.
I stayed around until noon hoping that some white geese would arrive. No such luck. Waterfowl were in low numbers with nothing special present. VIRGINIA RAIL and SORA called from the frozen marsh. This is the first winter that I've seen Virginia Rail here (in fact, 2005 was the first year that I've seen them here at all). When I got home, I read a report of a possible Black Rail seen here yesterday. I certainly didn't see any candidates today.
I'm not sure how cold it was here last night (~20 degrees or less), but at least three VERMILION FLYCATCHERS are still hanging around. I could barely manipulate my binocular and scope for the first hour this morning! Hardy birds. Perhaps they get by with the knowledge that by mid morning they can get rid of the gloves and don shorts.
47 species recorded at Whitewater Draw:
Pied-billed Grebe, Am. Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, N. Pintail, Green-winged & Cinnamon Teal, N. Shoveler, Ruddy Duck, Bald Eagle, N. Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Sandhill Crane, Virginia Rail, Sora, Am. Coot, Am. Avocet, Killdeer, Long-billed Dowitcher, Greater Yellowlegs, Mourning Dove, Barn Owl, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Black & Say's Phoebes, Vermilion Flycatcher, Horned Lark, Am. Pipit, Rock, Bewick's, House & Marsh Wrens, Loggerhead Shrike, Chihuahuan Raven, Common Yellowthroat, Green-tailed & Abert's Towhees, Vesper, Savannah, Song, Lincoln's, Swamp & White-crowned Sparrows, Pyrrhuloxia, Red-winged Blackbird and Eastern & Western Meadowlarks.
Friday, January 13, 2006
I didn't have much time for birding again today so I made short visit to Sierra Vista EOP. I decided to stay until I reached 30 species and I was just hoping that I would get home before dark <grin>. Actually, it only took from 8:45-10:30am. A very pleasant morning with hazy sunshine and zero wind. The temperature ranged from 53 to 64 degrees during my time at the ponds.
I was disappointed with the lack of raptors in general and falcons in particular. I missed Peregrine, Prairie and Merlin, all of which could actually be expected rather than just possible on any given day in January. I'll put it down to Friday the 13th luck.
I spent more time scanning the fields to the west and north rather than the marsh and ponds to the south and east where, hazy sunshine or not, the light was awful. Field birds included a large flock of HORNED LARKS, a few AMERICAN PIPITS and 20 WESTERN MEADOWLARKS (no Lilian's detected).
I was a little surprised (but not disappointed) to see high numbers of YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS in the marsh. A common yet handsome bird that is very easy on the eye and I never tire of seeing them. Most days, almost all the entire flock vacates their marsh roost to feed elsewhere during the day.
Ducks were not plentiful (at least, not visible) with just a few CINNAMON TEAL, NORTHERN PINTAIL and RING-NECK DUCKS close to the viewing platform. I heard SORA calling from the marsh.
34 species recorded at Sierra Vista EOP:
Am. Wigeon, Mallard, N. Pintail, Cinnamon Teal, N. Shoveler, Ring-necked Duck, N. Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Am. Kestrel, Sora, Am. Coot, Killdeer, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Black & Say's Phoebes, Horned Lark, Am. Pipit, Marsh Wren, Loggerhead Shrike, European Starling, House Finch, Common Yellowthroat, Canyon Towhee, Brewer's, Vesper, Savannah, Song & White-crowned Sparrows, Red-winged, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds, Western Meadowlark and Great-tailed Grackle.
Monday, January 16, 2006
Today I drove from Sierra Vista to San Luis Obispo, CA where I'll be based for rest of the week. This was a journey of 765 miles with the route and detours that I took so, obviously, I didn't have a lot of time for birding. Although the holiday traffic was probably lighter than a regular Monday, it was certainly heavy and the going was tough at times in the expected spots. It was also quite windy for most of the journey. Conditions on the central coast were delightful with plenty of sunshine and a light breeze (cloudy later in the day). By the way, auto makers are saving money in California by shipping vehicles sans turn signals. [Added Jan 27: Trip Summary]
[Low Tech Note: As I was doing laundry yesterday, I realized that I had inadvertently left a compact flash card in my pants pocket and a quick test revealed that it didn't work. So, I did what most folks do after washing something, I put it in the dryer! Seriously, I figured that it was probably the connecter that was shorted out by moisture. I wrapped it in a towel and gave it a few minutes on low heat. Worked like a charm.]
I got my first look at the ocean just north of Ventura where "surfer dudes" far outnumbered birds. Looking west in the afternoon is pretty much a waste of time anyway. I saw WESTERN GREBE, WESTERN GULL and a few DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS.
In Santa Barbara, I made a brief stop at Andree Clark Refuge in Santa Barbara (a medium sized lake with lots of panhandling gulls, pigeons, etc). I discovered this place donkeys years ago and I try to stop by whenever I get the chance since it's not a place I go when working. Tons of people present today. Among the 20 species that I saw were lots of CALIFORNIA GULLS, some at a distance of a few feet, (8+) ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRDS, (3) BLUE GRAY GNATCATCHERS and a few CALIFORNIA TOWHEES.
Continuing north, I took the inland route along Hwy 154 to Solvang. At Lake Cachuma, I added OSPREY, RED-SHOULDERED HAWK, WESTERN SCRUB-JAY and WRENTIT. Scads of WESTERN GREBES were out on the water in the distance, too far away to have a real chance of picking out Clark's.
By the time that I reached Solvang it was quite cloudy, windy and chilly. The grockles were still wandering around, of course, all bundled up (looking for trinkets made in Hong Kong, er, make that Denmark). I felt a little underdressed in shorts and T-Shirt. I resisted the temptation to indulge in Danish pastries but couldn't resist a short drive down Alisal Canyon Road to pick up my first YELLOW-BILLED MAGPIE of the trip. Perhaps this was ill advised since I almost spoiled my 100% success record for this location. I didn't hear a single bird and only saw one perched on a wire. Still, one is all that it takes.
I rolled into San Luis Obispo about 3:15pm local time. I had intended to head out again but I was pooped since I had left home at 2:30am AZ time! Tomorrow's another day. I typically stay in Morro Bay when I'm in this area (most recently last January), but on this trip I decided to stay in SLO because it's centrally located. When I was a Silicon Valley drone 20 odd years ago, I often spent the weekend down in this area. Although it is still relatively unspoiled compared to southern California, it has grown tremendously. I'm looking forward to the change of scene over the next few days. I don't have any target species (life or state) and I'm just going to take it easy, do some casual birding and maybe take a few photos. So sue me. I hope the weather cooperates.
Day List: 36 species
Pied-billed & Western Grebes, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Egret, Mallard, Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Duck, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Red-shouldered & Red-tailed Hawks, Am. Coot, California & Western Gulls, Rock Pigeon, Anna's Hummingbird, Acorn Woodpecker, Black Phoebe, Marsh Wren, Am. Robin, Wrentit, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Bushtit, Western Scrub-Jay, Yellow-billed Magpie, Am. Crow, Common Raven, European Starling, House Finch, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, California Towhee, Song & White-crowned Sparrows, Brewer's Blackbird and Great-tailed Grackle.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
I spent much of this very pleasant day in the immediate Morro Bay area. Lots of birders from the festival are still around. I spent the first few hours in Morro Bay State Park where I started by scanning the bay from the overlook on an incoming tide; then walked the trails near the Marina; and finished up in the campground. Next, I drove over to Los Osos to check Sweet Springs at high tide then returned to Morro Bay where I spent a couple of hours near "the rock". After a quick check of Laguna lake in San Luis Obispo, I finished up at Port San Luis (my only new location of the day). My report isn't commensurate with all of today's sightings because there just aren't enough hours in the day. After processing my photos and doing my record keeping, I'm writing these notes after midnight. Barely enough time for sleep before going out and doing it all over again. By the way, my normal disclaimer about on the road images applies -- I have great difficulty processing images on my laptop screen.
Highlight of the early morning check of the bay was a female BLACK SCOTER which is fairly scarce in this area. I saw the bird in passing as I was scanning and continued my scan. Unfortunately, when I looked for it again just a few seconds later I could not relocate the bird despite spending 30 minutes trying. This puzzled (and annoyed) me because the water was glassy calm. I was second guessing myself all day until I returned to the motel and read a report that a female Black Scoter was seen yesterday. Vindication! Lots of other stuff in the bay. The smaller shorebirds were too far away to identify.
I spent some time along the Marina trails photographing a few species with varying degrees of success -- sun angle was the biggest problem. Images: PIED-BILLED GREBE, male RED-BREASTED MERGANSER (subtitle: yawn), female RED-BREASTED MERGANSER, still roosting TURKEY VULTURE, a motionless LONG-BILLED CURLEW trying to ignore me, and a male ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRD. The Anna's (one of bazillions) kept returning to the same perch so the challenge here was to shoot when the bird flashed its gorget color. GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROWS were common here.
I met Parker, a birder from Utah who had just found the wintering Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow. I thought about trying for a photo but thought better of it (images of my experiences in North Dakota last June came flooding back). Instead, Parker led me over to the stakeout NORTHERN PARULA. The bird was constantly back and forth to a Bottlebrush but never stayed around very long and didn't keep still much either. Although I've seen this species a fair number of times (including previously in California), I certainly don't have much experience with plumage variations. If pushed, I'd have to say that this is either a first winter male or an adult female, probably the former. I have other images showing that the bird has a greenish head and lots of green on the back. The secondary edges are also green. Anyone with experience, please chime in. By the way, I figure that the black under the chin is a stain of some kind.
High tide at Sweet Springs yielded many close in BRANT which is what I was hoping for. I must have seen over 1000 of them today at various locations. All three teal species were in the same binocular view but not in the same camera view! However, I was able to get decent images of male BLUE-WINGED TEAL and female GREEN-WINGED TEAL.
A pair of copulating PEREGRINE FALCONS was the highlight at Morro Bay rock. The song of CANYON WREN didn't have the echo of Scheelite Canyon but it's always a delight to hear, just as the scads of BUFFLEHEADS are always a delight to see. I had to remove the 2X converter and back up to photograph this HEERMANN'S GULL.
I enjoyed my first ever visit to Port San Luis, a quaint kind of place that had few birds. I walked out on the pier and scanned around without seeing much. It reminded me of Bodega Bay but far less commercial. At the other (closed) pier closer to Avila Beach, I found BLACK OYSTERCATCHER and WHIMBREL working the rocks; and CALIFORNIA QUAIL and WRENTIT ion the opposite hillside.
Day List: 77 species (Trip List 86 species):
Common Loon, Pied-billed, Horned, Eared & Western Grebes, American White & Brown Pelicans, Double-crested, Brandt's & Pelagic Cormorants, Great Blue Heron, Great & Snowy Egrets, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Canada Goose, Brant, Am. Wigeon, Mallard, Green-winged, Blue-winged & Cinnamon Teal, Lesser Scaup, Black & Surf Scoters, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Turkey Vulture, Red-shouldered & Red-tailed Hawks, Am. Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, California Quail, Am. Coot, Black Oystercatcher, Black-bellied Plover, Long-billed Dowitcher, Marbled Godwit, Whimbrel, Long-billed Curlew, Greater Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Willet, Heermann's, Ring-billed & Western Gulls, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Anna's Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Nuttall's Woodpecker, Black Phoebe, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Canyon, Bewick's & House Wrens, N. Mockingbird, Wrentit, Bushtit, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Western Scrub-Jay, Am. Crow, European Starling, House Sparrow, House Finch, Lesser & American Goldfinches, N. Parula, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, California Towhee, Song, White-crowned & Golden-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco and Red-winged & Brewer's Blackbirds.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
I had to make a slight change in plans today to account for the weather. Overnight rain extending southward down the coast into San Luis Obispo County continued this morning. So, instead of heading north up Highway 1 for some coastal birding, I headed south hoping for drier conditions. The next three days are forecast to be dry so making the adjustment shouldn't be a problem. Actually, the rain was tapering off as I headed out this morning but I didn't want to take any chances. I spent much of my day birding at Oceano then made a brief stop at Shell Beach.
Oceano is perhaps my favorite birding spot in SLO county, not that I've been here a lot (compared to Scheelite Canyon, that is!). The trails through the willows were a little soggy today and initial bird activity wasn't high. Activity picked up after the clouds broke up and the sun began to make intermittent appearances. The birding in the campground pines and in the chaparral on the dunes was much better.
Perhaps the highlight of the morning was a completely unexpected VARIED THRUSH in the campground. I heard the bird before seeing it and my first thought was Hermit Thrush (however, the note was a stronger "chup" than the "choop" of Hermit). I soon saw it perched in a shadowy location in a pine and could make out what appeared to be a strongly marked breast band indicating that it was a male. Later, when I saw the bird fly (and immediately lost it, like yesterday's scoter), I saw a fairly uniform bluish-gray back for more confirmation of a male.
I wandered around hoping to find a photo opportunity for NUTTALL'S WOODPECKER. Not a chance! There were several of them around but cooperative they weren't. No matter, I thoroughly enjoyed my time here. CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES and YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS were very common. Unfortunately, I was only able to obtain a well below par image of the Chickadee. GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROWS outnumbered WHITE-CROWNED; CALIFORNIA TOWHEES outnumbered SPOTTED, but not by as great a margin.
For a chance of pace, I took a break from the pines and wandered out through the dunes to the ocean. WRENTITS were very vocal here. I saw several CALIFORNIA THRASHERS perched up and singing, including this very cooperative individual that allowed close approach while doing its morning ablutions. Hardly any birds on the beach (CA like TX allows vehicles to drive along the sand -- what a shame). I did find a few SANDERLINGS that are such amusing birds if you take the time to watch them for a few minutes.
I returned to the campground and bumped into Dave Lawrence, a local birder who was photographing a GRAY FLYCATCHER, a major rarity in this neck of the woods. After showing him where I had seen the Varied Thrush, I returned to try my luck with a photograph. The bird was really cooperative and didn't mind my presence at all, which is not too dissimilar behavior to the birds that winter at Patagonia Lake.
I came across a mixed flock of chickadees, bushtits and kinglets making a hell of a twittering racket between them. I got some confirmation that my ears are still in fine fettle when I picked out the high pitched see-see-see notes of a GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET. Talk about elusive. I was determined to track it down (there were actually a few) and I managed a few photos; unfortunately not good enough to publish.
Although TOWNSEND'S WARBLERS were fairly common, I could never find a bird in the open and in the sun. After about four hours, I finally came across a bird working the outside of a low bush and was able to get multiple images. This is a handsome individual but it has some kind of gunk built up on its bill, perhaps as a result of how it has been feeding.
Between the willows, pines, dunes and the pond across the street, I recorded almost 50 species in about five hours (and much of that time was spent on photography).
It was very windy at Shell Beach and after 30 minutes of scoping the rocks on an incoming tide, I decided to call it a day. Species here included BRANDT'S & PELAGIC CORMORANTS, RED-BREASTED MERGANSER, BLACK OYSTERCATCHER and BLACK TURNSTONE.
Day List: 62 species (Trip List 102 species):
Brown Pelican, Double-crested, Brandt's & Pelagic Cormorants, Gadwall, Mallard, Surf Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Turkey Vulture, Red-shouldered & Red-tailed Hawks, Am. Coot, Black Oystercatcher, Black Turnstone, Sanderling, Heermann's, Ring-billed, California & Western Gulls, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Anna's Hummingbird, Nuttall's, Downy & Hairy Woodpeckers, N. Flicker, Gray Flycatcher, Black Phoebe, Golden-crowned & Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Bewick's & Marsh Wrens, California Thrasher, Hermit Thrush, Am. Robin, Varied Thrush, Wrentit, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Bushtit, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Western Scrub-Jay, Am. Crow, European Starling, House Sparrow, Hutton's Vireo, House Finch, Lesser & American Goldfinches, Yellow-rumped, Townsend's & Wilson's Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Spotted & California Towhees, Song, White-crowned & Golden-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco, Brewer's Blackbird and Great-tailed Grackle.
Thursday, January 19, 2006
Despite a forecast of high wind, I took a chance and spent the entire day on the coast. Although it was constantly breezy, I was happy with my decision and had a very enjoyable day. In the morning, I traveled north on Highway 1 with stops in Cayucos, Cambria and San Simeon, then spent the afternoon in several Morro Bay locations. It was a fairly cool day, mostly cloudy in the morning and sunny in the afternoon.
I spent more time on photography than birding today. I took lots of photos and had to use my third 1GB memory card for the first time in a while (~ 350 images total).Today's Photos Note: Large images are best viewed using
Great Egret (large)
Lesser Scaup f
Marbled Godwit - abundant
Marbled Godwit preening (large)
Willet - very common
Royal Tern preening (large)
Dark-eyed "Oregon" Junco
I started by scanning from the pier in Cayucos (lots of movement with the surf, is it really safe?) Now I know why I'm not a sailor. The rocky shore was some way off but I was able to pick out most of the expected "rockpipers" -- a few BLACK OYSTERCATCHERS, one WHIMBREL, a couple of RUDDY and a handful of BLACK TURNSTONES and about a dozen SURFBIRDS. I may even have seen a Tattler but couldn't be certain. Other species present included GREAT and SNOWY EGRETS up on the rocks, a small group of SANDERLINGS, BELTED KINGFISHER and the first SAY'S PHOEBE of the trip
In Cambria I picked up the first EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE of the trip (although I'm pretty sure that I saw one in Morro Bay on Tuesday). I'm unsure of their status here in terms of countability. STELLER'S JAY was another first in this heavily wooded area.
Hearst State Beach was my northernmost point. I paid attention to the RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS to confirm that I was seeing "Bicolored Blackbirds" lacking the buffy edging to the red shoulder patch.
After a short drive south, I arrived at Morro Strand State Beach just in time for the receding tide. Lots of birds were at the surf line waiting to feed. A flock of about 20 ROYAL TERNS were the first Terns of the trip (can't think of any tern jokes except the tern in the photo is right then a left tern). Incidentally, most of the flock had rather ratty looking head plumage as you might expect at this season. I was surprised how clean the bird in the photo looks for January, although I don't often see them at this season to know if this is common and expected. I took untold number of photos trying to maneuver into a good light situation. However, the birds had their safe distance (for me that is, not the people waking unleashed dogs on the beach). I was paying so much attention to the birds and failed to notice an incoming wave until it was over my ankles. The good thing was I didn't have to worry about getting wet now which gave me a little more scope photographing WESTERN & RING-BILLED GULLS and WILLET. Two hours whizzed by in two minutes.
My next stop was Morro Bay (the bay, not the town) viewed from the Marina area. I had excellent side by side looks of HORNED and EARED GREBES but failed to get a photo despite lots of effort. Even here on the central CA coast, Eared outnumber Horned by a significant margin (compared to a bazzillion to one in SE AZ). I squelched my way out onto the mud flats following the outgoing tide (hey, I had wet feet anyway). MARBLED GODWITS and LEAST SANDPIPERS were abundant and I spent time photographing the godwits. I also found a few AMERICAN AVOCETS, BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS and LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS.
I then worked on trying to get better images of BRANT, RED-BREASTED MERGANSER and GREATER YELLOWLEGS. Time and a better computer will tell.
I walked into the campground for a change of pace and bird families. Not as productive in the late afternoon, of course. GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROWS seemed as common as insects and were constantly underfoot. CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES remain non photographable. Other species included HERMIT THRUSH, many AMERICAN ROBINS, TOWNSEND'S WARBLER and a few CALIFORNIA TOWHEES.
I finished up near "the rock" where CANYON WREN sang on cue. Peregrines were AWOL. Scoters were very common in the channel, working the strong currents created by the retreating tide. I scanned them all repeatedly and found only SURF SCOTERS. A few COMMON LOONS were also present, so far the only Loon species that I have seen. I also can't believe that I haven't stumbled into a White-tailed Kite yet, having driven past so much good habitat.
A good day with plenty of birds that I don't see in Arizona too often
Day List: 74 species (Trip List 111 species):
Common Loon, Pied-billed, Horned, Eared & Western Grebes, Am. White & Brown Pelicans, Double-crested, Brandt's & Pelagic Cormorants, Great Blue Heron, Great & Snowy Egrets, Brant, Lesser Scaup, Surf Scoter, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser, Turkey Vulture, Red-shouldered & Red-tailed Hawks, Am. Kestrel, Black Oystercatcher, Am. Avocet, Black-bellied Plover, Killdeer, Long-billed Dowitcher, Marbled Godwit, Whimbrel, Long-billed Curlew, Greater Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Willet, Ruddy & Black Turnstones, Surfbird, Sanderling, Least Sandpiper, Heermann's, Ring-billed, California & Western Gulls, Royal Tern, Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Mourning Dove, Anna's Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Black & Say's Phoebes, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Canyon & Bewick's Wrens, N. Mockingbird, Hermit Thrush, Am. Robin, Bushtit, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Steller's Jay, Western Scrub-Jay, Am. Crow, European Starling, House Sparrow, House Finch, Yellow-rumped & Townsend's Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, California Towhee, Song, White-crowned & Golden-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco and Red-winged & Brewer's Blackbirds.
Friday, January 20, 2006
Spectacular weather in San Luis Obispo County today. Clear skies resulted in an overnight low of 35 in San Luis Obispo, up to 60 degrees by mid afternoon. The only downside was a fairly strong and constant breeze throughout the day. I'd planned to visit several lakes but, as usual when I'm traveling without a specific agenda, the day didn't quite go according to plan. After a brief check of Laguna Lake (an in town park not far from where I'm staying in SLO), I headed out to Lopez Lake County Park northeast of Arroyo Grande (only my third visit to this location). I'd intended to follow that with a visit to Oso Flaco Lake (have you ever seen a skinny bear?) but I ended up spending too much time at Lopez and had to cut that in order to visit Montaña de Oro State Park. I finished the day in Morro Bay.
I spent about equal time on birding and photography today.
Black-bellied Plover - browner than most winter birds
Thayer's Gull - first winter
Acorn Woodpecker (large)
Nuttall's Woodpecker female - two hours of my life that I wont get back.
Oak Titmouse - very common but I couldn't get a very good image
Song Sparrow- darker and more streaked than birds in AZ
The only bird of note at a very chilly Laguna Lake was a first winter THAYER'S GULL, a bird that has apparently been around for some time. I couldn't find the recently reported Snow Geese, although I certainly didn't expend much effort looking..
It was really quite cold when I arrived at Lopez Lake with heavy frost in shady places and boardwalks. I was too lazy to go back to the car for long pants and gloves so I suffered for a while. If the birds can hack it, then so can I -- that's my motto. I wandered around (in mainly oak habitat) for over four hours and managed about 45 species as I looked for photo opportunities.
Of note were a single male GREATER SCAUP in with a 20+ LESSER SCAUP; and a lone BARN SWALLOW working over the water with hundreds of TREE SWALLOWS. While doing a binocular scan of one part of the lake, the head of the Greater Scaup was glowing green and stood out like a beacon. This isn't diagnostic in itself, of course, but it warranted that I give the bird further attention with a scope -- and that panned out.
In addition to the Greater Scaup and the Swallows, new trip species at the lake were RING-NECKED DUCK, COMMON MERGANSER, WESTERN BLUEBIRD, OAK TITMOUSE (very common), WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH and LINCOLN'S SPARROW. I expected to see Clark's Grebe but even WESTERN GREBES were in short supply. Other species included 3 OSPREYS, CALIFORNIA QUAIL, WRENTIT and TOWNSEND'S WARBLER.
On the way to MDO, I stopped briefly at Sweet Springs in Los Osos and saw most of the species present there on Tuesday plus a small flock of (new for the trip) SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS.
It was blowing hard at MDO and grockles far outnumbered birds. I became one myself and stayed just long enough to enjoy the great views along the bluff trail (I didn't visit the campground). High surf meant that "rockpipers" were in short supply and I saw only a few BLACK OYSTERCATCHERS along with BRANDT'S and PELAGIC CORMORANTS seeking refuge atop the tallest (dry) rocks.
I finished up by checking Morro Bay from the Marina trails about an hour before sunset. I saw nothing unusual among 40 species noted and nothing new in terms of trip birds. MARBLED GODWITS and LEAST SANDPIPERS were again abundant. For whatever reason, BRANT were much less numerous today.
Another very enjoyable day on what is, sadly, my last full day in San Luis Obispo County.
Day List: 88 species (Trip List 123 species):
Pied-billed, Eared & Western Grebes, Am. White Pelican, Double-crested, Brandt's & Pelagic Cormorants, Great Blue Heron, Great & Snowy Egrets, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Brant, Am. Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Green-winged, Blue-winged & Cinnamon Teal, N. Shoveler, Ring-necked Duck, Greater & Lesser Scaup, Surf Scoter, Bufflehead, Red-breasted & Common Mergansers, Ruddy Duck, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Red-shouldered & Red-tailed Hawks, Am. Kestrel, California Quail, Am. Coot, Black Oystercatcher, Am. Avocet, Black-bellied & Semipalmated Plovers, Killdeer, Long-billed Dowitcher, Marbled Godwit, Long-billed Curlew, Greater Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Willet, Least Sandpiper, Ring-billed, Western & Thayer's Gulls, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Anna's Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Acorn & Nuttall's Woodpeckers, N. Flicker, Black Phoebe, Tree & Barn Swallows, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Bewick's Wren, N. Mockingbird, Western Bluebird, Hermit Thrush, Wrentit, Bushtit, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Oak Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Western Scrub-Jay, Am. Crow, European Starling, House Sparrow, Hutton's Vireo, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch, Yellow-rumped & Townsend's Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Spotted & California Towhees, Song, Lincoln's, White-crowned & Golden-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco and Red-winged & Brewer's Blackbirds.
Saturday, January 21, 2006
Today I traveled to eastern San Luis Obispo County where I spent a few hours on the Carrizo Plain before making the long drive home. It was another clear and cold night, even on the coast, and the drive east on Hwy 58 was very frosty and cold as it was when I arrived on the Carrizo at 8:00am.
[Correction from yesterday: "small flock of Semipalmated Sandpipers" should have been Semipalmated Plovers (the day list was correct). Nobody called me on it. Is anybody reading this stuff?]
The Carrizo Plain (a National Monument since 2001) is a rather desolate inland valley (closed basin) bordered by relatively low mountains. The valley floor is about 1900 feet and the focal point is ephemeral Soda Lake. Sought after winter birds include raptors, Sandhill Crane and Mountain Plover. The area is vast and it's the kind of place for which a chapter in a birdfinding guide is woefully inadequate. An area so vast (roughly 50 x 20 miles) has to be learned the hard way by driving all the back roads. Many of the specialty birds have their own niches. Birding in places like this gives me perspective on my own value as a guide back in good old SE AZ. Consequently, I'll be jacking up my prices to a painful level, retroactive for 12 years. I'll be contacting all previous clients to collect, especially all the skinflints that didn't give me a tip.
Today was only my second visit to this area, my first trip was in January 2004 almost to the day. On that day I simply drove straight through and just got an idea of the place. With limited time again today, I knew that I couldn't make a dent in terms of learning much detail so I decided to get a good overview by making an abbreviated loop. From highway 58, I drove southeast on Soda Lake Road beyond the visitor center, then northeast on Panorama Road, northwest on Elkhorn Road, returning southwest to Soda Lake Road via Seven Mile Road, a total distance of about 60 miles including a few side road detours. Apart from Soda Lake Road, most roads are dirt and impassable when wet (but in relatively good nick today). Obviously, this is slow driving (especially when looking for birds) and the loop took about 3 hours. This is a tough place to bird alone -- at least two pairs of eyes are a must otherwise many birds will be missed (I proved that today).
HORNED LARK, SAVANNAH SPARROW and WESTERN MEADOWLARK were common to abundant throughout most of the area that I covered. LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE, COMMON RAVEN and WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS were fairly common but with less widespread distribution. I also saw large isolated flocks of LONG-BILLED CURLEW (one flock) and LARK SPARROW (two flocks). VESPER SPARROWS were few and far between.
I saw one PRAIRIE FALCON on Soda Lake Road, ROCK WREN and a small flock of ~ 20 MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRDS on Elkhorn Road; and had 3 separate SAGE SPARROW sightings on Simmler, Elkhorn and Seven Mile Roads.
Now it was time for the slog home. My last trip bird was a SAGE THRASHER on
Hwy 58 a few miles into Kern County. I-10 (euphemistically called a Freeway) was
a multi lane parking lot at times, even on Saturday afternoon. I arrived in
Sierra vista at midnight with the temperature a crisp 32 degrees. Welcome home!
A day of few birds and lots of driving (~850 miles from San Luis Obispo to home, including getting to and birding the Carrizo Plain). SLO County is a beautiful part of the world and I certainly enjoyed my short time there (actually, much more time than I usually get to spend here on most CA trips). I wish that I could visit more often. Although I'll be back in southern California for a week in March, this will be a working visit and I won't make it north to SLO. Boo Hoo.
In a few days, I'll put together a trip report with a summary and all the photos fit for human consumption. The next journal update will be on Tuesday as I resume work. [Added Jan 27: Trip Summary]
Day List: 38 species (Trip List 136 species):
Mallard, N. Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Am. Kestrel, Prairie Falcon, Am. Coot, Long-billed Curlew, Mourning Dove, Acorn Woodpecker, Black & Say's Phoebes, Horned Lark, Am. Pipit, Rock & Bewick's Wrens, N. Mockingbird, Sage Thrasher, Mountain Bluebird, Bushtit, Oak Titmouse, Loggerhead Shrike, Western Scrub-Jay, Am. Crow, Common Raven, European Starling, House Sparrow, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch, Yellow-rumped Warbler, California Towhee, Vesper, Lark, Sage, Savannah & White-crowned Sparrows, Western Meadowlark and Red-winged & Brewer's Blackbirds.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
First of two days with Jon Franzen from New York, NY. We visited Patagonia Lake, Kino Springs (twice), Peña Blanca Lake and Las Cienegas looking for a number of target species (8 seen, 3 missed). After a cloudy and mild start, the day became mostly sunny with an afternoon high of 68 degrees near Nogales. Moderate winds persisted for much of the afternoon. An abbreviated report today.
Patagonia Lake: We struggled to find BLACK-CHINNED and RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROWS, eventually seeing just one of each. Balancing that out, we easily found BLACK-CAPPED GNATCATCHER (near the bench) and GRAY & DUSKY FLYCATCHERS.
We didn't check the lake nor walk the creek and saw only 50 species. GREEN-TAILED TOWHEES were very common.
Kino Springs: On our second visit, RUDDY GROUND-DOVES finally obliged us on the club house lawn. I knew they were hiding in the trees somewhere and one by one they dropped out of the pines along with at least the same number of INCA DOVES. We eventually managed a scope look after a car flushed them and they flew up onto the roof of a building. I failed to find Gilded Flicker here for the first time in a while. Other species included GREAT EGRET, 2 female HOODED MERGANSERS, BLACK VULTURE and a small group of LARK BUNTINGS (as I've mentioned previously, this is the first winter that I've seen them at Kino). 45 species in all.
Peña Blanca Lake: RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER was easy to find (PBL is consistently good for this species) but we struck out on Hammond's Flycatcher.
We finished up at a very windy Las Cienegas looking for Cassin's Sparrow. Although we found a potential candidate after about 30 minutes of effort, the bird soon lost interest and went to ground.
79 species recorded:
Pied-billed Grebe, Great Blue & Green Herons, Great Egret, Gadwall, Mallard, N. Pintail, Green-winged & Cinnamon Teal, N. Shoveler, Ring-necked Duck, Hooded Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Black & Turkey Vultures, N. Harrier, Cooper's & Red-tailed Hawks, Am. Kestrel, Merlin, Common Moorhen, Am. Coot, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Rock Pigeon, Mourning & Inca Doves, Greater Roadrunner, Gila & Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Red-naped Sapsucker, N. Flicker, Gray, Dusky & Vermilion Flycatchers, Black & Say's Phoebes, Am. Pipit, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Phainopepla, Canyon, Bewick's, House & Marsh Wrens, N. Mockingbird, Curve-billed Thrasher, Hermit Thrush, Black-capped Gnatcatcher, Bridled Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Verdin, Loggerhead Shrike, Chihuahuan & Common Ravens, European Starling, House Sparrow, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Green-tailed, Canyon & Abert's Towhees, Lark Bunting, Rufous-winged, Chipping, Brewer's, Black-chinned, Vesper, Lark, Black-throated, Song, Lincoln's & White-crowned Sparrows, N. Cardinal, Pyrrhuloxia, Red-winged Blackbird and Great-tailed Grackle.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Out again today with Jon looking for a handful of target birds. We visited several locations in Sulphur Springs Valley plus Sawmill and Scheelite Canyons in the Huachucas. Although overnight thunderstorms and rain petered out as we arrived in the valley, heavy clouds remained for much of the early morning and there was quite a lightning show to the east. Afternoon sunshine was certainly welcome, mitigating the windy conditions that persisted all day.
The gloomy and windy conditions that greeted us in Sulphur Springs Valley didn't bode well. I knew right away that we had a tough task on our hands and that's how things panned out. However, having said that, we did get off to a flying start by finding SAGE SPARROW on Coffman Road in a location where I've already seen them several times this winter. As we cruised along slowly, I heard their faint "ticking" calls and we were soon enjoying good looks at a couple of perched birds.
That was it for while in terms of target bird success. What I thought would be our easiest target turned out to be the most difficult bird of the day. I fully expected to find several CRISSAL THRASHERS singing as their breeding season gets underway. As it turned out, we had to work methodically for over an hour just to find one silent bird on Grant's Road. On the plus side, we had excellent scope looks at the cooperatively perched up bird as reward for our efforts.
For our next target, I chose to go directly to Rucker Canyon Road which paid off with great scope looks at a foraging SAGE THRASHER, initially seen perched in a mesquite. I've consistently found this location to be reliable for this species which, along with Sage Sparrow, is never very common in Sulphur Springs Valley. The birds like to forage at the edge of irrigated fields with weedy cover nearby.
Amazingly, after such a slow start, it was now only 10:30am and we had our three valley targets in the bag, all seen wonderfully well. Other species noted included a flock of ~20 SNOW GEESE, ~20 SCALED QUAIL and thousands of SANDHILL CRANES feeding near Whitewater Draw (all on Coffman); 5+ FERRUGINOUS HAWKS and EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE on Central Highway; and several BENDIRE'S THRASHERS (none singing) on Lee Road and on Central Highway.
Around 1:00pm, we resumed birding in Sawmill Canyon where there was a large encampment of military personnel near the cabin and in the lower canyon. It was quite windy here and listening for woodpeckers was obviously going to be difficult. We proceeded directly to an active sapwell tree and only needed to wait 15 minutes before a male WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER flew in and began to feed. After excellent walk-away views of the bird, we heard nearby tapping that led us to a pristine male ARIZONA WOODPECKER. Another tapper turned out to be RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER, a bird that I somehow knew we would see today after making sure we didn't miss it by visiting Peña Blanca Lake yesterday. Así es la vida.
We headed back down the mountain for my third visit of the month to Scheelite Canyon. SPOTTED OWL was our final target of the day and couldn't really have been much easier to find in the lower roosting area. [By the way, there was another ambiguous entry in the log from yesterday, both in terms of distance and tree type (see my rant on Jan 6). However, this time it was from a local birder so there's no excuse for referring to Douglas Fir as Ponderosa Pine. Name withheld to protect the guilty.]
Scheelite was very quiet in mid afternoon with very few birds to be seen or heard. Calling PINE SISKINS were an exception -- there are scarce but regular here in the winter months (Scheelite bar-graph). As we walked out, I spotted a large, green-backed bird flying ahead of us and knew right away that it was a male ELEGANT TROGON. The bird turned out to be a first winter bird, with poorly developed red on the upper breast.
I have winter records for Elegant Trogon from at least one of the months November through March in 8 of the past 13 years (returning birds typically show up around April 15). However, I have difficulty in reconciling that this is particular individual is a wintering bird for several reasons -- 1) I haven't seen a trogon so far this winter in the Garden-Sawmill-Scheelite areas (although one has been reported from Huachuca canyon); 2) Madrone fruit is not abundant so there's very little food around; and 3) most wintering birds are adults. Of course, all this is guesswork and birds have their own agenda.
Whatever its status, the trogon was a great bonus bird to end a day that turned out to be very successful despite the weather, with six targets seen and one missed -- Hammond's Flycatcher that I thought we might find in Scheelite having missed it in two locations yesterday.
55 species recorded:
Snow Goose, N. Harrier, Red-tailed & Ferruginous Hawks, Am. Kestrel, Scaled Quail, Sandhill Crane, Killdeer, Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Mourning Dove, Greater Roadrunner, Spotted Owl, Elegant Trogon, Acorn & Arizona Woodpeckers, Williamson's & Red-naped Sapsuckers, N. Flicker, Say's Phoebe, Vermilion Flycatcher, Horned Lark, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Phainopepla, Cactus & Canyons, Sage, Bendire's & Crissal Thrashers, Bushtit, Bridled Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Verdin, Loggerhead Shrike, Steller's & Mexican Jays, Chihuahuan & Common Ravens, House Sparrow, House Finch, Pine Siskin, Lark Bunting, Chipping, Brewer's, Vesper, Black-throated, Sage, Savannah & White-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed Junco, Western Meadowlark, Red-winged & Brewer's Blackbirds and Great-tailed Grackle.
Saturday, January 28, 2006
Out today with Andy Shell from Redmond, WA who I've birded with four times previously. Target bird opportunities diminish with each outing and today's principal luminaries were Baird's Sparrow and Ruddy Ground-Dove. We failed on the sparrow but picked up two secondary targets (Sprague's Pipit and Eastern Bluebird) to finish with three for the day. Clear and cold (32 degrees) when we left Sierra Vista at 6:00am; deceptively cold in the valley (low humidity means zero frost) and it was probably in the low 20s around sunrise.
The drive to the valley through Fort Huachuca west gate produced zero birds (but it was dark!). I've found that the best time to see Baird's Sparrow is when they perch up to catch the early morning sun (see notes for Jan 3), an event that occurred at 7:25am in our selected location this morning. Over the next hour, scads of SAVANNAH SPARROWS took turns to perch up before heading off into the vast sea of grass. We scanned 'em all in vain and didn't even see Vesper or Grasshopper Sparrow. By the time we left at 8:45am the only other birds noted were NORTHERN HARRIER, HORNED LARK, LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE, COMMON RAVEN and EASTERN MEADOWLARK.
We headed over to Kino Springs where, in contrast to my visit on Tuesday, the mixed flock of 7 RUDDY GROUND-DOVES and 7+ INCA DOVES were easy to find. Both species were huddled together enjoying the sun's warmth at the at the base of the tanks near the club house. Before returning to the valley, we spent some time scoping and studying the doves and didn't do any general birding at either pond. Incidental species noted included GRAY (working the lawn from the pines) & VERMILION FLYCATCHERS and a ROCK WREN, also near the tanks.
Driving back to the valley we stopped a couple of times in Harshaw Canyon. A reliable location for EASTERN BLUEBIRD paid off and we enjoyed scope views of a small flock (~12 birds) perched in a leafless tree as well as coming in to drink at a tank. Other species included GREATER ROADRUNNER, ACORN & GILA WOODPECKERS, BUSHTIT, ROCK WREN, CANYON TOWHEE, RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROW, PINK-SIDED JUNCO and NORTHERN CARDINAL.
Although a couple of hours in the valley (~11:00am-1:00pm) were slightly more productive in terms of species than the early morning session, we still didn't get a sniff of Baird's Sparrow. VESPER SPARROWS were now a little more conspicuous and we saw two groups (6 & 30) of CHESTNUT-COLLARED LONGSPURS. However, the highlight came as we were leaving when we flushed a SPRAGUE'S PIPIT. The views were not good but we heard the "squeet" call as the bird headed skyward with its characteristic staircase flight.
48 species recorded:
Great Blue Heron, Ring-necked Duck, Ruddy Duck, N. Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Am. Kestrel, Am. Coot, Rock Pigeon, Mourning & Inca Doves, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Greater Roadrunner, Acorn & Gila Woodpeckers, N. Flicker, Black & Say's Phoebes, Gray & Vermilion Flycatcher, Horned Lark, Sprague's Pipit, Phainopepla, Rock & Bewick's Wrens, N. Mockingbird, Eastern Bluebird, Bushtit, Bridled Titmouse, Loggerhead Shrike, Mexican Jay, Chihuahuan & Common Ravens, European Starling, House Sparrow, House Finch, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Canyon Towhee, Rufous-crowned, Chipping, Vesper, Savannah & White-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed (Pink-sided) Junco, Chestnut-collared Longspur, N. Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark and Great-tailed Grackle.
Monday, January 30, 2006
Over the weekend I added a CA Trip Summary that includes a species list and photo list for my recent visit to San Luis Obispo County, California. I also watched Bolton stick it to Arsenal in the English FA Cup fourth round. I was born and raised in Bury, Lancashire only about 6 miles from Bolton so they are a team for which I have some affection.
I wasn't feeling 100% this morning so I only ventured out as far as Sierra Vista EOP. On a beautifully clear and slightly breezing morning, I spent 90 minutes and found 36 species (which is probably quite reasonable given the limited access). The temperature ranged from 51-60 degrees from 8:30-10:00am. This was only my second visit of the month with a cumulative species total of 43. Such a far cry from a January high of 14 visits in 1998 that produced a cumulative total of 65 species. The rise and fall of Flingle Bunt. Flogging the numbers to death, I've seen a cumulative 94 species in 71 January visits since 1994.
Highlights were EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (only my second EOP record) and BENDIRE'S THRASHER (my 8th record in 5 of the 14 years that I have birded here since 1993).
Other than a handful of NORTHERN HARRIERS, raptors were not particularly conspicuous. The winter resident PEREGRINE FALCON was sitting on its regular pole. I watched a MERLIN (another winter regular) flash over the marsh and briefly spook the ducks.
Wintering WESTERN MEADOWLARKS were numerous in multiple locations yet I didn't see nor hear a resident Lilian's. Go figure.
As always, the splendiferous YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS were worth the price of admission. They far outnumbered RED-WINGED and BREWER'S BLACKBIRDS.
It was a warm afternoon in the high 60s and the WHITE-WINGED & INCA DOVES, CURVE-BILLED THRASHER and MOCKINGBIRD in my neighborhood were all singing. Spring isn't too far away and we haven't had winter yet.
36 species recorded at Sierra Vista EOP (all seen except Marsh Wren):
Mallard, Green-winged & Cinnamon Teal, N. Shoveler, Ring-necked Duck, Ruddy Duck, N. Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Am. Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Sora, Am. Coot, Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Mourning Dove, Greater Roadrunner, Black & Say's Phoebes, Marsh Wren, Bendire's Thrasher, Loggerhead Shrike, Chihuahuan Raven, European Starling, House Finch, Lark Bunting, Brewer's, Vesper, Savannah, Song & White-crowned Sparrows, Western Meadowlark, Red-winged, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds and Great-tailed Grackle.
This log is in chronological order and the most recent entries
are at the bottom of the page.
The last update was on Monday, January 30, 2006
Journal - January, 2006
If you use the contents of my journal for commercial purposes,
please acknowledge the source to your clients - thanks.
Top of Page