Oct Species Seen
Journal - October, 2010
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This log is in chronological order and the most recent entries
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The last update was on Sunday, October 31, 2010
Friday, October 1, 2010
This morning I spent time in Sulphur Springs Valley starting at "The Granites" and ending at Willcox. It may be October on the calendar with noticeably cooler mornings but today was another very warm day with near record breaking temperatures recorded throughout. My main objectives for the day were to check on the presence of Black-chinned Sparrow and to look for potential Mountain Plover habitat.
The likely unofficial name of "the Granites" refers to a rocky section of the Swisshelm Mountains about 7 miles due east of Elfrida. This is a reliable place for Black-chinned Sparrow in winter and I wanted to check if the birds were already on territory. Due to the large expanse of rock, this location can be quite warm even on a cool day and I wanted to get there early since I knew it was going to be a warm day. This very attractive area is a little off the beaten track and I don't spend much time here (I first visited here in November 1994 and today was only my 25th visit). When working with clients, I typically only come here if Black-chinned Sparrow is a target and I'm in Sulphur Springs Valley for other species.
On most visits I usually end up here late morning or midday when it's already warm and finding the sparrow is difficult. Since I didn't even know if the sparrows were on winter territory yet, I wanted to give myself the best chance to find one and made it my primary destination for the day. I left home in darkness and arrived at 6:30am. It only took 15 minutes to find BLACK-CHINNED SPARROW (sans black chin) and I found a second bird a little later. Now I had time for a little "bonus birding".
The habitat here is largely cacti (particularly cholla and prickly pear),
scrubby low-growing plants and grass. There's also some oaks at the base of the
rocks and a decent hackberry grove. All of the trees that I checked already have
fruit and should be attractive to a few species this winter.
Today I found a few migrants including ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRD, WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE, GRAY FLYCATCHER and WESTERN TANAGER. A singing SCOTT'S ORIOLE may have been a local breeder or a migrant. Among the residents and wintering species were LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKER, NORTHERN FLICKER, VERDIN, CACTUS, ROCK & CANYON WRENS, a handful of CANYON TOWHEES, lots of BREWER'S & BLACK-THROATED SPARROWS and NORTHERN CARDINAL. Some of these species are absent from the valley floor, barely a mile away.
As I traveled north, I looked for locations that might be attractive to Mountain Plover. Although Sulphur Springs Valley was formerly one of the best locations for wintering plovers, they have been largely absent for several years (wintering Ferruginous Hawks have also declined). It's not hard to understand why. Corn is now the predominant crop and the grassy fields that plovers prefer are mostly gone. Traditionally, the former Essary Hay company was the prime spot (more recently the fields at Davis and Central). Today I found that most fields had Corn or Cotton.
There's a glimmer of hope on the north side of Rucker Canyon Road about 3/4 mile from Highway 191. The field here was being heavily irrigated and held lots of YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS. If it's harvested at the right time, it should be attractive to plovers. Worth keeping an eye on for sure.
SWAINSON'S HAWKS were very conspicuous as I worked my way north and I counted at least 20 perched on poles. LARK BUNTINGS and BREWER'S & WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS were all plentiful.
It was pretty toasty by the time I reached Willcox at 9:30am. Today was my 300th visit but I didn't mark this minor milestone with a new species to nudge me off 199 species recorded. I wish I could get here more often. I lasted until 10:45 and managed to come up with 40 species.
I started at the golf course ponds looking for landbirds while it was still relatively cool (ha!). Despite the fact that there was a golf tournament going on with lots of noisy people present (part of Rex Allen Days, Oct 1-3); I watched a PIED-BILLED GREBE and 4 streaked youngsters swimming around happily in the smaller pond. The larger pond had 3-4 SORAS, VIRGINIA RAIL and lots of chattering MARSH WRENS. In the willows I found LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKER (quite scarce here); 4 ORANGE-CROWNED, 6 YELLOW-RUMPED and a lone MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLER.
Highlight on the main pond was a lone FRANKLIN'S GULL (probable first winter bird). Published data shows Franklin's Gull as an irregular transient, uncommon in spring rare in fall; with records from March into mid November. My personal records at Willcox (see bar graph) run from April to October where I've seen them on average every other year.
There was a decent selection of shorebirds highlighted by PECTORAL and STILT SANDPIPERS. LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS numbered at least 30. Apart from BLACK-NECKED STILTS, AMERICAN AVOCETS, WILSON'S PHALAROPE and LEAST SANDPIPER, most other species were in the 1-10 range and included GREATER YELLOWLEGS, SPOTTED, WESTERN, & BAIRD'S SANDPIPERS and RED-NECKED PHALAROPE.
A few EARED GREBES and AMERICAN WIGEON were present along with the regular ducks, though I failed to see the Greater Scaup that has been present since late May (it was seen by others).
A decent day to get October underway.75 species recorded:
Sunday, October 3, 2010
Murphy had me beat before I left the house today. I had a long standing booking for today but my client had to cancel late last night. Earlier in the week I had turned way other business for today. No way to recover and I ended up at the regular Sunday EOP outing.
We had some late monsoon type action late yesterday with a thunderstorm and moderate amount of rain in Sierra Vista. However, today dawned clear without a hint of cloud cover and it was a fairly warm at the end of the walk. At this time of year, low angle direct sun has much more impact than the air temperature alone might indicate. It wasn't helped by the switch in start time from 7:00am to 8:00am for the winter season. I wish the people who make the decisions on such matters had an understanding of the consequences. There seems to be a great reluctance to set the start time properly according to the season.
Eight folks (6 locals, 2 visitors) walked around the ponds this morning and noted a few more arriving winter species. Duck diversity was the highest so far this season with 6+ NORTHERN PINTAIL and perhaps 10 RING-NECKED DUCKS joining the species already present. AMERICAN WIGEON numbers increased a little but there's still only 20 or so birds.
Two each AMERICAN PIPIT and YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER were both location first of season birds. October 2 is the earliest that I've seen the pipit at the EOP; September 30 for the warbler.
Raptor highlight was a beautiful male NORTHERN HARRIER working low over a field in typical fashion. Others included the regular PEREGRINE FALCON, 2 KESTRELS (have been scarce recently), 4 SWAINSON'S HAWKS and, surprisingly, only a single RED-TAILED HAWK seen as I was leaving.
Shorebirds seen today were GREATER YELLOWLEGS, 7 LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS, 3 SPOTTED SANDPIPERS and a single LEAST SANDPIPER.
Swallows numbers continue to decline and even the normally abundant BARN SWALLOWS were relatively scarce today. We also saw singletons of TREE and CLIFF SWALLOWS.
Bunting sightings have really dropped off since the August bonanza and none were seen last week. Today there was one male LAZULI BUNTING and one female/immature BLUE GROSBEAK.
It's puzzling why sparrows are in short supply when they are extremely numerous in nearby locations in this sparrow-rich year. Lack of habitat is certainly not the problem. Winter sparrows today were limited to very small numbers -- 3 BREWER'S, 1 VESPER, 1 SAVANNAH and 1 WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW.
Least common location species were GREEN HERON and WHITE-WINGED DOVE.
Despite the earlier official start today, I started birding at 7:00am (that's when I found the White-winged by persistently scanning the adjacent residential areas). I also skipped the east side (Moson Road access) birding along with several others because it was already too warm. However, I only missed Vermilion Flycatcher.
55 species recorded at Sierra Vista EOP (7:00-9:50am; clear, calm 70-86
Am. Wigeon, Mallard, Cinnamon & Green-winged Teal; N. Shoveler, N. Pintail, Ring-necked & Ruddy Ducks; Pied-billed & Eared Grebes; Green Heron, White-faced Ibis, Turkey Vulture, N. Harrier, Swainson's & Red-tailed Hawks; Am. Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Virginia Rail, Sora, Am. Coot, Killdeer, Spotted & Least Sandpipers; Greater Yellowlegs, Long-billed Dowitcher, White-winged & Mourning Doves; Black & Say's Phoebes; Cassin's & Western Kingbirds; Chihuahuan Raven, Tree, Barn & Cliff Swallows; Marsh Wren, N. Mockingbird, Curve-billed Thrasher, Am. Pipit, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Brewer's, Vesper, Black-throated, Savannah, Song & White-crowned Sparrows; Blue Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, Red-winged, Yellow-headed & Brewer's Blackbirds; Great-tailed Grackle and House Finch.
Monday, October 4, 2010
There's been a big change in the weather over the past couple of days. Thunderstorms developed in mid afternoon yesterday and we had some decent rainfall in Sierra Vista. Light rain continued through the night and the day began cloudy and cool. Rain returned by late morning and there was only a short window of morning sunshine. In the afternoon we had several tremendous downpours worthy of the name "monsoon".
I birded in Garden Canyon grassland this morning before the rain
started. My objective was to check on the presence of Botteri's Sparrow (it's
been exactly one week since I last checked). Last Monday
I was able to find several of them (including two singing). Today, despite much
effort, I failed to find a single Botteri's (or Cassin's for that matter).
Statistical departure dates are what they are for a reason. I suspect there may
be a few still hanging around in the extensive sea of grass -- one area that I
drove through had grass halfway up my vehicle windows!
My efforts didn't go entirely unrewarded. I enjoyed seeing ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER, CRISSAL THRASHER and at least 6 PHAINOPEPLAS already on their winter territories. The Ash-throated Flycatcher was of note. Although they breed in Garden Canyon and winter in some locations in SE AZ, I have never seen one here after mid August. Consequently, I'm assuming that the bird was a migrant rather than a lingering summer breeder.
CASSIN'S & WESTERN KINGBIRDS continue very numerous, especially the latter. Also in the grassland were several SAY'S PHOEBES, VERMILION FLYCATCHER, LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE, a few straggling VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS, CANYON TOWHEE, BLUE GROSBEAK; and VESPER, LARK and lots of CHIPPING SPARROWS.
I continued up canyon to check on the road above the upper picnic area and confirmed that it is still closed to vehicles and pedestrians. Fallen rocks blocked the road last week and there's currently no access to Scheelite and Sawmill Canyons. I heard very few birds during my drive through the oak-juniper-sycamore zone between the lower and upper picnic areas. HAMMOND'S FLYCATCHER was the only bird of note.
Migrants at the fishing ponds included SUMMER TANAGER, multiple ORANGE-CROWNED and a single NASHVILLE WARBLER. Migrant Nashville Warblers peter out in mid October and are only casual in November. My latest date is October 9. I gave up counting LINCOLN'S SPARROWS after 25. Who knows how many were present in the dense vegetation at the east end of the small pond.
Others present among 30 species at the ponds were PIED-BILLED GREBE, GREAT
BLUE HERON, COOPER'S HAWK, SORA,
ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRD, GILA & LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKERS; COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, several GREEN-TAILED TOWHEES, RUFOUS-CROWNED,
CHIPPING, SONG & WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS; BLUE
GROSBEAK and a male LAZULI BUNTING still sporting some blue and orange.
Website note: I've added a new feature to my bar graphs. Species seen on the most recent visit are now highlighted in the on-screen HTML versions of the bar graphs for my regular locations. Nothing startling but hopefully useful. For example, if you are planning a trip to a location for which I publish a bar graph, you can not only use it to see what is expected for the date you can now see at a glance what I saw on my most recent visit.
54 species recorded:
Mallard, Pied-billed Grebe, Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture, Cooper's & Red-tailed Hawks; Sora, Am. Coot, Killdeer, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Anna's Hummingbird, Gila & Ladder-backed Woodpeckers; N. Flicker, Hammond's, Vermilion & Ash-throated Flycatchers; Black & Say's Phoebes; Cassin's & Western Kingbirds; Loggerhead Shrike, Mexican Jay, Chihuahuan Raven, Violet-green Swallow, Verdin, Cactus, Bewick's & House Wrens; Curve-billed & Crissal Thrashers; Phainopepla, Orange-crowned & Nashville Warblers; Common Yellowthroat, Green-tailed & Canyon Towhees; Rufous-crowned, Chipping, Vesper, Lark, Song, Lincoln's & White-crowned Sparrows; Summer Tanager, Pyrrhuloxia, Blue Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, Eastern Meadowlark, Great-tailed Grackle, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch and House Sparrow.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
Today was the first of two days with Greg Thomas and a group of five from San Diego and Thailand. We put in a long day of birding in Sulphur Springs Valley and the Chiricahua Mountains. We started near Whitewater Draw looking for thrashers then visited Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area. After a productive side trip into the Granites, we spent several hours in the Chiricahuas then finished up at Willcox.
I'm happy to report that water levels at Whitewater Draw have risen considerably since last week and even the northwestern-most pond has gone from dry to having enough water for ducks. The downside to pumping in so much water is that levels at all the close viewing locations are currently too high for shorebirds. We saw only 10 LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS along with 20 WHITE-FACED IBIS. Highlights were a CRISSAL THRASHER at the south viewing platform and a fly-by MERLIN scaring up the YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS.
Others among 40 species recorded on a short visit were NORTHERN HARRIER, COOPER'S & SWAINSON'S HAWKS; VIRGINIA RAIL, SORA, GREAT HORNED OWL, VERMILION FLYCATCHER, scads of TREE SWALLOWS, a couple of AMERICAN PIPITS, a briefly seen migrant MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLER and several LAZULI BUNTINGS.
While searching for thrashers, a ROCK WREN on Coffman Road was of note. I have a handful of records on Coffman and most years I record them in winter at Whitewater Draw. We dipped on Bendire's but had excellent views of two CRISSAL THRASHERS on Lee Road.
A short visit to the Granites foothills was quickly productive with 3 BLACK-CHINNED SPARROWS and ROCK & CANYON WRENS (excellent close up view of a singing Canyon Wren).
We didn't get to the Chiricahuas until 1:00pm and found little activity on Pinery Canyon Road all the way up to Rustler Park Road and at Barfoot Park. I didn't even hear a Mexican Chickadee anywhere. However, a fortuitous stop resulted in a great sighting of a soaring immature GOLDEN EAGLE to redeem our time in the mountains. I noticed some activity and we stopped to investigate. The stop produced RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER, HUTTON'S VIREO, several YELLOW-EYED JUNCOS and the Eagle. HAIRY WOODPECKER and RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH were at Pinery Canyon Campground. Barfoot Park had 6-8 STELLER'S JAYS and many chattering PYGMY NUTHATCHES. The drive back down Rustler Park Road yielded a handful of BAND-TAILED PIGEONS.
Plenty of birds at Willcox at 5:00pm. Some 50 LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS were the most numerous shorebirds. Only a few WILSON'S PHALAROPES remain and we didn't see Red-necked. A couple of PECTORAL SANDPIPERS were probably the pick of the sandpipers. The only gull was a single RING-BILLED.
Although we had an enjoyable day in diverse habitats, there was really too much travel and too little birding, especially since I failed to find Mexican Chickadee in the mountains. In fact, the mountain birding in general was quite poor and flatland locations were infinitely more productive. Of course, this isn't surprising at this time of year. While driving throughout the valley, sparrows seemed way down in numbers since last week (especially around Whitewater) and this certainly was surprising. As their time in southeast Arizona comes to an end, SWAINSON'S HAWKS continue quite numerous with many birds seen perched throughout the valley and others drifting south. No Lark Buntings noted. No Sandhill Cranes noted.
87 species recorded:
Am. Wigeon, Mallard, Cinnamon & Green-winged Teal; N. Shoveler, Ruddy Duck, Scaled & Gambel's Quail; Pied-billed & Eared Grebes; Great Blue Heron, White-faced Ibis, Turkey Vulture, N. Harrier, Sharp-shinned, Cooper's, Swainson's & Red-tailed Hawks; Golden Eagle, Am. Kestrel, Merlin, Virginia Rail, Sora, Am. Coot, Killdeer, Black-necked Stilt, Am. Avocet, Western, Least & Pectoral Sandpipers; Long-billed Dowitcher, Wilson's Phalarope, Ring-billed Gull, Rock & Band-tailed Pigeons; Eurasian Collared-Dove, Mourning Dove, Great Horned Owl, Anna's Hummingbird, Acorn, Ladder-backed & Hairy Woodpeckers; Red-naped Sapsucker, Black & Say's Phoebes; Vermilion Flycatcher, Cassin's & Western Kingbirds; Loggerhead Shrike, Hutton's Vireo, Steller's & Mexican Jays; Chihuahuan & Common Ravens; Tree & Barn Swallows; Verdin, Red-breasted & Pygmy Nuthatches; Cactus, Rock, Canyon & Bewick's Wrens; Hermit Thrush, Am. Robin, Curve-billed & Crissal Thrashers; Am. Pipit, MacGillivray's Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Canyon Towhee, Black-chinned, Vesper, Black-throated, Savannah, Song, Lincoln's & White-crowned Sparrows; Yellow-eyed Junco, N. Cardinal, Lazuli Bunting, Red-winged & Yellow-headed Blackbirds; Western Meadowlark, Great-tailed Grackle, House Finch and Lesser Goldfinch.
Friday, October 8, 2010
Out again today with the Greg Thomas gang for some "light target birding". We visited Patagonia Lake State Park, Kino Springs and Paton's Yard then drove through San Rafael Valley to Huachuca Canyon via Fort Huachuca west gate. It was a fine weather day -- a little chilly at the lake shortly after sunrise climbing to the high 70s in late afternoon.
At the state park we checked the west end of the lake from the day use area near the visitor center then worked the mesquite habitat along the exit road. At the east end we walked Sonoita creek trail as far as the willow forest. Bird activity wasn't tremendous, especially on the water, but we still managed to record 50 species. A couple of lingering LUCY'S WARBLERS on the exit road were an unexpected target find and a highlight for me (my personal latest fall date in southeast Arizona is Oct 12).
Least common location species were both migrants -- 9 WHITE-FACED IBIS and a single BREWER'S BLACKBIRD (neither winter at the lake). Other migrants/wintering species included 20+ EARED GREBES, a lone OSPREY perched near the spillway, GRAY & DUSKY FLYCATCHERS; PLUMBEOUS VIREO, ORANGE-CROWNED, NASHVILLE & BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLERS; GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE and numerous WESTERN TANAGERS.
We heard Plumbeous Vireo in the willow forest and it was a real pill. The bird would sing sporadically to get our attention then fall silent for a long period. We traipsed to its last known location only to have the bird sing again from somewhere else. We probably spent 30 minutes following it around and never even saw a leaf move let alone the bird.
Among the continuing summer species were ASH-THROATED & DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHERS and SUMMER TANAGER. A few Ash-throated Flycatchers usually winter at the lake and Dusky-capped has probably done the same (February is the only month that I haven't found one and I suspect that is simply because I've missed the only bird present rather that it not being present).
Others included BLACK VULTURE, BROAD-BILLED & ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRDS, GILA & LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKERS, several BRIDLED TITMOUSE flocks (those flocks contained most of the migrants); HOUSE & MARSH WRENS and RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROW. Local birder Peter Walsh also saw WESTERN GREBE and CASSIN'S VIREO today and WOOD DUCK yesterday. Wood Duck is extremely rare at the lake; Western Grebe is fairly common from mid October through December, uncommon from January to late May, occasional at other times.
After leaving the lake we headed over to Kino Springs where I hoped to find
GILDED FLICKER, a bird that I see on roughly 10% of visits. Our karma was good
because we saw a couple of them near the club house immediately upon arrival. As
a bonus, a perched juvenile GRAY HAWK posed nicely for everyone to admire. A
bright male VERMILION FLYCATCHER was another crowd pleaser.
At the Paton's, I was surprised and pleased to see an adult male RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD. Most of the late migrant Rufous are female/immature birds. We also saw several VIOLET-CROWNED HUMMINGBIRDS, male and female ANNA'S; and female BROAD-BILLED & BLACK-CHINNED. Also in the yard were WHITE-WINGED & INCA DOVES, WILSON'S WARBLER, GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE and PYRRHULOXIA. Somewhere in the distance a GRAY HAWK called.
We saw very few birds as we drove through San Rafael Valley to the Huachucas.
HORNED LARK and VESPER SPARROWS were the only birds perched on fences. KESTREL,
SAY'S PHOEBE and BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD completed the list.
Huachuca Canyon was very quiet in mid afternoon and a hoped for Elegant Trogon didn't oblige us. I also failed to find Arizona Woodpecker despite some effort. Migrant WESTERN TANAGERS were the most conspicuous species. Also present included ACORN WOODPECKER, a very cooperative RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER (glued to a trunk); a latish WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE and a calling HEPATIC TANAGER.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Ten folks walked around the ponds at Sierra Vista EOP this morning. Birding was about as uninspiring and lackluster as it gets. I started an hour earlier than the official start time and picked up a few extra species otherwise it would have been a disappointing outing. After a cool start (mid 50s) the air temperature only reached the low 70s by quitting time (mid 80s later in the day). However, the direct sun was too much for me by 10:30am and I once again skipped the east side session at the Moson Road access. I missed about a dozen species including GREATER SCAUP which is extremely rare at the EOP.
Personal highlights were a female/immature male columbarius MERLIN streaking low across the northwest field shortly after arrived; and a location first of season ROCK WREN back for another winter. A pair of NORTHERN FLICKERS represented the least common species (I have 10 sporadic sightings from October to January; not present every year).
Raptors were in very short supply today and I saw only 5 SWAINSON'S HAWKS in addition to the Merlin. Ditto that for waders and shorebirds with 2 WHITE-FACED IBIS, 2 SPOTTED SANDPIPERS and a single GREATER YELLOWLEGS. Kingbirds continue quite numerous with WESTERN outnumbering CASSIN'S by a large margin. Sparrows were virtually AWOL with just a few SAVANNAH, SONG and WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS in scattered locations. A single EASTERN MEADOWLARK was the first that I've seen at the EOP for many weeks.44 species recorded at Sierra Vista EOP (7:10-10:30am; clear, calm 55-71 degrees): (group total was 55)
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
I've been stuck at the keyboard for two days and I didn't venture out until dusk today. I wanted to check if any LESSER NIGHTHAWKS were still around and saw at least 40 of them at 6:00pm working over Moson Road and Sierra Vista EOP east fields. Published data shows them as common through mid October then casual into the first week of November. My latest fall sighting date is October 20. However, this isn't a bird that I seriously track so they could well be around in the Sierra Vista area later than this.
Enthused, I headed down to Carr Canyon where, disappointingly but not surprisingly, I didn't hear a single nightbird. There was a cacophony of insect noise so any soft calls would have been drowned out anyway. It was also a little windy.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
This morning I visited the San Pedro (Highway 90 area) where I focused on sparrows. After spending some time around the San Pedro House, I took the diagonal route through the fields to Kingfisher Pond then walked back north along the river. Conditions were excellent -- zero wind and a temperature of 63-73 degrees from 7:00-9:00am.
All indications so far this fall are that it will be a good winter for sparrows. Although I certainly saw plenty this morning, I was actually quite surprised by low numbers of some species. WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS are always the most common wintering sparrow on the San Pedro and they were definitely abundant. LINCOLN'S SPARROW was the next most common species and they were as common in dry grasses away from the river as they were along the river. VESPER SPARROWS were easy enough to find but they were in significantly lower numbers than White-crowned and Lincoln's. BREWER'S SPARROWS were surprisingly scarce (I saw perhaps 100). I failed to find a single Chipping Sparrow. GREEN-TAILED TOWHEES were as least as common as Vesper Sparrows.
The least common location species were a couple of MERLINS at Kingfisher Pond (I saw one bird bump the other off its perch so they weren't the best of friends); and a calling INCA DOVE also at the pond. I only have 25 Inca Dove sightings at this location over the years (all from fall through spring, none in summer).
Also of note was a decent sized (30-ish) flock of WESTERN MEADOWLARKS, a few of which were singing.
Many CASSIN'S and a few WESTERN KINGBIRDS are still around. Westerns usually leave the river by mid October; Cassin's continue into early November. Wintering YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS are not present in force yet.
Other species noted included COOPER'S HAWK, WHITE-WINGED DOVE, several ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRDS, singletons of GRAY and DUSKY FLYCATCHERS; a few MARSH WRENS, lots of COMMON YELLOWTHROATS, a handful of ABERT'S TOWHEES & PYRRHULOXIAS; and a single male LAZULI BUNTING.42 species recorded:
Friday, October 15, 2010
I only had time for a short morning visit to the fishing ponds in Garden Canyon. It was a pleasant, cloudy and cool morning and we had some thunderstorm activity and a little rain later in the day.
The habitat surrounding the ponds (especially the small pond) is extremely lush and dense and I have high hopes for some "good" wintering species. Today I saw mostly common stuff. Interestingly, though, a lone female RUDDY DUCK (common in many places in SE AZ) was the least common species for this location. This is no doubt due to the amount of water present. Other waterfowl were PIED-BILLED GREBE, 20 AMERICAN COOTS and 6 RING-NECKED DUCKS. I also saw one SORA and heard others.
I was hoping to find Lawrence's Goldfinch but came up empty. This a feast or famine species, one year abundant the next almost none. I haven't seen any reports yet so this may be a famine year. LESSER GOLDFINCH numbers have dropped dramatically -- from abundant to just a handful.
Yesterday I couldn't find a CHIPPING SPARROW on the San Pedro; today I saw hundreds of them in the mesquites around the ponds. Seed-eaters were fairly common and included GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE, VESPER, LINCOLN'S & WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS and PYRRHULOXIA. As yesterday, I came across a few singing WESTERN MEADOWLARKS.
Others among a total of 30 species were NORTHERN HARRIER, an immature COOPER'S HAWK trying unsuccessfully to catch breakfast; several ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRDS, GILA & LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKERS; BLACK PHOEBE, numerous HOUSE WRENS, 2 ORANGE-CROWNED and a few YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Six locals and two visitors enjoyed decent weather and birding as we walked around the ponds and fields at Sierra Vista EOP this morning.
Highlight of the morning was watching a MERLIN go after and eventually catch an unfortunate TREE SWALLOW. The Merlin put on a spectacular display of high speed aerobatics that mostly consisted of stoops and swoops that lasted several energy-expending minutes. While the Merlin's behavior was impressive, the behavior of the swallows was puzzling. A large group were present and they essentially seemed to "mill around" rather than trying to escape. Their strategy seemed simply to go higher and that certainly didn't faze the Merlin, it just went higher too! I think the final act came at the top of an upward swoop. The Merlin then headed south across Highway 90 initially followed by an AMERICAN KESTREL hoping for an easy meal.
Another raptor of interest today was an immature accipter that we eventually decided was a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK (rare at the EOP; Cooper's is fairly regular). When first sighted (a side and back view), the identification of an immature Sharp-shinned seemed quite obvious. However, after the bird flew and perched facing us, some doubts began to surface. Some of the field marks were ambiguous (including breast pattern) and the legs were hidden by feathers so we couldn't use that as an aid. Ultimately, the size of the bird, its relatively slight build and small rounded head led us to stick with our original identification. A good learning experience -- with the proviso that we don't really know if we were correct!
Other raptors were a lone TURKEY VULTURE, 2-3 NORTHERN HARRIERS, 3-4 RED-TAILED HAWKS and the regular PEREGRINE FALCON that was usurped by the Merlin today. Swainson's Hawk was missed. Barring a late straggler, we have almost certainly seen the last of them until next March.
Duck numbers and diversity continue to increase as fall progresses. In particular, 10+ GADWALL, at least 60 and probably 80-100 AMERICAN WIGEON and 18 RING-NECKED DUCKS represented high counts so far this season. Some of the other regulars including Teal and Shovelers are already present in numbers. Most interesting today was a female RUDDY DUCK with a handful of very small ducklings. This seems rather late nesting for this species -- about three weeks later than the September 27 date mentioned in the Arizona Breeding Bird Atlas for similar late broods. There's always something to learn.
Least common location species in increasing order of abundance were HOUSE WREN, SHARP-SHINNED HAWK, CHIPPING SPARROW, BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER and GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE. To give some perspective, I have 5 records for the House Wren in 3 of the last 18 years; 14 for the Towhee in 7 different years. All but the Sharp-shinned were present on the east side of the property accessed from Moson Road.
WESTERN KINGBIRDS continue quite numerous. CASSIN'S KINGBIRD was seen by some. Other species included many calling SORAS (two seen) and VIRGINIA RAILS (none seen); 2 SPOTTED SANDPIPERS, 2 LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS, BLACK & SAY'S PHOEBES; scads of TREE (minus one) and a few BARN SWALLOWS; VERMILION FLYCATCHER, ROCK WREN, lots of chattering MARSH WRENS, increasing numbers of YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS, PYRRHULOXIA and the usual hordes of blackbirds.
I managed 49 of the 56 group total. I missed Anna's Hummingbird, Cassin's Kingbird, Northern Mockingbird, Curve-billed Thrasher, Lazuli Bunting, House Finch and Lesser Goldfinch.49 species recorded at Sierra Vista EOP (7:00-11:00am; mostly clear, calm 53-75 degrees):
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
This morning I visited Willcox where I spent 3 productive hours starting at 6:45am. A visit to Willcox is always a crap shoot and in my journal for October 1, 2003, I wrote "During migration (especially in fall), every day can be different and you never quite know what you're going to get. Still, if you don't buy a ticket you won't win the raffle. Most often it's the booby prize but one day it might just be a booby." Today was closer to the latter. It was quite chilly when I started and very pleasant by the time I left without any of the annoying, nasty flies that so often characterize a visit here.
After a quick check of the golf course pond, I headed over to the main pond where I immediately noted a distant flock of gulls that I estimated to be about 40 strong. They all looked to be the same (medium) size so I wasn't expecting much. However, some persistent and hopeful scanning turned up 2 CALIFORNIA GULLS and a MEW GULL among 34 RING-BILLED GULLS. Color me surprised! I would have been happy with a hoped-for Bonaparte's Gull (regular in late October).
I was delighted with the Mew Gull on two counts. First of all, it was the 200th species that I have recorded at Willcox ponds. A major milestone and a testament to the attractiveness of the habitat at Willcox for migrating birds, especially given my relatively low number of visits. Secondly, although it wasn't a state bird (I have one sighting from Painted Rock Dam in January 1996), it was a first in the southeast part of the state and infinitely more satisfying since it was one that I didn't chase.
As I scanned the gulls, two first winter California Gulls soon stood out because of their larger size (these birds departed around 8:00am). I made several passes through the huddled flock before turning up the Mew Gull. There came a moment when the birds dispersed and returned at which time they were separated enough for me to note a slightly smaller bird. Closer inspection showed the bird had a rounded head (not the "domed" look of a Ring-bill) and an obvious *thin* bill. Plumage was intermediate between juvenile and first winter and still showed much brown. The bill was mostly dark except for the basal 1/4.
I tried unsuccessfully for a photo (the bird was very difficult to relocate when the flock re-combined). I suppose I should have persevered longer to ensure the bird gets into the record books, however, I had already spent way too long on the bird. I'm unsure how many records there are for Arizona but I would guess that most are from Arizona's west coast, a.k.a. the Colorado River. [Others showed up later to look for the bird and it may be already gone. Only a dozen gulls were present at 11:30am; down to 6 by 4:30pm.]
Gulls aside, I had an interesting and enjoyable few hours. Other species of note were 2 DUNLINS and a small group of CHESTNUT-COLLARED LONGSPURS, first of season for me in both cases. Thousands of TREE SWALLOWS were a spectacular sight for the first couple of hours as they alternately swirled around over the main pond (also known by the more grandiose name "Cochise Lake") then settled on the ground.
To emphasize how quickly things change at Willcox.... I didn't see a single raptor during my stay whereas Andrew Core saw a soaring Golden Eagle in late afternoon and didn't see a single Tree Swallow! Golden Eagle is the least common raptor that I've observed at Willcox (just 2 sightings). However, I'm sure that this is impacted by the fact that most of my visits are in the morning.
AVOCETS remain fairly numerous and I saw 3 GREATER YELLOWLEGS,10 WESTERN SANDPIPERS, plenty of LEAST SANDPIPERS, 40 LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS and a lone, latish WILSON'S PHALAROPE. Most Wilson's are gone by mid October and apart from an odd late November bird (11/25/2003), my latest sighting is October 29.
I made a concerted effort to find the previously reliable Greater Scaup but failed to locate the bird. Ditto for "The Beast" (an Indian Runner, possibly a hybrid). Apart from the usual plentiful SHOVELERS and RUDDY DUCKS, ducks were in limited to AMERICAN WIGEON, PINTAIL, GREEN-WINGED TEAL and RING-NECKED DUCKS; all in low numbers. I also noted singletons of PIED-BILLED and EARED GREBES.
BREWER'S, VESPER & SAVANNAH SPARROWS were all common in the adjacent grassland and near the golf course buildings, but I missed White-crowned! Fortunately, I avoided the binocular confiscator. Also present were SCALED QUAIL, a dozen LARK BUNTINGS and a few singing WESTERN MEADOWLARKS.
Among the species at the golf course pond (seen during a second check before leaving) were three species of herons including several juvenile BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERONS (in the still-leafy willows) and 2 GREEN HERONS; 3 SORAS, VERMILION FLYCATCHER, a few LINCOLN'S SPARROWS and 20+ YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS.
50 species recorded at Willcox:
Willcox Bar Graph
Am. Wigeon, Mallard, N. Shoveler, N. Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked & Ruddy Ducks; Scaled Quail, Pied-billed & Eared Grebes; Great Blue & Green Herons; Black-crowned Night-Heron, Sora, Am. Coot, Killdeer, Am. Avocet, Greater Yellowlegs, Western & Least Sandpipers; Dunlin, Long-billed Dowitcher, Wilson's Phalarope, Mew, Ring-billed & California Gulls; Eurasian Collared-Dove, Mourning Dove, Black Phoebe, Vermilion Flycatcher, Loggerhead Shrike, Chihuahuan Raven, Tree & Barn Swallows; Marsh Wren, Curve-billed Thrasher, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Brewer's, Vesper, Savannah, Song & Lincoln's Sparrows; Lark Bunting, Chestnut-collared Longspur, Red-winged & Yellow-headed Blackbirds; Western Meadowlark, Great-tailed Grackle, House Finch and House Sparrow.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
After being grounded for the latter part of last week, I was happy to be in the field again today. On a beautiful, blue sky morning, 7 folks (6 locals, 1 visitor) walked around the ponds at Sierra Vista EOP and enjoyed decent birding.
Raptors stole the show for the second week running, albeit without the spectacular aerobatics of last week. We had a "cheap" four falcon day with 2 PEREGRINE FALCONS and 2 MERLINS. One Peregrine was seen on a dike munching what was probably a Green-winged Teal. A juvenile COOPER'S HAWKS and several RED-TAILS & NORTHERN HARRIERS rounded out the raptors. On reflection, last week's identification of Sharp-shinned Hawk was deemed erroneous.
Ducks continue to increase in numbers and diversity (10 species today) with AMERICAN WIGEON now outnumbering NORTHERN SHOVELERS. Best bird was a season first REDHEAD (uncommon at the EOP). GADWALL and RING-NECKED DUCKS are up in numbers but PINTAIL remain in short supply. A lone EARED GREBE continues. Two SORAS were seen; numerous VIRGINIA RAILS were heard but remained unseen.
Three species of swallows were present with a few VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS joining the regular TREE and BARN. Violet-green are usually not seen at the EOP after October; Tree and Barn regularly continue into November and I have records for both in December.
The only shorebirds were 5 LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS and a lone SPOTTED SANDPIPER. Not one Killdeer to be seen or heard; hell must be freezing over at the edges.
CASSIN'S and WESTERN KINGBIRDS continue; both species will likely be gone in a couple of weeks. SAY'S PHOEBES were fairly common today and BLACK PHOEBE numbers increased. We also saw the brightest yellow immature female VERMILION FLYCATCHER that I've ever seen. Immature females can be identified as such by yellow on the lower belly. Usually, this is a very dull yellow; today's bird was as bright as a Western Kingbird, if not brighter. The bird became trapped under some wire mesh and needed to be set free in order to continue its journey to adulthood.
Less common species noted were HOUSE WREN, FLICKER, GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE and COMMON GROUND-DOVE. None of these are seen routinely at the EOP, especially the Wren and Flicker. ROCK WREN also has to be considered as an uncommon species even though it has become regular in winter.
Among the other wintering species were 2 fly-by AMERICAN PIPITS, YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER, VESPER, BREWER'S & SAVANNAH SPARROWS, YELLOW-HEADED & BREWER'S BLACKBIRDS and WESTERN MEADOWLARK.
The group total was 57 species. I missed Common Ground-Dove, Rock Pigeon, Cactus Wren and Eastern Meadowlark.53 species recorded at Sierra Vista EOP (7:00-11:00am; clear, calm 48-71 degrees):
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
This morning I made a very unsatisfactory visit to Patagonia Lake State Park. I'd planned to do some general birding and photography, something that I haven't done in quite a while. However, circumstances conspired against me and I ended up spinning my wheels for over three hours. It was quite chilly when I began and warm enough to be shedding layers by mid morning.
A flock of over 20 WESTERN MEADOWLARKS were on the state park entrance road along with AMERICAN KESTREL and several SAY'S PHOEBES. Although I immediately knew that Western Meadowlark was pretty scarce at this location, it wasn't until I checked my records later that I realized it was my first fall sighting. In other years I haven't seen them here until January.
I began as I almost always do by scanning the west end of the lake from the day use area near the marina. I soon spotted a loon near the dam. Even at a distance of around 0.5 miles, it was obvious that the bird was a COMMON LOON. By my records this is a rare transient at the lake (I have 12 sightings from 6 different years; 10 fall, 2 spring). Just as I was about to move on, I spotted another loon that was clearly not a Common Loon. I only saw it from the back but a light gray head immediately suggested Pacific or Red-throated Loon.
At this point I began a frustrating exercise of trying to get closer to the bird. The first thing that I did was to seek out ranger Bill Adler to let him know about the bird. I then got a permit to visit Sonoita Creek Natural Area at the west end of the lake and headed over there. From near the spillway I eventually relocated the two loons after a wait of almost 45 minutes! The birds had obviously been diving for long periods as well as being obscured by the small island. Even though I was still too far away and looking into the sun, my gut feel was PACIFIC LOON (and this turned out to be the case but not before I snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by misidentifying the bird as Red-throated). Both birds were close together and diving in unison. I was bugged by the fact that there wasn't much size difference.
My next step was to return to the state park to call in the bird to the Tucson RBA and to check with Bill about getting a boat. No luck on the boat (in fact, this very day the boat was being taken away -- the state park will no longer be offering boat tours). However, I was able to get permission to drive beyond the locked gate in order to get over to the dam. This I did only to find that the birds had now moved further east! I'd lugged my scope and photo gear to the dam so I tried some shots of a distant bird out of sheer exasperation. I still wasn't certain what the bird was. Anyway, it was now late morning and I'd had enough of loons and left the state park without visiting the trails at the east end.
Among the birds that I saw on the water were 2 WESTERN GREBES, several flotillas of EARED GREBES and a female GREATER SCAUP. To add to my sense of frustration, at the end of the day I learned that there was a Horned Grebe present (seen by Alan Schmierer who followed up on my loon report). No good deed goes unpunished. I wish now that I'd looked through those small grebes.
Other birds seen during the course of the morning included BELTED KINGFISHER, several continuing CASSIN'S KINGBIRDS, PLUMBEOUS VIREO, BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER, PHAINOPEPLA, ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE, lots of CHIPPING & BLACK-THROATED SPARROWS and PINE SISKIN (right about on time for this location).
My morning of frustration continued in the Paton's yard. Shortly after I arrived I saw the female LUCIFER HUMMINGBIRD that first showed up a few days ago. I returned to my vehicle to get camera, tripod, etc., and waited for a photo opportunity. When it came 45 minutes later I wasn't ready. I recorded 20+ species over a period of an hour including BROAD-BILLED, several VIOLET-CROWNED, many ANNA'S and a RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD (Calliope was seen earlier in the day). Also present were BRIDLED TITMOUSE, RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET, ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE, NORTHERN CARDINAL and cousin PYRRHULOXIA.
I checked my photos when I got home and found one small image of the loon that, although quite poor, was useful for documentation. Note how small the bill looks -- from this I made a misguided case for Red-throated Loon. In life, the bill often looked much bigger depending on the posture of the bird. It's clearly a Pacific Loon and this was quickly pointed out to me. Points made included the "puffy-headed look". Among other things, I also realized that the thick neck rules out Red-throated. The annoying part of all this was that I saw thousands of these suckers when I lived on the coast. It was now officially "one of those days". [Here's a better image of Pacific Loon from my digiscoping days.]
The Pacific Loon was my second sighting in Arizona (previously on the Colorado River where they are rare but regular). Interestingly, this is my second two loon species day in the southeastern part of the state (Common and Red-throated at Willcox on November 9, 1996).55 species recorded:
Saturday, October 30, 2010
First of two days with John & Karen Fugett from Anchorage, AK. This is their first birding trip to Arizona so we have plenty of target bird opportunities. Today we visited Patagonia Lake, Kino Springs and Paton's yard. It was a fair weather day, albeit a little too warm and definitely too windy after midday. Birding was slow to say the least.
Boat activity on this weekend day at Patagonia Lake far outweighed bird activity. We spent a little time scanning the lake for Western Grebe without success. At least one COMMON LOON continues. Very few birds of note with the best being 2 DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHERS, 3-4 GRAY FLYCATCHERS and 3 PLUMBEOUS VIREOS (others saw Cassin's Vireo). Other species included GREEN HERON, OSPREY, BELTED KINGFISHER, BRIDLED TITMOUSE, numerous ORANGE-CROWNED & YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS; and a very cooperative GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE.
Highlight at Kino Springs was a large flock of BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCKS at the clubhouse pond. I counted 56 birds and I think 66 were reported earlier this week. I was hoping for Vermilion Flycatcher but we dipped on that. There must be a golf tournament going on and the place was packed.
We finished up with an hour in the Paton's Yard. Eleven species of hummers have been seen during the past week -- today we saw only VIOLET-CROWNED, many ANNA'S and an adult male RUFOUS. There was a bit of a dove convention going on with EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE, WHITE-WINGED DOVE, several INCA DOVES and an elusive COMMON GROUND-DOVE all present at the same time.
To paraphrase Groucho Marx, "I've had a perfectly good birding day but this wasn't it".63 species recorded:
Sunday, October 31, 2010
Out again today with John and Karen. We split our time between Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area in Sulphur Springs Valley and Carr Canyon in the Huachucas. Birding was much more productive and enjoyable than yesterday without the hustle and bustle of Patagonia Lake. All the highlights came from Whitewater and vicinity; Carr Canyon was quiet but the fall colors on the north slope of Carr Peak are fantastic, especially when viewed from Reef.
SANDHILL CRANES were streaming out of Whitewater Draw as we started down Coffman Road. After less than 0.25mi we had great looks at a perched CRISSAL THRASHER catching the early morning sun (even if it was filtered by welcome clouds that persisted most of the day). Also on Coffman were LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE, small numbers of BREWER'S, VESPER & SAVANNAH SPARROWS and a handful of WESTERN MEADOWLARKS.
Best bird of the day for me was a late VAUX'S SWIFT working over the ponds at Whitewater with many TREE and a few BARN SWALLOWS. After the fall extravaganza of Vaux's Swifts last year, this was my only sighting this fall and extends my latest sighting date by a week. Also of note was a briefly seen SWAMP SPARROW first detected by its loud and repeated "chip" note that is not unlike the call of a Black Phoebe, just "flatter" to my ear. The bird was in the first impoundment to the north as you walk west from the parking area (in the large clump of reeds close to the north viewing platform). Although Patagonia Lake is perhaps being the most consistent location to find this rare winter visitor, they are now almost annual at Whitewater.
Other birds at Whitewater included SHARP-SHINNED & COOPER'S HAWKS, GREATER YELLOWLEGS, 20+ LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS, 30+ LEAST SANDPIPERS, COMMON GROUND-DOVE, crowd pleasing male and female VERMILION FLYCATCHERS, uncommonly excellent views of MARSH WREN, LINCOLN'S SPARROW, a couple of LAZULI BUNTINGS and a small flock of YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS.
Bagby Road gave us a dozen LARK BUNTINGS and a perched PRAIRIE FALCON that eventually allowed fairly close approach after flushing and returning a couple of times. The outbound drive on Coffman Road produced BLACK-THROATED and LARK SPARROWS.
Having dipped on GREATER ROADRUNNER in the valley, lower Carr Canyon came through in fine style with a roadside bird. That was the end of the good news though and we dipped on Mexican Jay and Yellow-eyed Junco! RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER at Reef was one of the few success. Also at Reef were ACORN WOODPECKER, NORTHERN FLICKER, HERMIT THRUSH, SPOTTED TOWHEE and PINK-SIDED & GRAY-HEADED JUNCOS.
The lower picnic area had plenty of birds when we first arrived but they soon evaporated before being seen by all. A calling WESTERN BLUEBIRD was right about on time in the Huachucas, although some years I seem them at the start of October. Among the other species were BRIDLED TITMOUSE, HUTTON'S VIREO, BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER and a calling RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROW.78 species recorded:
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The last update was on Sunday, October 31, 2010
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Journal - October, 2010
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