Friday, July 24, 2015

~How~ Many Lifers Did You Say?

This story begins with an unexpected call from Earic Miller. “Have you seen all the rarities in Arizona, and wouldn’t they be lifers for you.” Gosh, way to hit someone when they're down.  Down because Arlene Rails had just asked if I would consider a trip to Arizona, and to which I had replied an unwavering and resounding ‘NO’. “I have been there too many times recently, I would like to go elsewhere.”

But come on, up to 5 potential lifers?  I am shamefully and easily manipulated. So the wheels started turning... how to make this work... Initially at least Arlene wanted to go. And I’m sure she continued to want to go, but work responsibilities over ruled her desire and put the kibosh on her participation.

Of those interested and who could entertain going, Dave LaSagra was also at first very enthusiastic, and I really thought he was going to join us. That his wife works for the airline made it all the more enticing for all of us, but ultimately, he could not justify leaving his wife and newborn while he was off gallivanting. Ultimately though, he came through with passes that made the trip quite the bargain for Earic and I. Thanks Dave!

Of course this meant flying standby. I have never done so and did not understand all the parameters, save one: we might not actually get on the flight... but that possibility never materialized either coming or going. Yay!

When the time came, I left work early to meet Earic and head to the airport. Laura dropped us off, and we had to deal with checking in with Jetblue. They continue to amaze me. Ample staff, people who clearly know what they are doing, and do so in an expeditious manner. Of all the carriers I have used, only Jetblue still make flying a pleasure.

Arriving in Phoenix, we made a bee line for our rental car, and then proceeded to drive south to Green Valley and checked into a hotel. Travel weary, I passed out in anticipation of birding the next day.

June 9, 2015

We headed out early hoping to beat the impending heat. The rain overnight and the morning’s overcast kept the temps quite nice however. Arriving at Tubac, we drove towards the Bridge, and en route spooked an Inca dove for the first good bird of the trip. At the bridge I was elated to see and hear a lot of activity, and immediately recognized more familiar goodies. On the wires were Phainoplas, White-winged Doves, and Tropical Kingbird { this is one of the go-to places for this species }. In the vegetation were Gila and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Abert’s Towhees, Lesser Goldfinches, and more Lucy’s Warblers than you could shake a stick at. In fact all of south-eastern Arizona seems to be swarming with Lucy’s Warblers wed iscovere on this trip. In prior visits later in the year [ August ] they were more difficult to locate. Bell’s vireo were likewise all over.

Of course, our reason for visiting this location was an important bird: Sinaloa Wren. Important not only because it was a potential lifer, an ABA code 5 rarity, or it would be my ABA #700 bird, but because back in 2013 when I last visited they were found shortly ~after~ our departure. Those reports were tortuous, as both locations where they were found appeared to be easy places to get this bird. I should hardly complain however, as I did extremely well last time with five difficult to get lifers on that trip: Berryline Hummingbird, Plain-capped Starthroat, Blue-footed Booby, rosy-faced Lovebird, and Rufous-capped Warbler.

So on the trail at Tubac, many a Bewick’s Wren was scrutinized, though wishful thinking was no match for reality as none could be transmogrified into the desired Sinaloa Wren. Skulkatorial in nature, I was hopeful that Earic’s ears would hit pay-dirt with his seemingly soul-sold-to-the-devil  ability to differentiate minute nuances in chip notes. It was not to be. I had familiarized myself with its song, and had that been rendered we both would have been like white on rice with that bird, but again, it was not to be.

I was not overly disappointed, or should I say surprised. Reports of the bird’s being sighted had dropped to nil weeks before we had departed. I told Earic however, that it was worth checking as no reports simply means that: no one had bothered to post a report [ as far too many birders seem to do ] no one in the recent past had been successful [ easy with a skulking bird ], or all who wanted to see the bird had already done so. It did not necessarily mean that one or both of the birds were no longer there.

The birds are no longer there. :(

    Tubac trip list:

Mallard     Double-crested Cormorant     Turkey Vulture
Gray Hawk     White-winged Dove     Mourning Dove
Inca Dove     Common Ground-Dove     Broad-billed Hummingbird
Gila Woodpecker     Ladder-backed Woodpecker     Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe     Vermilion Flycatcher     Brown-crested Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird     Bell's Vireo     Common Raven
Northern Rough-winged Swallow     Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow     Verdin     Bewick's Wren
House Wren    European Starling     Phainopepla
Lucy's Warbler     Common Yellowthroat     Yellow Warbler
Yellow-breasted Chat    Abert's Towhee     Lark Sparrow    
Song Sparrow     Summer Tanager     Western Tanager    
Northern Cardinal     Blue Grosbeak     Brown-headed Cowbird    
Bullock's Oriole     House Finch     Lesser Goldfinch    
House Sparrow
Our next stop was Kino Springs. We had a bit of time to kill before heading off to California Gulch. The ‘greedy’ birder in me also wanted to go to Patagonia, but there would be no time. What time we did have here was pretty good, and we added a number of trip birds in addition to stumbling over a young bird’s ID before finally getting it correct.

A confiding young bird was foraging on the steep bank next to us giving excellent views. I thought for the life of me it appeared to be a ‘sage’ type sparrow. Further puzzling over field marks revealed it to be a young Black-throated Sparrow. Thankfully it afforded us a long time to study it and reach the correct conclusion. We also added Rufous Capped and Rufous-winged Sparrows, as well as Eurasian Collared Dove. Other highlights were Canyon Towhee, Kestrel, and Hooded Oriole.

    Kino Springs trip list:

Turkey Vulture     Gray Hawk     Eurasian Collared-Dove
White-winged Dove     Mourning Dove     Common Ground-Dove
Black-chinned Hummingbird Broad-billed Hummingbird     American Kestrel
Say's Phoebe     Vermilion Flycatcher     Cassin's Kingbird
Bell's Vireo     Common Raven     Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Barn Swallow     Cliff Swallow     Verdin
Curve-billed Thrasher     Phainopepla     Lucy's Warbler
Yellow Warbler     Rufous-crowned Sparrow     Canyon Towhee
Rufous-winged Sparrow     Black-throated Sparrow     Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal     Blue Grosbeak     Red-winged Blackbird
Hooded Oriole

With time running away from us, we headed of for the deceptively close yet far away California Gulch. Our goal? Having dipped on the Sinaloa Wren, the Buff-collared Nightjar was my next opportunity for a lifer, and the monumental #700. On each of my previous trips the bird was missed. My first trip to Arizona avoided looking for this bird in Florida Wash, even though it had apparently been reliable there for years. I am not sure why, but the leader of the commercial tour avoided it. On my prior trip, it had been reported reliably, but the night we went folks wanted to play loud music and set off fireworks at the campsites. Groan.

Dirt roads can really slow you down, so we had to leave enough time to get there and be able to determine we were in the right spots with daylight still available. Of note, like many other good birding spots in SE Arizona, once you are in wilderness, the cell service disappears. For those like myself who plan extensively in advance using google maps, it means that navigation will crap out when you loose the signal. So in addition to a google map with every location marked, I used another navigation app called Navigator.  It is free,  with an option to upgrade to for-a-fee maps which are probably better. For what its worth I have used many navigation products; none are perfect. TomTom once sent me 20 miles out of my way to unnecessarily avoid non-existent construction detours, while on a trip to Canada Navigator inexplicably could find but not navigate to the airport, stating ‘route not found’. Oh well. One can’t complain too much as it’s a miracle that the technology exists and is so remarkably inexpensive. I can recall when a GPS cost thousands...

So we proceeded at my normal pace until the pavement terminated and ambled the rest of the way. With Earic hearing lots of stuff and essentially being like a kid in a candy store, we made a lot of stops along the way. By far the nicest find was an accommodating Varied Bunting.

We stopped when we got to the junction of California Gulch and Warsaw Canyon and began listening intently. This meant that Earic located a Five-striped Sparrow practically at our feet. Working its way through the grasses it was foraging for seeds and bugs with its body poking out from time to time. The ones I had seen previously were all much farther away necessitating scope views. This fellow was at times naked eye viewable. What a sharp looking bird! Not an LBJ at all; quite the looker.

Based upon recent reports the Nightjars should have started singing at exactly 7 pm, landed right in front of us, and offered us a cold beverage. They didn’t. Thoughts on dipping on the second of target birds began creeping into my mind. Its not like I hadn’t dipped on this bird before... concentrate... listen...

With no signs well past the time we were expecting Buffy, Earic and I split up. He walked back up California Gulch road, while I walked back down to the junction. And then it happened. ~I~ heard a very distant Buff-collared Nightjar! I called out to Earic some 500 feet or so away, and asked if he had heard it. He had not.  What’s the chance of that?  He caught up to me, and we both moved towards where I thought the sound came from. More calls were made, and from different locations. Ultimately we heard as many as three individuals but all quite far away on the slops of the surrounding hills; too far to attempt approach, especially in the dark. Nevertheless, it was a lifer and I heard it first!! Yay! Number 700 for my ABA list!!

While we were listening to the distant Nightjars, their calls were interspersed with contributions to the serenade by Poorwills. Ah, sweet success. Now to find our way back in the dark without being mistaken for drug traffickers, illegal aliens, or being attacked by the Chupacabras.

The ride out seemed longer despite the significantly elevated mood, and the long ride to Sierra Vista didn’t help either, especially when we discovered our less than stellar accommodations. Oh well, I had made a poor choice thinking this was the same place we stayed last time, but in the end it was not that horrible.

    California Gulch trip list:

Turkey Vulture     Gray Hawk     Red-tailed Hawk
White-winged Dove     Mourning Dove     Greater Roadrunner
Common Poorwill     Buff-collared Nightjar     Say's Phoebe
Vermilion Flycatcher     Cassin's Kingbird     Bell's Vireo
Bushtit     Rock Wren     Canyon Wren
Bewick's Wren     Black-tailed Gnatcatcher     Curve-billed Thrasher
Phainopepla     Lucy's Warbler     Yellow-breasted Chat
Rufous-crowned Sparrow     Canyon Towhee     Five-striped Sparrow
Summer Tanager     Northern Cardinal     Varied Bunting
Hooded Oriole     Bullock's Oriole

June 10, 2015

When chasing rarities sooner is always better. But when planning a chase its always best to check that you will be able to get where you want to be, ~when~ you want to be there! Such was the case with the Nature Conservancy’s Ramsey Canyon Preserve. So that trail maintenance can be performed without interference and or danger to the public, and so that the volunteers can have time off,  the reserve is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. In speaking with Mark Phillips, the volunteer who found the two great birds present, he expressed relief that we were aware that the reserve was closed. He explained that he recently had the unpleasant task of turning away those who were not aware and very frustrated. Mark also discouraged me from undertaking an alternate route to the birds which others had posted on the Arizona list. Mark informed me that the route was much longer and more difficult, and that we were far better off starting from the preserve. I took his advice despite our trepidation at the delay.

We started this day by going to Huachuca Canyon. Here too it was said, there had been a Sinaloa Wren, and again, the reports dropping off before we arrived. But there were a lot of great birds around to entertain us. A Plumbeous Vireo was causing confusion, Earic insisting there was color on the flanks. I correctly recalled that Cassin’s Vireo would be more colored and consulting a field guide confirmed my assertion. It’s amazing the things that stick into the crevaces of your mind.

This bird was most accommodating, and we learned that it was attending to its mate sitting on the nest. And all about us were birds calling; but as in begging / communication calls. One such was a Grey Hawk in the tree above our heads, as was an Elegant Trogan that circled us but kept its distance. The bridled Titmice were everywhere, and in large family groups. Perhaps they’re Catholic? No wait, this is the west, probably Mormon. 

Arizona Woodpeckers were also feeding young. This seemed to be what was going on everywhere. This is a similar experience to what took place in my trip last year to Panama. Suggestions that a trip in July was a mistake at worst and non optimal at best were both thankfully way off base! Perhaps its easiest to find birds when they are singing on territory but here they were just as easy to find while in the process of attending to insistent young! 

Flycatchers here were well represented. Dusky-capped and Sulfur-bellied were easiest to ID, while Earic kept complaining that the Western Wood Pewee sounded nothing like our eastern version. He did not complain however, about it being a lifer. Nor did he complain about the views of the Hepatic Tanagers. That was not the case on our last visit where I pointed one out for him but he insisted he did not get a good look. That was not a problem on this trip. Good looks were had here, and several other places as well.

As we walked about more and more birds made their presence known. On the hillside we tracked down a Botteri’s Sparrow, and twice we stumbled upon pairs of Montezuma Quail hiding in the tall grass alongside the road. This year it turns out, was a VERY good year for them, they being described as ‘monsoon’ birds. Makes sense. More rain means more bugs and more food to fed young. And the number of bugs is quite impressive; no wonder Arizon supports such a diversity of wildlife.

Satisfied with this location’s gifts, we drove out of the canyon where we had Mexican Jays. After lunch we scratched the surface of Garden Canyon, closed for the next few years as the extensive storm damage is being repaired. We added a few trip birds, such as Killdeer, Loggerhead Shrike, and Red-winged Blackbird, before heading for Miller Canyon.

    Huachuca Canyon trip list:

Montezuma Quail     Wild Turkey     Turkey Vulture
Gray Hawk     Killdeer     White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove     Black-chinned Hummingbird     Broad-billed Hummingbird
Elegant Trogon     Acorn Woodpecker     Arizona Woodpecker
Western Wood-Pewee     Say's Phoebe     Vermilion Flycatcher
Dusky-capped Flycatcher     Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher     Cassin's Kingbird
Western Kingbird     Plumbeous Vireo     Hutton's Vireo
Mexican Jay     Common Raven     Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow     Bridled Titmouse     Verdin
Bewick's Wren     American Robin     Northern Mockingbird
European Starling     Phainopepla     Lucy's Warbler
Spotted Towhee     Rufous-crowned Sparrow     Canyon Towhee
Hepatic Tanager     Brown-headed Cowbird     House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch     House Sparrow
Loggerhead Shrike    Botteri's Sparrow     Black-throated Sparrow
Blue Grosbeak     Red-winged Blackbird     Great-tailed Grackle

Having bypassed Miller Canyon last time in favor of getting everyone a great bird { and me a lifer!} namely a code 4 Plain-capped Starthroat, Earic was pining for his eponymous fiord. Of course visiting here is not without risk. At the end of the road is Beatty’s Guest House. For a mere $5 one is welcome to spend the day at his Hummingbird feeders and or hike his canyon in search of resident Spotted Owls.

If one reads the website for this place, you will see a lot of don’t do this and that. And unfortunately there have been a number of people ‘banned’ from the place. I guess Tom Sr. has a very low tolerance for bullshit. I sympathize. However it seems that he can have cranky spells too and can respond in a draconian manner. On my visits Tom Sr. has always been quite hospitable. All I can say is don’t try to skip out on paying the paltry $5 fee, and follow the common sense rules that are in place to ensure everyone enjoys their visit.

So upon our arrival Tom Jr. came out to greet us, collect the visit fee, and gave us a wealth of information. His directions were so lengthy in fact, that I decided to record them to refer back to once we were on the path. It was a good thing I did. Earic and I made it well up the path and noted various landmarks Tom had mentioned. Unfortunately at a certain point we felt we were not in the right place. Many playbacks and possible interpretations and more confusion. I thought we went too far, but Earic thought we had not gone far enough. So on we went and lo and behold we came upon an accurately described split rock: ten feet tall and twenty feet long split down the center. We searched the nearby oak carefully as instructed. No owl. So we tried further up the trail. We had gone perhaps thirty feet when Earic cried out: “There it is!” Remarkably, it was sitting on a branch right over the trail and right out in the open. Wow!  It did not seem overly concerned by our presence, but when we got a bit closer it retreated a bit into the woods and remained there while we got even better looks.

This was a far better look than I had gotten on previous attempts. And Earic got another lifer. But as he does, he heard sounds, begging sounds. We tracked them down and it was two fluffy owlets well up in a pine, being fed by another adult. Double wow.

Back down by the cars we related our success to Tom Jr. who was very happy with our success. We partook of the Hummingbird feeders and he alerted us to the presence of Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, a species we had missed on our prior visit to Arizona. Tom pointed out the noise the tail of the males made as they buzzed by.  Tom also pointed out a bird calling from a tree above our heads, which Earic got on and I was too lackadaisical getting to. It was a Scott’s Oriole, which I only caught a glimpse of as it flew off. 

The Broad-tailed Hummingbirds had just earlier been by these feeders, but they were now making far less visits. Tom Jr. invited us to have a seat and wait, and some time later he called out to us from across his yard that they were now at the feeders by his residence. We scrambled over there and enjoyed good looks.

We departed from the canyon but no visit would be complete for Earic without his getting a picture of the street sign for Miller Canyon, made even more curious by it being “E Miller Canyon Road”. I think he pissed himself.

After dinner we went back and tried for owls up Miller Canyon road, but they weren’t talking. Oh well, time to hit the sack for tomorrow’s long hike.

    Miller Canyon trip list

Gambel's Quail     Turkey Vulture     White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove     Spotted Owl     White-throated Swift
Magnificent Hummingbird     Black-chinned Hummingbird     Anna's Hummingbird
Broad-tailed Hummingbird     Broad-billed Hummingbird     Acorn Woodpecker
Arizona Woodpecker     Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher     Cassin's Kingbird
Common Raven     Canyon Wren     House Wren
Bewick's Wren     Hermit Thrush     Painted Redstart
Spotted Towhee     Scott's Oriole

June 11, 2015

We got an early start on the day. Warned of the limited parking and the popularity of these birds present it was best we got there bright and early. And we did. To a closed gate that is. But soon someone walked up and explained when they would open. I introduced myself and it was the same Mark I had spoken to on the phone; he let us in. We got more great info from him, and when the preserve was officially open, we headed up the trail.

First stop: Bledsoe loop .5 miles from the visitors center. Initial reports said there was a pair of Flame-colored Tanagers located here and they were attending a nest. Subsequent reports said the nest failed and another male was located elsewhere with a female Western Tanager. We hoped for the best.

This bird is a ABA code 3 bird. A vagrant from central America that I have long wanted to see it, however it required my being able to chase it. Another kluge was that often times it hybridizes with Western Tanagers; no one wants a hybrid, they want a fully countable bird for a lifer!

We met a few birders in the lot and exchanged pleasantries. While they marched on in a more determined manner, we took our time and birded along the way. A family of Western Tanagers amused us, as did Hermit thrush and Elegant Trogan. Near the loop we had our first Black-headed Grosbeaks of the trip. And then we reached the end of the road. Where were we supposed to find this bird? We looked around a bit but the trees were quit dense. Then Earic said he heard a tanager singing, and we focused on the sound. I confirmed that the sound we were hearing was our target and we tried to locate it up in the trees. Remembering that it favored the tall Sycamores, Earic eventually spotted it! Yes! #701. It was a gorgeous bird, and its intently singing made it stick to open spots where we were able to see it from multiple angles.

When we were sated, we back tracked a bit on the path over to the sign for the Hamburg trail, and started the uphill climb to go after the Tufted Flycatchers. This is another special bird, an ABA code 5 bird!

The mile and a half hike was steep but on a well maintained trail. It took longer for us to transit as Earic hears so many chips and calls that there is a lot of stopping along the way. And it’s a good thing as we got great looks at a lot of birds, again in family groups with the youngsters begging. One of those nice finds was great looks at Grace’s Warblers by a stream crossing. Another nice find was a rare lily that was growing by the stream.

Eventually though, we made it all the way and came across a group of birders sitting on rocks at the site; many of whom we met hours before in the parking lot. In short order we got one, then the other bird. And we saw the nest with a bird in it with its head sticking out. Yes! #702.

The way down was leisurely as well. Earic chased after unidentifiable sounds that I could not always hear. Most were IDed, a few were not.

Back at the visitor center, we rested a bit then getting additional information about a Herman’s gull of all things, we went in search of it. We didn’t find it, but we did find a well air conditioned place for lunch and bottomless lemonades.

    Ramsey Canyon trip list

Gambel's Quail     Wild Turkey     Turkey Vulture
Eurasian Collared-Dove     White-winged Dove     White-throated Swift
Magnificent Hummingbird     Black-chinned Hummingbird     Broad-billed Hummingbird
Elegant Trogon     Acorn Woodpecker     Arizona Woodpecker
Northern Flicker     Peregrine Falcon     Tufted Flycatcher
Western Wood-Pewee     Cordilleran Flycatcher     Dusky-capped Flycatcher
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher     Plumbeous Vireo     Hutton's Vireo
Common Raven     Bridled Titmouse     Canyon Wren
House Wren     Hermit Thrush     American Robin
Curve-billed Thrasher     Grace's Warbler     Painted Redstart
Yellow-eyed Junco     Hepatic Tanager     Western Tanager
Flame-colored Tanager     Black-headed Grosbeak     Bullock's Oriole
House Finch

After lunch we set off for Madera Canyon. Yes, we had heard Buff-collared Nightjar, but we were hoping to see them as well. Some photos posted online were remarkable; the birds we heard at California Gulch were all distant - it’s a good thing it was so silent there or I never would have heard them!

On the way I spotted a Swainson’s Hawk but we were past it before Earic could get a good look. We also passed  a Lesser Nighthawk.

Arriving at Proctor Road, we met a couple who had returned having been successful the previous day, save she could not get a photo of the bird. Seems her husband was not quick enough with his flashlight on the bird. They told us they held the distinction of having photographed over 700 ABA birds, deflating my sense of accomplishment at attaining and surpassing 700 ABA birds on this trip.

Try as we did, we never heard any Nightjars, so Earic and I went up to the top of the canyon road to listen for other things. Here we did much better, hearing calling Elf Owls and Mexican Whip-poor-wills. { Whip-poor-Wilberto? } The former we were told were using a hole in a telephone pole down by the Santa Rita Lodges, but one cannot be two places at once at dusk. The Whips were nice for me because I had heard this species in California way back in 1989, before it was split. Arm-chair tics are nice to a point, but now it feels better knowing that I was ~listening~ for the difference in sound.

    Madera Canyon trip highlight list

Swainson's Hawk    Elf Owl    Lesser Nighthawk                    
Mexican Whip-poor-will

June 12, 2015

We began the day by going to Florida Canyon, hoping for amongst other things, Rufous-capped Warbler. This bird has been in this canyon for some time now, originally discovered during a scouting hike for a christmas bird count. This canyon is adjacent to the one that has an established formal trail. Trails here are all bushwhacked and the going was tough in a few places. So tough, that we could not find a way up to the location where we had the birds on our last visit.

We never did connect with the Rufous-capped Warblers, but we had really nice looks at Summer and Hepatic Tanagers, Brown-crested Flycatchers, and especially Scotts Oriole. The later was nice on two accounts: one, I had not seen the one in Miller Canyon very well, and two, it was pleasing to me having recalled we had it here on our last visit, and thus it was a reliable location for them.

This place is not the best in mid-summer heat in Arizona, so with too much difficulty trying to get up canyon we decided to get out of the heat and went to Madera Canyon.

Ice cream seemed like a good idea, and a stop at the Santa Rita lodge gift shop satisfied that desire. We then sat for a while checking out the feeders here and got nice easy looks at Magnificent Hummingbird, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Acorn Woodpecker, Mexican Jay, Wild Turkey,  and Lesser Goldfinch.

After this we explored some of the picnic areas, but the luck we had had with moderate temperatures due to clouds had not graced us today. My dogs were barking from the hike yesterday and today, and the heat was something of a disincentivizer, so at some point I put my head down on a picnic table to rest while Earic wandered off.

As it was getting late in the afternoon, we headed into town for a meal, then we headed back up the road for another try for the Buff-collared Nightjars.

Upon arrival there were many more folks at Proctor Road wanting to gt the Nightjars. Earic was better prepared too, having brought his high power search light. As the light began to fade, we noticed a couple on the rocky hillside, getting all romantical in each others arms, watching the sunset from their promontory. I could only imagine them wondering why there were so many people looking at them with binoculars or telescopes...

Finally, at some point the unusual call of the Nightjars began to be heard, but once again, they were distant. Groan. Oh well, but that’s better than the previous night where they were a no show. Many of us tried to zero in on the location and we move up the hillside hoping that we could have a rendezvous. That didn’t happen, but some chiggers did meet us and dined on our ankles. Eventually though, we were close enough to surmise that the bird was on the hillside, and Earic began to scan with his search light an lo and behold he caught eye shine!
He let all those congregated get a look through the scope, and while looking he said he even saw both eyes when it turned towards us. I only saw one eye however. Oh well, inching closer to a killer view like those that enabled the phenomenal photos we saw before and after we were there.

Done birding here, we headed off to Tucson for some rest, and anticipation of birding on Mount Lemmon.

    Florida & Madera Canyon trip list

Gambel's Quail    Wild Turkey     Turkey Vulture
White-winged Dove     Mourning Dove     Greater Roadrunner
Buff-collared Nightjar     Magnificent Hummingbird     Black-chinned Hummingbird
Broad-billed Hummingbird     Acorn Woodpecker     Gila Woodpecker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker     Arizona Woodpecker     Dusky-capped Flycatcher
Brown-crested Flycatcher     Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher     Cassin's Kingbird
Bell's Vireo     Plumbeous Vireo     Hutton's Vireo
Mexican Jay     Common Raven     Bridled Titmouse
Verdin     White-breasted Nuthatch     House Wren
Cactus Wren     Black-tailed Gnatcatcher     American Robin
Curve-billed Thrasher     Lucy's Warbler     Canyon Towhee
Rufous-winged Sparrow     Hepatic Tanager     Summer Tanager
Northern Cardinal     Black-headed Grosbeak     Blue Grosbeak
Varied Bunting     Great-tailed Grackle     Hooded Oriole
Scott's Oriole     House Finch     Lesser Goldfinch

June 13, 2015

I had found a Comfort Inn very near to Mt. Lemmon, and I think that should I venture to Arizona again, I will use this chain. We got a good start on the day, stopped conveniently for breakfast on the way, and went up the hill. We made a bee line for incinerator ridge, as Earic was keen on getting the species there.

Usually birding is best first thing in the morning, though at this spot they seemed to be sleeping in a bit. As expected we had Yellow-eyed Junco who seem to enjoy being viewed by us birders. And then furtively at first we had looks at Western Bluebird. Usually they are more accommodating but today they seemed more wary and flew off at a much greater distance from us than usual.

But they awoke and we got nice looks at Red-faced Warblers and Olive Warblers. The latter were in a small family group that lack a boldly colored male, so it was a bit disappointing for Earic, though a lifer. The one he saw last time was a bad look and a better look was desired and still was. The Olive Warblers were accommodating, but he hoped for a better look still.

Further down the trail we were treated to Western Tanagers chasing each other about in the dense foliage, but pickings were a bit slim and we headed back to the vista. We met a local and we exchanged bird sighting info, and were clued into the presence of Zone-tailed Hawk. There were more than one and we got great looks. 

This spot has also been reliable for Steller’s Jay, and while not disappointing thy are never as close and out in the open as I would lie for such a magnificent bird.

Checking some other locations we were treated to a hard to find bird that was nice to see in its more usual habitat. Back in february of 2012 Earic joined Jean LeConte Sparrow and I on a chase down to Maryland to see a Virginia’s Warbler. We succeeded by Earic calling out “that chip note sounds different” and all of us getting nice looks at this bird. More astonishingly, later that year Earic discovered New York State’s first well documented Virginia’s Warbler! It was no surprise to me that he was able to find us a member of this species here, though ironically both of those vagrants afforded us much better looks. But no complaints! This is a tough bird to get and we got it! Damb if I could manage a shot though...

Of course, my experience was that Mt Lmmon was good for Grace’s Warbler, and we found those as well. These were more accommodating, and ever the pleasure to see.

Heading to Summer haven we stopped in town at feeders and got nice looks at Pine Siskin. We also tried Rose Canyon for Greater Pewee and Buff-bellied Flycatcher but try as we might we could not get them.

    Mount Lemmon trip list

Turkey Vulture     Zone-tailed Hawk     Red-tailed Hawk
White-winged Dove     Mourning Dove     White-throated Swift
Magnificent Hummingbird     Black-chinned Hummingbird     Anna's Hummingbird
Broad-tailed Hummingbird     Acorn Woodpecker     Hairy Woodpecker
Cordilleran Flycatcher     Cassin's Kingbird     Western Kingbird
Plumbeous Vireo     Hutton's Vireo     Warbling Vireo
Steller's Jay     Common Raven     Violet-green Swallow
Cliff Swallow     Verdin     Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch     Pygmy Nuthatch     Brown Creeper
House Wren     Blue-gray Gnatcatcher     Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
Western Bluebird     Hermit Thrush     American Robin
Olive Warbler     Virginia's Warbler     Grace's Warbler
Red-faced Warbler     Painted Redstart     Spotted Towhee    
Canyon Towhee     Yellow-eyed Junco     Western Tanager
Black-headed Grosbeak     Great-tailed Grackle     House Finch
Pine Siskin     Lesser Goldfinch

June 14, 2015

With one last day of birding we decided to try some places on My Lemmon again, but earlier in the day, hoping for better results with the missed species. Back at the ridge he said he heard Greater Pewee in the distance, and we tried valiantly to call it in. I did not hear it. That he was able to is no surprise, he can hear the muscles in your eyes squeak as you read this sentence from left to right.

One of the stops we wanted to make was at Windy Point, reputed to be good for White-throated Swift which for some reason Earic had a difficult time getting on and ‘getting’. I had seen them a few times on this trip, and pointed them out to him, but he never seemed to get on them before they continue past.  Windy Point’s reputation did not disappoint, and he finally relented and said he [ begrudging ] saw one. He also heard some chip notes from below. We spished and got nice looks at a BT Grey Warbler; previously only he had seen this well on this trip, but now we both did.

Back at Incinerator Ridge, we tried yet again for the Pewee without [my] success. He once again said he heard it way off in the distance. Oh well, at least it was not a potential lifer for me.

At the vista, we noticed a lot of Red-faced Warbler activity, and discovered that they were attending to a nest site practically at the foot of people camping nearby. This is a bird that is hard to take your eyes off of, and with their nest nearby, they kept their eyes on us as well.

Our next stop was a revisit to Rose Canyon for Buff-bellied Flycatchers. No dice. They must have moved on already. What we did get was killer looks at fully adult and colorful Olive Warblers and more Graces Warblers. Of course the Pygmy Nuthatches were everywhere, and there were a few Hermit Thrushes, Plumbeous Vireos and Hutton's Vireos.

So we tied up a few loose ends with each of us getting on birds that only the other had seen well, and then headed out. Not to say that we were done however.

    Mt Lemmon trip list

Turkey Vulture    Cooper's Hawk    Zone-tailed Hawk    
Red-tailed Hawk     White-winged Dove    White-throated Swift
Magnificent Hummingbird    Black-chinned Hummingbird    Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Acorn Woodpecker     Hairy Woodpecker     Cordilleran Flycatcher
Plumbeous Vireo    Hutton's Vireo     Warbling Vireo
Steller's Jay    Common Raven     Violet-green Swallow
Bridled Titmouse     Verdin     White-breasted Nuthatch
Pygmy Nuthatch     Rock Wren    House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatchers    Western Bluebird     Hermit Thrush
American Robin     Curve-billed Thrasher    Olive Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler    Grace's Warbler    Black-throated Gray Warbler
Red-faced Warbler    Painted Redstart     Spotted Towhee
Black-throated Sparrow     Yellow-eyed Junco    House Finch
Pine Siskin    Lesser Goldfinch

We decided to try Agua Caliente park. I had heard of it but never visited before as more desirous species were present up on nearby Mt Lemmon.  It turns out it is an oasis in the middle of the hot and dry dessert, and a really nice place!

The heat was oppressive, but faded with the setting sun.  We scored a few additional species before prepacking the car and heading north for the airport.

    Agua Caliente trip highlight list

Cooper's Hawk    Broad-tailed Hummingbird     Verdin
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet    Purple Martin    Lesser Nighthawk

Of amusement to me, was that in my experience traveling I have had lots of gas stations about airports. Not so with Phoenix. It took us a while to find one, and then navigating to the car return location was further away than expected, and with timing getting tight I was getting a bit concerned. En route, another traveler in a rental car even asked us for help finding the return location as well. I have to say that the signage could have been better, but all’s well that ends well.

After dropping the car we boarded the bus to the airport, and the driver was very amenable when I told him we had a flight to catch very soon. He said: “ no problem” closed the door and took off. Yay. Understanding.

At the airport I had a few more agaita inspiring moments. Misdirected at first, when we finally found the correct check-in location, there was a fellow ahead of us at the counter who ‘needed a lot of help’. You know the type, million questions, not really sure what he is looking for in an answer... the young lady behind me got adventurous and went up to the other attendant and inquired of him. Fortunately for her she was able to head off.  I tried to signal him that we too would like assistance, but he instead went off duty. The first attendant eventually finished with his patron, and indicating we were in a bit of a hurry, he helped us expeditiously.

We proceeded to the boarding area, and the very same fellow showed up to process boarding. When I inquired of him the seating status for us stand-by fliers, he said ‘Oh...’ and cast his eyes downward and after a long pause saying “you’ll ~probably~ get on the plane”. We did got on the flight, but I thought to myself he may very well have been enjoying some minor cruelty. You know, long hours, late in the day, you have to get your jollies where you can...

The flight was mildly amusing as well. It was delayed by weather back in NY, this being one of those get there and turn around type of routes. So with us already an hour behind schedule, I was concerned about sleep and getting to the office the next day.

And that was just the start. A much older gentleman sitting next to me had secured the arm rest. No big, I kept my arms folded for warmth anyway. But that did not stop him from twitching periodically and elbowing me awake several times. After the third time I turned to him and tersely told him to keep his arms to himself and stop it! Apparently the first two mentions did not merit paying attention to.

Awake now, I inquired of the woman sitting next to me if it were cold on board. She said yes and that she had already asked them to do something about it. So I asked as well, and they appeared to adjust something. Didn’t help at all. But the woman next to me offered that we could lean against one another and share body heat. Nice. 

Remarkably, we arrived on time in NY despite the delay. They must have pushed the throttle to avoid being late and I was grateful. Shrimpke picked us up at the airport. I took a quick shower at Earic’s, and flew out the door to the office. What a great trip!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

How Larky can you get?

July 21, 2015

The summer is known for being a less exciting a time to bird than other times of the year. That is not to say that good things are not around, its just that they sneak by and unless you are at the right place at the right time you will miss them. Timely bird sighting reports help a great deal though!

I had nebulous plans to go birding prioritized ~after~ getting stuff at home done. Nearing completion in the late morning, a report simultaneously came in about a Lark Sparrow at Robert Moses STPK. What a great find! I had missed them earlier in the year, an also majorly dipped on them back in June on a trip to Arizona, where based upon previous experience they should have been a gimme. That's what I get for ~expecting~ to see them.

A couple of quick planing texts and Phil Jabiru stopped by to bring me to find this handsome sparrow. It turns out he had this species in the exact same location last year, another bird I missed last year as well. Phil also had the White-face Ibis at Captree Island last year that I could not connect with, but that we found this year. Hopefully I will surpass my last years numbers. I’d better!

Arriving on location, no one else was around. We walked slowly down the path to the picnic tables, and spotted a few Song Sparrows loitering. Then a larger bodied bird got our attention, and we got great looks at this great looking sparrow. YB1 

Lark Sparrow

Lark Sparrow
In the short time we were there, four other birders showed up to see the Lark Sparrow. Sighting reports beget sighting reports, possibly even a sighting for you, the reader. It always disappoints me how poor the ratio of report readers to report writers is. One doesn’t have to write a novel, just a what where when will do. Other birders will thank you.

Satisfied with our looks, Both Phil and I went to Gardners Park for more sparrows. Both of us still needed Seaside, and Gardners Park is an easy and reliable place for marsh species.

Arriving at the end of the trail, I spished up some young Saltmarsh Sparrows. With more efforts a family of Marsh Wrens came out to investigate the commotion. But no Seaside.

We had walked to the east of the path, my usual route. The channel bordered by groundsel is usually productive, but not so today. We then tried the area to the west and two birds came out to play. YB2.

When satisfied with the surroundings and what it had to offer we started heading back up the path discussing other locations we should investigate. And then the phone rang. Bob Prothonotary called to alert us that two Black-bellied Whistling Ducks had just been found on a small pond within Nickerson Beach. I thanked him for the intel, and then we... er, I made double-time while Phil made a respectable time and a half back to the car. But Phil was trying to keep up; to be fair though, his beard has significant wind resistance.

Why the rush you ask? Well this species is currently ( or recently ) present upstate near Niagara Falls. Sure I wanted to see that bird but it was a very long trip; perhaps too long to entice me to go after it. Even Arlene Rails hadn't persuaded me; this was a much nicer potential circumstance. And three year birds in one day

Having dodged numerous lah-dee-dah drivers on Ocean Pkwy intent primarily on deterring other drivers  from getting to their destination, we arrived at the toll booth. Jeez! $30 to park here? Fortunately we were able to appeal to the attendant and we were allowed in to see the birds gratis.

Driving down the roadway, I spied folks standing in two distinct locations. The farther one was where I thought the birds were, but recognizing the people standing at the nearer location was a very good thing as I did not know about this tiny pond.

Driving up, we did not even have to stop or get out of the car before we saw the two ducks standing by the side of the pond. Yes!  YB3. 

Black-bellied Whistling Duck
A small assembly of birders was present, including John Gaggle-o-geese. I had called earlier to alert him but somehow he managed to beat us there. This was YB 301 for him, but I am closing ranks at 298 so far.

Then the unspeakable occurred. While Pelican arrived in time to see the birds, the birds then suddenly decided it was time to go. Doh!

This was made all the worse by the untimely approach of Ken Kestrel (amongst others). Ken's wife sacrificed by staying with the car to avoid the absurd fee. He came walking up from there only to be told the unfortunate news; you should have been here five minutes ago. Hopefully the birds will be relocated.

Phil and I departed, deciding to try Jones Beach for a Whimbrel or Gull-billed Tern that we keep missing. The former seem to be showing up all over, except when we’re looking. No luck there. But interestingly, lots and I mean lots of Piping Plovers on that small sand bar known as Short Beach. Not anything to complain about really, but much musing about Whimbrels... They seem to be everywhere, so why can't we find one?

And then irony some poisoning. I read this morning that Ken had thousands of Whimbrel ( or twenty two +/- ) at Cupsogue yesterday. This not being able to be everywhere at once sure puts a damper on my birding success, but that’s the way the karma crumbles.

Now tomorrow....

*** update - I spoke with
John Gaggle-o-geese and he saw a Gull-billed Tern at Nickerson after we left. Double doh!