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Sunday, February 17, 2019

A Northen Arizona Triple Play

A Northern Arizona triple play

by Carl Perretta

On January 29 I took an overnight trip to an area just south of Page, AZ - the site of the Glen Canyon dam and Lake Powell. On a steep slope at a roadside pull-off there were a flock of Rosy-Finches which had been coming in regularly for about a month and a half. The great majority - about 50-60 - were Black Rosy-Finches, and in the flock were usually one or two Gray-crowned Rosy Finches. I hoped to see the birds, which were about 275 miles north of my base in Scottsdale. I had tried to get them a few weeks earlier in a one-day back and forth run, but had not been successful. In fact, I had to cut my trip off early because it started snowing rather hard. This time, I traveled north with plans to stay the night in Page. This would give me a brief window to see the finches on the way up, and as much time as I needed the next day to get two lifers.

I arrived at the site with not much daylight left on Monday, so I was going to have to get lucky on Tuesday. After checking into my hotel and having a dreadful take-out Chinese dinner (see my review at:, I turned in for the night to get an early start the next morning.

I was up before dawn, had the hotel breakfast, and drove to the site, where the sun was just getting up. It was about 7:15. I threw out some seed I had brought with me to entice the birds back to their regular spot, and sat in my car to wait. At around 9 o’clock, I saw a circling flock of small birds which did not come in, but moved off. I was sure they were the finches. I got out of the car to wait for their return, and a man came by, stopped, and strew sunflower seed near the top of the ridge, where observation would be very easy. The gentleman was a wealth of information. He told me exactly where to sit and wait, and felt confident I’d be successful. He then left for work in Page. Sure enough, at about 9:15, a flock circled and finally lit near the top of the ridge, close to where I was standing. My first priority was to pick out a Gray-crowned, in case the birds flew off. 

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch

Most observers said the birds might stay for 20 minutes or 20 seconds before flying off. The chap who had stopped to put out the seed said they seemed to be on about a 40 minute cycle of landing, flying away, and landing again.

Black Rosy-Finch

After being satisfied that I had seen a Gray-crowned among the much more numerous Blacks, I approached a bit and took up my camera. These birds could not be described as shy. As I wrote in a AZNMBIRDS post, at times I thought my shoe would appear in some of the pictures I was taking! I reeled off a series of shots, and after about 12 or 13 minutes, they flew off. 

Satisfied that I had gotten good looks, I decided to head off for Navajo Bridge - a span over the Colorado at a place called Marble Gorge. It is a spot near the Vermillion Cliffs, one of the release sites for the reintroduction of the California Condor. My earlier visitor was an experienced birder in the area, and he told my to try standing on the old bridge and observing the underside of the new bridge, where a family of condors sometimes roosted. I had the great luck of being there on an overcast day, when there was essentially no thermal activity and the birds would probably be earthbound. When I arrived, fortune again smiled upon me, as the old bridge was where a wildlife biologist from the Peregrine Fund was observing two roosting birds perched on the girders of the new bridge, within easy telescope and photo range. This young woman knew the pedigree of each individual, and informed me that No. 54 (a wing-tagged adult) and a juvenile with him (as yet still untagged) were parent and child. Furthermore, the youngster had been hatched and raised naturally in the wild, and was thus a countable bird by ABA guidelines, unlike the parent who had received human rearing! I had seen condors some years ago at Big Sur in California, but all were tagged birds who had been raised with human intervention. It was truly a satisfying three-lifer day.

Parent Condor (No. 54) and still untagged chick

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Hawaiian Vacation on the Big Island--Part V

Manta Rays and accompanying school of fish

        The previous night we enjoyed our dinner on the deck of the Sheraton Resort. We had reservations for five o'clock so we could get a front row seat overlooking the ocean. The restaurant was named "Rays on the Bay" and the name implies what we came to observe. After sunset, the Sheraton turns on spotlights and shines them on the cove right below our seats. The lights shining on the water attract plankton and the plankton, in turn, attracts Manta Rays.
           The giant manta ray is the world’s largest ray with a wingspan of up to 29 feet. They are filter feeders and eat large quantities of zooplankton. Giant manta rays are slow-growing, migratory animals with small, highly fragmented populations that are sparsely distributed across the world. Well, we were lucky enough to be at one of those spots. As the sun fell to the horizon and the green flash was seen we were hopefully awaiting the arrival of these sea creatures. Luck would have it that we managed to see several rays feeding directly below us. It was quite the sight to see.

Two Manta Rays feeding off the deck of the Restaurant
            The next morning we went to Walmart and bought snorkeling equipment and headed to the beach.

The Walmartians have arrived in Hawaii
           All the beaches in Hawaii have free public access so we found a parking spot along the road and got into our gear. The waters were actually quite nice. I hate cold water, so for me to dive right in, you know the water had to be nice and warm.

         We went snorkeling at Hapuna Beach State Park. This was one of King Kamehameha's favorite spots to swim and surf.

Hapuna Beach
         Back at the hotel, the sport of the afternoon was paddle boarding. It took Chris a while to get his balance but Max got right on and started paddling around the pond like a pro..

Sharon helping Chris on paddle board

The pro shows him how it's done

          After watching the Manta Rays last night at the Sheraton we decided to take a go on a night snorkel trip to view the Manta Rays ourselves. Chris made the arrangements for a boat to take the five of us out to a cove late in the afternoon and we would go snorkel with the rays. 

On our way out to the dive area

Max wondering why it's taking so long to get there.

           So,  what this tour involves, is getting to the cove just before sunset. We then have to get into a wetsuit, which is a lot harder than it looks. I couldn't for the life of me get my arms on properly, but finally managed with some help from the crew.

In the wetsuit at last

Christine is a little nervous about going in the water at night.
Max--"Come on. What's the holdup?"

           What happens next is,  the crew launches two flat rafts with blue lights attached to the bottom of the rafts. The rafts have handles on the sides for us to hold onto while in the water. Once you are in the water holding the raft, they give you a pool noodle to put under your feet to help you lay flat on the surface.
Floating on the surface so we don't touch the rays.

          So just at dusk, we are ready to go and the lights go on. Now we just float on the surface with the snorkel and masks watching underwater for the action to start. Well, for the first half hour we just floated there watching nothing but fish feeding on the plankton. We thought we were going to get skunked. So the two crew members grabbed hold of the rope, detached it from the boat, and began swimming towards some other rafts that were there for the same purpose. Once all the rafts were in a compact area with more concentrated light, the action started. These Manta Ray photos were taken by our crew while on our dive.

The ray on the right is swimming upside down
          We stayed out another hour just hanging onto the raft watching Manta Rays swimming right under us. They would glide through the water along the bottom and then come up right towards us so that you could actually look right into their mouths and see their gills and throat.

           A couple of times they came so close you could feel the pressure of the water as they did somersaults just under you and the raft. It was mind-boggling. It was the most wonderful experience to see these rays up close and personal like this.

Starting into the somersault

Swimming upside down. Amazing!!

           After this experience, it was hard to find anything more exciting. 
           Chris and Max went ziplining the next day but the old guy wasn't up to it this time around. I've done it many times in the past so I opted out this time. 
         We drove back to Hilo that day and went into a lava tube where I got the back of my leg chewed up by the lava rock. Too much action for this Pop Pop!

          On our last night we had a wonderful dinner at The Ponds Restaurant. They gave Max koi food and he got to feed the koi right out the window.
          Sharon reminded me that she had to talk me into going on this trip, I didn't want to go.
It was such a great adventure. I'm so glad I went!

          The trip ended the next day and we flew back to California on Thanksgiving Day. At Thanksgiving dinner that night I enjoyed a nice big pizza at the hotel. This was definitely a trip to remember. Thanks for tagging along with us.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Hawaiian Vacation on the Big Island -- Part IV

Green Sea Turtles resting on Beach
           On the fourth day Chris, Christine, and Max arrived in Hilo and we picked them up at their hotel. Now with the large group wanting to do various things birding slowed down quite a bit, so if you are expecting a large number of bird photos you can stop reading here. Our plan was to drive around the top part of the island and then head south to our hotel. So our first stop was at a black sand beach where surfing was the big thing. One surfer had a hydroplane surfboard which actually rode out of the water, floating above the waves. I've never heard of this before, but the guy must have been new at this because he was having a lot of trouble staying on the board.    

           Next stop was the Hawaiian Botanical Tropical Gardens. Fantastic place to the see the many different flowers and trees of the island.

          After walking the gardens we stopped for Max's favorite Hawaiian treat, a shaved ice. 
          While eating this we found several of these Orange-spotted Day Geckos.

           Across the street, we saw a solitary Cattle Egret.

          Akaka Falls State Park was next on the list. A walk around the park produced many new plants, an excellent view of the large falls and a new life bird, a Hawaiian Hawk. 
Akaka Falls

Hawaiian Hawk

           Cruising along the back roads we found this wild pig, which is a menace to the flora of the island.

           Towards the north end of the island, we found Tex's Drive-In. They were selling Malasadas and we stopped in for a tasty treat. These are basically Portuguese donuts, but boy are they good. The line was out the door waiting for these treats.

Creme filled Malasada
          We rounded the top of Hawaii and then headed south to our hotel, the Waikoloa Hilton Resort. The hotel was real nice but way too big for Sharon and me. You had to travel by a shuttle train just to get from place to place in the resort.

The Hilton Resort - only about a third of it is showing in the photo.

We found a few of these Gray Francolins walking around.
A Silver Pheasant on the property grounds as a captive bird

Crowned Crane - also captive but the female was nesting.

Common Myna outside our balcony on the 6th floor

Another Saffron Finch - one of my favorites
           Some of the things of interest around the resort.

A helmet of feathers like King Kamehameha might have worn
         While staying at the resort we also took part in some classes.
Lei making class

          Next day we took Ukelele lessons. I decided I'll never be a Musician

          Well, that's all for now. The next couple of days were fun but I'm only going to write about one day, my favorite day, with the best experience ever. See you then.