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Monday, August 21, 2017

Rare bird search in Arizona - Part 2

On the prowl on Montosa Canyon
             On our second day we left the Green Valley Best Western and drove about 20 minutes to Montosa Canyon. Reports were coming in that a pair of Five-striped Sparrows were seen there. If this was true then our previous trip to California Gulch would not be a total loss. As we headed up into the canyon we came upon the Whipple Observatory. It is a radio observatory not a telescopic one. They had four large radio wave dishes around the property. We tried to go in for a visit but the facilities were closed even though the sign in the door said they were open.

Whipple Observatory

One of four radio telescopes
             On the observatory property we found this Varied Bunting perched in an Ocotillo.
Back side of Varied Bunting
             We arrived at the canyon fairly early in the morning because the Arizona midday temperatures are quite unbearable at the lower elevations. After the observatory the road is unpaved and the reported site of the sparrow was about 200 feet past the stream crossing. What is it with Arizona and having to cross over streams on dirt roads? Anyway, we know immediately that this is the spot because a few other birders are already standing around. I get out and ask if the sparrow has been seen and was told it was there about 2 minutes ago. So I walk around to the hatchback and get out the bug spray while Sharon goes to talk to the men standing around. All of a sudden I hear "There it is in the low bush".  I came running around the car to hear Sharon tell me that she saw the bird and it just flew off. You gotta be kidding me right? She suggested that we leave then:) Happily, within a few more minutes I could hear the Sparrow singing and was able to track it down. 
Lifer Five-striped Sparrow
Lifer Two-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly

            Other birds in the area were Canyon Towhee, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, more Varied Buntings and Bell's Vireo. After the other folks there got ample views and photos we talked to two birders from Arkansas who were headed down to see the Rose-throated Becard at Tumacacori - DeAnza Trail. We told them that we would probably see them there since that was our next destination also. 
            On the way to attempt to see the Becard, we made a quick stop at the Amado Wastewater Treatment pond. This was an easy stop since we could view the pond from the roadside and didn't even have to get out of the car. Before we even raised our binoculars we could see our target bird, an immature Brown Pelican. Imagine that: a Brown Pelican in the middle of the desert. Are you kidding me? We also lucked out and observed a family of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks with new fledged babies on the pond.

The weirdest spot I've ever seen a pelican
             Still on our way to the Becard we discovered this bizarre little restaurant which was for sale if anyone is interested.
It's yours for a steal
            We arrived at the Juan Bautista de Anza Trail and met up again with the folks from Arkansas. 

            They had already gone in to see the Becard but couldn't find the exact area so they were back in the parking lot asking other birders for better directions. I had directions in my car but just decided to follow them instead. So off we went. After viewing a few other birds along the trail we started lagging behind and eventually lost sight of the Arkansas guys. Now we had no idea how to get to the nest area. It was already quite hot and I didn't want to walk all the way back to the car so we roamed around in the woods awhile until we heard voices. Even then we couldn't figure out had to get to those voices. Luckily some workers came by on a cart and I asked where the  bird was and they gave me the general directions but we still had to hunt and peck our way down different trails until we found a small crowd in the woods. They were on the bird when we arrived and fortunately we were able to see this Mexican wanderer.

Male Rose-throated Becard

Female was inside this large messy nest
             After finding the Becard, which was new for me in Arizona, we decided to take a break from birding for a little while and headed down the road about a block and came to the Tumacacori National Historical Park. The park protects the ruins of three Spanish mission communities. 

Mission at Tumacacori
         While on site we stopped to look inside the mission and discovered it was being restored so we couldn't walk through it but instead one of the team members who were working on the restoration came up to talk to us. She described what they were doing and told us that they were graduate students from the University of Pennsylvania. Well they were quite surprised to find out that we too were from the Philadelphia area.
Statue of Jesuit Priest in Museum
            After we finished at the mission we headed back north to the town of Tubac for lunch. Tubac  is  mostly known as an arts colony, but its centerpiece is the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park.When the Spanish first came to this region, they built a presidio (fort) at Tubac and a mission 3 miles south at Tumac├ícori. Although they struggled mightily to hold on to these remote outposts, in both cases the Spanish were chased out by Apaches. Today, you can spend a day leisurely perusing the Park's exhibits and exploring the 100+ galleries, shops, and restaurants of Tubac. We did indeed spend time at one of their restaurants, Shelby's Bistro, which I would recommend. We didn't do the tourist shopping routine.
Colorful flower pots for sale

Yard Decorations

Everyone needs one of these.
              After lunch we headed south again towards Nogales, a city on the border of Mexico. But we head east to Patagonia Lake State Park. We are stopping here in search of Black-capped Gnatcatcher and Green Kingfisher, a rare bird in Arizona. Upon arrival in the park we run into one of  Arizona's summer monsoons.

Barrel cactus in partial bloom

Walking bridge over Patagonia Lake
             We decided to call off the hunt because of the lightning and drove further east to the Paton's house.
Welcome sign to the small town of Patagonia
            The Paton's first began inviting birders into their backyard shortly after moving to Patagonia in 1973. They eventually put up a canopy and set out benches, bird books, and a chalkboard for people to record their sightings. The Patons had a special vision for supporting their backyard birds with an array of feeding stations and supporting the wider birding community by sharing the riches of their own yard. This place is famous for the rare birds that have shown up in their yard. It is the most reliable spot to find Violet-crowned Hummingbird in all of the state.

            Besides hummingbirds, we were also able to enjoy Gambel's Quail, White-winged and Inca Doves, Gila Woodpecker and Rufous-crowned Sparrow.

Inca Dove with its head lowered

Broad-billed Hummingbird

Out of focus Black-chinned Hummingbird

             Although we did see Violet-crowned Hummingbird I was not able to get a good photo so I borrow some free stock photos of them from the internet.

Violet-crowned Hummingbirds from internet
            It was now around five o'clock so we started the long drive back to Madera Canyon where we would spend the night. We booked a room at the Kubo Lodge which always reminds us of a hobbit house.

Kubo Cabin - Hobbit House

Sharon keeping an eye on feeders
             When we checked in we were told to take the hummingbird feeder in at night because the bats will drink all the liquid during the night. We did that but I had to watch the bats for about 15 minutes or so before stealing their food. At dusk we went down to the Santa Rita lodge and watched the Mexican Jays and more hummers. When it was dark enough we walked across the street to a telephone pole in hopes of seeing the Elf Owl come out of its hole for the evening hunt. But we had no luck with that. The owner of the lodge said that they already fledged their young so they probably abandoned the hole for this year.
            We met some new friends from VA, Ana and Jeff. They were going to attend the Tucson Birding Festival for the weekend. We exchanged cell numbers and updated each other on our bird sightings for the next 5 days. 
             Anyway we got another nice sunset and went back to the cabin to dream about tomorrow's birding adventures.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Rare bird search in Arizona - August 2017

Near California Gulch
               Arizona in August? What are you thinking? Well, if you want to see some extraordinary birds, Arizona is the place to go. Southeast Arizona, in particular, is noted for its rich birdlife. The sky islands, as they call the mountains, are fabulous for attracting Mexican rarities plus all the western birds that you just can’t find in Pennsylvania.

                Before arriving in Arizona, Sharon and I spent 10 days visiting our family in California. Christine, our Daughter-in-Law, was directing a community play, The Drowsy Chaperone, and Chris had acting, singing and tap dancing parts in the play. After leaving California we flew into Tucson. Upon our arrival around 2PM we immediately hopped in our rental car and drove south heading to California Gulch, which is noted for its small population of Five-striped Sparrows. The gulch is the northern most limit of the Five-striped Sparrow in North America.  Unfortunately, it’s also famous for being one of the worst places to travel, even in a four wheel drive vehicle with high clearance. We didn’t have either of those. Plus it’s known for being a place to find smugglers. Along the way we found some creatures of interest.

Black-tailed Jackrabbit covered in Ticks - gross

Bull just covered in flies
The road leading into the gulch is approximately twenty miles in length and is unpaved. Traveling the dirt roads, we started counting the number of stream crossings we had to traverse with our car. After about 16 miles we had crossed 19 muddy stream beds. The car was already a mess, layered with mud. Then we met up with a Border Patrol officer and asked him if we could make the last six miles to the gulch. He looked at our vehicle and kind of smirked and told us “Maybe if you tiptoe through the wet areas”.

We bravely (stupidly) traveled on and were met by a pond in the middle of the road and realized that we had met our match. There was no way we were getting across or around this spot. Plus, I was reading recent emails about other people’s experiences with this road and one person said they got stuck in the mud for over six hours. Another person came along and tried to help them and couldn’t get them out so they offered to give them a ride back to town. There were six people now in the rescue vehicle and that car ended up with a flat tire. The six people had to spend the night sleeping in the car. That had to be uncomfortable for everyone. We decided not to go that route and turned around within just four miles of our destination.

Considering my options
           So we didn’t get any Five-striped Sparrows or the Buff-breasted Nightjar that was reported there for the last two months. It was now approaching dusk so we turned around and birded our way back to town. We were able to find a gazillion Cassin’s Sparrow’s, Greater Roadrunner, Lesser Nighthawk and lots of Western Kingbirds. Since we were in the middle of nowhere and about an hours drive back to our hotel we decided to have dinner in the gulch.
A glorious subway dinner in AZ
            We also spotted a Rufous-crowned Sparrow and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. It was dark when we entered the small town of Arivaca. As we turned onto the main road I spotted something sitting in the middle of the road. Just when I realized it was a bird and started to slow down, the bird flew off. It appeared to be a nightjar or Whip-poor-will but I was unable to identify the bird.  So our first attempt at adding a life bird was a failure. But hope springs eternal and there were still seven days of birding left.

Greater Roadrunner

Cassin's Sparrow - only photo I was able to get.

Gambel's Quail
              I have to say that the sunsets in Arizona are first class when you have the mountains in the picture.

               Stayed tuned for more birding.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Roseate Spoonbill in Lancaster County July 15, 2017

         For those of you who have not heard about the discovery of a Roseate Spoonbill along the Susquehanna River in Lancaster County here is an eBird report with photos of the bird by Eric Witmer. View it here:
         This is an extraordinary find and one that shouldn't be missed if the bird hangs around. Word is that there is yet another spoonbill in Cumberland County.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

A quick road trip to Colorado - Part V

          Wow. We finally made it to Colorado. It was a fun 1700 miles so far and we still haven't arrived at Bryan's House. Today we leave Cheyenne Wyoming and drive south to the Pawnee Grasslands in search of any longspurs. McCown's is the expected one in the short grass prairie on the western side of the Pawnee Grasslands where we would be entering. Although we drove for miles we weren't able to come across the longspurs. However, we did find a Golden Eagle perched on a telephone pole and three individual Burrowing Owls in various places.   
Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl on favorite perch

           Since we weren't expected at Bryan's until 5 o'clock, we headed further southwest to Rocky Mountain National Park. The park is one of my favorites but since it was a Friday before the Fourth of July holiday, the park was jammed with cars making the experience less than optimal. However, there was still plenty of wildlife to be seen. Elk were roaming around in people's yards.

Elk still with velvet on antlers
           At higher elevations the Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel could be found running among the rocky mountainsides. The golden-mantled ground squirrel can be identified by its chipmunk-like stripes and coloration, but unlike a chipmunk, it lacks any facial stripes.
Golden-mantled Squirrel

Colorado Chipmunk(ID note - little brown stripe under the outer white stripe)

Clark's Nutcracker (Definitely one of the cooler Jays)

Elk at over 11,000 ft elevation

           Due to a good snowfall this past winter the rivers and waterfalls were gushing. This is good for Colorado in general as they were lacking in water the last two years.
The Alluvial fan

Still ten feet of snow along the roadways

Snowmelt - not present in the late summer months

Above timberline at over 11,000 ft
             A couple of other animals that like the high elevation during the summer months.

Bighorn Sheep

Yellow-bellied Marmot
           After leaving Rocky Mountain National Park we drove about a hour to get to Longmont, CO where Bryan's home in located. That evening we got to play soccer and frisbee with our grandson Ben at the park across the street.
Ben displays his pet Sphinx Moth

Showing off Kitty

Ben and Grandmom doing oragami
             Back in December, Sharon told me that Baird's Sparrow had been discovered nesting in Colorado. Her Christmas present to me was this trip to Colorado in search of this sparrow. The Baird's Sparrow normally nest in North Dakota and further north into Canada. So this was a nice find for the state. The next morning, Bryan and I rose at 4:45AM to make the 70 minute drive to Soapstone Prairie Natural Area.
           I like to call this the Baird's Sparrow death march as we had to hike 3.5 miles out to the site and then return the same route back to the car. The trail was mostly flat but there were a few hills to traverse. The area was mostly short grass prairie which had me worried since I remember this sparrow in North Dakota in a long grass prairie which I thought was their preferred habitat. We did some birding along the way and by far the most common birds were Horned Larks and Vesper Sparrows. Grasshopper Sparrows made an appearance once in a while also.
Making the hike- Bryan carrying the tripod and scope

Hard to see but this is Bryan with Pronghorn Antelope in background

Vesper Sparrow

           We eventually made it to the area after an hour hike. Fortunately it was a cloudy day and rather cool which made the hike bearable. So we started scoping the short grasslands and listening for the call. Instead we found a large nesting area for the McCown's Longspurs that I missed yesterday in the Pawnee Grasslands. We watched them doing their flight displays for about fifteen minutes. 
           Not having any luck, I finally noticed a distant area where the grass looked a lot taller. So I told Bryan and we hiked over in that direction. As we approached,  Bryan could hear the sparrow singing. We set up the scope and scanned the tall grass knowing that this sparrow likes to hunker down. While we were scanning we were being treated to the aerial courtship display of the Wilson's Snipe. The snipe would fly up like a woodcock to about 500 feet. While the snipe stayed in the air it would dive about 200 feet or so towards the ground and make a noise which was caused by the wind flowing through its tail feathers. Impressive. There was also another snipe on the ground somewhere doing their winnowing call.
          Getting back to the Baird's Sparrow, after about ten minutes of hearing the singing bird, he finally popped up on a wire mesh and we were able to scope him from a distance of about 200 yards. Not the greatest view but good enough to see the field marks and get my lifer Baird's. Success!!! I actually got to see the sparrow on June 25th exactly 6 months after my Christmas gift.
That's him - That's the best I could do. Better view was had through scope.

Watching my lifer Baird's Sparrow

Internet Photo of Baird's Sparrow with ID info 

That should do it for this trip. I don't want to bore you with the details and stops we made in Kansas and Missouri, so I will stop here. Hope you enjoyed this blog. If you ever get the chance to go to Custer State Park in South Dakota I would highly recommend stopping there.