Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Start To Cleaning Up My AZ Lifers

Recently, I have been running out of birds in Arizona. I now only have less than 10 birds that breed in AZ to get for my life list! Over the 4th of July I made plans to bird the next day with Ms. Susan Fishburn, Mr. Gordon Karre, and Joshua Smith in Southeastern Arizona to search for 4 potential lifers. Purple Gallinule, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Cassin's Sparrow (overdue), and Rufous-capped Warbler. The Purple Gallinule and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher are vagrants to AZ, the Cassin's Sparrow is a common breeder in in grasslands in Southern parts of the state, and the Rufous-capped Warbler is a rare and local breeder in only a few canyons in the Southeastern corner of AZ. Additionally, my life list has been stuck at 449 for the past couple of weeks so reaching 450 would be awesome!

We left the Phoenix area early in the morning to arrive at the Sweetwater Wetlands and search for the gallinule. When we arrived we found out that the wetlands were closed for a couple hours due to bug spraying. Instead of waiting for the wetlands to open we decided to hit Sierra Vista first and search for the gallinule on our way back to the valley. Approaching the stand of trees which the flycatcher had been staying in, I heard my first lifer of the trip, the Cassin's Sparrow! We stopped the car and started searching the area in hopes of getting a visual. Cassin's Sparrows actually turned out to be fairly abundant in the surrounding grasslands and it wasn't too long before I spied one perched on a short tree!

Cassin's Sparrow--#450!!!

While we were watching the CASPs a couple of Botteri's Sparrows popped up and started singing as well!

Botteri's Sparrow

A Chihuahuan Raven added to the list of awesome birds we were seeing!

Chihuahuan Raven

After enjoying the sparrows we walked a little ways down the road and all the sudden we spied the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher flyingout of the stand of trees!

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher 

Returning to its perch the flycatcher gave everyone outstanding views!

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher 

The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was one amazing bird and it was actually more awesome than I expected it to be!

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher 

After an amazing experience with one of the most beautiful birds I have ever seen in my life we drove over to the San Pedro River to do some chill birding. The San Pedro River was perhaps one of the largest riparian areas I have ever birded and it was thick with birds! Six Yellow-billed Cuckoos, an Indigo Bunting, a couple of Gray Hawk, and more awesome birds added to our great morning of birding! After the San Pedro our next birding stop was Hunter Canyon where Ms. Susan and Mr. Gordon would drop Josh and I off so we could search for the Rufous-capped Warblers for a couple hours, a would-be lifer for both of us. The Rufous-capped Warbler was probably my most wanted lifer of the day as I have searched for them before in Florida Canyon and missed them by just a few minutes! Josh and I hiked a mile up Hunter Canyon and started scanning the area with both our eyes and ears. There was no sign of the warblers but while we searched a singing Greater Pewee made its way to Josh's life list! We had been searching the area for nearly an house and our hopes started fading, this Buff-breasted Flycatchers, however, started breaking the fall of a possible dip.

Buff-breasted Flycatcher 

Josh and I loved the higher elevations of Hunter Canyon but we had to keep searching for the RCWAs! We ran into some birders from NoCal and we joined forces. Hiking up the canyon a little ways I got about 20 yards in front of the group when all the sudden I spied a Rufous-capped Warbler foraging at eye level in a douglas fir!!! I quickly called the group over and BOOM RCWA lifer views!!!!!!!!!

Rufous-capped Warbler

Josh and I were pumped but due to having to meet Ms. Susan and Mr. Gordon Josh and I hiked back down canyon. We then headed over to the Sweetwater Wetlands to search for the Purple Gallinule. Unfortunately no one had seen the gallinule that day so we didn't stay around long, and thus missed it. However, I can't complain because three out of four is pretty good especially since the fourth bird wasn't really a miss! Thanks Ms. Suan, Mr. Gordon, and Josh for the awesome day of birding!

In the mean time, the only birds that breed in AZ that I still need are Five-striped Sparrow, Buff-collared Nightjar, Eastern Bluebird, Flame-colored Tanager, Dusky Grouse, Gray Jay, Nutting's Flycatcher, and Black Rail I believe!

Friday, July 1, 2016

A New Birding Hotspot For The Public: The Dean and Beloat Riparian Area

Hi All!

Over the past couple years I have birded at a nice riparian corridor along the Gila River in Buckeye, AZ. This area has attracted some very nice birds like eastern vagrants and endangered breeders. Now I am happy to present that half of the D and B area is open to the public! Half of the Dean and Beloat area (southeast of the intersection) is on private property while the other half (southwest of the intersection) is public, the public half is better for birds anyways. PLEASE ONLY BIRD THE PUBLIC HALF. Here is a map of the area.

Red marks the area which is on private property (while everything else is open to the public), green marks the dirt stretch of Dean Road, black marks the parking area, and yellow marks the part of the dirt road which should be hiked.

Here is a closer map with the good stands of trees labeled as S (stand) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.

S1 is a small stand of willow and tamarask trees along with a super thick understory and some fairly healthy marsh habitat. In this area I have had special birds such as Ridgway's Rail (summer) and Fox Sparrow (winter). Although I haven't found anything particularly 'rare' in S1, I have no doubt that it has attracted many nice eastern vagrants and will, over the years, get its fair share of glory among birders.

S2 is one of the larger riparian areas and it has produced many great birds over the last couple of years! It has the largest willows in the area and the best habitat for vagrants in my opinion. In this stand of trees vagrants I have seen include Broad-winged Hawk, American Redstart, Black-and-white Warbler, and more! This area is also good for Yellow-billed Cuckoos too. This is one of the better stands of trees in the area for Western Screech-Owls as well.

S3 is a small stand of tall willow trees but although it is limited in habitat I have had a Winter Wren and a probable Brown Thrasher (heard only so I wasn't confident in calling it for sure) in this area. I also heard a Ridgway's Rail in the marshy habitat that borders this stand of trees.

S4 is like S3 but about three times as large and it seems to hold good birds usually. In the past I have had Black-and-white Warblers in here and a probable Blackburnian Warbler.

S5 has been the best stand of trees for rarities over the years. It is a thick stand of willows with nearby marsh, and tamarasks bordering it. In this stand of trees I have had Prothonotary Warbler, Black-and-white Warblers, American Redstarts, an American Redstart x parula sp. (likely Northern) hybrid, a pair of probable Streak-backed Orioles (long story short I got brief views of a pair of orioles that looked good for an adult male and 1st year female Streak-backed Oriole pair), and more!

S6 is a good stand of thick willows with a lot of water. In this area I have had a couple of potential rarities that got away before I could see anything diagnostic but a Swamp Sparrow who stayed for a couple weeks was nice.

S7 is a very different habitat from the rest of the area. It is a tamarask forest which is actually quite productive most of the time. In this area I have had notable birds such as a Northern Parula and Gray Catbird. Willow Flycatchers also appear to breed in this area.

Year-Round Residents 
Birds that mostly say year round at this spot and are common to uncommon include Mallard (year-round but more in the winter), Gambel's Quail, Neatropic and Double-crested Cormorants, Least Bittern (uncommon), Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret (more in the summer but still year-round), Cattle Egret (same as Snowy), Green Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron (same as Snowy), White-faced Ibis, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Cooper's Hawk (more in winter but still year-round), Virginia Rail (a lot more in winter but a a couple pairs stay to breed), Common Gallinule, Killdeer, Black-necked Stilt, Long-billed Curlew, Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Common Ground-Dove (mostly summer but they should be here in winter too), Mourning Dove, Greater Roadrunner, Barn Owl, Western Screech-Owl, Great Horned Owl, Burrowing Owl (in fields and ditches to the southeast), White-throated Swift (uncommon), Anna's Hummingbird, Gila Woodpecker, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Gilded Flicker (be cautious as there are Northern Flickers as this spot from fall-spring), American Kestrel, Black and Say's Phoebes, Ash-throated Flycatcher (more of a summer bird but still a couple here in the winter), Common Raven, Horned Lark, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Verdin, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Crissal Thrasher, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Phainopepla (very uncommon), Common Yellowthroat, Song Sparrow, Abert's Towhee, Red-winged Blackbird, Western Meadowlark (a lot mroe in the winter but a pair or two stay in the nearby fields for the summer as well), Yellow-headed Blackbird, Great-tailed Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch, and House Sparrow.

Barn Owl being chased by a Cooper's Hawk

Summer Breeders (June-July)
In addition to the species of bird that can be seen here year-round there are also birds that can only be seen here during the summer. Species that call Dean and Beloat their breeding grounds for the most part include Swainson's Hawk (a probable breeder somewhere down in the river but a lot more expected during the spring and fall), Ridgway's Rail (S1), Yellow-billed Cuckoo (mostly S1), White-winged Dove, Lesser Nighthawk, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Willow Flycatcher (mostly a migrant but at least one pair breeds here in S7)Western Kingbird, Cliff Swallow, Lucy's and Yellow Warblers, Yellow-breasted Chat, Summer Tanager, Blue Grosbeak, and Bullock's Oriole.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Wintering Birds (November-March)
Birds that are strictly wintering birds (snow birds) include Gadwall, American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, and about any species of wintering waterfowl (as there are large ponds on both sides of the D and B area), Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Bald Eagle, Sora, Greater Yellowlegs (also can be seen during migration), Least Sandpiper (same as Greater Yellowlegs), Wilson's Snipe, Belted Kingfisher, Northern Flicker, Red-naped Sapsucker, Merlin, Peregrine and Prairie Falcons, Vermilion Flycacther (around the house around the Dean and Beloat intersection), Loggerhead Shrike, House, Marsh, and Bewick's Wrens, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, American Pipit, Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, Lark Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, White-crowned Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow (very uncommon here), Savannah Sparrow, Lincoln's Sparrow, Green-tailed and Spotted Towhees, and Brewer's Blackbird. Uncommon to rare birds for this spot which I have seen here in the winter have included Wood Duck, White-tailed Kite, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Plumbeous Vireo, Dusky Flycatcher, Winter Wren, Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, Fox Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark, Pine Siskin, Lawrence's and American Goldfinches, and Evening Grosbeak.

Black-and-white Warbler

Spring and Fall migration (April-May and August-October)
Birds that I have seen here often that are strict migrants include Lesser Yellowlegs, Vaux's Swift, Western Wood-Pewee, Hammond's Flycatcher, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Cassin's and Warbling Vireos, Tree, Violet-green, Bank, and Barn Swallows, Nashville Warbler, MacGillivray's Warbler, Townsend's Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Brewer's Sparrow (could be seen in winter too), Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, and Hooded Oriole. In migration this spot is amazing with songbirds! And if one birds this area during migration you never know what you might find! Fall migration has treated me quite well providing many good rarities.

American Redstart x Parula sp. hybrid 

Here is the overview for this hotspot on eBird HERE. This page is very helpful in getting directions to this area and gaining a mindset of the birds that can be found here.

I made this post so other birders can explore this area and hopefully contribute to the eBird data of unique oasis. PLEASE BE RESPECTFUL TO ANYONE YOU ENCOUNTER WHILE AT THIS SPOT, BECAUSE, YOU, AS A BIRDER, REPRESENT THE ENTIRE BIRDING COMMUNITY. Keep an eye out for other wildlife to as there are a few species of large mammals that call this place home as well as snakes. This area can also have a good amount of mosquitoes in the late summer and fall so bring bug spray. Water is also important for birding anywhere in Arizona. Most of all, have a great time enjoying the birds and other wildlife of this new birding hotspot!!!

God Bless and BIRD HARD!!!


Saturday, June 25, 2016

Some Recent Owling

Recently I have been blessed as to have had the opportunity to go owling at a few spots around AZ. I'll start out with one of the less-recent owling expeditions. A couple months ago I went to Happy Jack Lodge to show Tommy D and Mr. Dominic Sherony some Flammulated Owls which I had found the year before and crushed. The whole night of owling in Happy Jack was amazing, I saw my favorite bird, Tommy got his first Flam for the year (only his second time seeing one), and Dominic got his lifer views and photos! Here are a couple of bad shots which I took.

Flammulated Owl

Another outing was at the  Boyce Thompson Arboretum where my good friend Joshua Smith and I were invited to do the Global Big Day Count. Josh and I decided that we don't get the freedom of birding without limits so we went all out and did 30+ hours of birding (with a full 24 hour day of birding). Although we observed over 80 species of bird (a record high count for the BTA) the highlight of the day, or should I say night, was the owls! Once darkness fell we heard some interesting calls from down in a creek. We followed the calls and then spotted one of the few animals giving these interesting mammal-like calls.

Mystery bird with the moon behind it

Once we turned on the flashlights we were greeted by a whole family of Western Screech-Owls!

Western Screech-Owl--juvenile

Three fledglings and two adults were within this short stretch of creek. The fledglings were continuously calling while the adults hunted for their hungry kids!

Western Screech-Owl--adult

One of the adults even brought a mouse to one of the younglings!

Western Screech-Owl--juvenile with mouse

Is it just me or does that owl look like a fierce lion with its prized catch?!

Or better yet, it was like watching Jurassic Park! Mr. Western Screech-Owl bid us farewell as we continued with our owling.

Western Screech-Owl--adult

Continuing with our scouting we observed an Elf Owl who made an appearance for a couple minutes before never being detected again.

Elf Owl

Before long the sun had risen and we were done with our first night/morning of owling. Racking up some nice birds like a young male Indigo Bunting we enjoyed the daylight hours of the count too! Before the long darkness had fallen yet again and we still needed Elf Owl for the official count. As we hiked through a wash we could hear a pair of Elf Owls calling in the distance. We hiked towards the sound of the calling birds and didn't only find them but found them at their nest!

Elf Owl

Seeing an ELOW in a saguaro cactus was something I've always wanted to observe. And this female was very cooperative!

Elf Owl

My next owing expedition brought me to Organ Pipe National Monument to check up on some Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls. While birding hard with Walker Noe about a month ago, we found a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl nest. Since then I have been out studying these birds and observing this rare and endangered type of Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl. When I arrived at the undisclosed location it didn't take me long to hear a male giving his contact calls. Following the bird around, he finally stood still and posed for photos.

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl

When hunting, FEPOs move around a lot usually not staying on a perch for too long. However, we caught this male while he was ready to get to sleep and he stayed perched on the same branch for a good fifteen or twenty minutes!

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl

The owl then decided it was time to do something productive and started hunting.

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl

The owl then started flying from saguaro to saguaro. I recognized that  the bird did the same thing last time before flying into its cavity never to come out again. Well sure enough the FEPO did the same thing this time! Luckily we were able to snap some photos before he left.

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl

 From desert owling I went up too the Chiricahua Mountains with Joshua Smith where we birded hard and did some owling. The purpose of us going to the Chiricahua Mountains was to attend a young birders camp which was...well, interesting. Nonetheless, I birded with some awesome people and saw some awesome birds! Throughout the camp Joshua Smith, and an awesome young birder who was at camp the year before Dorian, and I killed it and saw over 120 species of birds! Here's a photo of us birding hard!

Left to right: Me, Joshua, and Dorian

Once darkness fell on the first night we went out in hopes of seeing Whiskered Screech-Owls. I knew of some areas to look but the camp wanted to do their own thing, so I just went with the crowd. We ended up seeing a Whiskered Screech-Owl but there weren't any good photo ops, however, the camp allowed us to owl a little later than the rest of the group. It didn't take us long to find a WHSO on a great perch!

Whiskered Screech-Owl

Throughout the trip I had another chance at crushing Whiskered Screech-Owls, and I did...hard! It was also cool seeing a Whiskered Screech-Owl with so much rufousish/brown coloring in his plumage! Down in Central America there are brown morphed WHSOs so this bird likely had some brown morph genes.

Whiskered Screech-Owl

We followed a pair of WHSOs around the area and observed them interacting and working together.

Whickered Screech-Owl

Now I know that most of you are already on owl-overload but I have one more owl to show you! This was an owl which I, embarrassingly, have not crushed...until the other day! Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you some die-hard Northern Pygmy-Owl crushes!

Northern Pygmy-Owl

Oh yes crushing the Northern Pygmy-Owl has been a long delayed task. One might ponder what could be better than crushing one NOPO. Well, crushing several NOPOs of course!!!

Northern Pygmy-Owl--adult in foreground and fledgling in background

Words can't really serve these birds justice so I will leave you with these...

Northern Pygmy-Owl

There you go, that covers most of my owling which I have done this spring, I hope you all enjoyed!

God Bless and BIRD HARD!!!


Saturday, June 18, 2016

Reaching The Triple Three In Maricopa!

About a month ago Ms. Melanie Herring and Ms. Barb Meding were birding at Hassayampa River Preserve when they found a Thick-billed Kingbird! Thick-billed Kingbirds are very rare for Maricopa County with only a hand full of records (the only other record I know of was from this same spot but eight or so years ago). When I saw their listerve report I was shocked! I wanted to chase that bird right away but due to the preserve's hours and days they were open I wasn't able to chase this magnificent find. As a matter of fact, nearly a whole month went by and the bird was still being seen and I couldn't get out to see it! However, a quick call to my birding mentor, Mr. Joe Ford, changed my luck and before I knew it we had a whole group of people who wanted to see this bird. Now Mr. Ford is a good birder and an amazing teacher! As a matter of fact, Mr. Ford played (and still plays) a big part in my birding career and I have him to thank for where I now stand as a birder.On June 18th I woke up early in the morning to meet up with Mr. Ford, Mr. Paul Doucett, Ms. Mitra Samadani, and Mr. Jerry and Ms. Linda Molinelli to bird hard at the Hass! There were two possible Maricopers that I could get at the Hass, Thick-billed Kingbird (of course) and Purple Martin (usually just seen as a flyover by lucky birders). Arriving at the Hassayampa River Preserve, we observed a beautiful male Broad-billed Hummingbird flying back in forth from the trees to the feeders.

Broad-billed Hummingbird

Moving on with the hummingbirds we quickly hit the Mesquite Meander Trail (where there have been Thick-billed and Tropical Kingbirds) in hopes of Maricopering it hard! Yellow Warblers and Yellow-breated Chats were singing like crazy, out in the distance I heard the distinctive squeaky call of the Thick-billed Kingbird! We hiked down the trail further to where it was calling from and then, bam, Thick-billed Kingbird!

Thick-billed Kingbird--Maricoper #333!!!

It didn't hit me until now that the Thick-billed Kingbird was my 333rd species I had seen in Maricopa, what a cool milestone!

Thick-billed Kingbird

This photo almost shows how loud TBKIs are!

Thick-billed Kingbird

The Thick-billed Kingbird is a Mexican bird which reaches its furthest northern range in southeastern Arizona. Up until last month (when I was in SEAZ with Walker and Dalton) I had never seen a TBKI and it almost became a nemesis bird for me, however, Walker saved the day with his keen eyes! Seeing this bird in my home county was even better though! While we watched the TBKI a pair of Tropical Kingbirds flew in. The Tropical Kingbird is another Mexican bird who reaches its furthest northern range in southeastern Arizona, however, this species has started to move north and is now a regular breeder at Hassayampa (with at least 3-6 pairs along the Hassayampa River)!

Tropical Kingbird

Throughout the rest of our Hassayampa exploration we encountered cool birds such as a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, a couple of Willow Flycatchers, more Tropical Kingbirds, and this distant female Bronzed Cowbird.

Bronzed Cowbird

It was nice getting back into birding Maricopa County and this outing kinda resparked my passion for birding Maricopa County! Getting my 333rd bird for MC was awesome as well! Haha, now I'm only 67 species away from my goal of getting 400 species in Maricopa County, a task which no one has yet to conquer! However, reaching this goal would mean I pretty much have to live in MC for the rest of my life and life is practically impossible to predict, so I have no idea if I will end up reaching this goal!

In the mean time, have a great week everyone!!!

God Bless and BIRD HARD!!!