Wednesday, May 13, 2015

When You Feel Like You're Being Watched...

In the last week I have birded at a few desert oasis's. Like Estrella Mountain Regional Park, the Glendale Recharge Ponds, the Agua Fria Riverbed off of Camelback Rd, Granite Reef Rec. Site, and the last was a night-trip to Coon Bluff Rec. Area. Birding in the desert can be awesome because you never know what you might find, but for some reason no-matter what time of day or night it is you always feel like you're being watched!

All of these areas can be very birdy, with Estrella being the closest of the five I visit that area the most. On May 9th it was the "International Big Day" and I birded at Estrella. I didn't expect for Estrella to be very active but I was wrong! Estrella has monthly bird-walks that are led by Mr. Joe Ford on the second Saturday of every month, but the time that they start at changes from season to season. So, if any of you are interested in joining  Mr. Ford and possibly myself on the monthly bird-walks they are posted on the Sonoran Audubon website, and the bird-walks should be on the upcoming events-page or on their calender. My Mom, Alexia, and I arrived a half hour before the walk started so we could start birding a little earlier and see what was around the Visitor Center. As we started birding I checked up on a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher nest that I found last month and I was surprised to find a baby Brown-headed Cowbird in the nest! Here are some photos of the gnatcatcher.

Black-tailed Gnatcher

Once the bird-walk began we had a bran-spank'in-big group of 23 people that wanted to see birds. As soon as we started birding I spotted I beautiful Cassin's Vireo that pumped-up all of the birders!

Cassin's Vireo

Other awesome birds that we saw around the park before we walked across Vineyard Rd. towards the big lakes included: Black-headed Grosbeaks, Western Tanagers, Bullock's Orioles, Dusky, Vermilion , and Brown-crested Flycatchers, and Western Wood-Pewee. Once we walked across the road and hiked for about a half mile we ran into a whole mixed feeding-flock of birds that included: Townsend's, Yellow, Yellow-rumped, Wilson's and Orange-crowned Warblers, Western Wood-Pewee, Hammond's Flycatchers, a Crissal Thrasher, and a Warbling Vireo. After scanning through the mixed feeding-flock we then hiked a bit further and reached the lakes where there was a nice Forster's Tern that showed off nicely for our group.

Forster's Tern

When nearly all of the group started heading back Alexia and I stayed behind and tried to call in some rails in the marshy habitat near the lakes. As soon as I played the Virginia Rail call we heard one call right in front of us! We waited a little while and the bird eventually came out into the open for a few seconds, and both of us took some great photos of this elusive marsh-chicken.

Virginia Rail

Look at those toes!

 We ended the morning of birding with a whopping 70+ species of bird (a record high for Estrella) and a few new birds for this under-birded hotspot! 

The next birding adventure was on May 11th. This outing included the Glendale Recharge Ponds, the Agua Fria Riverbed off of Camelback Rd, Granite Reef, and Coon Bluff. I had good company on this trip, which included Mr. John, and Mrs. Janet Kafel, as well as Alexia. The Glendale Recharge Ponds were fairly dead but we still managed to squeeze a few birds into the short stop like a Willet, a baby Black-necked Stilt, and some Wilson's Phalaropes. We then drove over to the Agua Fria Riverbed and did a short scan of the area and we were pleased to find my first for Arizona Bonaparte's Gull flying way out in the distance as it was being chased by the vicious American Avocets. Once we had it with waiting for the gull to come any closer we drove on over to Culver's for dinner.  Mr. John and I joke around about this tasty burger-joint as being our luck charm when it comes to birding! After eating our delicious burgers we decided to finally make our way towards the Salt River where our first stop was at Granite Reef. My target bird for this location was what would have been my life Bronzed Cowbird, but I somehow (somehow, as in 95% of the people who come here get this bird) missed it by a million miles! I can already see this bird as being a nemesis, but I'm hoping not. We kept on walking back and forth through the picnic area for forty-five minutes without luck, but we did get some pretty good looks at a Brown-crested Flycatcher.

Brown-crested Flycatcher 

This was my first time birding at the reef so I had an awesome time exploring a new area and enjoying the beautiful sites! Once the sun started setting we made our way towards Coon Bluff where we were going to do some owling. As soon as we arrived we were welcomed by some Riff-Raff who were blasting music from their cars,  but spotting this Desert Spiny Lizard spiced things up a little.

We then drove back up the road a little ways to where it was quieter, where we were very pleased with the nightjar show that was going on. We could hear and see Lesser Nighthawks and Common Poorwills as well as a flyover Barn Owl and the distant calling of a Great Horned Owl. While it got darker and darker the owls started waking up. I could hear my lifer Elf Owl calling out in the distance but even with our many attempts to get closer we just couldn't seem to get within a considerable range of any Elfs. We then started walking back towards the Riff-Raff camp when we heard a couple of Western Screech-Owls calling from close proximity. I have only seen a WSOW once and it was a brief view so I was trying quite hard to get a visual of one of these birds. Once we got to the point to where we were nearly under the owl I finally spotted it from about fifteen feet away!

Western Screech-Owl

It was awesome to finally get good looks of this desert-dweller and as the bird flew off we relocated it and had an even better view!

Before long the the WSOW finally gave its typical unimpressed-owl-look.

After having some amazing looks at the WSOW  we continued trying for the Elf but is must have been helping Santa out or something, because they just didn't seem like there were as many as there should have been, anyways it is getting close to Christmas-in-July, don't you think? So the moral of the story is, if you ever feel like you're being watched in the desert just look over your shoulder and you might find that it's just a tiny owl.


  1. Wonderful Caleb! Love that first photo. Very artsy.....and just overall cool. I don't mind being watched.....just as long as it isn't a rabid Mountain Lion:) Lots of great birds around the state right now which includes many great nesting owls!

  2. Thanks Mr. Chris! One day I will be able to try and photograph those higher elevation owls. One day I will photograph that darn Flam... one day I tell you!