Friday, June 3, 2016

Birding Hard in SEAZ (Day 3)

Hoot...hoo hoo...hoo! Walker woke me up from a dream I had where a Spotted Owl was calling. A few seconds after being awakened I noticed what I heard wasn't a dream but a real Spotted Owl! What a way to start the day! Light started to brighten the morning sky as stars faded in the Chiricahua Mountains. Cordilleran Flycatchers and Great Horned Owls started calling both near and far. It was time to pack up camp. We had stuff to be done, like seeing Slate-throated Redstarts! As soon as we set up camp we drove a little ways up the road to where the redstart had been seen. We birded the drainage for about a half hour before it hit us that it was strange that we hadn't run into any birders. So when a car drove by and stopped we asked what was up and found that we were searching the wrong drainage! Walker had suspected this but the drainage that we were in seemed fitting for the description in past listserve reports. Embarrassingly, we ran back to our car and then drove over to where they had just seen the bird. Upon arriving, no one had seen the bird since 5:15 in the morning, while we were checking the false drainage. Now it didn't take much to see that Walker and Dalton were a bit disappointed in my major failure, so I knew I had to pay them back! After waiting around the Slate-throated Redstart's nest for over three hours our hopes of getting this bird started falling quickly. I decided that since there were quite a few birders watching the nesting area they likely wouldn't miss it without me, so I thought I'd check the surrounding area in hopes of finding it. Hiking up the drainage, I started pishing and doing my "Mountain" Northern Pygmy-Owl imitation whistle in hopes of bringing in a mixed feeding flock of birds. The first birds to come in were a pair of Mexican Chickadees!

Mexican Chickadee


Once the chickadees started scolding me a lot of other birds started coming in. First a pair of Painted Redstarts, then some Yellow-eyed Juncos, a Spotted Towhee, a Hammond's Flycatcher, a Townsend's Warbler, a Red-faced Warbler, and then WHAT?!?!?!?! THE SLATE-THROATED REDSTART!!!!!!!

Slate-throated Redstart

Once I spotted our bird I immediately started yelling "WALKER!!!". I had to hike a ways down the canyon to get to a point where anyone could hear me. A man came hiking up the drainage and right when I got him on the bird I sprinted down the steep hill jumping over dead logs, and sliding down the hillside until I got to Walker and Dalton. I yelled that I had the bird and once they came running I returned to the man who was still watching the bird!

Slate-throated Redstart



Walker and Dalton along with another nice birder came up the hill shortly behind me and I quickly got them on the bird. We were ecstatic about this find, adding to the sickening amount of icing on our birding cake! However, there were a few other birders down the hill coming up so I ran back down to them in an attempt to get them on the bird. Unfortunately, when I returned the bird was gone never to be seen again. We didn't stick around for long after we lost the bird, because, we had other spots to hit before the day ended. Our next spot we hit was the Southwestern Research Center where we had plans to watch the feeders. On our way to the research center we were stopped by the birders who we ran into earlier and they told us that  they just had an American Redstart at the Southwestern Research Center!!! The three of us were pumped at the thought of having a triple redstart day!!! With even more determination, we zoomed on over to the research center where we were greeted by a few Blue-throated Hummingbirds!

Blue-throated Hummingbird

While we were watching the hummingbirds Walker spotted out third redstart of the day, an adult female American Redstart, bringing us up to a triple redstart hour!!!

American Redstart


The American Redstart was a lifer for Dalton so that was very cool! We decided to photograph a nearby Painted Redstart just to show you three redstart species in a single post.

Painted Redstart

A super tame Western Wood-Pewee was quite cool to see as well!

Western Wood-Pewee


From the Chiricahuas we drove on over to the Santa Ritas where we'd stay the night near Madera Canyon. The Plain-capped Starthroat was still being seen from time to time at the Santa Rita Lodge and I really wanted that bird! So our first and only stop in Madera Canyon for the day was, of course, the Santa Rita Lodge. We scanned the feeders for a good two and a half hours before darkness fell. Although we didn't see any rare hummingbirds I did get my photo-lifer Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher which was nice.

Suphur-bellied Flycatcher

Once darkness fell we were excited for another great night of owling! The first nocturnal birds to start calling were the Mexican Whip-poor-wills and Whiskered Screech-Owls.

Whiskered Screech-Owl

Owls were less vocal in the upper portion of the canyon then our previous owling trip so we decided to hit the lower elevations where the trees were shorter and the owls were plenty! Seeing a Whiskered Screech-Owl calling from a telephone wire was something I never thought I'd see!

Whiskered Screech-Owl

While I was following the Whiskered Screech-Owls around I heard an Elf Owl calling from fairly close so I put my flashlight on where the sound was coming from and was surprised to spot an Elf on a perfect perch!

Elf Owl


Although I should have been able to get way better crushes than what I got this was my first time crushing ELOW so I was content with what I got. We then drove down even lower in elevation to Proctor road where we spent the night. While we were setting up our tent we heard a Western Screech-Owl calling in the distance. Walker and I knew it wasn't only mid-night but it was crush-night!!! After tracking down where the owl was calling from we spotted our 10th owl of our trip, a beautiful female Western Screech-Owl!

Western Screech-Owl

This Western Screech-Owl was the most cooperative owl I have ever encountered in the wild! It was fearless and allowed us to get within less than four feet away from her as she stood less than four feet above the ground!

Western Screech-Owl


A question I commonly get asked his how to identify Western and Whiskered Screech-Owls apart. Here are a few different ways for telling them apart.

1. Common calls: Western gives a bouncing-ball song of fairly deep hoots. Another call which Western frequently gives (mostly in response to its own call) is a trill of hoots Here is a recording with both the bouncing-ball call and the trill WESO call. Whiskered, on the other hand, gives a descending serous of hoots lowering in pitch (listen here) along with a mores-code-like song of fairly high-pitched hoots (listen here). Whiskered also gives a barking contact call which is sometime mistaken for the barking call of the Spotted Owl (listen here)

2. Identification by sight: In my experience, Western has a black, or at least, mostly black bill as where Whiskered has a greenish bill. Western also seems to have large while Whiskered has small feet. The streaking pattern on the front of both birds is different too. I have also noticed that Whiskered seems to have a lighter gray belly than Western. I have noticed some difference in the eyes but I'm not sure if that is, at all, reliable. Whiskered seems to have a smaller body in proportion to its head than Western does too. Here are a couple photos bellow to help you see the differences between these two similar species.

Whiskered Screech-Owl (left) and Western Screech-Owl (right)

 I ended the day with one lifer which was more than enough, considering it was a code 4! We still had one more half-day left and it would be spent sitting at the Santa Rita Lodge waiting for the starthroat to come in. Stay tuned to read how my last day in SEAZ ended!

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