Thursday, June 16, 2016

Birding Hard in SEAZ (The Finale!!!)

Only a few days after Walker, Dalton, and I 'ended' our bird hard SEAZ trip an unbelievable report came into the AZNM Listserve and Facebook. Dave Stejskal had been camping out at Aliso Springs in a desolate canyon along the east flank of the Santa Rita Mountains (near where I had recently seen the Red-headed Woodpecker) and while he was camping he found a very interesting empidonax flycatcher. Now this empid looked like a gray Western 'type' Flycatcher with a nearly entirely orange lower mandible. The thing that stuck out most, however, was the soft "whip" call this bird frequently gave. After having a vague idea on what this bird was, Dave went out along with some more of AZ's best birders and they made the call that this was the first record for the United States Pine Flycatcher!!!!!! Once Walker informed me of this amazing find we desperately searched for a ride down to where it was, three hours away from Phoenix. So after some confusion in last second planning Walker, Dalton, and I had a ride to the Pine Flycatcher! Our ride for the flycatcher was from Phoenix at noon, so Walker and I made plans to do some birding before noon. Our plans were to go for Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls in Organ Pipe National Monument with a good friend of our's and then after hopefully seeing the Ferru Pygs we'd return to Phoenix and go for the flycatcher. At around five in the morning we arrived at Organ Pipe and started our search. Before today I had only heard a FEPO once giving its rapid "tooting" call. So once we got to our 'stakeout spot' it wasn't long before we spotted a chunky brown bird fly into a mesquite. I lifted my binocs and all I said after that was "OH MY GOSH!!!! OH MY GOSH!!!!! OH MY GOSH!!!!!!"

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl

It was a our Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl! After enjoying distant views for a while Walker and I fallowed the bird up a hill to where we had better views.

Fallowing our prized bird around, it eventually flew up on the top of a saguaro cactus where it starred down upon the scenic desert environment.

Now after observing the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl for a good amount of time I came to the conclusion that the FEPO is the Northern Hawk Owl of the southwest. Now although the FEPO is a lot smaller than the hawk owl it makes up in fierceness and and authority! A male FEPO was once observed taking down a Mourning Dove three times its own weight!

In Arizona we get a distinct population of FEPOs called the Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl. Just over a hundred years ago the CFPO ranged as far north as New River just north of Phoenix. Unfortunately, over the year the Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl has become endangered and there are now only a few pairs left in AZ.

While Walker and I followed this female CFPO around it all the sudden flew into a whole in a saguaro cactus. This was its nest and it had fledglings!

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl's nesting cavity (note the FEPO's feather on the right side of the whole)

When the female FEPO flew into the cavity we heard fledglings begging, what a good sign! We kept our distance from the cavity and waited a few minutes for it to come out before we called it quits.

After a nice breakfast in Gila Bend we made our way back to Phoenix where we met up with fellow birder James McKay who gave Walker, Dalton, and I a ride to the Pine Flycatcher (Thanks Mr. James, you're awesome!). After a three hour drive to Gardener Canyon Road (near Sonoita) we turned off the highway and drove nine and a half miles on dirt roads. In many spots the road was rough but we were chasing an ABA 1st so we could care less! Arriving at Aliso Springs there was only one car present (I guess most of the birders were scared off by the rough road). We got out of the car and the birders kindly pointed out the Pine Flycatcher's nest! We waited a few seconds before I spotted our target bird flying in! The bird then landed nearly straight above our heads!

Pine Flycatcher!!!

Once the flycatcher came in cameras were firing like machine-guns! Why? Because it was an ABA first, of course!

Pine Flycatcher--note the entirely orange lower mandible 

The Pine Flycatcher is a Mexican bird who's range is quite restricted. What was funny and cool was that no one who I was with had ever heard of a Pine Flycatcher before today!

Pine Flycatcher

Throughout our long observation of this Mexican vagrant it was building a nest in an oak tree. It would collect nesting material like spider webs,small twigs, lichen, and such and bring it to its nest where it would sit on the nest and give it its shape.

Pine Flycatcher on nest

Walker, Dalton, James, and I were pumped to see the Pine Flycatcher! It was hard to leave this bird but we had one more spot we wanted to hit really quick before heading back to Phoenix. Since the Red-headed Woodpecker wasn't too far out of the way on our way back to the valley we stopped by to try to get James his state lifer. Upon arriving, Walker and I very briefly saw the woodpecker fly into the oak woodlands. Hopefing to relocate the woodpecker we had some nice birds like a calling Whiskered Screech-Owl (in the day!). While we were hiking along a creek we noticed a pair of Montezuma Quail cross the creek and go into some grass. We were quite sure that the quail were hunched down in the grass so we walked around this 20x20 square foot patch of grass for a couple minutes. I started to think that the quail left without us noticing and we started to tell stories of how scary it can be when you nearly step on a MONQ and they flush from less than a foot away. While we were in the middle of our conversation "BOOM!!!!" the Montezuma Quail flushed right on cue! After nearly having a heart-attack we hiked back up to where the woodpecker had usually been seen and it didn't take us too long to find it sitting on a snag.

Red-headed Woodpecker

Ending the day with a code three owl, an ABA 1st record, and a rare for AZ RHWO was amazing! Before the owl and flycatcher Walker, Dalton, and I's bird hard SEAZ trip was scored at 8/10 but these birds brought us to a pure 10/10!!! We ended up getting 17 of the 18 lifers which we chased which was super awesome and I have God to thank for this trip and our success!!! Saying farewell to the Noe family was hard but perhaps another out-of-state trip to Idaho and Washington is to come, I do need Great Gray, Boreal, and Barred Owls so it would be nice to see those birds. In the mean time, AZ has a lot of nice owls and the monsoon breeders are starting to come in so I have a lot to keep me busy!

Have a great week everyone!

God Bless and BIRD HARD!!!


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