Saturday, October 17, 2015

Last Minute Pipit

It's always nice when you're traveling and a rare bird happens to be hanging out a few miles from where you're staying.  However, it can be difficult when you're there with your family for only a few days.  By difficult I mean you might start to develop a twitch.  Throw in two more rare and potential life birds in the area and you've got yourself a real problem.  But these are good problems to have.

So the question was, what bird do I try for in between family time and an all day pelagic?  The Red-throated Pipits were the closest.  But a Pacific Golden-Plover and a Ruff were calling my name too.

After a six-hour drive we arrived in San Diego at 2 a.m.  Apparently we took the Arizona heat with us because by the time we woke up in the morning it was already in the 80's.  No time to look for birds.  We had to get to the beach before it got too hot.  By 1:00 it was a record 96 degrees!  I sure wasn't expecting that.  After being zapped by the sun and humidity I decided to take a nap.  I needed my sleep for the 12-hour pelagic the following day.  The last thing I wanted to do was get sick on the boat (they say sleep helps with that?).

Then just before sundown I saw a brief opportunity to look for the pipits.  The dog run where they had been seen was on the way to dinner and Fiesta Island was a cool name.  Well I wasn't expecting such a big area.  Even knowing the field where they had been seen didn't help much.  There was too much area to cover and too many Horned Larks and pipits to sort through in the time I had.  After twenty minutes I got a call that our son had fallen in the water and we needed to go back to where we were staying to change him.  "You wanted a boy."  True.  Fiesta?  Not so much.  Would I ever get another chance at a Red-throated Pipit?  

Fast forward through my pelagic trip on Sunday (more on that later).

Monday morning I woke up with a sore neck, legs, and back from being on the boat for twelve hours.  But it was early enough that I could try for the pipits again, or so I thought.  After an hour and a half of searching through even more larks and pipits than before, I was ready to give up.  I had already ruined our plans for our last morning by staying too long.  I decided to walk back to the truck the long way as a last ditch effort.  Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a bird fly up high and back down onto a mound of dirt.  I got my bins on it and there it was!  At the very last minute.  Another bird came and they flew off together, but I couldn't confirm if it was the second pipit.

Red-throated Pipit w/o much of a red throat
These birds are widespread across Northern Europe and Asia.  They only come to a very limited area of western Alaska to nest but a few can sometimes be found along the California coast in fall.  I was very lucky to see it!

CERange Map for Red-throated Pipit      

Since the pipits were first found earlier in the month, a bunch of good birds have been found in the same field including Lapland and McCown's Longspur, Bobolink, Varied Bunting, Grasshopper Sparrow, and Mountain Plover.  What a great spot!  More on the pelagic when I get a chance.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

March Madness!

I was on my computer waiting for the Arizona basketball game to start when the shocking news came in: A Slate-throated Redstart had been found on Mt. Lemmon in the Catalina Mountains on the last day of winter!  This Mexican immigrant has been documented about ten other times in Arizona, mostly from the Chiricahua and Huachuca Mountains.  This is the earliest and northernmost record for Arizona and maybe the U.S.  The other sightings are from New Mexico and Texas.  But Texas (Southern) is no match for Arizona when it comes to basketball and Slate-throated Redstart sightings.

After Arizona's dominating basketball performance, I zoomed up to Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Area (elev. 5,000 ft.).  I immediately ran into Andrew Core and in a minute we found four birders aiming their optics intently into the trees.  Good sign, they had the bird and we knew it!  As we got there, I saw a flash of a bird fly to the back of a juniper as the other birders called out its movement.  It was overcast and the bird busily moved from tree to tree and up a wash stringing us along and rarely sitting still.  What a beautiful bird!  I can't complain about its activeness.  It put on quite a show fanning and flashing its tail, giving much better looks than the bird I saw two years ago in Huachuca Canyon.



 March Madness has officially begun!

Slate-throated Redstart range map

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Winter Break Birding

I've been able to get out and do some birding the past couple of weeks.  I started off by chasing longspurs and a Fulvous Whistling-Duck in Buckeye with the new Arizona Big Year record holder Laurens Halsey.  He needed Lapland Longspur for the year and I needed McCown's Longspur.  The longspurs were found by a young birder named Caleb.  We searched for a couple hours through dozens of Horned Larks without locating them.  Our luck and timing were bad because Caleb spotted them later in the day after we had left.  The duck was also a no-show.  However, we did see this nice hawk for a few seconds before it took off...

Ferruginous Hawk
...and this harrier.

Northern Harrier- photo by Laurens Halsey
We also saw 125 Long-billed Curlew and 179 Killdeer, a high count for the year (at the time) for Maricopa County.  Even though we missed our target birds, it was a great day of birding with Laurens.

A few days later I went to Florida Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains to look for a Gray Catbird.  It was cold in the canyon when I arrived and there was little bird activity.  After an hour of waiting, the catbird made a brief appearance and then disappeared.  Lifer, MEOW!

Gray Catbird
CERange Map for Gray Catbird

The only other cooperative bird was this sparrow that perched out in the open despite the wind.

Rufous-winged Sparrow
On New Year's Day we woke up to snow on the ground in Tucson!

photo courtesy
I decided to chase three would-be county birds: Eastern Bluebird, Wilson's Snipe, and Eastern Phoebe.  The snipe was the most common bird I still needed for my county list.  I had seen 338 species in the county without seeing a snipe, how embarrassing.  So I headed out to the Santa Cruz River at Ina Road where they're known to be in the winter.  It didn't take long before I flushed one along the water.  Finally!  Getting a decent photo of one is another story.

Next I was off to Fort Lowell Park to look for Eastern Bluebirds.  A few of the regulars made appearances.

Belted Kingfisher

Northern Mockingbird

Phainopepla female

Phainopepla male

Red-tailed Hawk
Then I spotted eight bluebirds.  They moved around a lot but most of them were Eastern Bluebirds with a couple westerns mixed in.  The easterns are rare in Pima County but were found on the Tucson Valley Christmas Bird Count not too far from this park.

Eastern Bluebird male

Eastern Bluebird female
CERange Map for Eastern Bluebird

I also photographed a handsome male Ladder-backed Woodpecker.  By luck it was chosen for Flickr Eplore.  At least this one's better than my other one that was chosen in September.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Next I headed to Sabino Canyon to look for an Eastern Phoebe.  I spent almost an hour looking for it above the dam but only saw four species and no phoebe.  Bummer!  But I did see a few cooperative birds on the hike to the dam.

Cedar Waxwing

Western Bluebird female

Western Bluebird male

Western Bluebird & Lesser Goldfinch

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
It was a great way to begin the New Year.  In 2015 I hope to continue to add to my county list.  Here are ten I'm hoping for from most to least possible:

1. Grasshopper Sparrow- breed near the county line
2. Juniper Titmouse- uncommon in Reddington Pass
3. Winter Wren- one currently in Florida Canyon
4. Flammulated Owl- Catalina Mountains
5. Cassin's Finch- been seen recently in the Catalinas
6. Black Tern- maybe
7. Common Black Hawk- fat chance
8. Ferruginous Hawk- yeah right
9. Long-billed Curlew- not likely
10. Eurasian Wigeon- ha

Hope you're off to a great new year of birding!


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Better Late Than Never

It's been a very busy fall for me!  Luckily the little birding I've been able to do has been good.  Here are a few of the goodies, all seen in Tucson.

Fortunately the male Baltimore Oriole that's been around for a few weeks showed itself nicely yesterday.  I dipped on it last weekend after two hours of scouring the area it had been seen.  I only had an hour to look for it Saturday morning, but spotted it right away.  It moved around a lot from tree to tree but gave a few of us great looks in the morning light.  Handsome dude!

lifer Baltimore Oriole, Sweetwater Wetlands
There are only about a dozen records for Southeast Arizona.

CERange Map for Baltimore Oriole

Back at the end of September I found this scene at a nearby flood-control basin.

Sam Lena Park/Kino Ecosystem Restoration Project
One of the most common birds in the world, Cattle Egrets are rare year-round here.  They were a nice surprise!  Also invited to the party were Great Egrets, Neotropic Cormorants, and Least Sandpipers.  By sheer dumb-luck this photo was selected by the Flickr algorithm for its Explore page and has over 16,000 views.  I took it solely for documentation purposes so it's funny how that happened.  My girls think of views on Instagram or YouTube as cool points, so it was nice for them to think of me as cool... for a minute.  

Here are a few others from the same location.

Barn Swallow
Burrowing Owls are always a treat to see,

as are the abundant Vermilion Flycatchers around town.

Reid Park 
For some reason, McCormick Park is a rare sapsucker magnet.  Must be the sap, duh!  It recently produced these two suckers.

Red-breasted Sapsucker

immature Yellow-bellied Sapsucker showing red head feathers
That's all for now friends, hope to be back soon!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Switcheroo Curlew?

On Sunday a Long-billed Curlew was reported at a recharge basin six miles west of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.  I had one day left of summer vacation and I needed it for my county list.  So Monday morning I ventured out to the Central Arizona Project (CAP) recharge basin in Avra Valley.  After pulling off to the side of the road I stood in the back of my truck in order to peer over the fence and berm.  The bird was very distant even in my 10x binoculars, I wished I had a scope!  It was working the mud along the edge of the water.  As I watched it, I noticed it had a shorter bill than any other curlew I had seen.  However, I knew bill length varied a lot and this could have been a short billed, young curlew.  Plus a Whimbrel would be super rare.  But the head pattern looked bold and the overall impression was slimmer than a curlew with less buffy tones.  I hung around hoping to get a look at the underwing since a curlew's would be an obvious cinnamon color, but it never showed.  I snapped some photos and hoped they would tell me more.  Here are some very distant and heavily cropped shots:

This photo shows a hint of the pale center head stripe

I sent the photos to a couple people and told them what I had seen.  The experts weren't sure about the ID from the photos, so a group of them went out and took a look at it for themselves.  I wish I had been there to get a photo of all of them trying to figure out how to look through their scopes while sitting on the roof of their car and bracing themselves with the door open and one foot on the edge of the door-frame.  They all agreed it was indeed a Whimbrel!  They saw the pale median crown stripe and plain underwing, and even heard it give its alarm call.  State bird dance time...

This is a very rare bird for Southeast Arizona with most records occurring in the spring.  It's extremely rare in Pima County- the only other known record is a flyby sighting from eight years ago in Green Valley.

 Whimbrel Range Map 

Now off to find the much-more-common-but-still-rare-in-the-county Long-billed Curlew!

***UPDATE- Tuesday evening a Long-billed Curlew was spotted along side of the Whimbrel.  I wonder if the original observer really did see the Long-billed Curlew and the Whimbrel just took it's place for a day while it was hanging out nearby?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Tricolored Heron

Yesterday a vagrant immature Tricolored Heron was discovered at a golf course pond not far from my home.  This afternoon it had moved to a different pond but was still there.  I saw these a few months ago in San Carlos, Mexico but they were always too far away to get a photo.

CERange Map for Tricolored Heron
I also found five immature Cooper's Hawks hanging out in the same tree, by far the most I've ever seen together.