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.



Friday, July 11, 2014

Baby Whiskered Screech-Owls!

Today I took the family to Madera Canyon to enjoy the beautiful weather and hummingbirds.  We missed the rare Plain-capped Starthroat and White-eared Hummingbird (despite someone trying to turn a Magnificent and Broad-billed into them).  Ice cream treats from the Santa Rita Lodge can only keep four kids interested for so long.  But we were treated to an awesome sighting of two baby Whiskered Screech-Owls that had just shown themselves for the first time.  The kids loved them!






Are they cute or what?
 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Tucson Tremor and a Marbled Godwit

Some things in Tucson never change in June, like 100+ degree temperatures.  But in the last few days we've had two very rare occurrences.  Bird wise, on Thursday morning this Marbled Godwit was found at Kennedy Lake.

   
It's a rare bird for Pima County.  In fact, it's my first one in the county.  And it's extremely rare for June.  Before this bird I'd only seen three in Arizona, all on different occasions at Lake Cochise in Willcox.  I've seen a bunch in California and always enjoy watching them.  It's there beautiful patterning and long bi-colored bill that I like the most.  To the dismay of many birders, this bird was a one-day wonder.
Last night I experienced something I've never felt in my 36 years living in Tucson, a tremor!  There was a 5.2 magnitude earthquake in Greenlee County just east of Safford, AZ at 10:00 pm.  This is about 150 miles east of Tucson.  I was watching TV when my bed began to shake and a few things rattled in the drawer of the bedside table for about 15 seconds.  What a shock!  I wonder if it startled the birds?  I've felt a couple earthquakes in California while on vacation, but I never expected to feel one here.  If you're from California you're undoubtedly laughing at this entire post.  You probably don't even flinch at what I felt.  Only Tucsonans would get excited over a Marbled Godwit and a little earthquake.  It's also the same city where schools closed a few years ago because of an inch of snow.  So California, you're not the only state that's laughed at us before about birds and forces of nature.

  
Now neighbors will have something more to talk about other than the blasted heat and why you're pointing binoculars at their house.  Read and see more about the Tucson Tremor here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Mexican Chickadees On My Mind

I finally decided after many years of procrastination to try for the Mexican Chickadee in the Chiricahua Mountains.  My only excuse for not trying sooner is that the Catalina and Santa Rita Mountains are much closer to me and have similar birds.  But these tiny birds don't live in these mountain ranges.  They can only be seen in the US in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona and the Animas Mountains of southwestern New Mexico.

I got an early start on Sunday morning and reached Lake Cochise in Willcox by 6 a.m.  I was hoping to find the Snowy Plover that had been there for a couple weeks.  No luck.  There were a few California and Ring-billed Gulls, rare this time of year and difficult to tell apart in similar plumage.

I did finally manage to get a mediocre photo of a Scaled Quail.

Scaled Quail
No offense to the quail, I wondered if that was going to be the highlight of the day.  Near the golf course Cassin's Kingbirds were singing sweet nothings to one another.

Cassin's Kingbird
Black-necked Stilts were chilling in the shallows.

Black-necked Stilt
The nice thing was I didn't have to get out of my car for these shots.  I was on a mission, on to the Chiricahuas!

Pinery Canyon
As the trees transitioned from oaks to pines, I slowed down and listened for the chickadee's buzzy call.  After the second one-lane bridge I thought I heard it.  I got out of the car and there it was!  I couldn't believe it.  As I watched I noticed there were at least three birds.  They were difficult to photograph, so I spent a while trying to get a good shot.  Unfortunately I never got a great one, but here are a few.



Mexican Chickadee
I feel extremely lucky to have seen them, I'm told they're tough to find this time of year.  As the birds moved on, I continued walking down the road.  Western Tanagers were singing all along the canyon.  Bridled Titmice were tough to photograph too.

Bridled Titmouse
I drove down the road and all was very quiet until something caught my attention crossing the road, a Montezuma Quail!

female Montezuma Quail
As the female crossed the road I looked ahead to see if there was a male with her.  There was, my luck continued!


male Montezuma Quail
This was only the second time I'd ever seen this species and this was a much better look than when I saw a pair in the Santa Ritas.  Satisfied with two awesome sightings, I headed out of the canyon.  I stopped at Lake Cochise again to check if anything new had arrived.  There were many more White-faced Ibis, now 34.  And 42 Long-billed Curlews had showed up, the most I'd ever seen.

Long-billed Curlew
It was another amazing day in Southeast Arizona!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

San Carlos, Sonora, MX Day 4

On my last morning in San Carlos I decided to check a pond behind Blackie's Restaurant that I had read about on another blog.  The pond isn't visible from the main road through town because of vegetation so I never would have seen it.  I parked in a dirt lot west of the restaurant.  I noticed some people had set up their home in between the pond and the lot, so I decided to walk the long way around.  They stared at me and I'm sure wondered what the heck I was doing.  I didn't take a lot of photos since I was by myself and kept my camera hidden in a bag most of the time.  This was the only time I felt a little nervous while in Mexico.  I did manage a shot of one of the 21 Bonaparte's Gulls I found there.

Gaviota de Bonaparte - Bonaparte's Gull
I also saw three Lesser Scaup, a Laughing Gull, Inca Doves, and lots of Northern Rough-winged Swallows.  If you ever go here, I suggest parking along Camino de los Seris north of the pond along the golf course.

Back at the condo I had my best views of Blue-footed Booby.



Bobo de Patas Azules - Blue-footed  Booby
I also witnessed a couple frigatebirds and a gull harassing a tern with a fish.  It was quite a show!


But the real show came about an hour later when I witnessed a massive feeding frenzy, something I've never seen from shore.  There were cormorants, Brown Pelicans, Yellow-footed Gulls, Heermann's Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls, Magnificent Frigatebirds, Blue-footed Boobies, Elegant and Royal Terns.


I watched the video on a big screen hoping to find a storm-petrel or shearwater, but I didn't have any luck.  Overall it was a wonderful trip with four lifers seen along with lots of other wonderful birds.  One year I hope to go back in the winter when more species are around and maybe go out on a boat.