Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Super Bird Sunday

1. Mt. Graham-kab Mt. Graham as seen from Roper Lake State Park 2-3-13

On Superbowl Sunday while everyone else was preparing for a day long marathon of football and parties Chris and I were up before dawn and headed east on I-10. Our destination was Greenlee County along the New Mexico border, where I had noticed on eBird that not one bird list had been submitted so far this year. Since Greenlee County is about 160 miles form Tucson we decided to bird our way there. Our first stop was in Willcox, AZ. 

2. Lake chochise-kab As we drove into town the streets were deserted except for the birds which were already on the move. We pulled over to the side of the road to count birds when we saw a long line of Sandhill cranes winging their way overhead. On the streets around us only pigeons, doves, and house sparrows fluttered about on their morning rounds. It was quite different as we pulled onto the road to Lake Cochise and Twin Lakes Golf course. We started counting sparrows, hawks and meadowlarks on our way to the lake. On the old golf course green a huge flock of American widgeons was grazing. Nearby a thrasher sang from a tree. Thick gray clouds hung low over Lake Cochise as we drove up onto the dirt road to see what we could see.

3. quiet-kab The glassy lake reflected the steel blue sky with just a few Ruddy Ducks and Northern Shovelers floating on the calm blue water.

4. dos cabezas-kab To the east the peaks of Dos Cabezas watched over the land.

4. geese-kab A small flock of 10 Ross’ Geese fed on the distant shore,

5. vesper sp-kab and in the brush along the road a flock of vesper sparrows whispered a prayer to the morning.

We left Lake Cochise around 9:00 and stopped at a truck stop in town for a quick breakfast. Then we were on the road again and headed north on route 191 for Safford. Of course we kept our eyes open as we drove to count birds along the way. we did pull off the road once to identify a hawk sitting on a utility pole. In the same area there were also some doves and ravens. Our first official stop was an eBird Hotspot called Dankworth Pond, which is also a State Park, but as we drove down the road counting birds we were surprised to find the entrance gated and the park closed. We would have gotten out to count birds along the roadway but on one side of the road a large yard was fenced with chain link and behind the fence a virtual herd of Rottweiler's barked and lunged at us, so we turned around and left.

6. Mt. Graham-kab If the Rotties scared us away at Dankworth Pond, it was all peace and calm as we drove into Roper Lake state Park. Here the snow covered slopes of Mount Graham towered benignly over us. A sky as soft and gray as a dove’s breast nestled over the landscape. We pulled into a parking lot and exited the car, excited to continue counting birds. We had already started counting as soon as we crossed the entrance and stopped to pay the small entrance fee.

7. cabins-kab When I saw these camping cabins I wanted to stay!


8. Chris-kab We found this little bridge across a small creek. In the trees beyond finches and kinglets fluttered about. We soon discovered why. One of the RVer’s had set out some bird feeders! This made me think of my friends Dawn Fine and Gaelyn, who both live in RV’s full time and also feed the birds! I couldn’t help but think that they would love it here!

9. roper lake-kab Our world today was one of gray and rust as the dry grasses and reeds bent in the wind. In these same reeds Black-crowned night herons hid. In some of the little coves we found Green-winged teal. We thought we saw a some sort of shore bird along one muddy inlet but we could not get close enough to ID it because of the mud! Chris started to sink in! So, we kept our distance and counted from the higher banks.

10. tree-kab I saw a hawk perched in this lone tree which looked like a Ferruginous Hawk. As we drove closer to get a better view it took off just as a flock of Common Mergansers flew in and settled on the lake beside us. We got distracted by the mergansers and totally missed the hawk shot, only to discover later that a Ferruginous Hawk has never been counted in this area! Too bad! Of course I have been kicking myself ever since!

11. n shovelers-kab I got such a kick out of watching these Northern Shovelers do their “shoveling” thing in the water as they sifted for food.

12. hawk-kab Then, as I was watching the shovelers this hawk flew by, returning from the same direction as the other hawk had flown off to, but…was it the same hawk? I believe this one is a Red-tailed.

13. redwings-kab As Chris and I walked down the boat ramp counting birds a small flock of female red-wings popped up on the reeds.

 14. ducks-kabIn the lake before us the mergansers swam and then I noticed a pair of Canvasbacks with them. They are in the front of the mergansers on the right hand side in the photo above. If you click on the photo you can enlarge it for a better view.

15. common mergansers-kab Nap time for mergansers on Roper Lake!


16. brewer's black-kab Brewer’s Blackbirds on utility pole and wires.

Since it was long after noontime Chris and I decided we needed to get going for we still had Greenlee County to get to. On our way out of the park we spotted these Brewer’s Blackbirds up on the wires. Chris had picked up a list of common species seen at the lake from the visitor’s center on our way in. Brewer’s Blackbirds were not on that list, and of course, at first we considered grackles or Red-wings, but these birds did not have the long wedge-shaped tails of grackles or the shorter tail of red wings. Plus, if you look very closely at the photo you can just see a bit of the hint of their white eyes. Red-wings do not have white eye but Brewer’s do.

17. blackbirds-kab There were only six of them and they watched us as we drove away.

Before we left Graham county we drove around the streets of Safford counting birds. Thankfully there are a few eBirders in this county counting birds, but I found it fascinating that no one had recorded pigeons in this county yet and they were all over town. As a result, Chris and I have the first record of Rock Pigeons in Graham County for this year! I feel this is important, because you do not have a complete picture of the birds in an area unless you count them all! Most bird counts are done at eBird Hotspots. I like to count there, but I also submit counts from parking lots and town parks as well, or even just from driving the streets!

18. on the road-kab Soon we were on the road again and headed for Greenlee County, the county with no bird lists to date. We pulled off onto the side of the highway when we saw the Gila River below us,

19. gila river-kab and though this looked like a promising spot, it did not feel like a safe place to park or to try to scramble down those steep slopes! So, we got back in the car and continued on our way.

20. BT sparrow-kab We pulled off into the picnic area at a spot called Three-way where there is also a ranger station. I have been here before and counted birds and it proved to be a good spot today. We saw dozens of sparrows here, as well as a Northern Harrier and a Say’s Phoebe. These were out first species for the Greenlee County list!

We followed the road north into Clifton and counted birds along the way, stopping at a small park near a railroad track and a river where we actually found a Lincoln’s Sparrow and a Black Phoebe, among other birds!

21. morenci mine-kab On through Clifton we traveled until we reached Morenci and the Morenci mine. Up and up  we drove with numerous switchbacks and curves. soon the mine was all around us and still the road continued. I have only been here one other time with Gus right before we moved away in 2010. As we neared the top I could see where the mine has spread even since then, erasing the green forest with the copper and turquoise colored steps and slopes of open pit mining. These gorgeous colors are poison to the earth and we saw absolutely no birds up here where we stopped at the Public Viewing area.

22. trucks-kab We could see the large trucks hauling ore up the mountainside and I could feel the rumble beneath my feet as I stood gazing out over the steps of the mine. All I could think of was the proposed Rosemont Mine that is set to go in on the slopes of the Santa Rita Mountains just on the other side of Madera Canyon. Will this soon be our view there as well? Will the Rosemont Mine soon chase the birds and antelope from the Santa Rita Mountains and Las Cienegas National Conservation Area? Only time will tell. Rosemont only needs on more permit to start operations. With a heavy heart I turned the car around and Chris and I headed back through town.

23. morenci street-kab I thought we were all done counting birds but when I saw this sign in the town of Morenci I just had to stop and take a picture. It turns out the sign is at the end of a road into a baseball field and park and as I parked to snap a picture Chris heard a Ruby-crowned kinglet in a nearby tree. He bolted from the car to pursue the bird, so I backed down the hill and parked. We were counting birds again! We named this location “Wild Kitten Park” since it is officially called Wild Kitten Field on the park sign!

24. wild kitten park-kab We walked around the outside of the fenced ball field and counted birds in this hollow. A few grackles, doves and starlings flew overhead,

25. sparrows-kab while on the steep slopes we counted a flock of 50 white-crowned sparrows!


26. clifton church-kab As we drove back down through the town of Clifton we photographed some of the historic architecture along the way.

27. sunset-kab Every good birding day in Arizona ends with a gorgeous sunset, and today was no exception! This was our view along Highway 191 as we headed back toward Safford. We ate at a local restaurant in Safford, then Chris drove us the rest of the way home. I was exhausted but so happy we had come, even though it did start to feel a bit gloomy towards the end of the day up in the mining towns. And the gloom was not just because of the weather!

These are the bird we recorded in all of Greenlee County on February 3, 2013:

  1. Common Raven-along Highway 191
  2. Northern Harrier-Three Way
  3. Says Phoebe
  4. Brewer’s sparrow
  5. Black-throated Sparrow
  6. White-crowned sparrow
  7. Vesper Sparrow
  8. House Finch
  9. Loggerhead Shrike-Clifton (seen along side road by Chris only)
  10. Northern Cardinal
  11. Eurasian Collared dove
  12. Mallard
  13. Black Phoebe
  14. Lincoln Sparrow
  15. House sparrow
  16. Ruby-crowned Kinglet-Wild Kitten Park
  17. European Starling
  18. Great-tailed Grackle

Note: Bold lettering denotes each new location where a new species was recorded. Some species were seen at several locations.

Update! I just checked the eBird Top 100 and another person has started submitting checklists from Greenlee county. Some of her lists are backdated to January 27, so she now has the first bird count in this county, but until last week or so only Chris and my lists had been submitted. There are now 28 species listed for Greenlee County for this year. This is good. The more people submitting checklists, the better! Especially since Chris and I cannot drive over there every week!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Catalina State Park GBBC Day 4

1. Catalina Mtns-kab Catalina Mountains 2-18-13

I fell in love on the last day of the Great Backyard Bird Count. Not with a bird or a person, but a Place. I fell in love with Catalina State Park. It was one of those impromptu things. I had already counted birds in my own yard, at a friend’s house, along Houghton road, and in a new local park I discovered. I was trying to think of where to go for my last bird count of the day when Chris Rohrer called me. Though it was a holiday, he had to work today. Plus, his father was in town visiting, so I did not think he would have much free time for birding, but I was wrong. He needed his birding fix as much as I needed to count birds, so we made a plan. I picked him up after work around 3:45 PM and we drove over to Catalina State Park. Chris wanted to see if we could find the Golden-crowned sparrow that had been hanging around there. But, here was the glitch: Chris did not have his camera and he does not use binoculars. So, since I had both camera and bins with me, I handed my camera over to him to use and I simply relaxed and watched birds! Perfect! So, all of the bird pictures in this post were taken by Chris, while most of the scenery ones were taken by me. This is the story of our walk through the park and how I fell in love with it.

2. goldfinch-rohrer Lesser Goldfinch 2-18-13

You must first know that Catalina State park is where I first met Jeff and Dawn Fine years ago. They were travelling the country back then and I was a new blogger back then. They were some of the first people I ever met from my blog and I was a bit skeptical at first. Catalina State Park is north of Tucson and about an hour from where I lived then and now. It was a long drive and I exited my car cautiously, with a promise to Gus that I would call him when I arrived. Within five minutes of meeting Dawn I was totally at ease. By the end of  the day I knew I had made a new friend. So, this place was already special to me for that reason, but I don’t remember being particularly impressed with the park back then. As a result, I have never been back, and now that I was headed there again I wasn’t all that excited. On this day Chris and I drove to the end of the road and parked in the parking lot. A cloud bank hung low and heavy over the mountains casting a soft gray light over the mountain slopes. Still, it is warm and even a bit muggy. We cross the parking lot and head for the birding trail, which is where the Golden-crowned sparrow is being seen.

3. cardninal-rohrer Northern Cardinal 2-18-13

We start seeing cardinals right away and we see several along the trail, but otherwise it is pretty quiet bird-wise. However, people are another matter and we encounter hikers everywhere. Some are birders like us, but most are just out enjoying the warm weather and the state park. We cross a wide wash that flows down out of the mountains. A small rivulet still runs down the middle and we cross the wet spot on stepping stones. On the other side the trail splits into 2 or 3 branches. We follow the sign for the birding trail and hike on. I notice there are more grasses here than in other parts of the Sonoran desert. Some of the grasses are dried to a flaxen color from the winter cold, but already new green shoots are sticking up among the gold giving the ground a patchy look.

4. rufouswinged-rohrer Rufous-winged Sparrow

As we head for the tangle where the Golden-crowned sparrow is being seen we hear the voices of children up ahead. Loud and rambunctious, I am beginning to think that we will not be seeing many birds. Other hikers are on the trail as well and some seem new to the area as well as to this trail as they stumble along and cross the creek several times. My hopes of seeing birds are growing dim, but then we get into a bit of a canyon where we are temporarily alone and the bird start to quietly move through. We spot one rufous-winged sparrow, and then another. We hear a loud “cheep, cheep, cheep” repeated over and over. We both know we have heard this sound before and we try to identify it. Is is an Abert’s Towhee? A northern cardinal? No, it is a Black Phoebe on a twig over the creek!

4. tangle-rohrer The Tangle

We find the tangle where the golden-crowned was being seen, and there is the Black Phoebe and an Oregon junco, but no golden-crowned, even though a birder we met on the trail said he had seen it there just 20 minutes ago! We hang around the area searching and searching, but the hikers are stumbling around this same area and farther down the creek the loud voices of children still ring out. If I were a bird, I would hide too!

5. rufouswinged-rohrer Rufous-winged Sparrow on ground

For me, I start to enjoy just the feeling of being out in nature. I look at the canyon slopes around me. High overhead the mountain peaks loomed large and strong. The merry song of the creek trickling over the rocks and tumbling down the canyon towards the valley cheers my heart. In spite of the thoughtless hikers and the loud children, I am enjoying myself. Besides, though we are not seeing a lot of birds here, we are seeing species I had not encountered anywhere else over the past four days!

6. oregon junco-rohrer Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon)

This is the first and only dark-eyed junco I count for the GBBC. This is the first and only Black Phoebe I saw in all of the places I have counted birds. The air is fresh and the day was soft. I am at peace with myself as we continue on the trail.

7. mountain ridge-kab I try to soak in the feeling of this place. It is already late in the day and as the sun sinks lower, the hikers and children leave and we are finally alone with nature. In this quietness I relax and then I started to fall in love! The trail meanders over the creek and up a steep ridge. As we climb the view improves and suddenly we have sweeping views all around us. I feel the vastness of the landscape and the wildness of it. While saguaros loom large in the landscape the scrubby trees and bushes dot the canyon ridge and slopes. With every turn I see a new vista and I am engaged with my surroundings.

8. hiking-rohrer I get lost in my own little world and the beauty of this place.

9. sunset saguaro-kab The sun is even lower now, casting a golden light which is diffused by the low clouds, and then I heard a “pik!” We had crossed the mountain ridge and are just starting down the other side when we hear this sound. Chris and I turn and look at each other. We know this sound! The game is on! While Chris goes at it from one angle, I hike back up the trail and go at it from above. We both know what were are looking for but where is it! I know it is right in front of us, I can here it tapping on a branch, and every now and then it calls out, “pik!” and then, I see it!

10. ladderback-rohrer Ladder-backed woodpecker

And though the light is dim and the branches many, Chris is snapping away! He captures just a few pictures of the female ladder-backed woodpecker on a scrubby bush. Bingo! Another species for the GBBC!

11. gila-rohrer Gila Woodpecker on a Saguaro

Chris and I now head down onto the canyon floor. We follow the winding trail through a mesquite bosque. We listen and look for birds, but it is strangely silent. Sometimes the birds are like that just before a storm. This was late Monday afternoon. By Tuesday it was raining and by Wednesday it was snowing! But oh the beauty of this evening. Storm lighting turned the canyon walls gold and the saguaros glisten in the sun. Behind them dark clouds hang in a denim blue curtain. I am caught up in the magic of this place and I keep saying to Chris, we need to come back here again! I feel like I am connecting with a piece of myself that had been lost for a long time. I want to feel this way again! And this is why Chris and I are friends, because he gets it! He feels the same way. Most of the time, we are not even talking to each other. We are just being. We are just absorbing this nature into our souls.

12. sunset-rohrer Soon we are back at the car. As we drive out of Catalina State Park the sunlight turns the low clouds to spun gold, watermelon and apricot. These vibrant colors are edged with lavender and indigo. I swear this park caste a spell on me and I cannot wait to go back! What a way to end four days of counting birds, because this is what it is really all about, getting out in nature and finding out who you are and what you really love.

Between driving in the car and hiking we traveled approximately 5 miles and counted birds for 2 1/2 hours. Thank You Chris for taking pictures so I could just enjoy the birds!

Birds seen at Catalina State Park on 2-18-13:

  1. Mourning Dove
  2. Gila Woodpecker
  3. Ladder-backed woodpecker
  4. Black Phoebe
  5. Verdin
  6. Phainopepla
  7. Rufous-winged sparrow
  8. Oregon Junco
  9. Northern Cardinal
  10. Pyrrhuloxia
  11. House Finch
  12. Lesser Goldfinch


Friday, February 22, 2013

GBBC Days 2 and 3

1. mt. fagan-kab Mt. Fagan 2-16-13

My quest for birds and birds lists took me all over the Tucson area during the Great Backyard Bird Count. On Saturday Gus took me for a drive to Corona de Tucson which is the small community I lived in when we lived here before. I counted birds for the Great Backyard Bird Count for those 3 years. I had to do at least one count here this time! In the end I submitted 6 bird lists from this area on this day. What surprised me was how few birds I actually saw! I spotted the most birds and got the biggest list from Harrison Road in Sycamore Canyon.

2. curve-billed thrasher-kab Curve-billed Thrasher on Harrison Rd. in Sycamore Canyon

GBBC Day 3

I started day three of the GBBC in Michael Perry Park after counting birds in my own yard first. I counted by yard birds at least twice a day during the GBBC. These are just a few of the birds seen there.

3. plumbeous vireo-kab Plumbeous Vireo in Michael Perry Park 2-17-13

I climbed the bleachers trying to get a good shot of this bird but it kept hiding on me! Most of the shots where of its butt, but I did get this one head shot! I found it in the pine trees near the playground between the basketball court and the baseball field. It was a pleasant surprise and a species I was thrilled to add to the GBBC!

4. amke-kab American Kestrel


4. roadrunner-kab Greater Roadrunner

Question: Why did the Roadrunner cross the road?

Answer: So I could count him for the GBBC of course!

5. roadrunner-kab 

6. roady-kab 

7. crossing road-kab 

8. violet green-kab This is one of three violet-green swallows I found flying over a small wash that feeds into the much larger Pantano wash near the Stella Road Trailhead.

9. nomo-kab Northern Mockingbird in the Pantano Wash of Michael Perry Park

While I was counting birds at Michael Perry Park, Gus was washing his car at home. Afterwards he took me for a drive to Agua Caliente Park where we walked around and counted more birds. the park was quite busy on this glorious Sunday afternoon with lots of picnickers and people with dogs. We walked around the lake and out beyond the Bosque but my list for this area was quite small. I used to see so many birds here when I lived here before but my last few visits here have been quite sparse in the bird department. Still, it’s one of my favorite places in Tucson.

10. agua caliente-kab 

11. cool pool-kab 

12. RN duck-kab Ring-necked Duck 2-17-13


Note: It’s my birthday today so Gus and I are off on an adventure but I will return and add the bird lists here later! Wednesday’s snow has all melted and the sun is shining once again. I did take a drive through Saguaro National park on Thursday and took lots of photos which I hope to share after I post about the last day of the GBBC, which is when I fell in love with Catalina State Park! And while you are waiting, if you like you can click over to Kathie’s Poet Tree to read my new poem, Run to the Wild Places.