Friday, August 30, 2013

There’s Nothing Like Christmas in August!

1. Christmas sign-kabIt’s August 2, 2013 and Chris and I are headed south on Route 77 after camping and birding in the White Mountains. The rain chased us down off the Mogollon Rim and it was only when we were south of Globe that the clouds started to break up and the rain ceased. We were both bemoaning the fact that we did not get to bird for very long in the White Mountains and so missed many of our target birds. As we come down a steep slope just a few miles north of Winkleman I spot a dirt road that leads down to a riparian area along the Gila River. On our way to the White Mountains on Thursday I thought I had seen a hawk hanging out in the tops of the cottonwood trees as we rushed by. Chris had mentioned how he would like to explore this area then, and we both were thinking it now. Though it is late afternoon, we still have time, so I turn off the highway and drive down the steep hill to the parking lot. I thought it was just going to be some little by-way made by the locals. To my utter surprise I saw a Bureau of Land Management sign designating this as a public access point along with restrooms, trash cans, and picnic tables!

2. bosque-kab Chris and I did not know what to expect but we eagerly get out of the car and head for the trees. Overhead the tree canopy closes in like a feathery green roof. Beneath our feet the earth is a gray powder made of silt, soil, and dry cow dung churned and trampled by numerous cow hooves. That’s right, we are in open range and there have been cows here…recently. I am an old farm girl from way back and I know enough to be leery of range cattle…especially the bull! This put me on alert even as a deep stillness envelopes us.

3. toad-kab We hear birds singing and calling everywhere. Beneath our feet we find a small toad in the detritus of the bosque. A brief shower pings us with fat rain drops, then passes by. We seek shelter under the tangled branches and keep our cameras dry.

4. vermillion fly-kab A soft, green-gray light mutes the colors of everything, including a Male Vermillion Flycatcher! We come out of the mesquite bosque and onto a dirt road that ran along the cliffside.

5. cliff-kab High overhead we occasionally hear cars passing on Arizona Route 77.


6. trail-kab But we follow a song down the green tunnel…

7. canyon wren-kab to where a Canyon Wren sings on the gray rip rap!


8. canyon wren-kab In-between songs it searches for insects,


9. singing wren-kab Then starts to sing once again!


10. down by the river-kab Down the path we go to the lush green river’s edge.


11. Gila river-kab Here the brown water cuts into the earth and twists around the bend.


12. swing-kab An empty ladder swing tells its own story.

And then we hear a cry down the river, but growing louder by the minute until…

13. black hawk juv-kab ..with cameras raised and eyes on the sky, we watch a juvenile Black Hawk fly into view! It circles over our heads and lands in a tree across the river, then takes to the sky and flies back to where it came from! I thought I had seen a Black Hawk from the road above as we had driven by yesterday. Now I am quite sure I did! Black Hawks nest and feed along rivers in deep canyons. We are in the perfect habitat for them! Here by the river we see kingbirds, cardinals and even a Blue Grosbeak! As we head back to the car a lone cow emerges through the trees in the shade of the mesquite bosque. It blinks at us benignly as we walk by. Once back at the parking lot an Ash-throated Flycatcher lands in a nearby tree. With 21 species on our list for this location, we feel like we had indeed found Christmas in the desert in August! But we are not done yet!

14. winkleman-kab As we drove into Winkleman Chris suggests that we check out the ”town” park. The place looks old and decrepit. I am a bit reluctant to drive down in, but as we did we actually pass a town policeman driving out! And then, we see birds! So many birds! We couldn’t look or count fast enough as sparrows and woodpeckers, kingbirds and flycatchers flew all around us! Here there was a warbler, there there was an oriole! Look! Look! See! See! Birds were everywhere in this forgotten land. While we drove past old brush piles and broken down fences we kept stopping the car to count birds.

15. dusk-kab Believe it or not, there are actually restrooms and a playground here, plus a campground for anyone brave enough to camp here! The Gila River curves around the park and flows under highway 77 west towards Florence and Coolidge with the Casa Grande Ruins along its banks. I found out later that this location is actually an eBird Hotspot called Winkleman Flats and Pedestrian Bridge. 122 species have been seen at this location. (Just click on the link to see the eBird Bar chart of species.) Chris and I saw 20 species here tonight. I also nominated Christmas to be yet another eBird hotspot. We will see what happens with that.

16. sunset-kab Meanwhile, after being a bit discouraged by getting rained out of the White Mountains, Chris and I were now smiling as the sun set on a great day of birding!

Birds seen in Christmas and Winkleman Flats and Pedestrian Bridge on August 2, 2013:

  1. Turkey Vulture-Christmas and The Shores
  2. Common Black Hawk
  3. White-winged dove
  4. Mourning Dove
  5. Yellow-billed cuckoo
  6. Gila woodpecker
  7. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  8. Vermilion flycatcher
  9. Ash-throated flycatcher
  10. Western Kingbird
  11. Bell’s Vireo
  12. Warbling Vireo
  13. Verdin
  14. Canyon Wren
  15. Bewick’s Wren
  16. Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
  17. Yellow Warbler
  18. Abert’s towhee
  19. Northern Cardinal
  20. Blue Grosbeak
  21. Lesser Goldfinch
  22. White-winged Dove-Winkleman Flats (species added at this location)
  23. Brown-crested Flycatcher
  24. Tropical kingbird
  25. Cassin’s Kingbird
  26. White-breasted Nuthatch
  27. Lucy’s Warbler
  28. Lark Sparrow
  29. Western Tanager
  30. Hooded Oriole
  31. House Finch


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Rainbow Lake

1. baby coot-kab Juvenile American Coot 8-2-2013

As rain chased us west out of Greer, Arizona we looked desperately for someplace to bird. Chris used his Smartphone to locate a few eBird Hotspots and we chose one close to the highway in Lakeside. With the sky as gray as the inside of s stainless steel pot we got out to count birds. At first I did not recognize this small funny colored bird. I thought at first that it was some odd kind of grebe, but a quick look at the beak helped me figure out that it was a juvenile coot in transitional plumage! I had never seen one in this stage of molt before, going form the stripy chick to the full black adult! It truly was a cute coot!

2. rainbow lake-kab Apparently school had just gotten out because a bunch of teens were hanging out in the  parking lot of this lake, but we did not let that stop us from counting birds as storm clouds gathered!

3. osprey-kab One of two osprey we saw at this location.


4. Lewis woodpecker-kab To our amazement we found more Lewis’ woodpeckers high on the utility poles!


4a. Chris in action-kab And while Chris snapped more photos…


5. storm clouds-kab The storm clouds gathered and let loose!

We jumped in the car and headed into town for something to eat after this. While sitting in Subway the rain came down in sheets and it looked like we were going to need an ark to get home. I was exhausted from getting only a few hours sleep the night before and the night before that, so Chris took over driving as we headed down out of the White Mountains and off the Mogollon Rim!


Note: Chris and I counted 14 species in 1/2 hour at this location.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Birding Greer, AZ

DSC_0027-kab The White Mountains of AZ 8-1-13

After living in the dry, green-gray desert I was not prepared for the beauty of the White Mountains of Arizona. As we headed east on Route 260 the pine forest gave way to rolling hills and tree-topped mountains. Cottony clouds floated in the azure sky above. If I had not driven here myself I would have thought I had been transported to the mountains of Colorado or Idaho. Yet, there was something unique about this place, and I soaked in the view around each corner.

DSC_0028-AZwhite mountains-kab The clouds grew heavier as we drew near Greer. I suppose I should have taken this as a warning of things to come, but for now I was so absorbed in the beauty. I could not get enough of this place.

DSC_0029-kab Chris and I stopped at a few locations as we neared Greer. We checked one small creek for Dippers, a species I was longing to see again since it has been years since I have seen one. For Chris it would be a Life Bird, but we did not find one. So we pressed on to our campsite and set up camp. Of course we started counting birds in the camp ground. After eating a quick lunch we headed out to see what we could see.

DSC_0031-kab Nearby to the campground was a location called Benny Creek where the dipper had been seen recently. We searched along the creek near the road and down on a trail, but once again, no luck. However, we did find the Clark’s Nutcracker, a new Arizona species for me and a Life Bird for Chris.

DSC_0032 While a few green-tailed towhees hopped among the willows, we saw few other birds and soon headed back to the car. Near the parking lot we found a few Dark-eyed Juncos (red-backed) and a Cordilleran Flycatcher.

DSC_0044-osprey-kab Our further exploration of the town led us to follow the road to the end where once again we searched for a dipper in the West Fork of the Colorado River. By now dark clouds were gathering overhead and the light grew dim. Along the path the water tumbled merrily along singing its mountains song. Overhead an osprey screamed and flew above our heads. Still,  we did not find the dipper, but as we headed back to the car I saw the black back and white tail of a Bald Eagle retreating over the tree tops! This was my first sighting of a Bald Eagle in Arizona and I was baffled and thrilled. I did not ever expect to find this species up here in the mountains and I did not think this river was deep enough to provide enough fish for this bird of prey. It wasn’t until the next morning that I found out where the eagle was really fishing.

DSC_0045 Across the street from the Rolfe C. Hoyer Campground are the Greer lakes. Chris and I checked them out briefly the night before. Now, on day two of our birding adventures in the White Mountains we were awakened by the honking of Canada Geese. After a long night of restless sleep I was tempted to sleep in, but the geese called me awake and I bolted from the tent. Chris was already up and wandering the campground so we hopped in the car and drove the short distance across the road. The green meadows surrounding the three reservoirs were covered with bluebirds! They dotted the road and clung to the  flowering mullein.

DSC_0048 We saw plenty of juveniles of both Mountain and Western Bluebirds which were indistinguishable, but we saw adults of both species with Western bluebirds being more numerous.

DSC_0050 Down by Tunnel Reservoir we found the noisy geese. The morning sunlight fell in golden shafts across the dew spangled grass and set the calm waters shining. A few cormorants gathered to dry on the banks of the reservoir while hummingbirds and swallows zipped around and overhead.

DSC_0054 Wildflowers dotted the countryside.

DSC_0055 It was so easy for me to get lost in the beauty of this place!


DSC_0057 Eastern edge of Tunnel Reservoir 8-2-13


DSC_0058 There was something about this particular area that reminded me of Scotland, even though I have never been to Scotland. I found this lake calming and intriguing. Once again, I could have stayed here all day. After stopping on the DSC_0060roadside above the lake we drove down into the parking lot to get a better look at some of the birds on the water.  Our senses were on high alert looking for any species we had not seen yet. Our hopes were high for seeing woodpecker species as well as possible flycatchers and warblers, but the only warblers we found were Yellow-rumps, and the only woodpeckers were flickers. However, we did find a cute little chipmunk sunbathing on a rock near the lake! In the shallow water a Great Blue heron waded, but I was interested in a loud croaking I had heard coming from the treetops near a different lake, so we packed it up and headed for that location. As we started to drive out of the parking lot a black and white woodpecker flew with undulating flight across the road in front of the car. I stamped on the brake and put my bins to my eyes hoping to get at least a glimpse of some kind of field mark because there were numerous possibilities for this woodpecker, including Hairy, Downy, Williamson’s sapsucker and American Three-toed! An American Three-toed would be a Life Bird for us both, so the stakes were high. After failing to relocate the bird from the vehicle, I put the car in park and we both got out to chase it through the forest, with the car right in the middle of the road!

DSC_0062 Off through the trees we went, scanning every tree and listening for every tap on wood. As we walked along we found the source of all that croaking earlier when we found a Great Blue Heron rookery in the trees near the edge of the much deeper River Reservoir. Mixed in with the herons were Double-crested Cormorant nests as well! As we searched the sky above suddenly a Bald Eagle came squeaking overhead! So, this is where they nest and feed! While Tunnel Reservoir is shallow, this body of water was long and deep. With no woodpeckers in sight and our stomachs growling Chris and I headed back to the car which I had gone back to move after a truck came driving into the parking lot. Now we headed to one of the local cafes for breakfast and we were fortunate to get a seat outside where hoards of hummingbirds fed from the numerous feeders. Of course we counted birds while we ate!DSC_0065 

After breakfast we headed for a nearby nature trail where numerous woodpeckers had been found. However, as we started up the trail the clouds that had been gathering while we ate grew darker and we heard rumbles of thunder. Not wanting to have to pack up wet tents we rushed back to the campground and took everything down and packed up the car. Then, with high hopes that the storm would be brief and blow over, we went back to the Butler Nature Trail. Once again we headed up the mountainside as rain started to sprinkle down on us. For the most part it was very quiet here but we did find a House Wren in the brush. Around us Broad-tailed hummingbirds whizzed by as we hiked past the burnt trunks of pines and aspens. We soon realized our hunt for woodpeckers would be futile and we headed back down the trail to the car. We barely got inside the vehicle before rain started. It began as a gentle rain but soon developed into a downpour as we headed north on the road out of Greer. It wasn’t long before we reached Route 260 and as we turned west I was hoping we would get ahead of the rain and still be able to spend part of this day counting birds in the White Mountains, but the rain moved in faster than we could drive. We made it as far as Pinetop-Lakeside and after a brief stop headed down off the Mogollon Rim.

kathie in the mountains Chris took this picture of me in my rain poncho on the Butler Nature Trail.


Camping Notes: We found that we did not need to make a reservation at the Rolfe C. Hoyer Campground. There were plenty of sites and they also had firewood and ice for sale at the entrance. While there were a few cafes and restaurants in Greer, the closest gas station and store was in Eager, 14 miles away.

Monday, August 26, 2013

On the Road to the White Mountains

DSC_0001a Salt River Canyon-kab Salt River Canyon 8-1-13

I had no idea that when Chris Rohrer and I planned a trip to the White Mountains that we would be seeing such spectacular scenery along the way! The White Mountains of Arizona are 5 hours and almost 250 miles away from Tucson, but we needed to go there to see certain bird species. Besides, I had never been to the White Mountains of Arizona. When I first moved to Tucson back in 2007 and my then realtor said he was going to the White Mountains on vacation, I thought he meant the White Mountains of New Hampshire! Now I was going to see them in person and I was so excited! Not only did I have high hopes of getting some new bird species on my Arizona Life List, I knew this trip would also cross off two more counties in Arizona for me to bird in. But, trips like this are not cheap, and this was too far to drive in one day and come back, so Chris and I came up with a plan to spend the night and camp. As I had not been camping in over 20 years this would be a real experience for me! I bought a cheap 2 person tent from Wal-Mart. Chris already had his own. Then, full of high hopes, we packed the car and headed north on Route 77 up through Oro valley and the dying mining town of Winkleman.

DSC_0002 Bridge-kab Bridge over the Salt River

Of course the first part of the trip was through the typical desert scrub with mesquite, cholla, and Saguaros. As we headed north from  Winkleman after stopping at a gas station the road continued to climb. Beyond Globe the terrain really started to change, but I was totally surprised by the view that opened before me as we dropped into the Salt River Canyon! All the colors were muted by the gray skies overhead as we pulled off the road to view the Salt River as it snaked between the high red cliffs of the canyon. It was only natural to think of the Grand Canyon as I took in my surroundings. I had no idea this even existed! The pity was, the Rest Area and pedestrian bridge were closed at this location. I was tempted to linger and enjoy the view, but Chris kept me on task and we got back in the car. Our destination was the White Mountains and Chris had a list of target birds he wanted to see.

DSC_0004 salt river-kab Red rocks and red water in the Salt River Canyon

Little did I know that our last stop in Globe would be the last gas station or restroom for over 50 miles! With a one lane road and steep terrain we literally crawled up out of the canyon and onto the Mogollon Rim (pronounced mo-gee-on). Soon we arrived in the town of Show Low where ponderosa pines towered over the edges of the roads. we were now in Navajo County in the White Mountains of Arizona. Once again I was struck by the change in vegetation and the beauty around me, but we had no time to linger. We had to find birds! However, our first stop to look for birds was not in a National Forest, it was at the Safeway in Pinetop where Lewis’ Woodpeckers were reported to have been seen. While I have seen Lewis’ Woodpeckers before at Reid Park in Tucson, this would be a Life Bird for Chris.

DSC_0006 Raven-kab Common Raven

So, we parked the car in the Safeway Parking lot and started our trek around the backside of the strip mall. With the long brick building on our right and a pine covered gorge on our left we walked the asphalt strip behind the store. A small creek tumbled below and the air was cool and dry at 75F! Such a relief form the heat and humidity of Tucson at the moment! We head and saw a few doves and house sparrows. In a nearby tree a young raven watched us curiously. When a hummingbird flew by we stopped to watch it. We scanned every tree with our ears alert, but we did not find the Lewis’ Woodpecker.

DSC_0007 red-faced warbler-kab Red-faced Warbler

However, as we reached the far eastern edge of the parking lot we suddenly spotted movement in the trees. Here we found a red-faced warbler feeding in the branches, as well as an Acorn Woodpecker! This was only my second sighting of a Red-faced warbler and the only one on this trip, so who would have guessed it would be found behind a grocery store in Pinetop! After realizing we weren’t going to find the Lewis’ here today we bought some more ice and a few other things form the store and continued out journey east on Route 260.

DSC_0014 Lewis' woodpecker-kab I was driving at this point but keeping my eyes open for birds along the way. when I spotted a dark bird at the top of some dead trees I pulled over and turned around. A short drive back to a nearby parking lot revealed not just one, but a whole family of Lewis’ Woodpeckers living in a stand of trees in a vacant lot in Lakeside! Chris jumped out of the car first, camera in hand, while I got myself together and soon followed him into the dusty lot. High overhead the woodpeckers flew and moved among the branches. we counted at least 4 different birds in the one location. So, while the Lewis’ weren’t at the grocery store, at least they were still in town!

DSC_0019 in the dead tree-kab Lewis’ Woodpecker in Lakeside, AZ 8-1-13

Not only was this a great way to start off our trip to the White Mountains, it was also a great way to start off the month of August! Now I wonder how many more Life Birds we would find on this trip…

Birds seen in Pinetop and Lakeside on 8-1-13:

  1. Northern Flicker-Reservation Gas Station at Junction of 77 and 73
  2. Common Raven
  3. Western Kingbird-Show Low
  4. American Crow
  5. Mourning Dove-Lakeside-Pinetop
  6. Barn Swallow
  7. Turkey Vulture-Lakeside Pinetop Safeway
  8. Broad-tailed Hummingbird
  9. Acorn Woodpecker
  10. Red-faced Warbler
  11. House Sparrow
  12. Lewis’s Woodpecker-Lakeside Pinetop Route 60
  13. Violet-green Swallow
  14. European Starling
  15. Great-tailed Grackle
  16. Lesser Goldfinch


DSC_0015 Lewis’s Woodpecker 8-1-13

Friday, August 23, 2013

Birding the Norman Bird Sanctuary in Rhode Island

1. tree swallow-kab Tree Swallow at the Norman Bird Sanctuary 6-15-13

While visiting Connecticut this summer my sister and her husband took me along one morning to the Norman Bird Sanctuary in Rhode Island. While they were going there to do a road race I went off through the sanctuary to count birds. I had never been here before and found it amazing. Before this day I had only counted birds in Rhode Island at Misquamicut and my Rhode Island Bird list consisted of about 20 species of birds. I had high hopes that I would significantly add to that count today.

2. path-kab I followed the path through a green meadow filled with swallows!


3. swallow over meadow-kab Tree Swallow hunting over grass.


4. into the box-kab While tree swallows occupied most of the nest boxes, there were a few with House Sparrows inside!

5. lupine-kab Lupine

I loved seeing lupine in bloom!

6. follow the sign-kab I followed the path down through the woods with robins everywhere…


7. woodland path-kab In this damp shade the mosquitoes swarmed!


8. in the rock-kab 

9. habitat-kab I heard a few catbirds, titmice, and downy woodpeckers.


10. boardwalk-kab Along this trail I found Carolina Wrens and Eastern Towhees.


11. pond-kab I was surprised there were not as many birds near the water, but I did hear the call of a Common yellow throat and a few Red-winged Blackbirds.


12. black-crowned night heron-kab But the Black-crowned Night Heron was the only heron I saw.


13. catbird-kab Gray Catbird


14. yellow warbler-kab Yellow Warbler

After crossing the bridge near the pond the trail wound up through the woods over rocky ledges and back down again to  a mixed woodland. I could just see the ocean beyond the trees with seagulls wheeling overhead and runners pounding by on the road. Near a little stream I saw a Ruby-throated Hummingbird and this yellow warbler.

15. bh cowbird-kab Brown-headed Cowbird

In an overhead snag a cowbird called.

16. ocean beyond the meadow-kab Ocean beyond the meadow

As the trail crossed a meadow before returning me to the original farm with the visitor’s center I saw a few sparrows and a Northern Mockingbird. A Red-tailed Hawk had a nest in a tall tree by the farm house. Once again there were birds everywhere and I thoroughly enjoyed my time here. The Norman Bird Sanctuary is an eBird Hotspot and definitely worth a visit!

DSC_0353 My Rhode Island Life List before and after birding at the Norman Bird Sanctuary:

(Bird species listed below bold type were seen at the same location/date.)

  1. Mute Swan-Watch Hill Cove 5-12-1985
  2. Great Black-backed Gull-Misquamicut Beach State Park 6-1-1996
  3. Double-crested Cormorant-Misquamicut Beach State Park 9-17-2010
  4. Great Blue Heron
  5. Great Egret
  6. Snowy Egret
  7. Glossy ibis
  8. Osprey
  9. Piping Plover
  10. Sanderling
  11. Laughing Gull
  12. ring-billed Gull
  13. Herring Gull
  14. Mourning Dove
  15. European Starling-Napatree Point 9-17-2010
  16. Turkey Vulture-Westerly Rhode Island 8-17-2012
  17. Blue Jay
  18. American Robin
  19. Fish Crow-Misquamicut Beach State Park 8-17-2012
  20. Semipalmated Plover
  21. Barn Swallow
  22. Rock Pigeon-Middletown Rhode Island 6-15-13
  23. Red-winged Blackbird
  24. Common Grackle
  25. House Sparrow
  26. Black-crowned Night Heron-Norman Bird Sanctuary 6-15-13
  27. Red-tailed Hawk
  28. Ruby-throated hummingbird
  29. Downy Woodpecker
  30. Northern flicker
  31. Eastern Phoebe
  32. Great Crested Flycatcher
  33. American Crow
  34. Tree Swallow
  35. Black-capped Chickadee
  36. Tufted Titmouse
  37. House Wren
  38. Carolina Wren
  39. Gray Catbird
  40. Northern Mockingbird
  41. Cedar Waxwing
  42. Common Yellowthroat
  43. Yellow Warbler
  44. Eastern Towhee
  45. Field Sparrow
  46. Song Sparrow
  47. Northern Cardinal
  48. Brown-headed Cowbird
  49. American Goldfinch


In the end I spent 2 hours and 15 minutes at the Norman Bird Sanctuary and walked approximately 1.2 miles. I counted 31 species of birds here as well as 10 species I saw along the way while driving through town for a total of 35 species seen on this day. Obviously some birds were seen in town and at the sanctuary.