Sunday, September 29, 2013

Oh, The Places I Bird!

1. Cassin's Kingbird-kab Cassin’s Kingbird at Kino Springs 8-17-13

Birding can take you to some of the strangest places. Last month I went birding with Chris Rohrer as we went searching for some of the rare birds being seen in Arizona. Our main target was the Blue-footed Booby being seen at Patagonia Lake State Park, but along the way we made several other stops where seasonal birds were being seen.

2. sonoita rest area-kab Our first stop was at the Sonoita Rest area on route 82 in Sonoita. It is an eBird Hotspot due to its easy accessibility and the birds that can be found in the grasslands surrounding it. (Plus, it is the ONLY public restroom you will find out here!)

3. barn swallows-kab Behind the restrooms we found Barn Swallows and Lark Sparrows.


4. mountains-kab Across the street to the west we found Western Kingbirds on the wires.


5. grassland-kab Across the street in the grasslands we saw and heard Grasshopper Sparrows, a Target Bird for this location.

6. sparrow-kab Yes, there is a sparrow on that twig!


7. meadowlark-kab Closer to the road we found an Eastern Meadowlark!

8. hummingbirds at paton's-kab We stopped at Paton’s in Patagonia to count the hummingbirds…


9. Lazuli bunting-kab …but my Target Bird at this location was this Lazuli Bunting!

It was my first time seeing this species since moving back to Tucson a year ago.

10. Patagonia rest area-kab Our next stop and another eBird Hotspot was the Patagonia Rest Area. Thick-billed Kingbirds were reported to be here. But birding in Arizona can often turn up a different kind of bird…

11. border patrol-kabThe Border Patrol was out in force on this day. I often see them when birding in Arizona, especially if I am in a remote area near the border.

12. kingbird-kab While we were here some other birders arrived looking for the Thick-billed Kingbird. Everyone got excited when some kingbirds were spotted high in the trees. Everyone rushed over and took pictures. The three other birders that were there ticked the Thick-billed Kingbird off their lists and moved on, but Chris and I did not, because this is one of the three birds we saw and it is not a thick-billed kingbird. Initially I thought it was a Western Kingbird, because in the moment and in that light it looked like it had the white side feathers on the tail. But, after seeing my photos I have come to the conclusion this is a juvenile Cassin's Kingbird due to the white chin and dark breast with a bright yellow belly. A Thick-billed kingbird has a white throat and breast and a pale yellow wash on its under belly, but not up its breast. And, of course, it has a very thick bill!

13. swallows-kab After a stop at Patagonia Lake State Park to see and photograph the Blue-footed Booby Chris and I continued on to Kino Springs. Kino Springs is a Golf course community in southern Arizona very close to the Mexican Border. The owners kindly let birders onto the property to count birds. It is also an eBird Hotspot. Chris had never been here and I had only been here once before so it was exciting to go back again. The day had grown quite hot, but there was a cool breeze blowing here and we were seeing so many birds that soon I forgot how hot I was! The sky and the trees were full of swallows!

14. kino springs-kab Down around one of the ponds we found so many sparrows and buntings!

15. lazuli buntings-kab The grasses were full of Lazuli Buntings!


16. Cassin's kingbird-kab Kingbirds were being seen everywhere and I have to confess that at first I thought this was a Tropical Kingbird due to the notched tail, but after further investigation it turns out to be a Cassin's Kingbird once again. Notice the white chin and dark gray head and breast. Tropical kingbirds have a paler head and a paler yellow breast that comes all the way up to meet the throat. Wanting a bird to be a certain species doesn’t make it so. I have had to go in and correct my eBird list, but that’s okay, because accuracy is more important than getting a species on your list.

17. driving green-kab Besides the driving greens there were also sewage treatment ponds with birds in them.

18. Snowy egret-kab Our final stop was at the Rio Rico Pond in Rio Rico, AZ. This is a small farm pond alongside the road that is well known for having all kinds of rare birds show up here. One only has to park alongside Rio Rico Drive and just walk down the embankment to the fence to look for birds. There wasn’t much here today, but this Snowy Egret was a nice find. When I think back to this day it’s kind of funny to think that I went birding at two rest areas, a golf course, a sewage treatment pond and a farm pond as well as a state park. Yes, birding takes me to all kinds of strange and wonderful places, but best of all, I get to see all kinds of birds!

Places I birded on August 17, 2013 with number of species seen at each location:

  1. Sonoita Rest Area-10 species
  2. Paton’s Bird Haven-16 species
  3. Patagonia Roadside Rest Area-7 species
  4. Patagonia Lake State Park-20 species
  5. Kino Springs-45 Species
  6. Rio Rico Pond-12 species
  7. Circulo Cerro Road in Rio Rico-12 species
  8. Rio Rico Agricultural Fields-3 species (by now it was dusk)

(This does not include all the bird counts we did while driving between locations!)

Yes, it was a full day of birding and I was exhausted by the time we got home, but we had so much fun and saw so many birds, including two Life Birds for me: the Grasshopper Sparrow seen at the Sonoita Rest Area, and the Blue-footed Booby seen at Patagonia Lake State Park!

1. Blue footed booby-kab Blue-footed Booby 8-17-13



Friday, September 27, 2013

Going, Going, Gone!

1. going-kab August 21, 2013

Earlier this summer I had a Gambel’s Quail family nesting in my backyard. Since I live in a suburban neighborhood I did not ever think this would happen in my current location. While the first nest resulted in four little chicks, three of them were never made it, eaten, I suspect, by a Cooper’s Hawk which I actually saw grab one of them. By the next time around there were six little chicks. Of these, only one was lost. I watched the little family with hope and joy as the little chicks continued to grow and sprout pin feathers. I thought it would take a month or more before they would be able to fly over my backyard walls and escape to the desert, but they were little more than two weeks old when I first saw them fly! The very next day the Mamma and Papa quail flew up to the top of the block wall and called encouragingly to the little family below. One by one the little chicks flew up and I was only just quick enough to catch these shots of the last little chick as it made it’s way up the wall and out of my yard. I have not seen them since.

2. going-kab Going…

3. one more step-kab Going…

4. gone-kab Gone!

Good-bye little chick! It’s a GREAT BIG WORLD out there!

You can read the complete Quail Family Story by clicking on the link.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Notes From My Nest: Back From Yellowstone and Beyond

DSCN2049 Chris at Sweetwater Wetlands 10-21-2012 (from my archives)

Well, as you can see, I am back from my trip to Utah and Yellowstone National Park with my husband Gus. We had such a great time but I must have been running on adrenalin, because as soon as I got back I crashed and slept for 3 days. I had no energy to do anything, until Chris Rohrer called me on Tuesday and invited me to go birding at Sweetwater Wetlands with him after he got out of work. I decided that maybe a trip out of the house would be good for me, so, in spite of the heat I got all my birding gear together as well as a cooler full of cold drinks and I headed out to meet him. Little did I know how hot it actually was! When I left my driveway my car thermometer said 98F. By the time I pulled into the Sweetwater parking lot it was 104F! The east side of town tends to be a bit cooler than the west side, but, since it was already almost 5 PM I got out of the car anyways and went searching for birds. Sweetwater never disappoints and we had a great time. As the sun set the temperatures dropped and we sat in the darkness going over bird lists!

The adventure continued on Thursday night when Chris drove over to my house9-20-13 September moon-kab so he could see the nectar feeding bats. Gus and my son were watching football, so that left me free to watch birds and bats. At first Chris and I went for a drive through Saguaro National Park-Rincon Mountain Unit where, to our utter amazement we found a lone lesser nighthawk slicing through the dusky sky, and then we heard Common Poorwills calling from three different locations along the 8-mile loop road! We were there long enough to watch the full moon rising over the Rincons but when we stopped to take a photo the park ranger came along and chased us out!

Back at my house Chris went out on the patio to photograph bats. I was a bit squeamish about going out there with the bats myself, but eventually I joined him. The bats were whizzing by his head and hitting the feeders on a regular basis. I have hummingbird feeders on the first floor patio as well as one on the upper balcony. Once Chris got some shots of the bats at the lower feeders we decided to take our dinner up to the balcony and eat it and watch bats there.

Chris Rohrer Bat photo From my back patio 9-19-2013

I have a string of Christmas lights to illuminate the lower patio and the bats don’t seem to mind it, but when I turned on the string of lights on the balcony so we could see to eat and then watch the bats all the bats disappeared! We sat and waited and watched, and then Chris noticed some movement overhead. He quickly stood up and photographed the ring-tailed cat which was on my rooftop again! Oh my! I guess it is coming here on a regular basis to try to catch bats! The hummingbird feeder is suspended from the edge of the roof and easily reached from there. The first time I saw the ring-tailed cat it was learning over the edge of the roof and watching the bats. This time it ran to the opposite corner where Chris snapped its face peering down at us. I quickly moved my chair as far away from the roof as possible. I did not want that thing leaping down on me! However, Chris was in total awe and amazed by this magnificent wild animal. He had never seen the nectar feeding bats or a ring-tailed cat, and now he saw them both in one night! I was happy for him!

Chris Rohrer Ringtailed catRing-tailed cat on my rooftop 9-19-2013

The bats never did adjust to us being out on the rooftop, even though I did shut the Christmas lights off, so finally we went inside. While we were up there Chris and I had heard the ring-tailed cat climb down the side of my house. When I walked Chris out to his car we both noticed a funny smell. It was awfully strong. I wondered if there were javalina nearby as everyone says you usually smell them before you see them, but Chris said, No that was not a javalina smell. So, then I wondered if that ring-tailed cat had sprayed somewhere. I thought I remembered reading that they have a very strong musk. Well, we both started wandering around sniffing and between the two of us we zeroed in on a shiny wet spot right at the base of my front yard mesquite tree! That darn cat had spayed my yard! By then Chris and I had both had enough adventures for the night, but we both felt proud of ourselves for being such good nature detectives! So, he got in his car and drove home while I went inside. The football game was almost over and I spent the rest of the night watching TV with Gus. The next mooring I was out the front door, lickety-split to check on the spot where the ringtail left its mark. While it didn’t smell as bad this morning, the stain was still shiny, like syrup or something. I warned my son not to step in it, in case the smell sting lingered! Did I mention that I live in suburbia? Yeah, the police station and the library are just down the street, yet I have all this wildlife right in my own backyard! That’s Tucson for you!

As if I hadn’t had enough birding, I went out Friday morning to Michael Perry Park to count birds. It had been awhile since I have been there and I really wanted to see what birds where hanging around or moving through the area. The big difference was the lack of White-winged doves. I did not see one! But a few warblers were moving through and I saw a Common Yellowthroat as well as a MacGillivry’s. The morning started out cool and breezy but soon warmed up with the rising sun. I was there for an hour and half and counted 19 species of birds. For the most part I had the place to myself but as I reached the farthest end of my transect along the wash and turned to go back to the parking lot an older man came walking towards me pushing a bike. I didn’t think much about it until he decided he needed to talk to me.

Michael Perry Park-kab The trail at Michael Perry Park

The guy’s hair was sun washed silver. He had a toothless grin. In his hand he carried a can of Twisted Tea, though I didn’t notice what kind it was at first. He started by telling me about a rattlesnake he saw on the trail, so I listened to him out of concern, but then he tells me he saw it way over on 22nd street somewhere, and not in this park. Next thing I know he is launching into the story of his life and how he fell asleep along the Rillito River Walk yesterday, then moved on to fall asleep in another park where he woke up just in time to get to work at four in the morning! Then somehow he got on the subject of a Shakespeare play that is going on in Himmel Park tonight and, Oh, he pointed out that he was drinking Twisted Tea because his boss gave him a couple of cans for staying late to work this morning. So, he was drinking alcoholic tea for breakfast? Anyways, he seemed friendly enough but I was slowly inching my way away from him step by step. I finally told him thank you for all that information but it was getting very hot out there and I had to go! This birding life is so crazy at times. I just never know what I am going to see or learn!

Our trip to Utah and Yellowstone was wonderful. We had such a great time and I have lots of picture to offload and process. I am also still trying to finish posts from this summer. Hopefully I will get it all done before the New Year arrives, which isn’t as far away as it seems! Yikes! Meanwhile, I will keep on birding!

A big “THANK YOU” to everyone who visited my blog while I was gone and left a comment. I am doing my best to get back to you all and visit your blogs or answer your questions! And thank you Chris Rohrer for the use of your photos!


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Life Bird 458: Northern Beardless-tyrannulet

1. NBTY-kab Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet 9-4-2013 Agua Caliente Park, Tucson, AZ

The Northern Bearless-tyrannulett is a small gray flycatcher of the tropics and the desert southwest. It is one of the birds most birders come to see and get on their Life Lists here in Tucson. When I first moved here in 2007 I didn’t even know what one was. then, when i did learn about them I decided it was a bird i would never get to see. It is known to hang out at Agua Caliente park on the Northeast side of Tucson, but after several trips there I began to think I would never find the bird. Then, one day at the beginning of September I stopped in at the park on a whim after dropping my grandson at school. When I worked my way around to the mesquite bosque on the north side of the park I was amazed to find these two little birds calling and feeding among the trees! I was all alone in the park at the moment and stood there quietly with binoculars and camera as I watched them for about 20 minutes.

2. Northern Beardless tyrannulett-kab 

3. NBTY-kab 

4. NBTY-kab 

5. thru the trees-kab My first view of them was through the trees like this, but then they worked their way closer until they were directly overhead! I couldn’t have asked for a better view or better lighting! I was mesmerized and in awe. I was also surprised at how very tiny these little birds are. At only 4 1/2 inches they are smaller than a Magnificent hummingbird or a chickadee! They are the same size as a Red-breasted Nuthatch or a Verdin. regardless, I quickly fell in love with them. I found them to be friendly and curious and I totally enjoyed my encounter with them! I do not know if they were a male and a female or an adult and a juvenile. All I do know is they are so cute!

6. NBTY-kab 

7. NBTY-kab 

8. NBTY-kab 

9. NBTY-kab 

10. NBTY-kab Northern Beardless-tyrannulet


Thursday, September 19, 2013

When You Do Something Good

1. WAVI-kab Warbling Vireo at Agua Caliente Park 9-4-13

Sometimes when you do something good, something good happens in return. Though I was not expecting a reward the day I took my grandson to school for his dad. My son had early meetings and did not have time to drop his son at school. It was a task I was happy to do, but since my grandson’s school is so close to Agua Caliente Park it only made sense to me to bring along my camera and binoculars and go for a short walk and do a quick bird count. I thought I would stay at the park about twenty to thirty minutes and then get home and back to work. I had so much to do before leaving for our trip to Utah and Yellowstone National Park. After a quick good-bye I was on my way.

2. NOCA-kab Wednesday, September 4th was a hot and sunny day. As I drove into the park I was surprised by the lack of people and cars in the parking lot. So many times lately when I have birded here this place has been so busy! Now it was mostly quiet except for a couple of workers doing grounds keeping. As I put on my binocular harness and donned my hat and camera a stiff breeze blew helping to mitigate the heat of the day. Already I can hear bird calls and songs. I look beneath a nearby lime tree where I find a pair of young cardinals bathing in the irrigation water beneath the tree. The male flew up soaking wet to the top of the tree while the female heads for the shade of a nearby mesquite tree. The mesquite tree is part of a cluster of foliage that includes palms and other bushes and trees that line the stream and runs from the spring to the pond. The thick foliage casts a cool dark shade over the area and draws me and the birds to its canopy. This area is very active and I soon spot my first MacGillivry’s warbler of the year.

3. BLPH-kab Poking around in this same vegetation I find Warbling Vireos, Canyon and Abert’s Towhees, Western Tanagers, and a Black Phoebe (pictured above)! While the sun blazes above, this area is nothing but cools greens and grays. I cross the now dry stream bed in search of the birds I am hearing.

4. CEWA-kab Out in the bright sunshine again I see a pair of Cedar Waxwings near the entrance to Agua Caliente Park perched in a dead snag. Gila Woodpeckers call and fly from tree to tree. Purple Martins soar on darkened wings against the clear blue sky chattering amicably to one another in flight. These are the sights and sounds that make me happy and bring me peace.

5.YBCH-kab But the heat of the sun causes me to seek the shade once again. As I near the edge of the pond I am amazed to find a Yellow-breasted Chat working its way up through a tree. This bird is very silent for a chat, but a chat nonetheless and the first time I have ever seen this species at this location! It quickly becomes apparent to me that I will be staying here longer than twenty minutes! There are birds everywhere! While I am enjoying my time alone, I also wish that Chris Rohrer could be here because I know that he would be going nuts over all these birds! However, I decide to relax and enjoy the peacefulness and the rush of excitement each time I see another bird!

6. WETA-kab Western Tanagers were everywhere!


7. HOWR-kab I hear the scolding of a House Wren, then find the tiny gray bird in the reeds!


8. LAWO-kab In a nearby tree I spot a Ladder-backed Woodpecker!

It just kept getting better! There are not many ducks in the pond, though, just the typical mallards. I did happen to see a Great Blue Heron rise on ponderous wings when I first arrived, but I do not even find a coot on this day. I work my way across the lawn and past the old farm house to the trail beyond that leads into the mesquite bosque. All is still in the soft green-gray shade as branches reach across the path and form an speckled tunnel.

9. mesquite bosque-kab So many times I have wandered down this path searching for the elusive Northern Beardless Tyrannulet. I searched for it with Chris Rohrer on the first day I met him here. Earlier this spring Gordon Karre and I searched for it twice on the same day with no luck. I have looked for it on my own. A couple of weeks ago Gus and I came on a Sunday morning and sat at a picnic table by the pink house and the abandoned nest for 40 minutes hoping to see the bird, but still with no luck. The Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet had become my nemesis bird. I have been looking for it since I first moved to Tucson and became an eBirder over 6 years ago. Now I heard something! It was something different! I moved slowly and waited. There was no one but me on the path. Tiny birds moved through the thick twigs as if I did not exist. I felt as if the whole world was holding its breath, and then I saw this:

10. what-kab Could it be true?

11. tyrranulett-kab Then it flew into view and there was no mistaking it!

A Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet!

*Life Bird Number 458!

12. NAWA-kab And while the tyrannulet flutters around me I also find a Nashville Warbler and another McGillivry’s! I don’t know who to watch or photograph first!

13. NBTY-kab But the Tyrannulets make it easy for me when they come even closer as if to inspect me! Yes, there are more than one! Wow! What a way to conquer a nemesis bird! I had arrived at Aqua Caliente Park around 8:30 AM. By now it is after 10 and the temperature is rising. As I gaze at the birds through my bins a mom and her little son came walking down the path. They want to know if the path continues in a loop and I tell them that it does. I am happy to see this mom taking her son out to enjoy nature, but I am hot, tired and thirsty. I realize that it is time for me to go. So, I turn and begin my walk back to the car. As I emerge from the bosque trail onto the grounds of the park I spot a small sparrow in the grass.

14. juv chipping sparrow-kabA juvenile Chipping Sparrow!

What a way to end my morning of birding at Agua Caliente Park! When I left the house this morning I never expected this. And while I will always be more than happy to help out my son and give my grandson a ride to school I can’t help but think that finding the tyrannulet was my reward for the day and anyone who saw me could tell by my smile how happy I was! I carried that contentment and satisfaction around in my heart for the rest of the day like a tiny chirping bird!

Birding Agua Caliente Park

Time of arrival: 8:30 AM

Total Time Birding: 2 hours 17 minutes

Distance Traveled: 1/2 mile

Birds seen at Agua Caliente Park on September 4, 2013:

  1. Mallards-13
  2. Great Blue Heron-1
  3. Turkey Vulture-2
  4. red-tailed hawk-1
  5. Mourning Dove-2
  6. Broad-billed Hummingbird-3
  7. Gila Woodpecker-12
  8. Ladder-backed Woodpecker-1
  9. American kestrel-1
  10. *Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet-2
  11. Black Phoebe-2
  12. Vermillion flycatcher-2
  13. Bell’s Vireo-1
  14. Warbling Vireo-6
  15. Purple martin-6
  16. Verdin-8
  17. House Wren-1
  18. Bewick’s Wren-1
  19. Cactus Wren-2
  20. Curve-billed thrasher-1
  21. Cedar Waxwing-2
  22. Nashville Warbler-1 (FOTY)
  23. MacGillivry’s Warbler-3 (FOTY)
  24. Wilson’s Warbler-8
  25. Yellow-breasted Chat-1
  26. Green-tailed Towhee-1
  27. Canyon Towhee-2
  28. Abert’s Towhee-2
  29. Chipping Sparrow-1
  30. summer Tanager-1
  31. Western Tanager-8
  32. Northern Cardinal-2
  33. House Finch-6
  34. Lesser Goldfinch-14

*Life Bird-a bird species a birder has seen for the first time in their life. Most birders keep a Life List of all the bird species they have seen and I am no different! (Click on the link to see posts about other Life Birds I have found.)