Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Red-breasted Birds in SE Arizona

1. Red-breasted Sapsucker-kab Red-breasted Sapsucker in Madera Canyon 11-8-13

After striking out on finding the Red-breasted Sapsucker in Madera Canyon on November 3rd, Chris Rohrer and I were right back at it in less than a week. Chris had Friday off from work and we jumped in my car and headed south. Though Madera was the ultimate goal, we stopped along the way at Sahuarita Lake in Rancho Sahuarita where a pair of Red-breasted mergansers were reportedly being seen. While I have seen Red-breasted mergansers on the east coast, they would be my first sighting of this species in Arizona IF we could find them. One had been seen previously at Kennedy Lake on the southwest side of Tucson and Chris had already seen it there, but my attempts to find the bird in the same location came up short. I still needed this bird.

2. Sahuarita lake-kab Sahuarita Lake is surrounded by a paved walking path. Though the water is an unnatural blue due to a chemical they add to kill mosquitoes and algae it still is a pretty spot with the Santa Rita Mountains towering like a thin blue cutout in the background. I parked the car and Chris and I started walking with the sun behind our backs. It wasn’t long before we sighted the Western Grebe that was also reported here.

3. western grebe-kab Western Grebe 11-8-2013 Sahuarita Lake, AZ

We only heard a few birds as we walked along the trail but I was surprised to see a couple of Turkey Vultures circling overhead. A few yellow-rumped warblers flitted in the trees that lined the path and we even found a Ruby-crowned Kinglet near the restrooms! Though I scanned the lake with my bins I did not see anything remotely duck-like on the water until we got closer to the far end of the lake. Finally we found the mergansers at the far end close to the shore and in some kind of slime that slicked their shaggy crest down when they came up after a dive. As we walked slowly closer, they quickly slipped away. Once out in open water again the fresh water rinsed the muck off and they took on the shaggy-crest look once again.

4. mergansers-kab Red-breasted Mergansers (females or juveniles)

5. rb merganser-kab Note the long, thin bill and the shaggy crest.

Red-breasted mergansers are ocean going birds and are rarely found inland. The Red-breasted merganser has a longer and thinner bill than the Common merganser, which is frequently seen inland. The Common Merganser female looks similar, but has a shorter bill with a white throat and greater contrast between the reddish-brown head and neck and the white breast. Non-breeding males look very similar to females but according to my Sibley’s Bird Guide males are in breeding plumage from November to May.

6. RBME-kab Mergansers are also called “sawbills” due to the jagged edges of their bills which helps them to grasp fish.

7. WEGR-kab We got one last look at the Western Grebe before we left the lake.

After a quick stop to pick up some lunch Chris and I headed for Madera Canyon. While we counted birds along White House Canyon road like we always do on our way into the canyon, we did not linger. We headed straight for the White House picnic area to find our bird. As we drove up into the canyon I was surprised at how many cars were on the road. I had never seen so many cars here! But, word was out about the Red-breast Sapsucker and an even rarer bird had been sighted far up the canyon on one of the trails. Some one had seen an Eared Quetzal! Birders were coming from far and wide to get these species on their Life Lists! Chris and I did not have time or the gear we needed to hike 2 miles up the mountain for the chance of seeing the quetzal, so we headed straight for the picnic area. It wasn’t hard to find the bird, there were already other birders there with bins and cameras. We quickly parked the car and got out.

8. RBSA-kab Red-breasted Sapsucker 11-8-2013

The birders who were already there were just leaving but told us the spasucker kept returning to an alligator juniper just past a picnic table. Chris and I listened for its call and just as another group of birders joined us the sapsucker flew in! we all sat ourselves down quietly and started snapping pictures! This was a Life Bird for me and I snapped and snapped and snapped away!

9. RBSA-kab At first I only got shots from the backside of this bird, but finally it turned its head and eventually it flew off to a nearby mesquite tree where I was able to take a side shot.

10. RBSA-kab The whole time we sat there and watched the bird no one talked. When they finally did talk, every one kept their voices to a whisper. It was a magical moment for me. Here was yet another bird I never thought I would see! While I have see Red-naped sapsuckers, Yellow-bellied sapsuckers and Williamson’s sapsuckers, this bird seemed out of my reach as it does not reside in Arizona, but only rarely passes through on migration from the Pacific Northwest! With this sighting of the Red-breasted Sapsucker I now have all my North American sapsuckers on my Life List!

Of course, we saw many of the usual winter birds on this day, including Mexican Jays, Acorn woodpeckers, Dark-eyed juncos and the always adorable Bridled Titmouse!

11. BRTI-kab Bridled Titmouse in Madera Canyon 11-8-13


Morning Notes: The Day Before Thanksgiving

11-27-2013 Morning blush

There’s a pink blush to the cloudy skies as I wake up this morning. A light wind is blowing and the overall effect is quite dramatic. It makes me want to run and toss my head like a wild pony! It makes me feel wild.

It’s the day before Thanksgiving and I have come downstairs early to start getting ready for the holiday. There is so much to be done: floors to wash and pies to bake, but first I am taking a few minutes for myself to think and to write. I miss writing. It is what I love most. So often I get caught up in the birding and the photography and I feel like I have left some of the writing behind, so please bear with me as I take a few moments to express myself!

I am a person who likes to feel connected. I have found it difficult lately to keep up with all my birding adventures. Chris Rohrer and the birds keep me on my toes! Because of this I can see that my blog has taken a different turn as it has become impossible for me to post these adventures as they happen. Things are out of sequence and that just bugs me, but I have had to let it go in favor of attending to the things that are most important, like spending time with my husband or my grandson, and counting the birds!

Yes, I count the birds on a daily basis at my house. I have now come to believe that this is the most important birding thing that I do. While racing around the state to see birds is fun (and I am not about to give it up!) It’s the daily bird count that I do that matters most. I also count the birds I see along familiar routes I drive and at my local grocery stores and shopping malls. With more and more people getting into eBird, there are plenty of people eBirding the favorite birding haunts. But dozens of checklists coming in from Sweetwater or Madera Canyon does not a complete picture make. While these locals are the bright and shining threads of a tapestry of birds, the birds at your local park, your school yard, or in your neighborhood and backyard are what fill in the blanks and make up the complete picture of bird populations. Having this complete picture is what eBird is all about. So while you are cleaning your house today or baking pies, take a few glances out the window at your feathered friends and be thankful that you have them. Then write down the time you started watching the birds, record the species you saw and the number of each species, then write down how much time you spent overall watching the birds (even if you stopped for an hour or two and then came back to it) and submit that info to eBird. It’s just that easy!

As for me and my blog; don’t worry, I am not going anywhere! However, in order to keep up to date with what is going on I will be posting a few more of these Morning Notes or Notes from My Nest just so I can keep you up to date on what is happening. Morning Notes will be notes I write first thing in the morning just to let you know what is going on that morning or what is on my mind. Notes From My Nest will be more of an overview of what is happening in the backyard or in my life. Meanwhile, Artsy Fartsy Fridays will continue, as well as my regular birding adventures. I hope you like these new features. Now, it’s time to go bake some pies!

11-27-13 sunrise in the neighborhood Sunrise in my neighborhood 11-27-13

P.S. Scroll down for yesterday’s post. More bird stories and pictures coming later today!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What’s THAT in the Grass?

1. what-kab 

November 3, 2013: A few weeks ago Chris Rohrer and I went looking for the red-breasted Sapsucker that was being seen in Madera Canyon. We went to the location where the bird was being seen. We walked all around and searched all the trees. We heard flickers and saw Mexican Jays, but no sapsucker. However, as we were walking past a picnic table I spotted something in the grass. I reached out and grabbed Chris’s arm and told him to freeze! Then I pointed to the green creature slithering through the grass and over the asphalt pad beneath the table.

2. slither-kab Slither…

3. climb-kab Climb…

4. hide-kab Hide!

5. peek-kab Peek…

6. a boo-kab --a-BOO!

Apparently this is a rare Green Rat Snake! What a beauty! And then, as we walked down a nearby path we found this:

7. tarantula-kab A tarantula!

Madera Canyon is a world class birding area in Southern Arizona. Located in the Santa Rita Mountains, it is reached by driving to Green Valley and taking Continental Road to White House Canyon Road. Once you enter the canyon, it’s like you are in another world.

8. madera Canyon-kab The road into the canyon.

After leaving the White House Picnic Area we drove farther up into the canyon. It was late in the afternoon and shadows were already falling across the rim draping the canyon in violet light. Farther up the road we found a few more birds, but no sapsucker.

9. acorn woodpecker-kab Acorn Woodpecker 11-3-13


10. az woodpecker-kab Arizona Woodpecker 11-3-13


11. inca dove-kab Inca Dove 11-3-2013

Though we didn’t see the Red-breasted Sapsucker, one can never have a bad day in Madera Canyon! Just watch where you step because you never know what you will find underfoot!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

JFK, The Day After- a guest post by Gus

Sanderling on the Cape Cod National Seashore created by JFK on August 7, 1961
In NYC on 9/11, the bombing of the Twin Towers, is one of those days all of us remember where we were when we heard about it.  For me Nov 23, 1963, the day after JFK’s assassination, was one of those days I’ll remember forever.

The day Kennedy was shot I was 2 weeks away from my 11th birthday.  I remember the teacher coming into the class. She was very upset and told us the school was closing and we all could go home.  I really don’t recall if she told us why or not but it was a very chaotic scene.  The rumors were running rampant as buses were picking up classmates and I began walking home with other students.

When I got home my mom was watching our little black and white TV.  She began to explain to me what had just happened.  But the thing that stuck in my mind was my mom had tears in her eyes and I don’t remember ever seeing her cry.   Even when her twin sister died of cancer she hid her emotions from me.

But it wasn't until the following day I realized the full impact of the day before.  My dad was in the Navy and just the two of us were heading to the Submarine base.  I don’t recall why we going to the base that day but it was a very somber ride with my dad.  For as long as I could remember every time we passed through the gate at the front of the base there were two Marines checking badges of the occupants of each vehicle heading into and out of the base.  During the early 60's the Marines were always in dress uniform while on gate duty. To me, at age 11, the Marines were like gods!  In their dress uniforms and wearing white gloves they were the epitome of strength, grace, goodness and protection.   If you happened to be going through the gate at sunrise or sunset when the Flag was being raised or lowered the Marines, just by raising their hand, had the power to make all traffic entering or leaving the base came to a complete halt.

But that day, November 23rd, the day after JFK died what I witnessed changed me forever.  As we approached the gate the first thing I noticed was the Flag at half-mast.  As my dad and I slowed to enter the base the Marine on duty lowered his and looked inside to verify my dad’s Navy badge as I’d seen them do hundreds of times before.  But this time, as I glanced over I saw this young Marine staring in at us and something very disturbing was going on.  I didn't believe was it was possible.   He had tears streaming down his face.  His eyes were all red and I could clearly see the pain in his face.  He didn't say anything yet his face expressed the look of wounded soldier.  He just waved us through like any other day.  In that moment my world lost all tranquility and innocence. 

As I was telling this story to my 35 year old son a couple of days ago I was overcome with a flood of emotion of what happened on that day fifty years ago, November 23rd 1963.

Gus (my husband)

Cape Cod National Seashore

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Notes from my Nest: New Yard Birds and other Backyard Dramas

1. Western towhee-kab Spotted Towhee 10-2-2013

Last month was an interesting month in my back yard with several new species added to my Tucson Yard List. I was surprised to find a Western Towhee when I was leaving my house on October 2nd. It was kicking up the duff underneath a front yard bush. I did not have my camera or bins in hand but it was so close that I clearly saw it. I also quickly went back inside to grab both and re-found the bird in the backyard under the orange tree. The bird was in the shade which made for poor photos. This is the best of the lot.

2. mystery den-kab Chris Rohrer and I went birding one Saturday morning and when I came home I was surprised to discover this big pile of dirt in the back yard. It had not been there earlier in the day when we sat outside watching birds and drinking coffee on the patio, so whatever creature created this monstrous excavation did it in a very short time!

3. close-up-kab What lives in here???

I found out a few days later.

4. rock squirrel-kab It’s a Rock Squirrel!

This creature is very shy and very fast and runs for cover at the slightest sound or motion. I did see it climb the orange tree one day to nibble on a seed cake I had hung for the birds but I have never seen it up there again. I hadn’t seen it for days, then one day I saw it disappear into its den once again.

5. black phoebe-kab Black Phoebe 10-10-13

The morning of October 10th was wild, windy and stormy. Heavy gray clouds hung over Tucson and a wild wind blew strong over the town. I went out on my balcony to count the birds and watch the wind and was so surprised to see a trio of Vaux’s Swifts riding the wind currents! A few minutes later a rough-winged swallow flew overhead. Then I heard a new bird call and looked to see a Black Phoebe in my yard! I got three new yard birds in one day! Later in the day I went out to do errands and found White-throated swifts flying over the parking lot at Spouts on Broadway and Pantano as well as at Michael Perry Park where I stopped to count birds on my way home. Later I found another White-throated swift flying over a friends house. Storms are known to blow in all kinds of birds.

6. rock pigeons-kab These pigeons used to hang out on this roof and catch the morning rays all the time but since the Cooper’s Hawks have been hunting my yard on such a regular basis I rarely see them here anymore, though they are still in the neighborhood. I see Cooper’s hawks so often that I almost never stop to photograph them anymore. One day recently I had two adults and one juvenile in my yard all on the same day!

7. coha-kab Cooper’s Hawk in my yard 10-5-13

8. coha-kab Cooper’s Hawk in my neighbor’s mesquite tree 11-8-13

But then, on October 30th I was sitting outside on my patio with finches and doves feeding serenely and hummingbirds buzzing around. suddenly there was a bird explosion and I saw a small raptor drop, twist and turn and snatch a finch out of mid air! It landed on the ground not more than six feet behind me, but when it turned and saw me it took its prey and flew up into the same mesquite tree in my neighbor's yard. I managed to sneak back inside and grab my camera and s-l-o-w-l-y open the sliding door. I stepped out cautiously and found the bird in the foliage and was able to snap off a few shots before it got nervous and moved to a different tree. I though sure it was a merlin, but after offloading these photos I am having my doubts.

9. hawk or merlin-kab Though you can see the eye line in this shot, the bird does not look dark enough or compact enough. If you look closely you can see the dead finch hanging down from the branch where the bird has it clutched in its talons.

10. merlin or hawk-kab In this shot I do not see the faint “whisker marks” that are usually seen on a Merlin, plus, this birds legs look long and skinny. Merlins are compact birds with short legs. In the photo below you can also see the white eye lines which is what throws me off, but it seems that juvenile Sharp-shinned hawks can have this eyeline. The vertical stripes on the breast indicate this is a juvenile or a juvenile in transition to adult plumage. Adult Sharp-shins and Cooper’s Hawks have horizontal barring on the breast. If you have any opinions one way or another I would love to hear them!

11. merlin or hawk-kab 

The cooler Autumn temperatures have caused my roses to bloom once again. Their color and beauty are a welcome sight in the back yard!

12. rose-kab 

I have been birding, birding and birding. While it’s fun to go out and find the birds, it’s also fun to see new species in my own back yard. On November 6 a couple of Savannah Sparrows stopped by the backyard briefly in the morning. Just two nights ago I couldn’t sleep and was up watching TV around 2 AM. Suddenly over the sound of the TV I heard a pair of Great Horned Owls calling to each other in the night. This is their mating season and they love a full moon. I muted the TV and listened to them call for over 10 minutes. I did grab my bins and try to see them on the rooftop but my the birds were somewhere out front and my view was mostly blocked by the mesquite trees in the front yard. The Yellow-rumped warblers have returned and I see at least one every day and once in awhile I see a kestrel hanging around. But, those darn Cooper’s Hawks render my back yard silent at times and I miss the happy chatter and twitterings of my regular yard birds.

13. black phoebe-kab

New Yard Birds since the end of September:

  • Spotted Towhee 10-2-13
  • Western Tanager 10-5-13
  • Vaux’s Swift 10-10-13
  • Black Phoebe
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker 10-14-13
  • Savannah Sparrow 11-6-13
  • Great Horned Owl 11-18-13

You can see the complete list of My Tucson Yard Birds in the side bar.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

I’m Not Hiding

1. BCNI-kab 1.

I’m not hiding out in a tree…

2. lost in the rocks-kab 2.

Or lost among the rocks…

3. contemplation-kab 3.

I’ve just been in a contemplative mood…

4. details-kab 4.

And lost in the details of Life…

5. hanging out-kab 5.

I’ve also been hanging out with a few friends,

6. don't squawk-kab 6.

So don’t squawk! I’ll be back to blogging soon…

7. jumping for joy-kab 7.

cause I’m jumping with joy over all the new birds I’ve seen!

Note: All the above pictures were taken on a November 7th visit to Reid Park here in Tucson except for the last shot, which was taken in Madera Canyon while searching for the Red-breasted Sapsucker. I’ve just offloaded over 600 photos and will be cranking out blog posts as fast as I can process the photos and write them! Meanwhile I keep on counting birds while trying to get ready for the holidays! I hope you’ll come back and visit me again! (Below is a list of the birds seen in the above photos.)

  1. Black-crowned Night Heron in tree near Reid Park Pond
  2. Black-crowned Night Heron in rocks along creek at Reid Park
  3. Female American Widgeon in Reid Park Pond
  4. Male Mallard napping on shore of Reid Park Pond
  5. Female Hooded Merganser with male Ring-necked Duck and domestic ducks in Reid Park Pond
  6. Snowy Egret in Reid Park
  7. Ruby-crowned Kinglet in Madera Canyon