Friday, July 30, 2010

Birding the Chiricahuas

Eric and I began our day along Stateline Road looking for Bendire's Thrashers. We drove all the way to the end of the road without finding one so we decided to try looking on Sulpher Canyon Road. Almost immediately after turning onto the road, we spotted 2 Bendire's that proceeded to land on the road offering us awesome views even if for just a second! As we drove back down the road, we had 2 more very interesting sightings. First, we came upon a Cactus Wren that had built its nest on top of some type of shrub. Next, there was a Swainson's Hawk perched on a telephone pole. Its stayed put as we slowly drove past and then allowed me to get some great photos as it sat there and preened!
Swainson's Hawk

Swainson's Hawk

We decided to try for Crissal Thrashers at some feeders and even though we spent several hours there, we struck out on this lifer. Since it was getting hot, we moved to higher ground in the Chiricahuas. Our first stop was at Barfoot Park. It was terribly slow and we saw very few birds other than Yellow-eyed Juncos. Our next stop was Rustler Park just down the road from Barfoot. Since Short-tailed Hawks had been reported from the lookout along the ridge we decided to make the 2 mile hike to the lookout tower. Just after starting our hike, I picked up my first lifer a Mexican Chickadee. While looking at the chickadee, a large dark object moved through my field of view. After finding it again, I was able to identify the bird as my lifer Zone-tailed Hawk!

Finally after 2 miles of hiking we reached the lookout tower. It only took a few minutes and we heard a Short-tailed Hawk. It took us a few more minutes but we finally saw one in flight. As we watched it, it rode a thermal and ended up right at our eye level!

Short-tailed Hawk

Once we finally got back down to Portal and the Portal Peak Lodge we were quite tired and had decided to take it easy for the night. That plan fell through when I got online and saw that there was still a pair of Elf Owls at a nest hole by the library. We walked over there just as it was getting dark. Luckily a local birder showed up and pointed out the nest hole. We watched as the male brought food to the nest. I recently learned that we saw the owls just in time as the young fledged only a few days after we left.

Portal Peak Lodge

Here are a few more of my favorite pictures from my time in Portal!

A tarantula on the road in Portal

Male Gambel's Quail

Male and Female Gambel's Quail

Desert Box Turtle on the road

Eric moving the turtle off the road.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

From the Huachucas to the Chiricahuas

After some morning birding along the San Pedro River, we decided to make our way over to Portal with a stop in Wilcox to look for shorebirds. As we pulled up to Lake Cochise, I was quite surprised that this was a shorebird hotspot. As we rounded the first corner, we saw hundreds of shorebirds. The flock was mostly made up of American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts, and Wilson's Phalaropes. There were smaller numbers of many other shorebirds including, Red-necked Phalarope, Baird's, Least, and Semipalmated Sandpipers, and Long-billed Dowitchers.

A shot of the flock at Wilcox.

Black-necked Stilt

American Avocet

American Avocet

Our first stop in the Chiricahuas was at Cave Creek Canyon's South Fork. Our target was a lifer Elegant Trogon for me. As we hiked down the canyon, we thought we might be out of luck since it was midday and there was very little singing. After about 30 minutes, we finally heard one singing. It took us a few minutes to find the bird but I got decent looks and was happy to add this beautiful bird to my lifer list! We decided to try to find the bird again so that we could get some photos of it. We followed it back down the trail towards our car and finally relocated it singing in the open about 30 feet in front of us. It allowed us to take several pictures before it flew away. We could still hear it singing when we got back to the car but we were never able to find it again.

Elegant Trogon

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Hummers of the Hauchucas and a Spotted Owl

After great birding in Madera Canyon, Eric and I headed over to Sierra Vista and the Huachuca Mountains. We checked into our hotel and headed for Miller Canyon for some evening birding. After a short hike up canyon, we waited a few minutes for it to get dark so we could try to find some owls. We quickly heard a Whiskered screech-Owl and then found a young owl right next to the road only about 15 feet from us!

We headed down canyon and stopped to listen for more owls a little farther down the road. We heard a very distant Elf Owl and then a much closer Common Poorwill. It was a great evening.

The next morning, we headed back up Miller Canyon to bird at Beatty's Guest Ranch. At the first set of feeders, there were quite a few hummingbirds including a Violet-crowned!

We decided to head up to the bigger setup of feeders. It is an awesome place to sit and watch hummingbirds with bleachers for seating and about 20 feeders to watch over! There were tons of hummers including an awesome White-eared! Below are some photos of other species seen that morning.

Magnificant Hummingbird

Blue-throated Hummingbird

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Broad-billed Hummingbird

Anna's Hummingbird

When we were done we hiked up Miller Canyon in search of Spotted Owls. After hiking for quite awhile, we decided to take a break and rest for a couple of minutes. As we turned around to look down the trail, we realized that there were two Spotted Owls sitting on a branch no more than 30 feet off the trail! We were able to take lots of pictures and I even took a short video!

Spotted Owl


Friday, July 23, 2010

Southeast Arizona: The Santa Ritas

Greetings from Portal, AZ

After just a few evening hours of birding around Mt. Lemmon, Rob and I have followed it up by a full day in Madera Canyon and a day and a half in the Sierra Vista area. Both places have been great and we have had many highlights in each.

We started the first morning in Florida (pronounced flow-re-da, but why not just pronounce it like the state?) Wash. Within a few seconds, Rob was able to see his first of many lifers for the day, Lucy's Warbler. After working the wash for a short period of time, we were also able to get great looks at Rufous-winged Sparrow T'd up and singing away.

Afterwards we stopped by the Proctor Road Parking area of Madera Canyon. There is some great habitat in this area, with some large Cottonwoods dominating the scene. We were quickly able to come by a few Varied Buntings. This is one of the most beautiful birds when seen in good lighting, but in many cases all that is seen is a dark bunting shaped bird. We were lucky enough to see him in all his splendor.

Varied Bunting

Acorn Woodpecker

We then headed into the Pine-Oak life zone of the Madera Picnic area and added many great looks at many species - Rob had about 10 lifers. We had our first looks at Painted Redstarts, Arizona Woodpeckers, and Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers. An Acorn Woodpecker, the "clown face", also offered great looks. With a little luck we spotted a flyover flock of Band-tailed Pigeons which was also a new bird for Rob.

Painted Redstart

Following the Picnic Area, we decided it was time for a real hike. We drove to the end of the road and hiked up the Super Trail - what a great name. The highlight of the hike was going the wrong way on the trail as we were going up (we followed the wash instead of the trail). This short detour included great looks at a Scott's Oriole and many great looks at Bushtits. If you don't know what a Bushtit looks like just imagine a gray mouse, and imagine it turning into a bird, the end result is a Bushtit.

Scott's Oriole

After the mouse-bird, we headed to some hummingbird feeders. We visited two sets of feeders and were not disappointed by either. One of the group of feeders turned out to be more active, and we were able to see Berryline and Violet-crowned Hummingbirds at the feeders at this location. While we were watching, we met another birder from the area and he offered to show us the Violet-crowned nest that is in Madera right now. We quickly located the nest with his help and were able to watch a Violet-crowned incubating eggs for a while. Throughout the hike there and back, we were amused by his many stories of birds and mountain lions, and in some cases both.

Violet-crowned Hummingbird on a nest in Madera Canyon.

We left Madera after the hummers but decided to drive through the Santa Ritas to reach Patagonia. On our drive we added many species to our trip list, and we were able to get scope views of a singing Botteri's Sparrow. Rob also saw his first Western Scrub-Jay.

Hutton's Vireo

Cassin's Kingbird

After driving through the mountains, we headed to areas around Patagonia. Unfortunately, the birding was characterized by thunderstorms and rain. We spotted Thick-billed Kingbird and Gray Hawk along Sonoita Creek, and Rob saw his first Canyon Wren.

Since the rain had defeated our birding ambitions in the Patagonia area, we headed to Miller Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains. We decided to hike up Miller Canyon and hoped that we would have luck with Spotted Owls. We didn't know this at the time, but we took the much longer route and didn't have enough time to make it up to the owls. So after hiking back down we thought it was time for some owling. This isn't the best time for owling since owls tend not to make much noise after mid July, but we ended up doing very well. We were extremely lucky when we came across a fledgling Whiskered Screech-Owl watched closely by two parents. The fledgling came within about 10 feet of the road and made sure he had a good long look at us before flying a little ways away.

And to end the night we were able to listen to an Elf Owl in lower Miller Canyon. What an amazing place to listen to the night sounds.


The Best Pics of Day 3!

It has been a great couple of days here in Southeast Arizona. The weather has been awesome and the birds have been even better. Below are a couple of my favorite pictures that I took today while birding in the Huachucas!

White-eared Hummingbird

Spotted Owl

Red-faced Warbler

Lucifer Hummingbird

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

First Day in Arizona

After flying all morning, I was ready to get out and do some birding. Eric and I headed up Mt. Lemmon to see what we could find. I had 4 lifers, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Yellow-eyed Junco, and Montezuma Quail. Eric had only one lifer on the day, the Montezuma Quail. Below are a few of my favorite pictures from today!

Yellow-eyed Junco
Yellow-eyed Junco

Ash-throated Flycatcher
Ash-throated Flycatcher

Monday, July 19, 2010

Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush Recording
-To hear the recording play the video at the bottom.

The recording was made by Cyrus Moqtaderi with a small camera with video which actually worked out fairly well. It would be very easy to get a recording of it if someone had good recording equipment.

Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush Information

I left the Black Hills this morning at about 10 am due to other obligations (birding in Arizona and Mexico, it's been a tough life the past few days) and will not be up to date on the status of the bird from now on. That being said, feel free to ask any questions and I will do my best to answer them.

So here it is . . . .

The bird was first detected on July 10th. I had a very brief view of the bird and heard it singing for about 15 minutes. After a few minutes, the only conclusion that I could come to was an Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush. I listened to the recordings of the song the next day, and they were a perfect match, so I headed back to try for a better look. I walked up and down the canyon countless times without satisfactory looks. On the evening of July 15th, I was finally able to get views of the bird that confirmed it as an Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush in my head. On the 16th, I took photos of the bird after playing a brief recording of its song. It flew in to a close tree the second the recording started. To my knowledge, recordings of the song have only been played 3 times with mixed results. From the morning of the 17th through today, the story is on the South Dakota listserve.

Tips for seeing the bird:

  • Arrive early in the morning. Each morning that birders have been there, scope views have been achieved before 6:30 am.
  • The bird tends to sing from the mid-story up.
  • Focus on the first 200 meters of trail and around the parking lot. The bird has not been seen/heard past the 90 degree right turn in the trail.
  • It tends to have a few favorite perches. Those would be too hard to describe here, but hopefully people who have been there will have pegged them down.

As for the origins of this bird, so far every birder that has been able to observe this bird agrees that it is very likely a wild bird. This is due to many factors including behavior and lack of feather wear.

The bird's song has been recorded once with a video/camera, the results were much better than we expected. I will either get the recording posted or get a link to where everyone can hear it as soon as possible.

The best pictures that are available now are at:
These photos were taken by Doug Backlund. Believe me, these photos took a lot of patience and should not be taken for granted. I spent a lot of time standing beside cameras for two days with agonizing results for the most part.

Directions starting from the Rapid City Airport for those of you who are coming from out of town - I have not driven this exact route, but it is easy to get to the interstate from the airport and from there it is just a few turns. After leaving the airport, turn right on 44. Follow this for 4.7 miles and take a right on E39th St. After 0.7 miles, turn left at Jubilee Lane. After 0.2 miles turn right on Elk Creek Road/Elk Vale Road (this road changes names). Follow to Interstate 90 and go west (turn left onto the interstate). Follow the interstate for 47 miles to exit 14 for US 14A/Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway. Follow the Byway into the canyon for about 13 miles until you come to a bridge with a sign marking the creek as Iron Creek. The parking area is on the right side of the road before you cross the creek.

Good Luck,

Friday, July 16, 2010

Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush

Pics to prove I'm not crazy . . . well maybe the pics won't do that.

Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush-an extremely rare bird north of the border, let alone in South Dakota.

This bird has been singing frequently along Iron Creek in South Dakota, but I have only had a select few sightings. Finally, today he was ready to be photographed.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Black Hills Birding

Greetings from Spearfish, SD

Over the past couple weeks I have been able to do lots of birding throughout the Black Hills of South Dakota. I have also been lucky enough to have a few interesting birds pause for a picture-sometimes when I have my camera and also when I don't. I have seen a few birds that I haven't seen in the Black Hills before including Cassin's Finch and White-winged Crossbill. I have also seen some great mountain birds including Clark's Nutcracker, Gray Jay, and American Dipper. One of the biggest highlights though was finding a Black-backed Woodpecker nest hole, with the young yet to have fledged and an adult female in the next tree over.

Juvi Townsend's Solitaire-although not all range maps show Townsend's Solitaires as a breeding species, I think this shot shows that is wrong.

Pine Siskin- a common bird in The Hills (slang for the Black Hills)

Lewis's Woodpecker-One of my favorite woodpeckers.

Iron Creek-This creek/canyon runs into Spearfish Canyon. This area is one of the only areas to see American Dippers in the Hills.

American Dipper-One of the most interesting birds in my opinion. This bird actually dives under the rapids of creeks and catches aquatic insects. It usually builds its nest on a rock next to a rushing creek or waterfall.