Thursday, May 28, 2015

Last Look at Madera Canyon

Before deserting the Santa Rita Lodge at Madera Canyon for Sierra Vista today,  I doddered around the birdie feeders. So I thought I'd post the pics I'd neglected to post earlier in the week (for those who sadly, think I post all this while I'm actually out of town, ahem!).

A highlight of the week, a parti-colored species, the Varied Bunting
It was interesting - to me anyway - that last year's buntings were all lazuli Buntings, but this year there were no Lazuli's, only Varied Buntings. A little sad here, as when I watched a several buntings bouncing around in a wood pile at the bottom of the slope in front of me, I neglected to point them out to any of the other birders. By the time I thought to the buntings had bounced. THAT I can assure you, is the height of bad birding manners. I must beg forgiveness."Audubon, Peterson, birders in the great beyond, I have sinned..."

A variety of species came in to nab bits of orange & suet from the pole feeder.
Black-headed Grosbeak, ho hum for me, but not from birders visiting from east of the Mississippi.
A bold little Bridled Titmouse
One bird that had me all excited when I first saw it was this female mumble, mumble Oriole.

Female... uh.. there's a blackish bib... but a Scott's?
I so wanted a Scott's Oriole to fly in, a male one, that is. That'd be a lifer bird for me. But only this female what's it showed up. I mean, this girlie has a v. gray head but I dunnon... she could just as likely be a Hooded Oriole. Why oh why didn't she bring along her better half? *heavy sigh*

And on to more cooperative birds, such as Blue Grosbeaks.

There are Blue Grosbeaks in California, but often as not I don't see more than one or two per year. Here in Arizona though, the things are practically a plague. Have seen more this week than in all previous years of my entire life. A half dozen at a time is no big deal in Arizona.

Male Blue Grosbeak
A female Blue Grosbeak, altogether llooking like a different species than her mate
Oh, and here's a Magnificent Hummingbird. What a name, Magnificent Humminbird. Not Better-than-average Hummingbird or pretty-fancy-for-a-U.S.-Hummingbird, just Magnificent.

Magnificent 'Better-than-average' Hummingbird
 Oh, and while on the topic of Better-than-average Hummers, I inadvertently got a series of shots that told a bit of a story about bullying and come-up-pence. It started with a female Broad-billed Hummer, minding her own business, sipping nectar.

Minding her business when alone came a bully - a male Magnificent
He kept dive-bombing the little female, over and over again
The b*stard took over the little girlie's place at the feeder
But too quick for my camera, the little girl chased the big jerk from HER perch
Doesn't the Magnificent look surprised at her moxie?
The Magnificent, its purple & turquoise caught the sun as it skedaddled
Lesser Nighthawk in the ebbing light
It was a nice few days at Madera Canyon. Every day ending with  driving to the bottom of the canyon. There I lazily watched Lesser Nighthawks patrol their territory, gulping down insects on the wing as  daylight faded.


An Afternoon at the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge

Swainson's Hawk soaring at the Refuge entrance

By Wednesday the semi-sad truth occurred to me, that the Plain-capped Starthroat Hummingbird has gone back to where ever it came from and this isn't my year to see one. *sigh* Certainly saw loads of other nice birds. On Wednesday I drove down to Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in hopes of finding some of the Masked Bobwhite Quail but no dice.

Refuge view of Altar Valley and the Baboquivari Mountains

The adobe brick refuge visitor center
  Other species were kinder and I found the first of them at the Visitor Center.

Barn Swallows hung around visitor center entrance way
At the rear of the visitors center I saw lots of other birds, and I watched them while I had my lunch on the picnic patio.

Visitor center's back patio picnic area

A Say's Phoebe found me suspicious
A Cactus Wren caught and enjoyed its own picnic beneath a picnic table
Vermillion Flycatcher also watched me eat lunch
After lunch I hit the Pronghorn Drive, but alas, as the last time I visited the refuge, no Pronghorns.

I found a lot more wildflowers than wildlife.

Coulter's Matilija Poppy aka Cowboy's Fried Egg Flower

Wild Verbena
Now we're talking desert wildflowers... a prickly pear cactus flower
Most of the birds I saw were either Eastern/Western Meadowlarks or Horned Larks.

The Horned Larks seemed, like me, to wilt in the heat
After leaving the refuge I drove back towards the tiny town of Arivaca, but on the way I stopped for short walk around one of the refuge trailheads. I found several nice birds and a pair of cooperative Butterflies.

Tiny Checkerspots

On the way back to Madera Canyon, barely a quarter mile north Arivaca I saw a small kettle of vultures. I was surprised to see there were Black Vultures, which I always associate with the east coast. The Black Vultures circled a road kill with the usual Turkey Vultures. That was a nice treat, I mean, seeing a second type of vulture, the dead kitty on the roadway.
Black Vulture left, Turkey Vulture Right
Altogether I had a nice day, abliet a hot one, taking in the sights of the southeast. Later in the evening I was pleased to get a quick look at one of Santa Rita's resident Elf Owls that nest in a telephone pole by the bird feeding area. Add to that, the air was full of the sound of various night birds, the most exciting one of which was the Mexican Whippoorwill. Ugh! Now I know I've heard them, I certainly wish I could find one to photograph, but will probably have to wait a year or ten, just like my first sighting of a Plain-capped Starthroat.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Game is Afoot!

Male Black-chinned Hummingbird
Not a Plain Cap, but lovely just the same
Um... more like 'the Game is Awing', the game being chasing rare birds, a potentially ignoble sport. My excuse is that last year, just after I left southeastern Arizona, just when I was patting myself on the back for a successful birding trip, a contingent of Plain-capped Starthroat Hummingbirds alighted in many of the places I'd just vacated. It was as if I left a vacuum the little birds decided must be filled on my departure. Little %&#ers. Annoyed as hell, I swore, when the Plain-capped Starthroats returned in 2015, I would race down, on-the-spot to see them.

A year passed. I have waited patiently. Finally, earlier this month one singular Plain-cap showed up at Madera Canyon, a canyon magnificently bereft of anyone named Claire. So yesterday I spent much of yesterday flying from Sacto to Los Angeles where my flight was inexplicably held up 2 hours. UGH! Finally I arrived, tired and slightly cranky in Tucson. I rented a car and sped over to Madera Canyon where I took possession of a little rented Casita room at the famous birder's venue, the Santa Rita Lodge. The lodge is famous for having a seating area set up for birders where they can sit and watch umpteen species of hummingbirds and other local flora and fauna feed. V. convenient arrangement all around.

Canyon Wren that flew in for a look-see
Dropping my gear in my room, I raced to the Lodge's bird feeding area where, so help me, a very nice lady informed me that the Plain-capped Starthroat had arrived. Then it had flown away. This, only twenty minutes prior to the arrival of a birder with the name, Claire. %#^$~!!!! It instantly dawned on me, if my flight hadn't been delayed 2 hours, I would have been in place to see the Plain-cap.  Still, not giving up hope for a glimpse of my target, I sat down and stayed put until sundown. Alas, no Plain-Capped Starthroat.  I keep telling myself, 'Maybe tomorrow?' Uh.. no such luck for today at least. But meanwhile there are scads of other birds to gawk at and capture on digital.
No matter how many feeders are put in there will be squabbles
Male Broad-billed Hummingbirds in a face off
Male Hepatic Tanager on Suet Feeder
A girlie Hepatic Tanager - as yellow as the male was red - flew in for some suet too
'Yeah, I'm pretty damned cute' muses a cheeky Broad-billed Hummer
Arizona Woodpecker - a girlie as she hasn't a red patch on her noggin
Unexpected mad eyed devil; a male Bronzed Cowbird
I love my birdies of course, but don't think I turn my nose up at mammals. I spotted quite a few of these handsome rodents darting about, also enjoying the bird seed and grain. I asked around but no one knew what they were. I later looked them up on my iPhone Audubon Mammal app. Yay! My first Yellow-nosed Cotton Rat, a new mammal for me.
Yellow-nosed Cotton Rat
Cool! Oh, and the drive in and out of Madera Canyon can't be done without seeing at least one or two Coues White-tail Deer.

Shy Coues White-tail Doe
Now, there were loads of birds I saw at Santa Rita Lodge that I didn't mention, solely because I can see them at home in California, like Acorn Woodpeckers, House Wrens, Lesser Goldfinches, House Finches. Black-headed and Blue Grosbeaks. There are also birds that while not normally found in California, they are so common here in Arizona that after a while my brain stops recording them, such as the numerous White-winged Doves. I'll show pictures of some of the above mentioned when/if I get nice shots of them.

Midday I drove to the bottom on Madera Canyon where it is warmer than at the top of the canyon. I became enchanted by the numerous butterflies there, all of which are new to me and had to be looked up on line. Butterflies are even more difficult to photograph than birds sometimes as some of them never seem to sit down and hold-the-hell still.

Arizona Metalmark
Reakirt's Blues
left, a Leda's Ministreak, on the right, uh...
 None of my butterfly shots are too sharp as I never have the depth of field focus adjusted to the situation. *sigh* Which is why I am equally the world's laziest birder and the laziest butterfly watcher.

After sundown I again went to the bottom of Madera Canyon and there spotted a couple of Lesser Nighthawks out for a wing around the desert. The shots I got were rather dark but I intend to get a better picture or two by Monday, when I leave Arizona. This is only a short visit, and there really ought not have been a visit in the first place, but had to have a try at seeing a Plain-capped Starthroat. This is probably the guiltiest last second birding trip for me ever. Oh well. People fly to Las Vegas for less noble reasons, wrote the judgmental woman.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Road Home

Old fencing on the back roads of Mendicino

Just when you think the wildflowers have all passed you by, accidentally you happen upon a quiet little hillside between coastal Mendocino and Ukiah. There is a splash of colors on the grasses and  butterflies dart about. Eureka! There's a touch of  'Spring time' left in them thar hills.

Along the road from Fort Bragg through to Ukiah, we passed through the adorably tiny town of Comptche and the Montgomery Woods State Reserve. Sometime later we drove past some red flowers and I pulled to the side of the road to examine them. At first I thought the red flowers were  California Fuchia but on closer scrutiny they looked different. Now, I've looked them up they are actually delphiniums, or more commonly called Lark Spurs. 
Bright Red Larkspurs aka Canyon Delphiniums
There were lots of wildflowers shining on the shady hillside. Barbara and I excitedly scoured the hillside to see what grew. Some flowers were there but in small numbers.

Cute little Baby Blue-eyes were scattered sparingly
 One spot had strange looking flowers called Elegant Clarkia that look like someone shredded them with a cheese grater. Strange
Elegant Clarkia or 'Red Ribbons' looking more purplish in the shade of trees
There were Chinese Houses scattered around too. Never saw them before this year, now they seem to be everywhere.
Chinese Houses
We weren't the only ones interested in the local blooms of course. There were butterflies visiting flowers too.  I seldom see different types of butterflies, in one spot any more so it was a treat seeing so many kinds. There were Duskywings which are to date, the biggest Skipper butterflies I've ever seen.
A Duskywing Skipper feeding on the Blue Dicks.

A whitish, Western Swallowtail sipping vetch nectar
I don't recall I've ever seen one of these gigantic California Sisters butterflies before

 The Yellow Lupines were far deeper buttery yellow than the pale yellow lupines we found in Lake County. Barbara started calling them Butter Cookies because they look like rows of cookies... maybe we were just ready for a snack?
Yellow Lupines
Eventually we headed on for Ukiah in the east, with intent to get home. I figured if we made it sometime prior to midnight it would be a miracle. But we had to stop again to admire a bumper crop of native succulents, called Canyon Dudleya, Canyon Liveforever and Rock Lettuce. Love those names. Barbara had a Klepto-botanist thoughts, and what do you know! A couple of teeny rooted Rock Lettuce jumped off the cliff, crawled into the back of my car and followed us home. Honestly. The little buggers hitch hiked a ride!

The biggest bunch of Rock Lettuce on the slope