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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Missing pics and a Black Hawk

Arrggghh! I've misplaced the flash disk from my little point-n'-shoot camera. Have torn up my desk, where I put the flash disk to keep it 'safe', but cannot find the disk anywhere. Oh well. Am sure this isn't the first time this will happen, but it means no pictures of Montezuma's Castle National Monument, Montezuma's Well and worse - no photos of my first visit to Grand Canyon National Park. Yes, all quite disappointing - for me - but I can include one last video and a quick tale told in genuine false Claire Time. Here we go!

Ahem! "Yesterday" I left Tucson, and headed up to central Arizona with the goal of visiting a river or two, where I believed I might locate my next 'lifer' bird, the Common Black Hawk. As I drove along the highway I spotted a sign for Montezuma's Castle National Monument. It was the first adobe dwelling site I've ever visited and I loved it. While there I chanced to bug a ranger on where I could find a Common Black Hawk and the ranger told me he recently saw a Common Black Hawk at Montezuma's well, only one freeway exit north.

I visited Montezuma's Well where I found another ranger, a lady ranger who marched me right over to the active nest of a Common Black Hawk. HURRAH! The nest was far enough off I couldn't see the bird with my binoculars, so I had to get out my spotting scope. Below you can see the hawk in this digiscoped video I got with my iPhone.

The entire top of the nest is the hawk. If you wonder why I bother to include this video it is because, I at least, can see the hawk's head by noting the bird's yellow bill, which appears and disappears as the bird bobs its head about, just left of center. In the still shots there is no way to puzzle out what is the bird's head from its nest. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Triple Bonus

Bonus Gilded Flicker
When I pulled into the Tucson Honda repair shop, I was loaded up with 'toys', i.e., things to do, for a boring half a day or more waiting for my car's a/c condenser to be repaired. Surprise  - shortly after I arrived, the main repair man, tossed me the keys to a shiny silver Honda Accord, saying, "Go have some fun".  That was it; no paperwork, no fuss. just "Go have some fun".  If you insist kind sir!

I headed for the northern district of Saguaro National Park, not too far away, and having the advantage I'd never visited the site before. Soon I was smiling up at a ranger in a kiosk, and driving onto an 8 mile auto loop.
Close up from topmost photo

One of the first things I noticed was a flicker, pecking at Saguaro cacti flowers. I stared at one bird through my binoculars and it occured to me - that's not a Northern Flicker... it's a Guilded Flicker - WHOOO HOOOOO - LIFER BIRD!

I had barely considered the possiblity of seeing a Guilded Flicker on this trip to Arizona so the surprise was real.

There were plenty of other birds as well. I watched a male Gambel's quail calling stubbornly & insistently from a shrub.

For a while I even gave chase to a small group of Pyhroloxia - a sort of cross between a Northern Cardinal and a parrot. I couldn't manage a clear shot of any of them as they stuck to hiding in the mesquite shrubs.

Tiny Verdin - a desert tit (Hey! Stop giggling.)
Later in the morning I drove slowly over a cement dip in the road, that crossed a dry river bed. As I moved I caught sight of bird, hidden in shubbery and managed to get my binoculars on it. I watched as a drab gray bird with white wing bars and white eyebrows (supercillium). The tiny mite was singing its hear out. Rats... I knew, either I was watching a Gray Flycatcher or a gray Bell's Vireo. I could have either grabbed for my camera or my iPhone, but for some reason I went for the later. I tuned into the song of Bell's Vireo - exact match! I was watching a spring Bell's Vireo singing its territorial song. HURRAH: a second unexpected Lifer bird for the day. ID cinched, I grabbed for my camera but the vireo took off. I hunted in the shrubs for a good half hour but never relocated it. Sadly, no photo, but a well cinched ID.

No Bell's Vireo photo, but I did find a Verdin's nest
Happy with two lifer birds, I drove around the rest of the eight mile drive loop. Every time I found a Saguaro Cactus stand, I stubbornly checked each and every knot hole. The holes in the Saguaro are made by the Guilded Flickers who may or may not nest in holes they make. The holes don't go to waste though as many other birds use the cavities for nesting.

I was near the end of the auto loop, when as I raised my binoculars to view yet another knot hole,  I muttered audibly to myself "Why can't I, just for once, look up at an effing hole and see a..."

And there it was!

Look who's home!
 Siting on its little doorstep, was a tiny Elf Owl - a Lifer bird I have looked for over many years and until now never have found.

Close up of cranky looking Elf Owl
What a thrill - the minute Owl really caught me by surprise. I quickly shot several pix of the bird. Then, as I finally watched it again, through my binoculars, the bird took a step backwards, then dropped out of sight, much as if it'd hit the down button on an elevator.

Three lifer birds, and here I thought I was going to be sitting & being bored in a tiny repair shop customer waiting room. No wonder I always say I'm the luckiest birder on the planet.  Oh - and my car's air conditioning? Blowing billows and billows of wonderfully cool air once again, thankyouverymuch Prudence Car Care Honda. I owe you three lifers and a boatload of thanks.   

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Buckshot Birding

Lazuli Buntings at Santa Rita Lodge, Madera Canyon
Buckshot birding means I scattering my birding hither and yon this weekend in southeastern Arizona. Before I tell what I saw, let me mention one slight little hiccup to my trip - shortly after my visit to Patagonia Sonoita Preserve, my car's air conditioning died. It blew refreshing cool air, then Poof! It blew deflating hot air.
R.I. P. little A/C.
My immediate thought was to head home for some quality pouting. Then I mulled over things over  deciding to just get the damned thing fixed & not cut my trip short. So, read a ton of on line reviews, choosing a repair shop in Tucson.

The repair guy told me the cost would be a whopping 2K. YIKES! Shocking, except back in 2004 when the a/c went out in my old Honda Accord, the Honda dealer gave me a repair price of $3K - with NO guarantee the fix would work. I opted to instead buy my current SUV.  In comparison, the 2K with an assurance the a/c would work after repairs was fine by me. The work will be done tomorrow, Monday morning.

Back to my weekend - on Friday I started off with a visit to Madera Canyon. I quickly toured the area - uh... without hiking... and ended up at Santa Rita Lodge where bird feeders attract things for happy birders to stare at. It seemed a miracle to see both Lazuli & an Indigo Buntings at the same place at the same time.

The birders were, as usual, quite friendly and I enjoyed a lively birding oriented chat. I ended the twilight hour sitting under a telephone pole where I was told a little Elf Owl - a species I've not seen before - popped to entertain the spectators the previous night. Sadly, the little guy didn't pop out to entertain me.

Surprise MacGillvray's Warbler

Saturday I visited the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. I did a bit of birding around the Refuge HQ.  I was stoked when I happened on a Macgillivray's Warbler and managed to get one shot of the little bird with it's smokey gray head and white crescent marked eyes.

There were many tiny Lucy's Warblers with their rusty rumps. I managed a better-than-a-sharp-stick-in-the-eye photo of one.

After checking out the birds by the Refuge HQ, I took a short drive on the refuges' Pronghorn auto drive.  There I found a Raven and I spent a good long while parked, keeping a close eye on the large bird.

Common Raven or not?

When I got what I wanted when the breeze blew and I not only got a look at the underfeathers on the bird's neck, but I got a photo of the white underfeathers too.

Not! A lovely Chihuahuan Raven

Why did I care? The white neck feathers mean the Raven was no Common Raven, but a Chihuahuan Raven, which is a Mexican species. Cool, eh?

Sunday I drove south towards Nogales, and then on into the boondocks. I took lots of wrong turns but eventually found the famous road that leads down to California Gulch. The gulch is famous for it's Mexican bird species that illegally cross the border & chirp, "We don need no stinking birdseed!"
Unfortunately, though I saw none of my targeted species, but there were some nice birds down there and even a few butterflies. 

Arizona Sister
It was a nice weekend, but tomorrow I take the Honda in for a new condenser for the a/c. You know, so I don't boil in my car on my way back to California next week.

Here is a teeny bit of a Nighthawk I found on the streets of Green Valley, Arizona, just west of Madera Canyon Road. Have finally puzzled out that it is a Lesser Nighthawk, not a Common Nighthawk. Love the bird's moth-like flight.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Tuma... what?

Tumacacori National Historic Park
Early this morning I left Patagonia, heading south to Nogales, then north on HWY 19. I'd booked myself a room at a B&B. Driving on highway 19 is interesting as this area of Arizona is the only part of the U.S. that posts mileage in Kilometers.

Inside the old church, circa early 1800s

Somewhere along HWY 19, I spotted a sign for Tumacacori National Historic Park. Tumor... Tuba... Tumacaca... Oh well. Whatever the name was, I had to visit. It is an old mission, with a beautiful church, as seen above, and lots of historical artifacts.

The most interesting bit to me was the pair of Senoritas that cook up tortillas on a stone grill for a small donation. I was starving, so the hot buttered tortillas really hit the spot.

Shady and welcoming outdoor kitchen, serving yummy, fresh tortillas
My visit to this sleepy site was brief, and soaked in history. My visit was also soaked in current history as the church still holds mass for the locals in celebration of special religious events.

I will leave you to read about the history - if you so choose - here. Today was a long day so I suffice to add a few snaps of what I enjoyed most on my brief visit to the church of the old Padres.

Grinding stones lay under the shaded 'patio' of this structure
The cemetery behind the main church

One of many Barn Swallows that mistake Tumacacori for San Juan Capistrano.

A Little Time at Patagonia Sonoita Creek

Patagonia Sonoita Creek Sanctuary Visitor Center

Arrived in Patagonia today. Patagonia is not a sleepy little village in South America, but is a sleepy little town in Southeast Arizona. On the agenda today, as yesterday was visiting the Patagonia Sonoita Creek Nature Conservancy.

Was most impressed by a Gray Hawk
patiently sitting on its nest

Today I hiked the perimeter of the sanctuary, which again, was sure more than I intended to walk. It was rather warm so I just took my time and never stood around unless I was under the sheltering shade of trees. For starters, the birds seemed rather scarse along the trails. Not to say I didn't see Kingbirds, Flycatchers, a Yellow and several Audubon Warblers, but one thing was abundant - Butterflies. I took a path that meandered over a damp marshy area and found some tiny flutterbys, Marine Blues having a 'puddle party'. 

Marine Blues at Puddle Party
Tiny Checkerspots who did not participate in the
 Puddle Party, but they did a lot of air dancin'
The most astonishing difference between the sanctuary when I first visited it in 1999, and now is . At one point, a man walking the trails in the opposite direction of me, approached asking me, 'where is the creek?' I told him the surprising truth - Sonoita Creek is currently bone dry, at least on the preserve it is. I'd say the entire creek was dry but as I actually had to drive through the creek to reach the preserve, I know for a fact the Sonoita isn't completely dry in every spot.
One of many Wilson's Warbler, skulking through the trees

At the end of my hike I spent an hour sitting at a picnic table in the Visitor Center, staring like a house bound cat at the hummingbirds that use the center's feeders. 

A pretty, albeit unbalanced male Magnificent Hummingbird
Note the wasp on the left is darn near as large as the hummer
Slight rarity: female Blue-throated Hummingbird

I sat snapping pictures and starting at them, and it dawned on me one of the birds (seen below) was a female Blue-throated Hummingbird.I saw Blue-throats before so was surprised to find they are unusual on the preserve. I posted the bird as part of my eBird reporting and my sighting ended up on the week's Arizona Bird Alert. That should please me but it always makes me nervous I must have made a mistake in my ID.

If you have any delutions that I enjoyed peace as I observed the many humminbirds at the feeders, this Gilla Woodpecker below begs to differ with you. The bird screamed the entire time I was at the feeders. Tried to figure out what the bird wanted, but the answer seemed to be, a venue to scream in. I cut the bird some slack, because we've all had days like that, right?

Noisy Gila Woodpecker

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Scamper of Coatis

After my successful morning with Elegant Trogons, I thought I would spend the afternoon traveling up another Huachuca Mountain canyon. I decided on Carr Canyon, where I got several lifer birds such as Whiskered Screech Owl November 1999. My 4WD stint up the canyon was fairly rugged but generally uneventful. Saw a few Yellow-eyed Juncos which were new for this trip, but no other birds I hadn't seen as recent as this morning. It was on my way back downhill that things got interesting.

I was driving down a switchback and I jammed on the breaks as three Coati Mundis tore out of the bushes on the downhill side of the road, racing uphill. Now for starters, I thought Coatis were nocturnal but though they are related to racoons, they are largely creatures of the day, not of the night. I was excited and already disappointed thinking 'no photos!'  I drove along the road at .001 mph, and looking uphill saw a Coati peering at me from behind a bolder. When it saw I as looking at it, the animal ducked back. I was laughing when I happened to catch a glimpse of movement in my rear view mirror. A herd of Coati Mundis, behind me on the road were racing uphill. Grabbing my camera, and ran back up the road.

Leaping the channel

 As this Coati scrambled up the slope, it stopped for a long look at the weird human.

One Coati was as curious about me, as I was about it

All together I saw about a dozen Coatis. They ran across & over the dirt road, then scrambled up the hill.  I think I got photos of at least 2 different animals but the ones above are likely the same animal. All in all, my trip up Carr Canyon was a success even if I didn't see any new birds. I mean, it's not every day I get to see a 'lifer' mammal.

Canyon Towhee in Carr Canyon
In the afternoon I left my little inexpensive motel and headed for the little town of Patagonia. I visited the town birding back in 1999. Got a room in yet another cute little motel. Here the Barn Swallows dip and dive, taking great gulps of water from the motel pool, and perching on the light sconces. Tomorrow's plan call for birding Nature Conservency's Sonoita Patagonia Creek. 

I Heard the Trogon Call My Name

This morning, for the 3rd day in a row, I entered Fort Huachuca Army base, winding my way up the rough Fort Huachuca Canyon Road. Even before I got out of my car, a Connecticut Birder, also hoping to find an Elegant Trogon came over & spoke to me. We headed up canyon, on the opposite side I'd traversed the previous morning. Soon outpaced, I found myself marching stoically along by myself, when I heard a loud and raucous call echoing on the canyon walls. Huh... oh yeah, TROGON!

The repeated Trogon calls may have come from any of a b'jillion trees that covered the hillside. As soon as I keyed in on a spot, the bird moved, and the call repeated from a different area. Excited I backtracked downhill to locate the bird. I felt a wave of disparagement, I mean, no way I, born a po' Black child in the streets of New York - OK, not exactly born on the streets, more like born in a Brooklyn hospital - would ever see something as cool as a Trogon. In short, the damned bird was toying with me. Then suddenly the calling ceased; the bird had flown. Maybe it would return? I dropped onto a large canyon stone in the middle of what must have once been a riverlet, and waited.

Nothing happened.
Female Trogon - photo
NOT mine

Yeah, no Trogon for me. I slowly headed back downhill, my face screwed up into a frown. Then I heard the Trogon again - was it closer? I looked up, and there it was...  I looked upon the beautiful back of a grayish & coppery tailed female Trogon. This was a landmark moment - I lifted my camera, taking careful aim - gently pushed the shutter, and nothing happened. Stunned I stared at the camera - no flash disk. I tell you, the dark thoughts that filled my mind would have made a banshee cry & bolt.

The female trogon was the prettiest thing I thought I'd ever seen. Her long coppery tail hung elegantly below her gray back and she ignored me. I took out my iPhone, the only other camera I had about me, and frantically took several shots in the direction of the bird who sat on a vertically hanging limb. Here's the shot - promise not to laugh?

Anything in there look like a Trogon to you?
She took off, and though I relocated her twice more, soon she flew off. With unexpected energy I bulleted downhill to my car, fetched the missing flash disk and bounded back uphill. An hour later, I still hadn't relocated the Trogon so gloomily I trudged back downhill; no exciting photo of my 'lifer' Trogon. Woa, is me, eh?

The second time I returned to my car, I again heard a Trogon. Soon I scrambled across a small creek, and treked a short distance uphill, staring eagerly towards the insistent barking of a Trogon. I spotted a bird! This one was a bright irridecent green, a male and though he was a speck in the tree brambles, any photo beats no photo and after I got several shots, as the bird traversed a few yards - called - traversed a few more yards - called - then flew off across the road to the opposite slope.

I followed the bird and joyfully, only a stone's throw away from it. Here are some of my shots.

View of his cherry red belly during take off
It isn't every new species on my life list that leaves me in such a state of HOLY CRAP! Uh... I meant, in such a state of joyful revery. Seeing tropical beauties I'd never thought I see, let alone find on my own, left me feeling like the luckiest grown up Brooklyn street urchin, E-VAH!

Lots of Bridled Titmouses in the Huachuca Mountains

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Along the San Pedro River

Today I was up early and after handing over my driver's license & allegiance to the fort's entry guards, I drove up the primitive & Fort Huachuca Canyon Road. Once there I parked and hiked maybe an eighth of a mile up the north side of the canyon along an established path. Saw many interesting birds, but no sign of Trogons, nor did I hear any - I was wildly disappointed, but there is nothing stopping me from trying again tomorrow.

I saw this bouncy little Gnatcatcher and was happy to get many shots of it so I could identify its species at my leisure.

Try as I might, I could not manage to turn it into a Black-capped or Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. It was 'only' a lovely garden variety Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, as evident from its undertail feathers that is so kindly showed off to me. Hum.. on second thought, maybe...
Dusky-capped Flycatchers that seemed to be everywhere
When I gave up looking for Trogons on the upper reach of the canyon, I tried to find rare bird that I saw in bird alerts was to be found in 'the lower picnic grounds in the usual spot'. Heaven only knows which lower picnic grounds was the right one, or what 'spot' was the bird's usual spot. Nor could I find birders that even knew what the heck I was looking for. Alas, the Sinoloa Wren posted as being found in the canyon went unseen by me, at least for today.

When I left Fort Huachuaca Canyon, yet again it took me twice as long to find my way out of the facility, than it had taken to squirrel my way in. When I managed find my way through the maze of streets and out, I headed for the San Pedro house.There are xeriscape display gardens and lots of hummingbird feeders around the house, which headquarters the Friends of the San Pedro River and sells lots of books, gears - and my favorite items - cloisonne pins.

But before buying anything I bite the bullet, finding myself tromping down the dry, dusty trail to the river. There I found a couple of ducks were paddling about. They were Mexican ducks one of the stranger Mallard subspecies in which the male duck's plumage resembles the female, as though the males are in duck drag.

Very likely a bonded pair Mexican Ducks, i.e., a male & a female
The best thing the river had was lots and lots of ridiculously brightly colored Vermillion Flycatchers.

Hello! Do you have a license to show off such blindingly bright color, Mr. Vermillion Flycatcher?
Mrs. Vermillion Flycatcher in her
more somber plumage featuring pinkish pantaloons
This fellow, a Green-tailed Towhee (basically a
giant sparrow), wears a ginger punk haircut
A Cassin's Kingbird - found in California, but by me? Not too often
After my San Pablo River walk, I chatted with the volunteer in the Visitor Center. Some other birders joined in the conversation which was about Trogons - which everyone in the room saw at some point - except me. I eyed an Elegant Trogon cloisonne pin but didn't want to jinx myself by purchasing it - it would have to wait for another day.

After the lively conversation I went outside to watch hummingbird feeders being sucked dry by the ravid & bright hummingbirds; nice way to end the day.