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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Ramsey Canyon Score

Ramsey Canyon view
Today was day two of 'Find the Flame-colored Tanager'. I headed up Ramsey Canyon,Quest, not actually expecting to find the bird.  When I made my way to the where the tanager was is said to hang out, there were many birders, who hadn't seen the bird as yet. Several false starts happened that set groups of birders hiking up and down the canyon trail with me trailing along, in total fear of missing the bird altogether. But today was miracle day and eventually a tanger-ish melody wove in and out of the pines and sycamores, causing everyone to race for the source of the song. Finally I looked up, and there, on a darkened branch in the shade was the tanager. Suddenly I had myself a new life.
First view of the tanager, in a not-too-sunny spot
After five minutes or so the singing male moved into a brighter spot
If I were a female Tanager, he'd be my choice
Must have taken a b'jillion photos of Mr. T (Tanager), who sang like he was auditioning at an auxiliary branch of the Met. It took 2 days, but I got my bird.YAY! Having seen my first, and hopefully not the last lifer of this trip, I headed back down the canyon, and got yet another treat. A birder, going wild snapping shots in a small tree, shot me a massive grin and pointed out a tiny little nest only about 10 ft, if that high.

"It's a Plumbeous Vireo nest. The birds are over in that tree over there, but they'll be back if you wait." The birder, still grinning headed off downhill.

I stared at the clever little nest, made with dry leaves and bits of cottonwood fluff. After a few minutes, the little Vireo, the species of which was a lifer for me last year, flew in.

'Babies... Mama brought you a num-num!'
Awww... who're the cutest nestlings in the canyon...? You are!'
I watched the vireo and the nest for quite a while, and made sure to honor the unwritten birding code and made sure I put others to viewing the nest before moving on.

I also saw a massive sycamore tree, with a broken limb that hung right over the trail. Into said limb, I watched a Sulfur-bellied Flycatcher slip into, but the silly bird wouldn't come out again and do it all over again for my photographic benefit. Happily I did get another shot at a Sulfur-belly. I went Canyon hopping again, visiting Ash and Miller Canyon. In Miller Canyon a Sulfur Bellied Flycatcher bounced around and gave me lots of nice pix.

Sulfur-bellied in Miller Canyon
Sulfury tinge is visible on that stripped belly

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Ramsey Canyon

Tufted Flycatcher, totally unseen by N. C. Miller

Yesterday I headed for Ramsey Canyon, a best beloved birding spot which would be perfect for me if it were more horizontal in nature, but you can't have everything. Ramsey is jumpin' these days for the exotic birdies that have flown in from the tropics, the most sought after being the Tufted Flycatcher. To see this little exotic feathered thing, an uphill hike to the Ramsey Canyon summit followed by a mile hike along a mountain ridge was required. Loads of people did the hike, me however, not so much. Hope it returns about two years from now at which time I plan to be ready to hike to see the little booger.

Crap shot, of great bird, Elegant Trogon

Meanwhile, yesterday I was after a different tropical rarity that's been found uphill about half a mile up the canyon. So, with camera (loaded with film & charged battery which I had presence of mind to check) I headed uphill. It was nice & cool under the shaded canyon trail. I heard an old familiar call, that of the Elegant Trogons which called vigorously.

Tickled to see a bird that was a lifer for me just last year, I made my way up to where I found a group of birders.

"The Tanager?" I asked hopefully.

"Just left a couple of minutes ago. It'll be back." the Tanager sated birders replied.

Thus started a long, long, futile wait for the Flame-colored Tanager to return. These south of the border birds, a breeding pair showed up a week or two ago, and started building a nest in a little pine tree.  The Tanger's nesting tree was fenced off for protection.
Nesting site was fenced off to protect the little pine on the right
 While we all chatted and waited for the Flame-colored Tanager male to return, I photographed whatever winged thingies came in sight.

Texas Crescent Butterfly

Painted Redstart, cutest little thing in the Canyon
A girlie, Northern Flicker, trying it's best to look like a Gilded Flicker, just for me
 One hour. Two hours. Three hours. No Flame-colored anything. I was starting to get hungry and as no food is allowed in the canyon (unless you are feathered, furred or scaled) getting back to my rental car seemed a good idea. Heavily disappointed I started the long trudge back down the canyon. Loads of birds danced around along the route, and not to far from the visitor center I stopped to rest on, I kid you not, a wooden rocking chair to watch hummingbirds at the feeders. There, watching a Magnificent Hummer duking it out with a Broad-billed Hummer, a couple of guys who I'd chatted with uphill, called to me.

"As soon as you left, the Flame-colored Tanager flew in! I'm sure he's still singing away just over the trail if you want to see him."

I. Was. Flabberghasted. How DARE they update me on that totally Claire-unfriendly Creature-of-the-wild. It was some kind of CIA level conspiracy. I mean, how DARE that bird fly in after I'd left in favor of lunch over facing the bird's return while slowly starving to death in public. 

No way I could muster the energy to crawl back up the hill. It was a miracle I'd made it uphill to begin with but I just couldn't face scaling the hill a second time. Too much sweat on my brow and under my armpits. Tomorrow. I'll get back up there tomorrow. Feeling sorry for myself. Oh yeah, you betcha. 

When I left the canyon and finished lunch I stopped by a Mickey D's for a HUMONGOUS iced coffee, then decided to re-visit Carr Canyon, where a year ago the troop of White-nosed Coatis crossed my path. On the way I passed by a little nature center which was closed last year as it was mid week. This time it was open and I toured it, and chatted like 45 minutes with the visitor center ranger. Honestly, I had a rare case of Chatty Cathy-itis and couldn't just shut the hell up. After the visit I headed up Carr Canyon and half way there in my rental 4-wheel drive, I decided I didn't feel like hazarding the drive up to the top which, I recall from last year, was um... daunting. No Coatis this time around, but I did come across a roadrunner, with the catch of the day in its bill. The bird charged across the road then flew (a rare sight I can assure you) up the hill, where the bird proudly posed with its lunch.

Mighty hunter I, pose here with this wildly
powerful mini-dinosaur I caught with my own beak!
Totally enjoyed that Roadrunner. 

Tonight I checked into a cute tiny motel, that had champagne dreams and caviar wishes. Was delighted they had a happy hour (OK, was more like 3 hours). I decided after my long day I deserved treats so enjoyed a nice cold beer (wasn't Guinness but very nearly had flavor which was a bonus) and a little of their starchy Chex mix type offerings. Later around sunset, I exited said room to see, a large, scrubby desert lot next to the motel that was being droned by a Lesser Nighthawk. Yay!

Feeling experimental, I took loads of pictures with an ISO setting normally used for photography in unlit caves in the bowels of the earth. It being sundown, not Hades, I think I may have overshot my ISO needs, but what the hell, it was an experiment. I was stunned by how not-too-horrible the shots turned out.

Little Desert Gamble's Quail
Now, the photos I took ran from so-so to too-dark-but-what'd-ya-expect-it-being-past-sundown. So, I did a little photo shopping and LOVED the results.
Un-photo-shopped Lesser Nighthawk
Second uncorrected shot
OK, now hold onto your whatever-it-is you hold onto. Here comes a Nighthawk with viewable feathers!
Astounding - for me at least - corrected photo
And oh, yes, here is a second lightened, contrast messed-with and such, photo.
Slightly blurry, overly contrasted, but hell, you can very nearly see feather patterns!
Are you awestruck? No? Then you're not trying. Really, for me these are amazing photos, that I skillfully produced by hitting Photo Shop's 'You are too much of an idiot to work the professional level so just hit the auto' button. Yeah, I hit that sucker all on my own, no help with the cursor. Thank you. I'm impressed too.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Hummer Heaven

Love this rustic sign
First, get your mind out of the gutter. Now, on my way to Sierra Vista, I GPS'd my way to a premier Hummingbird site for the U.S. of A, the Audubon Paton Center for Hummingbirds in Patagonia, AZ. The Paton Center is so v. cool. Once-upon-a-birding-festival, I watched Mrs. Paton doing her rounds. The Patons had umpteen hummingbird feeders hung around the perimeter of their ranch style house. Mrs. P no sooner filled all the feeders, then it was time for her to heave a heavy sigh. It was time to start over again because the first feeder was yet again, sitting on empty.

I guess she didn't mind because the Paton's yard hosted as many as fifteen species of hummingbirds which you must admit is pretty damned impressive. Because their hearts were two sizes too big, the Patons set up a shaded tent so birders could sit in comfort, binoculars aimed at the dozens and dozens of hummers battling over ownership of the feeders. Would you let dozens of strange and colorful hummingbirds... I mean, birders sit around all day in your back yard? The Paton's did so which is why they deserve to have their name attached to this now best beloved Hummingbird heaven.
Yet another smug Broad-billed Hummingbird
Today, it was the non-hummer sorts that caught my initial attention. Ladder-backed Woodpeckers which for the life of me looked more like Nuttal's to me, scrounged up and down tree limbs. Numerous Gambel's Quail roamed about. Another birder tried to get me onto some quail chicks but I couldn't see the camouflaged little buggers to save my life.
Not ladder-backed enough for my comfort

When I did pay attention to the hummers they were dog-fighting like the Kaiser was watching.
Take that you shiny green nectar thief!
There were scarlet feathered types about.

Summer Tanager
Songs and looks have no better representative than the Cardinal
One of the reasons I was set on visiting Paton's was I haven't laid eyes on a Violet-crowned Hummingbird since 1999. So I sat in this Hummingbird haven with high hopes. The birder who tried to get me 'on' to the quail chicks asked jovially, if he could 'wish up' a special bird or two for me. I turned to him and whined, "Well if you could find me a nice Violet-crowned Hummingbird it'd be nice." I turned my head around and guess what was sitting on a feeder, staring at me? I'm surprised the explosion of laughter didn't scare the thing off...
This Violet-crowned Hummer was apparently awaiting it's cue to enter stage right
Hurrah! How lovely to see such a gorgeous little mite. I wish the lighting had been less shady, but oh well, better shaded pics than none at all.

Violet-crowns, male & females, look alike
That's a quick look at the Paton's Hummingbird center. Then it was on to Sierra Vista and a little more birding before I head back home.

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 & other legendary 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 Hummingbird. 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 along 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, not the dead kitty.
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.