Click here to return to 2011 Quest for Birds:† http://www.barry15.com/2011_Quest/
Sunday, May 1
We were up, breakfasted, and checked out of our Sedona motel by 8:15 this morning, on the road toward Phoenix, for C to fly home.† On the way out of town, we stopped at Bell Rock, and C walked up the path toward the rock, while I hung around the parking lot and looked at birds.† I didnít see anything new, but at least there were birds to look at.
After that, we got gas and headed for the Phoenix airport.† I dropped C off at about 11:30, which meant she had to wait around for almost 3 hours for her flight, and I headed toward Tucson.† I had a place to stop to look for a rare species of dove, Ruddy Ground-Dove, but I decided to skip it.† My information was old, Iím not sure I would have been able to tell it from a Common Ground-Dove, and it was a pretty large area that they were reported to be in.† [I later read that the doves hadnít been seen at that place for several years.]† So, I pressed on into the northern outskirts of Tucson, to the Sweetwater Wetlands.
Sweetwater Wetlands is a sewage treatment facility, with several ponds and a lot of birdlife.† I had two purposes in going there.† First, I wanted to add a bird to my year list, to keep my streak alive, and it is located right on my route to where I want to be tomorrow night, and second, a species of hawk lives there that I am not likely to see anywhere else this year.† So, I had two goals, any bird for my year list and this particular species of hawk.
I got there about 2 oíclock or so, and as I approached the place, there was a WHITE-WINGED DOVE (lifer) on a wire, so one goal had been met already.† It is a common bird, and I fully expect to see a lot of them, but that one was the only one I saw today, as it turned out.† So, the pressure was off, and I was free to look for my hawk.
I started to walk around the wetland, and almost right away I met a man who lives in Michigan in the summer and in this area in the winter.† I strolled along with him, and we met up with various other people who were birding and went with them from time to time.† He told me where to look for my hawk, and we looked to see what we could find on our way to that part of the wetlands.
We saw various birds, and the next one I saw for my year list was a LAZULI BUNTING.† They are a really beautiful blue bird, which I had only seen once before, I think, years ago.† I expect to see more of them later in the trip, and I really would like to get some pictures, as they are so pretty.† Today they were in a flowering tree, and I didnít even try for a picture, as they were too obscured.
My Michigan buddy and I walked on around the wetlands, seeing various birds.† There was a ďMexican DuckĒ, which is a subspecies of Mallard that lives mostly in Mexico, as its name implies.† So far, it is not a separate species, so I canít count it, but I saw one today, so if they are ever split, I will be able to add it to my list.† That is one of the vagaries of bird listing Ė gaining and losing birds as they are split or lumped.
At one point we traveled along with a man and his lady from Kentucky who had never birded this far west before, and it was interesting to compare notes with him, as I have almost never birded this far east before.† Many of the birds here were new to both of us, but some were familiar ones to one or the other of us.† I might run into them again, as they are going to be spending time in the same areas I will be in for the next week or so.
We eventually got around to the big trees where the hawks hang out, but they were not in evidence.† I chose to hang around that area, and my Michigan buddy went on.† While hanging around, hoping the hawks would show up, I saw a black and yellow bird with a reddish face, and I had added WESTERN TANAGER to my year list.† No picture, sorry to say, as it moved on quickly.
About this time, there was a fairly large turtle crossing the path, traveling away from the water, toward the street.† I later saw him on the other side of the street, trying to get up the curb.† I wonder where he was going.† There was no water in that direction.† Here is a picture of him:
I saw a little bird fly into a tree, but I had a hard time identifying it (not an uncommon occurrence).† I finally decided it was a female Lesser Goldfinch, but Iím not 100% sure.† Here is a picture, in case someone someday points out my mistake:
A little while later I saw a couple of birds and heard their call.† My Michigan buddy had described this call as sounding like a Model T Ford trying to start, and that is exactly what it sounded like, an engine turning over, not starting.† I added CACTUS WREN to my year list.† Here is a picture of this guy:
At just about the same time, I saw a different dove.† I got some pictures, and I decided it was a COMMON GROUND-DOVE.† Here is a picture of him:
So, I was seeing some birds, but it was getting late, and I still hadnít seen my hawk.† I continued on my way back toward the car, and when I looked back at the large trees where they were supposed to perch, there it was!† It was sitting out in the open, but the foliage of the tree had blocked it until I got far enough along the path.† It was a lovely HARRISíS HAWK (lifer), the bird I had come to Sweetwater Wetlands to see.† The light was terrible for a picture, as was the distance, but it appeared I would be able to see it from the street outside the wetlands, so I hustled myself back to my car and drove on down the street to look.
Just as I got to where I thought I might be able to see it, it flew, and I got a good look at it in the air.† It landed on a pole across the street, and I got some pictures.† Here is one of them:
A dark hawk, with a white tip to its tail, white under the tail, rufous colored legs, a rufous patch on each wing, and a yellow cere at the base of the bill.† Perfeck!† I had him.† He was mine!† Mission accomplished!
He flew back to one of the trees and perched even lower, although not at a very good angle for pictures.† Here is a picture of him from underneath, showing his tail and underside:
So, my dual mission was accomplished.† I added six birds to my year list, of which 2 were lifers, and I got the Harrisís Hawk.† That brings me to a total of 248 species for the year, of which 34 are lifers.† By the way, Christina called me when she got home this evening, and I had her look in my old birding notebooks.† It turns out that I had not seen the Pinyon Jay before, or at least, I have no record of it, so that goes back in the lifer column for this year.
Iím in a Motel 6, on the north side of Tucson.† I need to decide just where I want to go tomorrow during the day, but at the end of the day, I need to be in Madera Canyon, which is only maybe 50 or 60 miles south of Tucson, up in the mountains a bit.† There are a couple of places I could bird at on the way there.† I have an A-frame chalet booked there, with a kitchen, but no internet access or phone.† I doubt I will have Verizon cell phone service either, being deep in a canyon, †so I may be out of touch for a couple of days.† On the other hand, it is only about 40 minutes down to a town that has a McDonalds that should have wi-fi, so I may be able to get off a report that way.† We will see.† There is a good chance that there will be no report tomorrow, and then one the next day, covering yesterday.
Tonight Iím saving 3 bucks by not paying Motel 6 for wi-fi. Instead Iím using my cell phone application to connect my laptop via my cell phone, using my Verizon data plan, like I did at the Grand Canyon.† So far, it seems to be working fine.
The hard core birding part of the trip starts now.† Bring it on.
Monday, May 2
Well, I have a lot to write up today, and lots of pictures.† A hard core birding day for sure.
I was up, breakfasted, and on my way by 8:15 this morning.† Not exactly early, but not bad for the Old Rambler.† I didnít need to go back to Sweetwater Wetlands, as I had seen the Harrisís Hawk, and I decided to skip the very popular Desert Museum outside of Tucson, on the basis that Iím not really a museum type person, and the fact that it costs $14.50 to get in.† Iím sure I would have found it interesting, but I decided to spend my time birding instead.
So, I drove the 40 or 50 miles to Green Valley, which is on Interstate 19 Ė the only Interstate to use kilometers on its distance signs (for some reason that I have not heard).† I stopped at Safeway there and got some provisions and a sandwich for lunch, and I filled the car with gas.† There are no restaurants or stores here in Madera Canyon.† There are only about 20 overnight lodging units, too, if that many, in three separate establishments.† The place is close enough to Tucson that it still gets lots of visitors, though, especially on weekends.
My first birding stop was at Florida Wash (pronounced Flor-EEí-da, I have read).† I walked up the wash, but there werenít many birds at all.† I did see a flycatcher several times, and I decided it was a HAMMONDS FLYCATCHER (lifer), although I wish I had a picture to confirm it. †There are many flycatchers here, and they look very much alike.† Here is a picture of Florida Wash, with the Santa Rita Mountains in the background:
The walking was difficult and the birds were very few, so I moved on to my next stop, which was Proctor Road, up a little farther toward the canyon itself.† This was hugely more ďbirdyĒ.† I heard and saw lots of birds on the nice paved walkway up the canyon.† Here is a partially hidden picture of a Wilsonís Warbler, a bird I saw in San Diego in January, but still a nice bird to see.
There were some deer in the area, and they didnít seem to be bothered by people at all.† Here is one of the young ones:
There was a pair of Hepatic Tanagers in the area, too.† I had seen a male in San Diego on one of my twitches with a local birder there.† It was rare in San Diego, but they are common here.† Here is the female:
Here is the very different colored male:
My next year bird was a CANYON TOWHEE (lifer).† It was scratching away on the ground and didnít seem to be bothered by my presence at all.
He looks very much like a California Towhee, but their ranges donít overlap.
Here is a picture of a partially obscured Townsendís Warbler.† I saw a number of them, but they donít sit still for pictures, a trait shared by all the other warblers.
Another bird I saw a lot of today was Ash-throated Flycatcher.† I have seen them previously on the trip, but I finally got a good picture of one today:
There have been some large black flying insects around, and I have been assuming they are bumblebees, but maybe not.† Here is a picture of one.† The blue color is interesting, I think.
About that time I saw a beautiful Western Tanager male and got some pictures of him.† Here is one:
I had walked the paved trails around Proctor Road for a couple of hours or more, and it was very enjoyable and productive.† While there, I had seen a couple of Black-throated Gray Warblers, a Bewickís Wren, and a BRIDLED TITMOUSE (lifer).† I need to get a picture of that little cutie, and he is a real darling and fairly common.† They donít stay still for very long, though, so it is hard to get a picture.† There was also another bird that I eventually decided was a PLUMBEOUS VIREO (lifer).† It looks very much like a Cassinís Vireo, but I decided it was a Plumbeous, although I wouldnít stake my life on it.
It was almost noon by then, and I was about ready for my lunch, so I moved on up the road to the Whitehouse picnic area.† Up there, I ran into a birder by the name of Jim who is spending the winter in nearby Green Valley.† He lives in Bulgaria the rest of the year, but I didnít ask him what he does there.† He was born and raised in the Seattle area, as it turns out.† We had our humble lunches together, and then he offered to try to find a Lucyís Warbler for me.† While we were eating lunch, I got another lifer, though, the MEXICAN JAY (lifer).† They are an attractive Jay, blue in color, like most jays.† Here is a picture of one:
As we started out to look for Lucyís Warbler, I got a picture of an attractive lizard:
Jim and I chased Lucyís Warblers all over the place for half an hour or more, but never saw any.† He kept hearing them, and they all led us merry chases.† It is a pretty plain looking bird, and I suspect I have seen them and not been able to identify them, so I was hoping to get some help, but we never saw one.† Here is a picture of Jim in Madera Creek canyon, next to a cholla cactus:
We did see
a couple of White-breasted Nuthatches while on the Lucyís hunt, and other
warblers and birds.†
We also saw a flycatcher that he and I both agreed was a CORDILLERAN FLYCATCHER (lifer).† I probably would not have known what it was by myself, but he pointed out the key identification points, and I am counting it.
When we got back to where the cars were, I decided to move on up the canyon.† I stopped next at the Santa Rita Lodge, where they have bird feeders and a place to watch them from.† There wasnít a lot of action there, but I got some pictures.† There is a local subspecies of Wild Turkey that lives in this canyon, and here is a picture of a male, strutting his stuff:
Here is a closeup of one of the females:
There were some Lazuli Buntings there, and here are some males.† I had promised you pictures of them yesterday.† This isnít the best picture in the world, but it does show how pretty the males are:
Here is another species of tanager, the Summer Tanager.† This is a female.† I saw them and got pictures up in Sedona the other day.
Here is a picture of a bird I see in Yosemite normally, and they also come to our yard, although I have not seen one yet this year.† Here is a male BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK:
Here is a picture of a bird I see in California all the time, but this is my first sighting on this trip, an Acorn Woodpecker:
Eventually, I decided it was time to move on up the canyon to my lodgings, the Madera Kubo cabins.† They have four cabins here, and I have a very nice one-bedroom one, with a complete kitchen.† I am very comfortable here, except that there doesnít seem to be any heat except a wood stove, which I certainly donít want to mess with.† It was in the low 70ís here today (quite cool for here in May, actually), and it is now about 67 in here, at 9 PM.† I wonder how cold it will get overnight.† Tomorrow is supposed to be much warmer, they say.† Iíll go to bed early and hopefully there are a lot of covers.
Before I checked in, I drove up to the end of the road, about another mile up the canyon.† I have been checking for cell phone coverage all day, and up at the end of the road, I had three bars and 3G data availability.† That is outstanding, because it means I can take my laptop up there in the morning and connect to the internet via my cell phone, using the handy app I downloaded, and I can send this off.† Here at the cabin I have very marginal cell phone reception, with one bar (most of the time) and only 1X data availability (some of the time).† I can connect to the internet, but it is very slow and fades out from time to time.† All of this is much more than I expected, though, so Iím very pleased.† Iíll try to send this off in the morning.
They have a lot of bird feeders here at Madera Kubo, and I sat there and watched birds for an hour or so this afternoon.† I added four more to my year list just sitting there.† Here is a picture of a very large hummingbird, a female MAGNIFICENT HUMMINGBIRD (lifer):
I saw the male, too, and he is much more colorful, and just as big.† They dwarf the other hummers.† I forgot to mention a hummingbird I saw earlier today, and then saw again at the feeders here, the BROAD-BILLED HUMMINGBIRD (lifer).† I havenít gotten a picture I like yet, but the male is very attractive.† They are very common, and Iíll see if I can get a picture tomorrow.
Another one showed up at one of the feeders, a female BLUE-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD (lifer).† There were some other birders there at the time, and they pointed it out and told me what identifying marks to look for.† I expect I will see more of them, as they are fairly common, and Iíll see if I can get a picture of a male eventually.
Later there was a male HOODED ORIOLE at one of the feeder bowls, but my picture of him is blurry.† Iíll keep trying.† My final new year bird today was a YELLOW-EYED JUNCO (lifer) at one of the feeders.† Here is a picture of that little beauty:
One last birding note.† Tonight, as it was getting dark, I went out to get something from the car, and I heard something big flapping its wings nearby.† It turns out that the local Wild Turkeys spend the night in the trees around my cabin.† There are over a dozen turkeys about 15 or 20 feet up in trees outside my door.† I guess I knew that turkeys could fly, but I never pictured them sleeping high up in trees.
Today was pretty windy, but a great temperature, in the low 70ís. †Tomorrow is supposed to be a lot warmer.† There is a fire over the mountains, and there was smoke in the air for much of the day today.† It is tinder dry here, as they have only had one rainy day this year so far.
So, in summary of the day, I saw only about 30 different species here today, but in good numbers.† The quality was very high, though, as 12 of those were new for my year list, and 10 of them were lifers.† That is an outstanding day for sure.† It brings me to 260 for the year, of which 44 are lifers.† At this rate, my time with the guide can be spent looking for the difficult ones and ones I have missed, which is great.† Iíll drive up the canyon tomorrow morning (Tuesday) and sit at a picnic table with my laptop and cell phone and send this off, I hope.† Meanwhile, I will load the bed up with covers to survive the cold of the night.
What a life!
Tuesday, May 3
Well, I sent off yesterdayís report from a campground this morning, using my cell phone for an internet connection, and it seems to have gotten through.† Amazing technology.
Today wasnít nearly as good a birding day as yesterday was.† Partly, that was because I wasnít going anywhere new, and so I had already seen many of the birds.† But, in addition to that factor, it just wasnít as ďbirdyĒ a day for me, even in the same places I went yesterday.† So, I donít have many birds to report, but I do have a lot of pictures.
Before I even really got started, I went across the road to the feeder garden of the place I am staying in, and I picked up a lifer there, SCOTTíS ORIOLE (lifer).† Here is a picture of the very striking male:
It was good to get one for the year list right off the bat, because I wasnít at all sure that I would see any more new ones today.† I headed down the canyon to the place where I had seen the most birds yesterday, the Proctor Road area.† There werenít nearly as many as yesterday, but there were some new ones, at least.† I saw a pair of Phainopeplas today, and here is a picture of the female.† The male looks very similar except he is all black.
I wandered up and down the path there for a while, but didnít see much of interest.† There was one little bird that made me wonder what it was, and I took a lot of pictures of it.† A knowledgeable looking guy came along and offered the opinion that it was a Huttonís Vireo, but I wasnít convinced.† When I got back here and looked at my pictures, I decided it was a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, an even less interesting bird than a Huttonís Vireo.† I had been hoping it would be a new vireo for me, but no such luck.† I am going to need some help from my guide if Iím going to be able to count any more vireos, Iím afraid.† Likewise for flycatchers.
Speaking of flycatchers, I went back up the road to the Madera Canyon Picnic Area and saw a little flycatcher there that I couldnít identify.† I got a lot of pictures, but I still canít tell which one it is.† Here is a picture of the little turkey:
You would think that one could look it up in a field guide, but when I did that, I got it down to two species, and then it turned out that neither one of them even is on the list for Madera Canyon.† So, it is just another unknown bird for me.† Maybe Iíll show the picture to my guide and see what he thinks.
About that time I went up to the end of the road to send off yesterdayís report.† I set up at a picnic table, but it was harder than hell to see the laptop screen outside like that, with the sun shining.† I think the newer laptops have better screens for that, but this old cast-off of Cís is almost useless outdoors in the sun.† I shaded the screen and my head with my hat and was barely able to see it well enough to send off my email report.† I am still amazed that I can connect my laptop to the internet via my cell phone.† I had no idea it would be so easy.† Tonight I havenít been able to connect, though, because the cell signal here in my cabin isnít strong enough tonight.† I wonder why it was strong enough yesterday but not today.† Iím supposed to have wi-fi at my next two destinations, and that will be a relief.
I went up and down the canyon, which isnít really very long, and stopped at various places, but birds were scarce.† I stopped at the two places that have feeders, the one Iím staying at and the Santa Rita Lodge.† There wasnít much of interest at those places, either.
I got a picture of a Hermit Thrush at one point.† It isnít a great picture and it wasnít a new bird for me, but I like to show pictures of birds I havenít shown before, to demonstrate the huge diversity of our birdlife.† Here is a Hermit Thrush:
And here is a bird that I see a lot of in California, an Acorn Woodpecker.† I like this picture, even though the exposure is a difficult one with the bright background, because of the pose of the bird.† It seems very proud to have found an acorn, like it is holding it up for admiration or something.
Back at the Santa Rita Lodge, I got a great picture of a White-winged Dove.† It shows all the key identification features of the bird Ė white line along the wing (which is a white patch when it flies), black mark on the throat, and reddish eye with bare blue skin around it.† They are a very attractive bird.
I promised better pictures of male Lazuli Buntings, and there they are.† I love the shade of blue.
And from the back:
Here is a female Hepatic Tanager.† I have shown them before, but I liked this pose:
There are a lot of Black-headed Grosbeaks at the feeders in both places, and here are pictures of the female and the male.† First, the female:
Then the more striking male:
The hummingbird that I find the most attractive so far is the male Broad-billed Hummingbird.† It has blue and green on it, and it has an orange bill with a black tip.† Here are four pictures of this little beauty.† Check out the blue tail.
He has blue on his neck, too.† I like this one because it shows the wings in a forward position.
Here you can see the blue on his upper body.† What a beauty!
And, this one is my favorite of all of them:
Blue is my favorite color, so I tend to favor the blue colored birds.
A couple of the hummingbird species are a lot larger than the others, and one of them is the Magnificent Hummingbird.† They werenít coming around very often, so I didnít get any very good pictures, but here are pictures of the female and male, although they donít really show the colors very well.† First, the female:
And the male:
I did get one other bird for my year list today, and it was a lifer.† Here is a picture of the female ARIZONA WOODPECKER (lifer):
Later, I got a picture of a male, with his red patch on the back of his head:
The people here like to tell you that the Arizona Woodpecker is the only woodpecker with a brown back.† Iím not sure why that is so significant, but Iíve been told that several times.
Here is a picture of a male Hooded Oriole, a bird I added to my list yesterday, but didnít get a decent picture of::
And for the final picture of the day, here is the best one I have gotten of the Bridled Titmouse, a little cutie that I love to see, but doesnít sit still for pictures:
So, there is another report with a lot of pictures in it.† Just like on my Aussie trips, Iím getting tired of the tyranny of having to process pictures every night.† I like writing, so writing my reports is fine, but it is a pain in the ass to have to spend 1 to 2 hours processing pictures of an evening.† If it gets too bad, I guess I will just reduce the number of pictures I put in the reports.
No internet connection at all tonight for me.† Iíll maybe stop at Mickey Dís in the morning and send this report off, or maybe Iíll wait until the late afternoon tomorrow, when I reach my next little home from home.† I have four or five places to stop tomorrow for birding, and some specific species to look for.† I have hopes that I will add at least one more species to my year list, to keep my streak going.† I only added two today, but both of them were lifers.† The Arizona Woodpecker was the Bird of the Day.
Oh yes, a sleep report and a temperature report.† I slept very well last night, and the temperature got down to about 61 by this morning.† I was warm enough all night with just the sheet and blanket, and in the morning, I pulled the spread up to warm up before getting up.† The bed is very soft, which I like, and my back felt a lot better this morning than after a night on a firm bed.† Today it got up to about 80 here in the canyon, and the cabin got up to about 72.† It is still 70 inside here at almost 9 PM, but I am not opening anything up to cool it, as it will have to hold the temperature all night.† I suspect it wonít get as cold in here tonight as last night, though.† I think the weather is supposed to continue to heat up, and I am heading for lower elevations, where it will be still hotter.† Oh well, I knew that was part of the deal.† I am hoping the next place has air conditioning, but I doubt that the one after that does.† What an adventure it all is, when one is addicted to comfort.
Wednesday, May 4
I was up and away from my Madera Canyon hideaway by about 7:45 this morning.† I stopped at a McDonaldís and sent off yesterdayís report and checked my email.† My first stop after that was at Rio Rico Pond.† This was a twitch.† A flock of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks (who thinks of these names?) had been reported there a couple of weeks ago, but I didnít see any.† There were a number of White-faced Ibis in breeding plumage, and a few other birds around, but no whistling-ducks.† I hadnít really expected them to hang around this long, but it was only a half mile off the freeway, so worth a stop to look.
My next destination was another twitch, for Least Grebes at Pena Blanca Lake.† I had heard that there was a fire in that area, and indeed, the whole valley was filled with smoke.† It was really quite unpleasant, with the heat and the smoke.† As it turned out, the road to the lake was closed due to the fire, so I couldnít even look for the grebes.† Hmm, the day wasnít starting out too great.
I stopped in Nogales at Safeway and restocked my traveling larder, as the grocery store here in Patagonia is pretty small.† They had a good price on my bourbon, I was glad to see.
Nogales is right on the border with Mexico, and from there I headed north again, up the valley on the back side of the Santa Rita Mountains.† I turned off the highway at Kino Springs, which is a well known birding stop.† There is a golf course there and a couple of ponds that attract birds.
Well, with the very dry year they are having here, the whole area looks really bleak.† Everything is dry as tinder and very brown.† It looks like California at its worst.† One pond was completely dry and the other was very low and had scummy looking water in it.† I did see a number of VERMILION FLYCATCHERS in the area, though, so I had one for my year list today, anyway.† The male Vermilion Flycatcher is bright red and black, and very striking.† I tried for pictures, but havenít gotten one yet.† Here is a picture of a female Vermilion Flycatcher, but she doesnít look anything like the male:
I walked around the area near the clubhouse and the ponds, but didnít see much of interest, and nothing new for me.† It was well up into the 80ís by then, and it was hot in the hazy sun.† At least the smoke wasnít as bad on this side of the mountains.
On my way back to the highway, I pulled over to stop at the dry pond, to maybe look for birds there, and as I stopped, I saw a bird in a bush by the road.† At first I thought it was a Northern Cardinal, but then I realized it was actually a male PYRRHULOXIA (lifer).† I donít know how to pronounce that, but it sure is a mouthful.† I chased it for a while, trying to get a picture, but failed.† Maybe Iíll get a picture later in the trip, as it is an interesting looking bird.
While I was chasing the Pyrrhuloxia, I happened to look up in the sky and saw a raptor overhead.† I got the binoculars on it, and it was a lovely GRAY HAWK (lifer).† The sky was too bright to attempt a picture, but maybe Iíll get another chance.† I actually saw another one later, briefly, but didnít stop to try for a picture, because of where I was at the time.† So, despite being desolate and bleak in the drought, Kino Springs did produce three birds for me, two of which were lifers.
I stopped for my humble lunch (a sandwich from Safeway and the last of my Fritos) at the Patagonia Roadside Rest, which is actually just a portion of the old highway off to the side, about a third of a mile long.† It is a very well known birding spot, and while I was there, several groups of birders showed up, most of whom then walked across the road to look for birds.† I just walked up and down the area, looking for the easy targets, as it was too hot for me to feel like trekking through the brush.† I saw a female Phainopepla and a little yellow bird.† I got a good look at the little yellow bird, and I thought it looked like a YELLOW WARBLER, and I decided it was.† I confirmed that in my own mind by playing the Yellow Warbler song on my phone, at which time the bird reacted strongly, flying across the road repeatedly, overhead.† It is not a hard bird to see, but it is on my list now.
So, having had my lunch, I moved on into the town of Patagonia itself.† My next destination was Patonís Yard.† The Patons were a couple who had a large number of bird feeders, and they opened their yard to birders to come look.† They are both dead now, but their family has continued the tradition, and it is an extremely well-known birding destination in this part of the country.† There were maybe ten or more birders there when I got there, including one group I had seen at the roadside rest place just before.† It is kind of interesting when a group comes through a place where I am, because I can eavesdrop and learn a lot about the birds, as the group leader tells his/her clients all the good stuff and points out birds at various feeders.
There were lots of birds around, and almost right away I got a really good one, a male INDIGO BUNTING (lifer).† I had read that one was being seen there, but I only had it at 20% in my spreadsheet, so it was a great sighting.† The feeders are quite far away at Patonís, so my only pictures are blurry and poor, partly because I was hand-holding my camera, but it is such a pretty bird that I will show you a blurry picture anyway:
Iím a sucker for blue, as I have mentioned before.
I picked up a hummingbird I had probably seen before, but I hadnít counted yet as I wasnít positive.† I benefited from one of the expert leaders there telling his client all about what to look for, and I notched up the BROAD-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD.
Likewise, a little while later, another guy spotted a CURVE-BILLED THRASHER on one of the feeding platforms, and I counted it, although I would have had a hard time identifying it myself at that distance.† It is a common bird, and I imagine I will see plenty of them, and maybe I can get a picture later.
Still another bird I added due to a tour leader telling her clients about it was the INCA DOVE (lifer).† It was a pretty poor look, head-on only, but I got a couple of very distant pictures, and I am convinced that she was right, it was indeed an Inca Dove.† I would certainly like a better look, though, and pictures, of course.† Birders sometimes say that they saw such and such a bird, BVD.†† BVD means Better View Desired.
I got some more pictures at Patonís.† I have seen White-breasted Nuthatches several times this year, but I finally got some pictures of one.† They tend to feed on the trunks of trees and typically run down the trunk as they probe for insects in the bark.† I have seen them at feeders, but this one was on a tree right out in front of the seating area.† For your viewing pleasure, the White-breasted Nuthatch, doing his nuthatch thing:
Another bird I have seen several times on the trip that I find attractive is the Lark Sparrow.† Here is a picture of a whole little group of them, foraging on the ground:
They really blend in, donít they?† Do you see all six of them?
One of the specialties of Patonís is a hummingbird that doesnítí show up very many places.† Patonís is considered the best place in the country to see one, and I not only saw a couple of them, I got a picture that I think is really great.† VIOLET-CROWNED HUMMINGBIRD (lifer).
Unlike most of the hummingbirds, the males and the females look the same.
These bird feeder viewing places are interesting.† There are always chairs or benches, and always something providing shade for the seating area.† There are sugar water feeders for the hummers, seed feeders for the various seed eating birds, and usually oranges sliced in half for orioles and other fruit eating birds.† Oh yes, and suet for the woodpeckers.† I have been to three of them so far, and I expect I will visit two or three more.† Iím staying at one of the well-known ones at my next destination.† Typically, there is a donation box for the Ďsugar fundĒ, and I donít know how many visitors donate.† I did give them a couple of bucks today at Patonís, but I have no idea what the norm is or what is expected.† It is all very low key and unobtrusive Ė just a box there, with no pressure to donate.† I wonder if the groups that visit are expected to donate something.
So, despite the slow start to the day, I ended up adding another 9 species to my year list, of which 5 were lifers.† Tomorrow I am on my own, as usual, and then on Friday I have my first day with my guide, Stuart.
I have a comfortable little cottage here in Patagonia, with internet access and a kitchen.† It got up to almost 90 here today, I think, and it is supposed to stay at least that hot for the next week.† The a/c here in my cabin is adequate, though, and I expect it will cool down at night, as this is still at 4000 feet of elevation. It is supposed to get down to 53 overnight.
Time to send this off and prepare my humble dinner.† The trip rolls on.
Thursday, May 5
I slept pretty well last night, and I was up before 6.† Tomorrow I have to get up at 5, though, so I can be ready to start birding by 6.† That will be a challenge for this old night-person rambler.† A nap tomorrow afternoon may be in order.† I got a Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino thingie today, to give me a lift in the morning without having to make coffee.† Weíll see how that works.
My cottage here provides the ingredients to cook my own breakfast, including eggs from their own chickens.† So, this morning I cooked up some bacon in the microwave, which is the first time I have tried that (it worked great), and I made a bacon and cheese sandwich to go with my four scrambled eggs, also cooked in the microwave.† (The stove is a gas one that it appears you have to light with a match Ė not something Iím about to mess with.)† They also provided some nice Dannon Greek yogurt, and that breakfast set me up fine for my day.† I made a ham and cheese sandwich for my lunch, and included a tropical fruit cup I had gotten at Safeway and some peanut butter Oreos.† This is some good stuff Iím eating here on my vacation.
I got out of here before 8 and my first stop was Patonís Yard again.† I was the only one there at that hour, and there were some birds there that hadnít been there yesterday.† Here is a picture of one that I counted yesterday, but got much better looks at today, Inca Dove:
I also got a much better look at another bird I had counted yesterday, the Curve-billed Thrasher.† Here is a picture of that guy:
When I got tired of sitting there seeing the same birds, I headed down the road to the Patagonia Sonoita Creek Preserve, a Nature Conservancy preserve.† It is located along a year round creek, which is unusual in this dry country.† Despite that, I found it very dry and uninviting, for the most part.† I walked a mile or two, as the day heated up, and I saw some birds, but nothing very interesting.† Finally, just as I was figuring this was the day I was going to get skunked, I saw a little bird that I thought was a vireo.† I am terrible with vireos, but I got great looks at him (no pictures, though), and when I got back to my car, I looked him up, and I decided it was a CASSINíS VIREO (lifer).† So, I had my bird for the day, and could then relax.
It was a lot like Madera Canyon, in that I probably spent an extra day here that wasnít needed, and I had already seen most of the birds I was going to see in this new environment, the first day.† On the second day, it was a lot harder to find new ones for my list.† I had deliberately planned the trip to have extra time in places, though, to allow for contingencies like weather.† Today was a slow birding day in many ways, but I ended up getting a lot of pictures that I like, which is a good thing, too.
I ended up spending over two hours at the Preserve, including 20 minutes or more just sitting by the creek in the shade.† Several birds came by while I was there, but I didnít get any pictures or see anything new.† Most of the trails I walked on were shaded, and there were a lot of benches, which I took advantage of frequently.† I ran into other birders from time to time, and we exchanged pleasantries and information about what we had seen.† It was hot in the sun by then, but not too bad in the shade, if you were taking it easy.
After that, I stopped back at Patonís again, for the third time, and got some more pictures.† I like the Gila Woodpecker a lot, and they like to drink sugar water as well as eat at the seed feeders.† There arenít any suet feeders at Patons, but Iíll bet they would like that, too.† Here is one at a hummingbird feeder, sucking up sugar water:
While I was there that time, a male Northern Cardinal visited, and here is a picture of him at a seed feeder, along with a Gila Woodpecker:
Here is a picture of Patonís yard, to give you an idea of what it looks like.† There are hummingbird feeders all along the roof line of the house on the left, and at the end of the yard are a number of seed feeders and some fruit on platforms.† I find the whole concept of ďfeeder placesĒ interesting.† It is quite interesting to listen to the people there, as they have a wide range of backgrounds and interests in birding.
When I got tired of sitting there, it was time for my humble lunch, so I moved on to the city park in Patagonia.† I sat in the shade and ate my lunch, and afterwards, as I was leaving town, I stopped to take a picture of this raven:
The most common raven in this country is named the Common Raven, of all things.† But, here in the southwest, there is another species of raven, called Chihuahuan Raven.† The differences are minor, one of which is the color of the base of the neck feathers, which you can only see if the wind ruffles the feathers or the bird is preening.† There are supposed to be differences in the voice, also, but that seems unreliable.† The best indication is that Common Ravens can be in any environment, and are almost always in ones or twos, and the Chihuahuan ones tend to gather in small flocks.† They also like open spaces.† So, I need to look for a flock of ravens, so I can count the Chihuahuan one, unless I happen to see the white base to the neck feathers on one.† I assume the one above is a Common Raven.† There is one other difference, too Ė the feathers grow farther out on the upper part of the bill of the Chihuahuan one than on the Common one, but that seems pretty hard to see and make a decision on.† By that criterion, the one above looks like a Chihuahuan one to me, but it was in a pair and was in town, so Iím calling it a Common.
After I took the raven picture, I was again heading out of town, when I saw a bird fly up into a tree, and it looked like an Oriole.† So, I stopped and pulled over, but never saw the bird again.† But, I did see some interesting birds on the ground under a little tree.† They had crests, and I couldnít figure out what they were.† They turned out to be a little flock of Phainopeplas, a bird I have only ever seen sitting on the tops of trees out in the bush, never in a town or in a flock.† They were also much smaller than they appear when they are at the tops of trees.† Here is a picture of a female Phainopepla:
As it turned out, there were a number of birds under this tree, and they all seemed to be eating the berries or fruits that had fallen on the ground.† Here is the male Phainopepla:
A male Northern Cardinal joined the feeding frenzy:
As did a Northern Mockingbird:
And a Western Kingbird.† They are flycatchers, but I guess they will eat fruit, too.
So, when that fun ran out, I headed north out of town, up toward the next town, called Sonoita.† On the way, I turned off onto a dirt side road, to see what I might find.† I was hoping to see a Zone-tailed Hawk or a Black Vulture, both of which are quite uncommon, but I was watching the sky.† I saw a group of five big black birds, but they were all Turkey Vultures.† Then I saw a sixth one, smaller and not as dark.† It turned out to be a Gray Hawk, a bird I counted yesterday, but didnít get a picture of.† I saw one perched on a pole (maybe the same one I had seen in the air, or maybe not), but before I could take a picture, it flew.† I got it just as it took off.† Blurry from motion, but it does show the beautiful bird.
It flew right over me, and I got a slightly better one:
I was really jazzed by the hawk sighting, and Iím disappointed that my pictures arenít better.† Hand-holding the 35 mm equivalent of a 770 mm lens is tough, though, and motion blur is inevitable.† Pictures of birds in flight are difficult, so I guess I should be satisfied to get anything at all.
I returned to the main road and went on up to Sonoita.† Just on the edge of ďtownĒ (it is really just a junction with a motel, a bar or two, couple of restaurants, and two gas stations) I saw a bird on a fence wire, and I could see it was a meadowlark.† There are two species of meadowlark, Western and Eastern.† I had the idea that this area is too far east for the Western, and the Eastern would be one for my year list, so I stopped and took some pictures.† As it turns out, the ranges for the two species overlap a lot, and either one can be found here.† They also look very much alike, and the most reliable way to tell them apart is by their voice.† Well, Iím terrible at that, of course, but this bird did call a couple of times, and it seemed unfamiliar to me (knowing the Western call pretty well).† Back in the car, I listened to the calls of the two species, and I decided that what I had heard was the EASTERN MEADOWLARK.† I thought was probably a lifer, but I must have seen one in New York, or maybe in Minnesota, as my spreadsheet indicates it is not a lifer.† But, it was still a second bird for the day, for my year list.† Here is my favorite picture of the bird:
I plan to show a couple of the pictures of the bird to my guide tomorrow, to see what he thinks.† There are some minor differences in appearance for the two species, and maybe he will have an opinion.† If he says it is a Western, and shows me why, then I will remove it from my list until I see another one.
By this time it was about 2 in the afternoon, which seemed a bit early to knock off, so I went back to Patonís still again.† I got some more pictures, so Iím glad I did.† There are two birds that regularly show up there, and I was hoping to see one of them, but didnít.
I am really partial to the Gila Woodpecker, for some reason, and here is a picture of a male that I like.† I like the way he is showing off the red spot on the top of his head.
A female Northern Cardinal visited, so I got some pictures of her.† Here is one:
There were several Brown-headed Cowbirds there all the time, but they were usually too distant to get a good picture of.† One came closer this time:
A first year male Scottís Oriole flew in briefly.† First year means he was hatched last year, and he hasnít yet gotten his full adult plumage.
There is a kitty that hangs around the yard at Patonís.† Mostly it ignores the birds, but from time to time it stalks them, and they fly away.† Here it is, having scared all the birds away:
There has been a Bewickís Wren around every time Iíve been there, but it usually flits away too fast for a picture.† This one isnít great, but it does show the little cutie:
And, finally the last picture of the day is of a Lincolnís Sparrow.† This is the only Lincolnís Sparrow I have seen on the trip, but I counted the species back in January, when I saw them over at the Montlake Fill in Seattle.
I wouldnít have noticed or recognized it, but a group of four young men came through, and they pointed it out to each other, and I took a peek too.† They seemed to be going for some kind of Big Day, trying to rack up as many species as they could.† Maybe it was a competition of some sort, I donít know.
So, that was my day today.† I got back here to my little casita about 3:30, and Iíve been taking care of business and processing pictures and writing this ever since.† It is almost 8 now, and I need to get myself some dinner and get to bed.† My guide is picking me up here at 6 am tomorrow, so I need to get to bed early, if I can.† Iíll make tomorrowís breakfast and lunch tonight (sandwiches), and take a shower tonight, too.† I have hopes of seeing 15 or more species for my list tomorrow, and it will be interesting to see if I am being overly optimistic.†
This guide took a couple from Ohio out yesterday, to the same places we plan to go tomorrow, and they saw 83 species total.† I looked through that list (which the guide publishes on his website every day that he goes out birding), and I would have had 20 species for my list, if I had seen all 83 of the ones they saw.† So, I have big hopes for tomorrow, but we will see.
Until then, good-bye for now.
Friday, May 6
Before I get into todayís report, I want to make a correction to yesterdayís.† The bird I reported as a Cassinís Vireo was actually a different bird that I needed for my year list, a MACGILLIVRAYíS WARBLER.† It wasnít a lifer, but I had only seen them once or twice before, and I forgot what they looked like.† I had been debating between two vireos, and neither one seemed quite right, but I ended up choosing Cassinís Vireo.† I wasnít comfortable about the identification, though, and I intended to ask Stuart about it today.† There will be more on this later in todayís report.
So, I was up at 5 this morning.† I slept fairly well, but only got about 7 hours of sleep, with a few awake times in there.† I had made my breakfast and lunch last night, so all I had to do was shower and pack stuff up for the day.† Stuart came at 6, as arranged, and we went off in my car.† He prefers to use the clientís car, and prices his services accordingly.† Our first destination was Patagonia Lake State Park.† The temperature was mid-50ís, but it started heating up right away, of course.
We stopped on the road leading to the park, to target a couple of sparrows.† Stuart uses recorded bird calls quite a bit, and he played the call of the first target bird, as we walked up and down the road a hundred yards, maybe.† He heard one a couple of times, and we got fleeting glimpses, and finally got good clear looks at a BOTTERIíS SPARROW (lifer).† I only had that species at 50% in my spreadsheet, so that was a great start.† As soon as we knocked that one off, he played the song of the second one, and a lovely BLACK-THROATED SPARROW flew in and posed for us, quite close.† I had left my camera in the car, unfortunately, so I have no pictures.† Later we saw two more of them, and I didnít have my camera with me that time, either.† It is a very striking little sparrow, and I wish I had gotten a picture.
We drove a bit farther, and just inside the park itself, we stopped at another spot and again went walking up and down the road, playing calls.† It only took a few minutes and we had good looks at a RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROW (lifer).† I only had that one in my spreadsheet at 60%, so it was another goodie.† The light wasnít good for a picture, and it didnít sit still for very long, anyway.
At the same spot, we then tried for another species that I had expected to have seen by now, and it was quite responsive to the call and I got a good look at a VERDIN.† Across the road, while looking for a particular warbler species, we had a distant but decent look at a female BULLOCKíS ORIOLE, the oriole I still needed to get.† We also got a very good look at a bird I would have had a real hard time identifying by myself, a WARBLING VIREO (lifer).† I had specifically told Stuart that I needed help with vireos and flycatchers, and he gave me a lot of help today.† Eventually, we did get an excellent look at the species we had been specifically looking for, LUCYíS WARBLER (lifer).† This is a pretty plain little bird, and one I had looked for up in Madera Canyon with Jim, the guy I met there, but we hadnít found one.† So, that was a very productive stop, and we were off to a great start to the day.
We stopped to scan the lake for a cormorant species I wanted to see, but didnít see it, or anything else of interest.† We drove to the end of the campground, parked the car in some meager shade, and headed out on a trail.† It was 8:00 AM, and I had already seen 7 species, 4 of which were lifers.† We ended up walking on trails and cross-country through cow grazing areas for two hours, during which time the temperature continued to climb.
The next good bird we saw was BELLíS VIREO (lifer).† That was one of the two species I was considering for yesterday morningís difficult bird, and when I saw this one, I knew for sure that yesterdayís was not a Bellís Vireo.† Soon after that, I had a peekaboo view through some bushes at a YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT (lifer).† It wasnít a view of the full bird, but I saw enough to confirm the identification, and Stuart had heard it call, too.
A little while later, there was a thrush under some bushes, and Stuart told me what to look for to confirm that it was a SWAINSONíS THRUSH, which I still needed for the year.† I only had it at 10% in my spreadsheet for this trip, so that was an excellent one to see.† We ended up seeing two more later, too.
By that time we were in the cattle grazing area, and much to my surprise, Stuart spotted two CATTLE EGRETS, right next to a cow, no less.† It is interesting how they like to associate with cattle.† I had not expected to see one on this trip, or maybe not at all this year.† I only had it at 10% for the trip.† Here is a picture of one of them:
The picture isnít very sharp, as I was hand-holding my camera with the long lens on it, but it shows the bird well, I think, including the color on the top of its head and its chest.
About that time we saw a really excellent bird, a Thick-billed Kingbird.† I had seen one in San Diego on one of my twitches there, but they are quite uncommon, and it was very nice to happen upon one in the course of a normal dayís birding.
Then there was another excellent bird, a lovely Indigo Bunting.† I had seen one at the feeders in Patonís Yard on Wednesday, but it was very satisfying to see one ďin the wildĒ.
We then targeted another little bird that is not easy to see, but Stuart knew where one nested every year, so he played the call.† It took a few minutes, but eventually we got great looks at a NORTHERN BEARDLESS-TYRANNULET (lifer).† I have no idea how it got that name, but it is quite a mouthful to say.† It is a small flycatcher and pretty plain looking.
We worked our way down to the edge of the lake, to look for the cormorant I wanted to see.† It is really mostly a Mexican species, but there are a few in Arizona and New Mexico, at certain places.† We did see a couple of Double-crested Cormorants, the most common cormorant I see on the west coast, and the only one I have ever seen away from the ocean.† Here is a picture of one, for comparison with what is coming up next:
Note the yellow on the face.† There is some above the bill, and quite a bit below the bill.† Compare that to this next picture:
This one has no yellow above the bill and less below the bill.† There is also a line of white feathers behind the yellow on this bird.† It is also smaller than the Double-crested, but you canít tell that from this picture.† We had just about been ready to give up on it, but Stuart had bagged the NEOTROPIC CORMORANT (lifer) for me.† There is only one other place I plan to visit this year where I had any chance at it, so it was really nice to get it.† With a picture, no less.
We continued on our walk, trying hard not to step in any of the myriad of cow pies.† About this time, we had a little comedy relief.† I needed to pee, and while I was doing so, Stuart called out that there was a Green-tailed Towhee sitting up in plain sight.† I thought he was kidding, as I had been whining about wanting to see one.† It turned out that he wasnít kidding, though, and by the time I was through with my business, the towhee had flown, and we couldnít locate it again, despite a lot of trying.† I thought it was pretty darn funny, but that didnít get me the towhee, which I had missed everywhere I had looked so far.
We hadnít seen many flycatchers up to that point, but then we did see two that I had particularly wanted help with, and we picked up in quick succession, DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER (lifer) and BROWN-CRESTED FLYCATCHER (lifer).† At the time, Stuart told me what to look for to distinguish each species, but if I saw them tomorrow, I would still have problems, as they are both similar, and they are both also similar to the Ash-throated Flycatcher, which I have seen a number of times.† In fact, after today, I would have to say that some of the ones I have been calling Ash-throated might well have been one of these other two species.† It was great to get good looks at all three species today with Stuart, and to see the differences, even if I wonít remember them.
Then there was another little bird, and we got excellent looks at a CASSINíS VIREO (lifer).† This was what I had called the difficult bird from yesterday morning, but when I saw this one today, I knew immediately that yesterdayís had not been this bird.† That was good, but it left the question Ė what the heck was yesterdayís bird?† Soon after that, I got a fleeting glance at a little bird and was trying to describe what I had seen to Stuart, who hadnít seen it.† While describing it, I suddenly thought of MacGillivrayís Warbler, so I pulled out my book and looked it up, and there was the difficult bird from yesterday, 100%.† It was exactly as I had remembered it.† So, it was embarrassing to have mixed up the warbler with the two vireos, which really donít look much like it at all, but it was very satisfying to identify yesterdayís bird, especially since it was still a bird for my year list.† So, that is how MacGillivraysí Warbler got onto yesterdayís list, and Cassinís Vireo got removed from yesterdayís and put onto todayís.† It took seeing the two vireos today, plus my sudden remembrance of MacGillivrayís as I was trying to describe the bird I saw today (which very well might have been another one, actually).† Ainít birding great?† Just to put the icing on the cake, I discovered that my spreadsheet only had Cassinís Vireo at 1%, for some reason.† I guess they are just migrating through here now, and I hadnít expected to see one.
So, we ended our walk at 10 AM, and it was definitely heating up.† My car thermometer has a problem, and it was stuck on 56 degrees this morning, but we knew it was a hell of a lot hotter than that.† A little while later, it came unstuck and read 83, which was at least believable.† I had walked for two hours and felt fine, although it was mostly level with lots of stops.† Still, when you are as old, as out of shape, and as fat as I am, it is satisfying to be able to walk and bird for two hours, in the increasing heat.† It really didnít bother me at all.† This is at 4000 feet elevation, too.
At that point, we discussed the rest of our day, and we decided to head over to Pena Blanca Lake.† I had tried to go there on Wednesday, but the road was closed (and it was very smoky) due to a fire, and I gave it up.† Stuart had read online that the road was open now, so we drive the half hour to get there.
As we approached the lake, beyond the place where I had had to turn around on Wednesday, we saw that the fire had come right up to the road, for a mile or more.† By today, the smoke had all cleared, though, which was great.† As it turned out, it was a good thing for me that I hadnít been able to get to the lake, because it wasnít anything like I had pictured it in my mind, and I would have had a hard time knowing where to look for the target species there.
We parked the car up on a hill and walked down to the lake level.† We soon saw the target species, one that is normally a Mexican species, but 2 to 4 of them have been reported at this lake for a couple of months.† It wasnít even on my original spreadsheet for the year, and even after I had read the reports of it, I only had it at 20% on my trip spreadsheet.† But, we ended up seeing two of them, and here is a picture of a LEAST GREBE (lifer):
The small size, the color, and the yellow eye are the distinguishing features.† An excellent bird to get.
As we had arrived, I got a picture of another little darling that I had seen originally in California in February, but that I hadnít seen before this year.† I like the pose on this guy, keeping an eye on me, over his shoulder.† A Rufous-crowned Sparrow:
While we were there, Stuart also spotted another bird I had been trying to see, BRONZED COWBIRD (lifer).† It was too far away for a picture, but it was an excellent view of it.† We also saw a bird I had counted and taken a picture of at Patonís, but I like this picture of a Curve-billed Thrasher:
We drove around to another side of the lake, and went looking for Canyon Wren, but came up empty on that.† However, we did finally hear and then see a GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE (lifer), the bird I had missed due to taking a leak earlier.† So, I had my funny story and also the bird.† Perfeck!
We had our lunch there, before moving on, and when we left, we drove the slightly longer way through Nogales, in the hopes of seeing a Black Vulture, but that is one that it appears I am going to dip on this year.† No luck.† We drove on in to Kino Springs, where I had stopped on Wednesday, to see if we could find Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, but we dipped on them as well.† But, as soon as we got out of the car at the Kino Springs golf course parking lot, Stuart noticed a flicker calling ( I heard it, and even could recognize it as a flicker, but I am just not tuned into ďhearingĒ bird calls, even when I know them, so it hadnít registered with me).† He knew it could be an uncommon flicker, and sure enough, sitting right out in plain view and continuing to call was a beautiful GILDED FLICKER (lifer).† I only had it at 10% in my spreadsheet, as this is the very edge of its range, and they are pretty uncommon.† Stuart pointed out the subtle differences from the Northern Flicker, and I got a number of pictures of this great bird.† Here is one of them:
We walked around the area, and we got excellent looks at a couple of Gray Hawks that kept flying form one perch to another, but I wasnít able to get any pictures of them.† We did see one final bird for my year list, though, the very unexciting and common BARN SWALLOW.
We were just about done by then, at 2 PM, but we stopped in Patagonia at the sewage works, to look for an uncommon bird that had been seen there yesterday, but we couldnít figure out how to see the place where the bird was reported to be without entering the grounds, past a sign that said you werenít supposed to go in there.
So, we called it quits for the day, after 8 hours of birding.† It was up to 90 degrees by then, so I was glad to get back to my air conditioned casita, which was only 78 degrees inside anyway, since it is made of brick.† I have spent the rest of the afternoon doing some computer stuff, having a short rest, processing my pictures from today, IMíing with Christina, and writing this.
So, the numbers, for those of you who like to follow the numbers.† I saw 21 new species for my year list today, which is outstanding.† This morning before the day started, I had decided that 10 today would be satisfactory, 15 would be great, and 20 would be outstanding.† So, it was an outstanding plus day today.† 15 of those 21 were lifers, which is also outstanding.† I have so many now that I certainly wonít have another day that adds this many again this year.† I would be very much surprised if I can add ten more on any given day this year, and soon I wonít be adding any at all on most days.† But, that is the nature of this kind of quest.
Iím now at 294 species for the year, of which 66 are lifers.† To put that in perspective, let me remind you that my expectations at the start of the year were 273 species for the whole year, of which 70 would be lifers.† So, obviously, I was overly conservative when making my initial spreadsheet, or else I have just been extraordinarily lucky so far.† I think it has been a combination of both of those things, but mostly I was overly conservative in my estimates.
So, tomorrow I move on to the Sierra Vista area, around another mountain range.† For tomorrow, I hope to pick up a hummingbird or two at the place Iím staying over there, to keep from being skunked tomorrow.† I have Stuart booked for Sunday and Monday, but there arenít as many birds left to find now, so the numbers will be less.† Iíve started a target list for Sunday and Monday, and it is up to ten species, but I have just gotten started on it, so there should be more than that to hope for, anyway.† We are planning to go out one evening, too, looking for owls and other night birds.† Iím staying over there for four nights, which is more than I need there, but I knew that was a long time when I booked it. †It is at 5800 feet, so it will be cooler, but the elevation might bother me, too.† We will see.
So, today was an outstanding plus day of birding.† I had fun, I saw a lot of birds, and I didnít wear myself out.† Iíll be interested to see what Stuartís total for the day is.† He keeps a log on a little tape recorder, and he will publish it on his website tonight, I would guess.† He counts birds he only hears, and he saw ones I didnít see, but I can look at his list for the day and see how many I saw today. †Iíll be interested to see that number.† My wild ass guess is about 70 or 80 species for me today, but maybe it wasnít that many and only seemed like it because there were so many great ones.
So, the hard core birding continues.† What a life!
Saturday, May 7
Today was a pack Ďem up, load Ďem up, getaway day, but I was still out of my place by 7:30 this morning, all breakfasted and with my lunch made.† My first stop was Patonís Yard still again, as there had been a Clay-colored Sparrow reported there last night at 7 PM, and I thought it might have stayed overnight.† There were also two other birds that were reported yesterday that I could use, so I gave it a shot.
As it turned out, the Clay-colored Sparrow hadnít shown up this morning, but I did manage to see the female CALLIOPE HUMMINGBIRD (lifer) that had been hanging around.† I think I actually saw it before, but today I had the guy who lives there confirm it, so I counted it today.† Here is a picture:
Not very impressive, I know, but it was a lifer and one for the day, to avoid getting skunked.
The male Indigo Bunting showed up again this morning, and I got closer looks at him, but none of my pictures is any good.† Too bad, he is a real beauty.
I was on the road by 8, heading for my next destination, Miller Canyon, just south of Sierra Vista , AZ.† I turned onto a side road along the way and stopped several times to play the song of the Grasshopper Sparrow, but nothing responded, and I didnít see anything.† Still, I gave it a shot, and that is all you can do.
I got to the Sierra Vista area by about 9:30 or 10, and I headed out to the San Pedro River reserve area.† I didnít really expect to see anything new there, but I had to spend my time somewhere, and that was close by.† When I got there, I was surprised and disappointed to see a big sign saying it was the Spring Migration Festival today.† The parking lot was full of cars, and there were booths and tents set up all around the visitor center.† I would have left, but I had nowhere else to go, really.† It was getting up into the high 80ís by then, and the visitor center is out in the middle of dry, brown fields.† Not very inviting.
But, I persevered, and I got a map and headed out on the trails, trying to avoid the screeching kids and various groups moving around.† I walked a mile or two by the time it was all over, I guess.† The area along the ďriverĒ (more of a creek in this dry year) was pretty birdy, and it was shady, too.† I saw five or six species of warblers and some other good birds, but nothing new.† I saw Green-tailed Towhees twice and got better looks than I had had yesterday.† They never hung around for pictures, though.† Overall, the San Pedro River was pretty disappointing as a birding destination, and I wonít bother going back there.
After walking a mile or two in the heat, on my way back to the car I saw that they had brought in mules and wagons for the families to get around in.† Here is a picture:
By about noon, I was hot and looking for a place to eat my humble lunch.† I went back into Sierra Vista and found the Veteransí Park and ate my sandwich at a table under a tree.† After that, I snoozed in the car for a while, then went to Safeway and loaded up on groceries.
It was getting late enough that I thought I could check into my new digs, so I headed out of town to Miller Canyon.† I am up at the end of a road, the last two miles of which is pretty rough dirt and rocks.† I could only go about 10 or 15 miles and hour, so it seemed to take forever to go the two miles, but I suppose it was only 10 or 12 minutes.† The people here have a small orchard, and they have six cabins they rent out.† They also have a hummingbird feeding area that is very well known, and they charge people five bucks to come watch the birds.† On my way up the canyon, while still on the paved road, there was a Roadrunner by the side of the road, and I got some pictures of him.† Here are two of my favorites.† They are such a cool bird.
I checked in to my cabin, which is actually the upstairs of a duplex unit. †It is quite large, with a separate bedroom and large living area.† I have great views in several directions, including down the canyon to the flatlands and up to the mountains.† Here is a picture of the cabin, showing the mountains in the background.
It is a fairly long walk from the car, and I wore myself out carrying all my junk to the unit, uphill all the way.† We are at 5700 feet here, so the elevation comes into play, too.† The temperatures were in the low 80ís up here, with a stiff breeze blowing, which helped a lot.† No air conditioning, but there appears to be electric heat, as well as a wood stove.
There are a lot of guinea fowl around the cabin, as well as some chickens and some dogs.† The damn guinea fowl make the most annoying sounds, and they do so constantly.† Here is a picture of one of them, in case you donít know what a guinea fowl is:
So, after I got settled in, I went up to the hummingbird viewing place.† It is a bit of a walk, and the last part is up a number of steps.† It is a nice setup, though, with comfortable seats to sit in while you watch the hummers at the feeders.† They donít have any seed feeders, so the whole show is hummingbirds.† Here is a picture of the seating area, with the feeders out in front of the seats:
This afternoon, I was the only person there, which was nice.† There were lots of hummingbirds around, but not a great variety.† I was hoping to see Costaís Hummingbird here, but evidently they like a lower elevation.† Their big claim to fame here is the White-eared Hummingbird, but they have not come back yet this year.† They are overdue now, so I am hoping they will show up before I leave on Wednesday morning.† Iím not at all likely to see them anywhere else, so Iím disappointed that they are late this year. †They do have a lot of Calliope Hummingbirds around, which is ironic, since that was the lifer I got this morning at Patonís.† Here is a picture of a female Calliope Hummingbird here at Beattyís:
And, here is a male, I think:
Here is what I think is a male Broad-tailed Hummingbird.† It looks a lot like the male Calliope, but I think it is different:
I could be wrong about that, though.† Maybe they both are Calliopes.
The hummingbirds here donít seem to be as argumentative and aggressive as the ones I have seen up until now.† I suspect that is because of the mix of species.† Here is a picture of more cooperation at a feeder than I have seen up until now:
I saw Magnificent Hummingbirds at Kubo in Madera Canyon.† They are much larger than most of the species.† They have them here, too, and here is a picture of a male Magnificent next to a couple of the smaller ones:
Here is a female Magnificent with smaller ones:
You can really see the size difference.† There were also a couple of Blue-throated ones around, and they are just about the same size as the Magnificents, but I didnít get any pictures of them, sorry to say.† I sat there in the shade and took pictures of hummingbirds for an hour or so, then came back here to my cabin.
Tomorrow I have another day with Stuart.† I need to be up and out of here by 6, to meet him down the mountain at 6:15.† It will be another hot day tomorrow, and we will bird some of the canyons here in the Huachuca Mountains.† Huachuca is pronounced wa-CHEW-ka.† There is an army base by the same name here, and some of the birding will be on the base.† I donít expect a lot of new birds tomorrow.† It might only be a small handful.† I have reached the point now where I have so many already that it is getting very hard to add any more.† Iím within striking range of 300 for the year now, though, and I hope to reach that level in the next two days.† That was my goal for this whole trip Ė to reach the 300 level by the end, so I am in great shape to exceed that goal.† But, it is going to be a lot slower from now on.
Ok, time to wrap this up and send it off.† From the Huachuca Mountains of Arizona, this is the Old Rambler, signing off.
Sunday, May 8
I slept pretty well last night, although only for about 7 hours, as I canít seem to make myself get to bed by 9.† I got up at 5 and was out of here by 6 this morning.† I met Stuart at 6:15, and we headed up Carr Canyon, which is the next canyon over, I think, toward town.
I thought the road to Beattyís, here where Iím staying was rough, but the Carr Canyon road is terrible.† My road here in Miller Canyon is only 1.8 miles unpaved, and it takes me about ten minutes to travel it.† The road up Carr Canyon has lots of switchbacks and is about 5 miles long.† It takes a full half hour to travel it, at about 10 mph.† In that five miles, you climb about 3000 feet, to about 7200 feet.† There are Ponderosa Pines and Douglas Firs up there.† It is quite pretty, although it is very dry this year, since they have had almost no rain.
We parked the car and walked around, looking specifically for Virginiaís Warbler, but keeping an eye and ear (in Stuartís case) out for anything.† We clambered up a rocky draw for 20 or 25 minutes, before returning back down it, and we did see some birds.† One of the ones I still need is Hermit Warbler, and last week Stuart says he saw at least 20 of them in that draw, but we never did see one today.† They are migrating through here, and he happened to hit a wave of them that day, while today none seemed to be around. †You canít attract migrating birds with their songs and calls, because the reason that playing the song or call of a bird attracts it is that it thinks an interloper is in its territory.† That is the theory, anyway, since no one has interviewed the birds to ask them.
On the other hand, there is a way to stir up all the birds, including the migrants, and that is to play the call of an owl that is a predator.† Today we repeatedly played the call of the Pygmy Owl (which hunts in the daytime, I think), and Stuart can do a very credible replica of the whistling call, and he did that a lot of the time, too.† So, we alternated between playing the call of the Virginiaís Warbler and playing or imitating the owl call.† When the birds hear the owl call, they tend to fly up into the trees and also come closer to investigate.
In that draw, we did see some good species, most of which I had already seen, but I added three to my list, too.† We saw BUFF-BREASTED FLYCATCHER (lifer), OLIVE WARBLER (lifer), and GREATER PEWEE (lifer).† So, even though we didnít ever see the Virginiaís Warbler, it was a very successful little hike.† Stuart had heard a Virginiaís Warbler repeatedly, but it kept moving on ahead of us, and we never got a look.
After that, we drove on a little farther and went on a longer hike, downhill at first, but we had to come back up, of course.† This one was on trails, at least, instead of scrambling over rocks with no trail, like the earlier one.† We continued to play the Virginiaís Warbler song and do the owl thing.† We finally got great looks at what Stuart says is the most common warbler up there, GRACEíS WARBLER (lifer).† There were several of them, and I got a good look at them.
A little while later Stuart heard another one we were looking for, and I got a fleeting look at a striking RED-FACED WARBLER (lifer).† We ended up getting much better looks a minute or two later Ė very satisfying.† That was one I had particularly wanted to see.
We got back to the car and still hadnít seen the one we were looking for, though.† We moved on back down the road and stopped at another place, looking for a bird we never did see.† While there, a little group of warblers moved through, and among them was a VIRGINIAíS WARBLER (lifer), the one we had been looking for all morning.† The others it was with were all migrants, so it isnít clear why a Virginiaís would be in with them, since they breed in this area, but there is was, against all expectations.
After that we started back down and stopped at a lookout point, to scan the sky for Zone-tailed Hawk, but never saw one.† We also stopped at another place and tried to attract a Canyon Wren with its song, but came up empty there, too.† Here is a picture of the Carr Canyon road with some of its switchbacks:
And here is a picture of Stuart at the lookout point:
When we got down to Stuartís car, back at the junction of the highway, it was almost 11 oíclock.† We had spent about 4 and a half hours pursuing the higher elevation birds, including an hour of driving time, round trip.† I had done a fair bit of walking, too, with some elevation change thrown in.† All of the birds we saw up there are ones that I wonít have much chance of seeing anywhere else this year, so that is very satisfying.† We missed one or two, but overall, it was quite successful.
From there we went in separate cars up into Sierra Vista and met at a Dennyís there.† I ate my sandwich and cookies on the way.† We left Stuartís car there and proceeded to Fort Huachuca, to bird one of the canyons on the base.† Fort Huachuca (pronounced wa-CHEW-ka, if you will remember) was an old fort that had been closed, and then re-opened in 1956.† There was a little town nearby, called Fry, but the town of Sierra Vista was founded in 1956.† It is strange to think of a town that is so new.† It is all spread out, no central downtown, and it all looks like California suburbs and strip malls.† I was surprised how large it is.† Its sole purpose is to support the base and the soldiers and their families that are stationed there.† There are 2000 living units on base, and I imagine some of the soldiers live off base as well.
To get into the fort, you have to be a US citizen, and you need to show ID (driverís license), and your car registration, as well as proof of car insurance.† There is a little procedure you go through as you enter the fort, but then you are free to roam around.† There are three or four canyons that birders like to use, and we went to one of them, Huachuca Canyon.† That dirt road was better than the Carr Canyon one, and shorter, too.
We were specifically looking for a bird called an Elegant Trogon, which is sort of the specialty of this area.† Stuartís car license plate is TROGON, for example.† They migrate, and they are late returning this year, so we knew it was a long shot, and we did indeed dip on it.† We also looked for another migrant that is late this year, the Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, but came up empty on that one, too.† I was expecting to see both of those birds, but they are both late, so my spreadsheet will take a hit on them, it appears, although I could possibly get either one at my next stop, in the Chiricahua Mountains (pronounced Cheery-KA-wa).† Without a guide over there, I donít feature my chances, though.
We did see some good birds on the Fort, but nothing for my list.† We got several great looks at a beautiful bird called a Painted Redstart, which I had seen briefly in flight only, up in Sedona, and I liked that.† Also Black-throated Gray Warbler, which I had seen with C at the Grand Canyon.† I was also glad to experience birding at the fort, as I have read so much about it online.† It was a quiet day there, being both Sunday and Mothersí Day.
We knocked off an hour early, saving the time for tomorrow.† We plan to do a long looping drive tomorrow, hitting a number of places I hadnít necessarily planned to visit.† Then, tomorrow night, we plan to go out looking for night birds (owls, nighthawks, poorwills).† I donít want to drive up or down the rough road here in Miller Canyon in the dark, so Stuart is going to pick me up here tomorrow night.† That means I can still have my drinkies with dinner, too, as he will pick me up at 7 PM.† That will make for a very long day tomorrow, as I need to be out of here by 5:50 to meet him in town at 6:15.† I will try to get a little rest in the afternoon, as I did today.† On Tuesday I have nothing in particular I need to do, although I have a couple of places I think I will visit.† I would expect to see something for my year list tomorrow and maybe on Tuesday, too, if Iím lucky.† More on that in tomorrowís report.
After we got back to Stuartís car in town, I picked up a Papa Murphyís pizza there for my dinner, and I gassed up the car and cleaned the filthy windshield.† I donít have a pizza cutter here, and not even a decent paring knife that I have found yet, so I will use my Swiss Army knife to cut up the pizza, I guess.† OK, I just looked around, and there is indeed a block of knives, so I guess I wonít have to use my pocket knife.† No pizza cutter, though.† Iím looking forward to pizza tonight and the leftovers, too (probably tomorrow nightís dinner).† I might get my brekkie at Mickey Dís in the morning, as there is one just a couple of blocks from where I need to meet Stuart.
When I got back here to my cabin, I did some computer stuff, then I rested for a while.† I didnít think I had slept, but after seeing how much time had gone by (almost an hour), I guess I must have.† After that, I felt refreshed, and I trekked up to the hummingbird watching place to see if the White-eared had returned today, but I didnít see one.
With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, I would have stayed in town, rather than here at Beattyís.† This is a nice location, but it is 20 minutes from town, and I hate that 1.8 miles of rough dirt road that I have to traverse twice a day.† If the White-eared Hummingbird doesnít show up, I wonít even have gotten any birds here.† I could have come up once to see it (for a 5 dollar fee), if I had stayed in town and it was here (which I could have ascertained by phone).† Oh well, live and learn.† It is a nice roomy cabin, and the view is great.† The constant squawking of the Guinea Fowl is quite annoying, though.
There have been fires all around southeast Arizona, and this afternoon it is really smoky, looking down into the valley.† I canít even see the valley floor.† It is still about 8 weeks before the rains start, and it is tinder dry everywhere.† It is possible that one of the reasons that many of the birds are late returning is because of how dry it is this year.
So, that is my story for today.† No bird pictures, but I did see six new birds, and you may have noticed that they were all lifers.† My spreadsheet for the trip predicted 86 species for the whole trip, of which 50 were supposed to be lifers.† After today, I have 85 for the trip, of which exactly 50 are indeed lifers.† I still have a couple of weeks to go, although things will slow down dramatically now.
The Red-faced Warbler was number 300 for the year for me.† I am now at 301 species for the year, of which 73 are lifers.† It has been a really fun project, and even though it will slow down now a lot, I still have a lot of interesting places to go this year, to look for birds.† I had hoped to pass the 300 mark on this trip, and now I have done that.† My original target was 273 for the entire year, as you may remember.
It was cooler here today, only about 85 at the high, and it is supposed to be even cooler tomorrow, which is great.† The bad news is that is was also pretty windy today, which really hurts the birding, and it is supposed to be even windier tomorrow.† So, I might not see much tomorrow, but I hope to add one or two to my year list.† I have one easy one in my pocket still, though, Chihuahuan Raven, so I shouldnít get skunked tomorrow, anyway.† We should also see a couple of night birds tomorrow, although that is not guaranteed.
What a life!
Monday, May 9
I was up at 4:45 this morning, and out of here by 5:45, to meet Stuart at 6:15 up in Sierra Vista.† This early morning stuff is great for birding, but kind of hard on my old night-person body.† Yesterday we had worked out a plan to drive up the Sulphur Springs Valley to Willcox and then loop back to Sierra Vista.† There were maybe 6 or 8 birds we could potentially see, but our chances werenít especially good for any of them, and some of them were ones that I will probably see elsewhere this year anyway.† So, this morning Stuart had come up with an alternate plan, based on a report we had both read online about Black-bellied Whistling Ducks being seen near where I had looked for them last week.† The alternate plan would involve about the same amount of driving, and it also only had 6 or 8 potential birds, and the chances of seeing them were not a whole lot better than the ones on the Sulphur Springs Valley loop, but the difference in my mind was that the quality of the birds on the alternate route was a lot higher, if we did see any of them.† So, I chose the alternate plan. It turned out great.
This meant doubling back through Patagonia again, where I had stayed before I came here.† We took a back-road route there, which meant cutting through Fort Huachuca at 6:30 in the morning.† There were tons of soldiers out running, doing their morning PT (Physical Training, I think).† We had to go thorough the routine of showing drivers licenses, car registration and proof of insurance both on entry and on exit this time.
This back road route meant about 25 miles of not very good dirt roads.† It is about 30 miles shorter than the paved highway route, but about the same time, due to the dirt roads.† We had gone that way so we could look for a sparrow in the grasslands.
We looked, Stuart listened, and we stopped and played the song from time to time, but were not having any luck.† We were just about to give up when we finally saw a little bird fly up out of the grass, and Stuart thought it was our target.† We stopped and got out and spent ten or fifteen minutes trying to entice it to show itself, but it wouldnít.† It was quite windy, which didnít help at all.† Then Stuart heard another one, just down the road, and when we moved down there, it actually flew up into a little tree.† I got a good look at it.† GRASSHOPPER SPARROW (lifer).† Another one flew in to the fence about then, and we got scope views of one of them.† Very satisfactory.† I only had that bird at 40% for the year, so was very pleased to get it.
Oh yes, I forgot to mention that as we drove out of Sierra Vista, Stuart confirmed that a raven by the road was a CHIHUAHUAN RAVEN (lifer).† It was a bird I knew I would get, and I figured I had already seen them, but I hadnít counted them yet, as they look almost identical to the Common Raven.
Continuing on toward Patagonia on the dirt roads, we chose a route down a valley with a chance at another bird I needed, and by golly, just after Stuart mentioned that we were in the right area, there was a pair of EASTERN BLUEBIRDS on a fence.† I had only put my chances of Eastern Bluebird at 10% for the whole year, as this is the very edge of their range, as is Eastern Wyoming, where I could possibly see them in July.† I had seen them in Minnesota or New York, Iím not sure which, so it wasnít a lifer, but I didnít figure to see one this year.
But, we still werenít done with this dirt road shortcut route.† We stopped a little farther along and Stuart played the song of a bird I have been trying for since the Grand Canyon.† Almost immediately a bird responded, and we got great looks at a CANYON WREN, finally.† I got to watch it sing its song, too, which was fun.
We finally got off the dirt road shortcut and took paved highways back toward the Rio Rico pond, where I had stopped last Wednesday to look for whistling-ducks.† But, on the highway south of Patagonia, Stuart called out another bird I had missed the first time through, and I pulled off on the opposite shoulder and got great looks at three BLACK VULTURES (lifer) circling around.† I only had that one at 30% for the year, and I had given up on seeing one when I missed them the first time through there.† I wonít see them anywhere else on my travels this year, for sure.
So, after that excitement, we went on to Rio Rico pond.† Today was different than last week, and there were several BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCKS (lifer) at the far end of the pond.† None of my pictures shows them well at all, though.† It was a bird I had had at 80% in my spreadsheet, but had given up on after I missed them the first time through last week, so picking it up today was wonderful.† I will not see them anywhere else this year.
But wait, what is this at the other end of the pond?† It is a heron, obviously, but it doesnít look at all like the Great Blue Heron I saw there last week.† It looked like a Little Blue Heron, which I had seen in San Diego but would have been quite rare here.† As it turned out, though, it was still another bird that we had each read about on the Arizona birding mailing list, a lovely TRICOLORED HERON (lifer).† It is only the second or third time that Stuart has seen one in Arizona, in his 16 years here, birding all the time.† It should be over on the East Texas Coast, and it either got seriously lost, or maybe it is migrating from somewhere in Mexico to the US East Coast.† I didnít even have it in my spreadsheet for the year, so it is a complete bonus bird.† It had been reported a couple of times in that general area this last week, so we knew it was possible, but neither of us was expecting to see it.† While we were there, a couple stopped and asked if any Tricolored Herons were around.† They were amazed and pleased when I said, ďWell, yes, but only one.Ē† Stuart let them look through his scope at the bird, and they went away happy.† Here is a very distant view of the bird.† The white on the belly was the key marking.
There was also a Great Egret at the pond.† They are very common in California, so I see them all the time, but they are kind of unusual here in Arizona.† Here is that guy:
So, with all that great stuff under our belt, it was still only about 10:30 AM.† We headed back over to Patagonia and stopped at Patonís Yard.† A particular sparrow had shown up there twice in the last week, including yesterday afternoon, and we thought it would be worth stopping to see if it had been seen today.† They guy who lives there and runs the place wasnít there, though; in fact, no one at all was there.† We looked around and saw the usual suspects, but as we were leaving, we looked around the field where the sparrow had been seen yesterday.† Lo and behold, Stuart spotted a drab looking sparrow out in plain view, only maybe 20 feet away from us.† He was skeptical of the reported identification, but some pictures I took convinced him later that this was the CLAY-COLORED SPARROW (lifer) that had been reported.†
It is amazing that we were able to find it, and so quickly.† We both agree that the pictures make the bird look much more distinctively marked than we remembered seeing, but the camera doesnít know how to lie, and I can only presume that it is something about how the human eye reacts to color shades and a range of brightness, compared to how a camera does it.† Both of us remember the bird as being much drabber than the pictures show.† The other possibility would be Brewerís Sparrow, and I need that, too, but the Clay-colored is a much better one for me to get, as it is far west of its normal range.† After seeing the picture, Stuart is positive it is a Clay-colored Sparrow, even though he thought otherwise at the time.† It is only in my spreadsheet for the year at 10% because there is a small chance of seeing one in Eastern Wyoming this summer.† I have a pretty good chance of seeing Brewerís sparrow in Montana or Wyoming, on the other hand.† So, against all odds, I had another great one for my list.† Here is the rather drab Clay-colored Sparrow, with his eye mostly closed:
On our way back to Sierra Vista, we stopped off at Las Cienegas wildlife area, to look for Zone-tailed Hawks, which have nested there for several years.† We drove in to the headquarters area and walked along a dry streambed, looking up into huge cottonwood trees.† Stuart played the hawkís call, which sounds like a screaming kid, but we didnít ever get a response.† We saw a turkey vulture fly in, and that got us excited, but it wasnít our hawk.† As it turned out, we never saw the hawk, but there were other birds there, and Stuart heard and got me on to a PACIFIC-SLOPE FLYCATCHER.† We are well east of its normal range, but they do migrate through here, it seems.† It looks just like another flycatcher I had counted over in Madera Canyon (Cordilleran), but Stuart heard the call, and that is how we knew which species it was.† It was a very good one to get, and not really expected over here.
So, after that, we headed for home.† I had Stuart drive (we have been using my car, if you will remember, but he would just as soon drive if the client wants him to, and this was the first time I had done so) so I could eat my lunch while we traveled.† He doesnít really eat a lunch, per se, so this saved a few minutes of time.† After all the driving I have been doing, it was nice to be driven for a change.† We were back to Sierra Vista by about 1 PM, and I stopped at Safeway for a few things and came ďhomeĒ.
Iím not sure where the afternoon went.† I did have a little rest, but only for about a half hour.† I have a complication to deal with, and I spent some time checking various options.† There is a serious fire near my next planned destination, and I donít think I am going to be able to go there.† I called the place, but only got a voice mail or machine, and havenít gotten a call back yet.† They might have been evacuated, as many in that area have been.† If I have to cancel that next stop, and it looks like that is inevitable, then I need to find something to do and someplace to stay for two nights.† I have various options to consider, and Iím evaluating them and continuing to check on news of the fire.† Iíd like to hear from the people at the cottage I have booked, too, as I gave them a non-refundable deposit.† It seems to me like if they are closed and canít deliver the service that I ought to get a refund, be we will see.† Their place might not be in the actual path of the fire, but it is very close, and all the good birding areas over there are definitely closed off right now, due to the fire.
Somehow the afternoon passed by quickly, with the wind howling around my cabin.† While I was out this morning, one of the windows in the bedroom blew in, but didnít break fortunately, as it landed on the bed.† Iím sure glad that it didnít happen during the night, because it would have scared the hell out of me to have a window fall on me.† The landlords came in and nailed up a piece of wood to keep it from happening again, we hope.† The wind continues to howl around the cabin, and it is much cooler tonight than the last couple of nights.† I wish this wind would stop.
At 6 oíclock I went out again, having had some leftover pizza and one of my Hormel Compleats dinners, to look for night birds with Stuart.† The wind made it impossible to look for as many owls as we had hoped for, but we went to the sewage treatment plant and got LESSER NIGHTHAWK (lifer) in great numbers, just after the sun went down.† While waiting for that, I got two more swallow species for the year, CLIFF SWALLOW and BANK SWALLOW.† I was bound to get them both sometime, but it might as well be now.
As soon as I had seen the nighthawks enough, we boogied down the highway to a B&B where there is an owl that nests in a hole every year.† We got there just in time, as the female owl was looking out of the nest hole.† With the aid of a spotlight we watched her come out a little more over a couple of minutes, and then she flew off.† It was a really cute little ELF OWL (lifer).† Is that a great name, or what?† It was as cute as the name.† It is the smallest of the 19 owl species in my field guide, at 5 ĺ inches, which is a bit smaller than a House Sparrow.† It is hard to imagine an owl smaller than a sparrow.
So, that finished an extremely successful, extremely long day for this old Rambler.† Up at 4:45 AM, and it is now almost 9:30 PM, and Iím not finished with this yet.† I got another 13 species for my year list, which is absolutely amazing at this point, and 8 of those were lifers.† The Quality Factor today was extremely high, with three birds I didnít expect to see at all, and a couple of others that I thought I had missed and wouldnít see as a result.† Iím now at 314 for the year, of which 81 are lifers.† Amazing.
Tomorrow I hope to have a laid back day.† To get my bird for the day, I plan to visit a feeder site in the next canyon to the south, to pick up a hummingbird that no one else has, but is regular there.† I also might go to Ramsey Canyon, to the north, where I might see one or two birds I need, although they are both pretty unlikely but possible.† I also am thinking of finding a ďdoc in a boxĒ storefront clinic in Sierra Vista to ask a doctor about my continued nose problems.† I think it is just due to the dry desert air and the elevation, but maybe there is an easy solution, and I think it might be worth the time and cost to find out.† I have the time tomorrow, and there must be a clinic like that in Sierra Vista.† I also need to work a lot more on my options for the next two nights after I leave here, and make some decisions about that.† But, I hope to be able to do all those things in a leisurely way tomorrow.
So, it is time to throw in the towel after another very exciting day of birding on the road.† This was the last of my very early risings, I hope, but I would like to keep getting up by 6 or 6:30 if I can, just to make seeing the birds better.† We will see how it goes.† Maybe I will get completely lazy and fall into bad habits.† Iíve been known to do that, you know.
Life rolls on, and each day there are surprises.
Tuesday, May 10
Finally I got to sleep in a bit this morning.† I didnít get up until after 6:30.† I fooled around here for a few hours and then went on in to Sierra Vista to see a doctor about my nose problem.† I found an urgent care place, and went there.† I must say, I wasnít real impressed with the place or the doctor, but it was the only walk-in clinic I could find.† I waited a little over an hour and saw a doctor eventually.† He wasnít much help, but he did give me a couple of things to try.† He agreed that getting back to sea level and away from the dry desert air was probably the best thing I could do for my nose.
By the time I got out of there, it was approaching noon.† I had spent some time this morning trying to find out more about the fire in the Portal area, my next destination.† I did hear back from both the owner (by email) and the manager (by phone) of the cottage, and they both told me that things were fine where they were, although the road to some of the prime birding areas is currently closed for use by firefighters.† So, I can go there tomorrow if I choose.† I could get 2 to 5 new birds in that area (or none).† I think I will do that, if the fire continues to behave itself, but Iím also thinking that I will scrub the Carlsbad Caverns idea and head west on Friday, back to sea level and some less dry air.† Detailed plans are still developing.
So, back to today, I got some lunch at Mickey Dís and then went up to Ramsey Canyon.† It is a Nature Conservancy reserve, and I paid my 5 bucks and wandered up the trail.† There werenít many birds around, since it was the middle of the day, but it was a very pleasant walk, mostly in the shade.† It was a lot cooler today, too, maybe only low 70ís.† I did see a few birds, and I took some pictures.† There were three potential birds I could have gotten for my list, but I knew they werenít likely.† There was one flycatcher that I took several pictures of, though, and when I got back here and looked at them, I decided it was an OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER, and I had one for my list today.† When I left Ramsey Canyon, I didnít think I had gotten any, though.
My fall-back plan for the day was to go to Ash Canyon to a feeder place and get the Lucifer Hummingbird.† I thought it was a gimme.† I went to the place, which involved going through two gates with signs saying Private Road.† The neighbors are having a big dispute with the woman who operates this feeding place (she also has one lodging unit she rents out), and they put the gates and signs in recently, I understand.
I sat there in the pleasant afternoon sun and shade and watched birds.† I took some pictures of some of the same birds I had already seen and taken pictures of, and I looked for the Lucifer Hummingbird.† There were a couple that looked possible, and I took some pictures of them, but when I got back here and looked at the pictures, and did some research online, I decided I couldnít count Lucifer Hummingbird.† They are supposedly there every day, so I donít understand it, but I didnít count it today.† It was a good thing that I decided on the Olive-sided Flycatcher, as otherwise, this would have been my day to get skunked.
But, that doesnít really matter, as tomorrow will probably be that day, anyway.† I will be driving about 3 hours to get to my cottage near Portal, and I donít know what birds I would see on the way or when I get there (in the middle of the day), but maybe something will surprise me.† Basically, Iím feeling like the real birding part of the trip is over now, and the rest of it is getting home and visiting people† I think I might head to California and visit my friend Ted in Monterey, before meeting my friend Fred and going to Malheur in Eastern Oregon, as we have planned all along. †There should be a few more birds in Malheur for me, but not many.† I might pick up one or two in the Monterey area.† Iíll have to look at my list and see what is possible there.† My plans are still shaping up, but I might spend one morning birding at the Salton Sea, too, and that could potentially pick up one or two more species.† I have a lot of research to do still, and the plans arenít even firm anyway.† It is really different for me to have things so undetermined, as I usually have every day planned and every nightís lodging booked.
So, that is my very uninspiring report for today.† I have some pictures but donít have the time or the inclination to process them so I can share them.† Maybe Iíll put them in a future report.
Tomorrow I need to pack up all my crap, which is spread all over the place, and load up the car.† It is a bit of a walk to the car, and it will take a number of trips.† Then I will drive down the 1.8 miles of rough, rocky, dirt road for the last time ever.† I have driven up it 5 times now, and down it 4 times.† I hate it every time, and I always curse it out loud as I drive it.† Going down always seems easier, though, and this will be the last time, so that should make it better.
I donít have internet access or cell phone access at my next cottage, so I donít know when you will hear from me again.† There are a couple of internet access possibilities for a report covering Wednesday, which I would send on Thursday, but it could be Friday night before Iím back in touch.† I hate being out of internet range, but this is the wild west here.
I guess thatís it for now.† I hope my nose is better tonight.
Wednesday, May 11
Well, I was up at 5:30 this morning, having slept well, and my nose was indeed quite a bit better.† I still plan to cancel the Carlsbad part of the trip, though, and head for California on Friday.† I canceled my reservations at four motels this morning and booked one in El Centro for Friday night.† All motels involved were Motel 6ís, my standard when Iím staying only one night and can get one.
I was out of there at about 8:20 this morning, and I went back to the place I had been yesterday afternoon, to look for the Lucifer Hummingbird again.† No joy.† A guy there told me it only shows up first thing in the morning and last thing at night, which seems weird to me.† I took some pictures and had a very pleasant hour or two in the nice morning temperatures.† It was quite mild today Ė I never saw it higher than 78.† The breezes were gentle, too, and the sun shone all day.
I got a nice picture of some Lazuli Buntings, which I think shows how pretty they are.† There are both males and females in this picture, and the males are the pretty ones, of course:
I got a call back from the manager of Quailway Cottage, my current digs, before I left there, and he said all was well over here, so I headed east.† I stopped at Safeway in Douglas, and also filled up on gas, as there is no gas within about 30 miles of here.† I also had a nice gut bomb at Burger King, and then headed northeast.† Douglas is right on the border, and I found the town very depressing for some reason.† The aridity and general rundown look of the place were the main factors, I guess.† It didnít look like a place I would want to live.
The proximity of the border is very obvious, both from signs and from all the Border Patrol SUVís you see.† Today I even saw some Border Patrol vehicles pulling horse trailers with horses in them, so they obviously do mounted work, too.† Iíve seen dozens of their vehicles.† In the stores and fast food places, many people are speaking Spanish, too, of course.
As I drove on up highway 80 from Douglas, I saw a large raptor in the sky, and I stopped to get my binoculars on it.† It turned out to be a beautiful light morph SWAINSONíS HAWK, one I had had at only 60% for the year, so that was great.† I had my year bird and escaped skunkdom another day.
I got here to my new digs about 1:15 or so, and met the managers who live in the house on the front of the property.† This is the nicest place I have stayed yet, and I will be very comfortable here.† There is a separate bedroom in back, with a door out on to a little covered patio with nice chairs to sit in.† The managers filled the various bird feeders around the yard, and the birds didnít waste any time starting to use them.
But, before I had even moved my stuff in, I went on over to their house.† I was talking with John, the manager, and saw a bird in the yard.† I asked him which thrasher it was, and he took a look (he was wearing binoculars, too), and said it was a CRISSAL THRASHER, one I had had at only 50% for the year in my spreadsheet.† He said they donít usually show themselves, and I was very lucky to have seen one right off the bat.† There is another thrasher in the yard, too, the Curve-billed Thrasher, but I already had seen that one on the trip.† In fact, the Curve-billed Thrashers seem to have a nest in a vine on my patio, as they keep taking bugs and worms into the vine.† I assume that must mean there are young ones in there.† I sat on the other end of the patio, but I think I put them off a bit, just being there.
So, I moved my stuff in and went out to the patio to see what was around.† I was intending to drive around and check things out, but I couldnít tear myself away from the great bird action in my back yard.† I got tons of pictures, not all of which I have time to even process tonight, so I will only put a few of them in here.
Here are the Curve-billed Thrashers, with food for the babies:
There were orioles around, too, both Scottís Orioles and Bullockís Orioles.† I had only had a brief distant look at a Bullockís Oriole with Stuart, and it was a female.† Here is a picture I like of a male Bullockís Oriole:
Here is the female Bullockís Oriole.† She isnít nearly as striking as the male.
One of the birds I had worked hard to see with Stuart but had only had kind of distant, brief looks was hanging around, too, and I got pictures of a Green-tailed Towhee:
Another one I had only had a brief peek-a-boo look at was the Yellow-breasted Chat.† Here he is, looking right at the camera:
From the side, this is what he looks like, with some motion blurring:
I have a lot of other ones, too, but Iím running out of time, and I need to send this off and make my dinner.† I was absolutely amazed when I suddenly saw a bird I had been looking for with Stuart the other day, but we had missed.† They only migrate through here, and this didnít seem like a likely environment for them, but there were two lovely little HERMIT WARBLERS (lifer) feeding in the trees.† One ended up coming to a tree only maybe ten feet away from me.† I couldnít believe it.† I mentioned it to the manager here, and he was interested in seeing my pictures, as it is a new bird for their yard list.
I was absolutely blown away to see one here.† I only had it at 30% in my spreadsheet in the first place, and when we missed it in the Sierra Vista area, I had given up on it.† That brought me to three new year species for the day, of which one was a lifer.† I am now at 318 species for the year, of which 82 are lifers.† I saw at least 26 different species in the yard this afternoon.
As it was getting dark, I went out in the yard, and the fire was very visible, up in the mountains.† Fortunately, the wind is blowing the smoke the other way, at least for now.† The manager, John, came driving in while I was out there.† He had just returned from a meeting on the fire status.† It is only contained about 10%, but it is going the other way, and where we are is considered to be safe.† They had started a back-burn, to keep it from coming our way, and you could see that, too, much closer.† John wanted to reassure me that the closer smoke and flames were nothing to worry about.† Some of the birding places I wanted to go to are closed, and will be for weeks, probably, but I can drive around the long way on dirt roads to get to some of the others, and tomorrow I will see how that goes.
While I was out there with John, a nighthawk flew by, and then a bat.† There was also a javelina in the yard.† They look like pigs, but he says they arenít actually related to pigs.† They have nasty little tusks, though, evidently, and I wouldnít want to meet one in a dark alley.† Maybe I can get a picture of one, but I wouldnít want to get too close.† This afternoon while sitting on the patio, I got a good look at a little Peter Cottontail bunny, and then later a black-tailed jackrabbit with very long legs kind of walked through the yard.† It didnít really hop, but more walked, which was interesting.† I donít recall seeing a rabbit or hare with such long legs before.† Lots of wildlife around, anyway.
So, I need to get dinner, and I need to send this off.† Iím sure glad I decided to come here, and having internet access via my cell phone is fantastic.
I wonder if I will see another year bird tomorrow, to extend my streak.† There was a report this afternoon from the woman who runs a place with feeders, which I want to visit tomorrow, that she had a Rose-breasted Grosbeak at her feeders today.† That is a bird that isnít even in my spreadsheet and would be a great lifer.† So, I do have some hope for tomorrow, but it is getting harder and harder to find new ones.
One last picture, a good one of a male Brown-headed Cowbird:
Thursday, May 12
I slept well last night, but when I woke to pee the second time, at 4:45, I looked out the front door, and the hills had a lot of fire showing, pretty close by.† It was just starting to get light, so you could really see the flames.† It was presumably the back fire they had told people about at the meeting last night, but it was unnerving enough that I couldnít get back to sleep again, so I am getting by on 6 hours of sleep today.† My nose was ok all night, but I blew out a lot of blood clots again this morning.† I need to get out of this dry high desert air; it doesnít agree with me.
Seeing the back fire so close also made me decide to take my important stuff with me today, while I was out and about.† I took my CPAP machine, my computer, some of my clothes, my medications, etc.† It was overly cautious to do that, but it only took ten minutes to pack up that stuff and load it into the car, and it made me feel more secure.† If they closed a road on me, while I was over the mountains, I would have the necessities with me, and if the back fire got away from them (people do make mistakes, you know), I would not lose anything I couldnít easily replace.† I am an overly cautious traveler, in my old age.† I am a gambler, but I only gamble as much as I can afford to lose.† I couldnít afford to lose my CPAP machine in the middle of the high desert, 1800 miles from home.
Here is a picture of the entire fire area you can see from this side.† The main fire is on the left, and the back fire they set last night is on the right.† I took this picture this evening, from my front porch.
At 4:45 this morning, there were a lot of flames showing where the smoke on the right is, and closer.† The main fire is the smoke to the left, farther away.
Before I left I got this picture of one of the black-tailed jackrabbits in the yard.† How about those ears?
I was out of here by 7, which is a record, I think, without a guide to spur me on.† I drove down Stateline Road, which is along the border between Arizona and New Mexico, and is only about a mile or two from here.† I was looking for two species, Scaled Quail and Bendireís Thrasher.† The thrasher was supposed to be easy and the quail not so much so.† It is a dusty dirt road, and various vehicles associated with the fire kept barreling along the road, raising dust and scaring the hell out of any birds that might be along there, so it wasnít a very satisfying birding experience.† I didnít see either target species, and I was getting discouraged after an hour of it.
When I hit the paved road, Highway 80, I went on across to the Rodeo dump, because that was supposed to be a good place to look for the thrasher.† I looked around and didnít see anything, but as I was leaving, I did see some quail, about 50 yards away.† I figured they would be Gambelís Quail, which are pretty common here, but when I looked at them through the binoculars, they were SCALED QUAIL (lifer).† I counted 7 of them.† So, I wasnít going to get skunked today, anyway.
I ended up spending about an hour and a half driving those dirt roads, about 15 miles in all, but at least I had seen the Scaled Quail.† I had thought they would be easy, but I guess they are getting more and more scarce all the time.
I did see a couple of other things of interest on the drive.† Before I saw the quail, I saw some foxes near the road.† They appeared to be young ones, 3 or 4 of them, at least.† I have since been told that they were probably Gray Foxes.† I assume the parents were out hunting, and the kids were Home Alone.† Here are a couple of pictures of the little cuties:
After I saw the quail, I drove on the paved road back up to Rodeo (pronounced Row-DAY-oh, Iím told) New Mexico, and on the way there was a raptor on a tree, by the road.† Here is a picture I really like of a beautiful light morph Swainsonís Hawk:
Now, is that guy cool, or what?† This birding thing is great when it works out.
Back on one of the dirt roads, still looking for the elusive Bendireís Thrasher, which was supposedly easy to get there, I saw this male Gambelís Quail on lookout duty.† Like the California Quail, a male is often stationed on high, keeping watch, while the rest of the covey feeds on the ground nearby.† I liked this pose in the early morning light:
So, after 90 minutes of that, I headed up into the hills.† I drove through the little community of Portal, to where the road was closed because of the fire.† The best birding area was closed, and is likely to stay that way for weeks.† To go anywhere at all, I had to take a fifteen mile detour on a mediocre dirt road.† I did that, but on the way stopped at a place that had some feeders.† It wasnít nearly as good as my own cottage, but I stayed a little while.† A Crissal Thrasher came in for a minute or so, but I was too slow to get a picture.† That is the one I had seen at the cottage yesterday, right as I arrived.† I did get some pictures of Black-throated Sparrows, though.† They are quite striking, for a sparrow.† Here is one of them:
I continued on the dirt roads to the tiny community of Paradise.† As you enter the place, there is a sign saying ďEntering ParadiseĒ.† The back of it says ďLeaving ParadiseĒ.† My destination was the George Walker House, a well known feeder place.† They have a fantastic collection of feeders, and it is an extremely pleasant place to sit and watch the birds.† It is a continuous show, with birds coming and going all the time.† The owner, a woman by the name of Jackie, was out on the porch when I arrived.† She was very friendly and very informative and helpful.† She had posted to the Arizona-New Mexico bird mailing list yesterday that she had a Rose-breasted Grosbeak in her yard yesterday.† This is an Eastern bird that I didnít even have in my spreadsheet, so it was definitely one of my targets for the day.
When I got there, she said it had been there a few minutes ago, so I took a seat.† Within five or ten minutes it appeared, and I added ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK (lifer) to my year list.† It appeared off and on the rest of the time I was there.† Here are a couple of pictures of it.
I stayed for an hour or more, just enjoying the birds and talking with Jackie.† A couple of guys came by and joined in the fun for a while.† It was a very enjoyable morning.
Another species I had wanted to see in the Chiricahuas was Mexican Chickadee.† To see it, I would have to go to higher elevations, though.† The two guys who joined us had seen one only three miles more up the road, though, so I decided to go on up to Turkey Creek Crossing, to eat my lunch by the creek and try for the chickadee.† The crossing is at a junction, and the road to the left is closed, because of the fire.† There were two Sheriffís deputies, each in his own vehicle, to keep people from going down the closed road.† That seemed like huge overkill to me, since I never once saw another car on any of the dirt roads I drove today.† I had seen a third deputy and his car at the other end of this road, near Portal.† It seems like a Road Closed sign would be good enough, but I guess they want to be sure no one goes down those roads.† Both places were miles from the fire.† Many miles.
It was a great place to have my lunch in the shade, by the creek.† There were some birds, and I had to keep jumping up to see what they were.† I had Red-faced Warbler, Hermit Warbler, Wilsonís Warbler, Painted Redstart, Western Wood-Pewee, and Red-breasted Nuthatch, all great birds, but nothing I hadnít seen already.† The Red-faced Warblers (two) were especially nice, as was the Painted Redstart.† Both are beautiful black and red birds.
As I was thinking of leaving, I looked at my cell phone to see what time it was.† My watch packed it in a few weeks ago, probably needs a new battery, and I havenít gotten one yet.† It was almost 2:30, which shocked me, until I realized that the last place my cell phone had gotten a signal was probably in New Mexico, which is on Mountain Daylight Savings time now.† Arizona is also on Mountain time, but they donít do the daylight savings thing, so they are the same as the West Coast in the summer.† I checked the clock in the car, and that told me it was actually only 1:30.† But, where Iím staying is less than two miles from New Mexico, where it is an hour later.
I stopped back at the George Walker House on the way home, and stayed a while, to look for my other target bird up there.† After about 15 or 20 minutes, I was rewarded by a couple of BAND-TAILED PIGEONS coming in.† It wasnít a lifer, but I have only seen them twice before, once at my local park and once in Oregon.† Here is a picture:
I like the Lazuli Bunting and the Black-headed Grosbeak being in the picture, for size comparison.† The Band-tailed Pigeon is a bit larger than our domestic (feral) pigeons.
So, that brought me to three trip birds for the day, of which two were lifers.† Not bad at all for this stage of the trip.† I am now at 321 species for the year, of which 84 are lifers.† Since my goal for the entire trip was to get over 300, it has obviously been a very successful trip, as far as birds are concerned.† As far as fun, it has been outstanding.† Iím sorry to be missing Carlsbad Caverns, but Iím still planning to head west tomorrow morning.† Maybe I can pick up a few more species on the way home.
Oh yes, while I was chatting with Jackie, I learned something interesting.† You might remember that I was very surprised and pleased that I have cell phone coverage here, and can therefore get online by using my cell phone and the handy little app I bought for it.† Well, Jackie told me that the only reason I can do that is that they brought in a portable cell phone tower, to facilitate communication among the fire fighters.† I happen to use the same carrier (Verizon) that they use, I guess.† So the fire giveth and the fire taketh away.† I couldnít go into the best birding areas, but I have internet access.† Personally, I am very pleased with the trade off, since I might very well have not seen anything interesting in the best birding areas, anyway, and I had a great time here without going there.† You all know that I love my internet access when Iím on the road.
I got back here to Quailway Cottage a little after three.† I had a request for pictures of the cottage, but the pictures on their website do it justice.† Here is the link:† http://www.quailwaycottage.com/cottage.html† Interiors are hard to shoot, anyway, and the website pictures and description are adequate.† It is a very nice place, and I have been very comfortable here.
It is somewhat warmer today than yesterday, maybe up to 80 or so at the high.† That is still quite cool for this time of year, though.† I have been extremely lucky with the weather on this trip, despite the wind for a couple or three days over in Sierra Vista.† It hasnít been nearly as hot as it might have been.
The bird feeder action here at the cottage is not as good as yesterday, because they refilled the feeders this morning, and while I was gone, the birds pretty much wiped out all the food.† Also, I had seen the show yesterday, so I didnít have as much patience to sit out there and let it develop again.† I had pictures to process and this report to write, too, and I wanted to get that done, so I could do a little research online about birding at the Salton Sea, which I hope to do on Saturday morning.† There are two or three species I could add there, but I donít know my chances of seeing them.† There could also be a rarity or two being seen, and I need to find the local birding mailing list for that area and see if there is anything I should chase that morning.† I like to have my whole trip very planned, but since this represents a change to the plan, I need to scramble.† I wish I had a printer, though, as it would be nice to print off some stuff about birding at the Salton Sea.† At least I will be out of the high elevation thing, as it is below sea level there.† It will still be desert, though, and I presume it will still be very dry.† Iím looking forward to the air in Monterey.
So, that is the end of the Arizona part of this trip.† This was the heart of the trip, as far as birding is concerned.† As already mentioned, the numbers have exceeded my expectations, as has the fun factor.† Iím still looking forward to Malheur, in Eastern Oregon, on the way home.† I could add some more there Ė I need to research that now, too, based on what I have seen on the trip already.† Even if I donít add much to my list, it will be really fun to have four nights there with my old friend, Fred, and his golden retriever, Tugboat.† In the meantime, I hope to stop in the Monterey area to see another old friend, Ted, and maybe even pick up a species or two there.
Time to be heading west, toward home.†† What a life it is!
Friday, May 13
Friday the 13th.† It sounds like the perfect day to get skunked, finally.
I got up about 5:30, against all past form, and it was smokier than before.† The wind had changed, and there was a layer of smoke in the valley.† On the other hand, all the signs of actual fire on our side of the mountains were gone.†† Last night there were a lot of flames showing, and I assume they were the additional back burns (or burnouts) that had been mentioned at the fire meeting yesterday.† Here is a picture of the extent of the fire on our side of the mountains, as of Thursday night:
There was much more flame showing than previously.† Here is a close-up of the patch on the right:
Anyway, by this morning, nothing seemed to be burning on our side of the mountains, but there was more smoke in the air because the wind had changed.† It was enough that I was coughing, so I was glad I was getting out of there.
Last night I had tried to take pictures of the javelinas wandering through the yard, but there wasnít enough light.† This morning they were still in the yard, so here is a picture of one of the little darlings:
Not exactly beauties, are they?† At least the ones I saw didnít have tusks.† They are as big as a good sized dog.
So this morning I was breakfasted, packed and loaded, checked out, and on my way by about 7:50.† Not bad for the night person Old Rambler.† I was worried that I would get skunked today, so I spent almost an hour driving slowly along back roads, looking for Bendireís Thrasher, but I dipped.† Nothing.
I did see yesterdayís Swainsonís Hawk again, and I got this picture of a perched Turkey Vulture.† They arenít exactly beauties, either.
I finally got on my way a little before nine oíclock.† Once I got on my way, I remembered that I had to go right through the town of Willcox, and there is a sewage treatment pond there that has birds on it usually.† One thing that is reported there in the spring is a couple of species of phalaropes.† They are only migrating through there, so it is kind of hit or miss, as to how many you might see.
So, I got off of I-10 in Willcox and found my way to the pond Ė a small lake, really.† There is no vegetation around it, and you can drive all around it on a dirt road.† Almost right away I saw some phalaropes, and I added WILSONíS PHALAROPE to my list.† It is a bird I knew I would see later in the year, but here it was today, to keep me from getting skunked.† I have always seen them swimming, and they are kind of frenetic, buzzing with activity, usually.† Here is a picture of a couple of them swimming:
Someone had told me, on this trip, that they sometimes come out of the water, and that they have long legs like a shorebird.† I saw that today, and here is a picture:
But, wait.† Among the maybe two or three dozen Wilsonís Phalaropes scattered around the little lake, there was one other bird, with a shorter bill.† I added RED-NECKED PHALAROPE to my year list.† I only had it at 10% in my spreadsheet, as I hadnít anticipated seeing it anywhere.† So, I not only avoided the skunk, I got a great bird for my year list.
There were also more Spotted Sandpipers around the edges of the lake than I had ever seen in one place before.† Here is a picture of one of them:
I got back on Interstate 10 and headed west.† It was a boring drive, but no problems, other than the fact I missed the turnoff to Interstate 8, and had to turn around and go back.† I ate my humble lunch as I drove, as it was about 96 degrees outside by then.† My two birding adventures (looking for the thrasher and stopping in Willcox) had consumed almost two hours, but I had plenty of time.
I rolled in to El Centro at about 4:45.† El Centro is just south of the Salton Sea, in the Imperial Valley of southern California.† The elevation here is 45 feet above sea level, so it will be interesting to see how my nose does and how I sleep.† I went cheap, as is my habit, and Iím staying in the Motel 6.† It was 99 degrees outside when I got here, and the room was about 80.† The sun is behind some clouds now, and it will soon set, and it is down to 77 in here now.† This is a better than average Motel 6, as far as its condition.† I had booked a room with a microwave and fridge, but it turned out that was only a ďrequestĒ, and they had no such room for me.† So, I have to keep my fridge stuff cold with ice from the ice machine, and I canít cook one of my dinners.† There is a Carlís Junior next door, with a Green Burrito inside it, so I will walk across the parking lot and load up on fast food for my dinner.† It would have been a lot more pleasant in a Holiday Inn Express or equivalent, but that would have cost at least 100 bucks, and Iím too cheap to pay that, when all Iím doing is staying one night.† This is my style, and I donít mind, really.† I didnít pay the 3 bucks for wi-fi, as I now have my handy cell phone app to get me access.† I am waiting to see if Verizon catches one and charges me something extras for using their data service this way.† I have all my arguments ready for them, if they do.† Meanwhile, this is sure great.
So, I got two more birds today.† Tomorrow, my plan is to spend the morning birding up around the Salton Sea.† There arenít many birds I can use there, but there are 4 or 5 gulls and terns I could see, so Iíll give it a shot.† Some of them are pretty uncommon, and the more common ones are migrants, so it is a matter of whether they are here at this exact time or not.† I had not researched the Salton Sea as part of my trip preparation, as this is a change in plans. †Iíll try tomorrow, to see if I can extend my streak one more day.
After a morning of birding (or as long as I can stand the heat), I plan to drive north and west, to somewhere between Riverside and Bakersfield.† Iíll make a list of Motel 6ís in that area, along the two potential routes I could take, and call ahead tomorrow, when I see what time I finish my birding around the Salton Sea.† If I see a new bird early, I might head out sooner.† On Sunday, I plan to drive to the Monterey area, to stay with my friend, Ted.† That day will be extremely difficult to add a bird, but Iíll worry about that if and when I actually see a new one tomorrow, which seems unlikely.† Once the streak ends, then I can quit worrying about seeing a new one every day.† I am amazed that it has lasted this long, actually.
So, my Arizona birding trip is over, and it was really excellent.† I got a lot more birds than I expected, and I had a great time.† The fire added some adventure, and my change in plans is a twist, too.† I probably missed two or three more species by not going on to Carlsbad Caverns (maybe only one, Cave Swallow), and I wonít see the caverns, of course.† Maybe another time.
So, Iím back on the west coast, where I feel most comfortable.† Now I will head north, toward home, getting there in about ten days.
Saturday, May 14
I was up by about 6 this morning, which meant a little less than the 8 hours of sleep that I like.† My nose was not as bad as when it was at its worst, but it wasnít great, either.† I walked across the street to Jack in the Box and got too many calories for breakfast.
I was on the road at about 7:50, and I headed up to the Salton Sea area, to see if I could find a year bird today.† I had done some hasty research online in the last couple of days, and I had a plan of 5 places I wanted to hit, on my way north.† I had a list of 2 or 3 birds I might see, mainly the Gull-billed Tern.
The online birding map I had made a hand-drawn copy of turned out to be a bit inaccurate, but I managed to find my way around with the help of my GPS app on my cell phone.† I got gas in Brawley and I stopped at Wiest Lake, but there was nothing there except a few Western Grebes (hoping for Gull-billed Tern).
I went on to the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge headquarters, but it was closed on weekends, which seems silly to me.† It seems like weekends are exactly when people are likely to go there.† I had been hoping they might have hummingbird feeders at the headquarters, as there are a couple of species of hummingbird that I missed in Arizona that I could have seen there.† I saw some Common Ground-Doves and some Great-tailed Grackles, but nothing of any real interest.
I headed to my next destination, and thatís when I realized that my hand-drawn map was wrong.† I ran into dirt roads, which I wasnít expecting.† They had been oiled, though, so they werenít dusty, and I could go 30 or 40 on them, so that was much better than most of the dirt roads I had been on in Arizona.† I checked out the Red Hill Marina area, but only saw Caspian Terms, not the Gull-billed Terns I had hoped to see.
On my way out of there, I did see a number of Burrowing Owls, though.† I had seen them in January in the Sacramento area, and I had pictures of them already, but they are such little cuties that I have more pictures to share from today.†† I find it interesting how owls can swivel their heads all around.† Here is the first Burrowing Owl I saw.† It shows his back, but his head is swiveled around, looking at me.
As it turned out, I saw maybe 7 or 8 of the little beauties, but this was the first time I had seen one up on a wire:
Just down the road, there was one that was facing me, so you can see its front:
So, that is the extent of the pictures today.† It was fun to see the owls, but I was looking for something new for my year list, and I hadnít seen anything new.† I saw Cattle Egrets in great numbers, including a breeding colony of them at one lake.† I saw Black-bellied Plovers in breeding plumage, which I donít see often.† But, nothing new.
So, I headed up the east side of the Salton Sea, heading for somewhere in the Central Valley of California.† Most unusually for me, I had no reservation for tonight, although I did have a list of Motel 6ís on my route.
On my way up the east side of the Salton Sea, I stopped 3 or 4 times, to see if there were any gulls or terns I could use.† I didnít have any luck until I saw a gull that seemed different.† The most common gull is the Ring-billed Gull, and I saw many of those.† There are also some California Gulls, which I saw a few of.† But, the prize I was looking for was a gull that is quite uncommon anywhere in the US except at the Salton Sea in the summer, and even less common there the rest of the year.† At one of my stops, I saw a gull that seemed to match the desired gull, and I took a number of pictures.† I should have gotten out of the car and used my scope, and gotten closer for better pictures, but I thought the pictures I took from the car would be good enough.† The differences from the California Gull are minor.† One key difference is that the target gull has a light colored eye, and the California Gull has a dark colored eye.
Well, when I got to my room tonight, and I looked at my pictures, I decided that I had indeed seen a couple of YELLOW-FOOTED GULLS (lifer).† The eyes were clearly yellow or light colored, not dark colored.† I still wish I had been less lazy and had gotten closer pictures, but Iím convinced enough to count it, so I was not skunked today after all.† Not only that, I got another bird that wasnít even in my spreadsheet, which is great.
After that, it was just a matter of driving out I-10, through the fringes of the LA area along the Foothill Freeway to I-5, and up I-5 to Buttonwillow, which is west of Bakersfield on I-5.† I was heading for a Motel 6 that was only going to cost me about 35 bucks and had some rooms with microfridges.† I stopped at the Motel 6 that I saw, and it turned out that there were now two Motel 6ís at this little offramp community, and this one was newer and was more expensive.† It had microwaves and small fridges in every room, and Wi Fi was free, but it cost about 15 bucks more.† I almost walked out to go to the other one, but ended up staying here, for about 50 bucks plus tax.† I feel like I really splurged, spending 50 bucks on a motel.† One canít ever fully escape the influence of oneís mother.† Iím cheap, and that is that.† Mom would have gone up the street and stayed in the older one and saved 15 bucks, though.
So, I got a bird today, contrary to my expectations.† My plan for tomorrow is to drive on up to the Monterey area to visit my friend, Ted, there.† For tomorrow, I hope to get California Quail for my year bird.†† I missed them in January when I was there, and Ted says they are all over the place now.† Monday is another story.† I will probably get skunked then, even if I do get by tomorrow with the quail.† Today I saw quail several times down by the Salton Sea, and the California Quail looks very much like the Gambelís Quail I have been seeing all along, but it seems that the ones in the Salton Sea area are all Gambelís Quail, so I still havenít seen a California Quail this year.† I hope to change that tomorrow.
My nose feels good now.† Weíll see how I do tonight and how it is in the morning.
Sunday, May 15
I was awake from about 5 this morning, but didnít get up until about 6:30.† I had a leisurely day making my way across the coast range to the Monterey area.† I took a route I donít think I have taken before, from Coalinga to San Lucas, using Highway 198.† It was very pleasant and there wasnít much traffic.† It was a curvy mountain road most of the way, but I wasnít in a hurry.† I stopped a couple of times to look and listen for Lawrenceís Goldfinch, in likely looking habitat, but had no joy.† As I neared the summit, it started to rain, the first rain I had seen in over three weeks.† It turned into a mix of rain and hail, and the temperature dropped from about 60 to a low of 37 at the crest, where there were a few little drifts of hail on the ground.† Coming down the west side, the sun came out and it eventually warmed back up to about 60.† It was very pretty country, fairly green still.† I then had a few more rain showers on my way in to the Monterey area.
I got gas and ran a few errands, then got here to Tedís condo on the beach about 3:30.† He had told me that quail were around the entrance gate, so I got out of the car to see if I could see one.† I could hear them calling to each other, both in the artichoke field and in the nearby dunes, but it took me a while to finally see a male on guard duty, part way up in an evergreen tree.† So, as I had hoped, I added CALIFORNIA QUAIL to my year list today, thus extending my streak one more day.† I donít know how I will extend it again tomorrow, as there are very few birds around here that I havenít already counted for the year.† I have a short list of ones to look for, but none seems very likely.
No pictures today.† It was a very relaxing, very laid back day, and I enjoyed it very much.† I noticed that it felt very comfortable to be back on the west coast.† I donít know why Arizona felt so alien to me, but it did.† The birds were great and the scenery was often great (in its deserty sort of way), but I never felt completely comfortable there, and I donít know why that was so.† Anyway, I am glad to be back on the west coast, as I am a west coast boy, through and through.
It is only 4:15 PM, but I donít think Iím going to see any more birds today, and I have no plans to take any pictures, so Iím going to send this off now.† If I see anything new tomorrow, I will write a report, but if not, then I probably wonít.
Monday, May 16
Well, Iím writing a report today, so you might draw some conclusions from that, but maybe I only want to relate the drama of failure.† Read on, to find out.
I slept well last night, and my nose was the best it has been in the last three weeks, so I guess it was indeed the thin and dry air of the high desert that was bothering it.† I was awake from about 6:30, but didnít actually get up until the late hour of 7:30.† It takes Ted a while to get going in the morning, and it was 10:45 by the time we got out of here.† The forecast was for rain this afternoon, and Ted needed to be back here at 2:30, but we set out to see what we could see.† I had a list of 5 or 6 possible birds I could see here, but only about 3 of them were very likely, and none would be easy.
One that I wanted to see was a hummingbird that only lives in the coastal areas of California, and it is only here from about March or April through June or July.† Another was the last nuthatch that I hadnít seen yet this year, and a third one was a sea bird, which could possibly be seen out over the ocean at this time of year.
We went first to a wild bird store, to see if they knew of anywhere that had hummingbird feeders.† They didnít know of anyplace, but a couple of the employees told us about a place down by Carmel where we might see the hummingbird I wanted, and the nuthatch had been seen there, too, on Saturday.
So, we got sandwiches at Subway and headed down to Hatton Canyon, off Carmel Valley Road.† The instructions we had were a little confusing, but eventually we located the canyon and started walking up it.† I played the hummingbird call a lot, but we never got a response that we could see. †There were some good birds, including Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Spotted Towhee, Wilsonís Warbler, California Quail, and the only Black-headed Grosbeak I have ever seen in the Monterey area.
When we got a bit farther up the canyon and there started to be coniferous trees, I also played the nuthatch call.† After a while, we stopped and ate our sandwiches, and then continued on up the canyon.† When we were about ĺ of a mile up the canyon, we decided to head back, so Ted wouldnít be late for his meeting.† I played the nuthatch call one last time, and then spotted a little bird that flew out onto a dead snag.† It turned out to be a PYGMY NUTHATCH, the very bird we were looking for.† There were actually two of them, and they flew around and acted agitated, so Iím sure they were responding to the call I had played on my phone.† Score another victory for iBird.† I had dodged the skunk again, amazingly, and at the last minute.
On our way back to the car, there was a little quail family, with 7 or 8 tiny babies, scurrying down the path ahead of us.† Eventually they went off into the bushes and we got by them.† Then, as we came near the lower end of the canyon, we scanned a patch of nasturtiums, and saw our first hummingbird.† There ended up being two of them, and I had bagged my other wish bird, ALLENíS HUMMINGBIRD, the one that only lives along the California coast in this country.† I only had it at 10% because I hadnít anticipated being in California at this time of year, until I changed my plans.† So, I ended up getting two year birds today, and the streak lives.
Yesterday afternoon I went through my master spreadsheet for the year, partly to plan for Malheur later in the week, and partly to check for accuracy.† I discovered that there were discrepancies between the spreadsheet and the little notebook I list all the birds in each day.† Neither the grand total seen nor the total lifers agreed between the two.† I spent maybe as much as three hours reconciling them, and found 4 or 5 errors in the process.† The bottom line was that I have actually seen a couple more lifers than I have been reporting.
The official totals, after the exhaustive audit and todayís lucky 90 minutes of birding, are 327 different species seen this year so far, of which 90 are lifers.† I also updated my ďpredictionsĒ for the rest of the year, and Iím now projecting a total of 357 species for the year, of which about 105 will be lifers.† That implies that I will only see an additional 30 new species for all the rest of the year, and about 15 of those will be lifers.† That doesnít sound like much, but that is because I have done so well so far.† I hope to add maybe 6 or 8 of those in Malheur, later this week, so that wonít leave me much more to see for the rest of the year, on future trips.
Tomorrow I plan to drive on up to Sacramento, to stay at Fredís house overnight, and then we will drive to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, in Eastern Oregon, where we plan to stay for four nights.† Iíll almost certainly get skunked both tomorrow and on Wednesday, so I probably wonít send another alert until Thursday night, assuming I see something new on Thursday.† It has been a very successful birding trip, with one more great birding place to visit.
Tuesday, May 17
OK, today was skunk day.† If thatís all you need to know, you can stop reading now.
On my way from the Monterey area to Sacramento, I stopped at Cosumnes Preserve, between Stockton and Sacramento.† I was looking for Blue Grosbeak, but I knew it was a real long shot. †I walked on the trails for about 20 minutes, playing the birdís call, but didnít see one.† At one point, I heard what sounded like an answering call, but it could have been different, and I couldnít ever get a good location on it.† I also saw one bird fly in to a tree above me, but I couldnít ever get a good look at it.
So, I moved on to Sacramento.† I had posted a message to the Central Valley birding mailing list about where to look for Purple Martins around Sacramento, and I had gotten 3 or 4 good responses.† I stopped at the most convenient site, which also was supposed to be the largest nesting site, but it was raining, cold, and quite windy.† I didnít see any martins, which are a type of swallow.† After 15 minutes or so, I went on to Fredís house.† Because this whole streak thing has taken on such proportions, Fred and I went back to that site at about 4:30, to try again.† It is under a freeway bridge, and the martins, which nest communally, are supposed to be nesting in some ďweep holesĒ on the underside of the bridge.† Bird shit can be seen around and under some of the holes, so I have no doubt they are indeed nesting there.† Fred and I saw two or three birds fly out from under the bridge, but didnít get good enough looks at them.† There were also some Cliff Swallows in the area, with nests on the next bridge, and that made it more complicated.† I believe we did see Purple Martins, but the views didnít quite meet my requirements, and I decided not to count them.† So, today was skunk day, and I can forget the whole streak thing now.† It was a great run, and I went way longer than I would have expected.
Tomorrow Fred, Tugboat (his Golden Retriever), and I plan to head for Winnemucca, NV, in our separate vehicles.† It is a about a five hour drive, and we do have one birding spot to stop at on the way.† Depending on the weather in the morning, we might try again for the Purple Martins, too, before we leave town.† On Thursday, we plan to drive the last 3 or 4 hours to Malheur NWR, where we have a trailer reserved, to stay in for four nights.† I have a list of 20 birds I could potentially add to my list for the year at Malheur, but I am only really hoping to add maybe 6 to 8.† Six would be satisfactory, and eight would be good.
The weather at Malheur has been quite wet and cold, like most of the northwest, and some major dirt roads are closed at this point.† If they donít open, it will limit our access to various birding areas.† There is a lot of snow on the neighboring mountains, and it is melting and causing flooding.† I called today and talked to two people at the reserve, and it sounds like the birding is very good this year, but with the road closures, it could be a problem to actually get to where the birds are.† Whatever.† We will do what we can, and Iíll be sure to have plenty of alcoholic beverages along, just in case.† The weather is going to be a big story for me for the next several days.† I probably wonít send another report unless and until I get another year bird.
So, that is the story of skunk day.
Thursday, May 19
Yesterday, Fred and I each drove to Winnemucca, NV, in our separate vehicles.† No birds for my list.† We saw a very interesting raptor at the Donner Monument along I-80, but were not able to identify it.
Today we drove to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, in eastern Oregon.† It was a very nice drive up here, with snow-capped mountains on both sides, and mostly sunny skies overhead.† I had my humble lunch, which I had made in my Motel 6 room this morning, at Frenchglen, at the southern end of the refuge.† Fred picked up two lifers there, Evening Grosbeak and Pine Siskin.
After lunch, we went on over to what is called P Ranch.† The main road through the refuge is closed, because they have had so much rain, including a real deluge last weekend.† The unpaved roads were flooded, and now they need to repair the damage.† There are still a number of places we can bird, but there are also places we wonít be able to go.
We went for a little walk at the P Ranch place.† Everything is very green and there is a lot of standing water around.† It has obviously been a wet spring, and it is quite a bit cooler than it might have been.† It can easily be in the 80ís at this time of year, and it was only in the mid-60ís for a high today.† According to the forecast, we should have two or three days of no rain, which is great.
We saw a lot of Yellow Warblers, which was another lifer for Fred.† Here is a kind of distant picture of one:
There was also a small group of Evening Grosbeaks along the trail. †Here is a picture of a male, from behind:
Here is a picture of a female Evening Grosbeak:
On our way back through Frenchglen, we stopped so I could take a picture of the same young Great-horned Owls that I took pictures of in the nest three weeks ago.† They have now fledged, and here is a picture of a couple of them:
We got to the Malheur Field Station, where we had a two-bedroom trailer booked, but no one was around to check us in.† We wandered around and eventually asked a woman who seemed to be cleaning one of the trailers, and she told us that we should look on the bulletin board by the door to the office, to see which trailer we were assigned to.† If they werenít going to be around, it would have been helpful to tell us ahead of time where to look to find our trailer assignment.† We were eager to get all of our meat and refrigerated stuff into the fridge, after a day in our coolers in our cars.† They also havenít told us the code to the wi-fi, which is rather inconvenient.† Why they have a security code way out here in the wilderness is beyond me, but they do.† I am being saved again by my cell phone app, since I have a marginal 3G data connection out here.† I love that app.† I used it last night at the Motel 6 in Winnemucca, too, and saved the three dollar charge that Motel 6 has for wi-fi.
One last picture, a male Yellow-headed Blackbird.
So, Fred is preparing our dinner (hamburgers tonight), and I am catching up with my reports.† Fred got 10 lifers today.† I guess I forgot to mention my birds for today.
On the way over to headquarters, after moving all our shit into our trailer, I saw a SAGE THRASHER.† Also, back at the P Ranch, there had been a flycatcher that we eventually (after consulting the pictures of the day) decided was a DUSKY FLYCATCHER (lifer).† It looks just like a Gray Flycatcher, except the Gray Flycatcher moves its tail up and down when perched, and the habitat wasnít right for Gray Flycatcher, but was okay for Dusky.† They both occur here, but the Dusky is more common.†
Fred also spotted a FRANKLINíS GULL (lifer) while we were coming back from the headquarters.† So, I actually added three species to my life list today, of which two were lifers.† Since we only birded for a couple of hours that is a great start.† I think I already have said that I hope to get six to eight species here, so we will see what else I can see.
We have four nights here, and the weather forecast is great Ė mid-60ís with no rain for the next three days.† I wouldnít be surprised to get a few showers, but it should be just fine.
Via cell phone from out in the middle of the high desert, that is my report for today.
Friday, May 20
We had the heat on in here last night, and my room seems to get most of the heat, so I had to have my windows open all night, so as to not be too warm.† I slept well and pretty long, although the bed did hurt my back a bit.
I had taken care of my morning ablutions, had my breakfast (yogurt, turkey sausage, eggs, and a couple of pieces of bread and butter), made my lunch, and we were out of here a little after 8.† Fred didnít have any breakfast or lunch today, which is not unusual for him, after his big dinner of last night.
We went on over to the headquarters/visitor center, hoping to get information about where to look for various birds, but no one there was any help.† The main road through the refuge is closed and is likely to stay closed for weeks, due to flood damage last weekend.† So, my birding was affected by fire in Arizona and flood here in Oregon.
Fred picked up Red-breasted Nuthatch for his life list, and I did see a Warbling Vireo, which I didnít need for my year list, but I was kind of proud to have been able to identify it.† There were young Great-horned Owls in a tall tree, and a big Red-tailed Hawk nest with young in it.† Here is a picture of one of the parents, at the nest:
Here is one of the same bird above the nest:
After that, we went to The Narrows, which is the causeway between Harney Lake and Malheur Lake.† We were looking for two species of terns, but didnít see either one.† On the north side of the lakes there were a lot of Long-billed Curlews, in their breeding plumage.† From the causeway, we did see a Clarkís Grebe, which was a lifer for Fred.
Next we went south to the Buena Vista ponds overlook.† There was a party of young people having their lunch in the parking lot, but we went out to the overlook and I ate my humble lunch while we looked around.† There was a beautiful view out over the marshes, and Fred picked up Forsterís Tern for a lifer.† I played my cell phone song for Canyon Wren and got no response, but then played Rock Wren, and one immediately came and perched right in front of us.† It then flew a little way and proceeded to sing its heart out, presumably trying to attract the attention of the one it had heard (my cell phone, that is).† Lovely little bird, but I didnít have my camera with me, sorry to say.† I had already counted that species back in February in the Sacramento area, and it was with Fred, so he didnít ďneedĒ it either.† Iím going to put together a Malheur list, though, and it was a good one for that list.
After I had my lunch, we drove slowly down the road, playing the song of the Sage Sparrow, but nothing responded.† There are three sparrows that are listed as common here that would be lifers for me, and we havenít had a sniff of any of them.† Iíve repeatedly tried playing calls for two of them, but nothing has resulted.† I was figuring on all three of them for my year list, and it is not looking good at this point.
We drove out along the road through the Buena Vista ponds, and did manage to get closer looks at Forsterís Terns for Fred.† We also saw some very distant birds, and I eventually managed to convince myself they were BLACK TERNS (lifer for both of us).† Then, a short while later, we got nice close looks at several of them flying over the ponds, and I felt good about seeing another lifer and one for my year list for the day.† Fred got a lifer Common Yellowthroat along that stretch, too.
In that same stretch of road, we got excellent looks at a pair of Sandhill Cranes.† Neither of us ďneededĒ them, but they are beautiful birds, and I got pictures.† Here is one of them:
After that, we drove on down to the road to Krumbo Reservoir, and drove the four miles of dirt road out there.† Again I was hoping for sparrows, but we had no luck at all.† There wasnít anything interesting at the reservoir either.† The terrain was interesting, and we did see some birds we stopped to identify, but didnít see anything new, other than a male Ruddy Duck, for my Malheur list.
Time was running out, as was the gas in my tank, so we drove back up the road to the mini mart and gas station at the crossroads near our digs, stopping two or three times for birds.† As we pulled in to the gas station, my car gave me the low fuel signal, so it was very timely.† Gas was $4.30 a gallon, but I have paid that much before on this trip, I think.† $79 to fill the tank is a shocker, though.
As we pulled out of the gas station place, there was a Sage Thrasher on the fence.† I had ticked that bird as a lifer yesterday, but this was a much better and much longer look.† I even got a couple of pictures this time, from the car.† Considering I was probably 30 to 40 feet away, I think they came out pretty well.† Here is one of the bird with some prey in its mouth, presumably taking it back to the nest for young:
Then it flew down to the ground behind a bush, presumably to its nest, and came back up with out the bug, to a wire:
So, we had a nice day, although not as productive as we might have hoped.† I only added the one bird, Black Tern, which makes four so far for Malheur.† I was expecting 6, and hoping for 8, but we still have two more days.† Fred got 7 more lifers today.
Tomorrow we plan to drive around and try some new areas.† Iím hoping for one or more of the three sparrows I need, and there are some others I could possibly get, too.† We had great weather today, with a high of about 65 and only a gentle breeze.† Sunny skies, and things look great, as they are so green after a wet spring.
We got the code for the wi-fi today, but the connection here in our trailer is very marginal.† Fred has connected, but it is very very slow, and he had to disable pictures to surf the web.† I am back to using my cell phone internet connection, which is working great still.† What a wonderful thing that has been for me on this trip.
So, that is my Friday report from the high desert of Oregon.† Tomorrow is another day, and who knows what awaits us.
Saturday, May 21
The weather forecast changed overnight, and it was still too optimistic.† We had rain showers all day, but it really didnít impact our birding very much.
I was up by 6:30, and we got out of here by about 8:30, or maybe a little later.† We headed south to Diamond Lane, about halfway down the refuge.† Since the main road through the refuge is closed, we chose to drive to the little community of Diamond and then up to the even smaller community of New Princeton, then back across to the Malheur NWR headquarters.
It was hard to add anything new, but we stopped a lot and did see a lot of birds.† Here is a picture of a male Ring-necked Pheasant, which is a pretty goofy looking bird, in my opinion, but is very colorful:
The terrain was certainly interesting.† There is lots of standing water and many more lakes and ponds than I was expecting.† We saw a couple of new ducks (Lesser Scaup and Northern Pintail) and Eared Grebes in their breeding plumage.† All of those were new for our Malheur list, which now stands at 86, which is respectable, I think.† We saw a couple of Loggerhead Shrikes, to go with the one we saw yesterday; we saw our first Snowy Egret, our first Ring-billed Gull, and our first Mourning Doves.
Fred spotted our first Wilsonís Snipe along the road, and it cooperated by posing for pictures.† Here it is:
Is that a goofy bill, or what?† While stopped to take pictures of the snipe, Fred spotted a male BOBOLINK (lifer) in a tree top, and I got a very brief view, before it flew away.† I would like to get a much better view, but Iím convinced it was a Bobolink, so Iím counting it.† Shortly before that, on the way to Diamond, there was a smallish raptor on a post, and I got a brief view before it flew, and then a good view as it flew away.† It was another marginal one, but I counted the PRAIRIE FALCON for my year list.† I counted it because there just wasnít any other species that it could have been.† The size, the color, the shape Ė they all indicated it had to be a Prairie Falcon, although I wish I could have gotten a better look.
Sparrows have been a particular sore point for me.† There are three sparrows that I need for my year list that are listed as common here, and we havenít had a sniff of any of them.† Iíve played calls and songs all over the place, and we constantly watch fences and posts and the roadsides, and havenít seen anything.† I rant about it all the time.† On the stretch of road approaching Diamond, while driving through farmed grasslands, we did finally see a few sparrows on posts and fences.† We stopped a couple of times and took pictures and looked at birds.† I was fooled into thinking that one of them was a Lincolnís Sparrow, but upon seeing another one later, I realized they were all Savannah Sparrows, which we had already seen here at Malheur.† So, the sparrow curse continues to haunt me.† I had hoped to get three species of sparrow here, and now it looks like I wonít see any of them.† Here is a picture of one of the Savannah Sparrows singing:
The yellow above the eye is the real giveaway, but it not so easy to see when looking through binoculars from a distance.† The camera makes it obvious, though.
We went on in to Diamond, which we thought might have a small store, but it was only a few houses and a hotel.† So, we backtracked in order to stay on paved roads for the time being, and it was while backtracking that we saw the snipe and got the Savannah Sparrow picture, actually.† And saw the Bobolink, which was a great one to get.
On the next stretch of road, we got a great, but brief look at a badger.† I didnít even know that badgers lived in the US.† I think of them as British animals, from childrenís stories.† But, we had seen in the little museum here at the field station that they are in the area, and this was definitely a badger.† I sure would have loved to get a picture, but it boogied away through the sagebrush as soon as it saw us.
I ate my humble lunch (same as yesterday, refer back if you care) at the Round Barn, some kind of historical place.† The barn was actually in the lake that it was supposed to be next to, as the water level was so high.† While eating my lunch, we saw a pickup truck with a horse trailer pull up down the road, and a cowboy got out and unloaded a horse and headed up the hill.† Later we saw him rounding up a few cattle.† I guess this is the wild west still.
We tried again for a store in a place called New Princeton, but it was even smaller than Diamond, and there was nothing there but one house, as far as we could see.† I was looking for a place to buy some more cheese, and Fred wants mushrooms for the beef stroganoff he plans to cook tomorrow night, so we have been trying to find a store that is closer than Burns, which is about 30 miles up the road.
We had to take an unpaved road for the trip back to the NWR headquarters, but it was a very good one.† The rain showers held the dust down, too, which was nice, although the car ended up getting muddy.† On that stretch of road, there was a lovely hawk on a pole.† We think it must have been a young Red-tailed Hawk, as there just isnít anything else it could have been, and Red-tailed Hawks have a very wide variation of plumages.† The bands on the tail are the indication of its youth.† Here are a couple of pictures, from the back and the front:
While we were taking pictures of the Red-tailed Hawk, a farmer came along in his tractor, carrying a bale of hay.† I waved to him as he passed us, and as we went on up the road, we noticed he had stopped in a driveway.† As we went by, he came out and waved us down.† He asked if we took pictures inside barns, and told us that he had a crow or raven nest in his barn.† So, we followed him down a driveway, and did see several ravens sitting around the barn.† He was disappointed that all the ravens had left the nest, but it was still an impressive nest of sticks, in the rafters of his barn.† He told us that they had nested in a tree outside the barn for years, but the tree fell down last year, and they moved into his barn this year.† It was fun talking with a local citizen, and it was very thoughtful of him to show us the nest.† There had been a large, old, white dog walking up the road after the guy, and Tugboat was quite interested in the dog, but we didnít let Tug out to make friends with it.
reached the Malheur NWR headquarters, it was raining.† We checked out the
lookout point near there, and played the songs of the Brewerís Sparrow, which
supposedly nest there, but had no luck seeing anything at all.†
We went on down to the headquarters itself, to read what had been seen lately on the whiteboard there.† Several interesting species had been seen around the headquarters in the last couple of days, so we wandered around in the sprinkling rain for a while.† Fred spotted one for my year list, at the top of a tree, a lone CEDAR WAXWING.† I have always seen them in flocks, but this one seemed to be alone.† If you havenít been counting, that brought me to three new year list species for the day, or 7 since we got here to Malheur.† I had said that I wanted to see 6 to 8 species here, so Iím there, with one day to go.† (No damn sparrows though!† Please excuse the mini-rant.)
The young Great Horned Owls were still in the tree at the headquarters, and there seemed to be just one young hawk in the Red-tailed Hawk nest.† There were lots of Lazuli Buntings around, as before.† I also saw what I think was a Warbling Vireo again.† Also a Townsendís Warbler.† The headquarters area is supposed to be a good place for a lot of migrating birds, but a lot of the trees are very high, and it is hard to see the birds well enough to identify them.
Finally, it was approaching 4 oíclock, so we made our way back to our trailer at the field station.† When we got here we had one last treat in store for us.† There was a pair of American kestrels on a wire.† Here is a picture of the pair of them.† The male is on the left.† You can see the differences.
The female is larger, and the male has that blue and red-brown on him.† I am pleased to get a picture that shows the contrast between the male and the female.† Here is the male on his own:
And, here is the female:
They both have the same facial markings, but the plumages are somewhat different.
So, that was our day here at Malheur.† As I mentioned above, we now have 86 species here at Malheur, having added 13 more today.† Tomorrow we plan to go back down to P Ranch, at the south end of the refuge, and maybe beyond there, if the roads are open.† There arenít a lot of new birds we can see, but who knows?† Maybe we will even see a sparrow for my list (no, Barry, no more rants on sparrows!).
Fred BBQ-ed a nice trip-tip roast for dinner, with baked potatoes and veggies.† Our deal on meals is that Fred does the cooking and cleanup for dinner and I buy the groceries.† We both like the deal.† I make my own breakfasts and lunches, since Fred usually doesnít eat either of those meals.† It works out well for us.
They have again changed the weather forecast for tomorrow, and they now say it will be sunny with a high of 63, with no mention of rain.† That sounds perfect to me.† Maybe I can add one or two more species tomorrow.
Sunday, May 22
This is the last day of my trip.† Tomorrow I head for home, and I am planning on trying to drive all the way home, which would be about a 9 hour drive.† It used to be that 9 hours would be a doddle, but the years have taken their toll, and now that is a marathon for the Old Rambler.† Coffee will be required, no doubt.† I still have the Starbucks mocha frappachino I got in Arizona, and it will probably come into play tomorrow.
We were up and out of here by about 8 this morning.† We drove on over to the refuge headquarters first, and looked around.† There was a porcupine up in a tree.† I had read that porcupines spent the night in trees, at least sometimes, and it surprised me.† Here is a picture of the little critter.† He doesnít look too friendly to me.
Upon arrival at the headquarters, I had seen a new bird up at the top of a tree.† I only got a couple of brief views of it, but I could clearly see the gray head and yellow underparts, and I am counting it as a NASHVILLE WARBLER (lifer).† They are listed as uncommon here in the spring, on migration. †I had studied up on it, and it was one of my targets here.† It had also been reported in the last few days there in the headquarters area, so Iím pretty confident of the identification, although warblers are tough as hell, as they never stay still for very long, and you are lucky if you ever get a good view.† Anyway, Iím counting it.† I only had it at 20% in my spreadsheet for the whole year.
As we were getting ready to leave, I saw a bird in a tree, and my first thought was House Finch.† Normally, I wouldnít pay any attention to a House Finch, but we are keeping a ďMalheur listĒ, and we didnít have House Finch on it yet, so I took a look.† I immediately noticed that it didnít have any breast streaks, like House Finches do.† My thought was Purple Finch, which I saw in January at Marymoor Park in Redmond, but it would still be a good one for our Malheur list, and a lifer for Fred.† It flew down near one of the feeders, and I got one quick picture before it flew off to points unknown.† Here it is, in a much magnified view, to show all the key identification points:
No streaks on breast Ė not a House Finch.† The bright red crown, and the lack of red color on the back feathers says it is a CASSINíS FINCH.† The white eye-ring, clearly visible in the picture, is also diagnostic of the Cassinís Finch.† That is one that I need for my year list, and it was a lifer for Fred, who also got a good look at it.† I only have it at 50% for the year in my spreadsheet, so it was an excellent bird for me to see.† Interestingly, there was a volunteer on duty at the headquarters today, and we looked it up in their listings, and the Cassinís Finch is listed as rare here (Purple Finch is also rare).† He concurred with the ID, based on my picture, and so I got to write it on the whiteboard, with my name.† Iím famous now, I guess.† I only had time to snap the one picture before it left, and I was very lucky to get one that showed all the features so well.† I wonder if anyone else saw it today.
So, after that, we headed south, down to the other end of the refuge.† On the way, Fred spotted a bird on top of a tree, and when we went back, it turned out to be a Prairie Falcon.† If you will remember, that was a bird we saw very briefly yesterday.† Although I counted it, I wanted a better look.† The one today was pretty distant, but there was no doubt about the identification.† Here is a very distant picture.† The ďteardropĒ mark below the eye is the diagnostic marking.
It flew to another tree after that, and I took a couple of pictures.† As I snapped one of them, it took off, and I luckily got a distant picture of it as it took off:
That got my juices stirring, and we continued on down the road to the P Ranch, where we had stopped on Thursday, as we came into the refuge.† We walked out on the River Walk again, hoping to see Willow Flycatcher and a maybe a better look at Bobolink than we got yesterday.† On the path, in the same place as on Thursday, there were Evening Grosbeaks, and I got a good picture of a male:
We continued on out the trail to the point where the very high water made the trail impassible, and then turned back.† No flycatchers today, which was disappointing, but a couple of male Bobolinks did fly in, and I got much better looks than yesterday, and even some pictures.† Here is one:
They are very distinctive looking birds, with the golden color on the back of their heads and the white patches on their wings and back.
I had my humble lunch there at P Ranch, at a nice picnic table in the sun.† On our way out, we saw two or three Wilsonís Snipe.† I had gotten good pictures yesterday, but they were from the back.† Here is a picture of one from the front:
We went on to Page Springs campground, which had been flooded out last weekend, but it was back in operation today.† It was a very nice campground, and we might have gotten out for a birding walk but there was a birding group already there, and neither of us felt like braving the crowd.† While in that area, we also checked out the Steenís Mountain Resort, which has ďcabinsĒ to rent as well as camping spots.† It was up on a hill and had a great view of the whole Malheur valley.† It also had great Verizon reception, so I could have used my cell phone app there, to connect to the internet.† I had checked out those cabins while doing my research, and I forget why I chose the Field Station instead.† It was probably due to location, as Steenís Mountain is at the southern end of the refuge.
So, we headed for home, with several planned stops on the way, and the ever-present possibility of seeing something interesting along the way.† Indeed, we took the first part of the road to Diamond, which we had taken yesterday, and there was a Sandhill Crane quite close to the road.† The light was good, so took some pictures.† In the morning, on the way south, we had stopped and seen a couple of Sandhill Cranes, and one of them had given its call while we watched.† It was amazingly loud, and echoed off the cliffs behind the bird.† It is almost like a bugle call, and it was great to hear it echoing around the valley.† So, after taking some pictures, we played my iBird call for the Sandhill Crane, to see if we would get a reaction or an answering call.† The bird definitely heard it and listened carefully, but didnít answer.† Here is one of my pictures of it before we played the call:
After we played the call, it stood up to attention and looked around:
After that, we drove out on the road by Buena Vista Ponds, to see what we might see.† At one point, I stopped to look at a bird in the marsh, but it turned out to only be another female Red-winged Blackbird, one of hundreds or thousands we had seen.† Then I noticed another bird a couple of feet away, and I realized in a few seconds it was a SORA, a bird that is supposedly abundant here, but they are very secretive and actually seeing one is very difficult.† We got out of the car, but the bird flew farther away and disappeared into some cattails.† Almost right away we heard the very distinctive call of the Sora, though.† It is distinctive enough that even I remembered it from yesterday, when we played it in order to get familiar with it.† Soras are much more often heard than seen.† Having heard it call, I played all three Sora calls that are on my cell phone, and the bird not only answered, but two other nearby ones did, too.† We heard at least three birds give all three of the calls that Soras make.† It was very interesting for me to get such a great demonstration of ďbirding by earĒ.† But, I had seen the bird, too.† I never saw the whole bird at once, but I saw the back, the back of the head, and then it turned and I saw the face and bill.† Definitely Sora, although the calls we heard confirmed it as well.† It was another lifer for Fred.
So, it was getting on for time to be home by then, and I stopped at the mini market at the crossroads to fill up on gas, so I wonít have to worry about it tomorrow or stop until I get to where it is cheap (Pendleton, I think).† While waiting for the store clerk to fill my tank (you canít pump your own gas in Oregon), I overheard her talking with the people in a large camper about a ďnestĒ somewhere.† So, I asked, and it was a Golden Eagle nest, and I got directions on how to find it.† It was only about 2 miles down a dirt road, so we decided to check it out.† The clerk told me that it has been there for years, and some people had said they saw eagles there recently, and others didnít.† We decided to check it out.
As it turned out, there didnít seem to be any eagles around, when we found the nest.† Here is a picture of it:
As you can see, it is located on a cliff face, not in a tree.† It is hard to see the size from the picture, but it is pretty damn big.† Too bad there werenít any eagles around.
While looking at the eagle nest, I noticed another nest in a crevice, and there was an owl standing there, in the crevice.† We decided it was a BARN OWL, another one for my year list, and another lifer for Fred.† Here is a picture of the beauty:
If you look closely, you can see a spot on the lower left side of the bird, looking at it, and it looks like an old wound of some kind, almost like a bullet hole.
As it turned out, the people in the large camper that we had seen at the mini market were parked down the road, and as they came back, we showed them the owl, which they were very interested in, as we were.† Everyone got good scope views and pictures.† When we left, they were still there, enjoying the owl sitting in his cave.
So, that was our day today.† It is the last day of my trip, other than driving home.† I am now up to 338 species for the year.† Considering that my goal when I left on the trip was to get to 300, I would say it was an outstanding trip, in terms of birds.† I added 72 to my life list on the trip, too, to bring me to 95 lifers for the year.
On the trip itself, I added 122 species to my year list, of which 72 were lifers, an excellent ratio. †Here in the Malheur area, I saw a total of 91 species, and 11 of those were new for my year list.† Five of them here at Malheur were lifers.† I had hoped to see 6 to 8 new species here at Malheur, so seeing 11 exceeded my expectations.† Fred got 21 lifers here.
So, all those numbers probably made your eyes glaze over, but the bottom line is that it was a great trip, birding-wise.† It was also a great trip in terms of fun and in terms of seeing new places.† I dodged a fire in Arizona and I dodged a flood here in Oregon, and both of them did affect my access to birding areas.† Christina meeting me for six days was wonderful, hiring a guide in Arizona worked out great, and having my friend Fred and his dog Tugboat with me at the end of the trip also worked out great.† I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be able to do stuff like this.
It is about nine hours of driving to get home, and Iíll see how far I can get tomorrow.† It will be good to get home, Iím sure, after over four weeks on the road.† What a life!
Monday, May 23
Home again, home again.† I wasnít planning on writing a report today, but I have to, as I had bird action on the way home.
I slept later than I had slept on the whole trip, I think, not getting up until 7.† I was out of there by 8:30, having had my brekkie and having made myself a lunch.
With a good nightís sleep, I figured I could drive all the way home today without a problem, and so it happened.† It was raining when we got up, and it rained for most of the day, on my drive home, usually pretty lightly, though.
Somewhere on the two lane highway south of John Day, Oregon, I saw a bird on the right-hand side of the road, in a wide spot.† I could see immediately that it was a grouse, so I slowed down and made a U-turn as soon as I could.† On my way back, I didnít see it, but after another U-turn, I did see it in the original place, on the side of the road.† It was indeed a grouse, and I managed to pull over and get some pictures through the windshield, so I would be able to identify the species.† Here is a picture of the female grouse:
When I got home, I looked it up, and it was a Sooty/Dusky Grouse.† Those two species were split from a single species called Blue Grouse a couple of years ago.† They look almost exactly the same, but are separated by their range.† My field guide told me that this must be a DUSKY GROUSE (lifer), because of where it was.† I have seen Blue Grouse before (just once, I think), but it was in Yosemite, and that would make it a Sooty Grouse.
So, completely unexpectedly, I had scored a lifer on my drive home, without even leaving the car.† Amazing.
But, wait, thereís more.† An hour or so later, on the two lane road south of Pendleton, Oregon, I saw another bird in the road.† Again I made a quick U-turn and came back.† I didnít quite get a picture of this one, as I was concentrating on looking at it through my binoculars, memorizing the markings.† I wasnít sure what species it was, as I had never seen it before, but a quick look at my field guide confirmed it was a CHUKAR (lifer).† So, without leaving my car, while driving straight through to home, I had managed to pick up two lifers.† Is that amazing, or what?
The drive home went completely smoothly, with no problems other than the rain for the first 7 hours or so.† It was 515 miles, and it took me just under 9 hours.† I was glad to see that my old body can still do a 9 hour driving day.† The first 4 hours were on two lane highways, with a lot of mountain driving, and the last 5 hours were all Interstate.† I did have a Diet Coke with my humble lunch, which I ate while I was driving.† Later I had my Starbucks Mocha Frappachino coffee, which I had bought way back in Sonoita Arizona, for just this sort of situation.† With the help of caffeine (and a good nightís sleep last night), I wasnít sleepy at all on the drive.
So, I guess I have to update my year and trip totals now.† For the year, Iím at 340 species, of which 97 are lifers.† On the trip, I added 124 species to my year list, of which 74 were lifers.† As I indicated yesterday, the trip far exceeded my expectations in terms of birds.
That wraps up my trip reports.† Thanks for coming along with me on my Southwest trip
Sunday, May 29
After being home for less than a week, this morning I took off on an overnight birding trip across the mountains, to bird in Kittitas County, around Ellensburg and Cle Elum.
My first stop was Snoqualmie Pass.† I had some places to go there, and one twitch in particular.† There was still quite a bit of snow around, and it was overcast and cold, and I didnít see anything at all until I got to my twitch location.† There had been a post on Tweeters, the local bird mailing list, about a house with hummingbird feeders, with an open invitation to visit.† Since the hummers were virtually all a species I still needed for the year, I stopped by.
The place was amazing.† There were 14 hummingbird feeders, with at least two or three dozen hummers buzzing around.† At one point, I counted twenty of them at the feeders at one time.† They were all RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRDS, too, so I got one for my year list without even really trying.
I got back on I-90 and went on to the Stampede Pass exit, where I briefly visited the Crystal Springs campground, which was still closed and had snow on the ground in many places.† It was a very nice location, and there was a lovely river nearby, but no birds.† I played some calls, but got no responses.
My next stop was in Cle Elum, at Bullfrog Pond.† There were a few birds around, but nothing interesting.† It had gotten windy and was still in the low 50ís.† The sun was trying to break through the overcast, but it hadnít done so by that time.† I walked around and enjoyed the environment, but it was a washout as far as birds were concerned.
By this time it was after noon, so I had a gut bomb at Burger King in Cle Elum, and then found my way to the Burlington Northern ponds.† It was a very nice birding area, other than the roar of the interstate from up on the hill, and I did see a few birds there.† There was a pair of Barrowís Goldeneyes on one of the ponds, and I got some pictures.† Barrowís is much less common than the Common Goldeneye, and I donít think I have ever gotten a picture of a Barrowís Goldeneye before.† Here is the pair of them.† See if you can figure out which is the male and which is the female.
By the way, today was the first time I had used my new Sony camera with its 30X zoom.† So far, I am quite pleased with it, although it is very early days still.
After that, I stopped at a couple more places that are mentioned in the book I used to plan this trip Ė along Airport Road and at the bridge over Teanaway River, but didnít see anything new at either place.† The sun came out, and at least there were some birds to look at, and a little birdsong.† It was a very slow birding day, though, and the wind wasnít helping at all, either.
I stopped at a fishing access place on the Yakima River, where one of my target species was purported to be.† I walked around, playing the call repeatedly, but didnít get any response.† After ten or fifteen minutes of that, I was back in my car.† I would have left, but I stayed while I messed around with my cell phone, trying to get the score in the Mariners game, since I couldnít get it on the radio.† While sitting there fooling with my cell phone, I had the window open, and I suddenly realized that I was hearing the exact same bird call that I had been playing, coming from across the parking lot.
I jumped out and went over there, but the call seemed to be coming from high in a tree with lots of leaves on it, and I couldnít see anything.† I played the call some more, and a bird flew by a couple of times, and one time I got a quick glimpse of it with the naked eye.† It was enough to convince me that this was my target bird, but stayed out of sight.† It went down into some undergrowth, but then after a few minutes, it flew out and perched right in the open, singing its little heart out, presumably in response to the songs I had been playing on my cell phone.† It was just what I was looking for, a RED-EYED VIREO (lifer).†† I only had it at 40% for the year in my spreadsheet, so it was really nice to see one, especially so close and such a great look at it.
It kept singing, and so I raced back to the car and got my camera (which I should have had with me already), and it continued to sing and pose.† Here is my favorite picture of the little darling:
Is that cool, or what?† It was great to get a picture of a lifer that I hadnít even really expected to see this year.† It was enough to make the day, despite how few birds I had seen.
It was getting late by then, and I was low on gas, so I headed on to my humble lodgings for the night, here in Ellensburg.† I took it slow, though, and I detoured off onto some country roads on the way.† I saw quail several times, there was a nice male kestrel on a wire, and I tried for pictures of Black-billed Magpies, but couldnít get one that is worth showing.† At least there were a few birds around in the farmlands, unlike in the mountains.
Iím staying on the outskirts of Ellensburg tonight, and tomorrow I plan to bird my way east from Ellensburg to the Columbia River.† My targets for tomorrow are three sparrows that I looked for unsuccessfully at Malheur last week, and Mountain Bluebird.† It is supposed to be less windy tomorrow, and maybe there will be more sun as well, which would help the birding a lot.† When I decided to do this trip, I thought that getting two new species would be satisfactory, and anything over that would be good, so tomorrow I will be working on bonus birds, since I got my two today.† I expect to get the bluebird tomorrow, although you never know, and any of the sparrows would be great, especially Sage Sparrow, which is at the northern edge of its range here. †I donít expect to have any further chances to see one this year, with my current plans, so tomorrow might be my last chance.† I could see the other two sparrows (Brewerís and Vesper) in Montana or Wyoming in July, but I would be glad to see either one tomorrow.
So, thatís my story for May 29.† Two more for my list, bringing me to 342 for the year, of which 97 are lifers.† If there isnít another report tomorrow, then that means I was skunked.† We will see.
Monday, May 30
So, here is a May 30 report, so I must have gotten at least one more bird for my year list, right?† Read on to hear the story.
I was up and out of my humble motel room by 8:30, haven gotten a brekkie sandwich and a lunch sandwich at the local Subway.† I headed off east on I-90, on my search for sparrows.
I got to the Schnebly Coulee, 15 miles or so east of Ellensburg, and started my hunt.† I stopped at the first access to the Quilomene Wildlife area to start my search.† There was a dirt road heading off up the hill, but I had read that it was pretty rough, so I walked up it instead of driving.† I was glad I had done so, because it soon got rougher than I would have liked to have driven on, and there were no places to turn around.
I was playing the songs of a couple of the sparrows I was seeking, but getting no responses.† I heard a ďchoopĒ bird call up ahead, and I followed it up the rough road.† It turned out to be a Western Meadlowlark, making a sound I had not heard them make before.† As I went on back down the road, I saw a bird on the top of a bush, and it turned out to be a Sage Thrasher with a bug in its beak.† I have pictures, but they arenít as good as the ones I got of Sage Thrasher at Malheur, so I wonít show any of them.
At about that same time, I saw small birds flying between bushes, and I kept playing my calls.† I got a quick look at one, and it appeared to meet all the qualifications of one of my sparrows, but I decided the look wasnít good enough to count it.† The bird kept flying around, apparently reacting to the call I was playing, and it gradually got closer and closer.† There were two of them after a while, and eventually one came in close enough for me to verify that they were indeed BREWERíS SPARROWS (lifer).† I got one picture, but it is too blurry to show, although it does confirm my ID.† It wasnít the sparrow I really wanted, but it was still good to get this one, which I had repeatedly looked for at Malheur and had not seen.
Back at the car, as I started off down the road again, I saw a bird on a fence, and I immediately said to myself ďMountain BluebirdĒ.† It just had that look, although I could not see any color on it with the naked eye.† I got my binoculars on it, and it was indeed a female MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD, and I had a second bird for my year list.† I stopped the car and got out, and although I never saw the female again, I did see the male and got some pictures.† Here is my favorite:
That was taken from maybe 30 or 40 feet away, so you can see why I like the 30X zoom that my new camera gives me.
I continued on down the road and stopped at the second dirt road into the Quilomene Wildlife Area, and walked up the road a way.† This was supposed to be perfect habitat for my main sparrow target species, and sure enough, my cell phone call attracted a bird that posed for me and returned the song.† I had the one I had really wanted, the SAGE SPARROW (lifer).† Here is a picture:
It was cool to get a picture of the little darling singing.
Here is a picture of the habitat where I saw the Sage Sparrow.† It is typical of the sagebrush areas of the Schnebly Coulee.
So, having gotten two of the sparrows that I really wanted to see, I headed down to Wanapum State Park campground.† I wasnít expecting anything new there, but I wanted to get a better look at Bank Swallows than I had gotten in Arizona, and they supposedly had nests in a sand bank there.
On the way, there was an Osprey on a power pole with a fish, and I got some great shots of it.† Here is my favorite:
As you can see, it had been working on it for a while, and the head was already gone.† It flew away, and I got a picture of it carrying its fish:
Not a great picture, but it tells the tale.† Ospreys carry fish in that way, parallel with their body, while Bald Eagles carry them crossways, perpendicular to their body.† Iíll bet you didnít know that before Ė you are so lucky to have me to educate you about the ways of birds.
At the boat launch at Wanapum State Park Campground, I did see the Bank Swallows better than before, although I still havenít seen one perched.† I took a picture of some campers who were enjoying Memorial Day weekend on the Columbia River, too.† The weather was kind of iffy, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves.
There was also a family of Black-billed Magpies around the boat launch area.† There was one young one who kept squawking and fluttering its wings to be fed, and two parents who brought it food from time to time.† Here is a picture of the youngster on its own:
The feathers were fluffier than the adultsí, and the tail was shorter.† But the main way I knew it was a young one was that the parents fed it from time to time.† Here is a picture of one of the interactions:
Springtime is great in the bird world.
So, after that, I headed for home.† On the way back to the freeway, I saw the Osprey still working on its fish, and there was another one on the adjacent power pole, eating its own fish.† A happy couple, I presume, each enjoying its fish.
My first stop on the way west was the Rygrass rest area on I-90, about 10 or 12 miles west of the Columbia.† I had heard that Brewerís Sparrows could be seen there, and I was hoping for a picture, even though I had seen a couple of them this morning.† I had my Subway sandwich at a picnic table, and although I didnít see any Brewerís Sparrows, I did get a picture of a tiny chipmunk:
I decided to try for the sparrow trifecta and go for the Vesper Sparrow as well.† I stopped at the Taneum Creek valley and stopped several places on the road up the valley and played the call and song, but never saw one.† I did see a male Lazuli Bunting, a great bird.† This was the first Lazuli Bunting I have seen in Washington.
It was getting on into the afternoon by then, so I decided to head for home.† I thought I would get home early and be able to process my pictures and write this report before dinner.† That was not to be, though.† As I approached the last rest area on I-90, the traffic was backed up ahead.† I did my business at the rest area, and when I pulled out, it was a full ten minutes before I even got back onto the freeway.† There had been an accident earlier, evidently, and it was incredibly slow.† It took me an hour to go the first 6 miles, and it was an hour and forty minutes before I got to the place where the accident had happened, several hours before, no doubt.† The only reason I knew that was the place was that they had updated their Traffic Info radio broadcast to tell motorists that by then.†
I understand that it would be slow, and I understand that it would take hours to clear, with the holiday traffic, but I donít understand the five minute complete stops that kept happening.† I can only imagine that they were stopping traffic completely from time to time, in an attempt to get it moving faster eventually.† I remember a study they did back in the 60ís, written up in Scientific American, showing that it was actually faster to move a long line of cars if you stopped them periodically and sent them ahead in batches.† I think this was an implementation of that theory, although I never really saw proof of that.† There was an indication, though, with a couple of trucks with lighted signs on them, and they presumably were what had been periodically stopping or slowing the traffic, in an attempt to get it moving again.† If so, it did work, I think, as once we got going, there were no more slowdowns, despite the heavy traffic and the rain that developed.† By inserting gaps in the traffic, I think it avoids the ďaccordion effectĒ that you normally get after a traffic jam.
So, bottom line, it added about an hour and a half to my drive home, and I didnít get here until almost five oíclock.
The two days were not really very ďbirdyĒ.† I didnít see a very big variety of birds, and I didnít see very many birds.† On the other hand, for my purposes, it was quite successful, since I added five more species to my year list, of which three were lifers.† That brings me to a total of 345 this year so far, of which 99 are lifers.† I also got some pictures I like, and I had a chance to try out my new camera, which I am quite pleased with.
I suppose I have been spoiled by Southeast Arizona and Malheur, both of which were quite ďbirdyĒ, and maybe I need to adjust myself to a more normal level of birdiness.† Iím actually quite pleased with my two day trip, but if I wasnít doing what I am with my 2011 Quest for Birds, I think I would have found it disappointing, due to the low numbers of birds.
Signing off for a while now, no doubt, this is the Old Rambler, saying so long.