Wednesday, December 17, 2014

England and Morocco

The last few weeks have been nuts, wrapping up some major project work, testifying as an expert witness at a National Energy Board hearing, and preparing for a winter vacation. Despite the craziness, I did manage to squeak in a touch of birding...I twitched an Acorn Woodpecker at the Cedar Hills Golf Course in Victoria and got it! This species was a first for Vancouver Island and my first sighting of it in Canada. I've seen many in the southeastern United States, and I credit that experience to locating the bird in Victoria, Several birders were on the 'hunt', but none could find it, including myself, after about 45 minutes. After that time the group had disbanded, some staying put in the place where it had been seen most often, and some going off in random locations in search of it. My approach was to search the oaks in the vicinity of where it had been found, keeping a watchful eye for anything that moved. But movement was not what finally revealed its location; it was sound. Acorn Woodpeckers, like may other species, have a distinctive call. I liken the sound to that of a White-breasted Nuthatch, but faster, slighter higher-pitched, and less repetitive. As soon as I heard the dry rattle, I knew I had the bird. I dashed down the trail about 50 meters and there in an oak was a smart-looking Acorn Woodpecker, striking in full sun and against a deep blue sky. Being good birders, my wife and I alerted the other birders still standing on the street about 300 meters away. They all went running to the site and they all got to see the bird.

This week was also interesting. On Sunday, while walking near Glen Lake at night, a Barred Owl flew across the Galloping Goose trail just in front of me. It landed in an alder and posed very well as I lit it up with my headlamp...great views. On Tuesday, when I took my daughter to school, we found a less handsome Barred that had been hit by a car and was being pecked at by a Northwestern Crow. My daughter thought this was very cool. Further down the road, at the junction of Latoria Road and Metchosin Road, I flushed nine Western Meadowlarks from the edge of a field. Western Meadowlarks aren't terribly common on Vancouver Island, and even less-so in the winter. When I have found them it is usually a small group of 3-5, and usually they are best observed at Panama Flats, nearer to Victoria. This was the largest flock I had seen on Vancouver Island since moving here in 2001.

Today, Wednesday, has been a slog...and still is. We`re heading to the UK for the holiday's to visit Joanna's family. Whilst there I will be spending two days birding with Simon in Norfolk, and from December 26 to January 1 I will be birding alone in Morocco. I fly into Marrakech, and will be birding predominantly through the Atlas Mountains and the western Sahara. The next two-and-a-half weeks should prove very interesting. I will try to post relevant birding highlights as they happen...depending on wi-fi availability.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Clement's Update 6.9

I just got back late last night from a two week trip in of the daily birding highlights will appear soon on my Panama birding blog. In the meantime, the Clement's World Checklist of Birds has just been updated (Version 6.9 can be found here) and I was keen to update my life list to reflect recent changes and my latest (2014) Canada, United States, and Panama ticks.

Since January 2014 I added 6 species to my Canada list, 10 species to my United States list, and 76 species to my Panama list. I lost one species (Green-crowned Woodnymph) off my Ecuador list due to the species being re-lumped to Crowned Woodnymph. Pine Warbler was my only Canadian lifer; the remaining five species were new ticks, but previously seen elsewhere. The best non-lifer Canadian tick was Laysan Albatross of the coast of Uclulet during a pelagic trip with Wild Research on 11 May 2014.

The 10 new additions to my United States list were made during a trip to Arizona from 28 March to 5 April. Of these 10 species, 7 were lifers and included Gray Flycatcher, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Gray Vireo, Rufous-winged Sparrow, Williamson's Sapsucker, Mexican Chickadee. Daily trip reports can be found on earlier postings of this blog, beginning here.

Updated list totals are posted to the right. The only outstanding records I need to review are those of the recently split Sage Sparrow into Bell's Sparrow and Sagebrush Sparrow. I am quite certain I have had both species, one in southern Arizona and one in coastal California; to be certain however, I need to go back through my field notes.

Finally, with all of the updates and additions (except for the Sage Sparrow split), my life list now stands at 1,439. With an upcoming trip to the United Kingdom and Morocco at Christmas, I may just be able to crack 1,500 species by the end of the year.

Until next time, happy birding.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

...97, 98, 99...

When I woke this morning at 5:00am, the first thing I did was look outside to see what the wind was doing; it seemed to have subsided, and so the prospect of good birding loomed. I departed the hotel at 5:20am and immediately went to San Pedro House (right after Starbucks) at SPRCA. I arrived there at 6:10am, and it was quite light; the gate was closed and the sign read "open from dawn to dusk". As far as I was concerned it was dawn, so in I went, leaving the car parked next to the highway. It was a very crisp morning, registering at 1 degree Celsius and not a breathe of wind.

First bird of the day was Mourning Dove, followed quickly after by Loggerhead Shrike, House Finch and Ash-throated Flycatcher. Near the feeders, a flock of 80 Red-winged Blackbirds came in for seed, and in smaller numbers there was Rufous Hummingbird, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Black-chinned Hummingbird, and Ladder-backed Woodpecker. Beyond the visitor centre, I made my way along the grassland trail that led to one of two ponds in the area. Among the grasslands was Northern Harrier, Vermillion Flycatcher, Green-tailed Towhee, and innumerable sparrows including Chipping, White-crowned, Brewer's, Vesper, Lincoln's, and Lark. At the first wetland was a good tally of species including Yellow Warbler, American Coot, Pied-billed Grebe, Great Blue Heron, Song Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat, and others. At the second wetland I added Belted Kingfisher, Marsh Wren, Hammond's Flycatcher, Lucy's Warbler, and Northern rough-winged Swallow.

After a productive two hours of birding, I slowly made my way back to the car via the cottonwoods trail. Here I added White-throated Sparrow, Curve-billed Thrasher, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Gambel's Quail. Once back at the car, it was still relatively early at just 9:15am and the temperature was still relatively cool. I therefore decided to visit Ramsay Canyon, about 20 minutes away. Upon arrival the parking lot was packed, although I did manage to quite literally squeeze into what, at least in part, could be considered a designated parking stall. Ramsay Canyon had changed a lot since I was last here nearly 20 years ago; the part that changed was the nature house and feeder setup. I think it was a lot better 20 years ago; the feeders were nearly unattended by hummingbirds, and the trails were much more manicured than they once were. Despite the changes, I hiked about a half-mile up the canyon to see if the bird activity was good, and generally it wasn't. Highlights included Painted Redstart, Golden Eagle, Hutton's Vireo, and Hepatic Tanager. Back at the visitor centre I bought a new hat to support the Nature Conservancy, and then on a local tip, headed to Ash Canyon B&B where I was told that a Lucifer Hummingbird had been showing up at the feeders.

Ash Canyon B&B was about a 20 minute drive away, and upon arrival it was evident that a lot of birders had come with the hopes of seeing the rare hummingbird. I spent about an hour there, chatting to a retired math teacher from California, and had no luck. I did manage to add Scott's Oriole to the trip list, so that was cool. There were also three very chubby yarrow spiny lizards walking up the wall of the B&B; so fun to see. After departing Ash Canyon, I now had the relatively long drive toward Douglas. I was going to go directly there, but after browsing the birder's guide a bit, I decided to make a circuit to Whitewater Draw, Elfrida, and through Rucker Canyon. Still, the temperature wasn't cooking and bird activity seemed to be holding steady.

Whitewater Draw turned out to be quite a little gem amidst the baked desert sandscape. On approach I spotted a pair of Ferruginous Hawks, but the great birds were in the ponds themselves. At the parking area was flycatcher central: a single Western Kingbird, a Cassin's Kingbird, a Black Phoebe, a pair of Vermillion Flycatchers, and a Say's Phoebe. On the water were several new trip-list additions, including Glossy Ibis, Solitary Sandpiper, Blue-winged Teal, Canada Goose, Greater Yellowlegs, Cliff Swallow, and American Pipit.

After Whitewater Draw I worked the various back roads toward Elfrida, a small town just north, south, east, and west of nowhere. Birds didn't seem to mind though, as I added Eastern Meadowlark, Prairie Falcon, Swainson's Hawk, Horned Lark, and Greater Roadrunner to the day's list. Beyond Elfrida I decided to go through Rucker Canyon. The wind was finally starting to pick up, and so too was the temperature - it was 2:30pm. The road through Rucker Canyon was very nice and scenic. I think birding would have been good here early in the morning, but wherever I stopped it was complete silence. I added very few species to the day list along Rucker Canyon road, despite it being nearly 40 miles long. I did get 8 Wild Turkey standing on the road (mmm, now I'm hungry), and the last new bird of the day was Townsend's Solitaire.

The long lonely drive back to Douglas was not as lonely as I would have liked. At about 20 miles north of Douglas I was pulled over by state police for speeding...ooops. He asked if I knew why I was pulled over and of course I said I did. But he wanted to hear me say I said speeding. He then asked if I knew what the speed limit was, and how fast I was going. I said 55 (correct) and 70 (incorrect); apparently I was going 84...double oops. He then spent about 10 minutes at his car doing whatever it is they do at there car when they've pulled someone over. During that time one of his colleagues joined the party, and when he heard I was from Canada he reacted completely stunned. Finally, the office returned and let me off with a verbal warning, then warned me of the drug smuggling and illegal immigrants that are rampant in the area. I have no doubt that the verbal warning was entirely due to my stunningly good looks and pleasant demeanor. The downside to the entire incident was that I didn't add a single new bird for the trip.

I arrived in Douglas at 5:30pm, had a quick shower and some dinner, and hit the hay by 8:00pm. Tomorrow I was getting up 4:30am so that I could be in Portal by sunrise. Therefore, I didn't even realize until two days later that my tally of species for today was my best yet...101 species! Wild Turkey was number 100, and Townsend's Solitaire was 101. Yippee!!!

Total Species for the Day: 101
Total Species for the Trip: 159
Total Lifers for the Day: 0
Total Lifers for the Trip: 2

Friday, April 4, 2014

Arizona: Blown Away

Today I wanted to check out several new areas in the vicinity of Sierra Vista. Three of the locations were along the San Pedro River Conservation Areas (SPRCA), and the other area was Carr Canyon. In anticipation of a great day, I was up at 5:30am and on the road by 5:55am. My first destination was Carr Canyon. When I left the hotel it was quite breezy, but I hoped it was temporary or local and not going to impact the days birding; I couldn’t have been more mistaken. As I climbed the rough and unmaintained road up Carr Canyon the winds gained intensity. Dust was swirling, trees were bending, and the whooshing noise of the air as it passed over every surface made it impossible to hear anything. Near the summit of Carr Canyon I realized it was a lost cause, and so decided to head back down into the valley, where I had hoped the winds would be gentler. The only bird I did get up Carr Canyon was Mexican Jay.

I arrived at Hereford House in the SPRCA and the wind was blowing very strongly. Nonetheless, I decided to head out onto the trails and see what I could pick up before whatever it was got blown to the next state. In the grassy fields adjacent to the riparian area I picked up dozens of sparrows, mostly Brewer’s, White-crowned, Vesper, and Chipping. An occasional Le Conte’s Sparrow was also seen. Along a small hedgerow were an Ash-throated Flycatcher, a pair of Vermillion Flycatchers, and a Northern Mockingbird. Closer to the riparian zone I picked up Abert’s Towhee, Canyon Towhee, several Green-tailed Towhees, and a Ladder-backed Woodpecker. The remainder of the birds seen in this area were standard fair, so I moved on.
My next stop was at San Pedro House, also along the SPRCA. Here it was extremely windy, and next to impossible to see anything flitting amongst the trees. Around the nature house were common feeder birds, which had trouble landing as the feeder swung violently in the wind. I proceeded down the main trail hoping to take shelter among the trees where I had hoped birds would be a bit easier to see; sadly that was not the case. To make matters worse, there was a caterpillar outbreak, similar to the tent caterpillars we get in the north. It quite literally was raining caterpillars as they were blow from their nests high up in the cottonwoods. Once on the ground, the wind blew them along the trail, making any effort of them crawling appear painfully futile. There were no real bird highlights along the entire walk, other than a Cassin's Kingbird; the area looked like it had great potential were it not for the wind.
At this point I mentally switched off the birding motor and decided it was a waste of effort. To pass the time, and to do something I’ve always wanted to do but never have, I paid a visit to Tombstone, AZ. Tombstone, just by its name, conjures up a picture in the mind of what the Old Wild West must have been like. Tombstone was known for such people as the Earp’s (Wyatt, Morgan, and Virgil), Doc Holliday, Billy the Kid, and Big Nose Kate. Two relatively contemporary movies have been made just on the town or on the people who lived there (Wyatt Earp and Tombstone). True to most current-day historical sites, it had lost its allure and turned into a hand-over-fist cash machine for tourists. For a fee you could do just about anything: go on a stagecoach ride, dress up in 1880s attire, or watch a gunfight. If modern-day Tombstone has embodied anything from its past, it’s that those who came to live there and make a fortune sadly appear to have not.
It was now mid-afternoon and the wind was still howling. However, as desperate birders do, I did not fully give up on the day. On the way back to Sierra Vista I stopped at the third birding location in the SPRCA: Fairbank. I went for about a 1.5 hour walk, and in all that time I located only seven species. The only highlight was two Gray Flycatchers. Disappointed, I headed back to Sierra Vista, hoping that by tomorrow the winds will have subsided. The species count for the day illustrates just how bad it was.
Total Species for the Day: 39
Total Species for the Trip: 139
Total Lifers for the Day: 0
Total Lifers for the Trip: 2

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Arizona: In Florida

After yesterday’s bust on the Rufous-capped Warbler in Florida Canyon, I decided this morning to give it another go. I arrived at the canyon at 6:30am, and before heading up the canyon I worked the parking area in hopes of locating two recently seen Black-capped Gnatcatchers. Unfortunately, the gnatcatchers were nowhere to be found, but I did pick up Bell’s Vireo, Northern Cardinal, and several Broad-billed and Rufous hummingbirds. From the parking are I slowly made my way up the canyon, checking every bird in sight. There were lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers, a couple of Orange-crowned Warblers, and numerous Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

At about 200 meters up the canyon I bumped into another birder who was visiting from Phoenix. He too was looking for the Rufous-capped Warbler, so we worked together to improve our odds. Further along the trail we picked up Black-throated Gray Warbler, Hermit Thrush, Rock Wren, Canyon Wren, Costa’s Hummingbird and several Lesser Goldfinches. At about 600 meters up the canyon we arrived at the “dam”, the lower location where the Rufous-capped Warblers generally occurred...but not today. We continued further up the trail and scanned the shrubbery and undergrowth intently, but with no luck. We did however flush-up a male Elegant Trogon, so that was nice to see, being it only my second sighting. With just a bit more perseverance, but not an ounce more luck, we finally gave up looking for the Rufous-capped Warbler; neither of us were terribly disappointed...he had seen them before and just wanted it for his 2014 year list, and I had seen them previously in Panama and just wanted it for my United States list.
Back at the parking lot we made another effort to find Black-capped Gnatcatcher, but had no luck. We did pick up Black-headed Grosbeak, Gray Vireo, Canyon Towhee, and what we thought was a Townsend`s Solitaire but unfortunately couldn’t get a good look before it disappeared.
After parting our separate ways, I began the long journey south and east to Sierra Vista via Nogales. The winds were gradually picking up and the bird activity was slowing. Along the way I decided to check out a bunch of locations I’ve not previously been to. The first on the list was Tubac, an artsy town about halfway between Green Valley and Nogales. The best birding here is in the riparian area, where I immediately added five Gray Hawks to the list. These were soon followed by Lucy’s Warbler, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Bell’s Vireo, Barn Swallow, and my second-ever sighting of Rufous-winged Sparrow. At the Tubac bridge I added Cassin’s Kingbird, Common Yellowthroat, and Cedar Waxwing.
From Tubac I headed to Rio Roco, where I added just one species to the day-list, Swainson’s Hawk. At Nogales I added another Gray Hawk, but drove directly through the town and on to Kino Springs. Here I added Say’s Phoebe, a pair of Swainson’s Hawks, and a pair of Cassin’s Kingbirds. From Kino Springs I headed to Patagonia Lake where, despite a howling wind, I managed to add several species for the day, including: Ruddy Duck, Double-crested Cormorant, Black Phoebe, Great-tailed Grackle, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet  (second-ever sighting), Black Vulture, and Cliff Swallow. From Patagonia Lake I drove to the town of Patagonia, where I immediately headed to the Patons’ House (formerly, as they have now passed on and the National Audubon Society has purchased the residence under a joint-venture agreement). At the house were two highlights: Inca Dove and Violet-crowned Hummingbird.
The day was now getting short, and I had a long drive to Sierra Vista. Therefore, I decided to call it a day as far as birding was concerned and make my way to the hotel. The wind was ever-increasing, which was not likely to bode well for the coming day or two of birding if it keeps up. Once at Sierra Vista I had a few minutes to check out Ramsay Canyon...well, sort of. I got to the preserve only to find that it was closed on Tuesdays (today) and Wednesdays (now scrapped my plan for tomorrow). Back to Sierra Vista to call it a day.
Total Species for the Day: 72
Total Species for the Trip: 137
Total Lifers for the Day: 0
Total Lifers for the Trip: 2

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Arizona: Desert Delight

Today was not really about birding...ok, everyday is about birding, but instead of hiking lots of trails and travelling to multiple destinations, I spent the morning at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, and the afternoon in the Santa Catalina Mountains. I woke this morning at 5:30am and departed a little before 6:00am...straight to Starbucks.

I arrived at the museum at 6:45am, which didn't open until 7:30am. My early arrival was intentional, as my goal was to do some photography around the entrance. As predicted, there were excellent opportunities to photograph Cactus Wren and Gila Woodpecker. One of my target birds to photograph, White-winged Dove, was perched perfectly atop a saguaro cactus. As I began to approach it burst into flight...spooked by an annoying “amateur” photographer with a point-and-shoot; no White-winged Dover for me. Once inside the park I headed in the opposite direction of most other people, and straight to the aviary. Photography in the aviary generally isn’t very good, as the light is poor and the vegetation dense. I did manage to get some shots of White-winged Dove, but it’s not the same as w a wild bird.

Back on the trails I slowly trudged around the trails lugging my 30-lbs worth of camera gear. Not unexpectedly, most people felt compelled to make comments about my camera...with some speculating on just how “powerful” it must be...yes, I can see the moon with it...just as I can with the naked eye but at a slightly greater magnification! Near the “riparian zone” of the park I got some great shots of Gila woodpecker feeding on an ocotillo. Further around the park I got some good profile shots of bobcat, and shortly after that I got Curve-billed Thrasher perched on a saguaro – this was a bonus, as I hadn’t expected to get this one. By now the heat was turning up in the desert, and so I returned to the car and dumped my gear. I then did another circuit of the park to do some birding, but I didn’t add much to the list. I picked up a t-shirt for Amelia before I departed for the Santa Catalina’s.

From the desert museum I headed to Madera Canyon, a very well-known destination among the birding community and a place often in the top-ten places to go birding in the United States. I arrived at about 11:00am, and although temperatures were cooler in the canyon, the winds had picked up. I first spent a bit of time at the feeders to pick up Black-chinned Hummingbird, Mexican Jay, Magnificent Hummingbird, and Wild Turkey, among others. I then went for a walk down the main trail, and back up along the road. During the hike I picked up Townsend’s Warbler, White-breasted Nuthatch, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Cordilleran Flycatcher, and Painted Redstart. Back at the feeders I added Acorn Woodpecker, Rufous Hummingbird, Sharp-shinned Hawk, and Broad-tailed Hummingbird.

From Madera Canyon I decided to pay a short visit to Florida Canyon, located about 8 miles away. This site has been home to recent sightings of Rufous-capped Warbler, so I thought I’d give it a try. After spending about two hours in the region, I had no luck. However, I did pick up a few new species for the trip list, including Rock Wren and Canyon Wren. A Rufous-crowned Sparrow also gave amazing views.

With only a couple hours left in the day I decided to take a quick trip up Chino Canyon. However, after travelling 45 minutes to the entrance gate, and 20 minutes along an extremely rough road only to realize I was only a quarter of the way there, I decided to head back. My one reward for the effort was a short-horned lizard that permitted excellent photos. I arrived at my hotel in Green Valley by 6:00pm and went for dinner at Manuel’s Mexican was packed, but good.

Total Species for the Day: 42
Total Species for the Trip: 114
Total Lifers for the Day: 0
Total Lifers for the Trip: 2

Monday, March 31, 2014

Arizona: Sweet Sewage

Up this morning at 5:30am and out of the hotel by 5:50am. It was overcast and quite warm, with the cloud trapping the heat in. First stop…Starbucks! Mmmm, coffee.

Today I decided to spend another morning at Sabino Canyon. The birding was quite good there yesterday, so best to give it another go and work some different trails. The park was not as busy as yesterday, but nonetheless joggers and hikers were omnipresent. As I began down the main trail heading east, I soon realized that the smaller Esperado trail that I did yesterday was likely the better option. However, before I even got there I found my first Greater Roadrunner nest in a fuzzy bear cactus. Cool!

The usual arid desert scrub birds were singing and calling everywhere: Verdin, Lucy’s Warbler, Lesser Goldfinch, Cactus Wren, and Phainopepla. I made it to the end of the Esperado Trail slowly, where eventually it joined the road that headed into the canyon. From here I followed the road for about a quarter mile, where I then diverted downhill to the riparian area where birds were certain to be more abundant. Along the creek I found Cedar Waxwing, Black-throated Sparrow (including my first nest of this species), Costa’s Hummingbird, Black-throated Gray Warbler, and Brewer’s Sparrow. At one location along the creek, dozens of birds fed on seeds, bathed in the small pools, gathered nest materials, or sang for mates. These included Yellow Warbler, Abert’s Towhee, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Orange-crowned Warbler, Lazuli Bunting, Gray Vireo, Gray Flycatcher, and Hermit Thrush. As I worked my way back to the parking area I picked up Northern Cardinal (stunning male), Pyrhuloxia, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, and Ash-throated Flycatcher.

After 3.5 hours at Sabino, it was now time to try something else; the morning temperature had already increased to 23 degrees Celsius. I decided to head to Sweetwater Wetlands, a sewage treatment facility that for the most part, actually didn’t smell of sewage. I’d been to this wetland before in winter and it was fairly productive for ducks, but on this trip it was so much better as spring migrants were everywhere. For the duck round-up I quickly added Mallard, Ruddy Duck, Northern Shoveler, Cinnamon Teal, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, and American Wigeon. As for shorebirds…what? Shorebirds in the desert? There was a good mix of species in the recharge ponds including Killdeer, Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Baird’s Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Black-necked Stilt, and American Avocet. Songbirds new for the trip included Wilson’s Warbler, Plumbeous Vireo, and Common Yellowthroat. Two Neotropic Cormorants were a surprise, but not as much as the myriad small rodents living amongst the reeds…I could hear them rustling everywhere, and with patience I could see as many as five at once in the binoculars. I also learned that red-eared sliders make good perches for American Coot.

It was now midday, and the heat was suppressing much of the bird activity. I decided to spend the afternoon checking out other local, but not popularized, birding sites. First I went to Avra Valley, which much to my disappointment only had two species: Turkey Vulture and American Kestrel. Next I drove along Reservation Road toward Pecan Grove. Along the way I picked up a Loggerhead Shrike and a Greater Roadrunner. Once at Pecan Grove, or sadly, what was left of it, I added only one new species: Horned Lark. Slowly I made my way back to Tucson, and paid one last visit to Sweetwater Wetlands. I didn’t add anything new, and so at 4:45pm I decided to call it a day and head back to the hotel.

Total Species for the Day: 74
Total Species for the Trip: 101
Total Lifers for the Day: 0
Total Lifers for the Trip: 2

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Arizona: Two Shades of Gray

I began today at 5:45am, and was out of the hotel by 6:05am; I didn’t even need an alarm My first stop for this trip was Sabino Canyon, a municipal park located within the city limits of Tucson in the northeast corner. Sabino Canyon has long been one of my favourite destinations in Tucson, as many of the semi-arid desert scrub birds can be found here, and the network of trails makes getting around easy. Along the eastern border of the park is a nice riparian area with willows and sycamore...acting like a magnet for migrants and shade-seekers.

My first bird of the day was White-winged Dove, which was quickly followed by Cactus Wren, Lucy’s Warbler, and Gila Woodpecker. As the morning progressed, Lucy’s Warbler was conspicuously abundant, and could be heard from just about anywhere along the trails. The other thing that could be heard just about anywhere were was a weekend and the park, for 6:30am, was packed with hikers and joggers alike. To avoid the hoards of people, which seemed generally to be sticking to the primary road that entered the canyon and to the wider trails that run around the periphery, I worked the narrower trails off the beaten path. Gambel’s Quail could be heard calling, and occasionally seen scurrying under brush, around the main entrance to the park, and House Finch was also common in the area. Further along the trails were great birds such as Vermilion Flycatcher, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Verdin (abundant), Phainopepla, Pyruhloxia, and Ladder-backed Woodpecker.

Another conspicuous bird in the park today was Cooper’s Hawk, with six being seen in total, and one of which was eating a small rodent. Hummingbirds were also all-abuzz, with Anna’s Hummingbird, Broad-billed Hummingbird, and Costa’s Hummingbird being seen in the park. Lazuli Bunting was also a good find, as were several Lesser Goldfinches and Abert’s Towhees.
Before commencing this trip to southeast Arizona, I thought I’d be lucky to get a half-dozen new species, and I was really only planning on one...Mexican Chickadee in the Chiricauha Mountains. But today was a pleasant surprise in Sabino...with two new species added to the life list: Gray Vireo and Gray Flycatcher. Gray Vireo was the best of the two for me, although I did find myself wondering how I had perhaps missed this bird in the past given how common it seemed to be. Perhaps it was the time of year...catch them when they’re singing or before they move on. Gray Flycatcher was a good one to tick, although it occur in my native British Columbia and I’ve just been to lazy to go get it.
As I wrapped up birding at Sabino Canyon, I tacked on a few others to the list: Black-throated Sparrow, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Northern Mockingbird, Green-tailed Towhee, and Curve-billed Thrasher. After returning to the entrance I paid a quick visit to the nature centre where I picked up a couple books for myself, and a book for Amelia. It was now 10:00am and quite warm.
From Sabino Canyon I made my toward Mt. Lemmon on the Catalina Highway. I picked up some lunch from Safeway and soon began the 26-mile climb to the summit, making several stops along the way to check for birds. The Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Area was my first stop. Here I added new birds for the day to the likes of Bridled Titmouse and Hutton’s Vireo. Further along, at Bear Canyon Picnic Area, I picked up Acorn Woodpecker and Steller’s Jay. At windy Point Vista, true to the bird-finding guide’s description, were several Whiote-throated Swift’s skirting about the cliff faces; two Bushtits foraged in the shrubs below the viewing platform. At Incinerator Road I added White-breasted Nuthatch and Yellow-eyed Junco, and a bit further along at Mount Bigelow I added Mountain Chickadee, Olive Warbler, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Spotted Towhee.
At the visitor centre the only thing worth doing there was getting a bottle of water. There were no birds to be heard or seen, but the cooler temperature at 8,000 feet was a pleasant reprieve from the oven below. A little further ahead I stopped at Control Road, my turn-around point for heading back to town. Along Control Road I added Hairy Woodpecker, another Olive Warbler, Western Bluebird, Violet-green Swallow, and a gorgeous Painted Redstart. It was now 3:30pm, and time to head back.
Once back in the basin, I decided to have another quick walk in Sabino Canyon, just to see if things were a bit different in the evening. It was 4:35pm, and so I took a short one hour walk along the Esperado Trail. The first bird I found was a Greater Roadrunner, and I can confirm with photos Amelia that roadrunners DO eat lizards for lunch! The only other bird I added to the list for the day was a Cedar Waxwing, as a flock of 12 flew by in the setting sunlight. I returned to the hotel by 6:00pm, had Mexican food for dinner, and was in bed by 9:00pm. I was wiped out after birding for 12 hours and walking nearly 6 miles.

Total Species for the Day: 61
Total Species for the Trip: 64
Total Lifers for the Day: 2
Total Lifers for the Trip: 2

Arizona Bound

Day 1 of a nine-day trip to southeast Arizona. Today was spent entirely on travel, departing Victoria at 1:00pm and arriving in Phoenix at 5:25pm. From Phoenix I rented a car and made my way south to Tucson. The light faded quickly after departed Phoenix, and so I only had time to add five species to the trip list: Great-tailed Grackle, Mourning Dove, European Starling, Red-tailed Hawk, and Rock Pigeon. I arrived in Tucson, and eventually my hotel (after missing the turnoff) at 8:45pm. Early night tonight...

Total Species for the Day: 5
Total Species for the Trip: 5
Total Lifers for the Day: 0
Total Lifers for the Trip: 0

Friday, March 28, 2014

Herring Run 2014

I haven’t had a chance to check out the bird activity during the herring spawn since 2001. But finally, after 13 years, Joanna, Amelia and I made time to take a day trip up the east coast of Vancouver Island from Victoria to Comox to check out the action. We departed at about 9:00am and returned home by 7:30pm. The weather was generally unfavourable for birding, with strong windows blowing off the water and rain varying from mild to heavy throughout the day.

Our first stop to check for birds was Englishman River estuary near Parksville. The rain was heavy here, and the birds were light. Good numbers of gulls, but ducks and shorebirds were in the low double-digits. A little further north and in Parksville we stopped at the recreation and RV park. Bird activity was much better here…with the first sighting being a Yellow-rumped Warbler hanging on for dear life in a lone scrawny tree in the middle of the park. Along the coast were decent numbers of Brant (50-100), and a huge mixed flock of Black, Surf, and White-winged scoters. In the parks fields were good numbers of Dunlin (about 200) and Black-bellied Plover (about 60). At the park we met a woman who advised us of a Northern Mockingbird at Little Qualicum River estuary, near a bird feeder. We headed there next, but after 30 minutes we were unable to locate it. At the feeders were Dark-eyed Junco, Red-winged Blackbird, California Quail, Purple Finch and several other common feeder birds.

From Parksville we continued north to Fanny Bay. As expected, good numbers of Northern Sea-Lions were hauled out onto the log booms, and a smattering of birds including Red-breasted Merganser, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, American Wigeon and Great Blue Heron were present. From Fanny Bay we ended up next in Courtenay, which had impressive numbers of Trumpeter Swan (300-400) in the agricultural fields, as well as good numbers of Mallard and American Wigeon. We continued through Courtenay and into downtown Comox where we had a tasty lunch at a café.

After finishing lunch we went to Kin Beach Park…thee rain continued to pelt down in combination with a strong wind…but after searching most of the day, we finally located a large flock of sea ducks, gulls and shorebirds benefiting from the herring feast. Among the ducks were at least 1,400 Long-tailed Ducks, 3,600 Surf Scoters, 800 White-winged Scoters, and 200 Black Scoters. We also saw about 10,000 gulls, of which we could successfully pick out Glacous-winged (the dominant), California, Herring, Mew, and Thayer’s gull. Dunlin, Black Oystercatcher, Harlequin Duck, and Black-bellied Plover hugged the shoreline and took shelter behind anything that seemed to lessen the wind and rain. A few lone species, including Common Loon, Pacific Loon, Red-necked Grebe, and Common Murre, drifted amidst the waves.

From Kin Beach we made the direct drive home, and it rained the entire way. Our species count for the day was XX. A decent count considering the weather.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

2014 Valentine Couples Bird Count

On February 16, 2014 Joanna and I once again competed in the Victoria Natural History Society's Valentine's Couples Bird Count. We've only done this count once before, in 2012, when we won the competition with a good count of 82 species. The rules of this count are simple: 1) Count between 6am and 12pm; 2) Both people must see or hear 95% of the species counted for the day; 3) the count must be completed in the Greater Victoria Bird Checklist Area.

As in 2012, Joanna and I were at our first site (Royal Roads University) at 6am. Our first bird was Canada Goose calling, followed shortly thereafter by Great Horned Owl hooting. The weather was not particularly favourable, as a strong wind blew in off the Juan de Fuca Strait and rain and sleet pelted us for the first hour. As we stood at our second location, Albert Head, we had nearly every ounce of heat whisked from our bodies as we squinted in the twilight trying to pick up some marine species. It was generally futile...we picked up a few gulls and some ducks, but nothing we couldn't find elsewhere.

From Albert Head we dashed to Esquimalt Lagoon where we picked up a good mix of ducks, gulls, shorebirds and several passerines, including our only White-crowned Sparrows for the day. We then started to head toward the Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre, but suddenly realized we had not counted Mute Swan, one of the easiest birds to get at Esquimalt Lagoon. We did a quick u-turn, and as soon as we could see the lagoon, we located the swans on the far side...a close call and a potentially embarrassing miss. At the Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre we walked through a small patch of mature coastal forest in search of typical temperate rainforest birds. We picked up Pacific Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper and Pileated Woodpecker, but failed to locate Varied Thrush and Red-breasted Sapsucker which were know to be in the area.

Our next stop was Panama Flats, a reasonably large agricultural area that is mostly flooded in the winter and attracts a good variety of waterbirds and species that use the drier grassy and shrubby margins. There were no real highlights here, although we did pick up five Western Meadowlarks, Savannah Sparrow, and Northern Shrike...the only records of those species for the day. Next stop was Vedder Flats where we picked up Gadwall and lots of Ring-necked Ducks...the big miss here, as we later learned at the post-count gathering, was Canvasback.

From Vedder Flats we headed to Blenkinsop Lake where we made a mad dash down the trail to the old rail trestle. The lake was largely unproductive, yielding only a couple species for the list. On the hike back to the car we picked up Downy Woodpecker, our only observation of this species for the day. From Blenkinsop Lake we visited King's Pond, our guaranteed location for Wood Duck, and to our surprise our only observation of California Quail as it fed on bird seed in the parking area. From King's Pond we headed to Gonzales Bay and completed a coastal circuit that included Oak Bay, Cattle Point, and Mount Douglas Park. Among these locales we picked up Black Oystercatcher, Killdeer, Pigeon Guillemot, and Pelagic Cormorant.

At this point the count was nearly over. We quickly headed to Rithet's Bog and added nothing new in the strong winds. We ended the day at Swan Lake, where the post-count summary was to held. Here we added only Yellow-rumped Warbler and Pied-billed Grebe. Our final count for the day was 73 species, which put us in 5th place out of 13 couple. The winning tally was 82, the same as our winning tally in 2012. Big missed for the day, which we actually saw the previous day as we scouted our sites, included Barrow's Goldeneye, Herring Gull, Long-tailed Duck, Purple Finch, Snow Goose, Common Raven, Bushtit, and Greater White-fronted Goose. The full list of species follows:

American Coot 3
American Robin 6
American Wigeon 6
Anna's Hummingbird 7
Bald Eagle 3
Belted Kingfisher 1
Bewick's Wren 6
Black Oystercatcher 1
Black Turnstone 2
Black-bellied Plover 1
Brewer's Blackbird 2
Brown Creeper 1
Bufflehead 6
California Quail 1
Canada Goose 7
Chestnut-backed Chickadee 5
Common Goldeneye 3
Common Loon 1
Common Merganser 5
Dark-eyed Junco 2
Double-crested Cormorant 4
Downy Woodpecker 2
European Starling 1
Fox Sparrow 2
Gadwall 1
Glaucous-winged Gull 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet 3
Golden-crowned Sparrow 4
Great Blue Heron 2
Great Horned Owl 1
Greater Scaup 1
Green-winged Teal 1
Harlequin Duck 2
Hooded Merganser 4
Horned Grebe 1
House Finch 2
House Sparrow 3
Killdeer 1
Lesser Scaup 1
Lincoln's Sparrow 2
Mallard 7
Marsh Wren 1
Mew Gull 2
Mute Swan 1
Northern Flicker 5
Northern Pintail 3
Northern Shoveler 1
Northern Shrike 1
Northwestern Crow 3
Pacific Wren 2
Pelagic Cormorant 1
Pied-billed Grebe 1
Pigeon Guillemot 1
Pileated Woodpecker 2
Red-breasted Merganser 4
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
Red-necked Grebe 1
Red-tailed Hawk 2
Red-winged Blackbird 6
Ring-necked Duck 4
Rock Pigeon 2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 3
Ruddy Duck 2
Savannah Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 8
Spotted Towhee 5
Surf Scoter 3
Surfbird 1
Trumpeter Swan 2
Western Meadowlark 1
White-crowned Sparrow 1
Wood Duck 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 1
Grand Total 188