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