Saturday, May 6, 2017

Little Feathers Jewels

Missing from my earlier reports on Arizona are some of Connie's favorite birds - hummingbirds. In our area, we have one type of hummingbird which is Ruby-throated. Don't get me wrong, they are splendid little gems that make us all smile all summer long. We have a pair that nest in our yard every year and drink from our feeder before heading south for the winter. I hang the feeder on tax day every year and wait with anticipation for the first sign that our man is back. This year, I didn't see him until after our return from Arizona which was fine because we had plenty of hummers to look at there.

Arizona is in the west and for some reason, they get many species of hummingbirds there. Many people, restaurants, hotels and gift shops hang feeders to entertain their visitors. We sat at a few of the famous hummingbird stations including Madera Canyon, Paton's Yard and Beatty's Guest Ranch and were treated to some awesome birds. The most common hummer at all feeders was Broad-billed Hummingbird. You can tell this bird by the overall dark body and bright red bill.

Broad-billed Hummingbird
Not to be confused with the Broad-tailed Hummingbirds which have a red throat like our hummers but also have a rufous or green "vest".
Broad-tailed Hummingbird - male
 Like most hummers, the Broad-tailed female is pretty plain. This allows her to hide in the nest better.
Broad-tailed Hummingbird - female

It's no secret that hummingbirds are the smallest bird species but when you see many species mixing it up at feeders, you can see that even within this group, some are tiny. The Black-chinned Hummingbird is pretty small but very mighty. This guy chased much larger birds away from "his" feeder at Beatty's Ranch all day long. You can see from this photo that if the sun catches his chin just right, it is actually purple, not black.

Black-chinned Hummingbird
Here is is in mid flight chasing off another bird.

Black-chinned Hummer
If Black-chinned is one of the smallest hummers, then Magnificent is one of the largest and, well, magnificent. I'll let you decide for yourself.

Magnificent Hummingbird
Even with all of the hummingbird diversity, Southeast Arizona also hosts some rare hummers. We spent an evening at Ash Canyon Bed and Breakfast with host Mary Jo to get a glimpse of Lucifer hummingbird. This is one of 3 different males that came to the feeder just before dark to tank up on sugar water before finding a roost for the night.

Lucifer Hummingbird
It's funny to see other types of birds at the hummingbird feeders. This Acorn Woodpecker figured out how to get his tongue into one of the holes.

Acorn Woodpecker
And this Painted Redstart which is a warbler also tried his luck with the sugar water. Here he is getting ready to jump on the feeder.

Painted Redstart
Other birds came in to grab some seed from the other feeders. This very rare Streak-backed Oriole was reported at a famous yard that I love the name of - "Bob Rodriquez's Yard (formerly Dave Jaspers yard)" I guess Dave moved to another house with an awesome yard. We visited in the middle of the day and sweated our asses off but didn't see the bird so we went to lunch and returned later. We got to see the bird a few times. He loved the oranges that Bob had speared around the yard.

Streak-backed Oriole
This is Lazuli's Bunting which is really cool to see.

Lazuli's Bunting
And Green-tailed Towhee pecked around on the ground.

Green-tailed Towhee
Most of the feeder stations also had water features which attracted this Gambel's Quail. These quail have crazy feather plume sticking out of their heads.

Gambel's Quail
And this Scaled Quail which was a life bird for us was hanging around another feeder. Not as gaudy but still a nice looking bird.

Scaled Quail
Many people go to Arizona and forego the rigorous hikes up the canyons. They simply spend time at the feeders and get to see all of these cool birds.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

For a Hoot, Go A Mile

We must have heard that a dozen times on this trip. "To get to the (fill in the blank), go a mile up the" . . . canyon or road or trail. On three occasions, the mile paid off in owls. 

I already told you about my big 600th ABA bird - the Mexican Spotted Owls at Beatty's Guest Ranch in Miller Canyon. To get to them, we had to hike up the trail about a mile - and I do mean UP. 

Mexican Spotted Owls
To get to this crazy little owl, we had to go up Cave Creek Canyon road, past the turn off for some other road and over the little bridge. We were told to go EXACTLY a mile from the bridge and look for 2 Sycamore trees that hang over the road. The first tree has 3 holes in it. It isn't that tree. It's the other tree. I swear, this could have been my mother talking. Anyway, we followed the directions and viola - Whiskered Screech Owl.

Whiskered Screech Owl
I nicknamed her Cross-eyed Mary. She just kept looking at us with those crossed eyes. 

Today, we hiked up Ramsey Canyon. This is a canyon that it part of The Nature Conservancy and has a Nature Center unlike the other canyons.  The volunteer at the nature center told us that we might find a trogon if we hike up to the top which was, you guessed it, about a mile. The trail was really nice for about 1/2 mile then of course it got steep. I sent Lori and Tara ahead. Connie bailed early. I dragged my fat ass up slowly. We made it to the area where the trogon would be but never heard or saw the bird. Another couple was there and showed us an owl instead. Bonus -  this little Northern Pygmy Owl just sat there and allowed us to snap some pretty nice photos. 

Norther Pygmy Owl
Check out the paws on this bird. They are over-sized! You know what they say about owls with big feet . . . 

For this next owl, we didn't have to go a mile. This one has a nest just outside of the visitor center at San Pedro House. We did have to go twice to see her sunning herself in the morning light. 

Western Screech Owl
Rounding out our owl odyssey, we were treated to these Great-horned Owl babies right in the parking lot of the Portal Cafe where we had a great lunch. 

Great-horned Owl baby
Including the Elf Owl that we saw on our first night, this turned out to be a six owl trip. Not bad for the Bird Nerds. 

Friday, April 28, 2017


Birders have lists. You know that already. What you might not know is that there are MANY different kinds of lists. There is the life list which is the total number of birds seen anywhere. My life list is currently at 1175 which means that I've seen about 10% of all bird species on the planet. 

Then for American birders, there is the American Birding Association or ABA list. This is the total number of birds seen in North America. Obviously, there are fewer than 10,000 bird species in America. Only 900 or so have been seen here and of that, only 750ish have been seen more than once or twice. Many birders try to see 750. I've been trying to get to 600 for a while now and finally did it on this trip to Arizona. And, the bird that broke the mark was pretty cool too - Mexican Spotted Owl. Here he is congratulating me (not).

Mexican Spotted Owl
Number 600 could have been this Red-faced Warbler which I saw on the same hike up Miller Canyon but it was number 601 just because of the order of the list in eBird. 

Red-faced Warbler
But the Spotted Owl hit the mark and I'm glad. My 300th bird was also an owl - Snowy Owl at Stone Harbor Point many years ago. 

The owl took some effort to see. We had to go to Beatty's Guest Ranch in Miller Canyon and hike up, up, up to the spot. The friend that we made in Madera Canyon - Edna from New Jersey gave us great directions. She told us to look for the split rock the size of two vans and then go down the little path, put our butts up against another giant rock and look up. Damn if they weren't right where she told us.

Spotted Owls
A pair of Spotted Owls just sitting there like nobody was around. Meanwhile, they are probably the most popular Spotted Owls in the country. They must be visited over a dozen time each day by crazy birders like me. Good thing they don't seem to mind. 

Only about 150 more to go . . . looking forward to the adventure. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

3 Days Home - Then Off to Arizona

Honestly, I barely had time to do my laundry and re-pack my suitcase last week. Connie, Lori, Tara and I are now in southeast Arizona on vacation. Of course, we are birding like crazy. We spent a few days in Tubac to be near to Madera Canyon. On our first evening, we went into the canyon to find owls and succeeded. Madera is home to 4 (or more) species of owl including this little gal - Elf Owl.

Elf Owl!
She nests in a telephone pole on private property but luckily, the guy who lives there is gracious enough to invite birders into his yard each evening around 6:30 to watch for the owl to appear. She made her appearance at 7 PM and hung out in the hole for 15 minutes before taking off for the night. Wow.

We also saw a very rare bird family the next day. Black-capped Gnatcatchers only nest in this area of the US and we were fortunate to see this male.

Black-capped Gnatcatcher
The bug isn't for him. It's for his baby which we also got to see up close. Cute little guy huh? 

Lori made our accommodations for the trip and she did a great job. We rented a house in Tubac that had a great little yard and was close to the Anza Trail. We spent time watching some really great birds including this jet black Phainopepla. 

And this stunningly red Vermilion Flycatcher that perched in a tree then on the wall of our yard. 

Vermilion Flycatcher

Vermilion Flycatcher
We saw this Say's Phoebe flitting around and then sitting on a nest. They have a beautiful salmon color belly. 

Say's Phoebe

Say's Phoebe Nest
And this Gila Woodpecker was busy feeding nestlings. 

Gila Woodpecker Nest
It wasn't all joy. We missed the Elegant Trogon for the 4th or 5th time. We heard it calling but despite 2 days in the canyon, never got to see the bird. We also witnessed a really bad fire that started in Box Canyon by a stupid guy shooting guns at exploding targets in the very dry desert. What was he thinking? The fire has spread across 20,000 acres and still moving across Arizona. Sheesh. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Other Colorado Wildlife

Of course, we saw more birds than Grouse and Ptarmigan. In fact, I added 11 life birds on the trip. Todd got 4 which is good for him. We found iconic western species including 100+ Western Meadowlarks singing their R2D2 songs.

Western Meadowlark
And beautiful Stellar's Jays in the mountains.

Stellar's Jay
We found this Yellow-headed Blackbird in the marsh.

Yellow-headed Blackbird
And this little Rock Wren.

Rock Wren
On the lake, we saw 100+ American White Pelicans. They are pretty easy to spot but not usually close enough for a photo like this.

American White Pelican
Here is one of the life birds for me. McCown's Longspur which is a tiny sparrow-like bird that runs around in the grass. Very difficult to spot unless it runs across the dirt road like this one did.

McCown's Longspur
It is always a joy to find Rough-legged Hawks. This one perched on a fence post.

Of course, there were other critters too. We were surprised to spot this Red Fox wandering along the side of the mountain road. Look at the long fur - alot different than the foxes in our yard.

Red Fox

Furry Fox
It is the big game that was really cool. Like these Bighorn Sheep.

Bighorn Sheep

Chewing on Grass
And the Pronghorn too. These were the animals that I really wanted to see. We saw a few that were very far away or close but then bolted when they saw us (Pronghorn are the fastest animal in North America) but these 2 didn't seem to mind our cameras snapping photos.



Thursday, April 20, 2017

Our Non-Chicken Chicken Trip

Birding in Colorado in April is well known to birders as the "Chicken Trip" . In this case, we are referring to Prairie Chickens which do a breeding dance on "leks" that warrants National Geographic TV episode. There are 2 species of Prairie Chickens - Lesser and Greater but the "Chicken Trip" also includes 4 species of Grouse which also do the displays - Gunnison, Sharp-tailed, Dusky and Greater Sage Grouse. Nature tour companies run trips to Colorado for 10 days to see all 6 species plus other Colorado birds. Todd and I did it in 4 days.

I admit, the agenda that I set for our Colorado trip was ambitious. I think Todd was worried but the itinerary actually worked out great. We now refer to our trip as the Non-Chicken Trip since we saw all of the Grouse but neither of the Prairie Chickens. We cut out the chickens due to the location of those leks being really far away. We would have needed 2 more days to get to those. Plus, the chickens can actually be found in other states.

We started our grouse trip in Gunnison located in the southwest part of the state where there is a very rare Gunnison's Sage Grouse. Gunnison is the only place in the world to see this grouse and the wildlife rangers are very strict about viewing the lek. There are a million rules:

  1. Arrive 1 hour before dawn
  2. Park in designated spots (NOT ON THE ROAD!)
  3. No headlights
  4. No talking
  5. Stay in your car
  6. Remain at the lek until all birds are finished displaying

With all of these rules, you would think that the birds would be really close and skittish. Turns out, this was our view. I had to use red arrows to point out the birds. The ridge was 1 kilometer away.

Gunnison Sage Grouse lek
The birds started displaying at 6 AM. By 6:45, we were bored. The wildlife office told us that they would be finished by 10 AM. Good thing neither of us are rule followers. We left at 6:45!

On to our next quarry - Dusky Grouse which can also be seen near Gunnison at the Black Canyon park. Although many birders find the Dusky here, they usually do not see them displaying since these birds do not use a lek. When we arrived at the canyon, we ran into a birder who we know from New Jersey - Tom Johnson. Tom is an excellent birder and a professional tour guide. He had 2 vans of birders looking for Dusky Grouse and found one on the side of the road. Todd and I stopped to view that bird and found 2 more further up the road. Then we found this guy actually displaying. You can see the red air sacs on his neck and the yellow eyebrows.

Dusky Grouse display
Later that day, we headed north to Hayden in search of Sharp-tailed Grouse. We found a hotel and headed out before dawn again to get to the lek that another Jersey tour guide located a few days before. It paid off. We saw a few Sharp-tailed grouse but didn't see them displaying.

Sharp-tailed Grouse
3 down, 1 to go. Off to Walden to see if we could find Greater Sage Grouse on the lek. We arrived at 8:45 and found only one bird hiding in the sage brush. Reports on the Internet indicated that there were over 100 birds at this lek but we arrived too late. No worries, we found other birds that day and got a hotel room. The next day, we arrived at dawn and found a spectacle of booming grouse on the lek. Greater Sage Grouse as far as we could next to the dirt road. This was the nature show that we came for.

We spent 2 hours watching the display. I shot 2000 photos.

Greater Sage Grouse Lek
I couldn't stop myself. Here are just a few. The males gulp air to inflate balloons in their chest, puff up their necks and display their tails to impress the females.


Like most males involved in impressing females, they often fight. Here are 2 of them squaring off.

Squaring Off
Feathers flying. They beat each other with wings until one runs away.

Meanwhile, the females casually wander around the lek looking for the most impressive male. When the females wander off, some of the males leave the lek or rest for a bit. Here is one resting.

The birds have paparazzi.

The obvious question is: Why did the chicken cross the road? Answer: Sex!

After all of the birders and most of the birds left the lek, this male kept at it. Click the play button on the video.

He was rewarded (if you know what I mean) by this female. Believe me, this photo is the G-rated version. I have X-rated versions too.

Gettin' Jiggy
No romance here. He hit it and quit it. Off they flew into the sage. It was all over before 8 AM.

Done for the day