Thursday, June 18, 2009

Change of plans!

Well everyone, Texas is out.  One of Jacob's co-workers had to leave on an emergency so he has to cover their work too.  Now he'll have only 4 days to take off work.  

We decided rather than waste those 4 days, we'd take advantage of them.  As soon as he has some dates nailed down, I'll drive up to Flagstaff and we'll start from there.  Before we head out, we'll run over to the Grand Canyon and pick up California Condor. Then we'll head north to Grand Junction, CO.  At Grand Junction, we'll go looking for Gunnison Sage-grouse. On day 3, we'll go pick up Black Rosy-finch.  Day 4 will be birding our way back south and pick up White-tailed Ptarmigan and Brown-capped Rosy-finch!  I couldn't ask for 3 better lifers.  

Wish us luck! 

Tomorrow, I'm headed to Patagonia to attempt to photograph that stupid Sinaloa Wren.  I'll probably be there until Sunday.  Hopefully the bird will hop out into the open. Keyword here is Patience. 

Happy Birding!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Car problems

On Saturday, my friends Jacob, Tyler and Andrew invited me to come spend the day with them in the Huachuca Mountains.  They left my house (where they had stayed on Fri and Sat, but that's a whole other post) and drove over to Carr Canyon.  I had to stay for a high school group out from Tucson that I was taking Owling that night.  
Needless to say, the Owling went well. They all thought I was amazing after I pulled 3 species of owls out of 20mph winds and rain.  It was pretty cool. I almost thought we weren't going to do it, but the owls cooperated in the end. 

Anyway, I left Portal around 10:00 and arrived (after driving up the steep, narrow, winding mountain road) at the top of Carr Canyon.  Since I had arrived so late, I slept in late while Jacob and Tyler walked off to see their year Greater Pewee and Buff-breasted Flycatcher.
When I finally woke up, we walked up the trail in a futile search for Eastern "Azure" Bluebird. 
We did end up finding a Virginia's Warbler though. Interestingly enough, this bird is not at all common in the Chiricahuas and was a new state bird for me.   

Not finding the Azure Bluebirds, Tyler, Jacob and I decided to head to Miller Canyon. Andrew stayed to record flycatcher vocalizations. 
We dropped Tyler off at the Hummingbird feeders to wait for his lifer Berylline Hummingbird and walked up the canyon.  1 young male Black Bear and some Red-faced Warblers later, Tyler had seen his Hummingbird and we headed out. Over lunch, Tyler found out about a pair of Elegant Terns at a small city park in Tucson.  Needing that bird for my state list and for the year, I followed them down to the park. The small lake is surrounded by concrete shores but does have fish in it. It's the weirdest place I've ever seen an Elegant Tern: 

After seeing the Terns, I said goodbye to Jacob and Tyler and headed home.  Just outside of Tucson, I stopped in the small town (well, not even a town) of Vail to top off my tank.  After topping off the tank, I started the engine and it immediately started making a high pitched screeching sound. I quickly pulled forward into a parking place and popped the hood.  
I killed the engine and opened the hood. As I did, there came a cracking noise and the serpentine belt snapped clean in two right in front of me.  Well, you should have heard me curse my bad luck.  2 hours and several phone calls later, a tow truck came and took me and my car to a nearby mechanic. However, this was late on a Sunday afternoon so there wasn't anyone open. I booked a room at the nearby Holiday Inn and settled in for the night.  The next morning, I called the guy and had him look at the car. Fortunately, he managed to get to work on it right away. He called me back at about 4:00pm yesterday and said that he wasn't going to be able to finish but he would pay for a hotel room for that night. I settled right back in at the nearby Holiday Inn.  This morning, one of his mechanics accidentally broke the evaporator. Fortunately for me, they replaced it free of charge.  I'm rather glad because I'm sure I would have had to have replaced it someday anyway.  It did take longer though and now, I'm waiting for them to finish some minor repairs. My car should be ready very soon and I'll be on my way back to Portal after spending 2 more days in Tucson than I had planned.

Hopefully they did everything correctly. If they did, I should be able to drive the car all the way to Brownsville and back with no problems. I took some time and filtered down all the problems and it all seems to boil down to one cause. The A/C on the car has cause all of the problems I've had so far. Since the Serpentine belt runs everything, if one thing isn't working, nothing works.  
Now, the car has a brand new A/C system so it should work forever.  

Jacob and I leave for Brownsville in two weeks. We'll probably take my car now that I've replaced almost every moving part on it. It should work great right?  At least, I hope so! 

Til next time, Happy Birding! 

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Whirlwind Birding Pt 3: Nogales to Phoenix, a nine lifer weekend

California Gulch

After the Five-striped Sparrows, our next stop was nearby Sycamore Canyon. 
Sycamore Canyon also runs to the border and doesn't get birded a lot so the potential for rarities is greater.  However, the rarest bird we found was our 3rd Thick-billed Kingbird of the weekend:

Since we had dipped on Flame-colored Tanager the first time, we decided to head to Madera Canyon to find it.  Madera was only a 30 minute drive north to we arrived rather early in the morning. As we drove in, a Botteri's Sparrow flew across the road and I spotted a Rufous-winged Sparrow sitting in a bush as we drove by.  We drove up to Madera Kubo, parked and got out. Less than 30 seconds later, Jacob spotted the Mr Flame as he came down to the jelly feeder. I managed to get a shot of him a minute later: 

A minute later, this Hooded Oriole also posed for his portrait: 

Having nothing left to do in Madera, I called my friend Tyler to see what he was up to. He said that he knew where there was a Common Black-hawk nest.  Tyler lives in Tempe but we had the whole day so we drove up to pick him up.  It was then that we found out that the nest was another hour's drive away.  We drove out to Sunflower, AZ where Tyler managed to pick out the nest. The hawk was sitting on it, in plain view:  

It was my 8th lifer of the weekend. 

After seeing the hawk, Tyler also mentioned that he knew where to find some Gray Vireos. Gray Vireo was a lifer for me so I readily agreed. 

We drove out to the vireo spot and stood listening.  We heard many Black-chinned Sparrows singing. I managed to get a few decent photos: 

The Sparrows were great, but our real target was the vireo. After listening and pinpointing one down the slope, we were able to get him to come in: 

Lifer #9 for the weekend! 

There aren't many places that I can get 9 lifers in one weekend. Southeast Arizona (until now) was one of them. 

We drove back to Phoenix and dropped off Tyler at his house. Then, Jacob and I continued on to Tucson where he had left his truck.  
As we drove along the road to the house, I spotted two hawks sitting on the wire. They didn't look quite right for Red-tailed though. I did a U-turn and went back. Sure enough, there were two Harris's Hawks sitting on the wire. While not a lifer for either of us, it was a decent year bird: 

I dropped off Jacob and drove home to Portal. I arrived home shortly after midnight, exhausted, but exhilarated after an amazing weekend of birding in Southeastern Arizona. 

It was quite possibly the best birding weekend I've ever had.  Jacob and I managed to actually see every rare or uncommon Mexican species known to exist in Southeast Arizona at the time! 
I never expect to have luck like that again any time soon. 

Anyway, til next time, Happy Birding! 

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Gray-collared Becard!!

Apologies for this untimely interruption of my story, but I HAVE A RARE BIRD TO REPORT!! 

Ok, ok. I'm serious now.  This morning, I was sitting at home puttering around the computer when the phone rang.  I answered. The voice on the other end sounded excited.  
"Chris? Yea, this is P.D. Hulce.  Three people walked into the research station this morning and showed me some photos of what I'm pretty sure is a Gray-collared Becard. I believe it would be a first US record."  I sat silent for a second. The I said "How long ago?"   "About an hour. I'm leaving the station in about 5 minutes." I said "I'm heading out now. See you up there."  
I was out the door a minute later.  When I arrived 5 minutes later, P.D. and Bob Weaver were already there looking for it.  Bob was at the bridge and P.D. was farther up the canyon. I decided to walk down from the bridge since there was nobody there.  As I walked, I remembered Dave Jasper saying something about birds liking to hang out around the only Chinese Elm tree in the entire canyon. As I walked by the tree, I heard the Becard call. I found it a second later. Sitting right at the top of the tree.  I yelled to Bob and P.D. and they came running.  The bird gave us spectacular views for about 15 minutes before it flew down the canyon. The last I saw of it was it's tail as it disappeared through the trees.  It was my 550th life bird and the first of it's family that I've ever seen. 

There will be around 150 people in the canyon on Sat morning. We'll know by tomorrow if the bird is still around.  Here are some more photos of the bird: 

Before I walked out the door, I posted on my Facebook Status update that there was a Gray-collared Becard up south fork.  I found out later that Chris Benesh (who is currently in Anchorage, AK) read my update, and posted the possible Becard to the AZ-NM bird listserve.  To my knowledge, that is the first time that word about a rare bird spread to a listserve from Facebook!  Don't you just love instant communication? :D 

Tomorrow, I go to track down another ABA rarity. Wish me luck! 

Til next time, Happy Birding! 

Friday, June 5, 2009

Whirlwind birding Pt 2: The rarest of the rare, section 2: tracking down the rarest nightjar in the country

After leaving Paton's house, we hopped it down to the Huachuca Mountains. 
The Huachucas have some of the best birding in Southern Arizona. They also had 3 birds that we were looking for.  Our first stop was at Beatty's guest ranch where we sat at the hummingbird feeders. Our target bird? Berylline Hummingbird.  The only one known to exist in the USA at the time.  We sat at the feeders for half an hour with no luck. Then, Tom Beatty Jr told us about a Flame-colored Tanager that had been reported farther up the canyon. We walked down the hill, across the canyon and up to the gate. We were just about to enter, when Tom yelled "Berylline's up!"  We ran back across the canyon and up the hill to the feeders. 5 minutes later, the bird came in again. It was a life bird for both of us! 

While we were sitting at the feeders, the bird that makes Beatty's famous also came in: 

This is one of 4 known White-eared Hummingbirds currently present in the USA. The population estimate is under 10 individuals throughout the USA. 

After seeing the Berylline, we hiked up Miller canyon looking for the Tanager.  This was the only Tanager we saw: 

A very beautiful male Hepatic Tanager.  Jacob and I figured out that if you crossed Summer Tanager and Hepatic Tanager, the only logical mixed name would be "Satanic Tanager."   
We figured on Satanic because if you cross "u" and "e", you get an "a" sound and Satatic Tanager doesn't sound good. Therefore it has to be Satanic Tanager. Cool eh? 

Our next stop was for one species Mary Jo's feeders at Ash canyon where were in and out in less than 2 minutes. We walked in and sat down and a female Lucifer Hummingbird flew in for a minute and then left. Being on a tight schedule, we also got up and left.  I don't normally like "twitching" birds but that one was necessary since it was only a year bird and nothing more. 

Having a little extra time, we headed to the San Pedro house where we picked up Say's Phoebe and Tropical Kingbird.  A check for the resident Barn Owl revealed that it wasn't home, and we couldn't stay and wait for it.  Having nothing else to look for in the Huachucas, we hopped on the road, headed to the famous California Gulch. Home of our both rarest sparrow and our rarest nightjar.  

After dinner in Nogales (The city that is home to the only US interstate highway that has mileages written in Kilometers instead of Miles) We arrived at California Gulch shortly after 7:30pm.  
We drove into the gulch and parked in the small parking lot next to another car (found out later it was Stuart Healy with some clients). As we pulled in, we could hear the nightjar calling from just up the hill. We walked up the hill and stood for a second to pinpoint it. I said "it should be right about here." and turned on the spot light at the same time. The bird was sitting in a bush a few feet off the ground, in plain view. You could see the Buff-collar without binoculars. The bird stayed for only a few seconds before it flew, but we managed to get spectacular views of it.  We turned right back around and drove out before it was properly dark.  On the way out, we hit the really steep hill. The hill had a lot of gravel on it which made it slippery. We made it almost to the top before the gravel took over and the wheels started spinning. Despite some fancy maneuvering, the car would not go any farther.  Jacob put it in 1st gear to no avail. The car was stuck.  I told Jacob to go push and hopped in the drivers seat. I know a few tricks for slick slopes. I backed the car slowly downhill (in the dark mind you) until it was slightly flatter and the put the car in 1st gear. Then I gunned it all the way up, zig-zagging 
as I did so to create more friction. Even so, I just barely made it over the crest of the hill, leaving Jacob in cloud of fine rock dust.  I hopped out and called to him so he could find his way out. The dust was so fine and thick that you couldn't see in front of your nose. 

Since the gulch is full of illegals, drug smugglers and crazy white guys at night, we spent the night in the nearby town of Arivaca where we picked up Cactus Wren as our 108th species of the day. 

We awoke at 4:30 on Sunday morning and drove back into the gulch. This time a bit farther than the Nightjar spot.  At the highest point of the road, we found two Five-striped Sparrows, just 8 feet down the hill:

The birds posed only for a second and then headed downhill.  Instead of driving to the Mexican border, we turned around and drove out again. This time, I drove and I put the car in 1st gear the entire way. We made it out unscathed. 

To be continued in Pt 3 of Whirlwind birding: Nogales to Phoenix, chasing a 9 lifer weekend.

Til next time, Happy Birding! 

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Whirlwind Birding Tour of Southeast Arizona Pt 2, section 1: whirlwind birding (The Rarest of the Rare)

Having parked in Patagonia for the night (right near our next stop) we were right in the right spot. At 4:00am on the money, we were awakened by a harsh ratchet-like call coming from somewhere near our car. Jacob lifted his head, muttered "Sinaloa Wren" and promptly turned over and went back to sleep.  Without a doubt though, the ratchet-like call had come from our primary quarry for the day. THE Sinaloa Wren.   Discovered back in September of '08, this bird was the first record of it's species to be found within the ABA area. 
We got up and started wandering down the road.  About 15 minutes later, Matt Brown drove up and told us that the wren was being seen on the other side of the preserve by the highway. We hightailed it over there and joined the other birders who were anxiously waiting for the bird to appear.  It sang almost continuously while we were there, but always a few feet farther back in the shrubs than your eye could perceive. This bird was extremely good at hiding.  At one point, I could have sworn the bird was singing from only a few feet away but I could not see him. 
After much searching, waiting and peering through the brush, I finally got a glimpse of the whole bird as it made it's way up a tree trunk. One second the bird was there, the next it was lost again in the dense undergrowth. 

Having seen the Wren, we hightailed it down to Patagonia Lake State Park. Searching through the thick undergrowth and trees wasn't easy, but we managed to finally pick out a Northern Beardless Tyrannulet! 

After posing quite nicely, the bird went on it's way.  
A quick check of the lake produced a Neotropic Cormorant and as we walked back along the trail, we could hear Least Bitterns calling. At least 5 of them called from the reeds along the lake shore. 

Our next stop was Paton's residence where we saw a lone Violet-crowned Hummingbird coming to the feeders.  This Lark Sparrow posed well: 

Then an Inca Dove showed up: 

Not a lifer, but a very cool year bird.  

As we headed back to the car, the caretaker pointed out a Thick-billed Kingbird sitting in a tree in their yard.  It was our second of the day and 2nd of 3 for the weekend. 

We hopped in the car and headed south towards to Huachuca Mountains for one very special bird that would be a lifer for both of us.  

A Whirlwind Birding Tour of Southeast Arizona Pt 2: whirlwind birding (The Rarest of the Rare) Section 2
will be coming soon!

Til then, Happy Birding!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Whirlwind Birding tour of southeastern Arizona. (Pt 1:Of Rufous-capped Warblers and Black-capped Gnatsnatchers)

Picture this: 
Two Bird-crazed teenagers driving around southern Arizona in a red '99 Ford Taurus, drinking Rootbeer, eating Nutter-butters, listening to Taylor Swift and seeing the rarest and best birds that southern Arizona has to offer.  
Set? good, because this really happened. 

My friend Jacob Cooper and I did exactly that this past weekend.  
Jacob told me that he was off work for the weekend so we decided to do a Whirlwind tour of southeast Arizona to see the Mexican rarities. All of them. 

We met on Friday afternoon at the desert museum in Tucson and, after dropping off Jacob's truck with a friend, we hopped into my little red '99 Ford Taurus and headed south to our first stop. Florida wash.  
We arrived at the wash about an hour before sunset and hiked up to the dam and the now famous Sycamore tree.  Our quarry?  exactly half of the entire population of Rufous-capped Warblers currently known to be present in the USA. 

As we hiked past the dam, Jacob heard the telltale chipping call of the warbler. Coming over a rise, he practically stepped on the bird. It was sitting right in the middle of the trail. As it flew out to a fallen tree, I managed to get on my first lifer of the trip. We both ended up getting spectacular looks at America's rarest warbler: 

As we watched the bird flutter down to the stream to drink and bathe, another bird flew up next to it and started singing. We were now looking at a confirmed pair of Rufous-capped Warblers!  Two of only 4 known individuals present in the ABA area. 

Feeling elated after the spectacular looks and photos, we headed back down the wash.  When we got back to the Ocotillo and scrub, Jacob heard a squeaky, gnatcatcher-like sound coming from the hill above us. Sure enough, there in the Ocotillo, about 30 yds above us, was a Black-capped Gnatcatcher! My second lifer of the trip. 

Our next stop was nearby Madera Canyon. We arrived as the sun was setting and drove straight to Madera Kubo. As we watched the feeders, a male White-eared Hummingbird flew down to the back feeder for a drink. This was only the 3rd of this rarest of ABA area nesting Hummingbirds that I had ever seen. As Jacob was watching the male, I spotted another Hummingbird at another feeder that appeared to have a dark patch through it's eye.  A second later, it clicked. This was a female White-eared Hummingbird! I quickly got Jacob onto the bird and both of us watched as the male came by and courted the female.  
We headed back to the car. Jubilant after seeing half of the known population of White-eared Hummingbirds in the ABA area.  

A quick stop at Proctor Rd added Botteri's Sparrow and Rufous-winged Sparrow to our trip list. As we headed back to the car in the quickly darkening light, a Poorwill called from the nearby hillside and a Lesser Nighthawk flew over. 

It was the end to a spectacular first day of birding in beautiful Southeast Arizona. 
As we drove on to Patagonia to stay the night, we wondered what else the weekend would bring. 

Coming soon, Pt 2 of Whirlwind birding: The rarest of the rare.