November 16, 2011

Little Brown Bird Bonanza

My trip report from Arizona...

November 15 – Finally on our way home today. Noah and I arrived in Phoenix, AZ on November 8 and drove down to Tucson that afternoon. Very early on November 9 I met local bird guide Stuart Healy in Sierra Vista and we headed out for some targeted birding. My focus for this trip was on sparrows and flycatchers. We started out in the San Rafael Valley right at dawn, checking the wire fences for sparrows as they came up out of the grass. We had wonderful looks at Savannah, Vesper and Grasshopper Sparrows. It took a little searching but eventually we had roughly six BAIRD'S SPARROWS (Life Bird) join the others on the fence! Spectacular looks in the early morning sun. I really enjoyed this bird; even more than I thought I would. With my first main target out of the way we spent some time looking for other interesting open country birds. No luck with Sprague's Pipit though while we were looking we found another beautiful and very cooperative Baird's Sparrow. We waited around for a long time before we had a flock of CHESTNUT-COLLARED LONGSPURS (Life Bird) fly over. Definitely a “better view desired” species. I heard them call and noticed their flight pattern but it was an exceptionally bad and brief look. A very pale and distant Merlin was a nice find here though. On our way out of the valley we made a more-or-less random stop to investigate some habitat along the road. There was a lot of activity in the area including a nice GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Phainopepla and another one of my main targets BLACK-CHINNED SPARROW (Life Bird)! This was a nice surprise and I had some great scope views. Next we headed to Patagonia Lake State Park. The wind had begun to pick up and things got more difficult to track down. We did have a flock of LARK BUNTINGS (Life Bird) along the entrance road. After a long time searching Stuart eventually found a pair of RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROWS (Life Bird) hunkered down in the bushes. I had fantastic looks at them but only managed some mediocre photos. Then we switched our focus to flycatchers and walked the birding trail up along the creek. Pretty early on we found two GRAY FLYCATCHERS (Life Bird) but after a couple hours of looking we still couldn't turn up either a Dusky or Hammond's unfortunately. On our way out, feeling somewhat defeated, we had a fantastic consolation bird: a male BLACK-CAPPED GNATCATCHER (Life Bird) in with a group of titmice and nuthatches. I honestly felt a little out of my league distinguishing this bird from a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. The visual differences were very subtle and I wasn't prepared to know what to look for in this plumage. Fortunately the bird was very responsive to a tape, called often and gave unbelievably close views. That evening Noah and I drove around the eastern portion of the Saguaro National Park and I was able to add Rock Wren, Brewer's and Black-throated Sparrows to my list. The next day I met Stuart in Sonoita and we attempted to “clean up” some of the things we missed the day before. Started out by thoroughly birding Pena Blanca Lake. On our way we happened across a pair of CASSIN'S KINGBIRDS which was nice. At the lake we added some birds for my trip list including 15+ LEAST GREBES, Lincoln's, Lark and White-throated Sparrows but unfortunately, still no luck with the empids. So it was back to Patagonia Lake. Pretty remarkably, Stuart was able to get a CASSIN'S SPARROW (Life Bird) to come out in the open for some good looks. I know this species is supposedly very easy in the spring but I was excited to add it to my sparrow bonanza. We spent the rest of our time together diligently looking for my missing empids with no luck. Pretty frustrating, though again we had a nice consolation with an ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER (Life Bird) that posed for some pics and called a few times. BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER and LAWRENCE'S GOLDFINCH were nice as well. On November 11 Noah and I met up with mom and Dave and we decided to drive up Mount Lemmon. New birds for the trip were a CACTUS WREN on the way in a McDonald's parking lot, a surprise CANYON WREN along the road and great looks at YELLOW-EYED JUNCO. The weekend passed by uneventfully in birding terms. On November 14 Noah and I took a morning birding detour / scenic route back to Phoenix. We began by trying (unsuccessfully) to get to the Sweetwater Wetlands and we pulled over in Christopher Columbus Park just to check Noah's iPhone for directions. I happened to look over the hedge row and found a pair of ABERT'S TOWHEES (Life Bird) right there, next to the car! Unfortunately they flushed when I walked over toward them and I never did get a pic but it was a good start to the day. Other birds in the hedge row included more LAWRENCE'S GOLDFINCHES and Orange-crowned Warblers. After that we drove out toward the Desert Museum, west of Tucson. We spent some time just hanging out in the habitat. CURVE-BILLED THRASHERS were pretty easy to find. It took a while but I finally had some good looks at GILDED FLICKER (Life Bird), my last North American woodpecker, not counting Ivory-billed of course. Already doing very well, our final day still had a couple more good birds like wonderful looks at a Peregrine Falcon, another flock of Lark Buntings and just to round things out, several SAGE SPARROWS. That evening, back in Phoenix I had a mysterious NIGHTHAWK species flying around over the neighborhood we were staying in. I didn't have bins with me and didn't hear it call so I really have no idea which one it was, though I suspect Lesser is probably more likely. Oh well. I ended the week with 108 species, including eleven lifers. But the number I'm most excited about... 20 species of sparrows plus 4 towhees! I love being able to focus on one family like that. My year list is now at 366.

Cassin's Sparrow
Curve-billed ThrasherYellow-eyed JuncoCactus WrenBlack-capped GnatcatcherAsh-throated FlycatcherLark BuntingGilded Flicker
And my personal favorite... Baird's Sparrow

November 07, 2011

Ptotally Pterrific Ptarmigans

Final day of our very successful Colorado mini-tour. Noah and I have been out here for about a week now. We played in Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins. Got to reconnect with some old friends as well as do some birding! On Friday we ventured all the way up to Guanella Pass where, after a long time searching (and a substantial amount of huffing and puffing at 11,ooo ft) I found a group of five WHITE-TAILED PTARMIGAN! Such amazing birds. Life Bird #600 though that does include 40+ species from our trip to Europe last February. Anyway, here are some more pics...Noah and Carolyn on top of Guanella PassA pair of Golden EaglesMy first ever Big Horn Sheep!Off to Arizona tomorrow! Woohoo! Hey... major thanks to Paul Somlo and Gail Barry for their generous help with logistics and hospitality this week. Couldn't have done it without you!

November 05, 2011

Texas Birds

My trip report from Texas last week...

On October 31 Noah and I took off for a brief visit to the Rio Grande. It was a long drive but we did have some great birds. We started out in San Ygancio looking for seedeaters. Unfortunately we couldn't find any but down along the river we had some nice common valley birds like GREAT KISKADEE, COUCH'S KINGBIRD, GREEN JAY, INCA DOVE, PYRHULOXIA, ect. There were tons of sparrow, the majority of which seemed to be Lincoln's. NEOTROPIC CORMORANTS were side by side with Double-crested down by the water. A nice, non-breeding FRANKLIN'S GULL flew past us a couple times. This was almost a lifer since my only sighting of this species was back in 200_ of a bird in upstate New York! After a while we had an adult GRAY HAWK sitting in a tree and an enormous kingfisher perched on the American side. I had to wait till the bird flew across the river into Mexico before I was 100% sure but it was indeed a RINGED KINGFISHER (Life Bird)! Although somewhat distant, we had good looks and got to hear it's amazing call. We continued down the valley, adding HARRIS'S HAWK, CHIHUAHUAN RAVEN and Sandhill Crane. A stop at in Zapata still didn't get us any seedeaters but I did have a nice GREEN KINGFISER making this my first ever three-kingfisher day! Also in the area was a lovely VERMILLION FLYCATCHER. Late afternoon we headed to Bentsen RGV State Park. Spent most of our time waiting for a Black-vented Oriole that has been in the area. No luck there but it was still a lovely evening with lots of nice birds. LEAST GREBE and CAVE SWALLOWS gave us some nice looks. PLAIN CHACHALACAS were of course all over the place. Had both CURVE-BILLED and LONG-BILLED THRASHERS, WHITE-TIPPED DOVE and BLACK-CRESTED TITMOUSE on our short walk into the park. As it was getting dark we heard multiple calling EASTERN SCHREECH-OWLS and saw several COMMON PARAQUES. The next morning we looked unsuccessfully for Green Parakeets in McAllen and spent a little time at Santa Ana NWR. Nothing too exciting but OLIVE SPARROW and COMMON GROUND-DOVE were nice. On our way out of the valley we were treated to brief looks at a beautiful WHITE-TAILED HAWK. Back in Austin that night I happened to SEE(!) a small owl fly into a tree outside the house we were staying at. It stayed put so I went and got Noah's iPhone. Almost immediately after playing their call I had at least four different EASTERN SCREECH-OWLS responding. A couple of them flew right in and I even got some decent looks at one that perched in the light of the neighbor's garage door. These were my first looks at Eastern Screech-Owls in probably about 10 years! The curse has been broken! Final new year birds of the trip were an unexpected pair of MONK PARAKEETS at the airport! About 100 birds for the trip so far. Year list is at 325.

Mountain PloverGreat KiskadeePlain ChachalacaGreen JayAnd some non-birds...

November 01, 2011

Andrew & Noah's KICKSTARTER project

Hey everyone. Okay, here it is... our first Kickstarter project! And in just the first day we've raised almost $2000! Pretty exciting. Check it out...