Wonders of Wakodahatchee

One of the greatest wonders of Wakodahatchee may be finding it.  Tara and I heard of Wakodahatchee from out-of-town birders at Loxahatchee.  (I think they were even from New Jersey!) They promised us it would be better than Green Cay.  Not having been to Green Cay (yet) we took their word for it.

But words are funny things.  We didn’t write it down; we had only heard the word.  So figuring out where wado-wado-what? was located was quite a challenge.  Not too mention all the hatchees everywhere!  The birders had described it to us as “almost across the street”.  And that’s how we found it.  A place beginning with “W” in the vicinity of Green Cay.  Thanks, Google Maps!

Anhinga preening. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Anhinga preening. Their green eye skin looks surreal. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Wakodahatchee is a boardwalk loop that crosses several small shallow waterways.  The design of the walkway brings you very close to the wildlife.   It’s a single loop that allows birders, walkers, and families a chance to get outside and experience nature to whatever degree you desire.

This photo shows better than any other how Wakodahatchee is chock full of wildlife. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

This photo shows better than any other how Wakodahatchee is chock full of wildlife. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

I won’t continue the narrative between each photo, but just present the rest of the photos as their own narrative.  I took 799 photos here as I continued to explore the new camera equipment.  The birds were that close and plentiful!

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks look unreal. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks look unreal. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Great Egret stalks the waterways. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Great Egret stalks the waterways. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

White Ibis stalks up a stick. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

White Ibis stalks up a stick. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Vibrantly colored Tricolored Heron. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Vibrantly colored Tricolored Heron. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Pied-billed Grebe preening. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Pied-billed Grebe preening. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Anhinga preening. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Anhinga preening.  Note their striking wing plumage. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Drawing a blank... really should do a better job processing photos immediately after taking them!  Thoughts? Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Drawing a blank… really should do a better job processing photos immediately after taking them! Thoughts? Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

RBA Yellow-headed Blackbird in Florida.  Makes up for missing it in the Meadowlands. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

RBA Yellow-headed Blackbird in Florida. Makes up for missing it in the Meadowlands. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Glossy Ibis balances  between preening sessions. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Glossy Ibis blends into the Florida marsh. Photo taken on January 5, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

[Can you tell the semester started?  I just realized I haven’t blogged in over a month. That’s embarrassing.  I think I need someone to peck at me when I slack off…]

Florida Total: 53
Wakodahatchee Wetlands: 28
New for Florida: 8
Lifers: 1

Launching into Birding at Loxahatchee

The SICB conference started on January 3rd. However, as it was only registration and that wasn’t until 3, this meant we had hours of birding before us. Tara and I decided to start at the southern most point of Loxahatchee closest to Coral Springs and work our way north to West Palm Beach where the conference was being held.

Loxahatchee was recommended by both our ornithology professor and also by Olin Sewall Pettingill’s Guide to Bird Finding, which was referenced by Kenn Kaufman in Kingbird Highway!  However Kaufman referenced the first edition, while I was making do with the second, published a bit after Kaufman’s go at a big year. (The guide is awesome!)

However, as we realized once we were in Florida, Loxahatchee is a big, big, big place… and despite the internet, determining location of the visitor’s center wasn’t happening.

Locations of birding locations in Loxahatchee.

Eventually we figured out where the visitor’s center was, but not until we arrived. Locations of birding locations in Loxahatchee.

So we figured out how to get to the Boat Launch, which we learned was a boat launch after we got there. Ah well.  There were still birds to see.

We saw Monk Parakeets which would have been exciting if we weren’t from Bergen County in New Jersey where we have our own flocks of devout parakeets. Zillions of Black Vultures loomed overhead, which was peculiar because we had only seen Turkey Vultures up until this point.  But the looming wasn’t menacing because the Florida winter sun is so bright and cheery.

Anhinga sits on the waters edge... with its wings folded. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Anhinga sits on the waters edge… with its wings folded. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Anhingas are more common than Cormorants here.  We were trekking determinedly after a coy American Kestrel, when I caught site of this one hanging out on the side of the slough.

Then, I got distracted by a butterfly wherein the internet redeemed itself.  I’ve been able to identify all the (two) butterflies I’ve looked up so far with vague search terns such as “Florida butterflies” and “orange butterflies in Florida”.

Gulf Fritillary Buterfly, Agraulis vanillae. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Gulf Fritillary Buterfly, Agraulis vanillae. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

You can see everything but it’s tongue and….. moving on.

We eventually did make our way up to the coy Kestrel.  Although each time we approached, just as I’d get the camera set, he’d move back further.

American Kestrels are not  in short supply in Florida. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

American Kestrels are not in short supply in Florida. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Eventually it worked out in my favor as when I finally captured a reasonably respectable image, it was in a natural setting and not on a sign.

Early glimpse at two White Ibis. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Early glimpse at two White Ibis. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

After that we opted to turn around so we could have a chance to try a site further north before heading to the conference.  We were heading back when we glimpsed a flutter of white and located two White Ibises.

Florida Total: 37
Loxahatchee Boat Launch: 20
New for Florida: 13
Lifers: 1

Fighting the Fading Light

Florida Post #2

After birding Pine Trails Park and Tall Cypress there was a little light left in the day so we decided to pick one more green patch at random and try our luck there.   We opted for Sherwood Forest Park.

As a birding spot at sunset it was pretty much a dud.  But we did have a few gems that made the initial foray worth it.   To begin with, I found a butterfly willing to pause long enough for a photo.  Particularly due to low light levels this was an amazing feat!

 Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonius), Florida's state butterfly.  Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonius), Florida’s state butterfly. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

We also found Muscovy Ducks which totally count. (My general rule is if ebird counts it, I count it since I let ebird do all my math.)  At least that’s my take on the Muscovy Duck Debate, which I didn’t realize was a thing until both Tara and Laurence commented on it.  Although Kenn Kaufman relates an interesting insight into counting which resonated with me:

The list total isn’t what’s important, but the birds themselves are important. Every bird you see.  So the list is just a frivolous incentive for birding, but the birding itself is worthwhile. It’s like a trip where the destination doesn’t have any significance except for the fact that it makes you travel. The journey is what counts. – Kingbird Highway

Feral Muscovy Duck at twilight. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Feral Muscovy Duck at twilight. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

I can do dark, brooding ducks, too.  But to top it off, almost eclipsing my lifer of a Muscovy Duck, we came across a RBA for Florida: the Canada Goose!

Florida scenery featuring the rare Canada Goose. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Florida scenery featuring the rare Canada Goose. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Do you see it?  Just swimming off camera to the left?  When in the Galapagos a year ago, I recall explaining how rarities work.  What is not rare at all for New Jersey can be remarkably rare elsewhere.  So in Galapagos as we patrolled beaches for birds and other things,  we were always jokingly on the lookout for a Snowy Owl (hey, they made it to Bermuda!) and a Canada Goose.  Lo and behold one year later the rare Canada Goose because a Real Thing.

In other news I’ve elected to read Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufman while in Florida.   So far the insights into birding before ebird and the internet is fascinating.  As a whole the book and its story has been delightful!

Florida Total: 24
Sherwood: Forest Park: 3
New for Florida: 2
Lifers: 1

Ready? Set. Bird!

The official purpose for traveling to Florida was birding a conference.  But often times, it felt as though it was birding, because priorities.  With a departure for the airport at 3:30am, Tara and I anticipated being wiped by the time we reached our hosts’ home. We were being parasites for our stay (it was a biological conference, so fitting!)

After most of the airport hijinks had been straightened out, Tara and I refueled and decided there was daylight and there were birds!  We decided to stay close to our parasitic home in Coral Springs and explore what the local parks had to offer. Research through ebird suggested that two parks were promising: Pine Trails Park and Tall Cypress.

Pine Trails Park

Was a challenge to find!  We quickly learned that Florida is riddled with private communities that are unrecognized by GPS.  So once we worked that out, we did find our way to the Park.

Pine Trails Park is more athletic fields and a YMCA than, one would expect.  Upon arrival, the area seemed devoid of birds, but as we walked about we began to find signs of life.

We saw an unidentified gull and a Royal Tern swoop through before we heard a clamor in the reeds and located a raucous American Coot.

One of our first Florida birds: American Coot. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

One of our first Florida birds: American Coot. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Don’t let this coot’s docile and demur appearance fool you; it must have done something to set the other coot off on its tirade. Soon it was joined by this fellow, so maybe the coot wasn’t to be blamed after all.

Common Gallinule lives up to it's name. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Common Gallinule lives up to it’s name. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

After having ample opportunities for viewing the Common Gallinule, I’m still mesmerized by its appearance.  The evolution of the beak into a faceplate is phenomenonal.  I recall first glimpsing it through the fog in the Galapagos; followed by a serious hunt for it at Cape May, never dreaming I’d see it so often I could walk by without snapping at least a dozen photos.

Then there was this lovely lifer: Tricolored Heron.  In Florida, one really needs to look at all the herons.  It’s not like New Jersey where they’re quickly identifiable 99% of the time. And this one even blends with the water, whee!

Tricolored Heron fishing on the banks. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Tricolored Heron fishing on the banks. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Florida Total:  12 species
Pine Trails Park: 10
New for Florida: 10
Lifers: 2

Tall Cypress

After the highly manicured Pine Trails Park, Tall Cypress felt like everything a Florida birding locale should be: green, swampy, wet, alluring.   There was even a most convenient boardwalk to keep out feet dry and more importantly, minimize our impact on the landscape.

Tall Cypress looks more an illustration than a real place. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Tall Cypress looks more an illustration than a real place. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

My pishing for sparrows leaves much to be desired, but it can attract the warblers.  We managed to call in Palm Warblers, Prairie Warblers, and also Blue-gray Gnatcatchers.  This was promising.  When one travels to a new location you allows worry (1) Will you find anything? (2) Will you recognize it once you do?

Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Palm Warblers abound high in the canopy. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

The birding was at a pleasant pace.  Not so little as to be disappointed, but not so much that we were overwhelmed by it all.  We had enough time for distractions such as this reptile pictured below.

Brown Anoles a common sight and an invasive species throughout Florida. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Brown Anoles a common sight and an invasive species throughout Florida. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Tara’s training is first as a Herptologist (someone who studies reptiles and amphibians) so she was quick to take an interest and identify all the herps we came across.  We also found a mammal!

Raccoon! Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Raccoon! Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

At this point we were mostly birding by ear with Gray Catbird, Blue Jays, several Northern Flickers, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers.

The views of insects was also fantastic.  I’m not sure if this is because they were truly marvelous or just seeing insects in January is bizarre.

Best guess is a Four-spotted Pennan (Brachymesia gravida). Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Best guess is a Four-spotted Pennan (Brachymesia gravida). Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

We took an hour to meander the very pleasant park which was actually created through the effort of concerned high school students.

This 66-acre natural area has long been known for its richly forested resources. Owned jointly by Broward County and the City of Coral Springs, the site was once slated for development. It has been preserved through the efforts of local and county government, along with the Coral Springs High School  environmental group Save What’s Left.  – Broward.org

Florida Total: 22
Tall Cypress: 10
New for Florida: 8
Lifers: 0

Snow Unfortunate

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Great Egret in flight at Green Cay Wetlands, Florida. Photo taken on January 6, 2015.

I understand that there’s been snow from Arizona to New Jersey since I left.  Today after the conference, we were birding at Green Cay wetlands when we were treated to a sudden squall. Had to take shelter in a series of huts (and chickees) conveniently located along the boardwalk during downpours and limit our birding to the breaks. Loads of neat birds: common gallinule, little blue heron, black-crowned night-heron, yellow-crowned night-heron, and woodstork. More to come once photos are processed.

All the Broken Things

Arizona Series Post #4

Down in the borderlands birders flock for the unusual sightings are more likely here than elsewhere.  A chance encounter at the Phoenix airport where I sat reviewing western flycatchers led to a discussion of birds with a Tucson-based birder. She recommended Miller Canyon.  Miller Canyon.  Miller Canyon.  Where all the birders go, eventually.  It’s rather like paradise for both birders and birds. My final destination.

View of the Canyon and its secrets.  Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

View of the Canyon and its secrets. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

The morning started off less than auspiciously. Carrying my gear, I caught my camera on the hotel exit.  While the lens was retracted and the camera was off, it now makes a funny sound and stutters as I zoom in and out.  (After note, camera generally has a fuzzy focus at maximum optical zoom, 35x).

I drove the 90 minutes south towards Mexico.  Driving into the canyon, the GPS failed me and I was on my own.  One wrong turn and I’d probably end up in Mexico.  I pulled into the first lot, gazing around me. A solitary car was the only evidence that people might be about.  Behind was a sandy-rocky, sun-baked slope, before me was a forest.  With no additional knowledge to guide me, I waited, wondering which way to go.  As Miller Canyon was a last minute change of plans, I hadn’t thoroughly researched it. (Research extended to I found it on a map, and remembered Laurence, of Butler’s Birds, has been here).

As I deliberated, a third car pulled into the lot.  An older couple emerged.  Noting their binoculars I sought some direction.  Very kindly they suggested I follow them up to Beatty’s Guest Ranch.  We visited with Tom Beatty, Jr. who described the locations of the most sought out species: The Spotted Owl(s), Northern Goshawk, and Northern Pygmy Owl.

We set out through the Guest Ranch, towards the canyon.  Very quickly, the woman lagged behind before deciding to turn back.  Knowing this to be my first trip to the area, the man decided to continue forward.   Soon he decided to turn back as well, concerned for his partner.  He promised to at least get me to the location of the Spotted Owl, before returning to his partner. Then, I was alone.

In the location of the owl, there was the remains of a building and a dried up creek.  I wandered along the creekbed peering into the trees.  When that didn’t pan out, I scrambled to the other side of the creek and began working my way along paths that quickly degraded into mouse paths.

I did find a reptile though. So that was something.

Unknown reptile. (Not a herptologist!) Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Unknown reptile. (Not a herptologist!) Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

When I heard voices, I turned around, returning to the foundations.  A family from Illinois staying at the guest ranch had arrived to seek the owl.  The granddaughter was inclined to scramble over rocks while her grandparents rested on the foundation scanning boughs.

After chatting awhile, we were joined by a birder from Vermont.  We compared notes as to who had heard which helpful hints for finding this owl. Eventually the Vermont birder decided to investigate the lower portion of the stream bed and I followed.

Back in the streambed, the Vermont birder elected to go north and I traveled south, coming across his fellow travelers.  Quite soon they located white wash, and voila, there were the spotted owl babies!  Both of them sitting in a tree, cute as can be.

Baby spotted owls sit together in the tree. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Baby spotted owls sit together in the tree. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

We clicked and we clacked away and I’m sure the babies did as well, but we kept a safe enough distance away that we couldn’t hear any of their vocalizations.

Baby spotted looks down from its perch. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Baby spotted looks down from its perch. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Yet another Spotted Owlet photo. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Yet another Spotted Owlet photo. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Fuzziest baby ever: Spotted Owl! Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Fuzziest baby ever: Spotted Owl! Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Once we had our fill of baby spotted owls (is that even possible?) the others elected to return down the canyon while I proceeded upward.

As best as I could remember a quarter mile up the stream there was said to be a large rock in the stream with a tree growing from it where the Northern Goshawks lurked.  A quarter mile beyond that there was a large tree with a hole in it where a Northern Pygmy Owl lived. These seemed admirable goals.  And should I fail in this mission, there was always remarkable scenery and other birds (hopefully) to console myself with.  And, baby Spotted Owls.

Being completely new and unfamiliar with Miller Canyon I had little sense of where these locations spent many segments of canyon double checking my surroundings.  I did eventually find a tree that might have been the Northern Goshawk tree.  However, the area was quiet.   No tanagers, pewees, or warblers as consolation prizes.

Northern Goshawk tree; no goshawks. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Northern Goshawk tree; no goshawks. (If this isn’t the tree, I clearly don’t know what was!) Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

I saw, contemplated, and slowly savored some of my water.  Did I mention I had very limited water?  This may have been the moment I realized that I hadn’t refilled my water bottle after the last excursion.  (When I had arrived I noticed that the back up bottle in the car had sprung a leak and now longer could function as the back up.) Oops.  I had less than a bottle with me.

This is where I became mixed up.  Being overwhelmed, first by being here, and second by the complicated directions that referred to landmarks existed more in time than space, I mixed up the sequence for these target birds.  I continued up the canyon path looking for the Pygmy Owl which was actually already well past me.  Alas.

However, it was a beautiful, serene walk as the elevation became to climb more sharply.  The canyon path separated from the canyon floor, bringing me up into the canopy.

Birds even graced the path, so major win.  Arizona Woodpeckers (the most common woodpecker ever?), additional views of Plumaceous Vireo, Hermit Thrush, and the all-American Robin, plenty of Painted Redstarts (properly red ones!),  and I even figured out a Canyon Wren by call.  I also picked up towhee, tanagers, and grosbeaks, oh my! Spotted, Western, and Black-headed.   Each a delight once I determined what I was looking at.

At one time I did hear a loud and continuing raucous on the far side of the creekbed.  Every time of bird in the vicinity clamored in consternation at some sight beneath me.  I stopped and peered endlessly, but the most I saw was something of a moderate size and gray in the shadow, slink between two bushes.  I was very tempted to tumble down the canyonside to immediately get closer and investigate.  The only thing that held me back was the realization I’d have to climb back up.  Secondary, and only a bit later was the notion that perhaps one should not chase after predators unprepared.

As my heart rate calmed once more I had a visitor who was probably coming in to determine what the raucous was about.  This particular feather friend landed so close that I almost couldn’t zoom back enough to get it into focus.  But there you, Red-faced Warbler.  One blurry photo (not shown) and this one below.

Aptly named Red-faced warbler.  Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Aptly named Red-faced warbler. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

As my water ran low, I contemplated turning around with each step I took.  I would set myself a destination as my turn around point, but keep going just a bit further.  Eventually, such persistence paid off.  I caught a flash of bold yellow, back down in the creekbed:

Sulfur-bellied Flycatcher.  Score. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Sulfur-bellied Flycatcher. Score. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

As best I can tell, this is a Sulfur-bellied Flycatcher.  I don’t see any other flycatcher that looks this bold.  A short while later (at this point it was sometime in the afternoon),  I turned around and made my way more quickly back the canyon.

I searched in vain once more for the Northern Pygmy Owl… in vain because I was entirely on the wrong section of trail. I decided to swing by the Spotted Owls because they’d make a lovely consolation prize (not that one was needed!), but a sweet note to end my excursion and trip on.

The babies were nowhere to be found.  Too well camouflaged perhaps.  But I did find one of the adults.  From my vantage point I could only catch a profile glimpse.  But I wanted more.  I scrambled around her, moving 90 degrees with her as the center of my circle, but from head on, I couldn’t locate her.  The angle was too different.  I retreated and tried my luck, stopping every few paces to reorient myself.  I decided scrambling on a tree would be a smart idea to help me better view the owl.  Scrambling off the tree I’m  not entirely sure what happened, but there was a tumble.  I did protect all my gear as I topped into the empty creekbed but I fear my pride was injured.

My first glimpse of the mother (assumption) Spotted Owl. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

My first glimpse of the mother (assumption) Spotted Owl. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Now I was determined to press on and get a better view.  Resolute, I pushed forward.  Finding a better view in the creekbed (I had been looking in the wrong tree the first time!), I squatted down to set up the camera and. rrrrriiiiippppp….. there went my favorite hiking pants.  They had embroidery and pockets, and they fit (the last one being harder to find than the embroidery)!  A rip beyond salvation.  Photos, must get photos.  Must make the sacrifice of pants and pride worthwhile.

Mama Spotted Owl. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Mama Spotted Owl. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Please tell me it was.

After this, I said good bye to the owls, and made my way down the trail.  Here I had an epiphany.  Now, I am one of those people who tend to be *really* well prepared, except for the times I’m not at all.  This fortunately was a really well prepared time.  I happened to have a change of clothes in my pack.  So I was about to swap out the ripped pants. Then, I continued down the trail to the Hummingbird feeders to end my day, and my trip.

So this is the tale of all the broken things, many months later. Hopefully the wait was worthwhile.

Oooooh for Owls

Arizona Birding Series: #3

I meant to share this the other week, but while I am working on the conclusion to my Arizona series, I thought I’d link to this for your viewing pleasure, cause there aren’t enough owls in the world. (That’s a fact).

Staring Contest. Burrowing Owl Stakeout, Tucson, Arizona. Photo taken on June 14, 2014.

Staring Contest, now with video. Burrowing Owl Stakeout, Tucson, Arizona. Photo taken on June 14, 2014.

Unfortunately, Flickr and WordPress continue to not play well so I can’t actually imbed videos.

Sunrise Stakeout

Arizona Birding Series: #2

Dreams do come true.  When researching my impending (now long since passed!) trip to Arizona, I was determined to see a Burrowing Owl.  Such indelible birds were not to be missed!

Research through the annals of ebird revealed that Burrowing Owls were to be found on Lisa Frank Avenue, right in Tucson, a mile from our hotel!  Clearly this was meant to be.  I was out the door by 7am the first morning, alone, as my sister reneged on her agreement to accompany me. (You did!)

The streets leading to the stakeout where a mixture of desert scrub and industrial complex beneath a rising sun. I wasn’t sure entirely what to expect or how hard finding Burrowing Owls would be.  So I headed at out at the earliest opportunity to maximize my chances of spotting an owl.

King of the Fence. Burrowing Owl Stakeout, Tucson, Arizona. Photo taken on June 14, 2014.

King of the Fence. Burrowing Owl Stakeout, Tucson, Arizona. Photo taken on June 14, 2014.

Lo and behold, there was a Burrowing Owl on a fence post. Right outside the Lisa Frank Building*  Not at all where one expects to find an owl. I might have easily walked past as blinded by the building as I was.  The fence was much closer to the road than the building.  Had I longer arms I might have touched the owl. (If I could have, I would have hugged it! Reached that is, if I could have reached. All owls want to be hugged. It’s a fact.)

Hike and Seek. Burrowing Owl Stakeout, Tucson, Arizona. Photo taken on June 14, 2014.

Hide and Seek. Burrowing Owl Stakeout, Tucson, Arizona. Photo taken on June 14, 2014.

I walked to the far side of the street to sit and watch in amazement. (I might have texted a fellow birder or two back east to share my amazing fortune!)  Then I noticed there were more owls.  And they made sounds!  It was almost too much to bear.

Ruffled Feathers. Burrowing Owl Stakeout, Tucson, Arizona. Photo taken on June 14, 2014.

Ruffled Feathers. Burrowing Owl Stakeout, Tucson, Arizona. Photo taken on June 14, 2014.

There were times they appeared to stare at me, and other times they appeared utterly disinterested.  The above owl seemed more concerned with letting the wind blow through its feathers than the whirl of my camera hard at work.

Pounce? Burrowing Owl Stakeout, Tucson, Arizona. Photo taken on June 14, 2014.

Pounce? Burrowing Owl Stakeout, Tucson, Arizona. Photo taken on June 14, 2014.

They appeared very amicable birds, interacting and moving amongst each other.  They’d sit together, then rearrange themselves.  Sometimes darting across the street to chat with a neighbor, other times ducking into the burrow.

Burrowing Owl surveys the landscape at it's burrow. Burrowing Owl Stakeout, Tucson, Arizona. Photo taken on June 14, 2014.

Burrowing Owl surveys the landscape at it’s burrow. Burrowing Owl Stakeout, Tucson, Arizona. Photo taken on June 14, 2014.

I sat there for half an hour or so, rapturing in owls.  A few people stopped to speak to me about it – the owls here are a locally-known phenomenon.   I guess they get a good number of birders.

Staring Contest. Burrowing Owl Stakeout, Tucson, Arizona. Photo taken on June 14, 2014.

Staring Contest. Burrowing Owl Stakeout, Tucson, Arizona. Photo taken on June 14, 2014.

There were at least 6 owls.  I stayed as long as I could and then hurried back for family engagements.

*Lisa Frank Avenue and Building, of course, the headquarters for the company responsible for the purple and pastel unicorn and fantasy themed binders and trapper-keepers on the market in the 90s aimed at pre-teen girls.

Key to Life

Arizona Birding Series: Post #1

The desert is a dead place.   I suspect many people believe this. Harsh. Stark. Unforgiving.  These descriptions are more appropriate.   A desert is defined only by the amount of precipitation it receives.  Water is the key to life.  Nowhere is this more evident than the desert.

There are also many types of deserts.  Many people associate sand with deserts: sweeping sand dunes and camels.  This is not an American desert.  Much to the chagrin of school children across the country, the American West does not have camels. Nor are sand dunes much good for  sledding.

There are four deserts in the United States: all of which pass through Arizona. These are the Great Basin, the Mohave, the Sonoran, and the Chihuacuan. The Chihuacuan is a Mexican desert that just stretches north into the states.   The Great Basin begins near the Grand Canyon and progresses upwards to Idaho and Oregon.  Did you know there are deserts in Oregon?  Most people don’t realize this because they assume the Pacific Northwest is too cold and universally rainy.  In fact, the Cascade Mountain Range creates a rain shadow.  As the winds carry the air up, the airs cool, condensation forms, and the clouds release their moisture on the western slopes.  Crossing the caps of the Cascades, the moisture from the clouds is depleted, leaving parched lands to the east.  This is the Great Basin Desert.  Deserts can be very cold in the winter, at night, or even throughout the year.  Take Antarctica.  Yep, another desert.  This one a polar desert.

These deserts vary by temperature, by precipitation (combined we call this climate), by elevation, by botany.  Some deserts receive more precipitation than others. The Atacama Desert of Chile receives 0.04 inches annually while the Sonoran Desert averages  3 to 16 inches of rain a year.  Typically deserts receive less than 10 inches per year. Regarding botanical differences, cacti are only found in Western Hemisphere deserts.  There are no cacti in Africa. Apparently you can have camels, or cactus, but not both.   That’s evolution for you.

Elevation plays a surprisingly important role in deserts and with birds.  Did you know some migrations are elevation-based?  E.g. Pine Warblers are known to do this as are Anna’s Hummingbirds. Anna’s Hummingbird breeds in the dry California lowlands, vacations in the mountains, and winters in the deserts of Arizona and Mexico.  

Particularly in the Sonoran Desert, as you climb a mountain, it’s akin to traveling North.  With a tall enough mountain, climbing a couple thousand feet in the air is botanically similar to traveling a couple thousand miles north: you’ll pass thought the same vegetative transformations.  The geologic presence of mountains creates desert islands: Isolated regions of greenery within a desert sea.  This is where the birders go.

Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken June 16, 2014.

Elephant Head from Proctor Road. Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

I began my Arizona Birding Excursion at Proctor Road earlyish in the morning.  I figured I’d do Proctor Road before the day grew too warm.

Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken June 16, 2014.

Yep. Waiting on the ID. Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

It was…. disappointing.  There were few birds calling and fewer birds moving.  A few times I’d catch a glimpse of something flying by, but never enough for a positive identification. I stuck with it though for over an hour.  Enjoying the dramatic change in scenery from the east coast.

Canyon Tohee is well hidden in the underbrush.  This was key to identification. Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken June 16, 2014.

Canyon Towhee is well hidden in the underbrush. This was key to identification. Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

The above bird is one of the few I saw along Proctor Road.  My best guess is Canyon Towhee based on color/size/habitat.   The markings along the face threw me for awhile until I realized it wasn’t tribal paint or distinctive plumage, but a blurry branch.

Hurray for Bat Conservation everywhere!  Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken June 16, 2014.

Hurray for Bat Conservation everywhere! Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Eventually I decided staying in an area with few birds was pointless and moved further up the mountain where at least there were more identifiable birds.

I had birded in Madera Canyon a decade ago.  It was enough to remember the name, but not where in the canyon we were.  So I picked a trail that seemed to hold promise.  And headed up.

Have we met before?  A Hermit Thrush pauses in puzzlement at the East Coast Birder. Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken June 16, 2014.

Have we met before? A Hermit Thrush pauses in puzzlement at the East Coast Birder. Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

At least there were more birds.  One of the earliest I ran into was this quite familar Hermit Thrush.  I found it and identified it.  The day was looking better.

For awhile there was doubt as I called into question my skills.  But that’s how the rough patches go.  It helped to run into two other sets of birders who gave me a sense of what was further down the road: not much.  It wasn’t be.  They did tell me of one or two, which I was fortunate enough to come across.

The first Painted Redstarts were exciting and encouraging views even if they proved to be exceedingly common. Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken June 16, 2014.

The first Painted Redstarts were exciting and encouraging views even if they proved to be exceedingly common. Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken June 16, 2014.

One of the promised birds were Painted Redstarts which is a fine specimen of a redstart, if only because they actually have red.  Our east coast American red-UP-starts can only boast orange which makes the name seem silly.  Thus it was uplifting to see properly red redstarts.

Plumbeous Vireo scans for insects. Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken June 16, 2014.

Plumbeous Vireo scans for insects. Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken June 16, 2014.

This bird was also an exciting find: a vireo near the ground and photographable: call the papers!

So about those flycatchers.... the East Coast ones are hard enough! Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken June 16, 2014.

So about those flycatchers…. the East Coast ones are hard enough! Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken June 16, 2014.

Both sets of birders told me about one particular stretch with flycatchers.  No particulars, just there were flycatchers.

It was a quiet day.  The canyon trail was empty beyond the birders I saw towards the trailhead.  I enjoyed the scenery and the trek up, and then back down.

Upwards view of  Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken June 16, 2014.

Upwards view of Madera Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Returning to my Roots

My first serious birding endeavor took place in Arizona a decade ago.  I was part of a research team based out of University of Arizona working with the Band-tailed Pigeon. Several years later, I returned briefly to the state to visit family and see more of its natural wonder, so as I sit with my bags packed ready to return, I figured I’d pull a few photos out of the archives.

Margs Draw, Sedona, AZ. Photo taken April 17, 2010.

Margs Draw, Sedona, AZ. Photo taken April 17, 2010.

I’m headed out to the Tucson region tomorrow for a family wedding.  Afterwards I’m staying for a few extra days to get some birding in.  Have done some research, but haven’t entirely made up my mind where I’m going yet other than in the Tucson region since that’s where I’ll be.

Margs Draw, Sedona, AZ. Photo taken April 17, 2010.

Anna’s Hummingbird mid-flight. Margs Draw, Sedona, AZ. Photo taken April 17, 2010.

Unfortunately in my previous visits to the state, I didn’t keep records for myself so all I have are the fragments of memories 10 years old.  That and a few really poor quality photos.

Margs Draw, Sedona, AZ. Photo taken April 17, 2010.

Ubiquitous vultures enjoying the late day thermals as I depart Sedona. Margs Draw, Sedona, AZ. Photo taken April 17, 2010.

However, that’s all about to change.  When I return I will at least have better lists, if not better quality photos.

Margs Draw, Sedona, AZ. Photo taken April 17, 2010.

I don’t recall the context of this particular photo, but I like it nonetheless. Margs Draw, Sedona, AZ. Photo taken April 17, 2010.