24 June 2009

California Condors on the Kolob

On my way to a brief weekend break in Colorado with my friend Chris West, we took a brief detour through Zion National Park to the Kolob Terrace. Recently, there was a Condor festival in the area and it was said that several condors were in the area. So, we drove up the road the said distance the festival adds said and found two cars on the roadside. One belonged to a Condor researcher who was listening to the radio trackers, and another belonging to some other tourists. I pulled over, and asked if they knew where exactly the condors were. "Here" was there simple reply, and it was right then that I spotted the following approximately a hundred feet away:

As if it could not get any better, another California Condor flew directly overhead, so closely that it could not fit inside my lens! I managed to snap one decent in flight picture:

It was about this time that I came to the conclusion that California Condors are one of America's most incredible birds. By day's end, we saw about nine condors, all at close range. The man working with the condors that we ran into told us that later in the summer it is not uncommon to have forty (40!) condors at this site. All of these birds were originally released in the Vermilion Cliffs, and found their way to the sheep-rich hills north of Zion. Food is so plentiful that the birds even ignore the food drops the researchers place for the birds. I hope one day to see these birds in even more areas, as they begin to recolinize their former range (Oregon to Northern Mexico eastward to Big Bend, Texas).

16 June 2009

Wrapping Up the South Rim

Over the past week, I have been finishing up my surveys on the South Rim, a task I do not extremely enjoy. It seems that on the North Rim, my accommodations will not be as spectacular, or possible not even existent. All of these qualms aside, though, the home stretch of the South Rim can be described in one way: Awesome birds, terrible transects. Over the past week, I have had two Northern Goshawks, two Northern Pygmy-Owls (one of which was seen fighting in mid-air with a female Black-headed Grosbeak), Williamson's Sapsucker (state bird), Clark's Nutcracker (state bird), Downy Woodpecker (state bird), and American Three-toed Woodpecker (state bird). Though not on a transect, Andrew and I also pulled off finding four California Condors on the South Rim.
California Condor (picture from 1/2 mile away).

The transects, on the other hand, were terrible. It took my an hour to walk 5oo meters through some of that terrain.... Hopefully the North Rim is more kind.

08 June 2009

Huachuca Mountains - Sunday

On Sunday, Tyler Loomis and I drove over to the Huachuca Mountains to try for the Berylline Hummingbird again. Tyler had yet to see this species, and I told him we could try for it. While he was watching for the hummer though (unsuccessfully), he managed to spy two Northern Goshawks circling overhead (that I missed) and I was shown three day roosting Whiskered Screech-Owls from just a few feet away. That night, we drove up Carr Canyon to camp, and to meet Andrew Spencer and Chris West. We didn't all coordinate at the same area until 3:30, and then slept in a little, waiting for the 50 mph wind gusts to die down. When they finally did, the birding was awesome. I got my first Buff-breasted Flycatchers and Greater Pewees of the year, as well as Yellow-eyed Junco, Olive Warbler, and Red-faced Warbler on the nest. There were Band-tailed Pigeons everywhere in these hills too. Soon though, Tyler, Chris and I made the executive dicision to hit Miller Canyon again while Andrew tried to sound record some flycatchers and warblers.

When we got to Miller Canyon, we lazed our way up the hill, and began the long wait for the hummingbird. White-eared Hummingbirds, Magnificents, Blue-throateds and half a dozen other species swarmed the oaks trying to get their sugar fix. Chris and I soon grew bored, and decided to let Tyler fend for himself with the Berylline. Not long after we left, he succeeded in his quest and rejoined us up canyon, and we searched up for more birds, specifically the recently reported Spotted Owls. Though we were unsuccessful in this venture, we did manage to see a Black Bear and three seperate Red-faced Warblers, coming as close as three feet, but only allowing me to obtain this one decent photo (after editing):

Soon after our fun with the warblers, we headed into Sierra Vista for lunch, and Tyler discovered that four Elegant Terns had materialized in the state overnight. We all looked at each other. We knew what we had to do next.

Lo and behold, two short hours later, my lifer Elegant Tern, my 550th world bird (you can see a second Elegant Tern in the background):

Here, we were forced to part our seperate ways, having successfully completed another whirlwind weekend of birding. I'm almost scared to see where I'll be in just a week or two...

06 June 2009

QUETZAL

OK, so here goes....

I know I have not completely told the story of last weekend, so I have to sum it up to tell the story of this weekend: from where I left off, we got Berylline Hummingbird, Lucifer Hummingbird, and then went to California Gulch and SAW Buff-collared Nightjar. It was incredible. The next day, we got Five-striped Sparrow, Flame-colored Tanager, and Common Black-Hawk. I will try to post pictures eventually, but this weekend started to interfere with that.

On Friday, I was forced to cancel work due to the wind. I don't usually mind a single day off, but my boss called and told me to just take the entire weekend off - the weather was not going to improve. So I took his advice, and began the long drive to Portal. When I was about a third of the way there, however, I received a phone call from Chris West. There was a GRAY-COLLARED BECARD near Portal! A first United States record for the species. I began to drive a little bit faster, and called up Tyler Loomis (who I later picked up) and Andrew Spencer, and we all began to move in on Portal. On the way down, we took a slight detour for the flock of 11 White-rumped Sandpipers, and then continued on. Unfortunately, we got there too late in the evening to see this incredible bird (and never did find it), but got Whiskered Screech-Owl, awesome looks at Whip-poor-will, Spotted Owl, and Great Horned Owl. The next morning, we woke up at 3:30 and drove over to Chriricahua National Monument, where we had an incredible bird. At 4:45, the previously reported Eared Quetzal began to call down canyon. One of less than twenty ever recorded in the United States, it was truly a remarkable thing to hear.

Now, off to catch up on sleep.

01 June 2009

The Epic Saga of Southeastern Arizona, Part 1: The Santa Ritas

Friday was the start of one of my favorite activities at work: the break. I woke up bright and early, and conducted my final transect for this period near Pittman Valley Road east of Williams, and began to pack my bags. A few days earlier, Chris West (swallowtailedkite.blogspot.com) and I hatched the master plan for the weekend: we would meet in Tucson, and then go see the Mexican rarities currently in South East Arizona. ALL OF THEM.

After meeting at the Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson and dropping off my truck, we loaded into his little red Ford Taurus and began doing the five main things we did all weekend: Bird, Drive, Drink Root Beer, Eat Nutter Butters, and listen to Taylor Swift.

We arrived in Florida Wash, and began hiking up to the Rufous-capped Warbler location.We began shuffling up the drainage, listening to Black-throated Sparrows and Scott's Orioles on the slopes, and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher calling in the underbrush. Soon, we neared the dam, and Chris and I began our search vigorously. We scoured the canyon up above the dam towards the last reported location, when something hopped out from under my foot. The bird was none other
than the RUFOUS-CAPPED WARBLER! (I apologize for technical difficulties, but please click the picture to see the entire bird in a new window.) It sat in a bush inches away as I called to Chris, trying not to scare the bird. "I've got it!" Chris glanced up, asking "Where?!" and finally realized how close it actually was. We followed the bird into the drainage nearby, where he was getting drinks from the stream and soon began to sing in the rushes, revealing it was the male. Just then, in response to the singing, his little lady friend came to see what was up. So there we were, minutes after starting our search, sitting five to ten feet away from TWO Rufous-capped Warblers. Our cameras firing off like the paparazzi, we got incredible looks at these birds coming in.

Unforunately though, the sun was setting fast. Chris, having seen his first life bird of the trip was elated. We began to hike out, when I heard a familiar song and glanced up the slope.

"Chris, BLACK-CAPPED GNATCATCHER."

Soon, we had decent looks at this, the rarest of the North American Gnatcatchers, and lifer number two for Chris. We glanced up at the setting sun, and hurried onwards towards Madera Canyon.

When we finally arrived there, the canyon was disturbingly quiet. Hardly anything was out and about, and we stood at the Kubo, hoping for someting to come out. And we didn't have to wait long. After a short wait, I spotted the male White-eared Hummingbird coming to the feeder. This was the second White-eared either of us had ever seen. As we watched this hummer, Chris suddenly piped up. "Hey, is that another White-eared?" I looked where he was pointing and, sure enough, a female White-eared Hummer had joined the masses at the feeders. By now though, the sun was setting, and fast. I looked around Madera as we began to organize for the push south. Next stop: Patagonia, the land of the Sinaloa Wren. As we left the canyon, Chris and I began talking about the Flame-colored Tanager that we had missed in the canyon, the bird that had been present for years at the same spot. "We'll see it," Chris said. "We have to come back by this way anyhow." I smiled, and wondered what other birds the weekend had in store...

To be continued in Part 2: Patagonia, Land of the Wren.