Sunday, December 20, 2015

ITS A RUFF LIFEr (15-20Dec2015)

Ruff is a bird I don't have. Why I have never been tempted to chase a Ruff is anyone's guess.  Maybe because they are usually way far in a field needing a scope and usually they are Reeves (females) that essentially look like a more common bird.  Over the past week and a half, my fellow Carolinians have been visiting a Ruff found in a field in Alligator NWR.  Up until Saturday I could not muster enough of a desire to chase it.  However a couple other sightings in the vicinity finally convinced me to go so I could make a day of it.  First things first though, a few photos from some short birding sessions this week....

Common Loon - I think I might like Winter birding more than any other season.  There are no crowds and the birds are plentiful.

Red Knot

Red-throated Loon

Would be nice to see one in breeding plumage one day.

Ruddy Turnstone - he was in the sun and the colors were a little bright so I toned this pic down.

Here is the unedited picture.

One of the evenings I stopped by Ashley School athletic fields to see if any geese were around.  There was hundred of geese but nothing out of the ordinary.  However, the below plover looked interesting, particularly because it was hanging out with a bunch of geese and ibis in a fresh water pond.

Of course it flushed and it was too dark anyway to be sure.

So I went the next morning hoping it would be back.  And it was....

The distinct white eye-brow looked good, but the bill seemed too big.

ARGgghhh Black wing-pits!  I guess I will not get an American Golden Plover which is strange since I had so many last year.

However, this Black-bellied Plover did give me opportunities to observe some other field marks.  Note the white rump on the tail.  American Golden would not be so white.

Thick white wings strips is another.  American Golden would have more thin stripes.

Friday I stopped at Ft Fisher since I have been neglecting it lately.

These American White Pelican were a nice surprise.

Saturday I left at 3am and drove to Alligator and birded a wet field for 3-4 hours before I became disgusted with my rare bird compulsion and left for some birding at Pea Island and other spots.

American White Pelican

At Jeanette's Pier I had my first semi rare bird - Common Eider.

 I am kind of surprised that eBird does not list Common Eider as rare.  I have only seen a handful myself in NC.

At Newland Rd near Pettigrew it did not take a long time to find the previously reported Western Kingbirds.  However previously only 2 were reported.  I found 3!!!!!!  I don't think I have ever seen three even in California all sitting next to each other.

I searched the Sparrow Fields and only found some common birds.

So in the end no Ruff for me which is fine, I would rather see one close up anyhow.  And it seems someone just refund the Ruff today ......Arrrrghhhh.

At least I did not look for it for 3 days straight like the couple from Michigan I met while there.  That is cray cray.


Monday, December 14, 2015

Redheads have more fun but Canvasbacks steal the show (06-13Dec2015)

I have not been birding much since Arizona.  Work has me pulling overtime lately (like 10-12 hours a day with weekends included). However, I have made it out a couple times.  Last weekend I took the family to the East end of Ocean Isle to see if any rare gulls were around.  Nothing interesting but it was good to have the family with me.  I am thinking for 2016 I am going to try a New Hanover County Big Year instead of all NC so I can spend more time with my family.  Or maybe a tri-county one, including Pender and Brunswick.

A beautiful bird that never gets old.

Horned Grebe

I am all for alternative lifestyles but this was kind of awkward....

Kind of fun playing with the telephoto for portraits.  I was standing about 15 feet away for this one.  I can't decide if George looks more like a copy of me than Luke.

This weekend I was tempted to chase the Ruff at Alligator, but it sounds like he is way in the middle if a huge field, and I am starting to become a bit of a photo snob.  I don't want to get some crappy photo for 8 hours of driving.  So I stayed local instead.

At the Fort Fisher Aquarium the ducks are back in full force.


The Spit was uneventful but gorgeous.  For some reason there was very little traffic.

American Oystercatcher

On my way back home, I decided to procrastinate by checking CB Lake. Usually there is nothing good to look at but this time....


The mighty bellow of a Canvasback has been known to cause cardiac arrest in populations of domestic mallards.

He had a harem of coots waiting on him beak and foot.

And two lady friends nearby.  A real stud. But wait, these are Redhead ladies!!! Either they are unrelated to the Canvasback or he prefers his women a little more petite.

Canvasbacks are like Redhead 2.0's.


Sunday, December 6, 2015

Pilgrimage Part 2 (28Nov-02Dec2016)

Hello my dear devoted followers (dad and some guy in China apparently),

I am posting some more eye candy for you from my recent family vacation in Arizona.

Saturday before heading out of the Madera area, we made one more stop at Florida Canyon so my older brother could show me the Rufous-capped Warblers he had seen the previous day while my younger brother and I hiked.  The agreement was I would show him the Black-capped Gnatcatchers he had missed in exchange.  Of course my brother failed to live up his end of the bargain, but I did find him the Gnatcatchers.

A stop at some random roadside place off Whitehouse Rd. where we had a tip of Lawrence's Goldfinches yielded a crap load of other species but no Goldfinches.

A Greater Roadrunner was on my brother's wish list and we were treated to a very obliging bird which even was sunning his feathers for us.

Then our world was rocked by something neither of us could quite comprehend.

A House Finch with a yellow head?  Was the world coming to an end?  What's next, a House Sparrow with a Pelican's pouch?  Well much to our surprise Sibley mentions this aberration as quite normal and due to diet differences.  This particular bird was eating red berries in an attempt to conform with his flock.  So far he was failing miserably.

When in doubt, it's a Chipping Sparrow.


No doubt on this one, Vesper it is.

Brewer's Sparrow

Although it is not my favorite Sparrow, the Lark Sparrow has to be one of the most attractive.

Black is beautiful!  Phainopepla.

In Tubac, my brother slammed on the breaks when he spotted this looker...

Vermilion Flycatcher - nuff said.

On the De Anza trail in Tubac we had some good birds but we missed a double-header rarity (for the winter) by about 30 seconds.  We ran into two birders that just saw a group of soaring birds that included a Common Black-hawk and a Zone-tailed Hawk..... Or at least that's what they claimed.

Gray Flycatcher - easy ID with the long bill (for an Empid) and the constant Phoebe like tail pumping.

Initial looks at this Vireo had us professing Plumbeous but now I think the hood is too dark for that Species.  I think it is a Cassin's.

Back on the road we made slow progress due to the many perched raptors all of which turned out to be Red-tailed Hawks but it's not easy when you are used to Eastern looking Red-tailed.

At Patagonia Lake we almost left soon after arrival because it looked like an awful tourist trap with RVers everywhere.  Luckily my parents went into the ranger station and we quickly realized there was proper birding trails to be had.  There was even a sign saying the Trogon was "In".  Of course we never found the Trogon so maybe he was taking a nap.

Lesser Goldfinch

Cinnamon Teals are known to be one of our best regularly occurring teals.  However, this particular bird only swam into a clearing once and too fast for me to properly focus.

We stopped at Paton's just to see this important birding stop full knowing it was not the time of year.

We thought this bird was a Costa's upon initial sighting but I learned after looking at the pics that it was certainly an Anna's.

Canyon Towhee?

Next morning we had a nice Empid working the creek next to the Ramsey Canyon Inn.

The long primary projection had me calling this a Hammond's Flycatcher and now that I read about it's preferred habitat, it fit in perfectly.  Hammond's prefers primary forests with big trees and the Ramsey Canyon Inn had some nice big conifers which fit nicely.

We saw another further upstream which also fit nicely for Hammond's.  Of course nothing was calling.

Since the Canyon Preserve was not opening for a couple more hours, we took a hike in nearby Miller Canyon past Beatty's too look for Mexican Spotted Owls.  We think we found the "Split Rock" and scoured all the nearby trees but came up empty.

Back at Ramsey this Painted Redstart offered some nice looks at his crippling breast.

Bridled Titmouse

Next stop was Huachuca Canyon to try for Sinaloa Wren.  However, we burned too much time checking into the base and my brother got frustrated waiting for the bird to show.  For those of you that have not been there, Huachuca Canyon is in the middle of an active military base, so you have to clear an involved security and get badges to get in.  This is not a quick process especially for me since I am technically not an American citizen (British Passport).  I was worried when the entrance officer started to put on rubber gloves and applied lube to his fingers, but it all worked out in the end. Nothing like a full body cavity search and then dipping on a target bird.

This bird threw us off because of the lack of any real belly banding, but yes it was a Red-tailed.

After Huachuca, we headed to Las Cienegas Grasslands to see if we could pick up some other species in a different habitat.  What a beautiful place.

We had a flock of sparrows, Horned Lark and what I thought was Longspurs, but in looking at my photos I am having a hard time with these confusing birds.  Let me know what you think dear readers.  There had been reports of Chestnut-collared Longspurs at this spot which is why we went.

I don't like the streaking on the above bird.  However, look at those claws, is this a Longspur or Vesper?

Sigh, I think all the photos I took might be sparrows....

This one looks like a Vesper.

We quickly tired of trying to ID winter plumaged birds.  I am going to have to go to North Dakota in the Spring to get some decent photos.

On a drive through some more wild looking grasslands, my brother spotted a sparrow so we got out and started walking around.  We split up and I ended up finding this little gem....

Very confusing, in fact Sibley's does not have any exact matches.  Look at the fine streaking on the malar area (moustache) for this bird.  Sibley's does not have this malar streaking on any of his sparrows... After much looking through field guides and pictures online, I settled on Cassin's Sparrow! A lifer which is getting more and more difficult for me to achieve.

The finely streaked crown is what clinched the ID for me.

White edging on tertials (fyi autocorrect thinks tertials is tortillas) and coverts is also good for Cassin's.

Normally I would have said Grasshopper Sparrow, but the profile of his forehead where it meet the top of the bill is all wrong for Grasshopper.  Ignoring Sibley's and looking on-line at pictures of Cassin's Sparrows is how I clinched it.  Maybe Sibley based all his sketches on breeding plumaged birds.


This White-tailed Kite never came close so this heavily cropped image will have to do.

I was watching all falcons closely because Prairie Falcon is bordering on nemesis bird for me. However, all we had was Merlins and Kestrels.

A random pond in the desert was quite an oasis and bird magnet.

We scrutinized this American Pipit but we could not make it into a Sprague's.

Streaking on back just not dark enough and it was out in the open which would be very strange for Sprague's.

A sub-adult (if there is such a thing) Vermilion Flycatcher is always nice.

Unfortunately that was it for SouthEast Arizona for my brothers so I drove them back to Phoenix and we stayed in Gilbert so we could hit Gilbert Ponds one more time before their 11 am flight.

It was cold in the morning and these Neotropic Cormorants were trying to soak in some of the first rays.  Steam was rising from the water creating a primordial atmosphere which gave me the impression we were going to see something exotic and new....

Harris's Hawk!!!!  I wish he was not sitting on this light pole, but the looks were great so I should not complain.

Looks like the missing link between dinosaur and bird.

I need to set my camera on rapid fire. I totally missed my opportunity to get him in flight.

Look at that Gambel's Quail's face!!  Like an Egyptian figurine.

Poor Abert's Towhee does not get the coverage he needs.  But they don't make it easy. Despite them being everywhere at Gilbert Ponds, they stay in the shade and run around like mad.

Long-billed Dowitcher are the default dowitcher in Gilbert.

Umm.... that cannot be comfortable.  Imagine having to navigate a maze of spikes every time you walked in your front door.

Gila Woodpecker

I know birds are light footed, but how in the world do they avoid getting pricked?  I accidentally backed into a cactus in Ventana Canyon and was picking minute needles for hours.

Apparently Gila Woodpeckers were first discovered by a wandering Rabbi.  Gila means hopping in Yiddish so this name was applied because they get around by hopping.  Gila Woodpecker have been known to hop 30 feet without using their wings.  A common misconception is that the Jewish dancing song Hava NaGila means "let us rejoice" but actually it was named after the hopping dance of the Gila Woodpecker.

Ok that last paragraph was a complete fabrication, sorry about that.  I generally try to tell the truth especially when it comes to birds.

After dropping my brothers off I set out to chase a Ruddy Ground Dove reported in West Phoenix.  Apparently it skidaddled right before I got there, but there was some consolations.

Great-tailed Grackle

White-faced Ibis flock - there was more than 500 in a recently flooded agricultural field.

Loggerhead Shrike

Next up was the famous Thrasher Spot...

I was easily able to locate the resident Sagebrush Sparrows, but thrashers were giving me a hard time.

Sagebrush Sparrow - apparently this spot also holds the recently split Bell's Sparrow but all the ones I saw appeared to be Sagebrush which was fine for me since I had Bell's from California.

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

After about an hour of walking around the desert scrub flogging bushes and mesquite, I finally spotted a thrasher...

I decide on Bendire's Thrasher for this bird because of the fine speckling versus larger spots expected for Curve-billed. Plus the bill was smaller than I would expect for Curve-billed.

The Bendire's sighting gave me the extra hope I needed to continue looking and half an hour later the specialty bird appeared....

Le Conte's Thrasher!!!!

ID is easy when you are close enough to see the eye color so easily.

I followed this dude around for about 45 minutes, which was easy seeing that he refused to fly preferring to run along in between bushes and perching every now and again.

For such a plain looking bird, he/she really got my blood flowing.

One more Sagebrush Sparrow and I had the fuel I needed for my next drive.

I did not have enough light to go anywhere too far since I burned so much time at the Thrasher Spot, so I headed to Glendale Recharge Ponds on the West side of Phoenix.  I had heard this place was a rarity magnet and one of the best spots in Maricopa County.  Well it very well may be, but it was kind of ugly and drab.  Also, the parking for the car was kind of sketchy and considering I had my work computer and iPad in the car it was difficult to concentrate on the birds.

American Kestrels are way under appreciated birds.

Eared Grebe

Western Grebe

These poor Green-winged Teal looked terrified of the constant barrage of falcons.

There was 3-4 Peregrines working the impoundments but regrettably no Prairie Falcons.

Ruddy Duck

eBird flagged my Canvasbacks, but I assure you these long billed ducks left of center indeed had canvas backs.

This Aechmophorus grebe almost looked good for a Clark's Grebe as it had white in front of the eye but I can't say it went all the way around.  I did not spend too much time scrutinizing it because I heard a car alarm in the general direction of my car and I had read online that there had been recent "gang activity" near by so I started running back the car.  I got to within eye sight of the car and didn't see anything amiss so I finished up with some birds before dark.

Northern Shoveler

One last full day of birding alone was in store for me on Tuesday.  I had lofty plans as usual, and as usual I only scratched the surface of my intended plans.  I had visions of trying for the Sinaloa Wren again since I still had my Huachuca badge, and maybe try for the Rufous-backed Robin in Ajo which is out in the middle of no where.  However, first up was the famous Santa Cruz Flats about an hour SouthEast of Phoenix.

Huge flocks of Lark Bunting were nice, but to be honest this is another bird I almost would have rather missed so I could first see them in breeding plumage.

If not for the huge honker of a bill, I could have easily missed as a sparrow.

At the sod farms I had 2 hours of teleconferences for work (yes I even work while on vacation) but it was easy enough to handle the calls while driving around looking for birds.  Thanks to Blue Tooth.

I had to snap these poor photos of Mountain Plovers quickly because the sod farm employees were scaring the birds off the fields with their equipment.  I never got an opportunity for a close and crisp shot.

Yes, Loggerhead Shrikes are not picky, they will eat road kill if it is available.  Look at that terrifying hooked bill.  The Navajo used to tied down their enemies so that Shrikes could disembowel them slowly with their crazy bills. Hmm.. maybe not.

Imagine the squealing of rental car tires as I spotted this baby on a telephone pole.

YESSSS!!!! Prairie Falcon!!!

One of those birds that have you wondering why you were so closely scrutinizing Peregrines previously.  They look totally distinct and unlike a Peregrine.

And if there was any doubt, look inside those arm pits (axillaries), dark as the night is long.

Then as I was rejoicing I spotted this beauty....

Ferruginous Hawk!!! And a rare dark morph to boot!

I had to be careful on the ID because I think Harlans Red-tailed Hawks can also have light tails.

Look at those feathered legs!!!

After knocking out two lifers I was on cloud 9 and decided to head to Ventana Canyon North of Tucson to try my luck on the recently reported  Rufous-capped Warblers.

A nice blackbird flock help me tick Yellow-headed Blackbird for the year.

Apparently someone at Ventana Canyon figured out how to make a Chia House.

The Rock Wrens did not allow great looks so this will have to do.

Another Dusky Flycatcher?  They seem to like the canyon cases.

Moderately short primary projection.

There was recent reports of Lawrence's Goldfinches but all I could find were Lesser Goldfinches.

This one was interesting but alas I think it was still a Lesser.

This Costa's Hummingbird was giving me great point blank looks but try and take a picture of a hummingbird with a 400 lens when it is 2 feet away from your face.

The only good shot I managed was a profile view.  The white eye stripe is good for Costa's.

Black-chinned Sparrows were in attendance.

Bewick's Wrens too.  Is it pronounced Buick's? Or phonetically Bew-icks?

I was still missing a Crissal Thrasher pic even though I did see one earlier in the trip but of course all that showed up was this presumed Curve-billed Thrasher.  It looks like I used up all my good luck in the morning.

Last morning in Gilbert before my flight home was spent at Zanier Park in Gilbert since my best chance for Burrowing Owl was there.  It did not disappoint.

Burrowing Owl

Western Meadowlark? Arizona gets both Western and Eastern so it's tough to be sure.

Audubon's subspecies of Yellow-rumped Warbler

Beep beep...

Savannah Sparrows in Arizona seem to have some really yellow lores.

Say's Phoebe

What a great trip, I hope to go back during migration next time.