Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Thursday, July 25, Search for the Colima Warbler

I awoke at an extremely early hour like 3:00 am, probably due to the anticipation for the Colima Warbler search, falling asleep early on Wednesday night and sleeping soundly due to the poor quality rest I got in the rest area on Tuesday night. I got all my food and water organized to be quickly packed in my back-pack before starting the hike, and spent a few hours writing my blog entries in Word for the Texas trip. I took 1.5 gallons of water with me in my backpack as well as lots of healthy energy and breakfast bars. At about 5:30 am I checked on the light outside. It was still dark with only moonshine. There were still no owls or Common Poor-wills calling. I checked every half hour until 7:00 am, and it was still too dark to risk an encounter on the trail with a rattlesnake, bear or cougar, even though I was prepared with solar powered and battery powered flashlights as well as with extra batteries. Meanwhile I had a healthy breakfast of oat meal prepared in the microwave oven in my room. Perishables and water were stored in the small refrigerator in my room. I made myself coffee provided with the room. Even at 7:00 am, sunrise, the lower parts of the trail were still quite dark. I eventually left my room at between 7:30 and 7:45 am and was on my way up the Pinnacles Trail by about 8:00 am. I planned to keep going until I got close to the pass, where a Colima Warbler had been reported singing on July 11 within the last few switchbacks below Pinnacles Pass. I was pleasantly surprised at the ease of the hike physically, but in retrospect, I am in good shape due to being very physically active with hiking and biking on Attu, hiking in Michigan and hiking up Slide Mountain in the Catskills in New York. As I approached the pinnacles and continued to the top, I heard at least 4 or 5 Canyon Wrens, new for the year, giving their distinctive “loud silvery song, a decelerating descending series of liquid tee and tew notes” according to the National Geographic Field Guide. That’s a better description than I can give. They were also giving the sharp “jeet” calls. I have seen and heard these birds multiple times in my birding career, and am confident in the identification, supported by the habitat. Canyon Wren is found on high rocky cliffs. This habitat was not Rock Wren habitat, and the Bewick’s Wrens found lower on the trail have very different calls and songs. As I moved higher, I also heard White-throated Swifts twittering, and I have had this happen before on this trail during previous visits.  Within two or three switch-backs of the pass, I started hearing a song that sounded like Colima Warbler, but the song ended with a longer trill than any of the recordings that I studied. I listened to the songs on iBird Pro and verified that this real singing bird was singing a different song. I stayed in the area to search for the singing bird to verify that it really was a Colima Warbler. It would be at least another hour or two to get to the Colima Trail and by that time, the Colima Warblers could be done singing for the day, if indeed the Colima Warblers are singing on the Colima Trail. I spent 45 minutes to an hour searching for and trying to photograph the singing bird. When I found the Colima Warbler, it was sitting in the lower branches of the trees only about 30 feet from the trail, but on the east side of the trail in the direction of the bright sunshine. I noticed some movement first and then a grayish white belly, eventually a gray head and throat, a complete white eye-ring, a long tail and the buffy orange rump and under-tail coverts. While searching for the first Colima Warbler, I heard another one singing further up the slope, and also had a third bird giving the “psit” call note, probably a female, according to the Big Bend account in A Birders Guide to the Rio Grande Valley, ABA/Lane Birdfinding Guide, and seen briefly flying away. The light was horrible requiring that I make sure that the sun was behind a thick tree trunk, to eliminate the blinding sunlight. Photography was hopeless; therefore, I continued to hike up to Pinnacle Pass to reach Boot Springs. I felt very lucky to hear and see Colima Warbler so late in the breeding season. However, the lady at the visitor center had predicted that I would hear them singing, and she was correct. She said that it was unusual to have singing after the nesting season, but that the Colima Warblers had started up again after the initial nesting season.   I suspect a second nesting maybe related to the rains that occur in July.  Had I not stopped to search for the warbler, I could have made it to the pass in about 1.5 hours but may have missed the warbler on Colima Trail.   I took a photo, telephoto 140 mm, of the Basin just below Pinnacle Pass.  See photo below.

I started down the Boot Canyon Trail toward The Boot, but immediately found two Hutton’s Vireos, another new bird for the year. See photos below. These birds appeared to be a breeding pair. As I continued on Boot Canyon trail, I checked the blooming agaves in the trees near the pass and further down Boot Canyon. At agaves near the pass, I found a female and a male Black-chinned Hummingbird, a new bird for the year. I also heard the call, "tcheew-tcheew-twhew" of a Black-chinned Hummingbird. Nearby I heard the metallic wing whistle of a Broad-tailed Hummingbird, likely a migrant, but not new, because I saw them in the spring in Colorado. Further down the trail, I found a male Lucifer Hummingbird chasing a male Black-chinned Hummingbird from a fully blooming agave.   I saw the down-curved bill, the green back, the white breast and belly, the white along the side of the face and neck beside the gorget and the hunched over posture while perched. The gorget appeared to not be full and may be an indication of an immature Lucifer Hummingbird or a partially molted male. Lucifer Hummingbird is new for the year. As I continued on Boot Canyon trail, I found another pair of Hutton’s Vireos and several additional individual Hutton’s Vireos. This area is apparently a good breeding location for Hutton’s Vireo.   Along the relatively flat trail from the corner at The Boot to Boot Springs and Boot cabin, I photographed a beautiful California Sister butterfly getting minerals or moisture on the ground.  These butterflies are abundant in the area.  See photos below.  I found more Hutton's Vireos and two Black-headed Grosbeaks and heard but could not find some gnatcatchers.

When I arrived at the cabin at Boot Springs, it was close to 12:00 noon; therefore, I got out my lunch and water and sat at the picnic table to eat and watch and listen for birds. After eating my lunch, I walked down hill to the spring and found two Cordilleran Flycatchers, an apparent pair, new for the year.  I saw the olive greenish upper-parts, the elongated eye ring in front of the eye, crest, yellowish and olive breast and belly with two wing bars. This flycatcher seemed to have a relatively large body, a characteristic of Cordilleran Flycatcher in comparison to Pacific-Slope Flycatcher.  Initially, one bird was giving a two noted call, but eventually also gave a high pitched “seeet” call or song. One bird seemed more yellow below than the other.  This is seen in the photos, but in the photos is perhaps an artifact of one taken in the sun and the other in the shade.  The Boot Springs area is within the breeding range of Cordilleran Flycatcher and is an expected bird in the mountains in the right habitat.   A male Blue-throated Hummingbird, new for the year, came into the spring giving its high pitched “seep" call and sat on a dead branch above the spring to give me a good look at its blue throat. The Blue-throated Hummingbird may have been drinking and maybe bathing in the spring water where it drips from the rocks. I have observed hummingbirds doing this previously in Arizona. I stayed in the general area of Boots Springs and the cabin and up the trail where the Juniper Trail intersects the Boot Canyon Trail. I also had a White-breasted Nuthatch in the trees at the spring.  I looked for and listened for tanagers in the area, because this is the area where the Flame-colored Tanager was seen. Just before I left the area at about 2:30 pm, I briefly heard a Western Tanager call, but could not find the bird or attract it to me. I needed to get back down the trail in time to get a good meal, having missed one last night. Perhaps, I should have stayed but I didn’t. I had been in the same area for 2.5 hours neither saw or heard a tanager until the brief calls before I left.  I encountered more Hutton's Vireos returning on the Boot Canyon Trail toward The Boot, and encountered a gnatcatcher, but it was only a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, try as I might to turn it into a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher.  As I approached The Boot, which gives the canyon and spring the name, I took a photo through the trees.  See photo below.

I arrived in the Basin about three hours later, celebrating a physical victory for the old guys and my success at hearing and seeing the Colima Warbler.  I made it up to Pinnacle Pass (El 7100 ft.) from the Basin (El. 5400 ft.), an elevation change of 1700 ft., starting at 5400 ft., in a distance of about 3.5 miles and then another mile downhill to Boot Springs, returning back up to Pinnacles Pass and back down to the Basin from the Pinnacles.   Birding was great on the way to and at Boot Springs with a cool refreshing respite at the springs. 

After a good meal that I carried out from the lodge restaurant, I walked down the campground road to see if I could find a Gray Vireo. I had obtained instructions from the lady in the Visitor Center. I discovered that the walk to the sewage treatment pond was too long to complete before it got dark. I tried partway down the road, but had no success. I will need to try again and elsewhere for Gray Vireo. Tomorrow morning I need to leave and drive back to San Antonio to fly to Oakland for two pelagic trips with Deb Shearwater on Saturday, July 27 and Sunday, July 28. It is a long drive to San Antonio.
Canyon Wren, Colima Warbler, Hutton’s Vireo, Lucifer Hummingbird, Cordilleran Flycatcher, and Blue-throated Hummingbird raise the total to 562.  
Basin from just below Pinnacles Pass, Telephoto (140X) View
Hutton's Vireo
Hutton's Vireo, showing broken eye ring above eye
California Sister

California Sister
Cordilleran Flycatcher, with insect part stuck to bill
Cordilleran Flycatcher
Cordilleran Flycatcher, in sunlight showing yellow breast and belly
The Boot, coming from Boot Spring towards Pinnacles

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