Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Florida and Madera Canyons Again, December 15

I had an early breakfast at my motel and was driving the road into Florida Canyon as the sun was breaking above the peaks to the east.  I identified a dust cloud ahead of me as belonging to Richard  Fray and his group, and I was right.  They had just arrived before me and were looking at Black-chinned Sparrow as I walked up the trail.  I got good close looks at the Black-chinned Sparrow but no photographs right away.  A Green-tailed Towhee popped up out of the brush and then two Rufous-crowned Sparrows.  These were good birds for the group from England and I also enjoyed seeing them again.  I had my high  boots on to protect against thorn scrub, so I walked out in the  brush to try for a closer view of Black-chinned Sparrow and to try for photographs.  Soon, I heard the distinctive repeated "chideery" call of Crissal Thrasher and saw it sitting on a low ocotillo branch and showing the chestnut undertail coverts just before it dropped down and disappeared.  I tried to attract it out of the brush with spishing and making kissing noises using the back of my hand.  It started singing from somewhere nearby so I worked my way around and found it sitting up on a low bush singing.  This converts my previously heard only Crissal Thrasher to a seen and photographed bird.  I was able to work my way around to the south by hiding behind brush to get the sun at a better angle for a photograph.  Seeing and photographing Crissal Thrasher is a major victory for my Big Year, because Crissal Thrasher is known as one of our most secretive passerines.  See photo below.
Crissal Thrasher
grayish overall, chestnut undertail coverts, gray unstreaked underparts,
thin dark malar bordered by thin white submustachial 

Crissal Thrasher, singing
chestnut under-tail coverts
Eventually, I was able to get the sun at my back and work back to the area where the Black-chinned Sparrows were feeding down on the ground in the brush.  One Cooperative Black-chinned Sparrow sat up to be photographed.  See photos below.
Black-chinned Sparrow
all gray, pink bill, no black chin in winter plumage, with reddish brown feather edges on back and wings 

Black-chinned Sparrow
beautiful reddish brown feather edges on back and wings
Soon Richard Fray and his group returned from their successful search for Rufous-capped Warbler.  As we shared successes both this morning and yesterday evening, they asked me what birds I still needed, and I mentioned Hammond's Flycatcher and Pinyon Jay.  Richard had a distant Hammond's Flycatcher this morning above the dam near a very brown leaved cottonwood tree and their group had several Hammond's Flycatchers yesterday seen and calling on the Nature Trail in Madera Canyon between Whitehouse and Madera Picnic Areas.  Their group had Pinyon Jays on Old Walnut Canyon Road outside of Flagstaff.  I thanked them for the information and continued walking slowly up Florida Canyon on the west trail toward the dam, looking carefully for the Elegant Trogon that had been reported yesterday and empidonax flycatchers.  At the dam, I met three people returning from a successful search for the Rufous-capped Warblers.  A local birder in this group recognized me from my blog and noted that he had also seen a Hammond's Flycatcher close to the same location reported by Richard Fray.  I was not successful in finding a Hammond's Flycatcher or a sighting of Elegant Trogon in Florida Canyon despite hiking up canyon and back down slowly and looking carefully and listening.  I was, however, very successful, finding quite a few Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

I returned to Madera Canyon to walk the Nature Trail between Whitehouse and Madera Picnic areas, and started from the Whitehouse Picnic Area.  Still no additional sighting of Red-breasted Sapsucker for a photo.  I walked slowly up the Nature Trail looking and listening.  The sun was dropping rapidly and soon the nature trail would be in shade, reducing bird activity.  However, I still saw flying insects along the trail, a promising sight.  As I approached the Madera Picnic Area just before a wooden bridge, I found a feeding flock of birds, including Bridled Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Yellow-rumped Warbler and a Townsend's Warbler.  These birds seemed to be concentrating in the sunny braches and leaves of the trees.  As I was trying to attract these birds to my location with spishing and kissing noises, an empidonax flew in from a more westerly position along the stream bed.  It was a Hammond's Flycatcher, showing the peaked appearance on the back of the largish head, the gray on the throat and head, the almond shaped eye-ring that is more elongated toward the back of the head and the small, rather narrow based bill.  It landed briefly in the sunlight, but I was not able to see any color at the base of the bill, which looked mostly dark, but that may have been due to the angle of viewing.  I was not able to see the primaries very well, but the primary extension appeared to be somewhat long--just an impression, and the tail was slightly notched.  The bird flew behind a large conifer tree trunk, and disappeared from my view.  I then heard it make the distinctive "peek" call of Hammond's Flycatcher, which is quite different from the sharp "whit" call of the other over-wintering empid in Arizona, Dusky Flycatcher.  While there are those who do not believe in identifying heard birds, the distinctive call of Hammond's Flycatcher verified my visual identification.  If the call did not fit the visual observations, I would probably be questioning this sight only identification.  The feeding flock flew across the entry road and moved up-hill on the east side, seeming to stay in the sunshine where it was likely there would be more insect activity.  I tried to follow the feeding flock but lost sight of it.  I had hoped for a photo but it was not to be. 

I returned to the Whitehouse Picnic Area to check for the Red-breasted Sapsucker, but had no luck.  I gradually birded my way back out of the canyon, spending time in the late afternoon sunshine.  I headed to Nogales to stay the night.  Tomorrow, December 16, I would head to San Rafael grassland to look for Baird's Sparrow and Chestnut-collared Longspur. 

Hammond's Flycatcher raises the total to 719 + three provisionals, White-cheeked Pintail, Common Redstart and Eurasian Sparrowhawk.

PS:  I discovered that I was more tired than expected from my effort in December.  Consequently, updating my bog entries is somewhat delayed, but will accelerate soon.                      

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