Thursday, February 27, 2014

Jay Gets His Jay Helped by a Man Named J, December 19

I was tired last night.  In addition to getting up before sunrise and then birding until about 11:00 am, I drove at least 3.5 hours from Whitewater Draw south of Wilcox to Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, AZ.  After about an hour to exchange rental cars, I drove 2.5 hours from Phoenix to Flagstaff to stay the night.  There was a marked temperature change between SE Arizona and Flagstaff.  There were piles of snow in Flagstaff and a few icy patches on the streets, and of course it was quite a colder with temperatures in the high 20’s to low 30’s.  Fortunately, I still had my warm clothing with me from my early December visit to Alaska including Nome! 

In the morning, December 19, when I got up it was already past sunrise.  I picked up breakfast to go at about 9:00 am on my way to Old Walnut Canyon Road.  Fortunately for me, Richard Fray posted to Arizona Birds and gave more information about where his group had found Pinyon Jays on Old Walnut Canyon Road.  He found eight Pinyon Jays about a mile southeast of the ponds.  I found my way to Old Walnut Canyon Road rather easily with Google Maps, and it was not very far from where I picked up breakfast.  The road was paved as it went through a development and the ponds were not very far.  The road turned to dirt/gravel after the ponds, but at least the road had winter maintenance.  There were houses and small ranches on the right side (south) back off the road with a hill sloping down to the road with ponderosa pines on the north side.  I stopped at the one mile point and birded for about 20 minutes without any success.  I did not find any Pinyon Jays.  There were no Pinyon Pines visible to me in this area, and I surmised that the Pinyon Jays may have been fly-bys.  I drove slowly about another mile down the road until winter maintenance ended, turned around and parked.  I started walking along the road looking for birds.  At first, I got excited by seeing jays, but they were all Steller’s Jays.  Then I noticed a man exiting a gated driveway down the road, and he appeared to be talking a walk.  I continued to walk in his direction, and when we met, he politely asked what I was doing.  I told him my story, which I had repeated many time this past year.  I introduced myself, told him I was from Cincinnati, Ohio, had retired from Procter and Gamble and was doing a Big Year trying to identify as many birds as possible within this calendar year.  Then it got really interesting.  He was originally from southern Kentucky, his family lived in northern Kentucky across the Ohio river from Cincinnati for a while before moving to Flagstaff, Arizona.  He knew areas of Cincinnati that I mentioned.  His name was J as in the southern practice of naming boys J Robert, etc.  He knew about Pinyon Jays and stated that they were a bit of a nuisance.  A large flock came to their feeders early in the morning, scared all the other birds away, gobbled up a lot if not all the food, and then did it again late afternoon or evening.  The Pinyon Jays had already been to their feeders earlier that morning.  He had taken a retirement package some years back, started a paint supply business, but has retired from that to restoring Aston Martin cars.  His wife was the birder in the family.  As we were talking, I would glance at a jay flying by and look at it through binoculars, but he would tell me, “That’s not a Pinyon Jay.  It’s flying like a Steller’s Jay.”  When I asked him how he knew, he described the swooping flight with a lot of sailing of the Steller’s Jay and the very direct flight of the Pinyon Jay.  When I told him that this was the one bird I was looking for today and would stay in the area, he suggested that we exchange cell phone numbers, which  we did.  If the Pinyon Jays returned during the day, which they might do, he would call me.  When I asked him if he knew where they went after they left the feeders, he told me that they fly north across the road from his house up the hill and apparently spend time on the mesa.   He gave me directions to the spot up the road toward the entry to get on the trails for the mesa.  If I did not see Pinyon Jays during the day, I could come back and see them come to the feeders in the late afternoon or early evening.  We parted ways.  How lucky can I get?  This seemed like my best chance to see Pinyon Jays, which can be difficult to find at times.  They travel around in flocks in the winter and do not necessarily stay in one place.   
I drove back toward the entry of Old Walnut Canyon Road and found the parking lot to the entrance to the trails for the Campbell Mesa on the north side of the road.  I found a PDF version of a trail map on the internet and downloaded it to my Droid Razr in order to have a trail map with me just in case I got lost.  I bundled up and started hiking the west loop.  I found Pygmy Nuthatch, Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker, Acorn Woodpecker, Dark-eyed Junco and Red-tailed Hawk but no Pinyon Jays.  I hiked for about an hour, stopping to bird on the way.  I hiked almost a mile mostly on a thin layer of snow and slippery mud at times.  However, I noticed that there were no Pinyon Pines and only a few juniper trees with no berries.  Both of these trees provide food for Pinyon Jay, particularly Pinyon Pines.  It seemed unlikely that I would find the Pinyon Jays here, and it was getting close to noon.  I decided to quit hiking the mesa, returned to my car and took one last drive down the road again before heading out to get some lunch.  Not far from J’s house, I was out of the car scanning and happened to look up and see an adult Bald Eagle fly over.  J had told me about a Bald Eagle in the area, and Richard Fray had reported two near the ponds.  There was also a continuing Red-tailed Hawk in the area that I had seen earlier.  Then, I headed back toward Flagstaff to get some lunch.
While I was picking up my grilled chicken salad for lunch, J called me.   His wife was putting out more seed and water to attract the Pinyon Jays.  I was welcome to come to their house and park in the driveway to watch for the Pinyon Jays.  He would prop open the gate.  I said I would be there in about a half hour. 

I arrived at about 2:00 pm and pulled into the driveway to park near where J’s wife had spread seed on the driveway and where I had a clear view of the feeders.  Steller’s  Jays had already found the bounty as well as Dark-eyed Juncos (Gray-headed and Oregon races).  See photos.
Steller's Jay

Steller's Jays
white on forehead and above eye indicates southern Rockies  race

Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed)

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon)
While I waited, J had stopped to visit on his way to and from his shop and house.  After I saw the Pinyon Jays, he invited me to visit his shop, to see his restored Aston Martin cars.  I also met his wife on her way out to a doctor’s appointment.  An Acorn Woodpecker and then a Downy Woodpecker also came in.  Suddenly, all the birds scattered and an immature Sharp-shinned Hawk landed in an apple tree right in front of my car.  I was staring eye-to-eye into the fierce eyes of a sharpie.  However, the hawk did not stay very long and did not catch any prey.  Gradually, the Steeler’s Jays returned first followed by the juncos and then the woodpeckers.  I kept watching and hoping for the Pinyon Jays to visit, scanning the distant trees behind the house for evidence of Pinyon Jays.
At 3:45 to 4:00 pm, I saw a flock of jay-sized birds with very direct flight fly out of the woods to the south behind the house.  It was the Pinyon Jays!  A flock of 30 to 40 birds came in landing in the apple tree and on the driveway, scattering the Steller’s Jays and juncos.  I started taking photos.  See below.

Pinyon Jays
Arrive with a flurry

Pinyon Jays
Taking over the feeders
Pinyon Jays
Dominating the spread seed
The Pinyon Jay show did not last very long just as J had told me.  They were near the feeders for at most twenty minutes.  After my last photo at about 4:20 pm, I walked over to J’s shop to thank him, tell him of my success and see his autos.  When J asked me if I was successful, I showed him my photos, and his response was ‘Well, I guess so!”  I thanked him for his help.  His son was there and also stated that the Pinyon Jays were a nuisance.  J showed me his cars, which he restored as a hobby.  However, he had decided to sell a station wagon model with wood trim on the outside to a man in Connecticut.  Soon, it was time to leave.  I was planning to drive to Albuquerque to try for rosy-finches in the morning.  J cautioned me about snow headed to Flagstaff and suggested that I might want to stop halfway for a motel if I got tired.  I had noticed the cloud cover moving in after a very clear morning and early afternoon and had checked the local weather.   I thanked him again for everything and was on my way toward NM, leaving the Flagstaff area at about 4:50 pm, after buying gas, some food and hot chocolate.  I easily outdistanced the approaching snow and arrived in Albuquerque, NM before 10 pm.  I checked into a motel and got something to eat.  Tomorrow, December 20, I will go to Sandia Crest to try to see Black and Brown-capped Rosy-Finches.  In addition, there have been large flocks of Chestnut-collared Longspurs reported in some grassland about one hour south of Albuquerque.   I am hoping that I will have better luck finding Chestnut-collared Longspurs further north than in southeast Arizona due to the relatively mild winter conditions so far. 
Pinyon Jay raises the total to 724 plus three provisional, White-cheeked Pintail, Common Redstart and Eurasian Sparrowhawk as of December 19.   (See the final total for the year, 733 + 2 provisionals, reported on January 3, 2014.)            

No comments:

Post a Comment