Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Whitewater Draw, December 18

I left my motel before first light, picked up a carry out breakfast and headed toward Whitewater Draw, about an hour drive from Wilcox and roughly 60 miles.  On the way I experienced a beautiful Arizona sunrise.  See photo.
Sunrise at 7:00 am

As I got closer to Whitewater Draw, I saw large flocks of Sandhill Cranes flying out to the fields to feed.  Later in the morning, I would see them returning to Whitewater Draw.  I arrived at Whitewater Draw at about 7:45 am when the sun was fully up and bright.  I stopped at the restrooms and also signed the visitor log.  There was a camper parked near the restroom, but all was quiet.  This was the first time that I have visited Whitewater Draw; therefore, I checked the maps to make sure I headed in the correct direction to the location where the Ruddy Ground-Doves had been seen.  The most recent sighting that I knew of was December 13, only five days ago, “near the “T” junction of the west dike and the north dike which circles the pond where the pump is located.”  I drove to the big parking area beyond the restroom near the trail head, parked, got my gear together and walked west on the trail, which should lead to the west dike according to the posted maps near the trailhead.  There were no other birders present.  It was a short walk to a “T” intersection with a nearby picnic table.  The Ruddy Ground-Doves had been seen near this picnic table by one observer.  There were no birds there.  I walked a short distance further west to be sure that this was the “T” intersection I was looking for and found that this west dike ended in water.  Satisfied that this intersection was the correct “T” intersection, I started walking slowly north on the trail toward a curve and tall grasses on either side of the trail.  Soon, I saw small doves on the ground feeding with a few sparrows.  There were about five small doves, and at least one looked like a Ruddy Ground-Dove with a gray bill without pink at the base and no scaling on the breast or back of the head and with linear dark marks in scapulars.  I started taking photos and followed the doves around the corner until the tall grasses turned into lower vegetation.  At that point, most of the doves, seven or eight in total, flew back toward the “T” intersection.  However, I got a good look at one Common Ground-Doves with the pink base to the bill and scaling on the breast and head. I found a female and an apparent male Ruddy-Ground Dove, which is consistent with the two Ruddy Ground-Doves reported previously at this location.  I suspect that there were at least five or six Common Ground-Doves, but did not get an accurate count.  See photos below for identification field marks verifying Ruddy Ground-Doves and a few photos comparing the apparent male Ruddy Ground-Dove with a Common Ground-Dove.
Ruddy Ground Dove
gray bill, no pink at base, no scaling on breast and head
linear marks in scapulars, male (?) on left-more reddish
female on right-grayer

Common Ground-Dove (for comparison)
pink at base of bill, scaling on breast and head
lacks dark linear marks in scapulars
Ruddy Ground-Dove, left, apparent male
Common Ground-Dove-right

It was still early, before 9:00 am.  I started walking back to my rental car.  There were not many birds to see, and nothing new for the year at the draw.  I saw a small flock of Cinnamon Teal, a few scattered Mallards, White-crowned and Swamp Sparrows and a few Mourning Doves.  There was a Vermillion Flycatcher not far from the parking area.  When I got back to the restroom, I met the man in the camper.  He was originally form Washington or Oregon and was travelling around the southwest.  He had tried unsuccessfully to photograph the Vermillion Flycatcher.  He told me about a Barn Owl in the nearby hay barn, which was open on all four sides with a roof.  We went over to see if the Barn Owl was there, and yes, it was.  See photo.
Barn Owl in hay barn
As we were talking some of the Sandhill Cranes were returning to the draw in small flocks.  See photos. 
Sandhill Cranes returning to Whitewater Draw

Sandhill Cranes returning
I left Whitewater Draw before 10:00 am, and decided to check some of the farm fields for flocks of Horned Larks and longspurs.  I was particularly hoping for Chestnut-collared Longspur.  On the way out of Whitewater Draw along Davis Road I found a cooperative Ferruginous Hawk.  See photo.
Ferruginous Hawk
note extended gape under the eye

I stopped at four or five likely looking fields for Horned Larks and longspurs using my outdated bird finding guides, Finding Birds in Southeast Arizona, Davis and Russell, Tuscon Audubon Society and A Birder’s Guide to Southeastern Arizona, ABA, Richard C Taylor.  Many of the sites indicated were still likely looking locations for Horned Larks and longspurs.  However, I didn’t find one Horned Lark and no longspurs is this area.  I suspected at the time that I was a little early to find these birds, and they may still be further north.  Yesterday, Jackie Lewis in Paradise had told me that it had been a mild winter so far, suggesting that I might be correct.  In addition, just before writing these updating blog posts, I checked eBird and found that there were many reports of Chestnut-collared Longspurs at San Rafael Grasslands starting on December 29 and continuing through January.  Just two days ago, I didn’t find a single horned Lark or longspur at the grasslands!
I needed to exchange my rental car for a new one in Phoenix, because the oil was due to be changed.  Therefore, I headed back to I-10 and drove to Phoenix.  Then I drove to Flagstaff to try for Pinyon Jay.  When I met Richard Fray at Florida Canyon several days ago, he told me that his group had found Pinyon Jays near Flagstaff on Old Walnut Canyon Road.  I stayed the night of December 18 in Flagstaff, AZ in order to try for Pinyon Jay, tomorrow, December 19.

Ruddy Ground-Dove raises the total to 723 + 3 provisionals, White-cheeked Pintail, Common Redstart and Eurasian Sparrowhawk as of December 17.  (See the final total for the year, 733 + 2 provisionals, reported on January 3, 2014.)

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