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.                      

Friday, January 3, 2014

Madera Canyon Again and Florida Canyon, December 14

I started early again on the trail to Bog Springs across from the Amphitheater Parking Lot.  I was trying to reverse the Zen of the Montezuma Quail by actually looking and listening for them.  I hiked up the trail slowly, looking, scanning up the slopes and listening.  Partway up the 0.6 mile trail to the trail to Bog Springs Campground is a short trail to the right that allows one to look up slope.  I had taken this short trail yesterday and looked and listened without any luck.  Today I did it again, and again without any luck but with a heart stopping moment or two after I scanned up slope and saw an object that looked like a Montezuma Quail with the distinctive black and white face pattern.  I carefully walked up slope to get a closer look and discovered a piece of dead vegetation that sure looked like a Montezuma Quail from a distance but only a dead piece of vegetation at close range.  Once again proving the Zen of Montezuma Quail.  I walked back down to the main trail and walked up to the intersection of this trail with the trail to Bog Springs Campground.  No luck yet.  I was determined to walk slower and look and listen more carefully as I walked down the trail.  As I got almost halfway down, approaching a curve to the right, with excellent rocky and grassy slopes up-slope and down-slope at the curve, and a more distant promising area with a rocky slope and grassy area, I heard it, a female Montezuma Quail calling giving multiple whistles on the same pitch and only dropping slightly.  It was downhill to the right toward the promising area with rocky slope and grassy area.  Almost immediately, a male Montezuma Quail answered up slope and to my left, a single loud quavering descending whistle.  I had studied these calls repeatedly and recognized them immediately.  The upslope male was closer to my location and I peered and scanned with binoculars upslope hoping to catch a glimpse of this ghost-like creature and moving as silently as possible along the trail for different viewing perspective.  However, it was hopeless.  These whistled calls could have been from a greater distance than I expected.  The female calls were far enough away that it would take me about five minutes to get close to the location.  I listened for a while but there was no repeat performance.

I continued down the trail and at the promising location scanned up slope looking at every lump, rock and hump trying to turn them into a Montezuma Quail, but it was not to be.  The Zen of Montezuma Quail was too strong.  I never saw one.  But apparently, this Zen does not apply to hearing them calling.  I continued down to the Amphitheater Parking Area, satisfied that I had heard Montezuma Quail female and male calling.  I checked on iBird Pro to verify the calls. 

I made a quick stop at Whitehouse Picnic Area to check on the sapsucker at the sap tree.  Not there again.  No pictures. 

I returned up the canyon and parked at the Mt. Wrightson Parking Area, gathered my backpack with some food and water and started hiking up Carrie Nation Trail.  I worked my way up Carrie Nation Trail slowly, stopping to listen and look for trees with berries and for slow moving birds.  I was looking and listening for Elegant Trogon.  They are slow moving birds and have a distinctive call described as a series of croaking "co-ah" notes.  Since arriving in Madera Canyon several days ago, I had been reacquainting my self with the various sounds that Common Ravens make.   I had done the same thing in August when I was in Madera Canyon.   Ravens make so many different noises that one could perhaps confuse distant raven noises as an Elegant Trogon if one was not careful, and trogons are relatively quiet in the winter.  If I heard one, I might have only one chance.  I passed the split in the trail where the Old Baldy Trail goes up to the left and then passed the split where the Vault Mine Trail goes to the right.  It was about 1.2 miles up to the mine from the trailhead.  I was a short distance, perhaps a few tenths of a mile, above the Vault Mine Trail split, when I heard a short series of croaking "co-ah" call notes.  This was very different than the croaks and various other noises that the Common Ravens were making.  It was up-slope and maybe a bit to the left of the trail, a brief encounter with an Elegant Trogon.  Neil Hayward had told me that he had also heard Elegant Trogon calling last month when he was searching with other birders for the elusive Eared Quetzal.  I quickened my pace hoping to find and see this bird.  Birds were few and quite scarce this morning on the trail.  Late yesterday afternoon, I had started up the Carrie Nation Trail and had also got above the Vault Mine Trail split, until I turned around because it was getting late and sunset would soon cause it to be too dark.  I forgot to mention this in yesterday's post.  Today, it was still early in the day, and I kept going.  Eventually the trail started to follow the creek bed instead of being to the side of the creek bed.  I got to the point where the canyon narrowed, there was water flowing in the creek bed and trail, the rocks on the trail were wet and slippery and the canyon was so shaded that there was snow in the canyon and on the trail.  In addition, I was seeing frequent reminders that this was bear country.  The piles of bear skat/poo were becoming more frequent and appeared fresh.  I had to make a decision.  Do I continue on this increasingly treacherous trail in hope of seeing an Elegant Trogon or do I value safety over seeing this bird?  It was Saturday morning, but I had not seen any other hikers on the trail.  I was not seeing any fruiting madrone trees, a food source for birds in the mountains, and very few birds.  I scanned up slope in the canyon to see if I could see any madrone trees with their shiny green leaves and red berries, but could not see any.  I estimated that I was within about 0.5 miles of the mine.  There were other places to see Elegant Trogon, particularly, Florida Canyon where I hope to look for Rufous-capped Warbler in the afternoon.  An Elegant Trogon had been reported there recently in e bird.  I turned around and headed back down the trail.  I had seen a few widely scattered American Robins, a few Mexican Jays, heard an Arizona Woodpecker, saw a few Yellow-eyed Juncos, and saw a single Hermit Thrush, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and heard Common Ravens and the one time Elegant Trogon calling.  I was satisfied that I heard Elegant Trogon, but wished that I could see one.  They are so beautiful.

When I got back to the trailhead, I headed north out of the canyon stopping at Whitehouse Picnic Area again hoping for a photo of the Red-breasted Sapsucker.  I met a local lady birder on the Nature Trail in the valley below the sap tree.  She had also not seen the Red-breasted Sapsucker, but asked me if I had seen the Golden Eagle that came through only a few minutes ago being harassed by ravens.  I had not.  She told me that if I had continued up the Carrie Nation Trail, taking a trail leg to the right I would have reached a flatter area with madrone trees and berries where other had seen trogons in the recent past.  Oh well, that's birding!  I didn't stay long at Whitehouse Picnic Area, because I wanted to get to nearby Florida Canyon before the late afternoon shade reduced bird activity.  Just as I was about to get in my car, a woodpecker flew low across the road from north of the sap tree into the central part of the picnic area.  I pursued it, but it was only an Arizona Woodpecker.  My how times have changed, as I remembered my elation in August when I found my first Arizona Woodpecker for the year here in Madera Canyon at the Mt. Wrightson Parking Area.  Now it is only another Arizona Woodpecker, a great bird in its own right, because I am looking for a photo of the Red-breasted Sapsucker.  I really am getting jayded!  :>)  :>)   See photo below.
Arizona Woodpecker
I drove out of Madera Canyon and kept my eyes peeled for a Golden Eagle.  As I got to the grasslands, a large raptor with a slight dihedral flew across the road and started soaring and circling to the right of the road.  Golden Eagle!  When you are from the east and do not see Golden Eagle very often, you stop to enjoy them.  I grabbed my camera and got the photos below.
Golden Eagle, with gorgeous golden nape and shoulders

Golden Eagle from below
I continued to Florida Canyon to look for Rufous-capped Warbler.  There are also Black-chinned Sparrows, another bird I still needed for the year, not far from the trail head in Florida Canyon.  As I entered the canyon the sun was dropping rapidly and the shade was advancing into the canyon.  I followed the west trail south up-canyon to the point where the stream turns east above the dam.  I followed the rock cairns which help to show the way and by accident took the trail that skirts the dam to the east, an easy way to get over and beyond the dam.  Above the dam, I crossed the stream to the west side and continued up the canyon until I found another rock cairn and crossed the stream to the east side.   I arrived at a tall tree stump with a "Y" shape just north of the point where the stream curves east.   See photo below.
"Y" shaped stump at Rufous-crowned Warbler spot
The grass was trampled in a large area so I knew that I was in the right spot.  The Rufous-capped Warblers appeared very quickly despite the advancing shade.  I was fortunate that I got here early enough.  This was the best view that I have ever had of Rufous-capped Warbler.  I first saw Rufous-capped Warbler from a distance in French Joe Canyon in September 1999 just before 9-11 and later saw a Rufous-capped Warbler again here in Florida Canyon on a trip to Arizona to see the Blue Mockingbird in 2009 near Douglas, AZ.  My previous sighting of Rufous-capped Warbler in Florida Canyon was just above the dam and not as far south on the west trail as this sighting.  There were two Rufous-capped Warblers this time.  I got these photos below, because I had my camera ready at the instant the bird perched briefly in the open on a dead snag.  Some luck, but proper preparation to be lucky!  The photos are lightened by one half stop, due to the deepening shade in the canyon.
Rufous-capped Warbler
Pretty good pose!

Rufous-capped Warbler
That's better!
Rufous-capped Warbler
Wow, what an experience and what a cool bird to see and hear singing briefly and chipping!  And photos too!  Fantastic!  With elation, I headed back north on the trail toward entry, following the rock cairns.  See photos below.
Rock cairn on west side of creek indicating creek crossing to west side
right near Rufous-capped Warbler spot near "Y" shaped stump 
Distant rock cairn indicating creek crossing back to east side,
a diagonal creek crossing.  I added a reddish rock in foreground to help
point the way.
The rock cairns really helped me find my way back to the entry.  It is easy to forget the way, especially when your mind gets filled with the excitement of stunning views of this great bird.  However, it really is hard to get lost here.  Follow the creek downhill, and you will get to the dam and the large water tank.  Then it is easy.  Also, the instructions to this site, are on the Arizona RBA.  On my way back to the entry, I crossed the dam on the west side, which is a little more difficult, because one must negotiate a rocky cliff.  It is definitely easier on the east side, but to be honest, I did not remember the trail and how I had taken the east side trail on my way up canyon.

I was hoping to also see Black-chinned Sparrow on my way out of the canyon.  I didn't risk taking the time to try on the way in, due to the advancing shade and potential decrease in bird activity.  As I approached the squeaky iron gate, I could see a group of birders up hill just beyond the crest at the best spot to find Black-chinned Sparrow.  As I walked up the hill, I heard a singing Black-chinned Sparrow, singing an incomplete song.  At the top of the hill, I met Richard Fray, a local bird tour leader, with a group from England.  We did not introduce ourselves on this meeting, and just exchanged the critical bird information.  (That evening, I discovered who he was using the sign on his vehicle and his web site.)  Did I get the Rufous-capped Warbler?  Yes, and I showed them photos on my camera.  Yes, this was the best spot for Black-chinned Sparrow.  They also heard but did not see Montezuma Quail (really as expected) that morning uphill to the west above Madera Picnic Area.  I had seen a potential area above the Madera Picnic Area from my position on the trail this morning and had scanned the rock, grassy slope with binoculars hoping to see a Montezuma Quail.  While I was scanning, they were hearing Montezuma Quail from that very area!  So close but so far!  They were off quickly to try for the Rufous-capped Warbler, because it was getting late and the afternoon shade was deepening.  I stayed to try for a sighting of Black-chinned Sparrow.   Soon they came back down the trail.  They had not found the Rufous-capped Warbler, but had a Northern Pygmy Owl.  I had not been successful, in my search for a sighting of Black-chinned Sparrow, and planned to return tomorrow morning to try for photos.  In addition, a Hammond's Flycatcher had been reported on e bird in Florida Canyon and that was a bird I still needed for the year.  An Elegant Trogon was also sighted several times in the canyon, and I wanted to see that.  There were good reasons for me to return tomorrow.  Richard and his group would also be there to seek the Rufous-capped Warbler.  We would meet again, I was sure.

I returned to my motel in Green Valley with elation.  What a great day for a Big Year!  Four new species for the year and all Arizona specialties.  Three of them heard birds only, but with two of them potential tomorrow for a sighting, Black-chinned Sparrow and Elegant Trogon.   Montezuma Quail, Elegant trogon, both heard, Rufous-capped Warbler (seen, photographed and heard), and Black-chinned Sparrow (heard only) are new birds for the year and raise the total to 718 + 3 provisional species (White-cheeked Pintail, Common Redstart, and Eurasian Sparrowhawk).  Tomorrow, I will return to Florida Canyon to look for Hammond's Flycatcher, try to see and photograph Black-chinned Sparrow and Elegant Trogon.  I can sleep later in the morning.  The canyon will not warm up until about 9:00 am when the sun breaks over the peaks to the east.            

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Madera Canyon for Red-breasted Sapsucker, December 13

On December 13, I planned to spend a lot of time looking for the Red-breasted Sapsucker that was a no show yesterday afternoon.  I knew that Madera Canyon would be in shade until about 9:00 am.  I still needed Montezuma Quail; therefore, I decided to try for the quail early and then look for the sapsucker after the canyon warmed up due to the sun rising above the peaks to the east.  I had checked e bird and found that there were reports for Montezuma Quail calling from the Carrie Nation Trail and vicinity above the Mt. Wrightson Parking and Picnic Area while birders were looking for the elusive Eared Quetzal last month.  Also, Neil Hayward had found Montezuma Quail in the spring along the trail to Bog Springs that starts opposite the Amphitheater Parking Lot just north of the Kubo along the Madera Canyon entry road.  This trail was recommended to Neil Hayward by Laurens Halsey, an excellent bird guide based in Green Valley Arizona, who finds Montezuma Quail along this trail regularly.  Neil did find his Montezuma Quail along this trail in May.  This trail is not far below the upper Mt. Wrightson Parking and Picnic Area in Madera Canyon and the start of the Carrie Nation Trail, where there were e bird reports.

I made a quick stop at the Whitehouse Picnic Area at the sapsucker tree on my way to the Amphitheater Parking Lot to see if the Red-breasted Sapsucker was there for an early breakfast.  No luck.  I continued to the Amphitheater Parking Lot and started up the trail towards Bog Springs.  Montezuma Quail can be found on the rocky grassy slopes along this trail.  However, I searched carefully, listening for the whistled calls, and looking carefully and found no quail on the way up, and continued to  the trail juncture where I turned left and walked down to and through the Bog Springs Campground.  I found Mexican Jays and Acorn Woodpeckers, juncos and Chipping Sparrows in the campground and one Red-naped Sapsucker just outside the campground on my way back to the original trail from the Amphitheater Parking Lot.  I returned down the trail to the Amphitheater and neither saw nor heard a Montezuma Quail confirming the Zen of Montezuma Quail, "To find them, you must first not look for them."  It was about 9:00 or 9:30 am when I got back to the Amphitheater Parking Lot.  I drove to the Whitehouse Picnic Area and checked the sapsucker tree.  No luck.  Then, I drove to the Santa Rita Lodge to check the feeders there.  A Lawrence's Goldfinch had been seen at the Kubo. and could be hanging around with the goldfinch flock at the lodge.  Eventually, there was a good flock of about 30 goldfinches at the lodge, all Lesser Goldfinches.  Lawrence's Goldfinch would be quite unusual at this elevation, but I had to check anyway.  I drove back to the Amphitheater Parking Lot and walked up to the Kubo feeders.  When I first arrived at the Kubo, I saw a winter plumage male Hepatic Tanager at the Kubo.  The Hepatic Tanager flew across the road to a tree loaded with berries and hovered while taking a berry and then promptly disappeared.    

I returned to the sapsucker tree at Whitehouse Picnic Area to look for, wait and watch for the sapsucker.  I met a local man walking his dog, who told me that he had seen the sapsucker about 15 times since it reappeared this year.  It had been there for at least a month.  I believe that this is the third winter for the Red-breasted Sapsucker at Whitehouse Picnic Area and apparently at the same tree.  I carefully checked the sap tree, nearby trees with sapsucker drill holes and the nearby conifer tree where it might be roosting.  Sapsuckers often sit quietly on the branches and trunk without moving; therefore, careful checking is necessary.  I noticed several additional trees in the area that had bark removed and sapsucker drill holes.  Still no luck on the Red-breasted Sapsucker.  At about 10:00 am, I decided to sit on the curb in the parking area at the  picnic table right across from the sap tree and watch.  The Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Painted Redstart actively visited the tree rather frequently.  In addition, a Yellow-rumped (Audubon's) Warbler came in to feed, but no sapsucker.  At about 11:15 am, I heard a sapsucker mewing behind me, but I could not find the bird before it stopped calling.  It seemed to have flown slightly up-canyon from my location.  I checked that up-canyon area along the Nature Trail, but did not find the sapsucker, and returned to watch from the parking spot across from the tree.

At 11:45 am, I decided to walk around the area, but visited the restroom at the north end of the picnic area first.  Then, I decided to walk the Nature Trail starting from the restroom and heading south.  As I got closer to the sap tree, I though that I saw a medium sized bird fly out of a nearby tree and head north into another tree.  Soon, a sapsucker appeared out of this tree and headed south in general toward the sap tree.  It was the Red-breasted Sapsucker!  What a gorgeous bird with its totally red head without black markings and lighter under-parts, otherwise looking like a sapsucker on the back and wings with white wing patches and white rump.  The Red-breasted Sapsucker flew rather quickly from tree to tree until it landed on the tree right in front of my parked car at the top of the hill, while I watched from the relative valley of the Nature Trail.  I tried to get a photograph, but the Red-breasted Sapsucker was moving too quickly, and eventually flew down out of sight apparently flying across the road from where my car was parked.  I quickly climbed out of the valley of the Nature Trail and looked for the bird across from my parking area in the center of the picnic area.  I could see the Red-breasted Sapsucker moving from tree trunk to tree trunk through the central part of the picnic area.  I pursued it until it reached the edge of the picnic area along the entry road, and got several good looks at the bird.  It disappeared from a tree along the entry road and appeared to fly across the entry road to the trees on the east hillside of the canyon.  The rest of the afternoon, I continued searching for the Red-breasted Sapsucker hoping for a photograph around the vicinity of the Whitehouse Picnic Area, but without success.  Occasionally, I visited the Santa Rita Lodge and Kubo feeders looking for other birds.  It appeared that the Red-breasted Sapsucker had abandoned the traditional sap tree that it had used for at least two previous winters.  Perhaps, it was looking for a new sap tree or had found one at a new location.

I stayed in Madera Canyon until about 4:00 to 4:30 pm, continuing to search for the Red-breasted Sapsucker and other new birds.  Late in the afternoon while I was on the Nature Trail, below the traditional sap tree, I heard a sapsucker mewing across the creek bed and partially up the west side of Madera Canyon.  I tried to find the mewing sapsucker and attract it to me, but without success. 

At about 4:30 pm, I gave up for the day and headed to my motel in Green Valley.  Sunset was at 5:21 pm, and I enjoyed watching the sun set as drove from Madera Canyon to Green Valley.  It was a beautiful sight.  Tomorrow, I will try for Montezuma Quail again and then walk up Carrie Nation Trail and or Vault Mine Trail hoping to find some madrone trees with fruit to watch for trogons or to hear an Elegant Trogon.  Neil Hayward told me that he heard Elegant Trogon on the Carrie National Trail when he searched for the Eared Quetzal last month in Madera Canyon.

Red-breasted Sapsucker is new for the year and raises the total to 714 + 3 provisional species (White-cheeked Pintail, Common Redstart and Eurasian Sparrowhawk).                           

Bill Williams NWR for Nutting's Flycatcher, December 12

As stated in my post about my visit to Nome, I left Anchorage on a red-eye flight leaving at about 12:50 am on December 11 and arrived in Phoenix at about 2:30 pm.  I slept all evening and all night until arising at approximately 2:30 am on December 12.  It was about 2 hours and 51 minutes to Bill Williams NWR from my motel just west of Phoenix, Arizona.  I picked up some breakfast from a 24 hour nearby McDonalds at 3:13 am and was on the road by 3:30 am.  I stopped in Parker, Arizona to pick up some hot chocolate and fruit to supplement my very early breakfast eaten on the way.  It was still dark at 5:58 am, and Bill Williams NWR was about half an hour away.  I had made good time on I-10 with no traffic.  I arrived at Planet Ranch Road when the sky was just starting to get light.  The NARBA instructions were to go to the 2 mile marker, but there were no mile markers for at least the first mile.  Uh, oh!  Not to worry, Neil Hayward, who had been there in January, told me that the double power poles were a better marker.  Eventually, a mile marker showed up on the right on Planet Ranch Road at about 1.5 miles and soon the double power poles were visible on the left in the dim but growing light to the east.  Shortly, I arrived in a dip after the first double power poles on the left and found the 2 mile marker.  It was about 6:30 to 6:45 am, very close to sunrise.  I got out, got my camera and binoculars ready and walked the road to the east a short distance.  There was a second set of double power poles not far to the east visible in the gradually lightening morning sky.
Sunrise at Mile Marker 2
Planet Ranch Road, double power poles to the east

First set of double power poles to west and 2 mile marker on left, looking back toward entry,
Planet Ranch Road
At first, it was quiet, but then I started to hear Canyon Wrens scolding and calling but not singing on the cliffs to the south very close to the road.  Then it happened.  "Week"..... "week," the call of Nutting's Flycatcher at 7:44 am.  I had first heard this call and saw and photographed Nutting's Flycatcher on January 31, 2001 in Mason Park, Irvine, California, where a Nutting's Flycatcher had over-wintered.  This Nutting's Flycatcher was calling from the riparian, north side of Planet Ranch Road opposite to the cliffs.  It was back off the road and seemed to be low.  I soon found it in low bushes sitting and flying around searching for insects.  It was quite chilly, and I wondered what it could be finding, but perhaps it was picking inactive insects off of the vegetation.  As I watched, the Nutting's Flycatcher soon moved toward the sun-lighted areas to the east toward the second set of power poles, and became available for photos.  See below.  The first three photos are in the early morning shade, which affects the appearance of the back color.  I saw the yellow edges of the secondaries on the closed wings, transitioning from red edges on the primaries, unlike the similar but slightly larger Ash-throated Flycatcher which does not show yellow edges on the secondaries.  In addition, the tail below of Nutting's Flycatcher shows a less extensive dark tip to the inner web of the outer tail feather on each side of the tail than Ash-throated Flycatcher.  This results in a rather straight dark area on the outer tail feathers without bending around at the feather tips as in Ash-throated Flycatcher.  However, the best identification is the distinctive "week" call of the Nutting's Flycatcher unlike the "prrrt" of Ash-throated Flycatcher.   The Nutting's Flycatcher continued calling until about 8:15 am.     

Nutting's Flycatcher
note transition from red edges of primaries to yellow edges of secondaries

Nutting's Flycatcher
dark outer and inner webs of outer retrice (tail feather) on each side that go straight to the end of the tail
without bending around as extensively at the tip as in Ash-throated Flycatcher 
Nutting's Flycatcher
very cooperative in morning shade

Nutting's Flycatcher
back view in early morning sunlight, showing olive back
I was very pleased to see this quite rare bird in the ABA area.  I was all alone on Planet Ranch Road with the Nutting's Flycatcher and thoroughly enjoyed watching and hearing it as it searched for breakfast.  I had tried to go for it earlier in the year in late March, but it had become unreliable and difficult to see, having been seen reliably in February.  By the time I had chased other rarities, it was suggested, by Lauren Harter, who was tracking the bird, that I wait until the fall/winter for the Nutting's Flycatcher to return for the winter.  Luck and good fortune were with me.  The Nutting's Flycatcher actually bred at this location this past summer.  I saw that on the Arizona-New Mexico list-serve and NARBA and knew that I still had a chance this fall and winter.  I was very pleased to see the continuing reports this fall winter at Bill Williams NWR.  This is the third winter for Nutting's Flycatcher at Bill Williams NWR.  What a great bird to add to my Big Year!  Thanks to Lauren Harter for very good advice back in March!  Luck does play a role in a Big Year!

I drove to the end of Planet Ranch Road.  It is a beautiful area, with a mix of desert vegetation and the cottonwoods in the riparian area which were a golden brown to brown color by this time of year.  I enjoyed the other birds in the area--Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, overwintering Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Phainopepla, the Canyon Wrens, Northern (Red-shafted) Flickers and Canyon Towhee, and I thought I heard a Crissal Thrasher, calling and singing briefly, and saw a thrasher briefly before it disappeared into the under-brush, behaving typically like the very secretive Crissal Thrasher.  However, I never got an identifiable view of the thrasher; therefore, Crissal Thrasher remains on my heard only list.

This was my first time visit to Bill Williams NWR, and I wanted to see more of the area.  I drove to the Visitor Center and walked out the paved path to look at waterfowl on Lake Havasu.  There were lots of Western Grebes on the lake.  On my way back to the parking area, I found several Barrow's Goldeneyes.  It was great to see this bird at close range and get photos.  I had seen a distant Barrow's Goldeneye in early June in Anchorage, Alaska.  See photos below.
Barrow's Goldeneye
female, left, showing steep forehead
male, right showing white crescent on face and dark mark to waterline on side

Barrow's Goldeneye
male, left and female, right
There was also a cooperative Verdin on the paved trail along the water.  It was a great morning for birding at Bill Williams NWR!  It would have been great to spend more time; however, there were more new birds to add to my Big Year list in Arizona.  I headed south to Parker, where I got more hot chocolate and topped off my gas tank.  I headed toward Madera Canyon, but soon had to stop for a nap for an hour at the first rest area along I-10.  There was still residual tiredness from the red-eye flight from Anchorage to Phoenix and the early start today in spite of the long sleep last night.  I arrived at Madera Canyon at about 2:30 pm and went directly to Whitehouse Picnic Area to look for the Red-breasted Sapsucker that has been regular there over the past few weeks or month.  When I arrived at the sapsucker tree, the picnic area was already in shade as the sun had dropped behind the peaks to the west.  There was no sapsucker; however, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a Painted Redstart were regular visitors to the tree where the sapsucker had drilled.  They were either enjoying the sap or catching insects attracted by the sap.  I stayed until about 4:30 pm in Madera Canyon, checked the Kubo and Santa Rita Lodge feeders and birded the Nature Trail that passes below the sap tree and along the entry road.  However, I found no Red-breasted Sapsucker at Whitehouse Picnic Area or on the Nature Trail below the sap tree.  I would check again tomorrow and spend more time looking for the sapsucker.

Nutting's Flycatcher is number 713 + 3 provisional (White-cheeked Pintail, Common Redstart, and Eurasian Sparrowhawk).

Final Tally and Imediate Plans, January 3

The is a brief post to update readers on my final tally and my plans to fill in the gaps of this adventure called a Big Year.

On December 31, 2013, my birthday, I added Smith's Longspur at Stuttgart Municipal Airport east of Little Rock, Arkansas.  I got good views and photos.  More about that later in my more detailed updates.  Smith's Longspur is number 733 with two provisional species not yet accepted in North America, Common Redstart (sen on St. Paul) and Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Adak).  It has truly been a phenomenal Big Year for me!

Prior to the Smith's Longspur, I added Chukar at Antelope Island State Park north of Salt Lake City, Utah on Christmas Eve.  Chukar was number 731 +2.  Then as readers may know from ABA blogs and Neil Hayward's Accidental Big Year blog, I added Great Skua on Brian Patteson's boat, appropriately named F/V Skua, on Saturday December 28 with Neil Hayward and two other birders for number 732 + 2.

I will be updating my blog with posts from December and then will go back and fill in the gaps with missing posts from August through November, when I was birding and travelling around the country so quickly that I only had time to give updates to the species list.  I want to capture these experiences before I lose them forever in faded memory.