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.)            

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.)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Chiricahuas in Winter, December 17

Special thanks to Neil Hayward, Big Year record holder and birding buddy, for pointing out the online photos of Baird’s Sparrow, which helped me resolve last minute concerns about my identification of Baird’s Sparrow discussed in my previous posting.
Today, December 17, I got up quite early to drive to Portal, a trip of 1 hour and 34 minutes from my motel in Wilcox, AZ, taking the paved highways—I-10 to NM 80 and then Portal Road.  By the time I picked up breakfast and some food and drink to carry for the day, there was some dim light in the east indicating the coming sunrise.  As I approached Portal Road on NM 80, I could see that there was snow on the peaks where I was headed.  Rustler Park, where one can find Mexican Chickadee, is 8400 or 8500 feet in elevation depending upon the source and one must cross Onion Saddle at 7600 feet.  Consequently, I was wondering if I could actually get high enough in elevation to find Mexican Chickadee if the road up was snow or ice covered.  My search for Juniper Titmouse, usually found in or near Paradise, will probably not be restricted by snow, due to the lower elevation, about 5500 ft.  The only way to find out if I could get to Rustler Park was to try.  There was no snow in the valley and through Portal.  I started up through Cave Creek Canyon and was surprised by a few places in Cave Creek Canyon at low altitude where the road was still snow covered in shady areas under thick trees or along north faces of the mountain.  As I got up higher, there was no snow, because most of the road got full sunshine, but I knew that there were some sharp turns and switch-backs that would not get full sun and these might be a problem.  As I continued up through the pine-oak woodlands, I kept an eye out for Montezuma Quail along the road, because it was early in the morning and I saw no other traffic on the road.  Back in August, I had met two women at Rustler Park who had seen Montezuma Quail along the road.  However, I was not successful in seeing a Montezuma Quail in August or this time.  I found continuing small flocks of Yellow-eyed Juncos and several Acorn Woodpeckers.  I stopped for a while at the wash just beyond where the road from Paradise joins the road from Cave Creek to look and listen for birds for a while.  Neil Hayward had told me that he found Mexican Chickadee at this location back earlier in the year; therefore, I decided to try my luck here.  I found a small flock of Yellow-rumped (Audubon’s) Warblers and several Red-breasted Nuthatches with a few Ruby-crowned Kinglets, but nothing unusual. 
Just before and beyond this intersection, I started encountering snow on the road in some shady locations and in sharp switch-backs.  However, these snowy and icy areas had deep ruts worn down through the snow and ice to the dirt road surface and these were not very deep, because the snow and ice layer was not very thick.  I concentrated on keeping my wheels in the ruts with exposed dirt and had good traction in the snowy sections of the road.  The worst place was after the wash and intersection for the road to Paradise at a north facing switch-back, because the road was completely covered with packed snow and ice and without any ruts to the dirt surface.  However, the surface of the packed snow and ice was coated with dirt from the traffic.  Fortunately, the dirt surface provided enough traction to negotiate the area.  After Onion Saddle, there was more snow on the road, but negotiable due to the ruts worn through the packed snow and ice on the road.  See photos below.

Snowy Road above Onion Saddle

Last curve and hill to the top to road to Rustler Park

I parked at the “T” intersection where Barfoot Park is to the right and Rustler Park is to the left and walked the road toward Rustler Park.  In my previous experience, the road to Rustler Park has been a good place to find Mexican Chickadee.  At first there was not much activity, but eventually I found a flock of 10 to 20 Pygmy Nuthatches, a Hairy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch and a few Yellow-eyed Juncos.  I also saw a relatively large bird fly into nearby trees and thought it was a either a Steller’s or Mexican Jay, but it was a male Sharp-shinned Hawk, apparently attracted by all the bird activity that I was causing.  A pick-up truck passed me as I walked toward Rustler Park and passed me again heading down the mountain with a load of logs for firewood.  I found out later that the forest service was allowing local people to take firewood from the downed trees that are a consequence of the recent Horseshoe 2 Fire of 2011.  The standing trunks left from the fire are dangerous, which is the reason that the campground is now closed.  The standing trunks are being cut down to eliminate the danger caused by them falling.  I was fortunate to be there when vehicles were driving up to the park in the winter, causing the road to be more passable for my rental vehicle.  Luck does play a role!     
As I approached Rustler Park, there was more bird activity with a lot of Pygmy Nuthatches calling in the trees and Yellow-eyed Juncos feeding on the seeds of the masses of wildflowers that were in bloom in August when I last visited this location.  There were also Yellow-rumped (Audubon’s) Warblers and one Townsend’s Warbler.  Suddenly, I heard the end of the buzzy “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” call of Mexican Chickadee on the downhill side of the road and just before the last rise in the road to the parking lot of Rustler Park.  A chickadee flew into a fir tree above my head, and while I was looking at the chickadee above my head, another called to the right.  I saw the extensive black bib and broad gray sides and flanks, which identified it as a Mexican Chickadee.  Mexican Chickadee is the only breeding chickadee in its range, but there may be some movement south of Mountain Chickadees in the winter.  Consequently, there is an outside chance of a chickadee not being a Mexican Chickadee.  Consequently, I took the time to see and photograph the chickadee.  I obtained two reasonable photographs out of about twenty attempted showing the extensive bib and broad gray sides and flanks of Mexican Chickadee and the lack of a white eyebrow of Mountain Chickadee as verification that I did indeed see and hear a Mexican Chickadee.  See photos below.
Mexican Chickadee
extensive bib

Mexican Chickadee
 flying, landing
extensive bib, broad gray sides and flank
When I was walking back toward my car, I found the very cooperative male Sharp-shinned Hawk.  See photos below.
Sharp-shinned Hawk
very rounded head, size of jay

Sharp-shinned Hawk
dark crown, rounded head, squared end of tail
He's watching me!
I drove slowly and carefully down the mountain stopping to photograph the snowy road above Onion Saddle and to bird a few places and take photographs.  See photos at he end of this post.  However, I had completed my mission to see Mexican Chickadee, leaving only the Juniper Titmouse to try for in Paradise.  At the wash, I took the road toward Paradise and stopped at the George Walker House to see if Juniper Titmouse was coming to the feeders.  Jackie Lewis told me that Juniper Titmouse had been coming to her feeders, but switched to a feeder up-hill when a friend started feeding.  I waited for a while at the George Walker House feeders, but did not see a Juniper Titmouse.  A Bridled Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatches, Dark-eyed Juncos (Oregon), House Finches and Acorn Woodpeckers were coming to the feeders in the yard.  There was one Inca Dove in the yard, somewhat unusual according to Jackie.  Outside the yard, there was feeder attracting one Steller’s Jay, an unusual occurrence at this low elevation, and a flock of Mexican Jays.   Jackie showed me the way to her neighbor’s house up the hill, where the Juniper Titmouse had been.  The neighbor was not home, and the feeders were empty.  I found very few birds at the neighbor’s feeder, except one Bridled Titmouse that at first got me excited, a Dark-eyed Junco and a small flock of Pine Siskins in the juniper tree where the feeder was hanging.  I left the neighbor’s house and returned to the George Walker House to watch the feeders again, but the only new birds found were a few Pine Siskins.  Jackie suggested that I try the cemetery and the cemetery wash outside of town, the roads in town and perhaps play a recording of Juniper Titmouse.  She also wondered if I was going to northern Arizona near Flagstaff, where Juniper Titmouse is likely to be more common. 
Because I was in Paradise, I decided to try the local strategies first and would consider the Flagstaff strategy later if I failed in Paradise.  I first went to the cemetery and the cemetery wash where there was very little bird activity until I started playing the raspy “tschick-adee” calls of Juniper Titmouse.  I attracted a large flock of birds but all Dark-eyed Juncos, Chipping Sparrows and a few White-crowned Sparrows and House Finches.  I returned to town and decided that I would walk the streets to see if I could find the Juniper Titmouse that was present according to Jackie Lewis’ reports.  I stopped in town along 428 Forest Road, the road from Portal, and not too far from the George Walker House.  There was nearby house with a feeder in the front yard.  The man of the house had been working at the George Walker House when I had arrived earlier.  He asked me what I was looking for, and I told him the Juniper Titmouse, the all gray one.  He said that they come to his feeder and put more seed out.  However, nothing seemed to be happening there.  There were a few American Robins, House Finches and a fly-by Acorn Woodpecker.  I walked north a short distance and up-hill on a poorly maintained lane called Sweeney Ave.  When I was up the hill the same distance from the main road as the Walker House, I started playing the “tschick-adee” call of Juniper Titmouse.  Soon I heard a call in reply and a Juniper Titmouse flew in.  It was all gray with lighter gray underparts.  I tried to get a photograph, but was unsuccessful.  The Juniper Titmouse was very active and difficult to photograph and seemed to be rather skittish in comparison to the local Bridled Titmice and the Tufted Titmice that I know from Ohio and the eastern part of the US.  I followed the Juniper Titmouse around for a short period of time until it disappeared.  It seemed to be feeding down low in the pines or near the ground with a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos, in this case both Oregon and Gray-headed races.  Perhaps, I was looking in the wrong places earlier.  I was happy that I got to see and hear this bird after a search of 3 to 4 hours.  I went back to George Walker House to tell Jackie of my success using her suggestion of play-back.  I noticed that she posted on Arizona Birds a day or so later that a Big Year birder did not find a Juniper Titmouse at her feeders but finally found a Juniper Titmouse by going out and searching for it!

I drove slowly to Portal enjoying the scenery, because I do not get there very often.  This year was unusual, because I was in Portal and Paradise twice!  I returned to Wilcox to stay the night.  Tomorrow, I will try for Ruddy Ground-Dove at Whitewater Draw.  Below are photos of the Chiricahua Mountains.
The Road Below
View from below Onion Saddle to the southeast down mountain toward Cave Creek
View to the east from below Onion Saddle
View from below Onion Saddle, extension of view to east
Cave Creek Canyon, late afternoon view from road to Paradise
Mexican Chickadee and Juniper Titmouse raise the total to 722 plus three provisional, White-cheeked Pintail, Common Redstart and Eurasian Sparrowhawk as of December 17.  (Note that this is a follow-up for a previously missing post.  The final total for the year is 733 + 2 provisionals reported on January 3, 2014.)    

Monday, February 24, 2014

San Rafael Grasslands, December 16

I stayed the night in Nogales, got up while it was still dark, picked up breakfast and drove to Patagonia and headed south and east on Harshaw Canyon Road.  It had started to get light as I approached Patagonia.  Therefore, along Harshaw Canyon Road I kept my eyes peeled for “lumps,” aka Montezuma Quail, near and along the roadside.  I found a few inanimate lumps but no Montezuma Quail.  As I arrived at the vista point, the high point, at the entry to the grasslands, the sun was just starting to break above the horizon in the east.  I drove slowly toward the corrals checking all of the fence posts for sparrows, but found none.  That was not a good sign.  I continued beyond the corrals for about 0.25 mile or more, where I started seeing sparrows flying out in the grassy fields on both sides of the road.  I stopped and scanned with binoculars and eventually telescope.  Most of the birds were Savannah Sparrows.  Eventually, on the south side of the road and quite far out from the road, I found one Baird’s Sparrow sitting low in the grass unlike the Savannah Sparrows which tended to sit high on the grass before dropping down to feed.  I got a better view of this Baird’s Sparrow in my telescope, in which I saw the relatively large, flat head and relatively large bill and the two dark spots near the auricular.  I could not see the whole bird because it stayed low in the grass before disappearing, dropping down to feed.  This behavior was consistent with the behavior of Baird’s Sparrow on the wintering grounds where they are very secretive.  I hoped for a better view and maybe a photograph, and continued driving beyond the corrals to the Santa Cruz River, on this date only a wash without water, and turned around to drive back to the entry point.  I hoped for closer birds on the fences with the morning sun at my back.  As I approached the corrals again, this time from the east, there was sparrow activity on the corral fences and the barbed wire fences not far beyond the corrals.  I found about six Vesper Sparrows but mostly more Savannah Sparrows.  I continued back toward the vista point, but there were fewer sparrows to be seen.  Consequently, I turned around and slowly drove back toward the corrals and stopped at the same spot beyond the corrals where I found sparrows before.  This time I stayed longer and spished and squeaked to try to attract sparrows.  There were not as many sparrows active as there were earlier but I was able to attract a sparrow to sit up relatively far out in the grass, halfway hidden in the grass but not on the top like Savannah Sparrows.  This also appeared to be a Baird’s Sparrow with a relatively large flat head and largish bill, but the bird was somewhat distant and stayed partially hidden making it difficult to get a good look at the field marks.  I took some long distant photos hoping for the best and would look at them in the evening.   At the time, I thought this bird was a Baird’s Sparrow and was hoping for photo-documentation.   See further discussion below.
I continued east and turned south at the intersection beyond the corrals hoping to find a flock of Chestnut-collared Longspurs.  They had been reported at the grasslands in November on eBird, by reliable Arizona reporters, but I had no luck finding longspurs and headed back toward the entry.  I stopped before I got to the entry point and walked the grass outside of the barbed wire fences.  I had success in finding sparrows this way in a past visit to Arizona, and had also obtained this tip from experienced birders from Arizona.  I walked in the grass along the fence and started flushing sparrows, mostly Savannah Sparrow, but also one good candidate for Baird’s Sparrow, due to the flat head shape and relatively large bill and size (larger than the Savannah Sparrows).  However, it sat only briefly on the lower barbed wire near the grass and dropped to the ground before I could get a photograph.  It was between 9:00 and 9:30 am, and I had been relatively successful, having had three encounters with Baird’s Sparrow, often a difficult bird to find and see at San Rafael Grassland.  I needed a bathroom break, and drove back to Patgonia to use the public restroom facility in the square, only to find no toilet paper.  However, I was able to solve that problem with my supply of napkins from carry out food, and then headed back to the grasslands.  Birders need to be resourceful!  On my way back, a White-nosed Coati (coatimundi) crossed the road in front of me, showing its long white snout, white rings around its eyes and the long tail with dark rings.  Unfortunately, by the time I stopped to try for a photo, it had disappeared.

When I arrived back at the grasslands, I tried again for a short period of time to look for a better view of Baird’s Sparrow, but was unsuccessful.  There was less sparrow activity later in the morning.  I decided to try a few other locations for longspurs.  I drove past the corrals several times, because during a past visit several years ago, I had seen longspurs at the corral, but it was not to be this time.   Then I drove north on 795, the first left after the entry near the vista point, and continued to Meadow Valley Flat, where longspurs are sometimes found.  I was not successful in finding Chestnut-collared Longspur or even Horned Larks that can be found at San Rafael Grasslands in the winter.  I did not try the two track limited road to Bog Hole Wildlife Area, but now, in retrospect, perhaps I should have walked the 0.5 mile from 795 to Bog Hole.  Perhaps, the longspurs were hanging around any water available there.  I have since my visit read accounts of Chestnut-collared Longspurs coming in to the water at Wilcox Lake.  However, it’s too late now in February, 2014, for those thoughts!

I returned to Patagonia and picked up some food and drink.  There was enough time and daylight left to continue birding.  Richard Fray had told me about finding an Elegant Trogon at Patagonia Lake State Park, and I had checked the location in e bird--between the two bridges on the creek that feeds Patagonia Lake.  There was enough late afternoon light available.  I headed to Patagonia Lake State Park to try to see an Elegant Trogon, which I had only heard before in Madera Canyon.

There was a lot of bird activity on the trail along Patagonia Lake east to the feeder stream.  The late afternoon sun was lighting the cottonwoods and other trees.  Sparrows, woodpeckers, Hermit Thrush, a Gray Flycatcher and a Vermilion Flycatcher were quite active.  I walked the trail slowly and spent a lot of time looking for a slow moving Elegant Trogon, but had no success finding this bird.  I guess Elegant Trogon will remain a heard bird.  The new red and orange colored ribbons were helpful to stay on the trail on the way back to the parking area.  As the sun was setting, I left Patagonia Lake State Park and headed east planning to stay near Wilcox to next go to the Chiricahua Mountains to try for Mexican Chickadee and Juniper Titmouse.
As I left Patagonia, I enjoyed a spectacular and typical Arizona sunset in the west and a full moon rising in the east.  See below.

After enjoying the sunset and rising full moon, I headed to Wilcox to stay the night.  I had dinner and settled into my motel to download my photos of the Baird's Sparrow.  See photos below. 

The photos are not the best due to the difficult circumstances in obtaining them from a relatively long distance with interfering grass.  They are not very sharp.  As I looked at them, I started having second thoughts about my identification.  This sparrow looked too large, and had a notched tail.  (Right then, I forgot that Baird's has a notched tail unlike most other ammodramus sparrows.)  I wondered if it could have been a longspur.   Was my identification incorrect?  Neil Heyward, record setting Big Year birder and buddy, and I had been communicating almost daily about our progress.  I answered his text requesting an update about my visit to San Rafael Grasslands, and told him of my uncertainty about the photographed Baird's Sparrow.  He offered to take a look, and I sent him the photos.  Neil pointed out that the shape, short tail and especially the bill looked right for a Baird's Sparrow and sent a link to an internet photo to compare.  See link by Chris Taylor.  Neil also pointed out that my impressions from the field are probably more valid given that the photos are not very clear.  I looked at the photos on Chris Taylor's website.  The top photo shows the body and bill shape that is very similar to the bird in my photo.  All of Chris Taylor's photos show a very robust sparrow with a short, notched tail.  The National Geographic Field Guide that I had with me also shows the notched tail.  When I first downloaded and studied my photos, I was tired and getting sleepy.  Meanwhile, I had fallen asleep.  After Neil sent me his comments and the link, I awoke with a clearer head, looked at Chris Taylor's photos and I could see that my original identification was correct.  Here are the points that support my original identification as a Baird's Sparrow. 
Body and bill shape: short, notched tail; streaking on the side and white breast show good comparison to Chris Taylor's photos.
I remembered that when the bird flew away after the photos, it looked like a sparrow and not a longspur and did not have any white in the tail.  It also behaved like a Baird's Sparrow, staying mostly hidden behind the grass.  This sparrow flew up from grass near the road, dropped down and then flew to the right to the perch in the grass where I photographed it.  
I should not second guess my original impressions from the field, especially when I am sleepy.
Baird's Sparrow raise the total to 720 plus three provisionals, White-cheeked Pintail, Common Redstart and Eurasian Sparrowhawk.   Tomorrow, December 17, is a trip to the Chiricahuas. 


Back at Updating My Blog Posts Again

Sorry for the extended delay.  I really have been burned out and have been adjusting to all the free time on retirement.  I did not expect that both of these would have such a large impact on me, but they did.  I am now recovering, and getting my energy back, but I cannot promise how fast I will update all of my missing blog posts.  I promise I will continue to try.
Since my last post for December 15, I discovered that the last paragraph about birding at Patagonia Lake State Park and staying in Wilcox did not occur on December 15 but on the next day, December 16, the date of activities covered in the next blog post.  I have made corrections to the post for December 15.