Friday, November 22, 2013

The Colorado River needs our love!

This past week we were performing bird transect surveys in an area called Mineral Wash. As the crow flies this area is only a few miles east of where we were on the Bill Will the previous week, however, it is a 40 minute drive on some very rough roads making this part of the refuge rarely visited. What it lacks in visitors it makes up for in beauty due to its perennial water source. It is one of the locations that receives year round water due to its location to the Alamo Dam. 

The area we surveyed was a re-vegetated area that was not successful due to lack of irrigation. We did have some great birds. 

The area was dominated by Gambel's Quail and White-crowned Sparrows

We also had Phainopepla and Crissal Thrashers singing 

We were lucky to get a photo of this Plumbeous Vireo after 5 previous attempts- this was a new bird for us.

We also came upon this Gray-headed Junco mixed in with a group of Oregon Juncos. Another first us- notice the red on the shoulders. 

The bluebirds were battling over the Mistletoe berries with the Phainopepla. Thrown into the mix was a flock of 40 American Robins that were foraging as well. 

It is a stunning landscape 

The coyotes did not appreciate our presence - the first 2 mornings they barked and howled at us.

These photos are of an adjacent transect called Esquera after the Esquera family ranch- the family headstones dated back to the 1800s

These particular mesquite forests were typical along the southwestern waterways before they were all cut down. This is a treasure to see. 

The number of butterfly species is amazing. 

We actually found a new species that had not been recorded on the refuge. 

This guy was trying to make it across the road - it is Tarantula mating season so the boys are out there looking for the girls. 

The following photos capture some of the activity around the Bill Williams River Refuge  Headquarters. 

We continue to see the Blue-footed Booby feeding around the Delta area where we perform the weekly waterfowl survey. 

Common & Barrow's Goldeneyes have been moving into the refuge. It is interesting to see the changing populations in waterfowl due to the changing levels of the lake as controlled by the dams. Currently the water levels are higher than when we first arrived and as a result the mix of ducks has transitioned from predominantly dabbling ducks to divers such as the Goldeneyes,
Scaup, Canvasbacks & Redheads to name a few. 

Here is a group of Goldeneyes:

An interesting view of the female Common Goldeneye:

We loves seeing the adult Clark's Grebe feeding its young. We learned that the Grebes breed all year here. 

Here is a fun back shot of the Common Loon

The adorable Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

The ever-present but admired Yellow-rumped Warbler

The spunky, vocal Verdin 

This Eared and Horned Grebe continue to hang out together

This male House Finch was busy feeding on seeds

Another incredible sunset out our front door 

We were invited to participate in a day long birding trip at the sister refuge to the Bill Will- the Havasu NWR up north. We had a fabulous day and were able to see and photograph a species never recorded at the refuge- a Zone-tailed Hawk. It provided quite a show for us. 

There were a few White Pelicans

And a surprise was this feral Hog that came swimming up to the shore of this island. This is an example of the widespread proliferation of these feral hogs across the country taking a serious toll on local wildlife- destroying habitat and eating the eggs and nestlings of ground nesting birds. 

Here is a few shots of the refuge

The refuge biologist considers the Bill Williams River corridor to be an ark in the sense of trying to maintain  a variety of species and habitats that are found nowhere else. We were shocked to learn that a critical habitat adjacent to the area we were surveying has been purchased by an international mining company to possibly mitigate water violations at their mines in Globe, Az. 

See the Cottonwoods and Mesquite along the Bill Williams River below

We were invited to participate in a refuge staff meeting and celebrate Thanksgiving with a potluck lunch. It was overwhelming to hear the discussions and hard decisions having to be made due to substantially reduced budgets and staff. The wildlife refuges are islands of remaining wildlife and nature- we hope you will support and visit the ones around you:) 

Happy Thanksgiving!!

The world is full of beauty and wonder,

Turtle and Hawk

PS- The refuge manager provided us with this nice certificate for our contribution. 

PPS- We are getting ready to hit the road - we are heading to the Bay Area, Ashland and then on to Kona & Midway through the end of the year. When we return to pick up Shak3 in Lake Havasu City in February we will head to a TNC properly - Muleshoe Ranch Preserve for the month of March and then on to Mallheur NWR for May and June. We will provide intermittent updates as Web access allows :) we will be remote. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

What an incredible opportunity:)

We are so blessed to have the opportunity to work with such knowledgable people and to be able to be out there observing the birds in their habitat day after day getting a chance to get a closer look at their behaviors that we would otherwise never observe or understand with out the constant interpretation and explanation from our leader Kathleen.

For instance we have learned that the Canyon Wrens move down from the higher elevation washes into the riparian habitats in the winter. As we are walking through the riparian areas we are very likely to hear the song of the Canyon Wren.

American Robins were thought to be rare here in Arizona and now they are expanding their range. We have been seeing and hearing them a lot in the last week.

We had this accipiter land right next to our trailer last week. It hung out and actually was hunting around the refuge. We were able to get a few photos and Kathleen helped us confirm that this is a Sharp-shinned Hawk. It is so challenging sometimes to tell the difference between a Sharp-shinned and a Cooper's Hawk.

This past week's transect is called the Kohen Re-vegitated Ag Site along the Bill Williams River. A section was planted with mesquite about 4 years ago. It is beautiful back there.

Salt Cedar is turning yellow

This is the end of the Bill Williams River on this specific day. The level of water flow is dictated by the farmers down in Yuma!

They included an extensive irrigation system that made sure the plantings were successful. This was a very birdy area. We came back on our day off and had so much fun!

We were greeted by a Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Red-shafted Northern Flicker & Gila Woodpecker

We watched two Cactus Wrens with nesting materials- they were in the Mesquite trees moving around the Mistletoe

Phainopepla were watching over their Mistletoe very carefully- they feed on the Mistletoe berries

We love the little sparrows. There were tons of White-crowns

But we also had a chance to see a Brewer's Sparrow

A Sagebrush Sparrow (this has just been split from Sage Sparrow into Sagebrush Sparrow & Bell's Sparrow_ don't ask me how to tell the difference- the ebird reviewers help us with that)

A gorgeous Black-throated Sparrow- they have a beautiful song

We have fallen in love with the desert. Actually Bob has always loved the desert since he went to school in Tucson. I have really just gotten to know (and love) the desert here at the Bill Williams River NWR. The weather is starting to cool down to a nice high in the low 80s during the day and in the low 50s at night (great sleeping weather). The mosquitos are now pretty managable as well.

When we head into to explore the end of the refuge's Planet Ranch Rd we usually try to stop at Mosquito Flats along the way (at Mile Marker 2). That is where the famous Nutting's Flycatcher hangs out (between 7-9 am) really! We stopped the other morning and were lucky to get to hear its loud WEEP and get some good looks:) (It looks just like an Ash-throated Flycatcher- it is all about the call)

Someone reported seeing Mountain Plovers in an agricultural field off of Highway 1 south of Parker. Mountain Plovers are a species in decline due to loss of habitat and Bob & I thought we would take a drive to see if we could find them. There was some beautiful scenery of the mountains to the west.

 We did see some shore birds off in the distance but they were too far away to identify even with our scopes. BUT we did see some awesome birds! I have really been keeping my eyes open for Burrowing Owls- this is their kind of habitat (they are another species in decline due to loss of habitat) but had not had any luck. We were driving along and off in a field a big lump caught our attention_ a Burrowing Owl at a distance!! I was so excited and took a few photos but it was pretty far away. Then 5 minutes down the road we come upon the following family!

Then we came upon a field of hundreds of Sandhill Cranes- we are not sure if they are Greater or Lesser Sandhill Cranes but they are beautiful and we love the sound of there deep raucous calls

We had a beautiful male Northern Harrier or otherwise known as "Gray Ghost"

And this adult Common Gallinule- nothing common about this bird

We stopped and were looking for the Plovers and noticed some large birds in the distance & it was a field of Long-billed Curlews and a White-faced Ibis feeding.

On the drive home we stopped and took a look at a Common Mergansers and one Spotted Sandpiper

Back at home at the refuge headquarters we have been seeing some new waterfowl and gulls coming through in addition to other rare visitors. We understand the jet stream is moving and that is causing some birds to jump in and take advantage of the southward flow to help in their migration.

We were taking a walk along the peninsula right out our door and came upon this female White-winged Scoter. We ran back and got our camera and scopes and had these great views. It ends up this is a rare bird for this area. (you never know what you are going to see)

The next day we came upon two Common Loons in almost the same spot! They are in winter plumage but what a show they put on for us. They were diving down and coming out of the water straight up with their wings spread and then hovering along the water like a crocodile!

When we first got here we were counting 4,000 plus American Coots- yesterday we counted 400. Things are so dynamic here.

We had a chance to see this Horned Grebe in winter plumage

And Western Grebe

A Bonaparte's Gull in winter plumage- this was a first for me

This Snowy Egret came flying through with his magnificent feet hanging there for the world to admire & this patient Great Egret was hiding in the Salt Cedar

This Snowy Egret was fishing with the Gulls

One afternoon and the following morning we had some great views of Barrow's Goldeneyes (another first for me), Common Goldeneyes, Ring-necked Ducks & Greater Scaup

The Blue-footed Booby is still here:)

This Loggerhead Shrike was close enough to touch

Isn't this butterfly magical?

AND this amazing nest of a House Finch in a Teddy Bear Cholla

Another week full of beauty & wonder~

Turtle & Hawk

PS-To top the week off Bob took it upon himself to reach out to and see what kind of insurance deals they have to offer- OMG- what an ordeal!! This is one instance that the press is not overdramatizing unfortunately. We ended up getting a nice young man on the phone who helped us with the application process.... we will see... they said they would have us information in the next 10 days:) Crossing our fingers but not holding our breaths!