Friday, April 4, 2014

Amazing Birding in Gorgeous SE Arizona Habitats-Riparian,Canyons &Grasslands Galore-Part 1

We are back in SE Arizona! We came down here before on a birding trip that Bob planned spur of the moment back in May 2011. Bob and I were relatively brand new birders at that time. Bob's folks joined us for the adventure. We met in Phoenix and all drove down to southeast Arizona to check out the area and the  birds. We had no idea what a treat we were in for-we had a blast! We have always wanted to go back to this incredibly beautiful area and Plan B provided an opportunity to really get to know the area much better than the 5 day trip back in 2011.

The band was back together- birding SE Arizona-Pat & Pete on Montezuma's Pass near Coronado National Monument

Bob and I spent the month of March in the perfect RV campground, Quail Ridge RV Resort in Huachuca City. It was centrally located to tons of amazing birding locations. It does not have wifi or cable TV, but those are things we don't use. We have our own mi-fi hotspot that goes everywhere we do. It is a bit close to Hwy 82 road noise but we use earplugs at night and don't hear a thing. We did not want to leave- it was like home. Linda, who manages everything Monday through Friday is so friendly and welcoming and always has a smile for you. We look forward to returning soon! Many of our neighbors have been coming back for years to spend the winter and we understand why:)

One of the things that was unexpected was the number of amazing people we met on our travels and bird outings. We met 2 of the nicest couples (one in our campground & another on a bird walk) both around our age and they even had Arctic Fox trailers! Another couple, Terry & Denuta from Irvine, CA, went out of their way to share the location of some very special birds we had never seen before. The bottom-line, is that the folks we meet on the road and bird trail are friendly and willing to go out of their way to share their experiences & notable sightings.

We spent most of our time birding two main areas in southeast Arizona, the San Pedro River Valley and the Santa Cruz River Valley. Both areas contain riparian corridors and sky island mountain chains.

Since we covered so  much territory in the past month we are splitting the tale in two:)- Part 1 will include our excursions in riparian habitats and Part 2 will cover the canyons, grasslands and mountains.

The riparian areas include San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, Patagonia Lake State Park (Santa Cruz River Valley)and Paton's Hummingbird Feeder Station located in the town of Patagonia.

The San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (SPRNCA) is one of America's premier birding destinations  and is designated as an Important Birding Area (IBA) by the National Audubon Society. It is also considered one of America's most threatened rivers due to the depletion of groundwater from agriculture and development. The area includes mesquite bosque (Cottonwood, Willow & Mesquite), grassland & desert scrub, attracting a wide variety of bird species. The SPRNCA is also one of North America's largest migration pathways for neotropical songbirds.

We arrived on March 4th, which was early for peak migration. We understand from locals that peak migration on the Lower San Pedro River happens around mid April to mid May. What was really neat was that we got to see the permanent residents and winter visitors before they headed north. We also were able to participate in the arrival of the early spring migrants to the area. Even cooler was seeing the birds with nesting material busy making nests:)

Tent caterpillars were everywhere!!The Cottonwoods along the San Pedro River were filled with Tent Catepillar cocoons when we arrived. Around March 15th caterpillars started dropping from the trees by the thousands-all over anyone walking below! You definitely had to make sure you kept your mouth closed as you looked up at all of the warblers, flycatchers and hawks flying above! We understand the Yellow-billed Cuckoos love the caterpillars but they had not arrived yet. Also the vireos and tanagers enjoy them as well.

Tent Caterpillars on the ground at San Pedro River

This Yellow-headed Blackbird greeted us as we came into the San Pedro House feeder area. We understand they number in the thousands during the winter and this was the last one that we saw, which was during the first week of our trip.

Fox Sparrow: The color of the Fox Sparrow varies from foxy red, which is from the east (that is the bird we saw below), to gray-headed, from the mountains in the west, to sooty brown, found in the Pacific Northwest. This was a winter rarity that Bob spotted on a group bird walk. This bird had lots of birders coming to the San Pedro House to look for it due to its rare status in this area. During most of our bird walks Bob keeps a list of the birds that we see and I try to get a photo if possible. (Bob is Point & I am Shoot- making up the team of Point & Shoot. We were named by a fellow birder on  a trip to Panama a few years ago. ) After each bird outing Bob takes his list and enters it into eBird. eBird is a bird sighting reporting platform developed by Cornell Lab of Ornithology to engage citizen science in the tracking of bird populations around the world. This data helps to determine the status of bird species and help inform policymakers to take necessary actions to help diminishing populations.

Lincoln Sparrow- we started seeing one or two Lincoln Sparrows when we arrived but by the time we left they were everywhere- moving north to breed.

Vermillion Flycatcher- these stunning flycatchers recently arrived when we got to SE Arizona. Within the first week they were hard to miss, flitting about and calling where ever you went. The female is in the photo below the red colored male. They seem to stay in close contact by calling to each other as they feed. They are very gregarious birds and don't seem to mind human presence.

Female Vermillion Flycatcher

Pyrrhuloxia known as the "desert cardinal" lives in thickets and brush alongside the Northern Cardinal in the southwest dry country. At first I was getting them confused with the female Cardinal. The Pyrrhuloxia's bill is much shorter. They are striking birds. The one below is the male.

Female Pyrrhuloxia

Female and male Cinnamon Teal enjoying Kingfisher Pond at the San Pedro House property

This Green Heron seems to live on Kingfisher Pond.
Male Gadwall with an American Coot swimming on Kingfisher Pond

Gila Woodpeckers were plentiful all over the San Pedro House property. They seemed to dominate the feeders. We observed them scaring off hummingbirds from the hummingbird feeders. They could also be heard calling as you walked along the San Pedro River. Very beautiful & versatile birds.

This Curve-billed Thrasher looks like it was looking for nesting material. We had a pair of Curve-billed Thrashers that lived around our trailer. They are very boisterous communicators and love to whistle:)

We had a combination of Common-Ground, Inca & White-winged Dove hanging around the San Pedro House feeders. This is a Common-Ground Dove below.

Inca Dove feeding beneath the feeders at San Pedro House.

Cassin's Kingbird summers in the southwest, specifically Arizona & New Mexico. This is a new bird for us. It looks very similar to the Western Kingbird, that we are more familiar with but the Cassin's has a darker gray head and the chest contrasts more with the white chin.

Green-tailed Towhees were quite common as we got further into the month of March. We never tired of seeing them perched out in the open since we are more familiar with their skulky side hiding under the brush. They spend the winter here in Arizona and Mexico. We imagine they must have been beginning their migration north.

Abert's Towhee make a very distinctive "tink" sound. We could more often hear them around us than see them. This Abert's looks like it is collecting nesting material. It is a resident of the area.

Lucy's Warbler is a new bird for us. What a cutie:) We found this male feeding on the Cottonwood tree right outside the San Pedro House. They could be heard singing along riparian habitat as the month continued. This bird has a red crown and red patch on the rump.

The female Lucy's Warbler can be seen below. It looks much paler but some books indicate it does have a light red crown and red patch on the rump.

Singing Yellow Warblers were starting to come in around mid-March. At first we could hear them high in the tree tops and then after a few days we started to see them come down lower feeding in the Cottonwoods and Willows along the river. The male is below:

Female Yellow Warbler

This Wilson's Warbler was hanging out in a Willow along the river but was very hard to capture in a photo- a fleeting glance below of a male.

Along with the warblers we started seeing vireos. I guess they heard about the outstanding crop of tent caterpillars this year. This Bell's Vireo is a new bird for us. It gave us quite a chase and a challanging exercise to determine what species it was. The first one we saw was feeding on the ground and almost looked like it had a Gnatcatcher tail. It was low in the brush and not calling. Bob noted the white eye brow, greenish back and wing bar. We were thinking it was a Warbling Vireo but the wing bar confirmed that it was Bell's Vireo. As the days continued the Bell's Vireos began singing which helped identify them much more easily:) The range map for this bird indicates it breeds in Southern Arizona, Southern New Mexico, Western Texas and Mexico.

This Cassin's Vireo is migrating through the area to its breeding grounds in the Pacific Northwest. We were so impressed by the breeding plumage showing off its striking white "spectacles" 

The Empidonax Flycatchers are challenging to identify to say the least. We think this is a Pacific-slope/Cordilleran Flycatcher due to the shape of the eye ring and the bill....but the vesting has us a bit confused? The lighting can make it very difficult also...that is what keeps us coming back:)

Sparrows can be fun! We were having fun seeing all of the various sparrows in the area. Some are residents year round such as the Black-throated Sparrow and Song Sparrow. The Vesper, Savannah,White-crowned & Brewer's Sparrows range maps show that they winter in the area and then migrate north to breed. Lark Sparrows come north to Southern Arizona to breed in the area, that is why heard them singing.

Brewer's Sparrow are very non descript- no eye ring or easily identifiable markings. Their song is very distinct and buzzy but they are not breeding in the area so we did not hear them sing.

White-throated Sparrow is a relatively rare winter visitor, typically found in the east. What a poser:)

This Song Sparrow was singing and bathing. This is a desert variety which is very blonde and lighter colored than the Pacific Northwest type that we are accustomed to seeing.

For days we could hear the Gray Hawks calling but never got any looks. Then we had these amazing views of a pair of Gray Hawks circling above our heads. They nest along the rivers in the Cottonwoods and prey on lizards and small birds. Their call is lovely to hear, almost too lyrical for a hawk. They seem to stay in close contact, so as you walk along the river you may not be able to see them but you can definitely hear them. Note- the white specks are from the raining pollen from the Cottonwood Trees along the river:)

This Gray Hawk perched looking out for a meal. Bob even spotted a Gray Hawk in Huachuca Canyon with nesting materials fly into its nest right near the lower canyon picnic area. We ended up seeing Gray Hawks, not only at San Pedro House, but at Huachuca Canyon in Ft. Huachuca & Paton's Feeder Station in Patagonia.

Amazing views of a Marsh Wren that decided to take a cruise on this log. I have never seen a Marsh Wren out in the open like this- they are usually very hidden in the reeds along the water's edge. You can tell it is a Marsh Wren because of the spotting on its backside.

This Merlin was looking out over a field watching for prey such as a bird or mouse.

The river corridor is filled with accipiters, buteos and falcons. We often saw this Red-tailed Hawk perched in the Cottonwood tree next to the San Pedro House. Here he was taking off in flight.

Patagonia Lake and Paton's Feeder Station are in the Santa Cruz River Valley. Patagonia Lake is an impoundment of Sonoita Creek that covers approximately 265 acres just north of Nogales amid rolling hills. The area includes marsh with mesquite bosque and desert scrub on the hillsides. Paton's Feeder Station is a Tucson Audubon property located in the town of Patagonia with hummingbird, seed & suet feeders that attract many different hummers as well as lots of other species. You never know what you will see in their backyard.

Violet-crowned Hummingbird are relatively rare summer visitors to Southern Arizona. Paton's is one of the most reliable spots to get a good look at these precious beings.

Anna's Hummingbird male in all of its glory:)

Broad-billed Hummingbirds were the most common hummingbird drinking at the feeders when we were there. They were very protective of their terrain and quick to chase others off.

Above is a unique looking male Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler- note the orangish coloring on the head. Below is a more typical albeit striking male Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler.

These Ladder-backed Woodpeckers love the feeders at Paton's - this is a female above & and the male below. They sound just like Downy Woodpeckers, which we have been more familiar with.

Male Lazuli Bunting- no matter how you say the name this is a beautiful bird:)

This male Gambel's Quail wouldn't stop singing
Here is the female Northern Cardinal. Note, how long and straight the bill is compared to the Pyrrhuloxia.
I do not think this bird below needs an introduction:)

The Lark Sparrow was singing away. They breed here so it was probably establishing a territory. Striking bird.

White-winged Dove- they are here in Southeast Arizona to breed and will return to Mexico by September.

This Sharp-shinned Hawk came in and scattered all the birds off the feeders.  Note the skinny little legs- this is a great indicator of a Sharpie when compared to a Cooper's Hawk.

Patagonia Lake State Park

We ran into this feeding male Black-chinned Hummingbird at the start of Bird Trail at Patagonia Lake State Park- what a beginning:)

This Black-throated Sparrow was singing from the side of the trail- they have a beautiful song.

We only saw a handful of Canyon Towhees the whole trip. Strangely enough we had a pair living right next to our trailer. Note the lack of dark markings around the eye to distinguish it from an Abert's Towhee. The Canyon Towhee closely resembles a California Towhee.

This is a brand new bird for us- a Rufous-winged Sparrow. It is distinguished from the Rufous-crowned Sparrow by its double malar stripes, faint white wing bars and the red patch on the shoulder. They are residents.

The Chipping Sparrow is similar looking to the both the Rufous-crowned and Rufous-winged Sparrows. Its chest is completely clean and has a single malar stripe. It can be a resident or winter visitor. We saw them everywhere.

Gray Flycatcher- this is a relatively new flycatcher to us. They are actually fairly abundant in Southeast Arizona. Note the dark tip of the bill and orange lower mandible- these traits help to identify it. It also tends to hang out at lower perches and fly to the ground to pick up insects-very different behavior than most of the empidonax flycatchers.

Green-winged Teal can be both a resident or winter visitor.

Hybrid Mexican Mallard-many ornithologists believe the Mexican Mallard should be its own species.

The Northern Shoveler is a winter visitor and will be taking off for the north soon.

This Common Merganser is a winter visitor that will be heading far north to breed- like Canada north.

The Elegant Trogon was a new bird for us. What an amazing looking and sounding bird. This female was hanging low in the mesquite calling. They are fairly new summer residents of Southeast Arizona. There are only a handful of breeding pairs in the area.

Bridled Titmouse- we found and heard these birds everywhere. They sound similar to chickadees and appear to fill that niche. They are residents.

Painted Redstart- we saw and heard this spectacular warbler all through the riparian corridor. Sometimes we had as many as four together. They must be one of the earliest warbler species to arrive to set up breeding territories.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet-we call this bird the "Expresso bird"- Ken Kaufman calls them "hyperactive midgets". They flit around in the trees at high speeds.  When a male gets excited they flash their ruby crown. This little guy must have been excited because he was flashing his crown. They are winter visitors in the area.

Verdin-This little local bird thrives in the desert, making their nests in Palo Verde Trees. Their nest is a little round ball with a hole on the side. They make multiple nests with varied exposures for use in the different seasons. 

Black-capped Gnatcatcher- a very rare bird in Southern Arizona Canyons. This is a new bird for us. We found this bird up a canyon wash in Patagonia Lake State Park after a fellow birder pointed us in the direction of the canyon. We got a little backwards but found it because it was calling. The male and female were making a nest. I know the pictures are blurry but the male has nesting material which looked like spiderweb in his bill. 

Orange-crowned Warbler- this warbler is migrating through to its breeding grounds up north. Orange-crowns have many different shades of yellows, greens & grays but they always have their signature split eye rings.  

Female Black-throated Gray Warbler. The range maps indicate this bird could be a winter visitor or summer  visitor. You can tell that this bird is a female since her throat is white. The male's throat is black. 

Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet- this was a new bird for us. The bird was calling and had quite the attitude. Much smaller than other flycatchers, it was chasing the above Black-throated Gray Warbler out of its feeding tree. This bird lives in Mexico and Central America and is a rare summer visitor to Arizona.

Rough-legged Hawk- when we reported this sighting to eBird they asked for photo confirmation. This bird is a rare winter visitor and should be well on its way to its Arctic breeding grounds. 

Life is full of beauty & wonder,

Bettina & Bob

PS- We tentatively sold our house in Ashland & hope to close at the end of April!!! Yippee - we are now truly living on the road in our Weasley Tent (for all not familiar with the Weasley tent- it is a magical place in the Harry Potter books). Our trailer, Shak3, has really become a magical place for us to explore and experience our world:)

Us at San Pedro House

No comments:

Post a Comment