The First Days of Camp Colorado

Lifers denoted by Bold

This summer, I was given the opportunity to travel to Colorado and attend the ABA’s Camp Colorado run out of Estes Park. It was a brilliant opportunity to explore Colorado’s bird life more thoroughly than I had been able to before and would also get me some lifers.

So, in July, I caught a plane out of Pittsburgh to Denver, Colorado where I met up with the counselors leading the camp, Jen Brumfield, Bill Schmoker, Raymond van Buskirk, and Jennie Duberstein.

While waiting for other campers to fly in, a few of the other campers and I walked over to one of the nearby windows in the airport and tried to spot the first few birds of the camp. We were successful getting cliff swallow, house finch, and our first truly western bird: a western kingbird.

When most of the campers arrived, we loaded up the two vans which we would be using during the week and started the drive up to Estes Park and the YMCA of the Rockies where we would be staying.

The drive gave us time to meet the other campers as well as to spot some of the more common western species. It also allowed us to see some of the habitats in which we would be birding during the week as we passed through the lowlands, into the foothills, and then up into the mountains themselves. A light drizzle and low-hanging clouds prevented us from seeing the mountains well as we approached them (and even when we were in them), but the nearby scenery was still rather lovely and held a number of birds which were lifers for some of the other campers.

In the grasslands surrounding Denver, we got our first looks at Brewer’s blackbirds, western meadowlarks, and Swainson’s hawks as well as a flock of American white pelicans circling over a small lake. Entering the foothills around Lyons, the habitat began to shift into something more montane and the birds changed as well. Here we got our first sightings of white-throated swift, violet-green swallow, and (a nice bird for the drive) a single lazuli bunting.

At the end of the very beautiful drive, we arrived at the YMCA of the Rockies. Now, a point of clarification. This YMCA is not like traditional YMCA and sits instead on a large, wild property, that holds a large amount of bird life. As we pulled up and got out of the vans, we spotted mountain bluebirds, black-billed magpies, and heard the omnipresent wing buzz of broad-tailed hummingbirds.

We met some of the campers who had already arrived and then walked over to the dorm in which we all would be staying. On the way over, we looked out for more wildlife and I was chuffed to get my first life mammal of the trip, a group of Wyoming ground squirrels.

Wyoming Ground Squirrels

Wyoming Ground Squirrels

We also had a broad-tailed hummingbird that was very reliably being seen and letting close views on the top of a sapling right next to the sidewalk.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

After we were assigned our dormmates and had some time to unpack some of our luggage and get situated, we all met in the front of the dorm to do some birding before dinner. However, the birding started as soon as we stepped outside for we were quickly alerted to the presence of a northern goshawk sitting on the ground hunting ground squirrels. It was soon accidentally flushed by some people who didn’t realize it was there but we were given amazing views in flight. Even better, as we waited for the other campers to get there, a prairie falcon flew in and strafed the same field that the goshawk had been in, giving us all great views.

Prairie Falcon

Prairie Falcon

When everyone had assembled, we hiked to the riparian area behind the dorm in hopes of some new birds. We were not disapointed and were able to hear a MacGillivray’s warbler as well as see a couple of green-tailed towhees. The towhee had been what I had predicted before the trip would be my first lifer. However, I hadn’t counted on getting goshawk that early and so was just barely off. I also saw the first least chipmunk of the trip.

The rain picked up steadily while we were birding (why is it that rain seems to follow me to every birding camp I do??) and so we returned to the dorms and then went from there to the mess hall for dinner.

After dinner, we returned to the dorm where we heard a talk about the ecosystems of Colorado given by Bill Schmoker. It was a great introduction to the area in which we would be birding throughout the week.

After that, we were all tired and headed to our dorm rooms to sleep before birding in the morning. However, one important thing did happen later that night which was that my dormroom decided to keep a yard list of birds seen from our dorm room window during the course of the week. That night we got the first few additions to it including some violet-green swallows nesting under the eave of the roof.

The next morning was to be our first time truly birding during the camp. Our destination was the Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park where among other things we were hoping to find American dippers and three-toed woodpeckers.

However, we were once again distracted as soon as we walked out of the dorms, this time by a yellow-headed blackbird which had somehow made it up to the elevation that we were at, despite the fact that there was no yellow-headed blackbird habitat anywhere near us.

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Yellow-headed Blackbird

After a quick breakfast, we loaded the vans (and spotted a Uinta chipmunk in the process) and drove towards Wild Basin. On the drive over, we spotted the first Stellar’s jay of the trip but other than that it was pretty quiet. However, bird activity picked up almost as soon as we arrived at Wild Basin. Before we had even left the parking lot, we had already heard hermit thrush, cordilleran flycatcher, western tanager, and black-headed grosbeak. Starting to walk the trail, we spotted the first gray-headed junco of the trip, singing away from the top of a ponderosa.

Scenery at Wild Basin

Scenery at Wild Basin

Mountain chickadee called around us as we hiked farther up the trail and a Townsend’s solitaire gave its pinging call. We also came across a MacGillivray’s warbler nest and were able to get rather good looks at both birds.

MacGillivray's Warbler

MacGillivray’s Warbler

We also got rather good looks at a number of “Audubon’s” yellow-rumped warblers along the trail. Although this is the same species as the Myrtles we get out east, they were still great to see as they really do look rather different (and nicer in my opinion).

“Audubon’s” Yellow-rumped Warbler

We were also happy to come across a Swainson’s thrush at a nest as this not a bad bird for the area.

The trail became quieter as we continued up and we began to lose faith in finding either three-toed woodpecker or dipper. However, just as we were about to turn around, a red-naped sapsucker which flew into a dead tree for a couple of seconds as well as a close view of a Townsend’s solitaire lifted spirits a bit.

Townsend's Solitaire

Townsend’s Solitaire

Before turning around, we spotted to rest a little bit. We were all glad we did for the sun began to come out as the clouds dispersed a bit and a VERY accommodating golden-mantled ground squirrel appeared and wandered around us for a few minutes, seemingly completely uncaring that we all were there.

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel

The return trip down the trail, we were very happy to locate one of our targets for the day: American dipper. About halfway back to the vans, we were happy to encounter one foraging in the rapids of the stream bordering the trail. The water level was much higher and running much faster than normal due to the recent rain but the dipper didn’t seem to mind and gave us quite close views as it bobbed and dipped in the stream.

American Dipper

American Dipper

American Dipper

American Dipper

While this dipper was not a lifer, my life bird had given far less than satisfactory views and consequently I was pleased to get such good views (although I have gotten even better views of white-throated dipper in Yorkshire).

Audubon's Warbler

Audubon’s Warbler

When we returned to the YMCA, we discovered that one of the yellow-headed blackbirds from that morning (by this point we had dubbed him “Joel”) was hanging out in the parking lot and was letting people come extremely close to him, giving great photographic opportunities.

Joel

Joel

We then split into two groups to attend workshops on either photography or field sketching. I chose photography that day and thoroughly enjoyed the talk which was given by Bill Schmoker. Just as we were finishing up however, we heard word from the field sketching group that they had located two immature male Williamson’s sapsuckers a short walk from where we were. As it would have been a lifer for many, we set out immediately for where they were.

Sure enough, we found the rest of the camp getting great views at two very relaxed Williamson’s sapsuckers. An added bonus appeared in the form of a dusky flycatcher which called and gave brief looks; both of these birds being a testament to the good birding to be had around the YMCA property.

By that time, it was time for dinner after which we retired to our dorm to work on our yardlist, hoping for better weather the next day as it would mean that we would be going up to the tundra, a trip which I had been looking forward to ever since I first registered for camp.

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Field Recording Post at the Eyrie

Photo by Bill Schmoker. Used with permission.

Photo by Bill Schmoker. Used with permission.

I have a new post up on the ABA’s young birder blog The Eyrie this week. This time around, I have written about field recording and its potential uses. Link is below.

http://youngbirders.aba.org/2015/08/field-recording.html

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The Final Days of Camp Chiricahua

Lifers Denoted by Bold

On the final full day of Camp Chiricahua, we woke up early in Patagonia to head towards Florida (pronounced Floreeda) Canyon. This was a spot I had been hoping to visit all trip as it was holding both black-capped gnatcatchers and rufous-capped warblers.

Dawn in Patagonia

Dawn in Patagonia

Once it got light outside, the ride to the canyon was very pretty and we watched and listened along the back roads for five-striped sparrow although we were not successful.

When we arrived at Florida, we ate breakfast at the vans before beginning the strenuous hike up the canyon.

We had arrived early in the morning but it was still scorching hot in the canyon. It was also a really tough uphill hike through rough terrain. Nevertheless, it was successful for before too long we came across a pair of black-capped gnatcatchers that flitted in the trees over our heads for a few seconds. Re-energized by the bird sighting, we continued up the canyon hoping for our second target. Eventually the rufous-capped warbler too was seen and even gave great (although slightly distant) looks as it sang away on the far side of the canyon. Both of these birds were amazing to see as they are both ABA Area rarities and were real treats to observe. With the sun rising even higher into the sky we made our way back down canyon towards the shelter of the vans. On the way down we stopped for a varied bunting (a bird that I will never get tired of no matter how many times I see them for they are simply stunning) and to hear a northern beardless-tyrannulet calling although we were unable to obtain a look at that diminutive flycatcher.

Departing the hot but rarity-filled and beautiful canyon, we made our way towards the next stop of the day which was to be Madera Canyon. We were a bit anxious about this stop as it would be our last birding stop of the trip and consequently our last chance at elegant trogon for they had been avoiding us the whole trip.

When we arrived at the canyon, we stopped to bird quickly while lunch was being prepared by the leaders. We were all hoping to find a trogon in the 15 minutes that we had to bird although we were all unsuccessful.

After lunch we headed further up the canyon to a few feeders that had had plain-capped starthroats feeding at them. In our time at the feeders we were able to see not one, but two plain-capped starthroats (our second and third of the trip!). A bit further upslope, we decided to take a hike in hopes of trogon for there was a trogon nest along the canyon. It was yet another very steep, hot hike up a canyon and before we had gone too far, we were all covered in sweat and had more or less lost all hope of every coming away with the most characteristic of Southeastern Arizonan birds. The morale wasn’t helped much by us getting lost well up the canyon and having to turn around and backtrack until we found the trail again. We eventually did find the nest and sat down to wait and see if it was occupied and if one of the trogons would come back.

Trogon Nest Hole

Trogon Nest Hole

We only had limited time however and that time soon came and went without a trogon making an appearance. Our last chance was not entirely squandered however for a whiles hike away from the nest hole, we clearly heard the bark of an elegant trogon not too far from where we stood. The energy we had lost was immediately restored to our aching limbs and we scrambled forward along the trail, desperate that our quarry would present itself. Trogon luck was not entirely on our side however for while some of us (myself included!) did get fairly brief and obscured views at an elegant trogon, many others didn’t as the bird soon took flight and vanished into the sun-dappled forest.

The mood on the walk back down the canyon was an odd one as half of us were elated at our success and yet were simultaneously attempting to console the other half who were despondent at their lack of success. It was not to be helped however as we were expected in Tucson for dinner and had to leave our last birding destination of the trip behind us.

It would prove not to be entirely our last birding of the trip however for we saw on eBird that there was a small park which had a few recent neotropic cormorant sightings. We pulled into the parking lot with only a few minutes before the sun began to set and were quickly able to get our scopes on a large flock of neotrops resting on the water.

Sunset in Tucson

Sunset in Tucson

We stayed to watch the sun set before moving on to Jennie Duberstein’s house where we were to eat dinner that night. There we had a lovely pizza dinner while reminiscing about our time in Arizona before we all went to the hotel where we were staying, pleased with the trip, but unhappy that it was over.

Early the next morning, I was driven to my flight at the Tucson Airport which promptly returned me to Pittsburgh, for the trip of a lifetime was at its end.

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Day 10 of Camp Chiricahua — Patagonia

Lifers Denoted by Bold

Our first stop on day 10 was at the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Reserve. However, we got our first good bird of the day on the entrance road to the preserve before we had even reached the preserve itself. It was a thick-billed kingbird sitting on an exposed branch that unfortunately could only be seen well from one angle. However, we all were able to get good looks at this lifer-for-many through a scope. Another highlight on the way in was a covey of peccary spotted by the first van in the thick underbrush along the road. I was however in the second van and the peccary had moved on by the time we got there, leaving us with nothing but some tracks to prove they were actually there.

Peccary Tracks

Peccary Tracks

We didn’t spend much time at the preserve itself, nor did we see too much, save for an indigo bunting, some Wilson’s warblers, a vermillion flycatcher, and a singing rufous-winged sparrow.

We next drove to the fabled Patagonia Rest Area and the famous picnic table that is found there. A couple more kingbirds were present there as well as a magnificent varied bunting. We also had some nice looks at canyon wrens, a species which hadn’t been the most cooperative during the trip.

The Famous Patagonia Picnic Table, Namesake of The Picnic Table Effect

The Famous Patagonia Picnic Table, Namesake of The Picnic Table Effect

On our way back to the vans, someone spotted an odd looking cowbird atop of a dead snag. However, it took off before many of us could get a good look at it. While it was very likely a bronzed cowbird, it would have been a lifer for many and so we were unwilling to call it such. However, it did get us excited to many see this bird for sure later in the day. We had another interesting unidentified bird as we got to the vans, a “western” flycatcher. Pacific-slope occurs in the Patagonia area so there was a chance that it would have been that but without hearing it call we were forced to leave it unidentified. We also had another heard-only grey hawk although we were assured that we would see them before too long.

That assurance proved correct as my life grey hawk was spotted just down the road from the rest area! Unfortunately we were unable to stop although we were promised that we would if one was closer to the road.

Our next spot was a few ponds along Rio Rico Dr. As soon as we arrived, our attention was drawn to a flock of black-bellied whistling-ducks sitting around the ponds. Our first tropical kingbirds of the trip were also very welcome to see.

Digiscoped Black-bellied WHistling-ducks

Digiscoped Black-bellied WHistling-ducks

As we drove on past the ponds, we were finally treated to the cooperative grey hawk we had been hoping for. Unfortunately, I was unable to get any good photos as I was on the opposite side of the van from the bird.

Grey Hawk

Grey Hawk

We then headed back to Patagonia to lunch.

Another Grey Hawk

Another Grey Hawk

As we pulled into Patagonia and drove by the park that runs through the center of the town, we spotted a handful of cowbirds in the grass. Closer inspection revealed that they were indeed bronzed cowbirds, a lifer for many.

After lunch, we birded around the park in Patagonia for a few minutes to see how many species we could record (we ended up with 29) before heading to the famed Patton’s Feeders outside the town. This is a great property that has always been very supportive and welcoming of birders and is now in the process of being purchased by the ABC. It’s also one of the best spots in the ABA Area for violet-crowned hummingbirds. In our time at the canopyed sitting area by the feeders, we were treated to great  looks at a good many birds. The violet-crowned hummingbirds didn’t fail us and we were treated to great looks at an individual visiting the feeders.

Broad-billed Hummingbird

Broad-billed Hummingbird

We also briefly spotted a rather brightly-coloured Virginia’s warbler as well as a local rarity in the form of an American goldfinch mixing inconspicuously with the lessers. Eventually however, a thunderstorm moved in, breaking the tranquility of the yard, and encouraging us to head back to Patagonia.

That night, we headed up to Harshaw Creek Road to look for some nocturnal birds. We all got out of the vans and began to listen. Within a few minutes, two elf owls began to call down the road. Walking towards where the elf owl was calling from, we heard a whiskered screech-owl far in the distance. Then an elf owl appeared in front of us, giving us brief looks. When all was quiet again, we decided to move on. However, as we were about to leave, a car passed us, making us all realize how weird we must have looked to them, a bunch of teenagers and three adults standing on the side of a rural road in the middle of the night.

At a bit lower elevation, we stopped the vans again and got out to listen for more nightbirds. Once again, we were not letdown for we quickly heard two common poorwill giving their haunting calls in the distant brush. While they were distant and we never saw them, it was a lovely way to end what had been one of the best days of camp so far.

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Day 9 of Camp Chirichua

Lifers Denoted by Bold

Day nine of Camp Chiricahua was to be more birding around the Huachucas Mountains and to start that off, we headed to the Ash Canyon B&B in search of Lucifer Hummingbird and whatever other birds we could see at the feeders there.

The feeder setup at the B&B is really spectacular with us seeing ladder-backed woodpecker, rufous-crowned sparrow, canyon towhee, curve-billed thrasher, Mexican jay, and an assortment of hummingbirds and other species within short-order of our arrival. Grey hawks were also calling in the area, taunting us, for we only heard them so far on the trip.

Mexican Jay

Mexican Jay

White-winged Dove

White-winged Dove

Rufous-crowned Sparrow

Rufous-crowned Sparrow

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

A number of interesting mammals were seen at the feeders as well including Arizona grey squirrel, rock squirrel, and a rather large Arizona cotton rat.

Rock Squirrel

Rock Squirrel

Arizona Grey Squirrel

Arizona Grey Squirrel

After a while, the Lucifer hummingbird came in as well and we were all treated to amazing views of this hummingbird. I had been hoping to see Lucifer hummingbird for a long time as they truly are spectacular-looking birds and we were very excited to get to see one.

Lucifer Hummingbird

Lucifer Hummingbird

Interestingly, we also saw a “Costafer” (Lucifer x Costa’s) hummingbird as well as a potential black-chinned x Lucifer hummingbird which shows that clearly the Lucifer hummingbird(s?) in the area have been rather busy.

Feeder-watching was a very relaxing and enjoyable way to start out the morning but we soon had to move on to our next stop of the day: the Ramsey Canyon Preserve. There we were hoping mainly to find elegant trogon, the poster-child of south eastern Arizona birding and a bird which we were running out of time to find.

A quick stop at the visitor center at the preserve’s entrance turned into something more when a violet-crowned hummingbird was seen. I was especially happy to see these hummingbirds as it represented my final ABA Area regularly-occurring hummingbird which was a goal I had been hoping to achieve during camp.

When we began to hike up the canyon, we got a few reports from people saying that they had heard or seen trogon recently. With this is mind, we were hopeful that we would find one as we hiked upslope. Good looks at a canyon wren by the creek running through the canyon as well as hearing a painted redstart from the farther along the canyon were nice but a trogon would have been better.

Arizona Sister

Arizona Sister

Some Interesting Mushrooms

Some Interesting Mushrooms

Eventually, having failed to locate a trogon, we decided to turn around, thinking that we had passed through the best trogon area. However, we had not failed for a little bit downslope, something amazing was seen.

It was a Sonoran mountain kingsnake just off the trail. One of the campers seized the beautiful snake and we were able to spend the next few minutes observing it at close range.

Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake

Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake

Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake

Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake

Eventually, we put the snake back down and slowly started to make our way down the slope again, all of us extraordinarily happy to have seen such a magnificent creature.

Black-headed Grosbeak

Black-headed Grosbeak

Although we didn’t see trogon, it was still a lovely walk through a beautiful piece of canyon land that is thankfully saved by the Ramsey Canyon Preserve from any future development.

When we got to the vans, we headed towards Patagonia where we would be staying for the next few nights. On the way, we stopped at a couple places. First, we pulled over for a roadside pond that got us our first solitary sandpiper of the trip. We then stopped for some pronghorn that were also along the roadside.

Pronghorn

Pronghorn

We then stopped briefly at the Las Cienegas Grasslands to see what we could find. This was a really beautiful location to stop at and was lovely in its pristine silence. The birds weren’t bad either with Botteri’s and grasshopper sparrows as well as lark buntings, loggerhead shrikes, and a pair of Swainson’s hawks being the highlights. We also found a Botteri’s sparrow nest tucked into the grass which was fun to see.

Panorama of the Grasslands

Panorama of the Grasslands (with Santa Rita Mountains in the background)

Botteri's Sparrow Nest

Botteri’s Sparrow Nest

We then carried on towards Patagonia. When we arrived at Patagonia, we almost immediately sighted a black vulture flying over, a bird that is rather localized in Southeast Arizona. We then unpacked the vans,  and spent the rest of the evening enjoying the pool at our hotel and the barn swallows nesting under the roof.

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Camp Chiricahua Day 8

Lifers Denoted by Bold

The morning of the eighth day of Camp Chirichua began with a trip to the San Pedro House. On our drive into Sierra Vista the evening before, we had passed over the San Pedro River and the strip of riparian woodland surrounding it. The area along the San Pedro River is rather striking to view as it is a verdant patch of green otherwise surrounded by the drab tones of the desert. It is this inconsistency with the surrounding landscape however which causes it to be as great of a birding destination as it is, attracting a range of species that can’t easily support themselves in the nearby desert.

Google Earth Image Showing the Disparity Between the San Pedro River Corridor and the Surrounding Area.

Google Earth Image Showing the Disparity Between the San Pedro River Corridor and the Surrounding Area.

The San Pedro riparian area also holds a special place in conservation history as it was the very first Important Bird Area to be declared. For both of these reasons, we were all very excited to bird in the area.

We arrived at the house and after refilling water bottles and getting ready to walk, headed out towards the trails on the property. We quickly came across a number of good birds, before we even approached the river itself, such as good looks a Botteri’s sparrow, the first blue grosbeaks of the trip, and best of all, vermillion flycatcher.

Botteri's Sparrow

Botteri’s Sparrow

Vermillion Flycatcher

Vermillion Flycatcher

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak

As we approached the river, the trail began to get more and more overgrown (and we became more and more worried about chiggers) and we began to hear the raucous calls of yellow-breasted chats hidden away in the vegetation. Yellow-billed cuckoos and warbling vireos also put in appearances, good examples of the unique birdlife of the San Pedro. A grey hawk called once as well but we were unable to see it. However, it was made up for by my first Abert’s towhees of the trip (since I had not seen the one we had nearly ran over the day before).

One of the main reasons for our coming to the San Pedro House was to see the banding that occurs there. We eventually came upon the station and were able to watch the operation for a while. They were about to go check the mist nets when we arrived but before we went with them to check, we got good scope looks at a yellow-breasted chat, the first that had actually allowed itself to be seen. We then split up to go with the banders to check the different nets. My group went across a particularly muddy section of trail, risking the destruction of our shoes as well as chiggers (which I have been particularly blessed never to have gotten before although I am extremely paranoid of that streak ending). We were rewarded for our efforts though with a bird in the net, although it ended up being just a song sparrow.

Over the next half hour or so, we watched the banding operation at work and were able to see them process a number of birds, the highlight being a lazuli bunting.

Lazuli Bunting

Lazuli Bunting

Eventually, we thanked the banders and turned back down the trials towards the vans.

Border Patrol Blimp Over the Mountains, Reminding me of Being in Florida

Border Patrol Blimp Over the Mountains, Reminding me of Being in Florida

Back at the vans, we wandered around the small shop they have there, particularly their bird book collection. However, our attention was soon drawn back to birds by the sound of inca doves calling from the trees outside. These little doves have always been a favorite of mine ever since I saw my lifer in Texas and I have always been particularly partial towards their calls. So I was rather happy to see them in a new state as well as to hear them.

Inca Dove

Inca Dove

Departing the river, we headed towards the Huachuca Mountains where our next stop would be at Beatty’s Guest Ranch where we were particularly targeting white-eared hummingbird and spotted owls.

On the way back towards Sierra Vista, we passed a gila monster dead along the roadside. While unfortunate, to see in that condition, it was still a really interesting animal, and one that is not seen very often. Of note, it was the third unusual roadkill we had seen on the trip following the mountain lion (only seen by some) and the ringtail.

Roadkilled Gila Monster

Roadkilled Gila Monster

When we arrived at the ranch and paid our entrance fees before hiking upslope towards the hummingbird feeding station. There we settled down, hoping to catch sight of the white-eared hummingbird that had been sighted recently there.

It was very tranquil sitting by the feeders watching the hummingbird activity go by. There was never a dull moment either as there was always some hummingbird or other at the feeders putting on a show.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Broad-billed Hummingbird

Broad-billed Hummingbird

Unfortunately for us though, the white-eared never showed in the couple hours that we were there for. We were however able to hear a goshawk calling from the surrounding mountains.

After eating lunch at one of the picnic tables close to the feeders, we began a hike up the canyon in hopes of finding spotted owls. Not too far up, we heard a strange sound coming from a tree just off the trail, and, after a bit of searching, were rewarded with some pretty bad views of band-tailed pigeon. However, we were willing to take what we could get for those had were the first band-tailed pigeons we had seen the whole trip and would actually be the only ones we saw.

The hike up the canyon was beautiful but also rather steep and we were quickly all quite tired. To make matters worse, many of us campers thought we had gone to far and had missed the spot where the owls were supposed to be. However, we had faith in our leaders and so continued to follow them up canyon.

A short break to allow people to catch up gave us good looks at red-faced warblers, the first we had seen since the Santa Catalinas, but the real prize lay further up canyon.

Continuing our hike, we began to have less and less energy and less and less faith that we would find the owls. Just as it began to look hopeless for most people, Michael O’Brian spotted something off the trail, and there it was, sleeping peacefully not ten feet away from the path, a spotted owl.

Spotted Owl

Spotted Owl

For the next half hour or so, we all got mind-blowing looks at the owl which continued to sleep, seemingly completely oblivious of our presence. It was a truly incredible experience a by far one of the best moments of the whole trip.

Needless to say, we all found it a lot easier to hike back down canyon, ecstatic after our owl experience.

When we returned to the ranch, we headed out towards our next stop. However, we had a little bit of drama when one of the vans got stuck in a ditch but after a bit of pushing from all of us, we were on our way.

Gambel's Quail on the Way out of Miller Canyon

Gambel’s Quail on the Way out of Miller Canyon

The next stop was a private residence where there had been a plain-capped starthroat coming into feeders. We arrived there and the homeowners graciously showed us into their backyard and informed us of where the hummingbird had been coming to. It took a while and we began to worry that we would have to leave without a starthroat (it was getting pretty late in the evening by this time) when the rare hummingbird fly into a tree overlooking the yard. It didn’t stick around all that long (although it came back to the same tree a few times while we were there) but it gave good views while it did. It was a magnificent bird and was also our first ABA Area rarity for the trip.

Plain-capped Starthroat

Plain-capped Starthroat

To make things even better, our first Costa’s hummingbird was also seen while we were at the feeders.

We eventually had to go however and so we gratefully thanked the property owners for allowing us to see such a fantastic bird on their private residence and returned to our hotel in Sierra Vista.

Rainbow Over Sierra Vista

Rainbow Over Sierra Vista

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Day 7 of Camp Chiricahua — More Travel

Note: I am leaving for Camp Colorado in three weeks so I am a little bit panicked that I haven’t even gotten closed to being done writing about Chiri. So I am picking up the pace and should hopefully be finished by the time I leave for Colorado.

Lifers Denoted by Bold

The seventh day of Camp Chiricahua was chalked out to be a travel day from the Chiricahuas to Sierra Vista. We woke up at the research station to spend a bit of the morning birding around the Chiricahuas before departing from that magnificent mountain range. However, the birding there produced nothing terribly unusual save for a few more Montezuma quail.

Heading out of the mountains for the last time, we birding along Stateline Road where we were happy to find a couple of lazuli buntings, the first of the trip.

We then finally left the Portal area, headed towards the Huachuca Mountains.

On the way to lunch in Bisbee, we spotted a zone-tailed hawk and nearly ran over the first Abert’s towhee of the trip although not everyone saw it.

Zone-tailed Hawk

Zone-tailed Hawk

After lunch, we drove down to the Mexican border (after a brief false alarm about a black-chinned sparrow) where we sat for a few minutes waiting for birds to fly across to Mexico and therefore be countable for our Mexico lists. Despite having been to Mexico before, I was able to add a few species that are not found as far south as I was.

After that, we had one more stop before Sierra Vista. It was at a wastewater treatment plant where we were targeting yellow-headed blackbird. We were not disapointed and saw a number of blackbirds as well as some other birds that were localized in the area such as sora and marsh wren. We were additionally able to get good looks at a nesting curve-billed thrasher.

Not long after, we arrived in Sierra Vista where we relaxed for the rest of the evening, something that was much needed after a number of long days. However, the birding for the day wasn’t done as after dark we went to the parking lot of a shopping center where we were able to see a number of lesser nighthawks as well as a single common. I had heard lesser nighthawk before in Florida but I had never seen one before. Consequently, I was quite chuffed to get good views of them hunting around the light posts in the parking lot.

We then returned for the hotel where we would sleep before birding in the canyons around the Huachucas the next day.

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Day 6 of Camp Chiricahua — Travelling to Paradise

Lifer Denoted by Bold

The 6th day of Camp Chiricahua was bound to be an exciting one. We were set to head towards the town (really closer to small settlement) of Paradise as well as go up into the Chiricahua highlands where we would look for, among other things, Mexican chickadee.

As we drove down the Portal-Paradise Road, we stopped to bird at a number of spots. A good number of Scott’s orioles as well as the first seen canyon wren of the trip and a flyby Calliope hummingbird were all excellent birds (as was a distantly calling Montezuma quail which filled the quota we had been able to maintain of encountering this species on a daily basis), but the real highlight of the road was a distantly singing varied bunting. The bunting was stunningly gorgeous (especially in the morning light) and elicited a number of shocked reactions from campers as we all got views from a scope.

Continuing into the town of Paradise itself, we stopped at the George Walker House where we were to watch the feeder setup on the property. This is the best place in the Chiricahuas (and one of the best in SE AZ) for juniper titmouse and we were hoping that some would come in while we were there.

We were not disapointed and during our time at the house we had two titmice as well as many hummingbirds (including yet another Calliope), an Arizona woodpecker, and a number of other nice feeder birds.

Calliope Hummingbird

Calliope Hummingbird

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Black-headed Grosbeak

Black-headed Grosbeak

After leaving the George Walker House (and the creepy-looking, falling apart, taxidermy Steller’s jay in the bathroom) we continued on down the road towards East Turkey Creek and the Mexican chickadees which reside there.

Before we had actually reached the spot where we had planned to look for chickadees, we pulled over onto the side of the road for someone had heard what they thought could be them. They turned out to be right and, upon getting out of the vans, we were greeted by a small flock of Mexican chickadees! Following them up slope, we encountered a few other good birds as well including painted redstarts (the first we had had since leaving the Catalinas), Grace’s warbler (again the first since Mt. Lemmon), and a few yellow-eyed juncos.

We were very happy to have gotten the chickadees there for not only are they one of the most sought-after birds in North America but, as we continued up the mountain, the imminent monsoon made it clear that continuing would not be safe.

On the way back down the mountain, we (of course) had another group of Montezuma quail. We then headed down to South Fork to eat lunch. While at South Fork, we also found a rattlesnake and (while trying to refind the snake) some hieroglyphics along a rock face in a small cave.

Hieroglyphics

Hieroglyphics

IMG_0430

IMG_0429

Magnificent View from Cave Creek

Magnificent View from Cave Creek

We then spent the rest of the afternoon casually birding around Cave Creek Canyon, hoping the whole time for trogons. We never did find trogons but I finally was able to pick up my lifer sulphur-bellied flycatcher.

Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher

Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher

It was a great way to end our time in the Chiricahua Mountains.

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Day 5 of Camp Chiricahua

Lifers Denoted by Bold

The fifth day of Camp Chiricahua was a bit quieter than some of the others. We mostly stayed around the generally area of the Chiricahuas where we were staying. Regardless, we still had some fantastic birding (as is to be expected in the Chiricahuas) and I got a number of lifers. The main target of the day was elegant trogon, one of the most saught-after birds in SE AZ. However, before going to the South Fork of Cave Creek Canyon where we planned on looking for trogon, we stopped along Herb Martyr Road just above the research station.

Hutton’s vireos called from the brush and a few black-throated grey warblers gave nice looks but the real highlights weren’t birds. First, someone found a vinegaroon under a rock. These awesome if creepy looking invertabrates were something I was really hoping to see while in Arizona. Despite their slightly terrifying looks and large size, they are actually fairly harmless.

Vinegaroon

Vinegaroon

Another highlight came in the form of a tiger centipede which was found juts up slope of the road.

Tiger Centipede

Tiger Centipede

Waterfall

Waterfall

View at Herb Martyr Road

View at Herb Martyr Road

Eventually however, we moved on, towards the south fork of Cave Creek. This is, without a doubt, one of the greatest and most famous birding locations in the entirety of the ABA Area. Not only is it fantastic in birds, but the landscape is also fantastic. As we began to walk down the road running through it, we began to discover why it was so famous.

The first good bird we found were a few bridled titmice in some of the Arizona sycamores lining the creek.

Bridled Titmouse

Bridled Titmouse

Even better than that though was the Arizona woodpecker which we found on a dead log just along the side of the road. This was one of the birds I was most hoping to see while in Arizona and the looks we got at it were more than I could have ever wanted.

Arizona Woodpecker

Arizona Woodpecker

Unfortunately however, we were unable to locate any trogons.

Our Impending Death via Monsoon

Our Impending Death via Monsoon

Moving on, back down the mountains, we decided to head towards Portal. However, we got badly sidetracked by another Montezuma quail along the roadside! This bird is usually one of the hardest to locate species in SE AZ and by this point in the trip, we had seen more Montezumas than Gambels’!

When we eventually reached Portal, we stopped at the general store to buy a few things, including, most importantly, ice cream, and then settled down to eat the ice cream while watching some nearby hummingbird feeders. Besides the usual suspects, we were happy to come across two Calliope hummingbirds, one of the more difficult to locate hummingbird species in AZ at the time of year we were there.

Black-throated Sparrow near Portal

Black-throated Sparrow near Portal

Eventually, as it was getting close to evening, we headed back up towards the research station. We were amazed (though the shock was beginning to wear off) to find two more Montezuma quail eating along the road just outside the research station. We couldn’t believe our luck!

Getting back to the station for dinner, we were chuffed to find that others at the research station had also noticed the tons of quail around and had (jokingly) changed the menu accordingly.

Montezuma Quail is, of course, a traditional Italian specialty.

Montezuma Quail is, of course, a traditional Italian specialty.

Departing the station for that night’s night drive, we encountered another striped skunk (an immature this time) intently digging just off the road.

Bad iPhone Photo of the Striped Skunk

Bad iPhone Photo of the Striped Skunk

When we got down into the foothills, we found that the creek running through the road we were planning on taking had overflowed in the recent rain and was completely impassable. Despite that, we were able to find some interesting things.

A few bark scorpions made appearances (and we were able to look at them under a black light which was cool), and I was more than pleased to find an Arizona pocket mouse (a life mammal for me).

Scorpion Under Black Light

Scorpion Under Black Light

We eventually had to return to the research station to get some sleep before heading towards Paradise and the Chiricahua highlands the next day.

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Birding and Exploring on Google Street View

As I have been preparing for an upcoming trip to Florida, I have been looking through some Google street view images for the areas that I will be visiting. This combined with a series of blog posts on the Birdist triggered my interest in birding using Google street view. So, I started to play around with street view with the particular goal of locating birds.

Now, the trick with Google street view is that because the images are not very high resolution and you can only see a limited area, the birds you can see with it are generally fairly large. They generally also have to be easy to locate. So, I set out to target certain areas of the world where I figured I could find certain species. This led me to exploring Google street view in general and I was blown away with what I found (and not just bird wise). Through this Google exploration I have really realized how many awesome places there are in the world and just how much there is to explore.

The first bird I found was a magnificent frigatebird which I located along the Overseas Highway in the Florida Keys. Buoyed by the success of that, I started exploring some other areas of Florida and found black vulture, anhinga, double-crested cormorants and others.

I then began to search in other places around the globe. This was when I began to find some really cool places.

One of the first things I tried was dropping a random pin in South Africa (in the kwaZulu-Natal area). What I found was really shocking for me.

Drakensburg (1)

Drakensburg (2)

Drakensburg Mountains

Better yet, I was able to locate a colony of African penguins in Cape Town.

African Penguins

African Penguins

Intrigued I began to explore in earnest.

Svalbard

Svalbard

I spent some time looking at images of various places in the Arctic hoping to find an alcid to add to my list.

Awesome Looking Lava Beach Thing in Iceland

Awesome Looking Lava Beach Thing in Iceland

Northern Fulmar on Said Lava Beach

Northern Fulmar on Said Lava Beach

I ticked northern lapwing in Yorkshire (actually at the same spot where I got my lifer).

Northern Lapwing

Northern Lapwing

Yorkshire (with some suspiciously good weather)

Yorkshire (with some suspiciously good weather)

Swiss Alps

Swiss Alps

Austrian Alps

Austrian Alps

Caucasus Mountains in Russia

Caucasus Mountains in Russia

I decided to look at a few islands for seabird colonies. This was easy to do and there was limited area to search and birds were abundant.

King Penquins, South Georgia Island

King Penquins, South Georgia Island

Laysan Albatross Chicks, Midway Atoll

Laysan Albatross Chicks, Midway Atoll

I looked a bit around central Africa but came away with little (street view’s coverage of most of Africa is sub-par at best)

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

Overall it was a really eye-opening experience seeing just how many awesome places there are to see in the world. Additionally, I didn’t do to badly with the birds as I was able to identify ten species. I unfortunately had to leave four unidentified (a small shorebird in Quintana Roo, Mexico, a raptor over a moor in Britain, three birds around a lake in Kenya, and a raptor/pigeon in Botswana).

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