Tag Archives: Arizona
Driving through the Arizona grasslands in search of quail, bunting, sparrows and longspurs; birds flushed from along the road to sit on rusty wire fences. The most common bird by far was the Vesper Sparrow. With those white tail flashes and its bouncing yo-yo flight it was easy to ID. One small flock of birds turned out not be sparrows but Horned Larks. Can you see it’s little horn trying to stick up? It was wonderful to see them in their grassy habitat, I had only ever seen a few of them in NJ in the dead of winter with Snow Buntings.
Melody came to pick me up at O’dark:30 to go owling.
With a warning about possible snakes and illegal drug smugglers, we stalked off into the pitch black desert under more twinkling stars than I have seen in a long, long time. Shivering in the cold pre-dawn hour we stood in the darkness listening, straining to hear. We waited. Fortunately we only were out for a mere half an hour, when the first Western Screech hooted, far in the distance. Others soon answered from the right and left of us. As the darkness paled, we saw a flicker of movement into a tree behind us. Melody snapped on the flashlight to spot the small gray owl. I held my breath and whipped up my bins to get a look, then she snapped off the light. My first Western Screech Owl.
We needed to move further up the mountain for the Whiskered Screech. In parking lot after parking lot we tried for the owl but came up short. Finally in the third lot we tried, we hit pay-dirt coming across a family. Standing in the dawning day, I heard from the distance a screaming or maybe a howling. My first thought was coyote. I cocked my head trying to place the sound. Melody whispered, it was a young Whiskered Screech. Within minutes we had 6 owls all around us. She spotted tree after to tree but we could not find them. Finally we left the parking lot and went into the woods. There again, we saw something silently fly into a copse of trees above us. We had found the small gray owl. We watched as it hooted to the others.
I did a happy dance on the way back to the car. Owls are so amazing.
The third owl, I heard from across a ravine at the end of the day. Searching for a mixed flock that might have the Mexican Chickadee, we went higher and higher in the Chiricahua mountains. We never did find the flock, but there off in the distance came the faint but clear hoots of a Northern Pygmy Owl, a diurnal hunter of other birds. No wonder the birds were keeping a low profile. I would too.
Here is the list for today. I saw many of the same birds as yesterday; but did add a few lifers. We spent time in the grasslands since the rain had stopped before heading down to the Chiracuahuas to look for the Mexican Chickadee, Yellow-eyed Junco and the Olive Wabler. I only saw the Junco. What a terrific bird!
Great Blue Heron
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Dark-eyed Junco – Gray capped form
To maximize my time in Arizona and not wander all over the state being frustrated, I hired Melody Kehl to guide for me. She picked me up at the hotel at 5:30 AM to try for the Sinoloa Wren at first light. The day turned windy and rainy so many birds did not sit up including the wren. We are giving it another shot tomorrow. Although the weather did not cooperate for most of the day, we did manage to see quite a few birds. The full list is below. The ones is Italic are lifers for me.
We are going for owls tomorrow morning so she is picking me up at 4AM which means I have to get up at 3. G’night. More tomorrow.
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon)
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Ferruginous Hawk, Prairie Falcon,Montezuma Quail, Masked Bobwhite, Scaled Quail, Spotted Owl, Elf Owl, Painted Redstart, Red-faced Warbler, No. Pygmy Owl, Common Poorwill, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Red-naped Sapsucker, Gray Vireo, Gray Flycatcher, Gray-breasted Jay, Chihuahua Raven, Mexican Chickadee, Varied Bunting, Painted Bunting, Lucy, Grace, Olive and the Green-tailed Towhee, LeConte’s, Sage, Bendire’s and Crissal Thrashers. AND Sinoloa Wren.
All birds are good birds, but these will all be life birds for me. I’ll tick them off when I see them. Fingers crossed.
I am pulling together an Arizona birding weekend after a business trip in October. I am going to go out with Melody Kehl, hoping to score some life birds. I certainly did last time I was in Phoenix.
This is a repost from my other blog (before I spun off the birds) if you read it before go ahead read it again. It is an amazing story.
As I was walking along a gravel path in the wildflower garden at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, I was contemplating leaving. It was close to 11:30 and getting hotter by the minute. I, being a northeasterner, was not prepared for the heat (in October!) and was wearing a black sleeveless shirt and no hat. Suffice it to say I was toasty and burning (not enough SPF). There was not much happening anyway. I should have come earlier in the day. I had seen some nice birds, but nothing new this time. Some other birders that I met along the path had told me that Harris Hawks nest at the zoo. I thought I might just go over and hang around in the parking lot to see if any were around.
The garden paths wound around and around. As I rambled towards the exit, a Roadrunner dashed by. I had seen one earlier in another section of the park by a huge mesquite tree. This time, I pulled out my camera to try and snap him. As I did, it ran across the path and around me to my left. I whirled around to see it dart into a low tree and come out with something dark in its beak. It suddenly spotted me and dropped its prey and backed off slightly, beak still agape. I looked down to see that the dark thing was a bird–and then– that it was some sort of OWL!
I had never seen such a tiny owl. The little owl spread it wings and faced off with the Roadrunner. The Roadrunner circled to the left, then to the right. Back and forth pendulum fashion trying to get an opening. I was standing not 2 feet away watching. As the roadrunner would dart in, I would shuffle my feet in the stones to try and help the little owl. The owl turned toward me and I saw dark eyes beseeching me. Tiny owl. Dark eyes. Hmmm, the only small owl that I knew of in the desert was the Elf Owl. Could this be that?
This presented the ultimate dilemma—to intervene or not, it is the life of the desert. I decided that I had seen many, many roadrunners but not this owl. I needed a better look. So I started to flap my arms and shuffle and stamp my feet—carefully staying on the path. The roadrunner pecked at the owl again and again. I thought at one point that the little owl flinched, as if hurt. It seemed to favor its right wing. Oh no! is that a speck of blood?
What to do…what to do….I couldn’t leave and get help. I knew the instant that I turned my back it would be all over. As luck and the owl gods would have it, a school group approached. As the kids came along, the roadrunner dashed off ahead of them. The guide spotted the roadrunner and stopped to show the kids. I sidled up to the guide and told her that the roadrunner had attacked an owl. I turned to show her and as I did, the owl fluttered off. She immediately picked up her walkie-talkie and called into it. “Come quick. We have an injured owl!” She said that there had been a juvenile western screech found a week before. I told her that the owl had dark eyes. Screechs have yellow eyes. We collectively looked and looked for the small owl. The guide asked me to stay and wait for the ranger.
Standing in the shade of a nearby saguaro trying to keep from frying, I flipped open my ancient Peterson’s. I turned to owls and scanned through them all. Hmmm. The only small owl with dark eyes is a Flammulated. Is that possible? The map does show it here, hmmmmm. I hurriedly looked through the pictures I had snapped. Sure enough, 1 small owl with dark eyes and 1 very agitated roadrunner.
As I waited for the ranger, I spied a Verdin flitting in and around an old nest. I snapped some pictures of it, but it was moving so quickly I finally gave up and watched it. As I was watching the Verdin, I saw a flash of dark movement out of the corner of my eye. (Thank goodness for good peripheral vision.) The ranger came down the path as I was continuing to scan where I had seen the dark movement. I told him of the drama. He was a volunteer for the garden and knew his birds. We looked for the owl. I told him it had dark eyes. We looked at the pictures and in the book. He said that there had only been one or two prior records of a Flammulated Owl in the garden. What a find! With him on the job, I felt free to make my way out of the heat to the relative cool of the gift shop.
On the way out, I became a member of the garden. It supports them and there is reciprocity with other gardens around the country, including the big one near me, New York Botanical Garden. More than that, it serves as host to migrating Flammulated Owls! It is a sea of green in an otherwise sprawling desert city.
When I returned home, I got an email from the ranger. After I left that day, he found the owl sitting straight and tall (well as tall as a 6.5 inch Flam can). As he was trying to take a picture of it, it flew off. He said that the flight looked nice and strong.
I encourage all of you to visit the garden, next time you are in Phoenix. It is one of my favorite places.