Monday, May 30, 2011

A Fan-tailed Warbler in Arizona, 2011-05-24

Living in a border state like Arizona, it's not too surprising that one's birding fantasies often include chance encounters with rare wanderers from further south in Mexico.  Over the years, I have been fortunate to have seen a number of such birds.  I remember the thrill of finding a Rufous-capped Warbler in Sycamore Canyon, and then being amazing a couple of years later in seeing two territorial Rufous-capped Warblers in the same morning.  I also remember being stunned to see seven Aztec Thrushes in one tree, a spectacle that was repeated a few years later.  There was the amazing mini-invasion of Eared Quetzals in 1992.  Other gems over the years have included Crescent-chested Warbler, Tropical Parula, Tufted Flycatcher, Nutting's Flycatcher, Blue Mockingbird, Flame-colored Tanager, and Brown-backed Solitaire.  While Yellow Grosbeak and Slate-throated Redstart continue to elude me, one of the rarest and coveted strays, the Fan-tailed Warbler, recently performed beautifully for me in Madera Canyon, having been found by Gary Rosenberg on the previous morning.  After attending my son's promotion from grade school to middle school, I headed off to Madera Canyon for an afternoon try for the warbler.  With the help of other searchers, I was able to see the bird within twenty minutes of arriving.  I had looked unsuccessfully for one in Guadalupe Canyon back in 1990, and was out of town during the brief visit by one near Patagonia in 1997. This was a most welcome addition to my Arizona bird list.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Port Aransas Little Gull, 2011-03-28

Today, my group and I stopped in to try and relocate the Little Gull that has been present off and on for the past month or so at the Nueces County Park in Port Aransas.  The winds were strong out of the north when we arrived mid-day.  I spoke with a local who asked if we were looking for the Little Gull and he mentioned that it had been gone for a few days.  However, after spending a little time enjoying the gulls and terns in the parking area, I noticed the Little Gull flying in.  It put down among the terns and stayed there for about 5-10 minutes before taking off in the direction of the base of the south Jetty.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Pena Blanca Sapsuckers 2011-03-14

Four shots of two Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers seen at Pena Blanca Lake on March 14th.  The white throated bird is a female.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Pena Blanca Highlights 2010-12-31

A few shots from my New Year's Eve day visit to Pena Blanca Lake with friends.  The images are thumbnails and can be enlarged by clicking on them.  

Three of the Least Grebes present at Pena Blanca Lake.  One is a yellow-eyed adult, while the remaining two are younger birds.  If I'm interpreting bill differences correctly, the two young birds are males traveling around with their smaller-billed mother.  

This adult California Gull spent the entire time circling over the northern half of the lake.  

The continuing Yellow-bellied Sapsucker also showed well today.  

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Monday, August 16, 2010

California Condors Twenty-five Years Later

Back on August 27, 1981, my father and I went searching for condors on Mt. Pinos in southern California.  After hours of searching, we were fortunate to have two adults fly right over our heads at the lookout there.  At the time, there were no more than 20 something birds left in the wild.  It was a breathtaking experience and one that galvanized my interest in birds and endangered species.  A couple of years later, my buddy Hugh and I made a trip up to the same mountains and again had some wonderfully close condors.  These were some of the last free-flying condors left in the wild.

It seems amazing that some twenty-five years has passed since my last encounter with this critically endangered species.  A previous visit to the Grand Canyon for condors was weathered out, so I was determined to have a look on my way home from a Las Vegas concert weekend.  I arrived about 4:45 pm at the south rim of the canyon.  Within about ten minutes I had spotted the first one, thanks to a tip from a passing walker.  After scoping it from a distance, I decided to find a closer vantage point and was rewarded with some fantastic views of one.  After viewing it for a few minutes, it did some wing stretches and took flight before departing to the west.  While celebrating the moment with a family of curious tourists, a second bird appeared circling nearby.  These one spiraled closer and closer before settling on a rock almost directly below us.  I set up my scope on this bird and a number of curious tourists took turns enjoying this rare creature.

The first condor seen appears to be #223, sporting tag number 3 on its left wing.  The right wing tag seems to be missing.  This male bird was hatched on April 18, 2000 and originally released in February 2001.  The second condor seen is #246 (tag number 46).  Another male, this one was born April 29, 2001.  Both birds were hatched at the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho.  At last count, there are some 372 condors living, 75 of these are free-flying birds that regularly visit the Grand Canyon region.  In recent years, these birds have been spending a lot of time in southern Utah.

Condor #223 sits on a rock outcropping shortly before taking flight for parts unknown.
Condor #246 soaring out over the Grand Canyon.  It is in flight that the massiveness of these birds becomes most apparent.  
Condor #246 coming closer as he prepares for a landing.  
Condor #246 at rest below us.  He was quite the tourist attraction on this Sunday afternoon.  

Friday, April 30, 2010

A Weird Oriole at Cottonwood Campground

On Thursday April 29th I was birding with a group at Cottonwood Campground in Big Bend National Park.  It was mid-morning and we were looking over some birds at the group camp site which is located at the east end of the complex.  At one point, a couple of clients asked about the identity of a certain oriole.  I glanced at the bird and initially thought Hooded Oriole.  Distracted by an Ash-throated Flycatcher, I did not spend any time studying the oriole.  Eventually, I decided to photograph since it was sitting out so nicely.  As I focused on it, I noticed that it was not what I had initially taken it to be.  As soon as I took the first exposure, it turned and flew directly away out of the campground beyond some mesquites and out of sight.  Looking at the photo, I immediately had the hunch that this was some sort of hybrid, and the orange that I was seeing in the tail as well as the bill coloration made me suspect that a Bullock's Oriole was involved.  Despite spending some additional time trying to relocate the bird, it was not seen again.

To me, the bird's structure looks intermediate between that of a Hooded and a Bullock's Oriole.  The tail seems strongly graduated, which is unusual.  The photo gives the impression of there being a great deal of white in the wing panel, though I did not notice this in life.  One of the clients specifically commented on how much white there was present.

The bird also somewhat resembles a Streak-backed Oriole, though the tail pattern seems off for that.  In addition, the body was more extensively orange than is typical of northern populations of Streak-backed which tend to be most intensely orange around the head.  I would enjoy getting feedback and insight from others regarding the identity of this peculiar bird.