Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Madera and Florida Canyons, and California Gulch

Yesterday and this morning I have have been very busy birding, putting in very long hours yesterday. I began at 5:30 AM in Florida Wash looking for sparrows. I found about a half dozen botteri's sparrows singing (a new year bird). This normally only happens in August and Sept after the summer rains, but his year southeastern AZ had some winter and spring rains, so this sparrow is nesting early.

Then I made my 4th trip this year up into Florida Canyon to look for the rufous-capped warbler, but was again unsuccessful, so after 2 hours I headed back down the hill to my rental car, and pointed it towards Madera Canyon. I hiked up into the Hopkins fork of the canyon and snapped a photo (top one above) of the dusky-capped flycatcher--another new year bird that is common to this kind of canyon, but only is found here in southeastern AZ.

Further up the canyon I was told by 2 other birders that they had heard the other star bird of Madera Canyon, the elegant trogon. This is the only trogon species that is now regular in the U.S. All the others reside south of our border with Mexico. I hiked further up the canyon and heard the trogon calling, and then saw it sitting in a tree. Soon it flew out to catch an insect, and then moved further up the canyon. It is always a treat to see a trogon because they are so colorful--green, red, white and gray. I also saw a sulphur-bellied flycatcher in the same area as the trogon. Both birds were new year birds.

Other new year birds seen in the canyon were the painted redstart and the red-faced warbler, and greater and western pewees.

I went back to my motel about mid-day to have lunch (ok mexican food), and to rest up for the afternoon and evening of birding in California Gulch. I joined up with Melody Kehl and 3 other birders for our trip into the gulch. Melody is one of SE AZ's best birders, and also is a guide. I met her several years ago, and it seems like whenever I am in AZ birding I run into her. One of her specialties is to take people into the gulch to see the very rare 5 striped sparrow, and buff-collared nightjar. The drive into the gulch while a bit better than when I 1st went in several years ago, is still the worst dirt/gravel road I have ever been on. It is not a place for rental cars in my opinion, so I like going in with Melody.

After some difficulty, we located a 5 striped sparrow (bottom photo above) taking a late afternoon bath (another new year bird). The lighting made it difficult to get a really clear picture, but the one above does give you a good sense of the sparrow. On our way back to the cars, we found a common black hawk flying overhead.

We returned part way back up the gulch to position our group to see/hear the nightjar. After a quick meal provided to us by Melody, we settled into our camp chairs to see if the nightjar would show up. It has been seen as early as late April, but some years it is not found until late May. We heard common poorwills calling in the distance, but no buff-collared. Melody then began walking around in the dark shining a large light on the trees to see if she could get any reflection on the nightjar's eyes. After 20-30 minutes we came up empty. But our consolation prize was finding 2 western screech owls (new year bird).

We made the long drive back to Green Valley, and then went on up into Madera Canyon to look for whiskered screen owl, and whip-poor-wills. We found 3 of the owls, but none of the whips. The whiskered screech was also a new year bird, so the day ended with 11 new birds bringing the YTD number to 560. There were 23 more new birds for the week, raising that number to 159.

After going to bed at 1:30 AM, I was up again this morning at 5:30 to go back to Madera. I found a total of 4 new year birds. I first saw the buff-breasted flycatcher that showed up in the canyon a couple of weeks ago. This bird does not normally reside in Madera, and is unique to SE AZ. I also saw a rufous-winged sparrow near the area in which the flycatcher was singing away. Further up the canyon I found a black-throated gray warbler. On my way down the hill I found several lucy's warblers singing in Florida Wash.

I am now back in my motel finishing up this posting before checking out. With this morning's birds, the weekly total is now ap to 166, and the YTD number is at 564. After birding some more this afternoon, I will be joining Melody tonite to go up into the Catalina Mountains just above Tucson to look for a flammulated owl that has been calling at a campground for the past couple of weeks. Stay tuned!

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