Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Red Letter Day and a Half

After posting yesterday mid-day, I went back out to bird some more. I hit several spots north and east of Nogales. One is called the Patagonia reststop, and it has become famous over the years because of the rare birds that have been found there. Part of the reason the birds were found was because birders kept checking it out after the 1st rarity showed up. More visits, more eyes, more unusual birds found. One of the less common birds that now nests there each year is the thick-billed kingbird. I drove up and sure enough there was one sitting on a dead branch.

I then drove the short distance to an even more famous birding spot--a home that for years has opened its yard to birders. It is known to all birders as the Paton's. Many southeastern AZ birders frequent the yard, but its major claim to fame is that the rare violet-crowned hummingbird has been visiting the feeders there for several years. Similar to the flame-colored tanager at Kubo Lodge, until it became a regular, it was very hard to find. So I was very happy to see it there yesterday afternoon along with 2 other new year birds--green-tailed towhee and bullock's oriole.

I then drove into Tucson to have dinner with a long time friend at Zona 78--an Italian restaurant that has particularly good pizzas. My friend ordered Zona 78's version of a margarita--instead of tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, a spring of basil and olive oil, they use no tomato sauce, and substitute fresh sliced tomatoes. I opted for the rustic tomato sauce with fresh mozzarella and a really flavorful local sausage. The pizzas are 12", and have a very nice chewy, but relatively thin crust. We drank a bottle of '09 Voss sauvignon blanc, a California sauv blanc that is good year in and year out. At the end of the meal there was no pizza left on either plate, and of course the wine bottle was empty.

After dinner I met up with Melody again, and 2 of the birders from yesterday afternoon, and we drove up into the Catalina mountains to find the flammulated owl. This is one of the smallest owls, and many birders have only heard it because it can be very difficult to locate even when calling. We stopped on the way up to try to find common poorwills, but none were calling.

We arrived about 9:30 at the campground where the flam had been reported. The owl calling right in the parking area was a whiskered screech owl. Down the draw were a few whip-poor-wills making a racket. And behind all that we could also hear the flam. We walked back down the hill, and the calling got louder, but the bird was still on the otherside of the draw, and far up the hill. Since we could not see the flam, we did see the whip-poor-wills before calling it a nite.

My Tuesday afternoon and evening of birding added 4 new seen year birds for the year. And since I only heard the flammulated owl, and the nite before I only heard the common poorwills, I am adding both to my year count as heard birds. Hopefully I will still be able to see them at some point, but for now they will be listed as heard only.

I spent the nite at the campground where we heard the flam so that I could be up at 4:30 AM to try to find another owl--the northern pygmy. It was a chilly but beautiful sunny start to the day which was already partially light when I awoke. I did not find any calling pygmy owls, but I did find 4 new year birds up in the Catalinas--cordilleran flycatcher, violet-green swallow, and grace's and olive warblers.

I drove down the mountain, and stopped at In-N-Out burger for my customary double cheeseburger with fresh cut fries and a strawberry milkshake. This fortified me for the hour drive down to Sierra Vista which sits at the foot of the Huachuca mountains, another SE AZ hotspot for birders. I checked into my motel, and headed over to Miller canyon. My 1st stop was to check out the hummingbird feeders at the Beatty guest ranch. This place has become the best place in SE AZ to find a wide range of hummers, including some of the rarest. The top photo above is of the berylline hummer--one of the rarest hummers seen in SE AZ (remember to click on photo to enlarge it). Over the next couple of days I will post some of those other hummers like the equally rare white-eared. In all, I saw 7 different hummingbird species while sitting at the feeding station.

I then walked about a half mile up Miller canyon to see another SE AZ specialty (see bottom photo above)--the spotted owl. You can't easily tell from this photo, but these a large owls measuring 18 inches in height with a wingspan of 40 inches. Even non-birders may remember that the spotted owl was the primary reason that old growth logging of redwoods and douglas fir in the pacific northwest was significantly reduced in order to protect the owl's habitat. Ironically, most birders see more spotted owls in SE AZ than in the pacific northwest. The 2 shown above are probably viewed and photographed almost daily, but they don't seem to mind as long as you stay at a "safe" distance. Last year I did walk right under the limb they were standing on without even seeing them at first. The dead limb was maybe 12 feet above the trail.

I then drove the short distance to a small B&B that for several years has "hosted" the rare lucifer hummingbird. Until this bird and its offspring began regularly returning each spring to the B&B, it was not easy to find this hummer. Today I arrived to find about 10 other birders, 4 of whom had major camera equipment for capturing the lucifer on their digital cards. The woman who owns the B&B also walks around with 2 parrots--1 on each shoulder. She rescued one last year, and then recently got the 2nd to be a companion to the first. Many other birds come to her feeders including the Arizona woodpecker. Both the lucifer and the woodpecker were new year birds. I wrapped up my viewing day at the B&B about 6:30 PM.

I am adding the past day and 1/2 to my other red letter days because: a) the number of rare or hard to find birds (5); b) the total number of new year birds--19--which brings the YTD total to 583; c) the weekly total, after only 6 days of birding, is now at 205 which blows away the best weekly total of 181 set back in April; and d) my friend who I was birding with last week in Ohio emailed me that he got to Florida in time to see the rare bahama mockingbird--his 800th life bird for the ABA area. I have a few target birds for tomorrow. Stay tuned!

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