Friday, August 6, 2010

Tying Up Loose Ends in SE AZ

The past 2 days of birding in SE Arizona was very enjoyable, and pretty productive as far as picking up the remaining expected birds here. Wednesday morning I was at Montosa Canyon by 6 AM in search of the only black-capped gnatcatchers that have been seen and heard lately down here. There were lots of birds in the wash which kept me very entertained. The top photo is of the hillside above the wash where the black-cappeds have annually been seen. The somewhat distant photos below are of a phainopepla (middle) and a varied bunting (remember to double click on the them to enlarge).

The most common bird constantly singing away was the bell's vireo. Some of the other birds seen there included white-winged dove, red-tailed hawk, cardinal, rufous-crowned sparrow, western tanager, broad-billed hummer, cassin's kingbird, black-headed and blue grosbeaks, and canyon wren. About 8:30 I heard what sounded close to the call I knew of the black-capped. I located a gnatcatcher but it did not have a black cap. It then flew over my head and I could see it had white undertail feathers like a black-cap. The problem was that blue-gray gnatcatchers have white undertail feathers also, so I was not certain at the time that I had found a black-capped.

That evening I went on line to listen to black-capped vocalizations and discovered that there is variation in the call. One of the calls matched the call I heard the bird make. Since I have blue-gray gnatcatchers that breed on my property back in NC, and know their vocalization quite well, I concluded that the bird that flew over my head was a female black-capped altho it might have been a male that had already lost his breeding black cap for the year.

I left Montosa about 9 AM and went over to check out Florida Canyon for northern beardless tyrannulets. When I arrived at the parking area I found Melody Kehl's car and then found her guiding a birder from Chicago. They were coming back down from the canyon having failed in their hunt for the rufous-capped warbler that I finally saw there back in May. We did see 2 nice tyrannulets together before deciding to drive over to Carr Canyon in hopes of locating an early aztec thrush. We hiked up to a cherry tree Melody knew of, but it had very few unripe cherries. We had a nice lunch, watched some birds come into a small pool of water that had a camera watching over it. None of us could quite figure out what that was all about.

Yesterday morning I returned to Montosa to try for better looks of the gnatcatcher. I first drove up the Madera Canyon road before it was even light to look for common poor-wills. I had only heard this bird back in May and wanted to see one. I found 3 along the road, so now that is a seen bird for this big year. I then arrived at Montosa by 6 AM, and spent all morning once again enjoying the bird life there. A Wings tour group came thru mid morning, and a woman birder from Ohio arrived about the same time I heard and saw the black-capped on Wednesday. As she got out of her car she said she heard it call on the hillside above the wash, but she stayed around for another hour and we did not hear it call again.

I finally gave it up about noon so that I could get some lunch before joining Melody and 9 other birders to go into California Gulch for the late afternoon and evening to look for 5 striped sparrow and the buff-collared nightjar. I had seen the sparrow back in May, but we had not seen or heard the nightjar. Unfortunately we had the same experience yesterday. Good views of the sparrow, but no sign of the nightjar. We did see 2 zone-tailed hawks, a great-horned and an western screech owl, and many other desert birds.

Week #31 ended up with 123 birds seen for the week, and the tyrannulet and gnatcatcher bring the YTD up to 662. There is an updated travel map. I am starting the long drive today back west and then north to Elko, NV to try for the snowcock again. Let's hope that my 2nd effort on it is more successful than it was with the nightjar. Stay tuned!

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