A studio for bird study

Tag: arizona

Beatnik Birding: Patagonia Lake State Park, and the Patton’s

by Bryce W. Robinson

Neotropic Cormorant- Phalacrocorax brasilianus, at Patagonia Lake

Neotropic Cormorant- Phalacrocorax brasilianus, at Patagonia Lake

I arrived at Patagonia State Park on a nice evening a few days ago. I had travelled south from Tubac that afternoon after watching my last morning of migration up the Santa Cruz river. It was a bit hard to leave, I’ll admit. While passing through the border town Nogales in late afternoon, I saw a spectacle new to my eyes. Countless vultures filled the sky, from near eye level to stratospheric heights. I could not believe my eyes. The numbers were well above a thousand, and covered the sky as far as I could see. I cursed in awe, and continued on my way.

The state park was filled to capacity. I drove in without checking at the booth. Luckily the attendant had left for the evening, so I was not turned away from the camping grounds. I drove about searching for a place to park my home, finally settling on the day use parking lot. I was a bit nervous that I would draw attention from the rangers, and be chased from the park. Still, I settled in and went to sleep.

Luckily, when I awoke, I had not drawn any unwanted attention. The park was to be had, and so I set off. One bird was on my mind of course. That which was missed in Madera, the Elegant Trogon, had been seen in the riparian system east of the lake, only the day before. So I went for it. Along the way I birded the lake and found many things. Neotropic Cormorant was a first for me, so I stopped for a look and enjoyed their peculiar gutteral noises.

Another bird I found was the “Mexican” Mallard. I actually found a pair. They began some peculiar behaviors, which I intuitively read and readied my camera. Courtship behaviors ensued, and then copulation. Two superficially female Mallard ducks had done the deed, and I was privy. My discussion on the status of the Mexican Duck will be left for another post, as will the photos of the copulation event. The male being obviously not like a drake Mallard, one could imagine how much discussion is behind the decision to keep theses “subspecies” lumped with the typical Mallard.

Male Great-tailed Grackle- Quiscalus mexicanus showing a leucistic primary.

Male Great-tailed Grackle- Quiscalus mexicanus showing a leucistic primary.

The above photo is of a Great-tailed Grackle, a very common and conspicuous bird of the southwest. I included it because it illustrates an aspect of the bird world which fascinates me to the highest degree; leucism. One primary feather on this bird is white as snow, and for what reason can only be left to speculation. Well, on my part. I actually am not sure if it is know why this occurs. Anyway, I wanted to include the photo, as I thought it to be quite interesting. It is neat what you can see when you really pay attention.

Vermilion Flycatcher- Pyrocephalus rubinus

Vermilion Flycatcher- Pyrocephalus rubinus

I ventured on my trogon quest, finding many treasures along the way. I spent around three hours coursing the river system with a keen eye out for the Elegant Trogon. Of course, my ear was tuned as well. As I searched, I realized how quickly I was learning the sounds of the southwest. I’m very excited to know many of the species by ear now.

The place was birdy, and I picked up a few new species to me. Photography is difficult in heavily wooded areas, but I came away with a few goodies. One prized photo is the Broad-billed Hummingbird shown below. The BBHU is a fairly common species in these parts, but I’m always delighted at the chance for a close look. Hummingbirds fascinate me, and their delicate features are likely the reason.

Broad-billed Hummingbird- Cynanthus latirostris

Broad-billed Hummingbird- Cynanthus latirostris

I walked out of the forest mid afternoon, without seeing this mystical tropical Trogon. I really tried to put it out of my mind. I had time to search elsewhere. Later that evening, after some relaxation, I left the park. I headed towards Patagonia, to park my car in the middle of town and awake the next morning for some hummingbird viewing at the famed Patton’s.

The Patton’s proved to be remarkable. Among the highlights were White-throated Sparrow, Scott’s Oriole, Rufous Hummingbird, and of course, the Violet-crowned Hummingbird. Never mind the large amounts of people that stopped by with tails of the amazing sighting of the Elegant Trogon at Patagonia Lake that morning. I was in heaven with the birds in this backyard. Still, I was a bit disappointed at my unluck, but little did I realize, the cards were still in my had. I hit the road that afternoon towards Sierra Vista, to meet up with my new friend Christie Van Cleve, and check out Huachuca Canyon.

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Beatnik Birding: Madera Canyon, AZ

by Bryce W. Robinson

IMG_0012It’s no secret that Madera Canyon, AZ is one hell of a spot. What I didn’t expect was to climb out of the desolation of the desert into a cool and lush sky island, full of wildlife. After becoming a bit desert dreary, I felt refreshed entering the high woodlands in search of some new birds. I decided I’d go as high as I could, and start hiking from there.

I’ve become quite entranced by the myths of Trogons that can be seen in this part of the country. I held high hopes for this journey up the canyon, but I came away empty handed. What I did find were a good number of birds that I were firsts for me. Long story short, it was a really great morning in Madera Canyon. The place didn’t disappoint bird-wise.

Yellow-eyed Junco- Junco phaeonotus

Yellow-eyed Junco- Junco phaeonotus

Of the throngs of birds I was able to find, I only photographed a few. One of my favorite new birds was the Yellow-eyed Junco. I found a few small flocks, acting just as any junco species does, picking around the ground through the understory. They would notice me, flit to a nearby perch, and look around nervously. These juncos sound quite different than their dark eyed relatives, so when I initially heard them, I knew I was in for something new and good.

Arizona Woodpecker- Picoides arizonae

Arizona Woodpecker- Picoides arizonae

I was really focused on one bird in particular. I love woodpeckers, and the Arizona Woodpecker is a specialty of these parts that I couldn’t wait to find. I heard the bird first, tippy tapping its way around a small Ponderosa Pine grove. It didn’t take long to locate the brown bird. I think the hikers that passed me wondered why I was elated by this brown woodpecker. I’m sure some understood, but others gave me quizzical glances. I giggled a bit, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Painted Redstart- Myioborus pictus

Painted Redstart- Myioborus pictus

Another bird to delight both my eyes and my ears was the fire chested Painted Redstart. These birds were all over the riparian areas of the canyon. I really paid attention to their song, and I think I may have it down. Maybe the next time I hear this bird, I will be able to know what I am listening to.

I can say that Madera Canyon was more than I hoped for. On my way out, I stopped by some feeders and saw a brilliant crimson bird that I immediately knew, although I had never seen. Hepatic Tanager! That is what I said aloud, again receiving concerned looks from the general tourists.

I have yet to have any truly in depth and interesting human interactions. I am hoping I meet a like minded birdnerd soon. I’m headed over to the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek area next, where I’m sure I will run into some other nut jobs. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the Elegant Trogon in that area. Hope I find it!

Beatnik Birding Again: Tubac, AZ

by Bryce W. Robinson

REJOICE!

I am on the road and without a home once again!

For the next few months, I will be wandering and watching birds. I’m calling myself beatnik once again for many reasons. I’m traveling, unkempt and without a home, to ride the rhythms of life and honor them. I will be living out of my humble vehicle, which I must say is a good home.

I’m writing at the moment from Tubac, a small town just north of Nogales, in southern Arizona. For birding and many other reasons, this is a very special place. I’ve noticed that I am likely the youngest man in this town, as this is a destination for the seasoned, or retired members of society.

IMG_0011

The Tubac Raptor Migration Site

After deciding to hit the road once again, I received council from my friend Jerry Liguori that the spring migration in Tubac was not to be missed, so this became my destination. He planned to go as well. Upon my arrival, I met up Jerry and his wife Sherry, to watch this migration that flows up the river system through town. It was a bit of a surprise to find many others watching as well. As I found out, Bill Clark was leading a workshop with Tuscon Audubon. Meeting him was interesting…

It was nice to be with Jerry watching migrating raptors again. These were different birds however, and I was tasked with learning. Jerry, of course, is the best to learn from. He took the time to share his impressions, and kindly correct my misidentifications. Trial and error, and keen interest in learning is how one becomes a better birder. BUT, with Jerry’s help, my learning curve has been reduced significantly.  I still need to watch and soak in each bird for myself, and there is one particular bird that has been a bit difficult to identify at a distance.

Zone-tailed Hawk- Buteo albonatatus

Zone-tailed Hawk- Buteo albonatatus

The Zone-tailed Hawk flies with exaggerated dihedral, just like the Turkey Vulture. From afar the two are nearly identical, but as I watch more, the differences are becoming noticeable. I also saw a few other raptors that are new to my eyes. The number of Common Blackhawk that go through this town in spring is the reason for the hoards of birders. It was a great bird to see, and is rather distinctive at a distance.

Gray Hawk- Buteo nitidus

Gray Hawk- Buteo nitidus

The first few days I had a some distant glimpses at the Gray Hawk, but today a pair was displaying, in courtship, over the trees. The patterning and shape of this bird is so interesting to me. After watching all three hawks, I started to speculate as to why the three desert denizens might have black and white barred tails. I haven’t decided on any conclusions, but my mind will remain on the subject until I do.

Of course there are other birds here besides the raptors, and most are new to me. Birding in the trees near the river, and in the hills outside of town, has been spectacular.

CBTH

Curve-billed Thrasher- Toxostoma curvirostre

Pyrrhuloxia- Cardinalis sinuatus

Pyrrhuloxia- Cardinalis sinuatus

As my journey continues I am sure I will have many more things to share, besides the birds. People of the road are part of the journey, and I hope to meet and make many friends. As I wander, watch for me. As always I am heavily bearded, and an obvious example of what is a beatnik birder.