Thursday, January 22, 2009

Birding at Breakneck Speed: Part 1

Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese at Whitewater Draw 1-16-09 by Gusto!

(Note: Most of today's photography is by Gus with the Nikon D80 and the 70-300mm lens. Click on any photo to enlarge for the best view.)

Last Friday was Gus' alternate Friday off. With such fine weather we headed to Whitewater Draw. I had been out birding the day before at Sweetwater Wetlands and Lakeside Park. I only had a few hours sleep, but we were up by 7 and on the road by 8 a.m. While a few cranes flew overhead the mass landing didn't happen until an hour after our arrival. In the meantime, we went looking for sparrows and owls. Gus is the photographer today, while I handle the binoculars searching for birds.

We found the Great-horned Owl in its usual place in the rafters of the pavilion. He cracked one eye open to watch us, then went back to sleep. In the dried winter grasses outside I spot my first song sparrow of the year. Later I find more down by the water, scratching in the weeds. A lone Eastern Meadowlark walks along the fenceline. Gus calls me to come see the owl while i try to be sure which species of meadowlark I am seeing. we can have Eastern, Western and Lillian's, a very light version of the eastern. But this one is bright buttery yellow, not pale enough for that.

We head off to the wooded area by the wetlands where we find a barn owl deep in the trees. The owl roosting area is marked off with signs to keep out, so this is the best photo Gus could get from the boundary line. We searched the trees for Long-eared owls, but without success.

However, over at the marshland the snow geese shine like chemically whitened teeth in the bright morning sunlight. A search through these photos reveals a Ross' Goose as well. Can you see it in the left hand side of the photo? Its forehead is more rounded, and its beak is triangular with a bluish blush near the top. It lacks the prominent grin path of the snow geese.

Gus captured this photo of an Eared Grebe in the pinkish water, another first for this year.

We saw a few shoveler's floating about, along with American Coots. This is their typical posture when not upended looking for food.

Many birds hide in the dry reeds, and this white-crowned sparrow is no exception. We saw some with the starkly contrasting white and black crowns, as well as this buffy-striped headed variety.

As always and everywhere were the raptors. A lovely Ferruginous flew overhead when we were watching the cranes land, but Gus was off by himself with the camera, and I was not able to tell him to get a shot. Harriers glided over the marshland, and almost every phone pole had a red-tail on it. We saw this juvenile Red-tail as we were leaving. I counted 25 species at whitewater draw today, adding 9 more species to my Big January count. But we weren't done yet. Gus decided he wanted to drive over to Rio Rico to visit our favorite place, which we call hawk Hill. Rio Rico is more than 60 miles form where we are now, but since he is driving, I agree to go.

In Rio Rico we stop at the Rio Rico pond alongside Rio Rico Drive. The pond is located in a fenced off pasture, but you can walk up tot he barbed wire and look at the birds. Last time I saw a black phoebe here, but today a little gray flycatcher is hunting form a thorny bush, dipping its tail in the sunlight. Out on the water the ducks immediately paddle to the far reaches of the pond where they are backlit by the sun. Not too great for photos but I could see and count ducks. And out amongst the mallards, shovelers and wigeons I spot a couple of pintails and some gadwalls. We are here less than 15 minutes and then we head up to Hawk Hill.

Before Gus has even parked the car a turkey vulture comes soaring over the ridge line. It is soon joined by another and another until I have counted four in all. If you wonder where the turkey vultures go in winter... well, here they are! I am taking the pictures now while Gus stands on the hillside and gazes out over the valley below.

We enjoy the view from the mountainside and listen to gentle breezes ruffle the grass. All the mesquite trees are little more than scraggly shrubs and with the winter have shed their tiny leaves so that they appear dead. Soon spring rains will come, and with them spring warmth, when once again this dry brown land will blush with green for a season.

For now the black-throated sparrows sing their silver song to me in the waning light of this long day that started with sandhill cranes in the east, and ends with vultures and sparrows and the setting sun in the west.

Big January update:

84. Snow goose: Whitewater Draw 1-16-09
85. Ross' Goose
86. Barn Owl
87. Killdeer
88. Sandhill Crane
89. Eastern meadowlark
90. Song sparrow
91. Ferruginous hawk
92. Eared Grebe
93. Gadwall: Rio Rico 1-16-09
94. Turkey Vulture

Please come back to read about Birding at Breakneck Speed: Part 2 after Skywatch Friday!

On a personal note, it's 4 a.m. and I am tired, but I cannot sleep when I have a blogpost on my mind. However, I don't write as well when I'm tired but I needed to get this done. I'm off to bed now to listen to the pitter patter of rain and breathe in the fresh perfume of the wet desert through my open window. Its been unseasonably warm here and our heat has not been on for days. The clouds moved in yesterday, and we have had a few showers during the night.


Arija said...

A wonderful post as always Kathie, and Gus'photos are great too. Love the first one and the geese, the wls, oh heck, I love all of them.

abb said...

You make me want to just pickup and move to your beautiful part of the US of A.

That owl with on eye half open is just priceless. Great capture, Gus!

denapple said...

I didn't get to see the Barn Owl or the Black Throated Sparrow when we were there. Guess we'll just have to come back!

Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

Kathie- you are a birding maniac! If you're going at this same pace in West Viginia you're going to leave us all in the dust!

Thanks for the Turkey Vulture fix. I haven't seen one in ages. I had to bigify the picture so I could soak in the beauty of its lovely red face and its pearly white bill. Sigh....

Ruth's Photo Blog said...

Wow,I really enjoyed that post.Many of the birds are the ones I'm waiting for come springtime.


TR Ryan said...

beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. I know what you mean trying to write when tired - the stream of thought fades before the sentence is finished. However, one would never know in your post today - clear, concise, beautiful writing!

(ps doing the happy dance with news of your WV attendance)

Deborah Godin said...

More amazing birding. You sure live in a great spot! Great shot of the hawk. I think the Ferruginous hawks have THE most gorgeous tail feathers. Like mother nature airbushed them to perfection!

Cathy said...

Wonderful post, and it heightens my sense of anticipation. Monday my husband and I will be leaving for a cottage in the Mule Mountains outside of Bisbee. One of our stops? Whitewater Draw!

Doug Taron said...

More of your usual good stuff here. I have been at Rio Rico pond many times, but never bird watching. The pond has lots of water scorpions (not really a scorpion, but an insect. Think submerged water strider) that we collect and take back to Chicago for display. There are cool dung beetles under the cow pats.

bobbie said...

Just so wonderful. That first picture - and the shovelers - and the little guy on the thorny bush - oh, never mind, htye are just all great!

Celeste said...

Nothing better than the smell of rain on dry earth - petrichor.
I love visiting your blog, your photos are so spectacular (and Gus's) You have a very impressive bird list for January so far.

Anonymous said...

I like that turkey vulture.

I would rather be doing most anything except sitting in the house looking at the sun shine on all this snow. Eating cookies sounds good to me.

I don't know about you, but my head reels with ideas and things I either want to do, should do, or wish I did — that I don't have much time left to do anything but take a nap.

Carpe Diem!

Abraham Lincoln's Blog

Amy said...

Wow! What a Raptorpalooza! Love that owl and the way he's eyeing you without getting all upset about your presence. Dontcha just love owls?

Anonymous said...

It looks and sounds like another great birding adventure. How fun it must have been to see sandhill cranes and snow geese in the same spot.

Larry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Larry said...

I think you've got me this year.94 would be a good total for the entire month for me in CT. (But I'm not about to quit now-I've still got a weekend and a half to go!)Great photos again by the way.-Glad to see you're having fun but I know it can be tiring too.

me ann my camera said...

Wonderful photos and such a variety. I only wish for such sightings at this time of year.

Snowgeese and Sandhill Cranes both in the sky at once! You definitely need a big skyscape for such magnificent birds!! Wow!

Anonymous said...

It would be great to see Snow Geese Kathie.

Larry said...

Came back for a second look-love the photos of the Eared Grebe and the shovelers.-Those are hard to find in ct

Mary said...

All of your birds are beautiful, Kathie, but I do love that grebe shot. Very nice!

Rohrerbot said...

I found you again:) Gadwalls and all:) Just came back from my trip and I'm trying to ID two birds!:) Thank you again:)