Monday, January 26, 2009

My World: Birding at Breakneck Speed part 2

My World is a world of birding, and this month I am Birding at Breakneck Speed in a contest with other bloggers for a Big January Bird Count. We are each going out in our own states and counting how many species of birds we can see in the first 31 days of 2009. The month is nearing an end now and soon we will know who has won. It's all in good fun with no other prize than bragging rights and a good excuse to be outdoors watching birds. So, when I received an email from fellow blogger Denapple telling me she was coming to Arizona for the Wings Over Wilcox Birding Festival last week, we made arrangements to meet each other and get in some Arizona Birding to boot! Denapple's real name is Kathy and I met up with her and her husband, Dick in Green Valley. Together we rode up to Madera Canyon, which is where she wanted to go birding after reading about it in another Blogpost from a couple of week's ago.

We started our day together at the Proctor Parking lot and trail. Before we even park the car a Say's Phoebe greets us from a nearby fencepost. We load up with birding gear and head down the trail with the profile of Elephant's Head bathed in long violet shadows before us. As we walk through the sun spangled and charred remains of mesquite and ocatillo left from a previous fire not a sound is heard but the soft rustle of the healing grasses and the scruffy sound of our own feet on pavement. We soon leave the sunlight and enter into patchy shadows as the path enters a tunnel created by the trees that grow along the creek. I am looking everywhere and listening intently for birds, but we are seeing and hearing nothing. We wander past the chattering creek across Proctor Road and up along the loop trail. Giant sycamore trees loom over granite boulders as the trail wanders up and down through a mixed forest of oak, juniper, sycamore, mesquite, willow, and cottonwood. I am starting to think that this birding trip is going to be a bust. We meet other travellers on the path, but still no birds and then, finally, they start to sing. First we find some goldfinches, then a raucous flock of Mexican jays flies through. We spot Chipping Sparrows and a Verdin, the first time Kathy has seen one. Then the woodpeckers show up and we see a Gila, Ladder-backed, and an Arizona woodpecker. Under a bush I find a Green-tailed Towhee hiding and Kathy gets her bins on it just in time before it flies away.

As we head back towards the parking lot we find a Hammond's flycatcher high in a live oak tree and up there with him I find these pink puff balls and I start to wonder if cotton candy grows on trees. I have no idea what they are, and I am intrigued.

Down by the creek once again we find a female cardinal hiding in the brush. As I maneuver to get her photo I take care to look for the cone-shaped red beak with the bit of black around it. Out here it can be easy to mistake the female cardinal for the similarly colored Pyrrhuloxia, but the Pyrrhuloxia has a stubby, parrot-like yellow beak with no black mask.

We leave the Proctor Parking lot with 16 species under our belt and head on up to the Madera Picnic area, a place that is usually ripe with birds. It is a reliable place to see Acorn Woodpeckers as well as Bridled Titmice. We head up the creek side trail searching the trees for these species. Imagine my surprise when we find this female Townsend's Warbler instead! Her yellow throat distinguishes her from the male Townsend's.

We cross the creek and emerge from the woods near the Santa Rita Lodge and Cabins. Here the owner's have set up bird feeders and birders are welcome to sit and watch the birds as long as they don't disturb the birds or the guests. Hanging from a thistle seed sock I spot my first Pine Siskins of the year. Last year they came to my backyard feeders, but they have not put in an appearance so far this year. Beneath the platform feeders the sparrows and junco hide in the shadows and gobble up seed spilled by greedy Mexican jays. Once in awhile they hop out into the sunlight and I see that there are at least three varieties of Dark-eyed Juncos here.

This little pink-sided juno is distinguished by its black lores, gray-blue head, pink sides, and dull brown back.

This Oregon Junco sports the typical black hood, brown back and sides. Note the pink beak and dark eyes.

The gray-headed junco also has dark eyes and a pink beak, but it has a red mantle on its back. The similarly colored Red-backed variety has a bi-colored bill that is dark gray or black on top. All of these used to be considered separate species but were lumped together with the slate-colored junco into one group renamed "Dark-eyed Junco". The slate-colored variety is the one most often seen in the east and there is also a white-winged variety seen in the midwest. The Yellow-eyed Junco is considered a separate species and is only found in the mountains of Southeast Arizona. According to Sibley's guide this bird is slightly larger and walks instead of hops. I have yet to see one myself and there are none here today.

The warm January sun is beating down on us and our stomachs are starting to growl. We walk back to the picnic area to eat our lunches which is a combined effort on our parts. Dick and Kathy graciously bought sandwiches and cookies for all of us. I brought along some chips, fruit and extra water. We sit in the shade of the towering trees and I am amazed at how comfortable we all are with each other. We chat pleasantly or are silent, with no one feeling awkward. Kathy so wants to get a good photo of a bridled titmouse and she tries to lure one in, but she is stalking an Acorn woodpecker when this little one lands nearby on the ground.

Then, to our utter delight a Hermit Thrush pops by. How amusing it is to me to find other people who eat lunch with their binoculars and cameras at the ready! When a bird comes by we all jump up and focus in for a better look, then sit back down to munch away as if nothing unusual has happened. This is normal behavior for birders.

And suddenly the trees are full of Acorn woodpeckers with clownish faces watching us with wary white eyes.

With lunch finished we drive up to the top of Madera Canyon. I tell Kathy and Dick they at least have to see the view from the top, but once there we decide to get out and hike a short distance up the trail. I have never birded the upper canyon as I rarely have anyone to go with me. We decide to try the Carrie Nation Trail and stroll along at a comfortable pace.

It isn't long before we are seeing birds. Many are the same species we have already seen down below, but then I spot a flash of red and am delighted to have found a Painted Redstart. These brightly colored warblers are busy little birds that people come from all over to see. I saw my first one in Ramsey Canyon shortly after moving here, then didn't see one again until last December with Gus. Now the little black, red, and white bird flashes in the tall trees above us. We all strain our neck trying to get a good view and a good angle for a photo, but the redstart keeps flitting higher and higher above us in the thick tangle of twigs. Still, I manage to get a couple of distant shots and you can see its bright red breast, black head, and the white wing bars and tail feathers.

Gus took this photo on December 29, 2008, so it didn't count for my Big January count, but the bird I saw today does. In this photo you can see the colors better and the comical white comma underneath the bird's eye. I suppose this white marking helps the bird to see better in the dark forest in which it lives.

With shadows growing longer we head back down the trail and as we do we freeze as a male Townsend's Warbler flashes into view. It is so close to us in the nearby juniper tree. It flits about busily on the branches searching for a meal. We both try to stop trembling long enough to get a shot or two, but there is no worry. The little bird doesn't mind us a bit. It is a perfect way to end a nearly perfect day. After all my worries about seeing enough birds we had a rich and varied trip with a total of 27 species after all and 10 additions to my Big January count. Kathy and Dick feel like old friends already and it is hard to say good-bye.

Kathiesbirds and Kathy Denapple in Madera Canyon 1-24-09

Big January Count Update:

95. Arizona woodpecker
96. Northern Cardinal
97. Rufous-crowned sparrow
98. Hutton's Vireo
99. Hammond's flycatcher
100. townsend's Warbler
101. Pine siskin
102. Brown Creeper
103. Painted Redstart
104. Black-throated Gray

Male Townsend's Warbler on the Carrie Nation Trail 1-24-09

Madera Canyon Bird List 1-24-09

1. Arizona woodpecker
2. Gila woodpecker
3. Acorn woodpecker
4. Ladder-backed woodpecker
5. Red-naped Sapsucker
6. Mexican jay
7. Say’s Phoebe
8. Hammond’s flycatcher
9. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
10. Hutton’s vireo
11. Verdin
12. Hermit thrush
13. White-breasted Nuthatch
14. Brown Creeper
15. Bridled titmouse
16. Yellow-rumped warbler
17. Townsend’s Warbler
18. Black-throated Gray Warbler
19. Painted Redstart
20. Dark-eyed junco
21. Green-tailed Towhee
22. Chipping sparrow
23. Rufous-crowned sparrow
24. Northern Cardinal
25. Lesser goldfinch
26. House finch
27. Pine siskin

Read Kathy's Account of this day on her blog: Life, Birding, Photos and Everything


Louise said...

INCREDIBLE captures!!! Incredible. I love your updates.

chrome3d said...

I don´t know much about birds but that Townsend Warbler and cardinal were pretty flashy and dandy birds.

Gaelyn said...

Kathie, I just love to go birding with you. Your photos are superb! And your story just moves me to hurry along to keep up. What a marvelous day to share with a fellow bird blogger. I really like that redstart. So glad you took that extra trail.

Yogi♪♪♪ said...

Wonderful on your adventure and great pictures. Thanks very much.

Marites said...

Impressive! And those birds are really beautiful!

TR Ryan said...

I am in love with those acorn woodpeckers. Madera Canyon is a dream. Someday I want to be photographed standing there with you in the picture.

Anonymous said...

The Townsend's Warbler, what a beautiful bird Kathie.

Ruth said...

What beautiful pictures. Many of those birds look so exotic. I have to find a way to spend next January in Arizona! My aunt and uncle have an empty house in Phoenix they are trying to sell....hmmmm....

Anonymous said...

Wow, I must say you do get a variety of birds there. I never see more than I have shown and if you have watch this blog of mine then you know we don't have as many birds that are as colorful. I wish we did.

Ruth's Photo Blog said...

Well Kathie,I'm not much of a traveller.but your birding account makes me want to pack my bags and head over your way.This sounds like a perfect way to spend a day,together with a friend and fellow birder.WOW!

DeniseinVA said...

Incredible photos Kathy. I have enjoyed this post so much and have enjoyed catching up.

Kathryn said...

Kathie, I really enjoyed this post. Wonderful pictures and writing. Amazing to think of all the birds you have seen this month!

Janie said...

How interesting to learn about your day of birding. Sounds like such fun. You certainly captured some beautiful and impressive photos.

Kathie Brown said...

Louise, thank you, thank you!

Chrome 3D, nice to see you again. You don't have to know alot about birds to enjoy their beauty or their songs. Glad you can appreciate them.

Gaelyn, glad to have you along for the hike and I am glad we took that extra trail. I shall have to do it again soon!

Yogi, thanks for stopping by. You are so welcome.

Marites, thank you and welcome to my blog!

TR, I really hope we can make that happen.

Roy, all the colors and patterns of warblers amaze me. I am just starting to capture them for my Life List.

Ruth, you should come. I just know that you would love it!

Abe, well you do a wonderful job of photographing the birds you do see. I love to visit your blog and I like all the info you include. For me there is a banquet of birds to be seen here and there are still so many I have yet to see!

Ruth, I am very privileged to live here and I am thankful every day. I do hope you can visit sometime.

Denise, Thanks for visiting! I need to catch up with you too. It's been crazy here!

Kathryn, I'm just about worn out! I bet these photos bring back memories of the walk you and I took here! Next time you come we should hike the upper canyon together!

Janie, it was a wonderful day!

ms426d said...

Beautiful clear shots of our feathered friends. Thanks so much for sharing.

SandyCarlson said...

These are wonderful. I really enjoyed the female cardinal because they are so much like ghosts around here while their mates are marking the sky with color.

Celeste said...

Another wonderful birding trip Kathie. I particularly enjoyed your Junco comparisons. Outstanding photos as always.

Anonymous said...

Great day and impressive month. I love your photos - the birds really come alive in them.

Arija said...

Another superb post Kathie and so nice for you to have compatibles to go birding with. Great haul of species.

denapple said...

Ah! I wish I were still birding in AZ with you. This morning all the trees are covered with ice. We have lost the tops from 3 pine trees in the back yard. Thanks for the Junco lesson - I missed the pink sided one.

Larry said...
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