Trogon Trip: The beginning

Sometimes you just have to get the heck out of Dodge. Which is why when I had the opportunity to join my friends Sarah and Max for an early spring birding trip to SE Arizona I jumped on it. At the last minute we booked plane tickets, a rental car, and an Airbnb in Patagonia and before I knew it, we were surrounded by beautiful southern U.S. desert.

Our main target was an Elegant Trogon. A single male had been seen regularly in Madera Canyon. How hard could it be to find one bird in the canyon? (Pretty dang hard). But first we had to drive 2 1/2 hours from Phoenix to get there. Along the way we met Sarah and Max’s friend Jill at Kennedy Park for some Tucson urban birding. The target here was Bronzed Cowbird.

But those didn’t come before we spent quality time with Vermilion Flycatchers.

The best AZ greeting

And before Sarah met her lifer Cactus Wren.

And I met my lifer Gila Woodpecker.

And before we stopped to touch the Saguaro.

Watch out for spines!

We passed the pond with Ruddy Ducks, coots, and Neotropic Cormorants.

Mini version of DOCO

And Redheads that were so close they could (and probably would) eat out of our hands.

Finally, just before we were set to leave a huge flock of blackbirds flew in mixed with grackles and, yes! – Bronzed Cowbirds!

Sadly, the light was poor and as we moved closer for better looks of their beady red eyes a Cooper’s Hawk zoomed in and spooked the whole flock away.

So instead here’s a better photo of a Bronzed Cowboy.

We ran into a couple from Florida birding the area who gave us a tip about a Greater Pewee at another park just fifteen minutes away. This would be a lifer for all of us so we opted for the detour. We arrived and minutes after stepping out of the rental, and with the help of a friendly birder pointing up in the trees above us, there it was.

Our first tri-lifer! It’s hard to convey the size of that flycatcher but it is at least as big as Olive-sided. Looking around the park we noticed a Black-crowned Night Heron fly across the pond and then we saw why. A group of kids were feeding the herons! Luckily the kids got bored quickly leaving us to amuse ourselves.

Night Heron, Max, Sarah combo

There was a mallard at this pond that had potential for Mexican Mallard but in this location and with my limited knowledge, for now it’s just a good looking duck.

Giddy from looking at new birds we knew we had to pull ourselves away so we could get groceries, finish the hour long drive to the Patagonia Airbnb, and get some rest.

In the morning we were serenaded by a Greater Roadrunner on the hillside as we packed the car in excited anticipation for our first trogon attempt.

A good omen?

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

SoCal: Joshua Tree

We spent three nights at Joshua Tree National Park. One night near the southern entrance at Cottonwood Campground and two nights at Jumbo Rocks Campground. The park and campgrounds were pretty busy but people quieted down for the most part at night.

Jumbo Rocks

We explored the park on our way in, stopping at the cactus garden where I thought for sure I’d find a Cactus Wren. But no such luck.

At both campgrounds at night we tried out the blacklight gear our friends lent us to look for scorpions. Lo and behold! They glow!

This was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. Basically like gaining a super power: Scorpion Vision. They light up thanks to a hyaline layer in their exoskeleton that reacts to UV light. Theories suggest they glow as a way to determine when to come to the surface to look for prey depending on the amount of moonlight. Cool stuff.

Tomas’s macro shots were even cooler.

Leaving Cottonwood we stopped at the RV dump station to drain the graywater when I spotted a dark bird not far away. We hurried over to see my first Phainopepla!

Pronounced “fay-no-PEHP-lah.” This was pretty exciting and a great way to start the day. I found five more life birds at Joshua Tree. On the small trail at the Oasis Visitor Center, I found Cactus Wren.

They’re like Bewick’s Wren on steroids. It was pretty fun watching them climb up palm trunks.

Another was Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. Smaller than Blue-gray Gnatcatcher with mostly black undertail and a drabber look.

Drab chic

And I finally saw Gambel’s Quail!

What a great spot. Back at our campsite we sat relaxing when Tomas said, there’s a bird under the picnic table. He’d found my lifer California Towhee!

It’s been a while since I’ve had so many new birds to look at. It was quite a treat. I walked around Jumbo Rocks Campground and at site #92 I heard the loveliest twittering song. Finally I saw it.

A thrasher! But which one?! It hopped to the ground and used its long bill to dig out ants while I scratched my head trying to ID.

Eventually I figured out with that dark iris, strong eye-line, and orange undertail, this was a California Thrasher! What an amazing bird to stumble on right at the campground.

Why hello there

One day we took a day trip to Big Morongo Canyon Preserve located about an hour outside Joshua Tree. It is an amazing place with boardwalks and trails (and feeders!) throughout 33,000 acres of desert oasis.

It was here I’d hoped to find my 500th life bird. There were so many potentials: Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Allen’s Hummingbird, Cassin’s Kingbird, and there’d even been a (cooperative) Ovenbird sighted recently. I had my hopes up! In total I spent more than four hours here searching, and walked almost four miles. And I found my 500th bird!

Oak Titmouse! Not exactly what I’d hoped for but a darn cute bird. I talked to some local birders and they mentioned the park was kind of slow this day. It’s too bad it’s not closer! Definitely a special place worth the visit.

Back at Joshua Tree I picked up a pamplet on the Birds of Joshua Tree National Park and wondered why the hell there’s a Cooper’s Hawk on the front cover. But then leaving the park we figured it out. Right on the entering Joshua Tree National Park sign we saw a young hawk.

Accurate

Then it flew onto and blended in with a Joshua Tree.

It makes sense, but still I think a better bird to represent the park would be something more localized to SW deserts like a Phainopepla.

Or a Loggerhead Shrike, to fit in with the desert theme.

Or even a Ladder-backed Woodpecker┬álike the one we saw by Barker Dam hanging out on Chollus Cactus like it’s NBD.

So many good birds and good times in the desert at Joshua Tree!

We had a blast.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey