Trogon Trip: The end

Our spur-of-the-moment Arizona trip was a great success. We saw 135 species in five days. I saw 23 life birds, Sarah saw 24, and Max saw 3 (he’s spent time working in the area before, which is part of what inspired the trip). And this was the slow time of year. I even managed to see every bird on my top ten(+) list I’d made before the trip.

Who can just pick ten?

My LBL (Little Brown Lifer) Canyon Towhee snuck in at the thickets in Madera Canyon, but I got better looks later at the Airbnb.

Nothing tops Arizona gold light.

The morning after seeing the Trogon, we were free to take a trip to Patagonia Lake.

Just like in the movie!

The best birds were a super cooperative Plumbeous Vireo (Plumbeous = “dull gray color of lead”).

I’d call that “brilliant” gray rather than dull

A Hooded Oriole at a (very smart) camper’s orange feeder.

The only oriole of the trip

And a Rufous-winged Sparrow that has a song that sounds amazingly reminiscent of a Wrentit’s bouncy-ball song. We never saw the bird but the song had a lot of personality.

Later we took a nice drive in the Coronado National Forest and further up to the grasslands of the San Rafael State Natural Area.

Rare grassland species

We hoped to flush up a sparrow or two which didn’t happen, but we did side-glance at a Horned Lark perched on the Vaca Ranch Corral fence (viewed from public road).

Don’t even think about making eye contact.

This is the infamous “Baird’s Sparrow Hill” area that is now closed to the public due to the actions of a few thoughtless birders (DO NOT PARK BY THE VACA CORRAL or within 1/4 mile of it). So, so sad. Though we didn’t see any “no birding” signs currently posted.

Practical pronghorn says everything’s going to be okay.

On our last day we went to Las Cienegas National Conservation Area (NCA). This is a special area, not just because it is an ecological transition zone between the Sonoran and the Chihuahuan Deserts and because it is precious BLM (public) land, but also because Max worked here almost 2 decades prior.

Not much changed except the place was boarded up. There are new buildings (and a bathroom!) associated with the Empire Ranch Foundation who works with the BLM maintaining the property. We birded the grounds and found Vesper Sparrows, Eastern Meadowlark, and this is where we finally laid eyes on our first Green-tailed Towhee of Arizona. None of these birds cared to have their photo taken.

After, we left to go to San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (RNCA). Just another amazing Arizona birding location around the corner.

I have to say, all the parks in Arizona we visited seemed nice and well maintained. We looked at the sightings register here and were surprised to read someone had seen a Green Kingfisher along the San Pedro River that morning! I’ve only had quick looks in Texas and this would be a lifer for Sarah so we tried real hard. Sadly, though we couldn’t relocate the kingfisher. Instead we had several good consolation birds.

Thanks to a pair of Loggerhead Shrikes we were allotted pretty good (although backlit) views of a lifer Cassin’s Sparrow.

Other great birds included a Green-tailed Towhee that finally allowed us a look.

Totally Mexican Ducks.

A fantastic flock of Yellow-headed Blackbirds.

A Great Horned Owl.

And a Grand “Fin-owl-e” a Western Screech Owl (!) comfortable in a tree just behind the visitor center. It was the perfect place for us to stop and have some lunch.

Such good times birding in Arizona!!! I’m thankful I could spend the trip with good friends who share the love for exploration, nature, and birding.

I’m drunk on birds.

Happy Birthday Sarah!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Michigan- Parks

When not visiting family, Tomas and I spent our mornings at nearby local parks. His family lives in Grand Blanc, MI a suburb of Detroit, just south of Flint. There were lots of places to choose from. Michigan is flat and it reminded me a little of Florida, lots of lakes and thick woodsy forests making for challenging birding conditions. I did my best.

We pulled up to the entrance of Holly Recreation Area and I immediately hopped out of the minivan. There was a flurry of bird activity, Gray Catbird, Cedar Waxwing, Downy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, a thrush calling later identified as Veery, and my lifer Eastern Towhee!

Looks just like spotted, minus the spots! Then I noticed a small warbler.

Oh shit! Chestnut-sided Warbler!

Two life-birds and we hadn’t even made it past the front gate. I would have been happy just hanging out there, but more cars pulled up and we eventually had to go in. Tomas went for a barefoot run on the trails, while I spent my time exploring the dense forest.

The birdsong sounded exotic and I was pulled in all directions. Where to begin? Eventually I focused on (less exotic) robins alarming in the distance that led me to a Barred Owl deep in the forest that flew before I could get pictures. Still a cool experience.

I followed more singing that finally led me to another life bird, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak!

That guy doesn’t know how happy I was to see him. It was incredible. There were lots of other birds, Red-tailed Hawk, Eastern Kingbird, Eastern Bluebird, Northern Cardinal, House Wren. And just before we left, I heard an intriguing song that I chased down to find yet another life-bird, an Indigo Bunting!

Hey-o. Birding was new again, mysteries galore and new treasures around every corner. And it wasn’t even a birding trip. We spent more time meeting friends and family, and dining on delicious arepas and Columbian spaghetti. Then Tomas and I made time to visit another park called Indian Springs Metro Park. We got a late start on this morning and it was blazing hot by the time we arrived.

I had a particular sparrow in mind at this location, a Henslow’s Sparrow. There had been one sighted the day prior. I read that they are “solitary and secretive” and prefer “damp grassy meadows with matted vegetation, weeds, and ground cover.” The park is huge and I didn’t know where to look. That plus a time crunch didn’t get me a Henslow’s Sparrow, but I did manage to find another fun sparrow that sounds like a bouncing ball.

A Field Sparrow! Nice consolation sparrow. I also saw Eastern Meadowlark, Tree Swallow, Indigo Bunting, Common Yellowthroat, a Green Heron in a tree, and many many Gray Catbirds, almost as frequent as robins.

It was late afternoon by then, but we decided to stop at Holly Recreation Area on the way back and I’m so glad we did.

I hiked the trail through the forest down to the lake and noticed a Bushtit-sized bird flitting in the bushes.

I saw a hint of yellow and couldn’t believe it, a female American Redstart! Another lifer. This one had a beakful of insects that it took to a nest hidden in the bushes closer to the lake. I could hear the babies begging.

It took a little while longer, but I eventually saw a male too.

Fanning his tail as they do to scare up insects.

They move so fast in the foilage it was hard to keep up. This was the last day I had to explore Michigan’s parks and I was making the most of it. Orioles, cardinals, redstarts, I was going to miss these birds. Luckily, there was one last surprise in store.

At some point I heard a warbler singing way up in the trees. Their songs sound so similar to me, especially when I’m hot, tired, or hungry and in a time crunch. But this time I stuck to it and it paid off big time.

A freaking Hooded Warbler!!! My mind was blown. I tried to keep up as it moved fast through the dim forest.

I couldn’t have asked for a better send-off.¬† Who knew Michigan was so thrilling?

Out of this world.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Texas: Old Port Isabel Rd to Mexico

Heavy fog rolled in the next morning but it didn’t take long for the blazing sun to burn it off. The Lower Rio Grande Valley is hot. Each day I dug deep to my Floridian roots, sucked it up, and birded through the thick wall of humidity and heat. While applying regular applications of sunscreen and bug spray. It’s easy to forget that trying daily routine from the (mostly) comfy Pacific NW.

But of course the same reasons I’m repelled from the southeastern US are what attracts such a great diversity of birds. Heat and bugs. We had plenty of both at our next Texas hotspot, Old Port Isabel Road, seven miles of gravel road through lowland open grassland habitat.

One of the first bird’s to greet us was the Eastern Meadowlark.

I recognize that shape. This meadowlark is best distinguished from the Western variety by song. Western: a rich, low, descending warble “sleep loo lidi lidijuvi.” Eastern: simple, clear, slurred whistles “seeeooaaa seeeeadoo” higher, clearer, with no gurgles (Sibley 2016).

Brightens up that rusty post

Shortly after we heard another tell-tale “Bob-white” call of the Northern Bobwhite! This was one of my most eagerly anticipated sightings. So cool. Even if they just ran away from us.

Then someone spotted a White-tailed Hawk far in the distance. Worst views ever so here’s a slightly less worse view from a later sighting. Clearly white-tailed.

I should mention another hawk of Texas that should have been familiar but wasn’t.

Red-tailed Hawks. Like the one below. Where are the patagial marks? It doesn’t match Eastern or Southwestern varieties in guidebooks. Leave it to red-tails to break the mold. Jerks.

At least Harris’s Hawks follow the rules. And there were plenty of these along the road.

Not just raptors, there was also a fun new sparrow to ID, the Olive Sparrow. It has one of the greatest sparrow songs I’ve heard with a catchy bouncy-trill ending.

Near the end of this road we all got a great surprise on a telephone pole.

Mythical falcons seen only in guidebooks come to life. Aplomado Falcons! (Aplomado¬† Spanish for “lead-colored”). Then they did what no birds ever do. They both flew directly towards us.

They passed us by at eye level flying incredibly fast and low over the prairie.

It was absolutely stunning. There’s some controversy about “counting” this species for checklists; they currently meet the ABA checklist requirements but “Texas Bird Records Committee (TBRC) currently considers the reintroduced population of Aplomado Falcon to be not established, nor self-sustaining and thus deems this species not countable.”

The last wild breeding pair was seen in New Mexico in 1952. These that we saw are a result of a falcon-reintroduction program by the Peregrine Fund. Thanks to predator-resistant nesting platforms and the release of 1,500 chicks (since the 80s) there is now a small breeding population in this part of Texas.

I’m grateful because either way you count it, the falcons are amazing. And since it’s my 400th bird species they count extra for me.

What happens after an Aplomado sighting? We could have ridden the high the rest of the day but it was still early. So we did the only thing we could do. We headed to South Padre Island for 0.99 beer bongs.

Jk. We birded on. The afterparty started at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center where a white-morph Reddish Egret drunkenly danced in the tides.

An Osprey danced with a Northern Mockingbird.

Black Skimmers danced in the sky.

And gators sat stoned grinning in the corner.

We also saw Scissor-tailed Flycatchers aka wallflowers.

And Little Blue Heron and Tricolored Heron doing The Robot.

It was good times. We took a break from partying and birded near a random boat ramp.

Among other shorebirds, we found a Wilson’s Plover under the only bit of shade around.

Then there was time for one last stop. Mexico. Or at least up to the border. This took some confident driving skills by Jen.
 

 
At least the tide was going out. Right? Then, before picking out birds in Mexico, finding a dead dolphin on the beach, laughing at cartoon crabs and watching Max catch a fish with his bare hands, we had the second most exciting bird encounter of the day. AJ yelled for us to look at the dark bird over the water!

We all turned to see a Parasitic Jaeger chasing after a Sandwich Tern!

But you can’t see jaegers from the shore?! These are pelagic birds! You have to be seasick on a boat miles off shore to see them!

Except when you’re in Texas. Aplomado to Jaeger in a day? The tropics are growing on me.

Birders gone wild,

Audrey