The best day in 5MR birding

It might be premature to call it, but I might have had my best 5MR birding day. It started early on Mt Tabor Park where I met up with Sarah, Eric, Laura, Dick, and a couple of Dick’s friend’s who were all up for finding some spring migrants. We barely got started when we heard a sharp “pip-pip-pip” that Sarah and Laura identified as Red Crossbills. Sweet, a new 5MR bird already!

We continued walking up the trail when Sarah looked up and said “What the hell is that?” You know it has to be good when that happens – indeed it was! There was a Short-eared Owl circling over Mt Tabor!!!

Unbelievable. The park is much more forest than grassland so this was highly unexpected. Maybe migrating over? It had a meal in its talons and looked like it was looking for a place to land. We never saw it land, but it circled around in the sky for quite some time.

This was not a new 5MR bird (I’d seen one near the airport in February), but it was a new park bird for me and one of the coolest things I’ve seen there. Everyone loves owls and this was a great start. We followed up by checking on the Great Horned Owl nest in the park that has a confirmed set of three (!) owlets! Tomas met up with us and took this great family portrait:

Other highlights were nesting Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Lesser Goldfinch, Bushtits and multiple warblers including Black-throated Gray, Orange-crowned, Townsend’s, and Nashville Warblers. They are the reason for the season.

We missed MacGillivray’s Warbler and Chipping Sparrow. I’d spent about 6 hours and 9 miles the day before birding Tabor hoping to bump into a Chipping Sparrow but no dice. So it was surprising to me when I got home to read someone had found one at the Fire Station near Broughton Beach. Birdmergency! I was tired but able so I went to look and surprisingly Tomas was game to join.

It was so easy. Right along the fence line, past the Killdeer and mixed in with Savannah Sparrows was a bright and appropriately chipper Chipping Sparrow.

Occasionally it hopped up and perched on the fence. I was so relieved (little did I know I’d find one in the park outside my work office a couple of weeks later).

We then got a text from a friend that the Tabor owlets were waking up, flapping and looking around and Tomas had only one more day with his rented 100-400mm lens so since there was still daylight left we returned to Tabor for a sunset with the owlets.

Not even dark yet, a parent brought in a large rat (!). Tomas captured the special moment:

The owlets fed, fat and happy settled down while we chatted with an older couple watching nearby. They asked us if we’d seen the screech owls in the neighborhood and mentioned there were “loads of them.” Outside I said “Oh, no I haven’t, that’s cute” while inside I was “WHAT?! WHERE!?!

Inspired by the day, Tomas and I decided to follow the lead and poke around the nearby neighborhood. One thing led to another and we ended up looking at whitewash under a suspect cedar tree. A couple of older ladies walked by noticing us and asked if we’d seen the owl yet. The lead got hotter. They pointed to a hole in a pergola to pay attention to and we waited.

Just after 8pm I saw an owl fly out of the cedar tree!!! I (silently) lost my mind and motioned to Tomas to look at a branch where it sat perched in an alder tree in someone’s backyard.

No freakin way. Then we heard a “bouncy ball” call and a second owl flew out of the hole!!!

What’s better than one owl? Loads of owls. Tomas took all the screech owl photos.

While I died and went to owl heaven. It has been my (4-year long) dream to find a Western Screech Owl on Tabor (which these owls were not exactly on), but close enough (for now). And it is positively in my 5MR leaving me jumping for joy. I’m so happy they are here.

Tomas and I visited them a second night and witnessed a prey exchange between the two owls leaving me hopeful they’ll raise another generation of adorable murder-muppets. Time will tell, but we’ll be sure to give the owls their space.

It’s the penultimate of 5MR birding! I think I can retire now.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Inside my 5MR

Inside my 5MR there’s a lot going on. First off, spring is finally here!

It is the best of times. Although extra rainy lately, there were a few sunny moments when the flowers were blooming and the hummers were humming. There’s a lot of 5MR babies happening.

Step 1. Make nest
Step 2. Make babies
Step 3. Baby

This little Anna’s Hummingbird in the nest by my work has already fledged! The flowers haven’t even finished blooming, but I saw the little chubster buzzing around the few open petals. Last year’s brood took way longer to fledge, I’m guessing because there were two babies. And speaking of two babies, here’s two owlets that were born this spring at Whitaker Ponds.

Yep, there’s two in there.

Whitaker Ponds has been really good to me with a few recent 5MR additions including Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Pileated Woodpecker (the best surprise and a tough 5MR bird for me), and my FOY (and first I’ve seen at Whitaker) lovely lady Rufous Hummingbird!

The other booming hotspot is Broughton Beach. There’s a limitless stream of off-leash dogs and new birds to look at. I finally caught up with the Red-throated Loon that’s still being seen regularly.

And thanks to my friend Eric’s help, I added a distant Common Loon to the club.

So distant.

5MR time is the best time to get excited about Brown-headed Cowbirds.

Even better Cliff Swallows, Savannah Sparrows, and our same Rough-legged Hawk that visited last year! This is the best hawk.

Another day I left work early to beat the traffic to the Clark’s Grebe hanging out at Hayden Island.

Best identified with Westerns nearby

I stopped by Fazio Way (where the Palm Warbler hung out) after to see if there might be a Horned Lark or Red-shouldered Hawk, there wasn’t, but I did find my FOY Common Yellowthroat!

Welcome back buddy!

While looking at the yellowthroat the craziest thing happened. Colby texted to tell me he’d found another Vesper Sparrow, this time at Broughton Beach. A 5MR/county Vesper Sparrow?! What luck that I was only ten minutes away, I hurried over fast as I could and it worked!

Another thanks to Colby.

Colby had to leave, but he’d mentioned he’d had a Dunlin fly-by so I made sure to check the shore. He left, then wait, WTH is that?!

Definitely not a Dunlin

An American Avocet flew in!!! It nonchalantly strolled the beach while my mind melted. I hadn’t even finished admiring the Vesper Sparrow, but now I had to regroup, and call Colby back immediately. I was the only one there, until the dog walkers showed up who thankfully cooperated when I pleaded with them to keep their dogs on the opposite side of the beach so some friends of mine could see this bird. I’m sure I sounded totally sane.

Please stay.

It was a tense set of minutes. I put the word out on OBOL and luckily, a few people were able to come out and see it, including Duke Tufty, Nick Mrvelj, and Colby. And Eric who biked his heart out and got the Vesper’s and Avocet in under 30 seconds. The best kind of birding that never happens! There have only been three other Avocet sightings at Broughton beach and all of them in the fall. It was such a lucky sighting.

Wishing every day could be birding days like this.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

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