Thursday, December 24, 2015

Four Arizona Christmas Bird Counts

On this Christmas Eve I’ve already put together 3 pies and have everything ready to make the next two for tomorrow’s dessert, chicken soup is on the stove for lunch, and I’m going to start getting caught up. I’m hopelessly behind in my blogging, thanks to a series of back-to-back tours dating to July. I still have post-tour reports unfinished for four tours back to September, and hundreds of photos to sort and label. I got home from my last tour, the Yucatan, already 2 ½ weeks ago, but I’ve barely had a moment to rest since then. All those tours went really well, with amazing birds and animals and really great participants.

But it doesn’t seem that I'm catching up yet. It’s Christmas Bird Count Season after all.

So before I get too far behind in those and post some catch-up-blogs from October onward, here’s a quick summary (but lots of photos) from the first four CBCs I did this past week, starting with Tucson Valley on December 14. This is the CBC that I have now compiled for four years. This year I coordinated 122 people in 27 teams, plus six observers contributing as feeder watchers. I had seven last-minute no-shows, but a total of 128 is still a record high. I covered Area 10 – Omni National Golf Course for the first time, and was joined by Greg Corman, Kelly Rishor, and Sherman Bodner. It’s an area I didn’t know well so was happy to see what it looked like in person in order to provide better advice to future participants. Past area leaders have provided me with no useful information. The management at the golf course was extremely generous in providing us with golf carts to run around and check all the pine trees and ponds, as well as adjacent well-planted residential areas.

The day started clear and gorgeous, about 45°F.

We had this pair of Hooded Mergansers, the only ones on the CBC.
Hooded Merganser

We didn’t see as many Vermilion Flycatchers as last year’s team, but there were plenty around. The CBC total looks to be 311, a second-highest ever.
Vermilion Flycatcher

This tree had a scolding Verdin and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

Close inspection revealed a roosting Great Horned Owl. A very friendly resident later approached us to tell us that there were three in the area, but we returned and couldn’t find the others.
Great Horned Owl

Then the predicted cold front arrived. It rained for about 2 ½ hours and the temperature dropped 10 degrees to the low 40s.

We got very close to this Accipiter, which at the time I concluded was a Sharp-shinned, but then from the photos I think it looks more like a Cooper’s Hawk. Not many have those big white spots on the scapulars, but the eye placement,  hint of a crest, and the leg thickness seem better. The fluffed out belly feathers probably mask the lower belly, which would be more heavily streaked in a Sharpie.
Cooper’s Hawk

Cactus Wrens continue to decline or at least have leveled off regionally, but our area today had quite a few more than in past years.
Cactus Wren

Gavin Bieber found this Summer Tanager at Evergreen Cemetery, and I found it the next day feeding on honey bees (notice the comb in the lower left).
Summer Tanager

Then on December 16 I participated on the Green Valley CBC, doing the same area I’ve done for the past three years, hiking up the Vault Mine and Carrie Nation trails to the ridge trail that traverses the upper slopes of Mt. Hopkins. The views are great.

This female Cassin’s Finch was feeding on Arizona Madrone berries, as the mountain-mahogany seemed to be void of fruits. And it was the only one we had.

It had snowed during Monday’s storm, and with the extremely dry air behind the front, the snow had sublimated then recondensed at the dewpoint to form some amazing, crackling dry crystals.

My co-participant was Ken Blankenship from Marietta, Georgia, on a winter birding vacation in Arizona.

Lots of animal tracks in the snow were fun to see. I guess that this one is a White-nosed Coati.

My guess on this one is Bobcat.

A view of Mount Wrightson to the east.

Looking back down Madera Canyon to the north. Notice the bajada or alluvial fan covered in Botteri’s Sparrow habitat.

A Bewick’s Wren
Bewick’s Wren

The steeper, most northerly facing slopes don’t get much winter sun, and here the air had a particularly bone-chilling feel. The forests here are dominated by Gambel’s Oak and Quaking Aspen.

Another view looking north from one of the highest points. The scrub oaks up here are home to a very few Western (Woodhouse’s) Scrub-Jays.

Even in the sun it wasn’t warm enough for icicles in the trees to melt.

A very confiding Arizona Woodpecker foraging just a few feet away.
Arizona Woodpecker

We were one of two teams with a chance of getting Pygmy Nuthatch, and I found them in the same place as last year.
Pygmy Nuthatch

The very next day I participated on the Patagonia CBC, but at a much lower elevation. We had almost no snow. This is along Duquesne Road looking westward toward Nogales.

We had a nice mix of open oak slopes with lots of grass and denser Madrean oak-juniper woodland. This is one of many Sycamore Canyons in Arizona.

A stake-out territory of Spotted Owl in this habitat was one of two on the CBC.
Spotted Owl

Here are my very capable companions Nick Beauregard and John Kugler.

This Sycamore Canyon has very few sycamores, but it’s a gorgeous place. Just above this location I found a male Elegant Trogon, a rare winterer here.

Even though morning temperatures have reached the teens (but only down to about 22 today), this monkeyflower was still blooming.

I tooted in this Northern Pygmy-Owl (Mountain Pygmy-Owl) in upper Sycamore Canyon.
Northern Pygmy-Owl (Mountain)

I assume that the Spotted Owls breed in cliffs like these and just roost in the denser oak in the canyon bottom.

Hammond’s Flycatcher winters in small numbers in these oak canyons.
Hammond’s Flycatcher

We all heard this Whiskered Screech-Owl (responding to my whistles) from a great distance, and I eventually found it poking its head out from its cavity.
Whiskered Screech-Owl

A kettle of 45 ravens was mixed Common and Chihuahuan, offering good comparison of the size and proportions. I heard only one of the Chihuahuans calling, but the Commons were quite vocal.
Common Raven and Chihuahuan Raven

We’re at the very northern limit of the winter range of Townsend’s Warbler, but they’re scarce here. We had nine, and that is a relatively high number.
Townsend’s Warbler

Here’s a grand view from Duquesne Road looking west towards Nogales and the Atascosa Mountain peaks (near the center of two CBC circles away).

We had only a couple Canyon Wrens.
Canyon Wrens

Western Scrub-Jay (Woodhouse's) is scarce here.
Western Scrub-Jay, Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay

We tooted and pished in a few flocks with White-breasted Nuthatch.
White-breasted Nuthatch

One pair of Hutton’s Vireos were particularly fearless.
Hutton’s Vireo

Bridled Titmouse
Bridled Titmouse

Then on Saturday, December 19 I did the Santa Catalina Mountains CBC, the circle that slightly overlaps with the northeastern part of the Tucson Valley circle. My friend Andrew Broan joined me for what promised to be a challenging cross-country hike through a couple of never-visited canyons. With the snow, steep slopes, and bouldery canyons, it turned out to be more then just challenging, bordering on treacherous in places. 6.1 miles in 7 hours and 40 minutes. Here are just a bunch of photos from the day.

Abert’s Squirrel
Abert’s Squirrel

Yellow-eyed Junco
Yellow-eyed Junco

Olive Warbler (we had two, the only ones on the CBC)
Olive Warbler


Hermit Thrush
Hermit Thrush

More Scenery...

Almost back!