Thursday, June 25, 2015

When Luck is on Your Side - My New Luck Bird!

After the Young Birder's camp in the Chiricahuas, where Caleb and I got 109 species (!), we wanted to stay in touch and continue birding together.  We decided we were a "one-two punch of awesomeness," and didn't want that to go to waste.  We kept in contact and decided to bird a few spots in the West Valley on June 23rd.  With daytime temps in the valley reaching over 110 degrees Fahrenheit, we knew we had to get started early.  I think we might be a little insane, as we birded until around 1.  We met at the Baseline and Meridian Wildlife Management area at around 5 a.m., where we wanted to clean out the birds of the vicinity.  I still hadn't gotten Barn Owl, and that was my main target of the day.

Blue Grosbeaks were calling, and Green Herons were quite oddly extremely numerous.  I believe we ended the day with a count of 13.  We continued birding down the main trail, and picked up my ABA-first and yearbird Black-bellied Whistling Duck!  That brought my yearlist up to 325.

The first highlight occurred when the distinctive Yellow-billed Cuckoo call was heard.  We both frantically turned about, looking for a visual, when Caleb got it in some trees near the island area to the west of the main trail.  He got some photos, and we both got good looks of this long-billed trogon-like tropical bird.  What a treat for Maricopa!  The YBCU was an ABA area first for me, as well as a yearbird.

I was getting pretty anxious about trying to see my first Barn Owl, so we walked under the Avondale bridge and scanned the pipes.  After reading reports of multiple dead BAOWs, we were gladdened to see an adult pair watching us from above.  It's pretty hard to beat an owl lifer.

Exciting stuff!  We kept walking north and found a juvie as well.  This guy didn't really know how to be an owl, as it flew toward us instead of away.  Then it decided to fly directly into perfect 6 a.m. light to give us some sweet flight shots.  My ISO was at 3200 for shade under the bridge so I was totally unprepared!

Well, that was exhilarating, and Caleb and I thought we were having a pretty good day so far.  Little did we know what was coming soon!  We had planned to bird Tres Rios Wetlands as well, and the two zones are adjacent to each other, so we opted to keep walking east onto the Tres Rios site.  Near where the two sites intersect, we happened to flush about 8 Lesser Nighthawks, always in pairs.  What a treat that was!

Then, Caleb spotted a pair of eggs!  Sweet deal.

We fired off a few flight shots as the presumably bothered LENIs swarmed around us.  It was (almost) like a scene from The Birds!

Right at the far west end of the Tres Rios site, we stopped to take a bit of a shade break, as the temperatures were rising fast, even before 7 a.m.  We were very pleasantly surprised to hear not one but TWO Yellow-billed Cuckoos calling nearby.  A first for Caleb at the Tres Rios site.  That's also where I heard my lifer Yellow-breasted Chats!  Lifer count, two, yearbird count also two.  Also near the west end of Tres Rios, we passed a really interesting marsh/stream/riparian area, with some great Eastern-like habitat and thick lush grass.

It was such a nice green habitat zone that Caleb said jokingly, "Man, I bet we could find a Painted Bunting in there!"  We both got quite a kick out of that, as the chances of that were really slim.  That's kind of a joke we have, we're always calling out extraordinarily rare birds.  Our goal in the Chiricahuas was a Yellow Grosbeak.  We have some fun with that.

Painted Buntings are rare in Arizona.  They are casual during fall migration in the southeast part of the state, but very rare at other times and places.  The crazy part is, both Caleb and I have found our own PABUs in Maricopa.  His bird was back in November, and was a female.  My bird was at Tres Rios back in January, also a female.  We discovered these birds ourselves, and the thought of another Painted Bunting was crazy. ;)

We persevered through the 100 degree heat, and picked up Crissal Thrasher and Common Ground-Doves.  Farther down the several-mile trail, we had my county-first Lucy's Warbler, county Bullock's Oriole, and others.

At around 7:15, Caleb and I turned a bend in the trail, and we both got our binoculars on a severely backlit bird.

A male PAINTED BUNTING!  Presumably the first Maricopa record of the breeding-plumaged adult male!

We both looked to each other with wide eyes and exclaimed, "Painted Bunting!  What the HECK?" I managed a brief audio recording and tried to get closer.  Unfortunately, Mr. Bunting was not cooperative.

Finding this bird, along with the conditions, weather, and habitat, combined with the fact that this Maricopa mega-rarity was neither lifer nor Maricoper for either of us, all made it a truly surreal and quite unbelievable situation.  I guess we are too lucky when it comes to Painted Buntings.  We knew that we had to report this bird as soon as we got back to a computer.  It was truly epic in the fullest sense of the word.  I knew I had found my specialty bird, one that I would always remember.  Finding it with a friend was cool too.

Our photos were diagnostic but quite unsatisfactory.  Oh well, the joy and incredible-factor of the sighting was enough, and we kept walking.  We picked up a day-roosting Great Horned Owl, also being mobbed by blackbirds.  Poor fella got flushed and flew east.

We made it to the riparian area, where we scanned for Ridgway's Rails.  No rails of the Ridgway's variety, but we did detect a family group of 4 Virginia's Rails, giving their distinctive grunting calls. Also present was a family of Common Gallinules.

After checking to make sure a Common Gallinule was not a Purple ( ;) ), Mr. Bird-it-hard, AKA Caleb, spotted this Least Bittern.  It was a photo lifer for me, and was not skulky like other members of its species so woefully are.  Oh yeah!

At about 8:30ish, Caleb and I started the trip back to the car.  We still had plans to bird the fenced-off area at Tres Rios to increase our day's count. and maybe hope for a Fulvous Whistling-Duck.  On the hot and sweaty westward journey, we picked up three Caspian Terns overhead.

Wow!  Our luck was too much that day!

We were really stoked, and kept saying, "What the heck?" over and over.  On the return trip, we stopped at the approximate area where we had the Bunting, in hopes of getting some better looks and shots.  We heard its distinctive song, and located it easily.  Mr. Bunting is a real attention grabber.

Then, he decided to fly even closer, where we got some really nice looks, and decent shots!  It was pretty face-melting, and we were in shock from this beautiful and rare bird.  We also got better audio of this special songster.

The day couldn't get much better, even though we were burning up in the 9:30 heat.  The OH YEAH level was through the roof at this point.  We were literally jumping up and down.

Back by the B&M WMA, we also had good looks at the Nighthawk on its nest.

Crushable, right?  Not literally, of course.

We booked it back to the car, because it was getting unbearable out there.  We finished recording our list for the B&M, added a heard-only Ridgway's Rail, and headed to the east parking lot.  Our plan was to do some scope birding, and it was pretty successful.  We picked up a Redhead pair, Blue-winged Teal, my county first Bonaparte's Gull, Pelicans, etc.

Here are the checklists from Tres Rios and the B&M.
Tres Rios
Baseline & Meridian Wildlife Management Area

Caleb wanted to show me a place on his patch, where we were hoping for more rarities.
The best birds were Chats, Bullock's Oriole, Lucy's Warblers, and Summer Tanagers making attempts at territorial defense.  Highlight was a European STARLING (YEAAHHHHHHH!!!!!).  Here is the checklist from Caleb's patch (on private property where he has permission to bird):
Dean & Beloat Roads

What a memorable day, peppered with good photos, good looks, and best of all, a discovery of a great rarity.  Thanks to Caleb for being a great birding partner, and showing me the Least Bittern and first Barn Owl.  *fist bump*

Bird hard!


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Introduction to Walker's Wings

Hello everyone!  My name is Walker Noe, and I am a 19-year-old birder in Phoenix, AZ.  Here is a blog of my various photographic and birding adventures!  I keep extensive lists of the birds I see, and I am obsessive about the quality of my photos.  I am also absolutely obsessed with hummingbirds.  I aspire to be a professional photographer someday.  For my first post, I will try to give some of my past birding highlights, as well as some photos to accompany them.  This post will be very long, but it summarizes my first two years of birding, and I hope it will be worth the read!  All photos on my blog are mine.

My lifelist is currently 431 birds.

I started birding in May 2013, so I am fairly new at it.  I know some of you know the various birdcalls, and could identify them in your sleep.  I make no such claim, and my birding acuity is founded on my rather sharp eyes and $65 Nikon Aculon binoculars.  The bird that got me started was the Verdin.  Finding such a small and active bird in my own backyard made me wonder what else I could be missing.

I was ecstatic when I nabbed this questionable-quality Verdin shot.  No crushes here!

I quickly became a fanatical birder.  My list grew at a decent pace, and I continued to learn.  My first birding trip was to the Gilbert Riparian Preserve, where I netted 20 lifers.  Caspian Tern was a good bird, and I got it before Rock Pigeon!

Rosy-faced Lovebird!

In early August 2013, I went up to Prescott, AZ, and experienced a truly epic hummingbird scene.  50+ Rufous, 30 Black-chinned, and dozens of Anna's and Broad-tailed swarmed around feeders at Lynx Lake.

These were my first real bird crushes.

My first "big" birding trip was in late August 2013 to Madera Canyon, where I luckily achieved such birds as Lucifer Hummingbird and Violet-crowned Hummingbird.  I still kick myself for opting for Madera over the Blue-footed Booby.  The Lucifer Hummingbird was a nice consolation prize though.

Violet-crowned Hummingbird!

Then I realized why they call these guys Magnificent!

My 100th lifer came in Maine, and it was a Common Eider.  Nice bird, and I was pretty excited.  I knew I could do better, though, and a lifetime hobby had begun.

In November 2013, I went with my family on a Caribbean cruise.  My bird senses were tingling!  I was beyond excited.  I picked up 43 lifers in a week, and some highlights were Cozumel Emerald, Yellow-throated Warbler, Shiny Cowbird, Smooth-billed Ani, American Flamingo, Bananaquit, Saffron Finch, Brown Booby, Red-footed Booby, Masked Booby, Red-billed Tropicbird, and the amazing Ruby-topaz Hummingbird.

Ruby-topaz Hummingbird!  Look at that smug little punk, man oh man.

Cozumel Emerald! Endemic to the Mexican island of Cozumel.

Masked Booby!

My lifelist was 150 after this epic trip.

I had an experience that really solidified my interest in birding in late December 2013.  I was hiking a mountain preserve behind my house, a place that has become my patch, and I found a beautiful male American Kestrel feeding on what appeared to be a lizard.  I crept as close as I could and fired off some nervous shots.

This experience was truly thrilling, and as a fairly novice birder made me incredibly happy.  I have never had a chance with a Kestrel like that first one.

At the start of 2014, I wanted to BIRD HARD.  I increased my local birding, and got some more lifers that most of you probably see at least twice a month.

My next highlight was a trip to Cottonwood Arizona in May 2014.  I picked up some Tanagers, and got unbelievable Green Heron crushes (Man, I'm humble).

Flagstaff in summer netted some nice birds like Mountain Chickadees, Lewis's Woodpeckers, and Canyon Wren.  My 200th bird was a Pinyon Jay.  Those birds are smart, wow.

In September 2014, I was able to go on another cruise to the Caribbean, this time for two weeks.  It wasn't a "birding" trip, but managed 79 lifers on that trip, about 130 species, and the highlights were American Pygmy Kingfisher, Green Kingfisher, Ringed Kingfisher, Antillean-crested Hummingbird, Bahama Woodstar, Green-throated Carib, Cozumel Emerald, Canivet's Emerald, King Vulture, Red-capped Manakin, Yellow-throated Euphonia, Jabiru, Social Flycatcher, Yucatan Woodpecker, Yucatan Vireo, Mangrove Cuckoo, Mangrove Vireo, White-crowned Pigeon, Red-legged Thrush, Roseate Tern, Scaly-breasted and Pearly-eyed Thrashers, Rufous-tailed and Cinnamon Hummingbirds, Northern Jacana, and many others.

Smooth-billed Ani

Gray Kingbird

Canivet's Emerald

Little Blue Heron

Without a doubt, the number one highlight was a Black-headed Trogon deep in the jungle of Belize.  Without  the assistance of a guide (I don't use guides), my younger and also adept brother discovered this incredibly handsome fellow.

I think I nearly cried at the sight of this bird.  Not visible here is his quite-unfairly bright yellow belly.

Here you can get an idea of the type of habitat he favored.

In Florida, before our return flight, I picked up a nice Purple Gallinule lifer crush.

In October 2014, my family headed up to Idaho to scope out a potential family move (spoiler, we're moving in August).

I picked up my 300th bird,  a Clark's Nutcracker, up in unseasonably-warm Idaho.  I also fell in love with Evening Grosbeaks on that trip.  Spruce Grouse was another highlight.  16 lifers in a week in ID.

With that, the highlights of 2014 ended.

I started 2015 wanting to beat my previous year's species count of 280.  A January 2nd outing to the Gilbert Water Ranch put me off to a good start, with 96 species.

Another scouting trip to Idaho in mid January put my yearlist over 150, and I was sitting pretty.  25 lifers up north put my lifelist around 340.  Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Purple Finches, and Bohemian Waxwings made that expedition special.

Back in Phoenix, I discovered a female Painted Bunting while out birding with Mr. Mark Larson.  That was probably my first rarity, and the beginning of my rarity chasing.  I picked up Chestnut-sided Warbler, Brown Thrasher, Ring-necked Pheasant, and Eurasian Wigeon in the upcoming weeks, and I was BIRDING HARD.  That Wigeon was so tame I could have kicked it for being so trashy.

A trip out to the Thrasher spot got me all four species out there, but no Sage superspecies Sparrows.

College limited birding time, but I got down to Madera over spring break.  An overnight trip also enabled me to visit the Tubac Hawkwatch and take a little detour to Patagonia for the wintering Trogon (ooh, the suspense).

Hepatic Tanager, Arizona Woodpecker, Williamson's Sapsucker, Yellow-eyed Junco, and Townsend's Warbler were the highlights of Madera Canyon.

That evening, we went over to Florida Canyon in hopes of nabbing the Rufous-capped Warbler and Black-capped Gnatcatcher.  I am lucky to have my little brother who shares my passion, or else I would be birding mostly alone.  Well, we got both ABA code 3s, and that was really unbelievable!  The next morning, we got three hawk lifers at the hawkwatch, and down to the De Anza trail we went.  The Sinaloa Wren was AWOL the two previous days, but we managed brief and unsatisfactory views, enough to add it to our lists!  Down to Patagonia, where our target was the Trogon.


Crush you very much Mr. Trogon.  My second Trogon species came with a failure of superlatives.

We also picked up Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet and Lazuli Bunting in Patagonia.

This was the point that I realized I may have an inordinate amount of luck, but I'm OK with that!

Two days later, we went to California for my lil bro's basketball tourney.  A little cajoling and my parents agreed to accompany us birding.  Being my first time on the Pacific coast, I picked up 25 lifers within minutes.  My highlight was the large number of cooperative and crushable male Allen's Hummingbirds.

Curlews were also obliging.

Ridgway's Rails were another nice pickup at Bolsa Chica Reserve.  My 400th bird!

Well, I headed home.  College and time dictated no more birding until early May, when I found a Harris's Hawk nest.

Flagstaff in May got me some more nice lifers, including Flammulated Owl (heard only, sadly).

Through Facebook, I got in touch with Mr. Tony Battiste, who offered me a great rate for his B&B.  My brother and I planned a trip down there for the third week of May.

As extreme luck would have it, the Tufted Flycatcher and Flame-colored Tanagers both arrived a day before our trip down there!!!  I told you I'm lucky.

The crushing, and 12 lifers, continued.

Yeah, I know that's not the Flame-colored ;)

The hike to the Tufted was brutal, but any bodily pain vanished at the sight of this mega-mega-mega rarity.  Wow.

I thought this could never be topped!  Here I had Tufted Flycatcher, Elf Owl, Red-faced Warbler, Montezuma Quail, and Flame-colored Tanager all in one day!  What in the world!!

My next trip was a young birders camp, which you can read about in more detail at

My highlights were Whiskered Screech-Owl, Northern Pygmy Owl, Elf Owl, Western Screech Owl, Band-tailed Pigeon, Blue-throated Hummingbird, Northern Goshawk, and a MEXICAN CHICKADEE NEST!  Wow!  Head over to Caleb's blog for the full scoop and photos.

Well, here you go!  From here on out my posts will be more detailed summaries of each individual trip, instead of a big old two-year summary.  I hope you enjoy my blog, stories, and photos!  I love birding and hope to share my passion with you, the readers.

I suggest you follow my blog, I will be hitting you guys with some good stuff in the near future!

Sometimes I may share a meaningful photo from my past experiences, and give an excerpt on why that bird or photo is special to me.

Thanks so much for reading!

Coming soon:  Rarity in Maricopa?  What could it be?