Sunday, October 11, 2015

Rarity Chasing in Southeast AZ

Hey guys, I am now living up in Idaho.  I am a bit behind on my blogging, so here is a post from late July, right before I left AZ:

This past week, right after I got out of college for the rest of the summer, I wanted to head down to SEAZ to clean up some birds I was missing before a big move to Idaho.  I took my awesome brother along, and planned to meet up with Chris Rohrer Thursday morning and head down to California Gulch for the FSSP and BCNI.  Neither Chris nor I had ever been down to the Gulch.

My targets were:
Plain-capped Starthroat
Five-striped Sparrow
Buff-collared Nightjar
Botteri's Sparrow
Cassin's Sparrow
Scaled Quail
Greater Pewee
Mexican Whip-poor-will
Varied Bunting

I got seven of those lifers, and a bonus ;).  Also, I wanted to do some hardcore owling and crush some Mexican owls.

I arrived Wednesday evening, and got Cassin's Sparrow, Botteri's Sparrow, Scaled Quail, and Varied Bunting in the grasslands on the way in.  Successful time!  We also had nesting Greater Roadrunners. The rain started pouring, and limited our birding a lot.

When photos are poor, you have to console yourself with the unique specialty of the bird.

We headed up to Proctor Road, at the spot where Buff-collared Nightjars have been seen and heard.  The rain came in right at sunset, so we missed any potential targets that may have been calling.  After heading back to the second spot on Proctor Road, I ran into Jon Isacoff, a top birder in the Inland Northwest area I will be moving to.  He lives about a half hour away from where I will be, and he also loves owling.  He gave me some hot tips on Boreal Owls ;).  It will be exciting birding with him up in western Idaho and eastern Washington.  Well, no luck on the Nightjars, but we did get Dalton his lifer views and audio of Common Poorwill.

We also ran into a birding family from British Columbia, Dave Beeke and crew.  He gave me a tip on a Whiskered Screech-Owl up at Bog Springs Campground, where we would be camping.  Of course, I was very excited, as this species would be a photo lifer.

I headed up to Bog Springs, to the spot where Dave described.  After listening briefly, I located this awesome little owl!

It was awesome to get such mind-blowingly close and personal views.  The owl was very trusting, and did not flush at all.  I ran to get Dalton, and we enjoyed the owl for a while.  I also detected a second owl calling nearby, they must be a pair.

I will remember that encounter for a long time.  Our campground was right next to the spot, and it's not often one falls asleep to the calls of the Whiskered Screech-Owl.

The next morning, our targets were the magnificent Plain-capped Starthroat and the Greater Pewee.  We met Chris at the Santa Rita Lodge, and sat down to wait for the Starthroat.  Stationary birding can be boring, but I came away with some nice shots:

Well, after a couple hours, it was getting past the time the bird was usually seen, and we decided to head up and look for Greater Pewee at Kubo, where I did get this Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher feeding young.

Much to our dismay, within twenty minutes, Dave from BC came up and told me, "You missed the Starthroat!  It came 15 minutes after you left!"  Agonizing. . . In birding, this happens, and there's not much you can do.  A new nemesis bird, my third missed chase.

We missed the Pewee, but that wasn't a big deal.  Chris also showed me a nice Whiskered Screech-Owl day roost.

On to California Gulch for the FSSP and BCNI!!!

On the way down, we stopped at Pena Blanca Lake to scan for any Least Grebes.  No luck.  The day was actually turning sour, with us missing a lot of targets.  Highlight was a Gray Hawk juvenile showing good field marks.

The drive down to California Gulch was much longer than expected.  We stopped at a few places along the way, and picked up Rufous-winged and Rufous-crowned Sparrows.  We also had two Montezuma Quail calling on this slope.

We kept going, and barely missed a largish chocolatey sparrow flying down slope.  Not enough to ID, but it was 90% a Five-striped.  I was very tempted to count it, but I didn't.

We kept going, and got some more good species, and breathtaking views.
We arrived (FINALLY) at the California Gulch turnoff, and decided to bird here a while.  A few Five-striped Sparrows calling, but no visuals.  We did pick up Summer Tanager, always a treat, and a Western type flycatcher.  After thought about elevation, Chris and I called it a Pacific-slope!  Lifer number five of the trip!

It was getting very hot in the mid-afternoon, and we weren't having much activity.  As we headed back to the car, we ran into James and Monroe McKay, a father-son team doing an ABA semi-big year.  As of last Friday night, they were at 609 species, and they both have to see or hear the bird for it to count!  Monroe is 87, and James is 56.  Pretty cool duo they are!  All five of us opted to make the last stretch of drive down to the confluence together.  We stopped at the last ridge, and had a promising sparrow that turned out to be a Rufous-winged.

Well, we arrived at the confluence, and got to work.  It wasn't long before we GOT OUR TARGET!

Great looks!  A lifer for Dalton and I, an ABA yearbird for Chris, and yearbird number 607 for James and Monroe!  Awesome stuff!  A crazy good bird in an epic and remote location!

After we nabbed the Five-striped, we all wanted to wait for the Buff-collared Nightjar to start calling, and hopefully track it down.  So, we had a couple hours of just sitting and chatting.  That was fun, and I think I might have nodded off once or twice.  A group we had run into around the Santa Rita Lodge/Kubo, etc. also arrived.  We greeted them and began our Nightjar vigil.

As darkness fell, we heard Poorwills.  Then, an Elf Owl started calling.  A would-be yearbird for James and Monroe, if Monroe could hear the bird.

The Elf Owl then came in, and I got the group on the bird.  Yearbird 608 for James and Monroe.

ELOW activity exploded!  I heard three adults and two fledglings.  I got my camera on the fledgling, which was giving begging calls, and got this OK shot.

No BCNI activity yet, and I had left the spot to go find the Elf Owls.  Chris said, "Everyone up in Phoenix is an owl freak, Caleb, Tommy, Walker, etc."  HAHA!  I left the Nightjar spot to find an owl I have already seen a lot of.  Whatever.

I also heard a Western Screech-Owl calling.  It would have been a yearbird for James and Monroe, but unfortunately Monroe couldn't hear it, and according to their rules, James wouldn't count it.  I whistled it in closer, but Monroe still couldn't hear it.  Bummer.

Then. we heard the distinctive call of the awesome Buff-collared Nightjar.  Lifer!  Third of the day.  We were unable to locate it, although it was very close.  Oh well.  Yearbird 609 for James and Monroe.

We headed back to Madera, where we said goodbye to Chris.  Picked up Lesser Nighthawks and flyby Great Horned Owl on the way back.  We each contacted our people-who-might-be-worried-that-we-were-at-the-Mexican-border-at-9-P.M. and let them know we were OK.  Chris left for Tucson and Dalton and I prepared to camp.  However, there was one more order of unfinished business that I had to take care of.  There had been recent Mexican Whip-poor-will records, and that was my nemesis!  We headed up to Mt. Wrightson to listen.  After a few minutes, at midnight surprisingly, we heard 4 MWPWs!  Lifer 4 of the day and 8 of the trip!  I also detected a Flammulated Owl calling from up canyon.

I heard the Whiskered Screech-Owl at Bog Springs, but was unable to see it.  A five owl night!

Whiskered Screech
Western Screech
Great Horned

As an "owl freak," I was thrilled!

The next morning, we were determined to wait out the Starthroat.  Well, long story short, the hummingbird was a no show.  A new nemesis!  I ran into Dave again at the Santa Rita Lodge, and we talked about meeting up in Vancouver this winter for some killer owling!

I also talked to Jon Isacoff.  During the few hours waiting at the Santa Rita Lodge, we discussed owls, their distribution, and owling prospects in the Inland Northwest.  Pretty exciting!

Well, time to wrap up.  Target birding was almost 100% successful, with Plain-capped and Greater Pewee the sole misses.  Oh well.  The Whiskered Screech-Owl encounter will probably remain the best shots I have of it for my whole life.  Very exciting.  Also, my next blog post should be from Idaho, where I will try to make a splash in the local birding scene!

Good birding,

1 comment:

  1. Ouch man, those owl shots are too much! You killed it out there and pretty much got everything you needed from AZ. Keep birding hard and I can't wait to see what you've crushed in ID!