Thursday, May 10, 2018

Varied Bunting in PA! ~ May 7, 2018

Just before my hockey game, I got a call from Jason Horn, who told me the amazing report that a Varied Bunting was visiting an Allegheny County feeder! He had contacted Dave Wilton and gotten permission for us to try for the bird at first light Monday morning. So, at 1:00 AM, I headed over to Jason's to pick him up and drove the remainder of the five hours west to a home near the town of Elizabeth.

We arrived at 6:00 AM and met up with Dave, who led us up to the designated feeder viewing area. As soon as we arrived, the bird was there, but I never got on it before it flew. Eventually, it returned several times over the next 2-1/2 hours. In the low, early morning light, I managed to get some poor, long-distance documentation photos of what is likely only the second record east of the Mississippi River!

This blurry photo shows the blue rump and tail.

If accepted, this bird would obviously represent the 1st record for Pennsylvania and what I have heard would be only the second record east of the Mississippi River! We completed the 595-mile round trip, returning at around 2 PM. Thanks goes to the landowners for granting us permission to see this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and to Dave Wilton for setting up our visit.

More photos of the bird can be found in my Pennsylvania Notables Album.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Arizona - California Trip ~ February 24, 2018

It's pretty rare anymore for me to have a chance at two life birds within driving distance of each other, so when I saw that the two Nazca Boobies were still being reported in San Diego Bay and a Streak-backed Oriole was being sporadically seen in Tucson, Arizona, I decided to plan a trip to the Southwest. Around the same time, I happened to get a call from Mike Schall, who was also interested in going to see the booby, which was another 'plus' since we'd be able to split the cost of the car, gas, and motels.

We left the house at 2:30 AM, drove to the Philadelphia airport, and boarded our flight to Phoenix, landing around 11:00 AM. Our plan was to get our rental car and drive the roughly 5-1/2 hours to San Diego, California. Unfortunately, it took us an hour-and-a-half to get our car. We made it to San Diego with only about a half hour left before sunset. As we were driving to the Attu Avenue site to scope for the booby, I noticed the previously reported American Flamingo standing in the southmost impoundment of the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I happened to get a photo that showed a band on its right leg. None of the information on it was visible, but there is little doubt that this is an escaped bird.

American Flamingo with a band on its right leg.

After photos, we headed for Attu Avenue before it got dark. One of the boobies could be seen on buoy #34, but it's bill color could not be determined because it was facing away from us.
We spent the night at the Holiday Inn Express in Chula Vista.

Arizona - California Trip ~ February 25, 2018

We drove down to Chula Vista Bayfront Park and saw the Reddish Egret that had been reported from there along with Pied-billed Grebe, Great and Snowy Egret, Brant, Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon, Osprey, Willet, and California Gull.
American Wigeon

California Gull

We then drove around to the southwest corner of the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge where we again found the American Flamingo. Other birds noted there were American White Pelican, Northern Pintail, Willet, Long-billed Curlew, and Marbled Godwit.

Our next stop was Attu Avenue to confirm that one of the boobies was still on buoy #34. While there, additional birds included Brown Pelican, Western Gull, a Cassin's Kingbird, and the numerous White-crowned Sparrows.

I had reserved a boat at the Loews Coronado Bay Resort's marina for when they opened at 9:00 AM. As planned, Mike and I were joined there by Devich Farbotnik, Holly Merker, and Billy Weber. The five of us boarded the seven-passenger boat and headed across the bay. Along the way, we saw many Surf Scoters.

At the red buoy labeled "34", we got great looks and photos of our 'life' Nazca Booby.

Back at the dock, a Snowy Egret showed off its yellow feet in the shallow water.

We left there with a new 'lifer' and headed for Los Angeles. An Ancient Murrelet had been seen for a few days at Playa del Rey and since both of us had never seen one, we figured we'd give it a try. We parked near Del Rey Lagoon and walked over and all the way out on one of the jetties. There, we had Pacific Loon, Eared and Western Grebe, Brown Pelican, Double-crested and Brandt's Cormorant, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser, Osprey, Black Turnstone, Surfbird, and Heermann's and Western Gull, but no murrelet.
Pacific Loon

Eared Grebe


Western Gull

Unfortunately, the weekend boat traffic through the channel pushed the murrelet out into the ocean and beyond our sight. So, we left there and set our sights on our motel in Tucson, Arizona. We hit a traffic jam on Highway 91 because of an accident, which made the 8-hour trip even longer. Several hours farther down I-10, we finally arrived at our Studio 6 motel around 12:30 AM and set our alarms for "too early".

Arizona - California Trip ~ February 26, 2018

My next target was just north of the motel in Tucson. A Streak-backed Oriole had been reported at the corner of E. 2nd Street and N. Anderson Boulevard for about a month, but there hadn't been any reports of it since way back on the 15th. I figured the bird was still there but spending most of its time in the off-limits monastery. We arrived at around 7:30 and just after I got out of the car, I spotted an oriole flying into the tallest tree in the monastery. We got some brief looks at it before it moved farther back into the tree and out of sight. Four Red Crossbills were perched at the top of that same tree. This photo shows three of them.

We spent the next two hours watching the feeder on Anderson Boulevard and the trees in the monastery until it surprised us by popping up and landing in full view on a wire over the street! Although I was on the wrong side of the sun, I was lucky to get some good photos of my 'life' Streak-backed Oriole.

Other birds seen there while watching for the oriole included Sharp-shinned Hawk, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Anna's Hummingbird, Gila Woodpecker, Verdin, Curve-billed Thrasher, Phainopepla, "Audubon's" Warbler, Northern Cardinal, Pyrrhuloxia, Abert's Towhee, and White-crowned Sparrow.

Our next stop was the Santa Gertrudis Lane section of the De Anza Trail. A Sinaloa Wren, a Rose-throated Becard, and several Rufous-backed Robins were being seen there. We headed down the trail in the late morning, obviously not the best time to try for these birds. As we neared the junk cars along the trail, we saw both Plumbeous and Hutton's Vireo.
Plumbeous Vireo

Hutton's Vireo

One of the other birders present spotted the Rose-throated Becard, which flew around in the canopy of the cottonwoods. I was only able to get one documentation photo of it as it flipped its head around to look for food.

Another good find for the area was a Black-and-white Warbler that worked the trunks and larger branches of the trees.

Some of the other birds found there were Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Hammond's Flycatcher, Black Phoebe, Bridled Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Bewick's and House Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, Phainopepla, Pyrrhuloxia, Abert's Towhee, Lincoln's, Chipping, and White-crowned Sparrow, and warblers that included "Audubon's", Orange-crowned, and Black-throated Gray.

We spent the middle of the day at "The Paton Center for Hummingbirds" in Patagonia, which had changed a lot since the last time I was there a few years ago. Tucson Audubon has done a nice job with the property. The feeders that have been added to the front yard attracted a few Cassin's Finches.

The front yard also produced White-winged Dove, Gila and Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Bewick's Wren, Pyrrhuloxia, Pine Siskin, and Lesser Goldfinch.
White-winged Dove

Bewick's Wren

If you want to see Violet-crowned Hummingbird, this is the place to go. One of the feeders in the backyard was its favorite.

Anna's Hummingbird was also present.

Other birds seen in the backyard included "Red-shafted" Flicker, Abert's, Canyon, and Green-tailed Towhee, and Song, Lincoln's, and the ever-present White-crowned Sparrow.
Green-tailed Towhee

We looked for the Red-breasted Sapsucker that was reported just west of there but instead turned up a Zone-tailed Hawk and a Black Phoebe. Black Vultures were seen flying over the town of Patagonia.

Our plan to be back at the De Anza Trail late in the day to look for the Rufous-backed Robins worked better than expected. Near sunset at the area with the junk cars, we got super looks at four(!) Rufous-backed Robins scratching on the ground and flipping over leaves well within 20 feet of us! The tough part was trying to get photos of the birds in the failing light. Most of the photos were blurred due to the slow shutter speeds, but I managed to get a few that I was happy with.

We returned to our Studio 6 motel in Tucson where we would spend the next two nights.

Arizona - California Trip ~ February 27, 2018

Since Mike had never seen Montezuma Quail, we headed to Madera Canyon to search the area along Madera Creek between the Mount Wrightson trailhead and Proctor Road and also along the Bog Springs trail. While back at the Bog Springs trailhead parking area, Mike walked over to the Madera Canyon picnic area and met some birders who told him that the Elegant Trogon was being seen just downstream from the Whitehouse picnic area. We headed down there and found several birders watching the extremely cooperative trogon feeding along the trail.

Here, you can see why this bird was formerly called the Coppery-tailed Trogon.

At one point, it flew within ten feet of us. I had to back up to keep the bird in the frame.

We decided to check out the feeders at the Santa Rita Lodge. As usual, it was loaded with birds. In winter, this is a good spot to see the different subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco. "Pink-sided", "Gray-headed", and "Oregon" Juncos were all present.

Dark-eyed "Pink-sided" Junco

Dark-eyed "Gray-headed" Junco

Dark-eyed "Oregon" Junco

A Yellow-eyed Junco was also in and out of one of the brush piles.

One of the two Rufous-winged Sparrows there posed as it fed among the Juncos.

A pair of Hepatic Tanagers flew in a couple times. The male put on a nice show.

Both male and female Arizona Woodpeckers put in appearances, too.

While watching the feeders, a White-nosed Coatimundi slowly walked into the feeding area.

The next stop was Florida Canyon, hoping for Rufous-capped Warbler. Along the way up the trail, White-throated Swifts zoomed overhead.

Several Violet-green Swallows were also zipping around.

Otherwise, it was very quiet birdwise, probably because it was late in the day.

From there, we spent the last hour of the day driving Box Canyon Road all the way to Route 83, hoping to see Montezuma Quail. We struck out on the quail but did find a pair of Golden Eagles, Say's Phoebe, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Bridled Titmouse, Cactus Wren, Hermit Thrush, Phainopepla, Loggerhead Shrike, and Chipping, Vesper, and Rufous-winged Sparrow.