Saturday, October 10, 2020

Arizona - New Mexico Trip ~ October 4, 2020

Three of us had driven out to Arizona back in June to see the young male Eared Quetzal and missed it by a couple days. Then in September, Jason Horn and I flew out to Arizona when a pair of the quetzals were being seen in Rucker Canyon. Again, we missed them by a couple days and found out the day after we got back home that the pair had moved over into Cave Creek Canyon, so my bad luck in 2020 continued. Jason went back out with his friend, Matt, and saw the birds on September 28th. I wanted to see these birds so bad that I decided to buy a ticket on the 3rd and began packing for the October 4th flights. I allowed for two full days of searching and would return on the 7th.

I left the house around 2:15 AM and drove to the Newark Airport. My flights were from there to Atlanta, Georgia, and then on to Tucson, Arizona. While sitting in the Atlanta airport, I read that a European Golden-Plover had been identified in, of all places, New Mexico! This bird occasionally shows up in Newfoundland, Canada, so I checked the reports and discovered that it would require an 8-hour drive from the area where the quetzals were being seen. Hopefully, the quetzals would finally cooperate for me and allow me a chance to try for the plover, too, but seeing the quetzals remained my first priority.

I landed in Tucson just before noon, got my rental car, stopped for food and drinks and a styrofoam ice chest to put them in, and drove the 2-1/2 hours east to the Chiricahua Mountains. Near San Simon, a Swainson's Hawk circled over the highway.
I headed south on the road to Portal, which produced Gambel's Quail, Cassin's Kingbird, and Curve-billed Thrasher. I eventually reached Portal around 4:00 PM and entered Cave Creek Canyon.
I parked along Forest Road 42 near the bridge where the pavement ended and started walking down the road to the site where the birds had most often been seen. As I got there, there were three birders watching the pair of Eared Quetzals! Finally, the third time was the charm. It was getting late in the day and the sun was already blocked by the mountain, but I managed to get some documentation photos of the male. Little did I know that the pair would put on a fantastic show for me the next morning.

Eventually, the birds starting working their way up the canyon towards the bridge where I had parked. I grabbed this poor, distant photo of the pair perched together in a tree on the hillside.

Other birds noted there in the late afternoon were Acorn Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Western Wood-Pewee, Hutton's Vireo, Mexican Jay, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Chipping Sparrow, a "Gray-headed" Junco among the Yellow-eyed Juncos, Wilson's Warbler, Western Tanager, and a surprising count of seven Red-naped Sapsuckers.

I drove back down to Portal and found Curve-billed Thrasher, White-crowned Sparrow, Canyon Towhee, Northern Cardinal, and Black-headed Grosbeak in the waning light at the feeders by the Portal Cafe's outdoor patio. I spent the night there at the Portal Peak Lodge.

Arizona - New Mexico Trip ~ October 5, 2020

Since I had already seen both the male and the female quetzals the day before, I checked to see how long it would take me to get to the plover spot, which was way up in northeastern New Mexico, not far from the Colorado border. Realizing that it would require an 8-hour drive, I figured that if I left Portal by 8:00 AM, I could get there and still have at least an hour to look for it before sunset. My hope was that the quetzals would show up before that time and allow me to get some better photos. So, I parked near the bridge at first light and began listening for their calls. Within a half-hour, I heard one call at the same time a lady from Minnesota spotted the pair from her car just down the road. For at least the next hour, the birds put on an amazing show while feeding and sunning themselves between the bridge and the entrance to Hidden Terrace Road. It was really tough to choose which photos to include because they were so cooperative. Here are several of the female showing off her metallic-green back, red belly, and grayish head and chest.

The male displayed his greenish head and breast, larger patch of red, and the metallic blues and greens on the back, rump, and tail.

I was lucky to get a few flight shots of the male. I wish they would have been sharper, but I was still happy with what I got. And yes, the orientation is correct. The bird dropped straight down from his perch.

Several times, the pair perched together, but they were rarely at a spot where both birds could be clearly seen. This was one of those few times when they were both pretty much unobstructed.
The only species additions from the day before were Wild Turkey, Gambel's Quail, and Lincoln's Sparrow.

Totally thrilled with the looks that I got, I left Cave Creek Canyon right at 8:00 AM and headed for Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge in northeast New Mexico. On the way down Portal Road to Route 80, I saw Northern Harrier, Greater Roadrunner, and Loggerhead Shrike.

After heading north on Route 80, the route took me east across I-10 to Deming, northeast on Route 26 to Hatch, and north on I-25 through Albuquerque and past Santa Fe. Along Route 26, I saw a Golden Eagle and two good-sized groups of Sandhill Cranes.
A few Snowy Egrets and Eurasian Collared-Doves flew across the road near the town of Hatch, proclaimed as the "Chile Capital of the World", which had bunches of red chile peppers hanging in many places throughout.
After passing the Santa Fe area, I-25 entered a large area of pinyon-juniper habitat. Birds noted in that habitat included Pinyon Jay, Clark's Nutcracker, and Common Raven. After passing through Las Vegas, New Mexico (not Nevada), the highway entered a massive open area that contained numerous groups of Pronghorn and a few Elk here and there.
I exited at the small town of Maxwell and arrived at the refuge's "Lake 14" at around 5:30 PM. I parked in the small lot and asked a birding couple that was getting ready to leave if they had seen the bird. They told me that it was indeed there in the southwest corner of the lake. After a short walk out, I spotted the European Golden-Plover feeding along the muddy edge with some Pectoral Sandpipers and Killdeer. With the place all to myself and the lowering sun behind me, I started snapping away.

It took a while, but I finally captured the bird's distinctive white wing linings during one of its wing stretches.

I got these two flight photos when a Merlin flew across the lake and stirred things up.

Some of the other birds seen there included Great Blue Heron, Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, American Kestrel, American Coot, Sandhill Crane, Long-billed Curlew, and Western Meadowlark.

As I watched the sun drop behind the mountain, I thought about how fortunate I was to see two life birds 554 miles apart in this one day.
I left the refuge and drove 83 more miles back south to Las Vegas, which was the nearest town with motels, gas, and food. After refueling at the Kentucky Fried Chicken, I spent the night at the Comfort Inn in Las Vegas.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Arizona - New Mexico Trip ~ October 6, 2020

On the drive back south, the pinyon-juniper area of I-25 produced the new trip species of Steller's Jay, Black-billed Magpie, and Western Bluebird. I stopped a couple of times between Albuquerque and Truth or Consequences (yes, that's the name of the town) to take a few photos of the surroundings.
I eventually crossed back into Arizona and stopped at Lake Cochise, south of Willcox.
A Ruff had been found by my friend there the week before and was still there the day before, but it apparently left just before I got there. A Marbled Godwit was one of the more unusual birds present.

The nice selection of birds included Eared Grebe, White-faced Ibis, Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, American Wigeon, Northern Harrier, American Coot, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Greater Yellowlegs, Western and Least Sandpiper, Pectoral and Baird's Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Red-necked Phalarope, Loggerhead Shrike, Lazuli Bunting, Brewer's Blackbird, and American Pipit.
Near sunset, I drove the rest of the way back to Tucson and stayed at the Comfort Suites next to the airport.

Arizona - New Mexico Trip ~ October 7, 2020

I returned the rental car and checked in at the Tucson Airport for my flights back to Newark, New Jersey with a stop in Salt Lake City. As we descended into Salt Lake City, you could see the smoky layer from all of the California wildfires.

I drove 1,372 miles over 2-1/2 days and saw 74 species that included two great life birds. Obviously, I didn't see that many species because I was on the road for most of the time. More photos from the trip can be found in my Arizona Photo Album and my New Mexico Photo Album.

Arizona ~ October 4-7, 2020
1) Canada Goose (NM)
2) Mallard (AZ)(NM)
3) Green-winged Teal (AZ)(NM)
4) American Wigeon (AZ)
5) Northern Shoveler (AZ)(NM)
6) Wild Turkey (AZ)
7) Gambel's Quail (AZ)
8) Eared Grebe (AZ)
9) Snowy Egret (NM)
10) Great Blue Heron (NM)
11) White-faced Ibis (AZ)
12) Turkey Vulture (AZ)(NM)
13) Northern Harrier (AZ)
14) Golden Eagle (NM)
15) Red-tailed Hawk (AZ)(NM)
16) Swainson's Hawk (AZ)
17) American Kestrel (NM)
18) Merlin (NM)
19) American Coot (AZ)(NM)
20) Sandhill Crane (NM)
21) European Golden-Plover *** (NM)
22) Killdeer (AZ)(NM)
23) American Avocet (AZ)
24) Black-necked Stilt (AZ)
25) Greater Yellowlegs (AZ)
26) Long-billed Curlew (NM)
27) Marbled Godwit (AZ)
28) Western Sandpiper (AZ)
29) Least Sandpiper (AZ)
30) Baird's Sandpiper (AZ)
31) Pectoral Sandpiper (AZ)(NM)
32) Long-billed Dowitcher (AZ)
33) Red-necked Phalarope (AZ)
34) Rock Pigeon (AZ)(NM)
35) Mourning Dove (AZ)(NM)
36) Eurasian Collared-Dove (NM)
37) Greater Roadrunner (AZ)(NM)
38) Eared Quetzal *** (AZ)
39) Acorn Woodpecker (AZ)
40) Gila Woodpecker (AZ)
41) Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker (AZ)(NM)
42) Red-naped Sapsucker (AZ)
43) Western Wood-Pewee (AZ)
44) Cassin's Kingbird (AZ)
45) Loggerhead Shrike (AZ)(NM)
46) Hutton's Vireo (AZ)
47) Steller's Jay (NM)
48) Clark's Nutcracker (NM)
49) Mexican Jay (AZ)
50) Pinyon Jay (NM)
51) Black-billed Magpie (NM)
52) Common Raven (AZ)(NM)
53) Ruby-crowned Kinglet (AZ)
54) Western Bluebird (NM)
55) Hermit Thrush (AZ)
56) American Robin (AZ)
57) Curve-billed Thrasher (AZ)
58) European Starling (AZ)(NM)
59) American Pipit (AZ)
60) Wilson's Warbler (AZ)
61) Western Tanager (AZ)
62) Canyon Towhee (AZ)
63) Chipping Sparrow (AZ)
64) Lincoln's Sparrow (AZ)
65) Song Sparrow (AZ)
66) White-crowned Sparrow (AZ)
67) Dark-eyed (Gray-headed) Junco (AZ)
68) Yellow-eyed Junco (AZ)
69) Black-headed Grosbeak (AZ)
70) Northern Cardinal (AZ)
71) Lazuli Bunting (AZ)
72) Western Meadowlark (NM)
73) Brewer's Blackbird (AZ)
74) House Sparrow (AZ)(NM)

*** denotes life bird.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Arizona Trip ~ September 9, 2020

Back in June, three of us drove to Arizona to try and see the young male Eared Quetzal that had been seen for a few weeks. Unfortunately, we spent four days looking for it and couldn't find it. Then in August, a pair of Eared Quetzals was found in nearby Rucker Canyon, so Jason Horn and I decided to fly out and hopefully be successful this time. I was hoping to change my luck, which had been pretty poor so far this year.

We boarded the 6:00 AM American flight from Allentown to Charlotte, North Carolina, taxied out to the runway, and sat there for several minutes until the pilot announced that we were going back to the gate because there was a crack in the windshield! We now knew that we weren't going to make our flight from Charlotte to Phoenix, which was supposed to get us there around 11:15 AM. We walked to the desk where they told us they were going to bus us from Allentown to Philadelphia and put us on a non-stop flight to Phoenix. So, after an hour-plus bus ride, we went back through security (again!) and boarded our flight to Phoenix, which thankfully got us there only about an hour-and-a-half later than planned. We got our rental car and headed for Patagonia. Along the way, we saw Harris's Hawk, Greater Roadrunner, Cactus Wren, Curve-billed Thrasher, and Blue Grosbeak.

We arrived at the Paton Center for Hummingbirds where a Plain-capped Starthroat had been regularly reported. It was my one other chance to see a life bird on this trip. It never showed up during the last hour or so of light that we had before dusk. However, the hummingbirds visiting the many feeders included a Broad-tailed, a few Rufous and Violet-crowneds, and several Anna's and Black-chinneds among the many Broad-billeds. Other birds noted while there included Gambel's Quail, White-winged Dove, Vaux's Swift, Gila Woodpecker, Vermilion Flycatcher, Bridled Titmouse, Bewick's Wren, Common Yellowthroat, Summer Tanager, Blue Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, Lesser Goldfinch, and a group of around 20 Cassin's Kingbirds that flew in to roost.

We left there and drove to Sierra Vista where we stayed the night at the Rodeway Inn just outside the gate to Fort Huachuca.

Arizona Trip ~ September 10, 2020

We awoke around 3:00 AM and drove the 2-1/4 hours east to Rucker Canyon, getting there at first light. On the way there, an impressive list of nightbirds seen in order included Great Horned Owl, Barn Owl, Common Poorwill, Western Screech-Owl, Elf Owl, and Mexican Whip-poor-will!

We hiked Rucker Canyon Trail #222 looking for the Eared Quetzal pair that had been there for several weeks. In the first mile of the trail, we watched a Calliope Hummingbird bathing in the stream and a dark Red-tailed Hawk that was perched nearby.
Other hummingbird species found along the trail included a few Rufous and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds and a Blue-throated Mountain-Gem. A Northern Pygmy-Owl was heard 'tooting' from the hillside.

A good number of flycatchers were present. There were well over 20 Hammond's Flycatchers and several Cordillerans along the streambed with what seemed to be at least one 'Empid' in view at all times. Western Wood-Pewees were periodically seen in addition to one Dusky Flycatcher.

Mexican Jays and Steller's Jays were very noticeable. Two Hairy Woodpeckers and several Northern Flickers showed themselves among the omnipresent Acorn Woodpeckers.
The canyon also produced 11 species of warblers. Among the fair numbers of Wilson's, Hermit, and Black-throated Gray Warblers were 5 Painted Redstarts, a few Townsend's, a couple MacGillivray's and Orange-crowneds, and a Grace's, a Nashville, and a Yellow-rumped. Past the 2-mile mark, Jason spotted a Townsend's x Hermit hybrid that gave us good looks. I was able to get a few decent photos of it showing the bright yellow face, representative of the Hermit, and most of the Townsend's characteristics----the yellowish wash on the breast under the black bib, the dark streaking on the flanks, and the streaking on the greenish back.

We eventually reached the switchbacks past the 3-mile mark where we turned around and worked our way back down. Two Band-tailed Pigeons were briefly seen near the top of one of the pines, and a Zone-tailed Hawk soared overhead.

A flock of agitated birds directed us to a Northern Pygmy-Owl that flew off just before I could get a photo, but the Painted Redstarts put on a nice show.

Additional birds discovered in the canyon included Vaux's Swift, Hutton's, Cassin's, and Plumbeous Vireo, Common Raven, Mexican Chickadee, Bridled Titmouse, Violet-green Swallow, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Canyon, House, and Bewick's Wren, Swainson's and Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Lesser Goldfinch, Rufous-crowned and Lincoln's Sparrow, Green-tailed and Spotted Towhee, Hepatic Tanager, and Black-headed Grosbeak. Unfortunately, our 9-mile trek twice up and down the canyon did not turn up the quetzals.

One nice surprise was a young Common Black Hawk that was perched over the stream just below the campground as we began our 45-minute descent down the canyon road.

We headed back to Sierra Vista for our motel and, finally, something to eat.