Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Last Day

Bell Rock
You know how vacations are. Just as you get to know your way around without using the GPS every time, it's time to go home. We decided to do a "little" hiking on the red rocks south of Sedona. The Courthouse Rock Loop is only 4.2 miles, Dick said. The wind has died down, so we bundled up and went hiking. My Fitbit said we had covered over 6.5 miles before we made it back to the car.
Cathedral Rock
People like to give names to rock formations, depending on what shape they see. There is a Snoopy Rock and Coffeepot Rock that I understand. This one is called Cathedral Rock, and I don't see a cathedral in it at all. Many of the formation have legends to go with them. The Seven Brothers are about seven Native Americans who refused to be moved to a reservation when the army took away the rest of their tribe.
Courthouse Rock
I'm never sure if I'm using the correct name or not here in the blog, but the rocks are fascinating to me. The soft sandstone has lots of holes for critters to live in, almost like a high rise condo.
Flat Rock Stream bed
We walked up and down over rocks and logs along the trail. At some spots, the rocks are flat, and you can see where the water washes down when it rains. One place has the beginning of a canyon in the red sandstone.
Climbing on Bell Rock
The Forest Service operates the areas around Sedona, with lots of signs about staying on the trails, and not damaging the fragile desert eco-system. Lots of people came to enjoy the rocks this morning. We were relieved to see a sign that this climbing was allowed. There were dedicated hikers wearing shorts, sleeveless shirts, sneakers and a water bottle as the sped down the trail. Other pairs of walkers talked non-stop.

 We shared the trails with horses and mountain bikers. Some of the bikers had little bells to warn folks they were coming, and others almost ran you down if you didn't hear them coming. Sorry, I don't see the fun in this. Some of the bikers were peddling for all they were worth. Of course, I was limping by the end of the morning with sore toes that have bothered me all week.
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Western Scrub Jay
Dick and I took our time, enjoying the wildflowers and looking (without too much success) for some of the many birds we heard singing. The advantage of birding with local people is their ability to identify more of the birds by song, and to know where to look for certain species.

We found a website with wildflowers from this part of Arizona and it will take a while to look up all the flowers we saw. It's been a great vacation, and I'd like to come back to the birding festival again some time. Tomorrow I hope we don't get bounced around to bad trying to fly over all the bad weather in the middle of the country on our way home.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Winds Over the Water

Sedona Wetlands
Once again, water was the venue for our birding adventures today. Water treatment ponds have always been great resources for birding and this one was easy to find. However, the weather has changed, and winds of 20-30 mph with stronger gusts made it a little chilly around the ponds today. By afternoon, the sky was completely cloud covered and threatening to rain on us.
Cinamon Teals pair
Some of the first birds we found were a brightly colored Cinamon Teal drake and his drab little mate wading in the shallow water around the edges of the pond. Have you ever noticed how many species have red eyes when they are sexually mature? Guess the girls really love it.
Large Tailed Grackle
Regardless of the winds, the air was filled with the cackle, squeal, shriek and wolf whistles of the Long Tailed Grackle.
Red-winged Blackbird
Add to that the constant calls of Red-winged Blackbirds guarding their territories every 6 feet in the cattails, and it was all we could do to talk to each other occasionally.
Red-winged Blackbird female
We remembered the first time we ever saw a female Red-winged Blackbird. We searched through all the sparrows in the field guide and still couldn't figure out what this really big brown bird was.
The Killdeer is a familiar bird. The only plover I feel confident in identifying.
Least Sandpiper
OK, these two small plump birds were foraging in the shallow water. At home, I usually see birds I already know, and don't really have to dig into the field guide too often. In a new area, however, I am spending time with the book to compare and contrast new species, and it's a good exercise. First, these were small birds, letting out all the one with long legs. The legs are a yellow-ish color, letting out all the birds with black legs. Ah, by process of elimination, I think we are getting closer. The book continues, "common, the most widely distributed peep, characterized by greenish-yellow legs, crouching posture, short fine-tipped bill and overall brownish color." The map shows them a either wintering or migrating through this area. I think we have a winner! Now if any of you have a firm but different opinion, please let me know gently.
American Coot
Ring-necked Duck
Ruddy Ducks
 Deeper waters were host to several kinds of ducks. A large body of water in the back was fenced off by the Water Company, but they provided an observation deck for birders. The water made waves on this lake resembling ocean waves, and all the sensible ducks were at the far end, sheltered along the dam. And you really needed a spotting scope to see any of then in any detail.
Yellow-headed Blackbird
When we came to Tucson several years ago for another birding festival, we went to the water treatment facility there and saw hundreds of bright Yellow-headed Blackbirds. Today, there was only one, but it was nice to see a familiar face.
Violet-green Swallows
Violet-green Swallow
Even the Turkey Vultures seemed to have trouble controlling their flight in the strong winds today, but not the swallows. We were almost dive-bombed by the thousands of Violet-green Swallows in the air today. This is strictly a Western bird, with a bright white belly and white on the face. You have to be above it to see the greenish sheen on its back. Their wings are longer than their tails, and I look oh so many photos of empty sky and water trying to get one in flight that was still focused.Tomorrow is the last day for hiking and birding before we have to get on a plane and go home. I still have a few target birds, such as the Bridled Titmouse I would like to photograph, but overall this has been a fantastic trip with 14 new birds to add to our life list!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Day 4 - Up to the Top of the Mountain

Ponderosa Pines
For our last day of the Verde Valley Birding Festival, we chose a trip up Mingus Mountain, to contrast with the riparian and desert trips. The change in habitat usually matches the change in elevation. I don't enjoy driving on the steep mountain roads, with hairpin S-curves, and no place to get off the road if someone crowds you. And that's just the paved highways! After driving through the old mining town of Jerome, it really got steep. Up, around, Oh, don't look over the edge! Then we got onto the gravel roads and added bouncing violently in the back seat of the van to all the other driving issues. No, we will not be going back to Jerome on our own. Our driver didn't seem to be affected by all this at all. Sigh.
Red Breasted Nuthatch
"Where is that bird?" "In the pine tree." But they are all pine trees! Which one! Just watch for the movement. Birding in a Ponderosa pine forest can be as much, if not more, challenging than any deciduous forest. All the little birds were flitting about happily eating caterpillars and bugs, with no interest at all in those strange looking things below them.
Acorn Woodpecker
The oak trees haven't leafed out yet, so the dead looking areas were not dead pine trees, I was relieved to learn. You can usually count on the clown-like Acorn Woodpecker to give you a chance for a good photo.
Later in the year, they will stuff acorns into the cracks of the pine trees for winter storage.
Cassin's Vireo
Once again, the plain gray or brown birds are often beyond my identification skills, but our leader made the call on this Cassin's Vireo. He also saw or heard a Black-headed Grosbeak, Virginia's Warbler, and Hermit Warbler. Maybe I'll have better luck next time we come. After all, I want to leave some birds to add to my life list then.
Painted Redstart
After bouncing up the gravel road, the van stopped and everyone climbed out again, heading up a narrow dry canyon. We balanced on rocks, trying not to fall backward while looking straight above our heads into the pines, and it paid off. We found a Painted Redstart, followed by...
Red-faced Warbler
...the "uncommon in shaded canyouns along streams within montane pine-oak and fir forests" Red-faced Warbler!!!! I didn't even know this one existed before we came on this trip! After much maneuvering, I managed to get an almost clear photo of it behind some pine needles, and was I ever excited. In a few minutes however,

...it took pity on us and came out into the open to sit on some twigs for a while. Have you ever seen anything more beautiful! The only thing that could have made my day better would be to have nailed the Bridled Titmouse. Well, we will be on our own for the next two days, so there is still a chance.
Western Bluebird Male
Western Bluebird Female
Western Bluebird Male
I've seen the Western Bluebird before, but never noticed how the rust in his breast goes clear around to his back. And when the sun shines on him, it's like he turns to bright blue neon.
Red Tailed Hawk
The tour leader really wanted to find an Olive Warbler, which he says isn't really a warbler at all. He heard one or two and off we climbed into the forest. Finally had to give it up however. Apparently it's too early in the season for Arizona State Parks to open the restroom facilities yet - each one we tried was locked.
Overlook into Verde Valley
From about 7,800 feet we had a fine view of the valley below. We checked out all the Turkey Vultures, hoping to find a Zone Tailed Hawk, but no luck today, then headed back down the road to town. And, yes, it was just as scary going down and it had been going up.

Alcantara Winery
Now that the Festival is over, we are trying to decide what to squeeze into the next two days before we go back to Phoenix - some birding, some hiking, and some wine tasting are in order. Strange as it sounds, there are lots of wineries in the Verde Valley.
Mama Says Phoebe and chicks
And you can even continue to bird while wine tasting. We had to tell the folks at the winery that this was NOT some endangered flycatcher, as they thought, but a Says Phoebe which is very common and loves to nest on buildings. The temperature is supposed to drop and the wind to rise tomorrow, so we'll see what the changing conditions do to the birding.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Day 3 - Up to the Desert

Black-throated Sparrow
On Day 3 of the Verde Valley Bird Festival, we headed to the high desert above Cottonwood, from a field across the street from houses to a dirt road up in the hills. There aren't any tall saguaro cactus, those are farther south, just lots of mesquite. Our tour leader Rich was 99% certain we would find the Black-throated Sparrow, which didn't actually appear until we started back to headquarters.
White-winged Dove
 We are used to the Eurasian and Mourning Doves, but today was our first White-winged Dove of the trip.
Brewer's Sparrow
I believe this plain little bird is the Brewer's Sparrow. I try to write down the names of the birds as we see them, so I can ID the ones in the photos, but it's not always easy, especially when you get two birds who don't exactly look the same.
Canyon Towhee
This Canyon Towhee is nesting in someone's yard, and carried a large piece of tissue around for nest building purposes, I suppose, unless it needed to sneeze.
Curve Billed Thrashers
Curve Billed Thrashers had actually built their nest in this cactus, rather low to the ground. Isn't that dangerous, I asked, building so close to the ground? Well, the nest is in the middle of a spiny cactus, so not too many predators would be willing to go for it.
Bullock's Oriole
Finally saw our first Oriole of the trip, and although this fellow was silent, his colors stood out.
Cactus Wren
I remembered the Cactus Wren from our birding trip in the Tuscon area, and this one looked funny to me. When I started working on the photos, I saw that it has a deformed beak. Not quite sure how it is even alive, since it should have a rather long beak for catching insects.
Gambel's Quail Pair
Gray Flycatcher
Scrub Jay
Along the gravel road we saw the Scrub Jay, Loggerhead Shrike and a pair of Gambel's Quail perched on fence posts. The leader said it was good we only saw two Shrikes, because three Shrikes and you are out!
Mourning Dove and Lark Sparrow
Sometimes you find unusual combination of birds sharing a perch. Don't know if they are friends, or just passing on their way someplace else. After our trip, I stopped by one of the vendors to have them clean my binoculars. The focus wheel is starting to lose it's cover so he taped it up too and suggested I send it back to Vortex for repairs. Then he casually showed me the new Vortex bins, and, you guessed it, I ended up buying a pair. This purchase entered me into a drawing for a new Vortex spotting scope though. Just as we were leaving the park at the end of the day, my phone ring with news that we had won the scope! Whoo-hoo!