Friday, December 30, 2011

Nest Building Has Already Begun!

Great Blue Herons start building a new nest in an established
heron rookery in the southeast valley, December 29th, 2011.

Great Blue Heron taking off with nesting material.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas Bonus Bird Walk at BTA

Christmas - Bonus bird walk this Sunday,
December 18th, 8:30 a.m.
at Boyce Thompson Arboretum with JoAnne Barr.

While you're out this way.... consider attending
the "Fesival of Lights" up at Besh Ba Gowah.
Its a fun event, a beautiful evening of the
Christmas season -- and free!
Check it out HERE.
***** Update *******
Highlights from this walk included a Rufous-backed Robin,
an American Robin, a Rufous-crowned Sparrow, and the Coatimundi!

Joanne Barr will lead another bird walk
 at BTA on New Year's Day,
starting at 8:30 am.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Winter Ducks

Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)
 Winter ducks - gotta love em'.  These beauties are popping up everywhere, each week it seems someone new appears.  I've only captured photos of a few.  The excitement this week includes the Common (Eurasian) Teal spotted by Magill Weber at Tempe Marketplace,and a pair of Common Goldeneye and 49 Hooded Mergansers spotted by Troy Corman at Fountain Hills Lake.

Redhead (Aythya americana)

American Wigeon (Anas americana)
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)

Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)
Gadwalls (Anas strepera)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Birds vs. Birdwatchers

Some days I'm not sure what is more fascinating - the birds that I see when I'm out birding, or the people that I meet.  On a recent trip to Neely Water Ranch in Gilbert, Arizona, it was definitely a person and not a bird that captured my attention.  In fact the trip would have been a complete bust had I not had the good fortune to run into Tom Cole right in the parking lot. 

It was a bitter cold December day and the site seemed to not be very wheelchair friendly.  Then Tom appeared, wanting to know where I got the reindeer antlers and red nose adorning my van.  With his binocs, camera, red plaid flannel shirt, slightly graying beard, and mischievous dimpled smile, I felt I had found the closest thing to a birdwatching-Santa!

Tom Cole explaining to us newcomers the
odd layout that now exists at Neely Ranch.
I was amazed to learn that Tom had birded Neely Water Ranch for the last 17 years, taken copious notes, created an extensive data-base, and recently published a book about it - The Intersection - Seventeen Years of Bird Processing on One Street Corner of the World. A great review of the book can be found on the citizen-science website SciStarter .

Neely Water Ranch isn't quite what it once was when Tom first started birding here.  Several of the recharge ponds have been permanently drained and filled with rows and rows of solar panels.  The whole area is enclosed by cyclone fencing, block walls, gravel berms, and iron bars.  Old bird blinds offer sterile views of solar panels.  While there are birds to be found, (we saw a Northern Harrier, an American Kestrel, Gadwalls, Northern Pintails, a Vermilion Flycatcher, several Yellow-rumped Warblers, a Black Phoebe, and a Says Phoebe) it is in an odd and unnatural setting.  A fire station sits on the west side, and huge electrical towers and Schuff Steel adorn the northern border.  So unless you like your nature photography to have a strong industrial edge, Neely Ranch is not the place for you.

But if you are in the neighborhood, its worth stopping at Neely Water Ranch just in the off chance that Tom is there.

Click on image below to view slide-show:

Neely Water Ranch is located at Cooper Rd. and the Western Canal, just north of Elliot. Parking is available in the gravel lot to the rear of the fire station parking lot.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Volunteers Needed For Christmas Bird Counts

Its that time of year already!  Christmas Bird Counts have been going on since 1900.  But each year more volunteers are needed to perform the counts.  You don't have to be an expert birder to join in on the fun, you will be paired with more experienced birders.  There are several areas covered across the state, and the counts are performed one calendar day between December 14 and January 5 .  Check out the Arizona Christmas Bird Count Schedule 2011-2012 and contact one of the compilers to volunteer.  The counts start early and last all day and are usually concluded with a compilation dinner where results are tallied and experiences are shared.  A $5 donation to the Audubon is required by each participant.  Christmas Counts near the Phoenix area include Tres Rios, Gila River, Salt and Verde River, Carefree, Hassayampa River and Superior.

Want to learn the ropes? On Saturday, December 10th at 9am to 11am, The Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center is offering a special CBC training session to the community. Come down to learn how you can make a difference while enjoying the beauty of the season.

Make Christmas Bird Counts a part of your holiday tradition!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mystery Gull at Tempe Town Lake

Photo by Jeff Stemshorn, Tempe Town Lake
Pedestrian Bridge, Nov. 25th, 2011.

For most of us ALL gulls are a mystery when it comes to them.  As someone who spent their childhood near the ocean in southern California, seagulls were our nemeses on the school playground and on the beach - randomly bombing us with guano as they flew off with our lunches, so I tend to avoid them altogether.

But on November 25th while birding the Tempe Town Lake Pedestrian Bridge, I spotted a single bright white bird floating amid a flock of Ruddy Ducks on the lake.  When it took to the sky we could see it was a gull, but what kind?  Is it a Western Gull, or a Ring-billed Gull in non-breeding plumage, or a California Gull in winter plumage... or something else? 

Anyone want to venture a guess as to what type of gull this is?

*** Update as of Dec. 1st ***

Suprisingly, the best ID so far of the Mystery Gull has come from the least experienced birder, my friend Don Price, an avid fisherman:

"Yes. I know this gull! His name is Richard."  Don went on to say  - "Well, I guess you’d say what can make me feel this way? My gull, my gull, my gull… talkin’ ‘bout my gull."

Pure genious.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Weekend Fall Festival

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend by heading out to the Fall Festival at Boyce Thompson Arboretum this Saturday and Sunday. The Pistachio, Sycamore, and Varnish trees are in full fall color, photographers will be holding workshops on how to best photograph fall foliage, and there will be flute music, arts and craft vendors, and hot apple cider!

Sunday morning at 8:30 Kathe Anderson will be leading a bird walk, and if you're lucky you might spot the coatimundi seen on last week's bird walk.  Birds of interest seen recently at the Arboretum include Northern Beardless -Tyrannulet, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Western Bluebirds, American Robins and numerous Hermit Thrushes.

The coatimundi stole the show at last Saturday's Bird Walk
 at Boyce Thompson Arboretum. This fantastic shot was taken
 by photographer Brendon Grice near the Herb Garden.

Click image below to view slide show:


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Lessons Learned in the Field

Hoping to get a photo of the Osprey taking off...
looks like he's thinking about it...

Okay, great, he's leaning forward...
any second now he'll take off...
finally I'll get a shot of an Osprey in flight...

Aaaacckkkk!!!  He threw up instead.

This is what landed below the light pole,
indigestible fish parts.

And also on the nice shiny red truck
parked underneath the light pole.


Lessons Learned: 

1.  Owls aren't the only bird of prey that regurgitate the indigestible parts of their prey.

2.  Be careful where you park when birding at Tempe Marketplace.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Birding the Bridge!!!

A great new wheelchair accessible birding spot is now open to the public - Tempe Town Lake Pedestrian Bridge.  It takes you right on top of the west dam (yes, the same dam that burst last year).  There's easy access to the bridge and lots of parking at the Tempe Center for the Arts, on Rio Salado Parkway, east of Priest.

The new pedestrian bridge provides birders with never before seen views down into the habitat below the west dam.  At nearly any given time of day you'll see egrets, heron's, cormorants, grebes, coots, and ducks galore.

The side railings along the bridge have plenty of space for photographers in wheelchairs to get unobstructed shots of the lake and the downstream habitat.  If you point your camera toward the lake and wait patiently, you'll eventually see a big huge egret, heron or cormorant flying right at eye-level.  If you're really lucky, you might even see a Brown Pelican!

As you meander up and down and back and forth along the bridge, ogling at the birds, be careful of cyclists that whiz by at lightning speed, and the occasional skateboarder.

Just minutes from the ASU campus, Mill Avenue, and Tempe Marketplace, this is a convenient spot to get a quick birding fix on your lunch hour.  Birds seen include Osprey, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Green Herons, Black-crowned Night Herons (2 juvenile), Neotropic Cormorants, Western Grebes, Pied-billed Grebes, Ruddy Ducks, Mallards, American Coots, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpipers, Black Phoebes, Belted Kingfisher, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Verdin (in the parking lot).

Click on image below to see slide show:

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Birds of Prey - Another Sign of Fall

Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)
 at Rio Salado, Nov.12, 2011.

American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)
at Tempe Marketplace, Nov. 12, 2011.

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
 at Tempe Marketplace, Nov.2, 2011.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Subtle Signs That Fall is Here...

My Rock Squirrel is busy gathering bedding for his winter den...

 White-crowned Sparrows are starting to pop out of the shrubs...

and so are the Gilded Flickers!

(getting the ol' evil-eye from the Curve-billed Thrasher)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Surf Scoter Spotted at Fountain Hills Lake

Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata), female,
at Fountain Hills Lake, October 28th, 2011.
   I really went to Fountain Hills to check on the accessibility of Tommy D.'s recently noted "Fountain Hills Storm Drainage".  The area certainly looks like great lush habitat, thick with mesquite, cottonwood, palo verde, and willow trees, but wheelchair access looked a bit iffy.  Since I was by myself I opted to head to the lake, where I spotted this oddball among the little Ruddy Ducks.  It looks like a female Surf Scoter!  I didn't have my viewing scope with me, so I wasn't able to scan the lake and search for the much more striking and easily identifiable male Scoter.  He might still be out there, so go check it out!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Big Bugs Invade Desert Botanical Garden!

Giant Praying Mantis looms over the Garden

This Northern Mockingbird appears unfazed by the Big Bug Invasion.

Giant Ant takes over a nearby hill!

A few Black-throated Gray Warblers made an appearance at
 the Monday Morning Bird Walk this week at DBG!

Do you have an event, bird walk, meeting, or nature walk that belongs on this calendar? Please send info to

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