Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Running of the Gourds

Red-tailed Hawk by Phyliss Sickles

Carved gourd by gourd artist Phyliss Sickles
Who needs the Super Bowl or the Phoenix Open when we have "The Running of the Gourds"?  This Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the Fairgrounds in Casa Grande thousands of gourds will convene along with the people who carve them.  Among those carvers are my favorite bird gourd artists - Phyliss Sickles and Bonnie Gibson.  Carving a globular dried up plant orb into a work of art is no easy task but these ladies make it seem effortless. 

You can make a whole day of it by continuing on down I-10 to Santa Cruz Flats.  There you will see many birds not commonly found in Phoenix.  Recent notable sightings include Chestnut-collared Longspurs, Western Meadowlarks, Lark Buntings, Bendire's Thrashers, Crested Caracara, Black Vultures, Mountain Plovers, Long-billed Curlews, and Greater White-fronted Geese.  The recent Santa Cruz Flats Raptor Count included 30 Crested Caracara, 48 Black Vultures, 7 Cooper's Hawks, 165 Red-tailed Hawks, 34 American Kestrels, 4 Ferruginous Hawks, and 25 Northern Harriers.  Of note were 28 Red-tailed Hawks on the ground feeding in the freshly tilled fields, and one HARLAN'S Red-tailed Hawk was reported at the corner of Tweedy and Greene Reservoir Rds..

Directions to "The Running of the Gourds":  Take I-10 south to Casa Grande, take the Florence Blvd. exit left (east) to S.Eleven Mile Corner Rd., turn right (south) and the Pinal Fairgrounds will be on your right at 512 S. Eleven Mile Corner.

Directions to Santa Cruz Flats:  Go back to I-10 and head south, take the S. Sunland Gin Rd. exit south for about 13 miles to Pretzer Rd and turn left.   Or continue down to Greene Reservoir Rd., turn left and travel east.  There are miles of dirt farm roads to bird along.  Be sure to bring a scope!

Cardinals in Aspen by gourd artist Bonnie Gibson

Cactus Wren in Cholla and Prickly Pear by gourd artist Bonnie Gibson

Monday, January 28, 2013

Coots Gone Wild!

On a recent visit to Papago Ponds, Arizona bird photographer Kathy Gonzales
 came across some highly combative coots!  Kathy was able to expertly 
capture key highlights of the fast-action fight:

A two-footed stranglehold combined with a sharp left-winged smack!

The referee calls "fowl", someone is swinging below the belt!

Will both fighters take a dive?

They're back on their feet!

Final smack-down!

Special thanks to bird photographer Kathy Gonzales
for capturing and sharing these awesome photos!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Tempe Town Lake Aquatic Bird Survey 2013

Logan and Anita search for ducks at the marsh near Curry and Miller roads,
while I sit with my high powered scope grimacing at the thought of having
single digit species totals.  January 19th, 2013.   Photo by Jeff Stemshorn

We set out on Saturday with high hopes of counting flock after flock of cormorants, egrets, and ducks.  After all, its the Greater Phoenix Area Waterbird Census, surely all the birds would want to make their presence known.  Well, they must not have received the memo, because the cormorants and egrets were few and far between, and the ruddy ducks had all but disappeared.  Even the habitat below the west dam was nearly barren, and views from the pedestrian bridge looking out on the lake revealed very little.  Gone were the usual cluster of Ruddy Ducks mixed with Western, Eared, and Pied-billed Grebes.

Brown Pelicans at Tempe Town Lake, making sure they are added to the waterbird census,
January 19th, 2013.   Photo by Jeff Stemshorn

Our hopes for an exciting count were renewed further down the south shoreline, when seven of the lake's Brown Pelican's appeared and flew in formation circling low right over our heads, lifting our spirits tremendously.

At the small marsh at Miller and Curry roads, where we had hoped to venture deep into the reeds and discover who knows what, we encountered a small army of city workers tearing out the invasive tamarisk surrounding the ponds.  Our chances of seeing any shy Cinnamon Teals or Buffelheads were now obliterated.  But we did manage to see a Blue-winged Teal and a few Canvasbacks.

A typically shy Blue-winged Teal popped out from the reeds
at the marsh near Miller and Curry not wanting to
be left out of the waterbird census!
January 19th, 2013.   Photo by Jeff Stemshorn

Tempe Town Lake 2013

Canvasbacks 5
Gadwalls 4
Blue-winged Teal 1
Green-winged Teal 9
Northern Shovelers 9
Ring-necked Ducks 3
Ruddy Ducks 8
Buffleheads 1
Pied-billed Grebes 5
Eared Grebes 19
Western Grebes 4
Neotropic Cormorants 26
Double-crested Cormorants 21
Great Blue Herons 2
Great Egrets 1
Snowy Egrets 4
Green Herons 2
American Coots 25
Killdeer 3
Black-necked Stilts 1
Least Sandpipers 3
Osprey 1
Brown Pelican 7

We had a total of 24 species (24 in 2012) and a total # birds counted 174 (629 in 2012).  So we had the same number of species at the previous year, but much, much fewer numbers for each species.

The Greater Phoenix Area Waterbird Census is held each year on the third Saturday of January.  The survey includes ducks, geese, herons, egrets, coots, cormorants and shorebirds and covers all the urban lakes, ponds (including golf course ponds), and canals throughout the greater Phoenix Metropolitan Area.  That's a lot of  area to cover!  Volunteers are always needed, so if you don't get your fill of counting birds for the Christmas Bird Counts, then here's your chance.  To volunteer for next year's waterbird census, contact Troy Corman, Arizona Game and Fish Department at .

Special thanks to Anita, Logan, Ethan, and Jeff for their great help
again with this year's census at Tempe Town Lake! 
Also, many thanks to Don, Joyce and Gay for conducting the census at Tempe Marketplace Marsh. Their census count is listed below.
(now you can see where all the cormorants, coots, and egrets were at!)  

Tempe Marsh 2013

Photo by Jeff Stemshorn, January 19, 2013.

Canada Geese 4
Gadwalls 9
Mallards 3
Green-winged Teal 2
Northern Shovelers 68
Lesser Scaup 1
Ruddy Ducks 7
Buffleheads 1
Common Mergansers 13
Red-breasted Mergansers 2 
Pied-billed Grebes 10
Western Grebes 5
Clark's Grebes 1
Neotropic Cormorants 8
Double-crested Cormorants 126
Great Blue Herons 5
Great Egrets 2
Snowy Egrets 35
Green Herons 2
Black-crowned Night Herons 1
Sora 1
American Coots 74
Killdeer 3
Spotted Sandpipers1
Ring-billed Gull 1
Osprey 2
Belted Kingfisher 2

Total Species : 28 (23 in 2012)

Total individual birds counted : 397 (659 in 2012)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Wordless Wednesday

Photos of Canada Geese walking on water at Watson Lake in Prescott, Arizona,
January 15th, 2013.  Taken by an anonymous Prescott birder.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Violet-crowned Hummingbird in the Valley?!!

Violet-crowned Hummingbird in Ahwatukee, AZ, January 2013, Photo by Denny Green.
As reported by Arizona wildlife photographer Denny Green -

Introducing Vinny  ...  the violet-crowned hummingbird.  This hummingbird is a Southern species and might be the first time a violet-crowned has been seen in Maricopa County.  Vinny is a male with an aggressive and protective birdsonality.  Typical of an Anna's male he is a great  flyer and a beautiful bird.  I've spent hours watching this guy and I feel lucky to see him and hear him.

Violet-crowned Hummingbird in Ahwatukee, AZ, January 2013, Photo by Denny Green.

It has also been an unusual hummingbird year here at my backyard in Mesa.  Usually I just have Anna's hummingbirds at my feeders, but in the last year I've also had Rufous, Black-chinned, Costa's, and even a Broad-billed who has been here since November!

My backyard Broad-billed Hummingbird showing how he feels about being
out-shined by Denny Green's Violet-crowned Hummingbird!
Photo by LuAnne Hedblom

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Ultimate Impersonator

The Lyrebird, from David Attenborough's "The Life of Birds":

Male Superb Lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae) of Australia

And here is the re-make of the above broadcast, enjoy!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Christmas Bird Count at BTA

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at Boyce Thompson Arboretum
Christmas Bird Count, Dec. 26, 2012.

With temperatures in the low 30's the December 26th, 2012 Superior Christmas Bird Count got off to a chilly start.  Teams huddled together inside the art gallery at Boyce Thompson Arboretum to enjoy a few minutes of warmth before heading out into what felt like the arctic tundra to many of us desert-rats. 

The Superior count circle begins at Queen Valley and Whitlow Dam to the west and extends to the Oak Flat campground above the town of Superior to the east, encompassing Hewitt Station Road and "Area 51" around Montana Mountain, also Queen Creek upstream of the Arboretum, Arnett Creek and Canyon, Picketpost Mountain, and 'urban birding' around the town of Superior.  So, it takes a number of dedicated teams of skilled birders to cover the area, and a very organized and enthusiastic coordinator, Cynthia Donald, to pull it off each year!

JoAnne Barr trying to
keep her ears from
freezing and falling off
during the count.
Mega-experienced, but near frozen, birder JoAnne Barr stoically lead our small group in covering the area inside the Arboretum. Highlights from our group's count included one Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in the Australian Eucalyptus area, a Cassin's Vireo in the pistachio tree at the Canyon and Magma Ridge trail junction and a Green-tailed Towhee in the Demonstration Garden.

The biggest highlight of the entire 2012 Superior Christmas Bird Count unfolded in Arnett Canyon where team leaders Mike and Aaron Evans came across a Red-tailed Hawk which appeared to have an injured wing. Amazingly Mike, Aaron, and Craig Fischer (from Liberty Wildlife) were able to go back after dark, aided by a torch, headlamp, and a full moon, and locate the hawk.  Now being cared for at Liberty the hawk is doing well and will likely be returned to the wild soon.   Kudos to Mike, Aaron, and Craig!  Now those are some dedicated birders!

JoAnne Barr, Jean Beales, and Mark Ochs wait quietly for the birds to make their appearance.

The next birdwalk at Boyce Thompson Arboretum will be guided by Joanne Barr on Sunday January 6 at 8:30 am. Winter guided birdwalks continue with Dave Pearson February 2, Joanne Barr February 10, Craig Anderson February 16, and Kathe Anderson February 24.

<<<<<<  Update on Red-tailed Hawk  >>>>>>>

"Great news! Our rescue bird is on her feet! She was footing and biting at the medical team that worked with her today and downed several grams of chicken tissue again today (that way she doesn't have to work on digesting bones or coughing up pellets). Talk about biting the hand that feeds you….

Even better: there's nothing wrong with her wings at this time. She was holding them out wide when the vet techs went to get her and she flapped a few times as they got her under control.

The plan now is to get her weight back up to normal and get her color back inside the ICU (her legs and inside her mouth are a dull brown rather than a healthy yellow), then place her in a flight cage to let her build up wing and breast muscle strength. If everything goes well, she'll be released back into the wild..." 

                                                                                 ~ from Liberty Wildlife

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