alaskabirder

Its a Great Day to Bird

Author: Michelle Michaud (page 1 of 8)

Guyana – Part 1

Jack and I decided to go on a birding tour of Guyana with the hopes of seeing the Harpy Eagle.  A blog of our trip will be presented in two parts since I have a lot of photos.  This is part 1 (the first week, of our two week trip).

Guyana is located in South America.  The country is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, Venezuela, Suriname, and Brazil.  The population is approximately 750,000 – about the size of Alaska’s population.  About half of their population lives in Georgetown (similar to half of Alaska’s population living in Anchorage).   Their road system is similar to ours in Alaska – limited, and much of it non-paved.  The climate is tropical and they have two seasons: dry and wet.  And when its wet, it is really wet.  Okay so that is where the similarities end.  Many of the major rivers flood during the wet season and people resort to traveling by boat, rather than cars in the outlying communities.  And Georgetown itself is located below sea level.

Size of Guyana in comparison to the United States

Map of Guyana showing road system (or lack thereof)

12 February, 2019

We started our Guyana adventure today with a 4:30 a.m. shuttle to catch a flight out of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, with a final destination “today” of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  We took a super shuttle from our friends’ home in Apache Junction to the airport.  The shuttle arrived at 4:20 a.m. but I get pre-trip jitters and have been up since 2:45 a.m.  Needless to say, I am tired.  But maybe there is a bright side since Guyana’s time zone is 3 hours ahead.  We can acclimate to the time change better.  At least I hope so.

The flight from Phoenix to Florida had a stop-over in Houston (where we changed planes) was uneventful except for the turbulent departure from Phoenix, and we were barely off the ground.  In Houston, we didn’t board our flight until an hour past the departure time.  They claimed a light bulb in the entry needed to be replaced.  Now why that should take so long I’m not sure.  When we departed the plane, the pilot and co-pilot were overheard talking in the gangway about how a panel popped off, screws and all, when they arrived in Houston.  No mention was made of a light bulb needing to be replaced.  Maybe Southwest Airlines didn’t want to scare us?

Tomorrow we have to catch a shuttle from our hotel in Fort Lauderdale (we are staying at the Quality Inn and Suites – a so, so hotel) to the Miami International Airport where we will catch our flight to Georgetown – I know, strange flight arrangements and a hassle to shuttle to and from Miami.  We make a stop in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.   If I had been home when making plane reservations for Guyana, I would have checked into a longer lay-over in Trinidad for some birding.  The Asa Wright Center is supposed to be a fabulous place for birds.  Oh well, maybe another time – so many countries, so many birds, so little time.

13 February 2019

We woke to a torrential downpour and roaring thunder in Fort Lauderdale so we were worried about our shuttle making it on time to pick us up and get us to the Miami International Airport for our flight to Guyana.  Luckily the weather calmed down by the time our shuttle van arrived and we were deposited at the Miami International Airport around noon for our 2:30 p.m. flight.  We checked in right away, then headed to the TSA screening area where we slowly crept through the line to the screeners.  This TSA station serves around nine different airlines and only one screening station was open.  So it was crazy busy.  Luckily we had plenty of time to make our flight.

We flew to Guyana on Caribbean Airlines, a new airline for us.  The flight attendants seemed much more security conscience (seat belts fastened, window coverings up, clear under-seat area, table trays upright, kids in a separate seat belt, etc.) than what you see when flying on other airlines in the U.S.  I was impressed.  The flight wasn’t entirely full, and most people got off in Port of Spain, Trinidad.  So we were surprised when we were told to make our way to our seats (we couldn’t exit the plane) because the flight from Port of Spain to Georgetown airport was full.

I hate when someone larger than me sits in the seat next to me and decides to take up half of my space.  I shouldn’t be penalized for being small, yet I always am when I fly.  The person next to me on the leg from Port of Spain to Georgetown was a large woman with a child on her lap.  I was fortunate that the child went to sleep right away, but I still had to lean off to the side to have breathing space – luckily I was in an aisle seat.  I almost felt claustrophobic.  The only really negative thing that happened on our flight was I dropped my glasses on the floor and then stepped on them, breaking the thread/twine that holds the lens in place.  I will try to get them fixed in Georgetown.  Luckily I brought a spare pair of eyeglasses — I need them for long distances, including birding.

We got to the international airport near Georgetown Guyana around 10:30 p.m. and went through Immigration and Customs with no problems.  Okay I did try to give the immigration officer Jack’s passport instead of my own, but she was nice about it – they never seem so smile, but she cracked a small one.

Our driver was waiting for us outside and took us to our lodging in Georgetown, which is located about an hour away from the airport.  Not sure what the distance is, but a Florida driver could probably make it from the airport to our hotel in half that time.  I felt safe with our driver.  Maybe it was the road conditions that resulted in low speeds.

We made it to the hotel about 11:30 p.m., checked in, and then I tried to go to sleep.  I was so tired.  Jack fell asleep pretty easily.  I think I took about almost two hours to go to sleep, and we had a 6:15 a.m. walk up call.

14 February 2019

Happy Valentine’s Day!  We reluctantly got up at 6:15 a.m. to make a 7:00 a.m. breakfast and a 7:30 a.m. departure to the Botanical Gardens in Georgetown.  It wasn’t far to the botanical gardens where we spent about five hours birding.  There are a lot of great birds there, if you just wait for them to fly by or fly into the trees.  Many of the local birds are beginning to build nests, so we got to see the males in breeding plumage and to contrast them with the females- where there is a difference, of course.  And there was a fair amount of copulation happening too.

I saw a total of 46 different birds.  Not as many as I expected, but was told we had a good day.  I missed a few of the birds seen by others.  That is always to be expected.  Our tour doesn’t official start until tonight, but our local guide agreed to spend the morning with us and provide transportation.

Some of the birds here are familiar birds, like the Great Kiskadee, which we see a lot of when in Texas, the House Wren (southern version), and Black-crowned Night-Heron.  But we had a lot of new birds as well – parrots and tanagers, for example.

We came back for lunch and then a little relaxation time, which for me means working on my blog and downloading photos.  There are eight people on our tour, plus Ken Wilson, owner of Talon Tours (our bird tour company).  I think all but two people had cameras and of those with cameras, only three had the big, expensive cameras.   The rest of us have smaller digital zoom cameras like mine.  I wish more people did.  Those big cameras can get in the way of birding at times.

Our room the first night. We had to move to another room for the remaining three nights. That one has two beds, but otherwise similar.  The rooms were comfortable, if a bit noisy.

Yellow-bellied Eleania

Shiny Cowbird. The females were waiting for the Yellow -chinned Spinetail  female to finish building her nest before the cowbirds laid their eggs in the spinetail’s nest.

Yellow-chinned Spinetail

Lilies

The snout of a manatee

Saw several of these dead frogs

In search of birds

Tropical Kingbird

Yellow Oriole

Striated Heron – this heron is small

Here the heron is looking down into the water for food

Great Egrets in breeding plumage. Note the green lores.

Snail Kite – Adult Male

How the bird holds on is beyond me???

Wing-barred Seedeater – Male

Southern Lapwing

The botanical gardens in Georgetown

Immature Black-collared Hawk

Juvenile Black-collared Hawk calling out to its parent – feed me

Cattle Egret

Wattled Jacana preening

After all that hard work preening I need a good yawn

Spotted Caimen

Orange-winged Parrot

The parrot at its nest hole

This is a Spotted Tody-Flycatcher nest

Juvenile Striated Heron

Immature Wattled Jacana

Roadside Hawk

A different type of pond lily

Ruddy Ground Dove

Gray Kingbird

Red-shouldered Macaw

Our group in search of birds

Tropical Kingbird

White-bellied Piculet

15 February 2019

Four-thirty a.m. came too early.  The first night we were in room 202.  The rest of our stay we were moved to room 110, which is located just off the restaurant area.  Last night the hotel had a special Valentine’s day celebration – dinner, music….  So, at 10:00 p.m. I put in my ear plugs to drown out the loud music so I could get some sleep.  Since I didn’t get much sleep the night before, I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.  Thankfully.  The Valentine music was romantic classics so easy listening and no live music, dancing, or heavy drinkers.

We began our tour with a 5:00 a.m. departure, made a quick stop for breakfast (of sorts, kind of a quick food place), then went to a place called “Bounty Farm”. Supposedly Talon Tours is the only bird tour company with access to this place for birding.  Supposedly.  I think anyone that uses our local guide – Ron Allicock – probably has access to this site for birding.

We birded the grounds (area behind the chicken factory and chicken cages).  The area is a mix of different fruit trees, unique trees, and varied wet habitat all within a nicely groomed landscape so open and easy walking and good birding.  The highlight for both our tour guide and local guide was the presence of three Slender-billed Kites. They were very excited because they had never seen this bird on previous trips.  My favorite bird was the Chestnut Woodpecker.  Here is a link if you want to see what this bird looks like:  https://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/Species-Account/nb/species/chewoo2/overview.   The bird was behind some vegetation making a photograph problematic.

After the farm we headed to a spot alongside the road, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Point-tailed Palmcreeper.  The bird, if it was around, stayed hidden.  We did get a good look at two Black-capped Danocobius.  One person in our group, David, was really hoping to see this bird (life bird for him) so he was a happy birder.  The bird is quite striking (see photo) so I was happy to see it again.  Jack and I first saw this bird in Eucador in 2008.

After a quick stop for lunch, we headed back to the Botanical Gardens with the goal of spotting the Festive Parrot, which often show up there in the late-afternoon.  We were there for around an hour or so, when two of the parrots started calling and we rushed to to spotted location.  We got decent looks of them flying, where you could really see their red rump – a good mark for identifying the bird.  They also landed on a nearby tree, briefly of course, so we got good views then as well.  With that success, we proceeded back to our hotel for dinner and to go over our species list for the day.

I was tired, but unfortunately our room is just off the restaurant so we hear all the noise of the people working and eating there.  Finally, around 10:30 p.m. I called the front desk asking them if they would tell a noisy group of people to keep the noise level down. I’m not sure if they went out and asked them to keep it down or not because the noise level continued (talking and laughing – it carries far in the large room), so I went out and asked them to keep it down.  They finally came to their senses  (maybe my shouting at them helped) and either left or kept the noise to a minimum.  I finally got to sleep, although sleep was fitful.  And we have another early day tomorrow – another 5:00 a.m. departure.

Bounty Farm

Smooth-billed Ani

Silver-beaked Tanager – Female

Greater Kiskadee

Lesser Kiskadee

Ringed Kingfisher – this is one large kingfisher

White-bellied Piculet

Checking out the nest hole

Guess it will work

Roadside Hawk

Violaceous Euphonia – Male

Violaceous Euphonia – Female

These lily pads are HUGE!!!

Turquoise Tanager – Male

Common Tody Flycatcher with nest material

This lily pads are at least three feet across

Lineated Woodpecker

Slender-billed Kite

Blue-and-Gray Tanager

Owl butterfly

Ken – Robin – Ron (our guide)

Black-necked Aracari

Giant Damselflies (we would call them Dragonflies)

Pale-breasted Thrush

Barred Antshrike- Male

Ron Allicock – Local Tour Guide

This is a forest area of Bounty Farms

In the forest we had to cross several bridges – all in need of repair or replacement

Here “Swampy” aka David (from Ireland) had to get a hand across this foot bridge. It was kind of precarious.

Bamboo – you can see how tall it is with Jack standing next to it

Yay! Fungi

This one spiraled

Crimson-crested Woodpecker

We were looking for the Point-tailed Palmcreeper here. Didin’t find it, but still got some good birds despite all the garbage.

Great Kiskadee

Black-capped Danocobius

Greater Yellow-headed Vulture

Ruddy Ground Dove

Here we are back at the Botanical Gardens in Georgetown

Northern Scrub Flycatcher

Little Blue Heron (Immature)

Pearl Kite

Pearl Kite

Lots of interesting trees

16 February 2019

Getting up at 4:30 a.m. for a second day in a row with little sleep makes for a cranky Shell.  We loaded into a van and made our way towards the Suriname border.  We stopped briefly along the highway to look for a Rufous Crab Hawk and found several.  Great markings on this bird.  Kind of reminds me of the Harris’s Hawk.

We eventually turned off the main highway and worked our way to a boat landing on the Mahaica River, were we got into a boat and motored along (slowly) searching for birds – primarily the Hoatzin.  This bird looks prehistoric.  The birds weren’t very cooperative (like they were for us when we saw them in Ecuador and Peru).  When we finally saw them they were partially hidden by the vegetation.  Always nice to see the bird again – one of Jack’s favorites – even if the views were partial and brief.  I always like being on the river.  We had some great views of the Long-winged Harrier and Little Cuckoo.   There were at least five species of hummingbirds observed – both along the river and at boat Captain’s house and yard.

The road we took to catch the boat actually had some good birding as well.  We had the Pied Water Tyrant and the Red-breasted Meadowlark – think a large Vermillion Flycatcher.  The Carib Grackle was present, but not in large numbers like we’ve seen Great-tailed Grackles in the United States.  But the Carib Grackle is a new bird for me (Life bird).

We made a quick stop at Hope Canal, an entrance to the Atlantic Ocean.  This place was busy with Fisherman repairing their boats, with other people just hanging out.  And domestic goats were everywhere.  We stopped here to check out the mud flats, but unfortunately we came at the wrong time.  We should have stopped here on our way to the river.  I think the reason we didn’t stop here first was because the local guide wanted to make sure we got on the river at a decent time to see the Hoatzins.  My favorite bird at Hope Canal was the Scarlet Ibis.  We had four ibis fly over and their coloring against the gray sky was spectacular.  Hard to miss those birds.  We also got to see two Magnificent Frigatebirds.

We got back to our hotel at a decent time, then were told to have our bags packed quickly as they are being driven to our next destination for arrival tomorrow.  Tomorrow, we are taking a charter flight to see the Kaieteur Falls and then will fly on to our lodge at Sumara. Jack’s looking forward to seeing the falls, although the poor guy has caught a head cold.  Luckily I don’t think we have quite the same early morning wake-up call as the past two days.

Rufous Crab Hawk

Rufous Crab Hawk

Gray-breasted Martin

Our group getting on a boat for a trip on the Mahaica River

Long-winged Harrier

Local dog

The river traverses rice fields

Carib Grackle

Pied Water Tyrant

Pied Water Tyrant Nest – you can see the bird in the nest (see the center of the nest)

Pretty flowers

Little Cuckoo

We saw several of them

Up front – Ron Allicock (local guide) and Veronica

One of the houses along the river

Looking up river – Gary on the right

An “Eleania” species.  No one seemed to know which one.  Some of us are leaning towards Lesser Eleania.

Two Yellow-chinned Spinetail

Twig Anole …

… a type of lizard

This is called “Hope Canal”. Lots of garbage around. Sad.

Fisherman doing boat repairs

Taiwan David on the trail out to the coast

Amazon Kingfisher

Dive, dive, dive

17 February 2019

Today we checked out of our hotel and caught a commercial flight to Kaieteur Falls (part of Kaieteur National Park).  The flight was about 1.5 hours and I got to ride in the co-pilot’s seat.  That was a new experience for me.  Luckily the pilot didn’t need my assistance.

We spent two hours at the national park/falls looking for birds, specifically the Guianan Cock-of-the Rock.  We found several of these birds, all in trees.  Hard to miss the bright orange color.  These are the weirdest looking birds to me.  All orange except for a few black splashes on their wings and head.

We hiked to the falls, which were quiet magnificent.  These falls are the highest “single-drop” waterfall in the world at 780 feet, over three times as tall as Niagara Falls.   Quite impressive.  Beautiful.  While at the falls proper, we did see several birds, but most notably was the Orange-breasted Falcon in search of food – some of the many swifts flying around.

At the end of our two hours we hopped back on to the plane and off we went to Sumara Ecolodge where we will spend the next three nights.  We got to the lodge around 1:30 p.m., and proceeded to have a late lunch.  We had the rest of the afternoon off before meeting up again around 4:00 p.m.  Jack, who isn’t feeling well, went to our room to rest.  I went out into the hot sun to look for birds and I was able to add a few new birds to my list.

In the late afternoon, our group went out birding.  The target bird this afternoon was the Great Potoo.  We found two of these birds (a pair) as part of our forest walk.  The potoo feeds at night so during the day they roost (they look like a statue) and are easily photographed if you can find the bird.  It takes a lot of noise to flush these birds.  I know, because our group was making a lot of noise, despite the admonishment of our local bird guide.  We then spent some time birding until nightfall.  Shortly before dusk we had our first “sundowner”.  This is where the locals bring out the El Dorado (Guyana product) Rum.  They even gave each of us a short glass with the Guyana flag on the side.

But we weren’t done birding yet.  Our goal at dusk was to spot nighthawks and nightjars.  We found both the Least and Lesser Nighthawks.  Both great finds.  Then it was back to the barn, so to speak, for dinner and going over our checklists (a daily event).

With birding tours, the guides always handouts a checklist of what birds might be seen on the tour.  Then they go over the checklist each night to mark what birds were seen and/or heard.

By the time we finished dinner and gone over our checklist, we were ready to turn the lights out and go to bed with scheduled 5:00 a.m. breakfast.

Jonathan, our pilot to Kaieteur Falls

tarmac

Ready for takeoff

Off we go … and lift off

All of us crammed into the small plane

Occasional views of mined areas

We circled the waterfalls

Jack getting off the plane

Our small plane

The runway at the falls.  It didn’t seem very long.

Veronica on the path to the falls

Sundew – carnivorous plants

About the size of a dime (each)

Rufous-crowned Flycatcher

Another view of the flycatcher

Tropical Kingbird

The “Golden Frog” loves these plants – the plants are big but the frog is …

small … Golden Frog hiding in the fronds

I was surprised at how really small they are – think quarter size

On our way to the Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock lek

Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock (male)

Jack at the falls – just don’t too close

Despite the warming signs, some people get a little too close for my comfort

Jack and I at the falls

Kaieteur Falls

Downstream of the falls

This was a large bee

Cane Toad

Once back in the air, I got this photo of our plane’s silhouette

Our plane on the ground at Surama

While the falls runway was paved, this one was dirt

Our little cabana for three nights

Passionfruit

Green Garden Lizard (so we were told)

Red-capped Cardinal – one of Jack’s favorite birds

Tropical Mockingbird

Swallow-winged Puffbird

Black Vulture

These are Cacique nests

White-tipped Dove

Lineated Woodpecker

Tropical Kingbird

Savannah Hawk

Ruby Topaz

Waiting for the Potoo sighting

Great Potoo – front …

… and the back of the bird. Generally they are flush with a diagonal branch. Not so with this guy.

And the female. Now this is how we are used to seeing these birds (potoos) – like an extension of the tree

Orchid

Black-collared Hawk

Now waiting for dusk and the beginning of the “sundowner” tradition. A shot of El Dorado (Guianan) Rum. Oh and we are also waiting for nighthawks and nightjars to begin flying.

Lesser Nighthawk

Sunset

18 February 2019

We woke today to an open window. I thought Jack opened it and he thought I did. Hmmmm.   We still have a resident frog in our bathroom.

Today was the day to see the “trip bird” – the Harpy Eagle.  We hiked on the “Harpy Trail” for 30 minutes to check out a nest site.  The  Harpy’s has been seen bringing in nest material to this site in preparation for nesting. Yup, you guessed it.  A no-show.  What a disappointment.  We had so wanted to see the bird.  Don’t know if we will have any other chances, but I sure hope so.  A couple who are also at the lodge saw the Harpy Eagle yesterday.  As Jack likes to say – Timing is Everything.  And it sure is.  One birder on our tour said he has hiked different trails three times to see a Harpy Eagle and no Harpy.  Another birder said he has taken photos of Harpy nests twice now, and no Harpy.  I hope our luck changes.

We birded from around 6:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m., getting about 35 species, of which most were new birds for the trip.  I think my favorite was the Great Jacamar. When the light hit the bird just right, the green on its head and the blue in its tail just shined.  Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

From 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. was quiet time.  Time to rest and relax as it is hot outside, even though you can hear the birds from our cabana.

At 4:30 p.m. we headed to “Heaven Savannah” to look for grassland species, finding lots of flycatchers, seedeaters (e.g., Ruddy-breasted), and the White-naped Xenopsaris.   After getting our fill of grassland species, we headed into the forest to look for owls.  We were successful in calling in the Spectacled Owl.  We didn’t spend much time on the owl.  Who (no pun intended) likes to have a bright light shining in their eyes?  Then it was back to the lodge for dinner and completing our species list of the day.

White-tailed Trogon (aka Green-backed-Trogon)

Great Jacamar

White-throated Toucan (aka Red-billed Toucan)

Scarlet Macaw

While waiting for the Harpy Eagle to appear, our Guide Ron Allicock put this hand-carved Ground-Cuckoo down in the hopes of enticing a ground-cuckoo to appear. No such luck.

Cream-colored Woodpecker

Yellow-headed Caracara

Savannah Hawk

View from the Surama Eco-lodge

Ruddy-breasted Seedeater

White-chinned Sapphire

(Hummingbird)

Palm Tanager

Cayenne Jay

Yellow-rumped Cacique

Their call included sounds like “welcome”

Plumbeous Kite

Cute cow and calf

19 February 2019

Today was our second try for the Harpy Eagle.  Our adventure took us down a forest road (one-mile drive and then two miles of walking) and a river boat trip on the Burro Burro River.  Once we were on the two-mile trail we birded along the way.  You never know when and where you might find a Harpy Eagle.  You listen for agitated Howler Monkeys or Scarlet Macaws, although the Scarlet Macaws always sound agitated to me.  We did hear both, but our guide suspects they might have been agitated by a Crested Eagle, an eagle similar to the Harpy Eagle.  So why the agitation?  Well Harpy Eagles like to eat monkeys and large birds.

We got to the river, which is low this year.  The trip took us awhile (several hours) because we had to dodge large trees that had fallen over or down into the water, and dodge overhanging branches and leaves.  We had two boats.  A couple of times the boats (one or both) would get hung up (high centered) on a large tree trunk that was mostly submerged under water.  The trip down river was beautiful despite the obstacles.  We did see a caiman (think alligator) resting on a log, and we flushed a Capybara.  This is a large rodent looking mammal.

We finally made our destination and walked a narrow, windy trail to an area where we could look across the river and see a very large tree.  In this tree was a Harpy Eagle nest which has had an active juvenile hanging around.  There was no bird on the nest when we arrived so we proceeded to ‘stake-out’ the nest hoping a Harpy would fly in.  Our wait was rewarded with the appearance of an immature (8month-old) Harpy Eagle!  Woohoo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  We all got great views and hopefully great photographs.  After watching the bird for about 30-45 minutes, we returned to our boat and our trip up river.  For me, the river trip didn’t produce many birds because Jack and I were in the second boat going down river to the Harpy nest.  Most of the birds were flushed by the first boat.  And coming back we were in the first boat, but the forest was much more quiet, except for the numerous Kingfishers (Ringed and Amazonian) along the river.

This is our last night at Surama Eco-lodge so the staff fixed us a nice barbeque dinner.

On the forest trail – headed to the river to catch our boats for the downriver trip to the Harpy Eagle Nest

The Burro Burro River

Bats clinging to the side of a large rock in the river

Swallow

Local Guide Ron Allicock getting the first boat over a log in the river

The boat was successfully dislodged with no one going into the water

Large spider on a log

Ringed Kingfisher

Harpy Eagle nest tree

That is one big nest

Eight-month old Harpy Eagle

Golden-checked Woodpecker

Banana Tree

20 February 2019

Another early morning departure (6:00 a.m.).  We said good-bye to our hosts at Surama Eco-Lodge and proceeded to bird our way to Atta Rainforest Lodge, located about 30 minutes from Surama.  We birded along the way until we reached the Harpy Eagle Trail (our first search site).  The Harpy Eagle nest is located within the forest about a 30-minute walk from the road.  While we birded the road, our drivers went to the nest to see if the eagles had landed (I know, sorry).  The excited word back was that a Harpy was present so off we went, in a rush, to check out the bird.  When we arrived we saw the female.  She was sitting in the open, but pretty high up in a tree.  She left and flew to the nest tree (which is one big honking tree) and we continued our view.  Suddenly a male came flying into a nearby tree and we got lots of looks of him as well.  Just not as good.  So three Harpy Eagles for this trip.  Woohoo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Score.  Jack and I did our happy dance.

We got to Atta Rainforest Ledge around 12:00 p.m., quickly settled into our rooms (nice), and then went to have a delicious meal.  Yum!!!  Then we had a few hours to just rest and relax.

We did some afternoon birding beginning around 4:30 p.m.   Walking the road near the lodge, we got to see ever so brief glimpses of the Coraya Wren. A bird I really wanted to see.  I’m glad I got a decent 5-second look at the bird.  I sure hope we see it again.  About a half-hour after we started birding the rains came and quieted down the forest.  We stayed out in hopes of see the Long-tailed Potoo fly in, but the bird had other plans.  We ended the evening with a very good meal and completing our bird checklist for the day.

When we do our evening checklist, it surprises (or maybe no some much) me that I only seem to get half the birds as the rest of the group, or at least Swampy (aka David 2) or Victoria.  He knows the calls for the birds, unlike me.  Shoot, sometimes I’m lucky to even know the names of the birds we see.  Victoria likewise is a good birder – she is really good at spotting birds.

Martin (Gray-breasted or Brown-chested)

Silver-beaked Tanager

Blue-headed Parrot in nest hole

Blue-headed Parrot

Paradise Jacamar (poor lighting, unfortunately)

Taiwan David sitting waiting for the birds

Black Hawk Eagle

Love the crest

Harpy Eagle

The male was right above us – looking down

The underside of a Three-toes Sloth

Long-tailed Hermit

Blue-headed Parrot

Red-rumped Agouti

21- February 2019

It rained much of the night and into the morning.  The plans were to get up at 5:00 a.m., and begin birding by 6:00 a.m.  Our plans got delayed a little with us starting out around an hour later.  We went to the canopy walk/tower, consisting of three-interconnected towers.  While we were on tower number two, we were told to leave the tower and proceed to tower number 3 as the wires holding up the gangway between tower #1 and tower #2 were hanging by a thread. So our birding sightings on the canopy tower consisted of three birds total:  a Guinian Puffbird, and two White-necked Toucans.

From the tower we birded a forest trail for several hours, not finding much although the Grey-rumped Trumpeter, a rather large, beautiful bird, was sighted briefly.  I would love to have better and longer views of this bird.  We did see and hear the Screaming Piha regularly.  These birds sings all day long.  This song/call is one you don’t forget.  I think I will make it a ringtone on my phone.

We had a nice break after lunch, then around 2:00 p.m. we headed out on the road to a spot where our local bird guide had previously located a Rufous Potoo in the nearby forest.  Off we went.  We hiked on a trail for a short distance, and there was the Potoo, sitting quietly for us.  These birds roost during the day and hunt at night.  The bird is not common for this area so always a pleasure to see a rare bird.

After we hiked back out to the vehicles we birded the road, finding some great parrots, macaws, tanagers, and raptors.  My favorite parrot is the Red-fan Parrot.  This bird fans its crest, although I wasn’t able to capture the beauty on my camera.  We also had a couple of small Bat Falcon.  Right now is the breeding season in Guyana so we are seeing a lot of birds already paired up, copulating, and building nests.  Fun to watch all the activity.

Screaming Piha

These birds really open their mouths wide to sing (or it is scream?)

Atta Lodge has a canopy. We didn’t stay long at the tower as our guide noted it wasn’t very safe.

Scarlet Macaw

There is a frog in this photo

Black Currasow – they walked through the lodge grounds

Mealy Parrot

Blue-headed Parrot sticking its head out of a nest hole

Next up – Week Two.  Until then …

IT’S A GREAT DAY TO BIRD

More Arizona Birding

3 February 2019

We woke to a beautiful sunrise at Whitewater Draw and the departure of waves and waves of thousands and thousands of Sandhill Cranes.  They filled the sky –what a sight.  This time Pat and I walked down to the viewing areas to see the cranes depart, while Jack and Bob stayed back at the campsite.

We left Whitewater Draw around 10:00 a.m. and made our way to Madera Canyon.  We decided to come here rather than try Gilbert Ray campground.  We stopped for lunch at the Horseshoe Café in Benson, which I would rate a 4.5 out of 5.0 stars.  Good food.  Apparently others agree as the place was very busy.

Just before Dawn …

Sunrise

The blackbirds roost in this wetland – lots of cattails, which they love

Most of these birds are Yellow-headed Blackbirds

Cactus Wren…

… here looking for food on the ground

Black-throated Sparrow

Black-throated Sparrow

We arrived at Madera Canyon around 2:00 p.m. greeted by an overcast sky, rain, and wind.  One positive note, we did find a campsite in Bog Springs Campground.   We parked and hung out until around 3:00 p.m. and then proceeded to the Santa Rita Lodge to check out the bird feeders.  The lousy weather resulted in not as many birds at the feeders, although the Blue-throated Hummingbird was present.  The Coatimundi also came several times.  Since our last visit a little over a week ago, the Lodge owners placed a hummingbird feeder for the Coatimundi below the seating/viewing area.  I think this was so people didn’t try and feed the animal as it came up to feeder adjacent to the parking area.  However, the new hummingbird feeder was empty so the Coatimundi would still go back to the parking lot feeder where he was used to getting sugar water.  Only problem is, that feeder had been removed.  Poor guy, he looked so bewildered.

Afterwards we drove to where the Elegant Trogon has been repeatedly seen.  Alas, no Trogon.  We heard reports the White-throated Thrush had been seen here too, but no Thrush either.  We continued on down the trail and did get a few birds, but not much moving in the rain soaked forest.

Mexican Jay

Blue-throated Hummingbird

Blue-throated Hummingbird

White-breasted Nuthatch

Acorn Woodpecker

The Coatimundi coming in for the sugar water

4 February 2019

We woke to windy, overcast conditions – not always ideal for birding.  We left the campground around 9:00 a.m. and stopped at the parking lot where the Trogon has been seen. No Trogon.  We then drove down to the Proctor parking lot and parked our vehicles.  Bob, Pat, Jack, and I then walked up the trail in search of the White-throated Thrush.  Bob and Pat had not seen it yet at Madera Canyon.  Some campers from yesterday told us where they had seen it today and gave us directions.  So off we went taking the right fork of the trail.  We didn’t get too far when we saw a group of birders and photographers pointing and looking up into a tree.  In great anticipation, we approached quickly, and we all got great views of the bird – with binoculars.  I say that because although it was close it was backlit and all you could see was a black bird.  This bird is so not black, but a shift in our position and with the help of foliage behind the bird we soon saw its splendid markings.

The bird then dropped to the ground to feed and we got even better views.  Depending on where you were standing, the bird was either in open view or almost obscured by branches and leaves.  I had an open view and told a photographer to stand in front of me and then I got him on the bird.  He got some great shots.  Me.  None.  Oh well.  The bird then flew back up into some brush.  Luckily I was able to follow the bird so I knew where it was sitting.  However, it wasn’t easy to always get everyone on the bird because the bird was partially obscured by branches and vegetation.  But it would occasionally move and at one point I got some decent shots.  A lot better than the first time I saw the bird over a week ago.  I wonder how many people have seen this bird – it seems to attract a crowd.

More birders were arriving, so we retreated to the parking lot.  However, just before we got there Pat and I heard several gnatcatchers.  Two Black-capped Gnatcatchers have been spotted in this vicinity in recent days.  Despite our best efforts we could not positively ID the birds as Black-capped Gnatcatchers.  So then what were they?  We think they were Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers.  These two birds look very similar during the non-breeding season.  To me the differences are very subtle.  I took my photo and checked it against Merlin ID, but this app wasn’t any help since Merlin listed all four gnatcatchers and a vireo as possibilities.  Was my photo that bad?

Our next stop was the Juan Batista de Anza greenway trail in the community of Tubac.  An immature Rose-throated Becard had been seen here yesterday.  We looked but didn’t see much in the way of birds.  That may be due to the wind – strong.  I know the White-throated Thrush was mostly hunkered down in the trees while we spent about 30 minutes watching the bird.

We had an 80+ mile drive ahead of us – and through Tucson – so we ended our birding for the day around 1:30 p.m. and headed north.  We are staying the night at Picacho Peak State Park.  Bob and Pat give me a hard time because I had difficulty with the pronunciation, at first, so I simply called it either Pistachio or Pinocchio State Park.  We were lucky to get a camp spot here.  It is a popular place – always full.  Lots of really big RV rigs all wanting electric sites.  I think our “tin tent” van was the smallest rig there – no tents.  As I mentioned before, it is getting harder and harder to get into certain state park campgrounds in Arizona.  Good for Arizona State Parks, no so good for us campers.  I guess there are more baby boomers who are becoming Snowbirds.  But the state park campgrounds aren’t cheap.  We also find that many people stay in these campgrounds for a week or more, whereas the longest we’ve stayed at a campground this trip is four days.  We picked this campground because it is close to Santa Cruz Flats, an area that is supposed to be good for winter birds – particularly grassland birds like the Mountain Plover.  We will let you know if that is true or not.

White-throated Thrush

White-throated Thrush

De Anza trail

Inca Dove

De Anza Trail

Various types of nest boxes. Jack thinks this was a project by the Tucson Audubon involving Lucy’s Warblers.

5 February 2019

Today we went birding an area known as Santa Cruz Flats.  It is an agricultural area northwest of Picacho Peaks Campground.  The goal was to find several birds:  Mountain Plover (found 33 of them in one field), Horned Lark (saw several dozen), and Crested Caracara (luckily we saw one).  And, finding a Ferruginous Hawk and a Prairie Falcon were pleasant surprises.

Before we headed out birding we had a frantic half hour thinking Jack had lost his wallet.  We called the grocery store we stopped at yesterday for groceries.  No luck there.  We checked the campsite we had just vacated.  Nothing there.  We stopped at the visitor center/administration office to see if it had been turned in.  No luck there.  Then I searched the bedding, because I had tossed Jack’s pants onto the bed this morning.  Sure enough the wallet had slipped out of his pocket and got hidden in the comforter.  Whew!!!  We weren’t looking forward to cancelling credit cards and a getting Jack a new driver’s license (or me having to drive).

We also got reservations for the next two nights at Picacho Peaks State Park, albeit in different campsites each night.  Tonight we are in the overflow area.  We have a picnic table, fire ring, and access to a vault toilet but no electricity – perfect for us.  Water is at the dump station regardless of where you camp.  I imagine many of the big rigs would prefer having a water hookup at their site.  The overflow site cost is only  $15.00 per night.  Tomorrow night we are in site B-23.  Not an ideal site, but we will have electricity as the nighttime temperatures are supposed to dip to 31 degrees F.  Brrrrrrr.  Plus, I want to recharge my electronics before we have several nights without electricity at our next destination.

After birding we returned to our campsite for the night (Overflow Site #2) and got caught up on emails and such.  Tomorrow we might revisit the Santa Cruz Flats and do some hiking in the park.

Campsite A-9 at Picacho Peak State Park

Western Meadowlark

Horned Lark

Prairie Falcon

American Kestrel

White-crowned Sparrow

Site #2 in the overflow camping area at Picacho Peak State Park

Picacho Peak

Sunset

6 February 2019

Rained last night so we didn’t think the dirt roads in Santa Cruz Flats would be conducive to driving in our van.  Instead we drove into Oro Valley (Tucson suburb) and went to Trader Joe’s (oh how I miss this store – our Portland, Oregon days), the bank (need money for our Guyana trip), and to get gas for the van.  We ended the trip into town with a movie (A Dog’s Way Home).

We returned to the campground and just hung out.  A cold wind is blowing so not conducive to sitting outside and enjoying the scenery or going for a walk.  There is a hard frost warning for tonight.  We are at an electrical site, but we don’t leave the heater running all night long.  So it will be a cold morning.

Tomorrow we head north to Buckeye, which is west of Phoenix. – a two hour drive.  Our goal is to visit a Thrasher hotspot and find the LeConte’s, Bendire’s, and Sage Thrashers, plus the Sagebrush Sparrow.

Campsite B-23 at Picacho Peak State Park

7 February 2019

It was cold last night and thankfully we had our heater.  It’s not fun sitting in the van wearing your winter clothes, before going to bed.  And this morning — ice on the pumpkin so to speak.  We always leave our camp stove and fuel tank out at night and the stove was coated in frost this morning.  Surprisingly the water in their containers, which we also left outside, did not freeze.  They have in the past.

We broke camp and headed towards the “Thrasher Hotspot” near Buckeye, Arizona.   We were almost there when I saw a number of birds in a semi-flooded farm field so we stopped.  I spotted the distinctive shape of Long-billed Curlew, which I was hoping to see in Arizona.  There were over 50 of these shorebirds in the field, along with about 40 Greater Yellowlegs, and at least 20 Killdeer.  In addition to these shorebirds there were 35 Great Egrets.  The field flooding must have revealed something good to eat for these birds as they were busily feeding.  And the area also attracted hundreds of blackbirds (yellow-headed and red-winged) and grackles (great-tailed).  Of course  there was a cattle feedlot across the road so that might be an attraction for the birds.

We finally got to the “Thrasher Hotspot” around 10:30 a.m.  There were two other cars at the parking lot.  For some reason I was thinking this area would be out in the middle of nowhere.  Nope.  There is a huge chicken facility (think eggs) nearby, and some houses in the distance.  The land is Arizona State Trust lands.  You simply walk the area and hope you find some thrashers on the top of vegetation singing away.  We did.  We saw the LeConte’s and the Bendire’s Thrashers, plus the Sagebrush Sparrow.  I was happy to see all three of these species.  I’m not sure if the other birders saw the birds or not.  We had to use our spotting scope to get decent views and neither birder was carrying a spotting scope.

Afterwards we headed to our campground for the night – Skyline Regional Park (managed by the City of Buckeye).  There are seven campsites (A-G).  We are in campsite E.  There currently is only one other camper.  I suspect that will change tomorrow night (Friday).  The cost is $20.00 per night for a site with a picnic table and fire ring, and a communal toilet (they’re metal toilets).  There is no water source or electrical hookups at the campground.  A little expensive, in my view given the lack of water and electrical hookups, but it is located near the “Thrasher Hotspot” so good enough.  We didn’t know if we were going to see the birds in our first try so we booked this place for two nights.  You can just show up and book a site for the night, if available, although we didn’t know that when we booked our site online.  If we had known, we would have just shown up.  To register online you have to fill out a form then wait for the City to contact you by phone to let you know whether they have anything available, and if so, then they take your credit card number. We’re not sure how reliable the reservation system is since when we arrived our site there was no indication the site was reserved for the next two nights.   Hmmmm nothing like confronting someone who takes your site thinking it is open – luckily not our case.

Cold Morning today

Saguaro Cactus with a bird’s nest

Which species made this nest?  Cactus Wren?  One had been spotted singing from the top of the Saguaro.

Cactus Wren under our picnic table eating some type of human food.  Not sure what.  Popcorn maybe?  If so, not ours.

This is part of the Thrasher Hotspot

LeConte’s Sparrow

Sagebrush Sparrow

Sagebrush Sparrow

Sagebrush Sparrow

Bendire’s Thrasher

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

Verdin

Campsite E at Skyline Regional Park near Buckeye Arizona

The view from our campsite

That is a bridge you take to the many trails at Skyline Regional Park – not too far from our campsite

Rock Wren

Trail markers

Trail – a little rocky in places

Pincushion cactus

8 February 2019

This morning was cold, but not as cold as yesterday.  No frost on the camp stove.  I woke up at 6:00 a.m. when someone proceeded to park a trailer in the site next to ours – they were here for an Eagle Scout project.  Technically they aren’t supposed to put their camping equipment in that spot until 1:00 p.m.  So much for the rules.  Also, quiet hour is from 10:00 p.m. to sunrise.  The sun hadn’t risen when they came in with the trailer, and the person who brought in the trailer kept slamming a lot of doors – not so quiet.  So much for campground rules.

The park does have a “no glass in the park” policy.  I think they don’t want beverage containers broken in the day use area or on the trails.  Campers need a beer permit (at $25.00 per permit) if they want beer at their campsite (no mention of other alcohol).  Does that mean they have to have canned beer?  Personally I like those parks that prohibit alcohol.

The day-use area for this park is located immediately adjacent to the camping area making for an interesting morning when there were people parking and heading out on the trail before it was even light.  By the time we left for the Thrasher Hotspot (around 8:45 a.m.) there were already 24 cars in the parking lot and ten cars passed us as we were leaving the park.  This area has a great trail system so is very popular.  We were surprised they don’t charge a day-use fee – slam the campers instead.

The reason for going back to the “Thrasher Hotspot” was to try and see a Sage Thrasher, but no luck.  We did see the LeConte’s and Bendire’s Thrashers again.  Also several Sagebrush Sparrow’s.  The Bell’s Sparrow (a look-alike to the Sagebrush Sparrow), has also been spotted here, although we don’t think we saw it.  But who knows???   The differences between the two birds are so subtle I doubt I would be able to tell the difference without a good photo with both birds in the same frame.  Even then I’m not so sure I could tell the difference.

We were the first ones at the site, but we were later joined by six other people.  Several of those individuals were looking solely for the Bell’s Sparrow so it must have been spotted here recently.

The plan was to go hiking at the park in the afternoon, but instead we ended up spending most of our time looking for the thrashers and sparrows.  We got back to the park around 3:45 p.m. and found one additional camper set up.  I wonder if they had a reservation or not.  The sign for camping says the sites are available after 1:00 p.m. if there is no one assigned to the site.  However, we paid for our site and still there is nothing formal indicating we have this site reserved for two nights.  The reservation system for this park definitely needs improvement.

Tomorrow we head to Apache Junction where we will stay with friends before heading to Guyana, South America, on 12 February for a two-week bird tour.  Guyana has over 800 bird species so should be a full-meal-deal.

Black-capped Gnatcatcher

We saw a lot of lizards out today, while none yesterday. Weird.

Globe Mallow

Bendire’s Thrasher

Sagebrush Sparrow

Lots of garbage at the Thrasher Hotspot

9 February 2019

We left the campground early today – 7:30 a.m. so we could get to Riparian Preserve at Gilbert Water Ranch near Phoenix.  We always like this place for birding and we weren’t disappointed today either.  We had a total of 52 different species.  There were Anna’s Hummingbirds everywhere we went in this area.   Must be breeding time because they seemed to be either chasing each other or chasing off the competition.   And if you ever want to see an Abert’s Towhee – this is the place — we saw at least 27 of them today, including five at one time.  And, too many rabbits to keep track.

The Gilbert Water Ranch is a series of reclaimed water treatment ponds.  The water levels are managed so a lot of great habitat resulting in a diversity of birds – desert species, riparian species, water birds, and shorebirds.  The area is very popular – utilized by birders and non-birders alike.  I think the birds have adjusted to all the people as we often had great, close up views.

We went to a pizzeria for lunch called Pieology.  Cute.  A custom-made pizza — you go along a buffet-like line and tell them what kind of crust, sauce, cheese, and toppings you want on your pizza and ta-da, it’s made to your specifications, cooked, and brought to your table.  Delicious.

From there we went to our friends Carla and Wayne’s where we will spend the next several days before heading to Guyana.

Riparian Preserve – lots of ponds and trails around the ponds

Nice wide trails

American White Pelican

Green Heron

Belted Kingfisher

Abert’s Towhee – one of many we saw

Mallard – Male

And there are a lot of bunnies. We even saw one with a dart in its side.

Green-winged Teal – Male

Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron

Ruddy Duck

Snowy Egret

Long-billed Dowitcher

Least Sandpiper

American Coot

Ring-necked Duck – Male.  You can even see the ring around around its neck.

Ring-necked Duck – Female

Green Heron

Great Egret

American Avocet

Black-necked Stilt

Verdin

Wilson’s Snipe

Cooper’s Hawk

Rock in a tree

We saw a lot of these nests in various trees. We think they are hummingbird nests.

Anna’s Hummingbird – Female

And oh what great lighting on this male Anna’s Hummingbird

This horse was across from the riparian area, but I loved its coloring.

10 February 2019

Today was a lazy day spent getting ready for our upcoming bird tour to Guyana.  We did take a foray out to Prospector Park to bird and walk Carla and Wayne’s two dogs – Willow and Mossy.  At the park, as Jack and Wayne went off to an off-leash area with the dogs while Carla and I birded the park.  As we were walking near a Saguaro cactus I happened to look at one of the many holes and saw something that could either be a bird (owl) or a deformity.  Turns out it was an owl roosting in the sunshine.  Carla and I looked at the bird and tried to identify it without the benefit of knowing what color eyes the owl possessed.  I took many photographs and we checked eBird for the area.  Possibilities included the Whiskered Screech Owl, Flammulated Owl, and Western Screech Owl.  The first two birds would be considered “rare” for this time of year and the Western Screech Owl had never been reported for the park.  Well there is always a first time.  When I compared my photo against the bird id app “Merlin” the bird came back identified as a Western Screech Owl.  Darn.  I was so hoping it would be either the Flammulated or Whiskered Screech Owl because those two birds would be life birds for me.  But I was happy to see a Western Screech Owl.

We had dinner with Carla, Wayne, and friends of theirs who live here during the cold winter months.  Dan and Diane are from Wisconsin and we enjoyed getting to know them.  Dan likes to go to the Dollar Store and get $1 cowboy hats so I am now an Arizona cowgirl!

Some good birds for a city park – Prospector Park in Apache Junction

Vermillion Flycatcher

Say’s Phoebe nest in one of the pavillons

Carla and I were hoping this was a Flammulated Owl or Whiskered Screech Owl. No luck. Western Screech Owl.

Sleepy-time

Soaking up the sun

View of the Superstition Mountains from the park

11 February 2019

Another lazy day with time spent at Prospector Park (us walking the dogs without Carla and Wayne) and getting ready for our upcoming Guyana bird tour.  The Western Screech Owl was still at the park sitting/roosting in the same hole in the Saguaro cactus.  I don’t blame the owl, the sun really does feel great – so nice and warm.

Phainopepla – Male

Bendire’s Thrasher

Not sure what’s supporting the upper half of this cactus???

The road used to walk dogs off leash

Superstition Mountains in the background

Next stop – Guyana, South America.  Until then…

IT’S ALWAYS A GREAT DAY TO BIRD

 

 

Southeastern Arizona Birding

28 January 2019

We spent last night at a hotel in Sierra Vista.  There aren’t many campground (public) around the area so we thought we would catch up on laundry and my blog – posting.  The hotel was fine, although the hot water was tepid at best.  I so wanted a nice HOT bath.  Oh well.

In the morning we stopped for groceries then went to Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) San Pedro Conservation Area, about 8 miles east of Sierra Vista.  We really like this place.  It is a good place to see sparrows and we saw a lot.  However, I’m not very good at identifying many of the sparrows, especially when they are at a distance and constantly moving.  We looked for the Western Screech Owl that roosts in a Fremont Cottonwood next to the visitor center.  The limb the bird is usually seen in had been cut.  Oh my.  So I went in and asked if the owl had been seen.  A volunteer was nice enough to take me back outside and show me the new roosting spot for the owl, which happens to be in the same tree, just a different snag hole.  She said that BLM had wanted to cut down the cottonwoods near the visitor center but the public was in an uproar over it and they backed down and only did some trimming of selected limbs.  She suspects the trees will eventually be cut down for safety reasons.  Too bad for the owl and for us birders who enjoy watching the little Western Screech Owl.

We walked along the San Pedro River.  I was looking for a Dusky Flycatcher and thought I would quickly play the call so I would know it if I heard the bird.  A man walked by and asked if I was looking for the Louisiana Waterthrush.  Well news to us, but you betchya.  Now I’m excited.  He told me where it had been seen so off Jack and I went.  We got to the spot and waited for about 5-10 minutes.  I then walked a short distance along the stream and the bird flushed into a nearby tree.  I bent down to get a photo of the bird (free of twigs or a lot of twigs) and another birder asked me what I had found.  I told him, and he came down with Jack to the area where the bird was perched.  We all got really good looks at the bird.  Woohoo!!!  An unexpected, but pleasant surprise and a new bird for the year.

Tree housing Western Screech Owl

Western Screech Owl

I think something was wrong with it’s right eye

Northern Flicker

Trail to San Pedro River

The sparrows love this habitat

Trail along the river

San Pedro River

Louisiana Waterthrush

Louisiana Waterthrush – see what I mean by twigs

San Pedro River

I love the Fremont Cottonwood trees

Green Kingfisher Pond. I’m not sure when a Green Kingfisher has last been spotted here.

Great Blue Heron

Is it hot and the heron has its mouth open to cool off?  It didn’t feel that hot to us.

Song Sparrow near the pond

The trail through an upland area – route back to the Visitor Center

Pretty dry but populated by sparrows

and a marauding American Kestrel

In all, we walked an estimated 2.4 miles along the scenic riparian greenbelt and slowly made our way back to the visitor center.  We saw a total of 37 different species.

We left the conservation area and drove to Whitewater Draw, our destination for the next several days.  When we got here, around 1:30 p.m. we were fortunate enough to find a camp spot with a picnic table (there are only four such sites).  We then proceeded to check out the birding, which included seeing and hearing an estimated 5,000+ Sandhill Cranes.  These we learned are the “early returners” – cranes that return from the feeding grounds around noon or so (the noon flight).  What an amazing site and sound.  Around dusk (5:30 p.m. or so), huge groups of cranes came flying in (the evening flight) to roost in the open-water wetlands.  The area is also full of ducks, snow geese, and lots of other birds, including two Great Horned Owls in a nearby roosting area.  In total we saw 27 different species.

The only downside to the day was the late arrival (around 5:00 pm) of a “European Monstrosity” (they build their motor homes to survive nuclear blasts, I think), which pulled up right behind us.  The vehicle can’t be more than 20 feet away.  Really???

Greater Roadrunner

A few of the thousands and thousands of Sandhill Cranes at Whitewater Draw

Oh and Snow Goose among the cranes

Greater Yellowlegs

Eastern Meadowlark

Curve-billed Thrasher

29 January 2019

We got up early this morning and went out to see the Sandhill Cranes take off.  Their departure wasn’t as spectacular as their arrival – they all don’t lift off at once.  But there were a LOT of Sandhill Cranes in the area.  I estimated at least 10,000-15,000, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I was off by 10,000 or so.  When you looked up at the sky you could see wave upon wave of Sandhill Cranes flying off to the various farm field to feed.  Not all cranes left the area.  Many fly to a nearby farm field.  However, the majority leave the immediate area.  Then around noon many of the cranes returned to Whitewater Draw to feed, preen, and roost.  Too see this many cranes is mind boggling.  And there were a lot of other people coming out to see the cranes as well.  At one point (around noon) there were at least 25 cars in the parking lot.  This might not seem like many cars, but in past years the most vehicles we would see in the parking lot at one time would be around 5-6.  Nice to see so many people interested in the cranes and their conservation.

Mixed in among all the cranes are several all brown cranes (rather than the typical gray coloring).  And on one of the brown cranes, its red lores (face) and crown actually looked more reddish-orange than the typical red we see on the other cranes.

We spent most of the day walking around and checking out the various birds at this refuge.  We saw a total of 52 different species.  Not too shabby, eh.  We did see five wren species: Cactus, Rock, Bewick’s, Marsh, and House.  What a great day for wrens and wren lovers (me).  The Rock Wren actually came into our camp site and was sitting on the fence railing about five feet from Jack.  And there were lots of Marsh Wrens about, which is not surprisingly since this area is, in part, a marsh.  And speaking of marshes, there must have been over 1,000 Yellow-headed and Red-winged Blackbirds in the marsh or swirling overhead at dusk.  We also had an immature Vermillion Flycatcher.  The immature male does sport the bright red and black feathers.

Later in the day we met up with our friends Pat and Bob.  We birded with them for a couple of hours, pointing out some of the birds we had seen, including the Great Horned Owl in the owl roosting area.  While we scoping out the owl and feeling pretty smug, a woman and her daughter pointed out another Great Horned Owl in plain view that we had walked by without noticing.  I had heard both owls last night so it was nice to see both at the roost site.

Tomorrow we will leave and make our way to Cave Creek Canyon near Portal, Arizona.

The marsh before sunrise – waiting for the cranes to take off

Sunrise

People watching the cranes depart in the morning

The European Monstrosity that parked behind us

Our campsite – after they left

Jack sitting at the picnic table – breakfast time

A few snow geese and assorted ducks

Can you see the owl

Great Horned Owl roosting

There were a lot of Curve-billed Thrashers

Killdeer

Black Phoebe

Savannah Sparrow

Marsh Wren

and again

Here the Marsh Wren is out in the open – a rarity to find it so

Rock Wren

Black-throated Sparrow. Jack likes this sparrow, in part, because it is easy to identify.  Me too.

Immature Vermillion Flycatcher.  Although this bird does not sport the bright red and black, I love the coloring anyways.

The white on the ground are crane feathers

Parent and first year bird (born last summer)

There were two or three cranes that were all brown, rather than the gray coloring like the rest

Meadowlark

The road into Whitewater Draw

Sunset

30 January 2019

This morning we didn’t go down to the marsh viewing area to watch the cranes leave their roosting spot.  Instead we watched the spectacle from the campground (which is close).  But we really should have gone down since the cranes were much closer to the viewing areas this morning than they were yesterday and there seemed to be a continuous departure of cranes for over an hour; filling the sky.  What an amazing site.  And it seemed there were fewer people this morning to witness it.

We birded the area with friends Pat and Bob, and as we neared completion of our birding circuit around 11:00 a.m. we noticed a lot of cars in the parking lot.  Everyone was here for the noon arrival of cranes.   When we left the parking lot to head to Cave Creek Canyon near Portal, Arizona, I counted 40 cars in the parking lot and camping area (non-campers) with more people arriving.  Yesterday there were only 25 cars.  Pat looked at the sign-in register and saw that someone from Homer (other than us) had signed in.  So we checked it out.  Seems as though Mako Haggerty, a water taxi operator and former Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member, was present to watch the cranes return. The sign-in book had many other out-of-state notations.

Cinnamon Teal

Northern Pintail

We saw Lark Buntings as we were leaving Whitewater Draw

We drove into Douglas Arizona for lunch at Mana Café and Bakery (great place), and then proceeded to Cave Creek Canyon.  We got to the U.S. Forest Service – Sunny Flats Campground around 3:00 p.m.  I was worried we wouldn’t find a camping spot as this campground is in a very scenic location, well designed, and popular.  We need not have worried because we were the first campers for the night.  This was great because we got to pick the best site (#13), which is in full sun and a 360 degree commanding view of the massive rock cliffs surrounding the campground.  In the winter it can get cold here (elevation 5,200 feet), so having the van in the sun is essential.  Pat and Bob joined us at the campground about an hour later, but their favorite spot was taken by a Canadian (Quebec) couple.  We talked with the couple for about an hour about different places they have traveled, including Homer.  They complained about our campgrounds on the Homer Spit, which I agree are not the best.

We plan to stay here at least two nights.  How cold it gets at night and how long it stays cold in the morning will determine if we stay here longer than two nights.

Our campsite at Sunny Flats campground in Cave Creek Canyon

Spotted Towhee – so nice to see several of these birds. They’ve been scarce elsewhere.

Mountains surrounding our campground

31 January 2019

We got a slow start to our birding, other than what we saw in the campground, which included eight species, well nine actually, depending on the raven ID.  We had two ravens but I’m not sure if they were Common Ravens or Chihuahuan Ravens.  I would almost need to have both birds side-by-side.  I sure can’t tell by their calls or seeing them from a distance.  However, the habitat is Common Raven habitat.  The Chihuahuan Raven likes more open desert habitat.

We had intended to go birding up the South Fork of Cave Creek, which is near the campground, but got side-tracked in talking to some of the other campers.  A couple from Quebec and a couple from Colorado, plus our campground host.  Bob and Pat were present too.  I think we talked for over an hour about different places we’ve been, where people should go to see certain birds, etc.  Fun.  Everyone, except the campground host had been to Alaska.  The campground host told me she lives primarily on her social security, which is around $800 per month.  That is why she is a campground host – she doesn’t have to pay the campground fees and she gets free electricity.

We finally left the campground around 10:30 a.m. and walked up the South Fork Road to the trailhead, birding along the way.  We then proceeded about a mile up the trail, before turning back.  In all we walked over 5.0 miles and saw a total of 16 different species, of which six were woodpeckers:  Acorn Woodpecker, Arizona Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Red-naped Sapsucker, and Williamson’s Sapsucker.  The Hairy Woodpecker and the Williamson’s Sapsucker are First of Year Species.  I have a total of 159 First of Year Species for the month of January.  Not too bad for only a month of birding.  We’ve only seen the Williamson’s Sapsucker one other time and that was in Sedona during a hike about 6-7 years ago.  Nice to see the sapsucker again.   Two other great birds we saw were a Painted Redstart and four Yellow-eyed Juncos.  The juncos were in the grass scratching for food within 10 feet of us.  I really like their yellow eyes.

We got back to the campground around 4:30 p.m. and since we are in a canyon, the sun had already disappeared behind the canyon walls.  We decided it would be best to start dinner since we really hadn’t had any lunch yet, and our daylight was fading fast.

I really love this area.  The canyon is uniquely different from the red rocks around Sedona.  These canyon walls have a lot of caves – hence the name.  And the canyon is relatively narrow so the rock walls are relatively close and imposing.

Common Raven