Tuesday, May 20, 2014

May 19 (Day 139) - R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-Rattlesnakes on a quiet birding day around Portal, AZ

First, we went over 200,000 blog hits today! Thank you for your support of this project. I try to put a lot of work into the blog, so it is very satisfying for me to see that so many people are enjoying it. Please continue to spread the word to anyone and everyone who might have an interest in Biking for Birds. If you want to donate $1 for each blog hit I get this year, I will personally bike to your house to thank you!

I spent today in and around Portal, AZ trying to pick up a few more of my Arizona target birds. Specifically, I was hoping to find Lucy's warbler and Black-chinned sparrow. The first of these showed nicely right in town for year bird #429. There was not even a whiff of the second. This is about what I expected given my communications about Black-chinned sparrow with other birders in the area. This is not a big deal though as I will surely have more chances to find this bird in the coming weeks. I did, however, tack on Rock wren for #430 while I was hunting for the sparrow.

A heavily cropped shot of a Rock wren from today

The best find of the day came as I was returning to Portal after the unsuccessful sparrow search. For those that know the area, I was biking back into Portal along the Portal-Paradise road. This dirt road becomes pavement as it enters Portal. When I am on dirt I spend all my time looking at the road so as to avoid rocks, bumps, holes, etc. I was so stoked to be back on pavement after the dirt stretch that I started rubbernecking to look for birds. I almost rode over this guy as he crossed the street! I managed to avoid him thanks in part to his rattling. I hopped off my bike a safe distance away and crept back to grab this shot. He slithered off very shortly so I could not grab as many frames as I wanted. 

 Western diamondback rattlesnake in defense mode!

I birded the South Fork of Cave Creek Canyon during the middle part of the day. There were very few birds to be found even though the last two days in that same area were very active. In fact, everywhere I went today was quiet from a bird standpoint. I am not sure what causes many species of birds to simultaneous shut down, but that's what it felt like happened today. Since everything was so dead, I decided that feeder watching would be my best plan of attack. In the afternoon I returned to the same Rodrigues' feeders that I visited yesterday. There was a fair amount of activity at this location. The highlight of the afternoon was a single Rufous-winged sparrow that appeared late in the day. This is a bird for which I would have looked in a few more days, but now that effort will not need to be made (although it would be nice to see a few more). He only showed for a few seconds, but I did manage one decent record shot.

Rufous-winged sparrow for #431
(note rufous shoulder on right wing)

I had put a folding chair next to a bush that offered some shade so that I could watch the feeders in relative comfort. I was so comfortable and focused on the feeders that I did not even notice a second rattlesnake creeping past me just 5 feet away. It startled me when I noticed him, but he wanted nothing to with me and just kept slowly snaking along. Rattlesnakes don't randomly attack people, nor is the rattle they make an indication of an imminent strike. A snake rattles when it feels threatened, and this is to serve as a warning that the snake is scared. The snakes don't want to bite people if they don't have to; They would rather save their venom for something smaller that they could actually eat. Today's encounters were certainly exciting and a bit scary. By staying cool and not doing anything too dumb, both the snakes and I emerged unharmed. I have had practice with rattlesnakes in the past and the result has thankfully been exactly the same as today.

As a aside, I wanted to highlight the house where I stayed last night and where I am staying again tonight. It sits on 90 acres of land about 3 miles downslope from Portal. This property is cool because it is energetically self-sufficient. A small wind turbine and a moderate solar array provide all the electricity that the property requires! Imagine never getting an electricity bill! That's exactly the situation in which my host, Ron, finds himself (Note: this is a different Ron from the one who lent me the mountain bike 2 days ago!). Ron also has several gardening/landscaping projects on which he is working. He has 3 huge rain collection tanks into which every drop of rain that hits the roof ultimately collects. He uses this water for his gardening projects. Ron, like me in Austin, shuns the clothes dryer in favor of a line. The point is that Ron has made some very deliberate and fairly simple choices in order to minimize his energy and resource footprint. Just imagine the collective energy and water savings if more people thought like Ron. 

Wind turbine and rain collection tank at Ron's house

Tomorrow I am going to say goodbye to the Chiricahuas and head towards my next big birding destination, the Huachucas. I will ride to Douglas, AZ tomorrow and then on to Hereford on Wednesday. There are some incredible birds in the Huachucas right now (Rufous-capped warbler, Sinaloa wren, Lucifer Hummingbird, White-eared hummingbird), and I will spend ~4 days chasing down as many of these birds as I can. It should be exciting!

The end!


  1. I'm having a bit of a problem finding the record (number of birds) for a carbon free or "green" big year for the continental US. I am just curious if there is a record? Have you commented on this in the blog?


  2. Hi Dorian, Greetings from Tony in Dallas, Have a safe trip :-)

  3. The birds are looking nice and all... but big props for the Rattlesnake sighting.

    Back in New England, the Garter and Black Rat Snakes are out + about, rattlers far rarer.

    Safe travels,