Friday, May 30, 2014

May 30 (Day 149/150 Combined post) - Elevation test run, Retirement of Roadrunner hat

Well, I see that Sonia did another admiral job with the blog in my absence. I am starting to worry that blog readers are going to demand more of her and her unicorns and less of me and my birds! I will try to keep things entertaining to keep up with her.

Yesterday I decided to perform a very important cycling experiment. I know exactly what it feels like to ride 50, 75 or 100 miles over flat or moderately hilly terrain. However, I have no idea what climbing several thousand feet in one hit on a fully loaded bike is going to feel like. I did climb approximately 2,000 feet to reach the Buff-collared nightjar spot a few days ago, but I will likely have to face continuous climbs of 4,000-5,000 feet once I get into Northern Arizona and Colorado.

There have been a series of Flammulated owl sightings between 5,900 and 7,200 of elevation in the Santa Catalina Moutains just outside Tucson AZ. I decided that I would take an overnight run up to these elevations to test my legs and take a crack at finding one of these birds. I did not take my fully loaded bike; I was carrying about 60% of my normal weight, plus a loaner sleeping bag and sleeping pad. I figured that if I as not able to make it I could just roll back down the hill to my hosts' house. The bottom line is that I would rather know my limitations now than discover them in the middle of nowhere in a few days.

The cycling part of the experiment was a great success. Granted I was not carrying my full load, but I felt good as I climbed 4,500 feet in exactly 3 hours (2 hours 35 mins of riding time). This 4,500 feet was covered over 17.7 miles. There were basically zero downhill stretches, so this gave me a good idea of what 4,500 uninterrupted vertical feet feels like. I most certainly could have continued on without too much trouble. I think this result bodes well for future climbs. I will certainly be slower with all my stuff, but I know I can tackle a climb of this sort and expect to eventually succeed.

17.7 x 2 = 35.5 up and back. I also had to ride 10 miles
to the spot from where this climb started so that's
an additional 20. I'll call it 55 miles total for 
yesterday afternoon and this morning.

Winding road up

Feeling good on the climb

I spent the afternoon birding Rose Canyon Lake at around 7,200 feet. I finally saw Greater Pewee after hearing them in several previous locations, and I also saw a number of (8?) Olive warblers. I saw one of these in the Chiricahuas, so this was a really treat. I even managed a photo of a beautiful male high up in a pine. There were also Yellow-eyed juncos, Common Ravens, Buff-breasted flycatchers, Pygmy and White-breasted nuthatches, Hairy woodpeckers, and a single Red-faced warbler. I was able to add 2 birds to the year list: Pine siskin at #456 and Western bluebird at #457. 

Olive warbler - WAY up in a pine

Western bluebird

Greater pewee

Common raven cruising by.....

Aptly named Yellow-eyed junco

Here is a Pine siskin from my photo collection.
This was taken outside Boston a few hers back.

Armed with a flashlight, I flipped into owl mode once the sun set. I heard several Mexican whip-poor-wills, but not a single Flammulated hoot. I spent the first 2 hours of darkness at this 7,200' of elevation. At 10pm I dropped down to another area at 6,000 feet from which the owls have also been reported. The result was the same: nothing. At midnight I decided to hang it up and hit the hay. I had carried a sleeping bag and pad up the mountain with me so that I could spent the night up there. I did this in case the owls started hooting later, and so that I did not have to ride through Tucson after midnight. My plan was to get up with the sun and shot down the mountain. I did this, but not before some midnight excitement.

At around 1:30am (I think), I heard this big crash and woke to find that this 20-something guy had just stalled his brand new stick-shift Mini Cooper only to have it roll backwards down a hill and into a roadside ditch. The left two wheels had slid off a stream culver and the car was resting on its belly with the right two wheels still on the concrete. We tried to get the car on the road but were unsuccessful. He reluctantly conceded defeat and tottered downhill to where he could get cell reception to call for help. I found out this morning that he was picked up about a mile down the road and given a ride into town. From there he called his parents. He returned with them and a tow truck at 5:00am. They were able to get the car out, but needless to say with all this nonsense I did not get any decent sleep last night. I therefore just returned to Southeast Tucson where I will ride out the rest of the day. I had planned to ride to Casa Grande today, but after not getting enough food last night and the crappy night's sleep, I need a day to refuel and rest. I wish my phone had had some juice left to get a photo of the car, but it was dead by the time I went to bed. You'll have to settle for this distant shot of Tucson from the Santa Catalinas. 

My view of Tucson as I descended from 
7,200' to 6,000' last night

Lastly, I do have a bit of troubling news. The roadrunner hat that I purchased in the Chiricahuas was acquired on May 16. From May 16-25, I wore only the roadrunner hat and kept my Red Sox hat in my bag. The Sox lost all nine games during that stretch.  I switched back to the Red Sox hat on May 26. The Sox subsequently won their next 4 games. Bottom line: I have a free roadrunner hat that would look great on a Yankees fan!

More internet awesomeness - May the force be with us!

This is what we wear to games at Fenway - seriously!
We're kinda like minor celebrities on Lansdowne street

May 29 (Day 149) - Dorian disconnected (again), Let's exchange stories!

Hey BFB Fans, it’s Sonia. Once again Dorian is without Internet for the evening. As he mentioned in his post yesterday, he planned to make a big climb today and I believe he is currently camping out in hopes of finding the Flammulated owl tonight.  I can't help it, but this is what I picture when I hear him say Flammulated owl:

Suspenders and all

I had to promise Dorian that if he gave me the reigns to his blog again that I wouldn’t allow my Kings hockey fanaticism to take over, unless I want more High School photos to surface (which I don't. He has photos of me in band). This is exceptionally hard for me, especially since they are one win away from advancing to the Finals. But a promise is a promise so I will keep myself in check… almost. Just one photo, no?

Thank you Flyers. Time for another.

Ok, on a more serious note, I do want to thank all of you for your interest in Dorian’s adventure. I have personally been so overwhelmed by the investment so many of you have made to supporting him this year, whether it be through reading the blog, donating, offering words of encouragement, birding and biking with him and/or providing him food and shelter. I have always been of the opinion that there is more good in humanity than bad, and it has been encouraging to see that Dorian has been on the receiving end of all of your good. Thank you.

Dorian has also told me about a few stories some of you have shared with him. He frequently gets emails from people who feel motivated by what he's doing and they tell him about things they are doing differently in their daily lives because of it. Some of you have started birding more by foot or bike. Some of you have starting biking to work. Some of you have said you’re more conscious about recycling. And some of you have even gone without air conditioning in the heat of the summer! It’s so cool to hear these things, so I thought it might be fun to hear more. What else have you done? Or maybe this could serve as a challenge… what could you do? Write them down in the comments section below. Not only will this serve as a tremendous encouragement for Dorian, but it might also serve as motivation for each other.

I’ll start. This year I have decided that I will not take a single plastic bag from a grocery store. It isn’t a major change from past behavior since I have always tried to take my own bags when grocery shopping, but it has lead to some interesting interactions as I move around to different parts of the country. If I’m not purchasing a lot, I typically just carry stuff out in my arms. In those cases, the clerk usually questions my lack of bag.

Me: “I don’t need a bag, I’ll just carry it out”.
Clerk: “Are you sure you don’t want a bag?”
Me: “Yes, I’m sure.”

Sometimes the clerk will go as far as asking again, like I really must not understand what I’m suggesting:

Clerk: “No really, are you sure you don’t want one?”
Me: “Yes, promise I’m sure.”

And on one occasion the clerk went as far as insisting that I MUST take a plastic bag:

Clerk: “Really, you need a bag. Let me just put it in here for you” as she proceeded to put my already bagged medication in another bag.
Me: “No really, please don’t. I don’t need it.”
Clerk: “But you do. We put everything in a bag here. How will you carry it out?”
Me: [pause] “Well, I carried it up to the register, so I think I’ll manage.”

I literally had to remove my item from the plastic bag and tell her that I really didn’t want one because I am trying not to use plastic bags this year. She looked at me like I was a leprechaun jumping over a double rainbow on a unicorn. 

Obligatory photo of a leprechaun 
jumping over a rainbow on a unicorn 
because the Internet is awesome

Ok, honestly, I don’t see myself as some environmental goddess because I don’t use plastic bags at a store. After all, I grew up in Los Angeles, the largest US city to ban retailers from giving out free plastic bags in efforts to get more people to use reusable bags. We’re all just a bunch of unicorn riding leprechauns. That said, it is pretty fascinating to me that something so small is still such a big deal for some people.

Your turn. Any interesting stories out there? 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

May 28 (Day 148) - Short day to Tucson, 2 new birds, Gila monster, elevation complications....

WAIT! STOP! My hosts went for an evening walk and found this Gila monster as I was writing the blog. They called me, and I raced out to meet them about a mile from here. It was a small one, maybe 9", but it was a lifer Herp for me!

Today was going to be another scorcher, so I figured I would just make a short morning move north to Tucson. From Tucson, I would be able to search the Saguaro-dominated Sonoran desert scrub for two relatively common desert species, Gilded flicker and Costa's hummingbird. As I have previously seen both of these birds in the greater Tucson area, I figured it would not be too big a chore to add these in the next day or so. It turns out it was even easier that I thought it would be.

An easy 40 miles today

Looking at eBird last night, I noticed that there was a small but concentrated cluster of Gilded flicker sightings just a mile south from my Best Western in Green Valley. I was a bit baffled by this as I had not seen any of the Saguaros in Green Valley that the Gilded flicker normally calls home. I figured I would give it a shot anyway. I was pleasantly surprised to find the neighborhood filled Saguaros that had been put there for landscaping purposes. It took a bit of patience, but by slowly scouring each street in the area, I was able to turn up a pair of Gilded flickers among the dozens of Gila woodpeckers that were in the same area. They spent all their time far from the road on private property, but I did grab one distant shot. I was able to see the yellow underwings on this bird as it flew off. This neighborhood was very birdy as I found Harris's and Zone-tailed hawks, American kestrel, Roadrunner, Rufous-winged sparrow, Gambel's quail, Curve-billed thrasher, Verdin, Cactus wren and other desert birds.

Gilded flicker

My ride to Tucson was very uneventful. I arrived midday to discover that my hosts for the evening had several hummingbird feeders in the yard. Within 20 minutes the first of several Costa's hummingbirds appeared. I snuck out a bit later in the day to grab a shot of this nice male. The most exciting find of the afternoon though were the 4 huge javelinas that were riding out the heat of the day on the back porch. They were sleeping right against the glass porch door. I rousted them for a photo a bit later in the day!

Even in crappy light the Costa's is amazing!

Javelinas taken through the porch door!

I have now found every single bird I had hoped to find (and more!) in Southeastern Arizona. It has been a really amazing two weeks, and I hope to continue this streak through the center part of the state. There are 4 birds I would like to find in the next week. One of these is the introduced and now ABA-countable Rosy-faced lovebird in Phoenix. This should be a relatively easy endeavor. Much less straightforward will be nailing Gray Vireo. I am going to try around Globe as a first pass. These birds prefer Juniper-dominated mid-elevations. While I am searching for Gray Vireo, I will also be looking for two other birds that live in the exact same habitat, Juniper titmouse and Black-chinned sparrow. The biggest issue with Gray vireo is that the best areas for the bird are guarded by some vey challenging uphills stretches. I ultimately need to get from Phoenix, AZ to Gallup, NM (red pin, top right on map). If I am lucky enough to find the vireo in Globe, I have 3 riding options after that. First is just to backtrack to Phoenix and make a huge loop around the green and very mountainous region on the first map. Options 2 and 3 will required very hard, mountainous rides. This is not all bad though as I will likely get a head start on the mountain species for which I will look in Colorado.

Option 1: Globe back to Phoenix to Flagstaff to Gallup

Option 2:  Globe to Show Low then onto Gallup

Option 3 - Globe to Payson then onto Gallup

The problem I am having is the elevation change. I just do not think I can climb 7 to 10 thousand feet over 80-90 miles in heat with a fully loaded bike in a single day. Add camping equipment and food to split Options 2 or 3 into 2 days? That is going to add a fair amount of weight and make the climbs even harder. I am just not sure what I am going to do at the moment. The Show Low option is basically not an option as there is NOTHING along that route. The Payson option is the most attractive right now since there are at least some people and a few stores along that route. As long as I think I can reload on water throughout the day it could work. Option 1 is the "easiest" but will likely take 2 full extra days. 

I am still trying to sort out what is going to happen tomorrow. There is a chance I will shoot up into the Santa Catalina Mountains to try for Flammulated owl tomorrow night. I may take a tent and spent the night. In this case the tent won't add any weight since I would leave some of my stuff down at my hosts' house for the night. The 4000' climb up to the owl spot would also give me a good idea of what these longer climbing days are going to feel like. I have the feeling it won't be easy.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

May 27 (Day 147) - Nightjars in Madera Canyon

It's 11pm, and I just got back from my nocturnal birding session. I need to keep this short to get some quick sleep before I head back out early tomorrow morning. I want to get off the road by noon since this is what's coming in the afternoon (Wed).

Today I headed 16 miles and 2,500 vertical feet up into Madera Canyon. I spent the hot, middle portion of the day feeder-watching, and in the late afternoon I went for an extended hike that took me an addition distance up into the canyon. Birdwise, it was very quiet today. This was most likely due to the extreme heat we experienced today (see above). I did see some very nice Blue grosbeaks at the feeders, and I had a great look at a Grace's warbler foraging on the ground.
Out and back for 32 miles today

However, it was the continuing Buff-collared nightjar at the mouth of Madera Canyon that really motivated today's expedition. This is another Mexican species that just reaches Southeastern Arizona.  There has been one bird hanging out at a spot called Proctor road. This road essentially demarcates the entrance to the Canyon; Above it oaks dominate and below it is mainly mesquite scrub. The nightjar appears to like this transition zone, and he has been heard calling in the same area for several weeks. This nocturnal and amazingly well-camouflaged bird is not only rare, but it is incredibly difficult to see. I have heard the bird on several occasions but never seen it. I figured tonight would go the same way, and despite getting within 30 feet of a calling bird, I was unable to get a decent look at it. I did see it fly through my flashlight beam, but this "look" is certainly not enough to count as a seen bird as far as I am concerned. Buff-collared will therefore go down as a heard only bird for species #453. Another nightjar, the Common poorwill, was calling all around us as we looked for the Buff-collared. I was unable to see any of these calling Poorwills, so it will join the list at #452 as heard only. I will have more chances to see Poorwill in the next few weeks. I did see several Lesser nighthawks this evening.

Buff-collared nightjar habitat. The main part of 
Madera Canyon is around that rockpile to the right.

The nocturnal descent: 2000 vertical feet straight down!

OK, bedtime. Tomorrow I will head to Tucson to try to pick up Costa's hummingbird and Gilded flicker. I'll try to write a bit more tomorrow since I will have some time.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

May 26 (Day 146) - Santa Rita arrival, another code 3 rarity!

I am totally exhausted, so I am going to keep this short. I had planned to go and do some nocturnal birding tonight, but that plan got back-burnered until tomorrow. Sorry if this is a bit dry, but I just don't have the energy to spice things up tonight. Oh, the Red Sox finally got a win, so the losing streak ended at ten - ugh.

I started the day at the Circle Z Dude and Guest Ranch. I told you yesterday (well, this morning) that I had found several tyrannulets on the property last night. They were in the exact same spot today so I grabbed a few quick shot before I took off this morning.

Northern beardless-tyrannulet with food for fledgling

Northern beardless-tyrannulet fledgling

Today's first stop was in Rio Rico to look for Tropical kingbird. This was a short detour off my route, and the birds showed almost instantly. Midday sun make photos tough, but I did get this shot that shows the big bill, very yellow lower breast, and notched tail.

71 miles today

Tropical kingbird #449

The main bird I wanted to find today was the rare Black-capped gnatcatcher. This is a Central American species that sometimes makes it into Southeastern Arizona. This year a pair nested in Montosa Canyon at the southern end of the Santa Ritas. I took a very long, very hot (96F), and very hard ride up into the mountains to look for this bird today. On my way up to find the Black-caps, I found a very similar and much more common species in the Black-tailed gnatcatcher (#450). This was a new bird and I am surprised it has taken this long to run into it.

Black-tailed gnatcatcher. Note the black tail underside.
I would guess that this is a fledgling, but maybe its a female.

I had very good directions to the spot where the Black-caps had been hanging out. It did not take me long to find the adult male bird. I did not get a great look, but I did manage to snap this diagnostic photo showing the very white underside to the tail.

I hung around the spot for several hours hoping to get another look at the bird(s). Eventually, I located the entire family: Male, female, and 3 fledglings that constantly begged for food. Their begging call made them easy to find, and I spent the better part of an hour watching them forage not 20 feet from me. They move REALLY fast, so I am happy with the few decent photos I did get. This bird was a fantastic addition to the year's list. This was not a lifer for me as I had seen it at Lake Patagonia 6 or 7 years back. This was a much better look at an entire family of them today!

Another shot of the white under tail

This photo shows the other field marks: longish and skinny bill, 
black cap reaches below eye, no white eye ring.

The road up to Montosa Canyon

Gnatcatcher habitat in Montosa Canyon

The view up Montosa Canyon

The Santa Rita Mountains on my descent

When I was about 5 miles from my destination, two guys flagged me down on the highway. They apparently needed my help to push a broken down Jeep onto a trailer. I realized now would be the perfect time to repay some of the incredible amount of goodwill that people have shown me during my year. Once we got the Jeep all loaded up, Fausto and Marco headed off to Casa Grande. It took as a few tries to get the Jeep onto the trailer, and this put pay to my already exhausted legs. Once I arrived at the Green Valley Best Western, I could do little other than shower, eat, and blog.

Tomorrow will be a bit funky for 2 reasons. First, I am going to be looking for Buff-collared nightjar and Common poorwill tomorrow night. Second, it is going to be 103F here tomorrow. I need to find a way to kill the day without dying. I will certainly do some birding, but again, the heat is going to crush me since I have nowhere to go to escape it. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

May 25 (Day 145) - Cleaning up in Patagonia!

First, I apologize for the excuse of a post that was put up last night. We normally try to keep Sonia restrained in a straight jacket during the NHL playoffs, but apparent she wiggled free and managed to temporarily take control of the blog. She is clearly delirious after the Kings' win two nights ago. If the Kings keep winning, I am going to have to devise some sort of management strategy to combat rouge blog posts! Anyway, back to business.....

Payback! Sonia in High school complete
with King's jacket!

Sonia's usual NHL playoff restraint system

I had 3 target birds today: Thick-billed kingbird, Northern beardless-tyrannulet, and Varied bunting. The first of these birds was certainly the most important since this is the only spot where I am likely to encounter this species. I could get the other two in the next few days, though both become essentially impossible once I leave Southern Arizona.Yes, I know I could get NBT in south Texas in the winter, but I want to approach it as though I must get it now. It would be nice to grab these 2 species today and avoid searching for them later.

The day started with an early morning walk along Blue Haven Road. This lightly trafficked road connects the Paton’s to the Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek property. I have birded it with good success in the past, so I figured it was a good, central place to start. On one side of this road is Sonoita Creek and the associated huge cottonwoods. One the other is mesquite scrub. This meant I had a shot at all of my species in these two habitats. The first of the sought birds to be ticked today was Varied bunting (#446). I saw a small, dark bird land in a mesquite bush a long way off. I could clearly see the beautiful purples and blues on the bird, and I was able to grab a VERY distant shot of him. This is one of the prettiest birds around. I really wish I had seen him better, but maybe I’ll find another one in the next few days. The walk also produced lots of Yellow-breasted chats, Cassin’s kingbirds, and several Rufous-winged sparrows.

Very distant Varied bunting #446

Rufous-winged sparrow

After this walk, I headed down to the famous Patagonia roadside rest. This small pullout off of Route 82 has produced some incredible rarities over the years and has spawned what birders all know as the “Patagonia Picnic Table Effect”. The general idea is that once a rare bird is discovered in a given area, people come to see it and end up finding yet more rare birds. My best example of this effect happened in at Jamaica Bay NWR in New York City. Hundreds of people turned up to view a Red-necked stint that had been found the previous day. As they looked for the stint, these birders also turned up an equally rare Sharp-tailed sandpiper. On that day, I knocked off both of these beautiful and rare shorebirds in ten minutes! However, neither of these is my best Jamaica Bay bird. That title is firmly held by Broad-billed sandpiper! 

The Patagonia roadside rest is perhaps the single best spot in Patagonia (and the country) to see Thick-billed kingbird. Today was no exception. After missing this species here in the evening yesterday, I found 2 of them (#447) hanging around the picnic area this morning. It was almost too easy! These guys were very cooperative and they provided really nice views as they fly-caught for most of the time I spent at the rest stop. I also found Brown-crested flycatcher, Dusky-capped flycatcher, loads of Phainopeplas, Lucy’s warbler, and a nice Canyon wren. Two down, one to go!

Thick-billed kingbird #447

The tyrannulet proved to be the most difficult of the 3 with which to connect. I spent several hours this afternoon wandering around the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve without success. It was quite warm, and I was really dragging as I walked along the creek bed and through the mesquite looking for this small flycatcher.  After 3 hours without a whiff of the bird, I decided I was to beat to do anything but feeder watch at the Paton’s for the last bit of the day. The Violet-crowned hummingbird appeared late in the day, and the normal complement of feeder birds was present and accounted for.

Abert's towhee

Broad-billed hummingbird. Worst bird name ever. It
should be called Cobalt-throated firebill or something.
He would NEVER land on the foliage, so I'm stuck
with the hideous post.

Gila woodpecker

Just as I was leaving the Paton’s, Larry (the current caretaker of the property) heard a tyrannulet out in the street. It took us a few minutes to locate the bird, but he provided good views and serviceable photos once we had done this (#448). It felt really good to find this little guy and complete the hat trick for the day.

Tonight I am staying at the Circle Z Ranch in Patagonia. This is a working ranch with horseback riding and birding right on site! Once they heard about my adventure, the nice folks here gladly offered me a complimentary room for a night or two. Since I got all my target birds today, it will unfortunately be for only one night! This intimate guest ranch is located midday way between the two best birding areas in Patagonia: The Paton’s/Patagonia-Sonoita Preserve on one end and Patagonia Lake State Park on the other. While I will not be stopping at Patagonia Lake tomorrow, it is a great birding spot at any time of year. It was here that I saw my lifer Black-capped gnatcatcher several years ago, and there is currently an Elegant tern visiting the lake! There is actually really good birding right on the Circle Z property since it back rights up to Sonoita Creek. I found a 3 more tyrannulets right outside my cottage when I arrived! There were 2 fledglings being fed by an adult!
I also saw roadrunner, thrashers, and lots of swallows right in from of my cottage. 

Front gate as I arrived at sunset

Sunset view looking back east

 My cottage for the night (take the next morning)

OK, tomorrow the Red Sox will win, the Phillies will get at least one hit, and I will head north towards the Santa Ritas where I am hoping to collect Buff-collared nightjar, Common poorwill, and Black-capped gnatcatcher.  I will also make a stop en route for Tropical kingbird. There is the potential for lots of excitement tomorrow.