Tuesday, December 18, 2007

SE AZ-southern CA with Tom Prestby - August 2007

Below is the trip report that Tom Prestby prepared and emailed out to the Wisconsin Birding listserv. I didn't bother changing the references to myself out of third person, so apologies if it is distracting... I've included my photos into his account.

From: "Tom PRESTBY"
Date: Tue, 28 Aug 2007 09:09:33 -0500

Sean Fitzgerald and I went on a birding trip to southern Arizona and Southern California for the past week. We flew into Tuscon on Saturday the 18th and rented a car and in the next week we worked our way through Arizona and California to the San Diego/ Orange County, CA area. It was a great trip in which we each saw dozens of life birds and many amazing places. The following are the day by day highlights.

Saturday, August 18
After getting the car in Tuscon we stopped at Sweetwater Wetlands/ Rogers Rd Pond but since it was the heat of the day things were slow. We went to Madera Canyon and birded there until dark. The feeders at the Santa Rita lodge had a lot of Broad-billled & Black-chinned Hummingbirds with a few female Magnificents. Other normal feeder birds such as Lesser Goldfinch, Bridled Titmouse, and White-winged Dove were abundant. A walk up the vault mine trail was pretty quiet but produced our first mixed warbler flock of the trip including over 15 Black-throated Grays and several Grace's Warblers and Painted Redstarts. As the temp dropped a little we headed down towards Proctor road where we found Sean's lifer Varied Buntings, Black-throated Sparrows, and a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher. Just down the road Cassin's and Botteri's Sparrows were singing and putting on a great show very close to the road.

Sunday, August 19
We started at dawn in Ft. Huachuca and were thrilled to find a pair of Montezuma Quail on our way up the canyon-- a lifer for both of us (male pictured on right). After the long ride up the terribly conditioned road to Sawmill Canyon we found our target birds for the area- a Greater Pewee (the only one of the trip!), Yellow-eyed Juncos (pictured below the MOQU), and a small family group of Buff-breasted Flycatchers. We ran into another mixed flock of warblers here-- mainly consisting of Black-throated Gray and Graces but also my lifer Hermit Warbler. We searched Scheelite Canyon for the roosting spotted owls but could not turn them up. However, the walk still payed off by producing a family group of
Dusky-capped Flycatchers (the only ones of the trip). Next stop was at the Ash Canyon B&B where we leisurely watched tons of feeding humingbirds including our lifer Lucifer and a Violet-crowned which was a lifer for Sean. Just up the road at Beattys feeders we had an astounding look at a male White-eared Hummingbird and many nice looks at Magnificent, female Blue-throated, and several others. The Patagonia roadside rest was rather quiet-- just a few YB Chats and Bell's Vireos calling, a Western Tanager in the trees and a Peregrine Falcon on the rock face. Kino Springs was much more productive-- we immediately found the family of Gray
Hawks and had a great close look at one of the young birds (pictured on the left). The area across the road had more Varied Buntings and some Lucy's Warblers and in the trees on the edge of the main pond we studied a Tropical Kingbird. It was fun to compare the plumage and call of this bird with the many Cassins and Westerns that were also around. Black & Say's Phoebes were common in the area. The last stop of the day was a frantic attempt for Thick-billed Kingbird near the Patton's residence in Patagonia. Unfortunately the birds have left the area where they nested so were very difficult to find. We drove the Sonoita Creek Preserve for several miles before giving up and just when we turned around we spotted a bird at the top of a dead tree near the road-- a Thick-billed Kingbird!! It gave us excellent looks as the sun went down to close out a great second day of the trip.

Monday, August 20
We camped sunday night at Stewart Campground in the Chiricahua Mtns so we could check the Berryline Hummingbird nest at dawn (quite a view to wake up to!). Unfortunately, the nest was no longer active- most likely because the female Berryline mated with a male Blue-throated or Magnificent, causing the eggs to be non-fertile. We continued on to the south fork of Cave Creek and enjoyed a leisurely 3+ hour hike. Things started slow but picked up when we ran into a large warbler flock that contained tons more Black-throated Grays and Painted Redstarts, our only Red-faced and Virginia's Warblers warblers of the trip, and a smattering of other western passerines including Huttons & Plumbeous Vireo and Grace's Warbler. Most surprising in this flock was 2 Mexican Chickadees, a bird that is common in the Chiricahuas but normally at a much higher elevation. On the way back to the car we found the highlight of the walk- an Elegant Trogon. We had excellent looks at a female for at least 5 minutes only to have the male fly in as well and join the female in feeding and resting in the open extremely close to us. We made our way up the mountains to Barfoot Park (pic on right) and walked the trail to the lookout. While enjoying the gorgeous view we watched a calling Zone-tailed Hawk and a Short-tailed hawk fly in the distance with a Red-tailed. The Short-tailed disappeared, but reappeared directly over our heads no more than 50 yards away--an amazing look at the very rare but regular species for AZ. At Rustler Park we found a very large group of Pygmy Nuthatches and Mountain Chickadees with a few Hermit Warblers and our only Olive Warbler of the trip. The last stop was Dave Jaspers feeders near Portal where after about 20 minutes a Crissal Thrasher joined the 100+ Gambel's Quail and other desert feeder birds. We spent the rest of the evening making the long drive to the Salton Sea area in SE California.

Tuesday, August 21
We spent the whole day at the Salton Sea in the Imperial Valley of SE California. On the way to the sea we stopped on a small town and we found a few Inca Doves accompanied by Sean's life
Common Ground-Dove...about time! The Salton Sea is a very unique place and definitely one of the most interesting places I have ever birded. While we were driving there at dawn, thousands of Cattle Egrets were flying over leaving their overnight roost,
burrowing owls lined the roadside ditches, and thousands of White-faced Ibis filled the wet fields for their morning feeding. The sheer volume of shorebirds was absolutely amazing, definitely a shock to the system of anybody used to shorebirding in Wisconsin. There were at least 6000 American Avocets, 4000 BN Stilts, 7000 Western Sandpipers, 800 Long-billed Curlews,
500 Marbled Godwits, 75 Willets, and large numbers of many more species. The shorebirds were not the only group that impressed, the waders put in a great showing as well with at least
1000 Snowy Egrets, 4000 White-faced Ibis, and 1500 Cattle Egrets. Yellow-footed Gulls were present at almost every stop (about 100 total) and 2 Gull-billed Terns and 1 Heermanns Gull were also seen. The sea was not as smelly as some birders may remember it although there was definitely a slight to moderate stench in the air. The temperature was extremely unforgiving as the 121 degree high made us sweat as soon as we stepped out of the car. I can definitely say I have never drank as much water and gatorade in my life as I did that day...

Wednesday, August 22
We started the day at the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve near Palm Springs. There were many feeders set up which attracted several new birds for us including Costa's Hummingbird, California Towhees and Nuttal's Woodpeckers. A walk around the preserve yielded many more new birds including California Thrasher and a family of Western Bluebirds. In the early afternoon we took the tram up to the top of the San Jacinto mtns. Unfortunately, a lot of the
area was closed because of a fire but we were still able to find a White-headed Woodpecker and a couple migrant Pacific-slope Flycatchers among other more common high elevation birds. Towards dusk we drove up the San Bernardino Mtns and stopped at a few pullouts along the way. At one stop a covey of quail which were almost certianly Mountain Quail managed to escape into dense brush without a good look but we did have a nice look at an Oak Titmouse. As we set up camp we were serenaded by a Common Poorwill and 2 Great-horned Owls.

Thursday, August 23
Another day spent in the San Bernardinos after a crisp low of 47 degrees. Highlights in our morning of birding in these mountains included excellent looks at 2 different coveys of Mountain Quail,
a flock of at least 70 Pinyon Jays, great looks at White-headed Woodpecker & Williamson's Sapsucker, and a migrant Gray Flycatcher near Big Bear Lake. On our way back down the mountains we stopped at the Bearpaw Ranch Sanctuary which is dominated by
scrubby oak/chapparal habitat. The feeders were active with Oak Titmice, Spotted & California Towhees, and Dark-eyed (Oregon) Juncos. We walked the extensive trail system and had a great look at a pair of Wrentits, another covey of Mountain Quail, a California Thrasher, and many more common chapparal species. The last stop of the day was at San Jacinto Wildlife
area. We searched the many Red-winged and Brewers Blackbirds but could not find any Tricoloreds except for 2 birds that Sean saw flying in a flock of Red-wingeds while I was scoping something else. On the small auto tour we ran into a covey of 8 California Quail- a lifer for me and our only CA Quail of the whole trip!

Friday, August 24
We spent the day birding with David Vander Pluym and Leigh Johnson (see her blog post on our visit here) who live in the LA area. We started at Point La Jolla in San Diego where we conducted a 2 hour seawatch. We didnt see as many seabirds as we were hoping to but we had fairly nice looks at several Black-vented
Shearwaters and Elegant Terns. Western & Heermanns Gulls were common along the shoreline. The San Diego River mouth held tons of shorebirds on the sandbars including good numbers of Red Knots, LB Curlew, Marbled Godwit, and Willet. After birding a few
more places in the San Diego area and picking up
targets such as Allen's Hummingbird, Reddish Egret, LB Heron, and California Gnatcatcher we headed to the rocky shoreline just north of Laguna Beach. Out over the water we watched at least a dozen Black Storm Petrels flying around and on the rocky shoreline we saw many of our sought-after pacific coast shorebirds including Black Turnstone, Black Oystercatcher [aka "oyc" as Torcuil got me saying], Surfbirds, and Wandering Tattlers.
We both had a great time enjoying these awesome areas and the great birds that call them home. We tallied 256 total species for the trip and we each had more than 25 life birds.

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