Monday 28 July 2014

Arizona - Madera and Miller Canyons

Two more bird filled days have gone by since the last update. I'm staying in Sierra Vista, a town in southeastern Arizona that sits east of the Huachucas and west of the Chiricahuas - both bird filled mountain ranges with specialities as well as good track records of bringing in Mexican vagrants.

So I started out yesterday morning going up Mount Lemmon at dawn and, in contrast to the day before, the place was in bright sunshine. Heading back up to Incinerator Ridge Road, within half an hour a nice Olive Warbler appeared in the top of the pines - much brighter than I'd thought too. Added to this were good numbers of Red-faced Warblers, Arizona Woodpecker and a Hepatic Tanager. And I was back down the mountain for breakfast before I headed south from Tucson to Madera Canyon.
Red-faced Warbler, Mount Lemmon July 2014
This place, Madera Canyon, is properly set up for birders - one road in, and loads of feeders all up the canyon. First stop was Santa Rita Lodge where for the last month or so, a Mexican vagrant hummingbird, Plain-capped Starthroat, has resided. I lucked out and on a couple of visits that I made throughout the day, it came in three times.
Plain-capped Starthroat, Madera Canyon July 2014
My hummingbird identification was a little bit rusty, but within an hour or two I'd got up to speed. Not the ideal way of doing things - seeing a vagrant before mastering common birds - but by the end of the day I was unsurprisingly outgunning some of the yanks. Broad-billed and Black-chinned were the commonest, and throw in the odd Rufous and Magnificent and that was the lot. Other birds around Santa Rita feeders included ten Wild Turkeys, Black-headed Grosbeaks, Western Tanager and copious amounts of Lesser Goldfinches and House Finches. Further up the canyon, opposite Madera Kubo, was this little chap poking its head out: -
Whiskered Screech-Owl, Madera Canyon July 2014
Higher up still, I took a walk about the canyon as I'd been tipped off about Elegant Trogons. With some perseverence, one shot through the canyon at point blank range but despite trying, I was unable to find it again. I hooked up with a sharp young birder from California, Tom, who'd driven overnight for the Starthroat and we both then headed into Florida Canyon. However, the two targets - Rufous-capped Warbler and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher weren't playing ball in the heat; a Montezuma Quail was heard, and there were more decent stuff like Varied and Lazuli Buntings, Blue Grosbeak, Summer and Western Tanagers. As dusk approached, and the Botteri's Sparrows stopped singing, I went to the Buff-collared Nightjar stakeout along Proctor Road - the bird started singing away and unsatisfactory shadows were seen. Mexican Whip-poor-will too proved tricky at the top of Madera Canyon late on, but perseverence did pay off.
Botteri's Sparrow, Madera Canyon July 2014
And so to today - and I'll make it quick as even writing this makes me feel shattered. To cut a long story short, I walked up Miller Canyon and got myself to the 'split rock' where the Mexican Spotted Owls hang about. It's pot luck whether they decide to roost by the path, and today wasn't one of those days. So, after scrambling about and going about things like a goat, I was absolutely elated to find one of the birds in their favoured area - partially obscured against the trunk of a conifer. The whole canyon was nice and birdy too, and having spent 6 hours in there I came out with a single Buff-breasted Flycatcher, a couple of Sulphur-bellied and lots of Dusky-capped and Cordilleran Flycatchers, Greater Pewee, Painted Redstart, Red-faced and Virginia's Warbler, Hutton's Vireos, Hermit Thrush and a flyby Goshawk.

And to end the day, I took a drive to St David where, by the monastery, I was able to locate a Mississippi Kite - a surprising bird to see this far west, in an isolated breeding area away from its main range.
Mississippi Kite, St David July 2014

Saturday 26 July 2014

The start of another summer - Arizona

Some of you will have noticed recently that my recent foreign trips have been heavily slanted towards the US. I haven't quite given up in the WP before you ask (I'll be leading a trip out to the Azores in late August), but it's nice to target an area with good birds, a wealth of info and easy travel. Those shit heaps like Mauritania and Egypt can wait til later.

So, anyway, I've found myself in Arizona - having flown into Las Vegas yesterday afternoon, I then drove to Phoenix. A dawn start at 'the thrasher spot' at the junction of Salome Highway and Baseline Road proved fruitful with at least a couple of Le Conte's Thrashers (thanks to Laurence Butler for the precise info), three Bendire's Thrashers and one Crissal Thrasher. Stuff like Gambel's Quail, Verdin and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher were all nice to see again too.
Le Conte's Thrasher, Arizona 25th July 2014

I'm not quite sure what posessed me to stop in at a small park in Phoenix, but the yanks breed their lovebirds pure unlike the French. All the dozen or so I saw looked like this...
Rosy-faced Lovebird, Arizona 25th July 2014
And then it was onto Mount Lemmon that rises above the city of Tucson (where I'm writing this from). You don't associate Arizona with rain, but when it does happen, blimey it's bad. Hail, some mud slides and crashing thunder. Perhaps that didn't help my quest for Olive Warbler that, despite trying til dusk, may have to wait until tomorrow or later into the trip. However, birding was decent enough with a few new birds for me including Red-faced Warblers (which were blinding but in bad light), Zone-tailed Hawk, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Greater Pewee and Yellow-eyed Junco. Loads of Pygmy Nuthatches and Mountain Chickadees too.
Yellow-eyed Junco, Arizona 25th July 2014

Sunday 20 July 2014

Good gulling in Rotherhithe

There really was no need to go anywhere today. Though I did toy with the idea of going to Cavenham to see the Black-winged Stilt family, I quickly sat back down and reviewed all the times I'd moaned about the raucous nature of the species and how little I actually look at them when they're slap bang in front of me abroad. So why bother driving a couple of hours? So I didn't.

But I did head to Crossness to see Ian M, back from Worcestershire for the day and wanting a quick walk around his ex-patch. Good to see him but the birding was suboptimal - 3 Yellow-legged Gulls, 5 Teal and a Common Sandpiper to be precise.

juvenile Mediterranean Gull, Rotherhithe 20th July 2014
Back in Rotherhithe, having done a load of household chores, I headed out to the river and got Karen to whack out a load of bread while I papped the gang. And, in between showers, a nice juvenile Mediterranean Gull showed up off Greenland Pier; the first of the year here. Added to that, there was also a brute of a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull bossing the show - along with the usual juvenile still on Greenland Dock along with 6 Common Terns, including 3 juveniles.

juvenile Yellow-legged Gull off Greenland Pier, Rotherhithe 20th July 2014 - different bird to the regular individual (that is still also present today)

Saturday 19 July 2014

What's the price of bread?

For some reason today, when I lobbed the bread bait out today, the question 'how much bloody cash must I have spent feeding gulls in my life?' went through my mind. I didn't get involved too much to work this out, but I guess it must have strayed into the low treble figures as the years and my autistic traits mount up.

And today the gulling did pay off in local terms. Rainham was a bit gash with tipping away from the foreshore so the tip face couldn't be seen, but a couple of Yellow-legged Gulls were about. No major haul though. Round to Crossness, having navigated the QEII bridge on the first Saturday of the school holidays, and things were better here - a nice juvenile Med Gull (well, 1st-winter strictly speaking as a couple of grey coverts were coming through) plus 3 juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls together on the foreshore. Wader action was limited to 4 Common Sandpipers and a Redshank, and 30 or so Swifts that zipped through were evidently heading south. A ringed Great Black-backed Gull on the mud had come from Denmark, where it had been ringed as a chick in June 2012 with this sighting being the first outside of there.
juvenile Yellow-legged Gull, Rotherhithe 19th July 2014
Back in Rotherhithe, there was a cracking juvenile Yellow-legged Gull again by the watersports centre on Greenland Dock that was ripe for papping. Also my earliest ever juvenile Common Gull here in London enjoyed the bread I chucked out into the Thames near my flat early evening.
juvenile Common Gull, Rotherhithe 19th July 2014
And while in Waitrose [edit: I don't normally shop here before anyone calls me 'the richest birder in Britain' again], two reduced loaves of bread were purchased - wholemeal (better for the gulls), 32 pence each. Hope the gulls enjoy their feast tomorrow.

Wednesday 9 July 2014

Showy juvenile Yellow-legged Gull in Rotherhithe

Growing up in the Cheshire countryside I was used to Nuthatches, Treecreepers and breeding Spotted Flycatchers in my garden. Here in Rotherhithe, by my flat, it's Egyptian Geese, Ring-necked Parakeet and chuck in a few ducks and gulls too; that's your lot. And since Monday, a really showy juvenile Yellow-legged Gull has taken a liking to the area and of course I've been feeding it some nice wholemeal bread for supper.
juvenile Yellow-legged Gull Rotherhithe, London 9th July 2014
Although we're reaching the time when the first Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Herring Gulls will be leaving their nests here in London, they're often still dependent on their parents not to mention they look extremely fresh. Besides the tail pattern differences of course, this is quite a slight bird and once again these photos illustrate how the differences in posture and light change a bird's appearance. Photos are comprised from today and Monday.

Sunday 6 July 2014

Gulls and Godwits at Crossness today

Another day locally, and thankfully there seems to be a bit of change each day at the moment. After doing a bit of work in the morning and waiting for Karen to come back from a lunch/brunch thing with her friends, it wasn't til mid afternoon that we headed out. All tactical admittedly, as I knew it was an incoming tide early evening at Crossness.
adult summer Mediterranean Gull, Crossness 6th July 2014
The outfall delivered a second Med Gull in as many days - this time, a nice adult summer. Copious amounts of Black-headed Gulls were checked, with little else of note unfortunately though the feeding Common Terns (including a couple of juveniles) were pretty smart. Also after just a Redshank last weekend, it seems as though wader passage is starting a bit more now as there were 18 Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits on the foreshore today, including this orange flagged bird ringed in the Gulf of Morbihan, northwest France.
Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits - including this French ringed bird on the right. Eighteen of them were present on the Thames foreshore this evening
Added to this, there were a couple of other bits that almost made me heave - the 2 hybrid Ruddy x Common Shelducks from yesterday were still about by the jetty, while a couple of Egyptian Geese had ventured onto the Thames foreshore (the first time I'd seen them here - normally they're confined to Southmere).
A vulgar creature plodding around in the mud.
So that's it, another weekend done. Just a couple more until that long summer holiday starts, and I can't wait for another six long weeks of birding.

Saturday 5 July 2014

London chicks

We're just about through that really slow period. Hence the lack of updates on here last weekend - didn't exactly think people would be interested in last weekend's action of returning Redshanks, a lone Yellow-legged Gull and a couple of Oystercatchers that flew over Rotherhithe.

Post-breeding dispersal and a few youths during the week has started to speed things up, at least in the gull department. And so today I toured around Rotherhithe - where I found a nicely fledged juvenile Common Tern on Surrey Water; good to see that a pair has again bred in Inner London. Then, the other side of the peninsular I found my first Herring Gull chick locally. Bizarre how the simple things in birding life can please you.
my first ever locally bred Herring Gull chick.
And given that it was a year ago pretty much to the day that this lovely Bonaparte's Gull turned up at the outfall at Crossness, I thought it was worth a check one year later. It wasn't there admittedly, but a juvenile Mediterranean Gull - the first of the year - was quality that I hadn't had for a few weeks. There were also a couple of hideous looking Ruddy Shelduck x Shelduck hybrids that I found in Barking Bay initially, before they flew onto the mud by the outfall. A couple of Yellow-legged Gulls were also present, and it was all nice and enjoyable. Until a heavy rain shower punished me. I'd left my coat in the car...