Friday, August 31, 2012

Yes, Santa Claus, there is no Virginia!

John has been looking for Virginia's Warbler in all the right places. He is running out of time. Maybe one will overwinter in our back yard like a Kentucky Warbler did many years back, second record for Orange County CA.

We got off early from Portal Peak Lodge AZ, August 31st. We try to get some milk in the afternoon when we are on the road, so that the next morning, we can have cereal in our room. I asked to drive on the road to Herb Martyr and, sure enough, I spotted Mama Montezuma Quail and three chicks ahead. John got a few photos. He had only heard them so far this year. On the road up to Rustler's Park, I heard the weird buzz of the Mexican Chickadee. 638 We saw them a few more places, no great pics.

Back down at the junction to Paradise, we came across a mixed flock. Mixed flocks are an alphabet soup of birds. Birds of different feathers flock together, a birder's buffet. There were three species of  vireos, Huttons's, Plumbeous, and Cassin's. 639 Nice to be able to compare them in the same tree.

John started his big year with 639 life birds that he acquired over 55 years of birding. In eight months, he has seen 639 big year bird species. Pretty cool.

We then drove down to George Walker House B and B in Paradise. The hostess helped us spot a young male Calliope Hummingbird. John had counted a brief view before, but was glad to get better views and pics. She also suggested we check the stream crossings for the Virginia's Warbler. After a much needed nap, we went back to Paradise Road but didn't hear a peep, even from juncos. Where are you, Virginia!

The extensive fires have forced the bears down out of the Chiracahuas and forced the locals not to maintain feeders for the birds. The owner of Portal Lodge said the bears come through about midnight and empty all their hummingbird feeders. Maybe we will hear them tonight. Kinda sad.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


Thursday, August 30th, in the middle of Montosa Canyon, I got a call from my sister, that her husband would be stopping medical intervention and that they would be taking him home to his farm in northern Minnesota. Yesterday, one of my granddaughters had her first birthday.

John is trying to see as many birds as he can before they book passage south.

We didn't see anything new at Montosa, no black-capped came to our pygmy owl call. BUT we tooled over to Ash Canyon B&B and in came the Plain-Capped Starthroat 636,  plus, we got to chat with the hostess and other visitors.

John asked if the Spotted Owl was still being seen in Miller's Canyon. Affirmative, so that was our next stop. The people at Beatty's B&B were very helpful. Charles goes up every day to check on the owl location. It was a bit of a hike, lots of it was washed out and unrecognizable. We managed to find the pink tape, stood next to it, looked into the maple, and a sleepy young Spotted Owl 637 blinked back at us.

On the hike up Miller Canyon, we were surrounded by Canyon Wrens, Red-Faced Warblers, Painted Redstarts, a Black-Throated Gray Warbler, a Nashville Warbler, a Brown Creeper and Bridled Titmouse. All were visible from a spot where a Gray Fox had been standing moments before.

John has 637 big year birds to date, he has photographs of 560 of them, 58 new life birds, 697 life birds. Not bad for a guy who is blind in one eye and deaf as a post. Well, maybe not that deaf, unless I am trying to tell him something. He certainly doesn't hear all the chips and tweets out in the field that help you locate a bird, and sometimes, ID it.

Tonight we are in Portal Peak Lodge. We first visited Portal in 1970 looking for the trogan.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

And then there was one - Common Black Hawk!

August 29th, we got up early to go to Montosa Canyon, exit 56, Highway 19, south of Tucson. On the way in, we saw a strange hawk on a post, black back, white streaks on head and neck, finely striped tail, not a short tail which threw us at first, Common Black Hawk, immature! 634 Maybe one of the juvvies from Sunflower!

Montosa is a cool spot. John got pics of the Black-Tailed Gnatcatcher, Warbling Vireo and Canyon Wren. He has a picture list for the year that is up to about 557.

Should I confess? I played the Pygmy Owl down by the stream. In came the Black-Capped Gnatcatcher, but John did not see the tail. Drat! We are going back tomorrow AM to try to get him to see it. Why are gnatcatchers so coy about their tails?

Back up on the road, a Prairie Falcon zoomed over our heads, perched on the cliff and then dived down the canyon. 635 A Cooper's Hawk got all the little birds excited as we drove out the canyon.

We spent the afternoon at the La Cienagas Grasslands. Of course, John could not hear the Grasshopper Sparrow, the Botteri's Sparrow, the Lark Sparrow or the Cassin's Sparrow, but he saw them all and got fair pictures.

At Patton's, we found out about the Plain-Capped Starthroat at Ash Canyon. John has Narba updates but hasn't been going on line. We will go back to Montosa tomorrow morning to give John another try for the Black-Capped Gnatcatcher then head for Ash Canyon.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Birder's Axiom

Axiom---A bird you are looking for, no matter how common, will be hard to find.

The latter months of a big year, the list of target birds gets shorter. Well, for John, it isn't that short, but still, when we arrive at a spot, there are only a few birds to look for.

We stayed at Bishop, CA, Sunday, August 26th, and drove through to Sunflower AZ by 3 PM, August 27th. There is a short residential road that we drove up and down several times looking for Common Black Hawk and Zone-Tailed Hawk. There were TONS of Turkey Vultures coming in for the night to confuse things, but we did pick out a Zoney or two. 633 Bob, a local resident, showed us the Black Hawk nest, said the two adults and two juveniles were still around and told us the screeching we were hearing was a Zoney. He encouraged us to stay until dusk and return early the next morning. Driving down the hill towards Tucson, we debated if we should go all the way back up to Sunflower. A CASINO, a Radisson Hotel, forty-nine bucks for a room, nice restaurant, only thirty miles back to Sunflower, SOLD!

BUT the next morning, no 'Common' Black Hawk. Even Bob hadn't seen one.

We headed to Mount Lemmon by Tucson. John related to me that he had been to at least eight places where people had reported black hawks, some multiple times, since the end of June. They are notoriously hard to see, but John has looked for Virginia's Warbler in even more places. He has seen little gray jobbies, but not well enough to identify them. The calendar marches on. These birds may be winging their way south of the border now.

John is thinking about taking flight too. Cape May, Florida Cape, Alaska.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

A great ending to two grate days

There is nothing under heaven like a shower and a real bed after a few days of camping.

August 24th, we drove out to Yosemite West. I heard a Cassin's Vireo, but two hours later, John had not seen nor heard it. He left his 'ears' in the car. No matter how I chased them, they did not peek out of the trees.

On the way to Tuolumne, we drove out to White Wolf Campground and on one of our stops, Golden-Crowned Kinglets passed by low in the trees. 632

It wasn't all that late, but Yosemite on a weekend, we decided to find a campsite. I think we got the last one in Porcupine Flats. Not a bad site, an evening walk found us surrounded by juncos, chickadees, nuthatches, and warblers. There are a ton of juncos in the Sierras.

August 25th, we broke camp and headed for Tuolumne Meadow. At the Visitor Center, a ranger suggested we try around Lambert Dome for the Williamson's Sapsucker. We found a couple of sappy trees. One had numerous, fastidious rectangles, chiseled out of the bark of the lodgepole pine. The pattern looked like ice cube trays. We stuck around each sappy tree awhile, but no sapsuckers showed up. What to do?

We ended up in Bishop. Laundry, groceries, the big Mac, wine, SHOWERS and REAL BEDS!

The right place to be, Yosemite

We got to Wawona about noon, Thursday, August 23rd. The info center told us there were few campsites to be had. We decided to get one of the last reservation required sites at Wawona campground. The reservation clerk found us a really nice site, up a hill, above the campground proper and near a bathroom (most important at night!) We set up our tent and drove down to Bridalveil Falls viewing area. There were no swifts by the falls, but a couple of granite pillars to the right, John spotted them. He has 18 power image stabilized binoculars so eventually he managed to see the field marks on all three species of swifts that had been reported there, Black, White-Throated, and, the one he needed, Vaux's Swift. 629

If you have never been to Yosemite, you must come in by the tunnel view road.

It was only 3:10 PM, John wanted to go out to Glacier Point. The drive there is SLOW. We started on the trail to Ilouette Falls about 4 PM. On the first switchback, I spotted the White-Headed Woodpeckers way high in a tree. There were a couple of chipmunks up there fighting the birds for the tastiest cones. John finally got good looks. 630 Later, some WHWO came in at eye level to pose for great pictures and chuckle to each other.

Unfortunately, some hikers returning from the falls said that they had seen tame 'chickeny' birds on the trail. Could there be Sooty Grouse out there? We would have to hike further than we had planned. Later, we canvassed some other hikers and they had not seen the 'chickens'. We turned back. Still, there were flutters and tweets to check out on the way. We didn't get back until about 6. We opted to take a trail to the point, then I opted to take a shortcut straight down to the parking lot and saw movement in some bushes. John! Take the shortcut! Mountain Quail! A whole flock of them! A male, two females, two immature males and several half-grown chicks. Before this, we have only had fleeting glimpses of this species. These birds wandered under some bushes and over some rocks, then across the street a patch of weedy grass by the parking lot. I even got a good picture of the male with my point and shoot. If we hadn't dilly dallied and taken the shortcut, we wouldn't have seen them. 631

We got back to Wawona about 8 and celebrated with a REAL dinner at the Wawona Hotel. We were glad we had set up camp already, crawled into bed and slept until 8:30 the next morning.

Carmel Delight

Wednesday, August 22nd. Our sure-fire Chestnut-Backed Chickadee site is just before the bridge in Carmel, going south, turn right into a little cluster of cabins. It did take some patient sifting of juncos and Pygmy Nuthatches but we finally spotted the chickadees. 626 

While I was buying ice, wine and cokes, John was looking through Birdseye for our next destination. He decided we should head for Yosemite. But, a little out of the way, was a Tricolored Blackbird site. We got to the marsh, no birds, but behind the marsh up a hill was a lovely manure pile. Tricoloreds are clumping birds like the Pinyon Jay. They like to be in a dense colony to roost and they seem to feed the same way. They were all together up by the manure pile, males, females and immatures. The easiest ones to be sure of were the females with their dark bellies below stripes. 627

Instead of heading for Yosemite when we got to the 41, John decided we should try a Birdseye site near Huntington Lake. We got a great campsite in Badger Flats, 00 and 1, the first right turn. It was a bit far from the outhouse, but was nestled under towering pines next to a gurgling creek with no neighbors! My kind of camping. That afternoon and the next morning we drove up towards the pass but saw none of the reported birds John needs.

John checked his official list and noticed he had not included the Lesser Nighthawk in his count. 628

Now we headed for Yosemite.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Pinyon plenty

Up along Highway 24 in Riverside County, we turned on Fobe's Ranch Road and wandered amongst the pines and cows awhile. There was a smattering of birds, all already seen, so we started back out. Then I heard a honky, wheezy call. In flew a Pinyon Jay! And another, and more, until at least fifty had passed through the trees by us, all croaking with glee. They are one of those species that 'clumps'. We have been in their proper habitat a lot and have only crossed paths with their mobile colonies a few times. They are definitely fun to see, and John needed them. 624

Down the road a bit, we camped in Hurkey Creek County Park, beautiful setting and nearly empty on a Sunday night. We found an wooded corner, laid our sleeping bags out on a tarp and spent the night watching the stars and hearing owls. The Great Horned Owl started hooting, then a Northern Saw-Whet Owl peeped and shrieked (a new bird! 625), and finally a Western Screech Owl popped popcorn.

The rest of the last two days we spent on dirt roads in beautiful back country where we should have seen some new birds, but didn't. Frustrating, but fun, sort of.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

On the High 'See's

John called from San Diego to report on his pelagic on the Grande, August 13th-15th. The seas were a bit high on Tuesday, otherwise, not bad. Glad I wasn't there!

John saw four storm petrels - Ashy and Least - not great looks but good enough, Leach's and Black- good views. He also got the Sooty and Pink-Footed Shearwater, the Red-Billed Tropicbird and half of the split Xantu's Murrelet - the northern half, Scripp's Murrelet. Unfortunately, though several were spotted, John didn't get to see the southern half, Guadalupe's Murrelet. I checked out the pictures in Sibley, looks like the difference between Clark's and Western Grebes. I do not like pelagics! Besides sea-sickness and LONG periods of no birds, I don't like depending on the on-board experts to spot and identify the pelagic birds.  Referencing my last blog, they did NOT see the Cook's Petrel!

John had a whole half of an afternoon to drive home! What to do! So he drove over to the Salton Sea and got the Yellow-Footed Gull! If you want to go back in the archives, you can read his attempt to see the Yellow-Legged Gull back in January. I think the entry is titled 'Watching all the Gulls go by'. Seems ages ago.

John is up to 623!

I am glad to hear that some people he encounters on trips actually enjoy reading my blog. I enjoy writing it.

John will be back late tonight. There is a nasty immigration checkpoint near the Salton Sea that can take a long time to clear. A few days to plan and then we will be off, or not, on a car trip.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The long and winding road(s)

John had a few days before his San Diego pelagic and a few birds he could get in our local mountains. I was antsy to join him in adventure so we headed out Friday, August 10th.

Our first stop was Forest Falls along Highway 38. Its canyon was created by the San Andreas Fault and is the headwaters of the Santa Ana River. But where was Monkey Face Falls where the Black Swift was reported? We pulled into a parking area to check our maps. Two ladies with binoculars were parked next to us. John asked them how their birding was going. Big smiles of recognition, and one of the ladies said, "You are going for the Cook's Petrel, aren't you!" Turns out they were Pat and Marian from the boat trip to Attu. They were in the area to go on the pelagic too. But we all were in the canyon looking for the Black Swift, NOT the Cook's Petrel. We conferred and decided to head back to the mouth of the canyon. A narrow crack in the cliff turned out to be Monkey Face Falls. Looking up, we could see clouds of swifts like pepper against the sky. We clambered up a narrow wash and settled down to prise the Black Swifts from the more numerous White-Throated Swifts. Trying to share our sightings was like getting someone else to see a lighting strike. Eventually, John was satisfied that he had gotten a sufficient look at several Blacks. The birds would soon be migrating south so John really needed to see them. 613

Now we would be searching for the Red-Breasted Sapsucker, William's Sapsucker, White-Headed Woodpecker, Pinon Jay and Mountain Quail. There were two promising Birdseye location pins and both were way off the main roads. Here's where 'the long and winding roads' come in. About 3 PM we found where Wild Horse Meadow Road, 2N03, intersected the 38 and started up a really rocky, really rutted road. It was only about 7 miles to the pin but our average speed was probably 4 miles an hour. Wild Horse Meadow is a lovely spot even though none of our target birds showed up. About 7 PM, we spotted a bobcat stalking prey across the meadow. The click of John's camera got its attention and it continued to stare at us until we left.  As we drove into Big Bear City for the night, a Lesser Nighthawk darted across the road. 614

The next morning, we searched in the neighborhoods of Big Bear City for the Mountain Quail, no dice. The other Birdseye pin was on Arrastre Creek where it crossed Burns Valley Road, 2N02. This road was worse than Wild Horse, especially right around the creek crossing and again, we saw none of the target birds. We sure have seen some remote, beautiful country really close to a huge metropolis. Somewhere along this road, we saw a Gray Fox. There were extensive stands of big, healthy Joshua Trees as we turned south on Round Valley Road, 2N01back to the 38. I am particularly proud of my Rav4. It is just a 4 cylinder with no 4 wheel drive and it managed the fierce conditions. It has now earned the license plate RUFRD it inherited from our old 4 by 4 Blazer.

But wait! It is not yet noon! Let's try Wild Horse Meadow again! This time we started from Big Bear City. The road up to the meadow from the north side was mostly in pretty good shape. We still didn't see any target birds so we skittered down the rough half of the road back to Highway 38 and home.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Have some Madera, my dear

After a spectacular lightning show around El Paso, TX, John drove up to Springerville, AZ. Nearby Sipe, a White Mountain nature reserve, was someone's private bit of heaven and is now part of our nation's wild oases. Unlike some similar places, feeders are still being maintained thanks to volunteers. John found it through Birdseye and got the Lewis's Woodpecker and the Calliope Hummingbird there. Near Greer, AZ he saw the Grace's and Red-Faced Warbler again. The Virginia's Warbler is still eluding him and is probably sipping margaritas somewhere south of the border by now. Next year, I would like us to take a trip that targets all the 'regulars' John misses this year. Well, we'll have to see just how long that list is. His found list was now 610.

John drove south to Sunnyside Campground near Portal, AZ, our favorite corner of the world, past that huge pit mine along Highway 191, an unfavorite spot. Camping allows you to taste the full flavor of the environment and you meet such cool people. Driving back out of the South Fork of Cave Creek, John spotted the Arizona Woodpecker, 611.

John drove over the heavily burned Chiracahuas to Onion Saddle. Rustler Park was closed off with gates, but walking entry was permitted. A few Mountain Chickadees flitted around. I drove through the area last fall. There were a few pockets of forest left here and there. Some areas were only ground burns. The Chiracahuas are still worth a visit.

Madera Canyon is a close second to Portal for us. John camped at Bog Springs and hung around Kubo awhile. A lady said she saw coati, gray fox, bear and raccoon there. A guy said he saw black-tailed and tiger rattlesnakes, gila monster and coral snake on the drive in from Green Valley. John missed some possible weird birds but got the Sulfur-Bellied Flycatcher, 612.

Montoso Canyon also had some cool birds reported. John settled for better views and pics of the Varied Bunting and the Nashville Warbler. He says he is on his way home today, August 8th. We will try our local mountains together and John will do a pelagic out of San Diego before we start out on an extended road trip.

Saturday, August 4, 2012


After we parted in Missouri, John headed down to Texas. July 31st, he went to Laguna Atacosa and saw several Groove-Billed Anis. He returned the next day and saw none there. Such is the hit or miss of birding.

There are several 'missing' birds John could see in Texas. Some, he needs a lead on where they are hanging out. Some can only be stumbled upon, they are so sporadic. Alphabetically, a few 'wanted's are the Aplomado Falcon, Hook-Billed Kite, Muscovy Duck, Red-Crowned Parrot and White-Tailed Hawk.

Friday, August 3rd, John was back in Big Bend National Park. He talked to the rangers and found the Black Hawk's nest but no members of the family. He also took the 9 mile loop up to the Colima Warbler and didn't see it. This time, he didn't even hear it.

In the afternoon, John drove to Christmas Mountain Oasis down a long dirt road with frequent no trespassing signs. He was lucky to have had talked to the owners on the phone and got their permission to visit. He got through the gate and another mile of dirt road. In the middle of miles and miles of desolate, dry and rugged country, the owners maintain several groupings of feeders. A Sharp-Shinned Hawk landed a few feet from John, also attracted by the possibility of many birds. Besides great views of repeat birds, John got the Black-Tailed Gnatcatcher and, after many hummingbirds turned out to be Black-Chinned, male and female Lucifer Hummingbirds showed up. There were also swarms of dragonflies and butterflies. It was a delightful place to spend an afternoon.

John is heading for Arizona and is up to 608.