Sunday, August 31, 2014

Part 6: Hummingbirds

"Why did you decide to go to Arizona in July and August?"  I was asked that question over and over as I was preparing for my trip.  Why not wait until it got cooler?  My answer was always the same: Hummingbirds.  I wanted to see a large variety of hummingbirds and in large numbers.  All summer I see one species, the local Ruby-throated Hummingbird.  It's a beautiful bird, but it's all we have.  Each winter we hope for a stray something to show up in Alachua County.   Last year we were lucky and had a few individuals representing a few species.  They all looked pretty drab.  I wanted to see them in their colorful glory, so I planned this trip around several stops at known hummingbird sites.

I was very fortunate.  I saw hundreds of individual hummingbirds representing twelve species of which nine were lifers including some terrific rarities.

We are so lucky to have a few individuals who put up a bunch of hummingbird feeders, who keep them clean and stocked with fresh sugar water, and who open their yards to the public asking little more than a voluntary donation to the sugar fund.  Their names read like a hummingbird hall of fame class: Mary Jo Ballator (Ash Canyon B&B), Tom Beatty (Beatty Guest Ranch, Miller Canyon), Dave Jasper (Portal) and the Paton family (Patagonia).  Add to them the Nature Conservancy (both Paton House [with Tucson Audubon] and Ramsey Canyon Preserve) and the proprietors of the Santa Rita Lodge (Madera Canyon) and the birding world is blessed with an extraordinary collection of hummingbird traps.  Together, they make it possible for all birders to sit in relative comfort and watch these exquisite birds come into view to feed and play right before our eyes.  Imagine what it would be like if we had to go into the mountains and meadows in search of one species at a time!  Instead, the birds come to us.

To these people, to the Nature Conservancy and to Tucson Audobon I want to express my deepest gratitude.  You gave me an experience I will cherish forever.

Here are the twelve species I saw during my trip.  Some photos are better than others, but then again, I'm not a photographer.  I just love birds.

Plain-capped Starthroat

These photos were a pleasant surprise because I didn't know I had them.  I found them after I came back to Florida and began studying my images from the trip.  The first was taken in Portal at the Jasper/Rodrigues yard on Foothills Road.  I also saw a Plain-capped Starthroat at Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon, and didn't think I had a decent picture.  However, I found the second image below and it was better than I thought.   So it was a cause for celebration both to see this rare visitor from Mexico and to have some photos to share with you.

Lucifer Hummingbird

Another rarity seen on this trip was the Lucifer Hummingbird.  I was at the Ash Canyon B&B near Sierra Vista when a hummingbird flew in and all of the birders got very excited.  But owner Mary Jo Ballator cautioned us to watch out for a hybrid that was coming to her feeders.  She called it a "Costifer" because it was a Costa's x Lucifer.  Look at the straight bill in the photo below.

Costa's x Lucifer Hybrid
A second trip later that evening produced a real Lucifer Hummingbird.  Note the significant curve of the bill in contrast to that of the hybrid.  And take a moment to admire that beautiful purple gorget caught in good light in the second photo.

Note the curved bill and long tail of this Lucifer Hummingbird

I love that purple!

Violet-crowned Hummingbird

I saw Violet-crowned Hummingbirds in the Ramsey Canyon Preserve and again at the Paton House in Patagonia.  Sibley says Violet-crowned is "Rare and local, barely enters western North America from Mexico." As far as I'm concerned, I wish they were here all of the time.  I love the clean white lower parts, the violet in the head, and that wonderful red bill.  Here are the only three photos I was able to get.

Broad-billed Hummingbird

All of the hummingbirds I saw in Arizona were beautiful.  But for me, the Broad-billed stands out above the rest.  In the right light, its gaudy colors flash in jewel-like brilliance.  They were everywhere I went, so I have LOTS of photos of Broad-billed Hummingbirds.  Here are a few of them.

Two at once!

This guy is still pretty young, but he's going to be spectacular!

Can you see how the Broad-billed Hummingbird got its name?

It's like a little kid went crazy with vibrantly-colored crayons!


White-eared Hummingbird

This is another of the rare visitors from Mexico, and I only saw it at Tom Beatty's Guest Ranch in Miller Canyon near Sierra Vista.  This was the star of the day, and all of us nearly jumped out of our seats when it made its first appearance.  First the male came to a favorite perch in a tree right above one of the feeders.  Then he came down and feasted.  While we were excitedly buzzing away about him, a female showed up!  She is in the third photo below.

Is it safe down there?

What a striking bird!  He was the main attraction of an incredible day.

And she is lovely too!

Blue-throated Hummingbird

I saw the Blue-throated Hummingbird at the Southwestern Research Station in the Chiricahua Mountains.  I was really disappointed in the one photo I was able to take of it.  You can see the poor-quality shot below:

Too much shadow and not enough focus!
Fortunately I have a video of two Blue-throateds at the same feeder.  I had to learn how to take a screen shot, blow it up a little, and put it into iPhoto.  The result is this much better photo:

Note the fanned tail showing the large white spots of the bird on the right.  That's a characteristic pose of the species.

Magnificent Hummingbird

The Magnificent Hummingbird is big and gorgeous, but I found it hard to photograph.  It's so dark that it was tough to display the details that make this such a wonderful sight.  Fortunately, I saw them frequently.  I'm absurdly pleased with the first photo showing its gorget to its full advantage.

The white on the tail suggests this is a young male.

The male often appears all dark.
The female has the pale throat.

The Magnificent is much larger, but the Black-chinned has that stylish, rarely seen purple bib.

Anna's Hummingbird

I saw Anna's Hummingbirds only on the day I split between Beatty's Guest Ranch in Miller Canyon and the Ash Canyon B&B.  Who doesn't love the stunning red "Yosemite Sam Mustache" proudly displayed by the male?  On the other hand, the female is really quite lovely in her emerald, black and gray.

I got lucky with the light here.

A micro-second earlier the entire head flashed bright red.

I believe this is the female Anna's.

Black-chinned Hummingbird

The Black-chinned was the most abundant hummingbird at all of the feeders I visited.  They were easy to pick out due to their characteristic tail-pumping when hovering.  However, it was really hard to get their bi-colored gorget in a photo.  Typically it would look all black and the lovely purple bib would seem to disappear.  You can see it displayed in the photo in the section devoted to the Magnificent Hummingbird (above) and in the photo below.

Look!  His eye is closed!

This is another screen shot from a video.

Another Black-chinned Hummingbird whose purple bib wasn't showing

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

 At first glance, the Broad-tailed Hummingbird looks a little like the Ruby-throated Hummingbird we see here in the east all summer long.  In the first photo below you can see a little rufous area that turns into a wonderful rusty-red spot on the top of the outer tail feathers.  You can also see hints of rufous on the sides of the birds in some of the other photos below.  I was really lucky with my photos of this species - and they were everywhere.  Enjoy.

I loved seeing that rusty area in the tail.

That rosy-red gorget is so beautiful in the right light!

This picture is just too cute.

Nice posing -- you ought to be a model!

Mom!  He's sticking his tongue out at me!

Allen's Hummingbird

During the morning I spent at Beatty's Guest Ranch, I was lucky enough to hear Jon Dunn talk about the Rufous/Allen identification issues.  His mantra was "Look at the gorget.  If it isn't fully developed, forget about it."  Later, he also spoke about how examining the tail can help.  In these photos, there was no doubt - full gorget and green backs equal Allen's Hummingbird.

The white upper breast is so striking when surrounded by such vivid colors.

Here you can see the gorget flaring out like a waxed mustache.

Look at the gorget - orange in the light and green in the shade.

Rufous Hummingbird

On the other hand, a full gorget and a rufous back adds up to a Rufous Hummingbird - an incredibly beautiful sight.  Here are a few beauties.

That orange back is amazing!
Look at that tail.  We'll talk about it more below.

The Rufous Hummingbird that visited my Florida yard two years ago didn't look like this at all.

Allen's vs. Rufous Hummingbirds

And then there were those lovely little orange and green things that did not have complete gorgets.  Is there any way I can tell which species is which from these photos? If so, I haven't figured it out yet.

This bird looks like it's going to break out in orange all over the place. 

This bird's back seems to be a firmly established green. 

The Tail End

Look at these two tails and the one four photos up.  I know for sure that the one above is from a Rufous Hummingbird.  I can see a full gorget and a bright orange back.  But on the bird immediately below, I can't see its back at all.  Yet that tail looks just like the one above.  Am I safe in assuming this is a Rufous as well?  But then there is the tail of the bird on the left in the screen shot at the bottom.  It's very different, having a black band across the end of the tail and some white at the tips of the two outer tail feathers.  So I ran to the Peterson hummingbird guide and found ... that I can't tell a darn thing for sure.  Immatures and females of both species have that black band.  But then I stared at the white tips on the outer tail feathers.  It seems like the white is confined to only the outer two feathers (R4 and R5 to you guys who actually know this stuff).  If that's true (and it's hard to tell here) the lower photo may be an immature male Allen's.  And wouldn't that be cool if I actually figured that out?  But I'm not betting on it.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Part 5: Patagonia to Mount Ord

Bob's Gone Birding on Mount Ord!

Abert's Towhee
After seeing the Lucifer Hummingbird at the Ash Canyon B&B, I had some thinking to do.  I spent a chunk of that evening looking at the list of birds I had seen thus far and thinking about the options I had the next day.  I knew I had to end up in Scottsdale, but where I went along the way was pretty flexible.  My list of targets I had failed to see was shorter than I expected, but long enough to give me some direction.  In the end I decided on a fairly direct route.

I left Sierra Vista early the next morning and drove directly to the Paton House in Patagonia.  I had read that their feeders often hosted an Abert's Towhee,  a bird very high om my most wanted list.  I arrived to find a small group of birders already in place including one guy who held a small camera just inches from one of the hummingbird feeders.  He was remarkably patient and remarkably motionless.  Sure enough, after a few minutes a hummingbird flew to that feeder and the guy snapped away.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker
It was a large yard with feeders everywhere I looked.  On one end of the yard there were White-winged Doves, House Finches, and Lesser Goldfinches.  In the center of the yard, suet feeders attracted Gila and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers.  On the other end near a water feature there was seed on the ground with an Inca Dove enjoying its meal.  And within a few minutes the dove was joined by an Abert's Towhee.

I sat under the tents and watched the feeders for a couple of hours.  I saw Violet-crowned, Broad-billed, and Black-chinned Hummingbirds.  A Phainopepla dropped by as did a family of Gambel's Quail.  A Blue Grosbeak joined the House Finches at one feeder and a White-breasted Nuthatch crawled around on a stump near the Inca Doves.  Then a Curve-billed Thrasher joined the White-winged Doves at the west end of the yard.

I left the yard thinking I had seen everything that Paton House had to offer.  I was wrong.  I sat in the car in the parking lot munching on a snack when I saw motion just a foot or two away from the hood.  It was a small gray bird with an indistinct eye ring, maybe a soft wash of color under the tail, and a little chestnut colored spot popping up on the head.  It was a Lucy's Warbler!  I nearly spit my lemonade all over the dashboard.  I reached for my camera and got two quick shots off through the tinted window before the bird disappeared.  You can see the pictures here and below.  I wish they were better photos -- but it's a gosh darn Lucy's Warbler!!  Yes, I was thrilled.

My next stop was the fabled Patagonia Roadside Rest.  Almost as soon as I arrived I got my third lifer of the day when I heard a group of immature Thick-billed Kingbirds. Unfortunately, there was no sign of the Rose-throated Becards that have nested there in the past.

Lucy's Warbler through a tinted window.
My final birding destination for the day was a return to Madera Canyon.  Along the way I reached a Border Patrol Checkpoint somewhere north of Nogales.  I was really tempted to yell out the window and ask if I could pet their dog who was sniffing around my car, but that probably wouldn't have been a good idea.  Still, he looked just like Rin Tin Tin and I actually was in Apache Country ...  Anyway, I expected it to be a long delay, but the officers handled things very quickly and I was soon on my way.

On my first visit to Madera Canyon I had dipped on one bird I really wanted to see, so I stopped near Florida Wash and walked along the road a little.  I scanned the tops of the bushes until I heard the call I was hoping for - a Rufous-winged Sparrow.  I pulled out an iPod and played the song for myself to be sure I was correct.  The songs matched.  I followed the repeated song and finally found the bird.  It was the fourth lifer of the day.  After that I decided to spend the balance of the afternoon at Santa Rita Lodge munching on a Klondike bar and watching the feeders.  I had another look at a Plain-capped Starthroat and the more typical feeder birds like Lesser Goldfinches and Black-headed Grosbeaks.  In all, it was a wonderful day.  I was at 51 lifers for the trip and one day to go.

Perhaps if I was following a traditional itinerary my final stop would have been Mount Lemmon, but I like to look for places that are off the beaten path.  So instead I spent my final day on Mount Ord, an under-birded spot northwest of Scottsdale.  The road up the mountain is narrow and rough with just a few pullouts for safe birding.  Nonetheless, I had some luck almost immediately.  Within the first quarter mile I had a quick but definitive look at a Gray Vireo, lifer #52 for the trip.  A moment later while watching a Zone-tailed Hawk fly directly over head, I heard another of my target birds singing quite close to me.  After a quick search I located a Black-chinned Sparrow, another lifer.  One of the sources I had read in preparation for this trip had asserted that both of these species were almost guaranteed in the first part of Mount Ord, and here they were!  How cool is that?

A textbook look at a Zone-tailed Hawk
Farther up the mountain, a gray bird popped out of the grass, ran along the road and immediately disappeared again.  It was a Scaled Quail!  I had searched for this bird on nearly every one of the previous nine days, and finally I had seen one.  At that point I was completely satisfied and would have been content if the day ended right there.  However, I continued up the mountain, pulling off where the road forked.  I birded around the area and stumbled on the final lifer of this extraordinary trip, a Juniper Titmouse.   I was a little disappointed that all of the day's lifers had successfully avoided being photographed, but how could I complain?  I ended the day where the road reached a closed gate that led to some cell towers just above me.  I ate my final picnic lunch while I looked out over a stunning view.  It was a fitting end to an idyllic trip.

That was where my trip ended, but not where this blog series ends.  During the ten days I wandered around southeast Arizona, my greatest joy - of the many I experienced - was watching hummingbirds.  So the final entry in this series will center on the twelve species I saw and the many photos of them I took.  I hope you enjoy it.

Another View of a Lucy's Warbler

Immature Thick-billed Kingbird

Border patrol Checkpoint on US 19

Female Phainopepla at the Patagonia Roadside Rest