June 24, 2015

After bunion surgery on June 18th, I spent a week recuperating and healing with friends/neighbors, Pat and Cindy, whose large house is ground-level, unlike my own with many steps to get in and out.  They were kind, generous and nurturing even through their Florence Nightenmare duty to waken me every four hours for pain pills when I first arrived. Cleaning up after my continuous vomiting on day of surgery was another story but we all survived.

I tried to do this blog last week from my iPhone but, despite having finally gotten it set up, it didn't "publish".

Yesterday, June 23rd, I returned to Dr. Coffey (East Valley Foot and Ankle Specialists) whose office is temptingly located directly across Guadalupe Road from Gilbert Library and Water Ranch.  But no birding on this day. In addition to a fresh bandage I was outfitted with a “port” enabling me to use an Exogen ultrasound bone healing system twenty (20) minutes each day.  I do this between 2:00 and 2:30 each afternoon so am not available at that time.  

Today, I returned home. It wore me out but Cindy loaded my “stuff” in her truck, carried it into my house and also helped me not fall backwards as I went up my entrance stairs with one crutch and the handrail.  Need much practice OR, more likely, I’ll sit down to go up and down.  In any event, I am back to the computer and the comfort of knowing where everything is located. 

I'm grateful for all the good vibes and well wishes via Facebook from so many of you.  You'll hear more from me when I'm back to birding, probably in August sometime.

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Birding Gwinnett County, Georgia (Graduation Party for Meg & Ethan)

June 12-15, 2015

It was party time in Snellville, GA, and wouldn’t you know, it was the hottest day in June to date (95° with 47% humidity).
Megan (23) just graduated from Georgia State University.  A language major, she spent two semesters in Spain where, while teaching English to Spanish students, she decided to change her direction from becoming a translator to that of teacher. Successfully completing this past year of student teaching, she graduated in early May, cum laude with distinction and honors.  
Her brother, Ethan (18), graduated from Brookwood High School later in May, so a celebration was in order.  Family and many of their friends from church and school arrived with good wishes for an evening of over-the-top fun (2-story water slide, bean bag toss, etc., etc.  Photos are available on Facebook.

For me, it is always a joy to visit with family, including those who came down from NY to join us at Jerry and Kelly’s house. Ethan has grown into quite a young man since my last trip, two years ago.


Being a morning person in this family of night people provided ample opportunity to do some birding. Early Friday morning (6:40 a.m.), I stepped out on their back deck (wet
with last night’s rain) where I just stood at the rail for two hours listening and watching. A Northern Mockingbird on the neighbor’s roof made sure I heard every Eastern bird I had hoped to hear - but without the bird to back it up!  Slowly, the birds in the thick mature strip of forest (mostly pines, with oaks and maples) picked up with their own songs into a full dawn chorus. The first birds to show themselves were the big ones: American Crows and Blue Jays. A Chimney Swift flew over. Two Brown Thrashers scratched in a mulched area in front of the trees; two American Robins were not far off. I searched out the Red-headed Woodpeckers I knew lived in those trees. The surprise bird was an Eastern Phoebe that alighted on the backyard fence wagging its tail constantly, then gleaning insects from the grassy yard.
Among the final birds to show up were the Eastern Bluebirds (male and female), Brown-headed Nuthatch and Pine Warbler.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Bluebird on empty feeder hanger (neighbor's yard)

Saturday morning’s birding followed the same pattern as Friday’s.  In addition to the same birds I had seen the previous day, a flock of eight (8) Canada Geese flew over.  Common Grackles and Northern Rough-winged Swallows were present; a Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker was busy on a tree trunk and two Carolina Wrens serenaded.  (Both days’ sightings were entered into eBird as one entry on 6/13.)

Having gone to bed way early compared to most of the partiers, I was up early again on Sunday morning quickly realizing that many young people had spent the night!  One room was full of young men on air mattresses and sleeping bags while the young women were stretched on sofas and chairs in the living room. One young man sat at the kitchen counter, half asleep, strumming a ukulele.  I greeted him before carrying my bowl of cereal outside with me to begin my birding from the back deck.  

A Northern Cardinal was singing before the No. Mockingbird got started - yay!  Weather was clear so I decided to walk the neighborhood.  Wasn’t I surprised to find Jerry in the kitchen so early.  He wanted to bird with me, so we walked up to the lake and back through the neighborhood filled with mature trees (again, mostly pines). Jerry always finds the hawks (big Red-tailed this time) while my favorite sighting was the three (3) Great-crested Flycatchers chasing one another. Not-so-good backlit photo provides identification.

Great-crested Flycatcher

Eastern Towhee

Monday morning, I woke up quite early.  I didn’t look at the clock until I heard outside a strange rendition of “Who cooks for you?” It definitely wasn’t our desert White-winged Dove; it was a Barred Owl hooting the same mnemonic phrase but at a different pitch with rolling notes. It was 5:00.  Before I rolled out of bed, a Great Horned Owl hooted deeply several times as if to say, "You're not the only one out here!"

Since my flight home was scheduled for 5:40 p.m., that left lots of time for morning birding. Jerry had to work (manager at a Panera’s restaurant) so Kelly was up for taking me to Yellow River Park. Ethan joined us!  I had given him a pair of binoculars several years ago and when we arrived at the park, we both realized he and I had birded that same one together on my last visit. 

It was 7:30 a.m. when we got started and bird song greeted us at every tree. A target, Acadian Flycatcher, was surprisingly easy to come upon.  And, it felt good to hear Carolina Wrens and Carolina Chickadees again. 

For me, the best sighting occurred when I lifted my bins to catch sight of the Downy Woodpecker Ethan had spotted.  A small grayish bird showing yellow underneath walked quietly but busily on a horizontal branch through my binocular view.  Gleaning insects, its behavior seemed warbler-like but I followed it trying to get a good look at its face.  YES!  Vireo beak with yellow “spectacles”!  One of my target birds - White-eyed Vireo. 

The Red-eyed Vireos came much farther along the trail. There were three of them flitting around together. I had heard them calling, “Come here!” so we obeyed!  Nice treat.
As usual, the link to the full e-bird list of sightings at Yellow River Park is listed below.

Shaft of sunlight as we started birding Yellow River Park
Great Blue Heron & Mallards in the river
Ethan: Birding hours are brutal

There were no Lifers for me among the 46 species I saw over the long weekend, but I felt like my life was enhanced by many of the birds that showed themselves.

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OWLING in Madera Canyon, Pima and Santa Cruz Counties, AZ

June 7, 2015
Being retired, I rarely have a “schedule” to follow but this month is an exception as noted in my previous post.  To enjoy a little bit more good birding prior to my upcoming foot surgery, I planned a rather quixotic OWLING adventure to Madera Canyon.  My friend and neighbor, Cindy, said she would gladly join me for a quick round-trip adventure.

Sunday’s mid-afternoon highway traffic was light so we were able to reach Madera Canyon to begin birding at Santa Rita Lodge at 5:00 p.m.  I was still scanning the ground and numerous feeders to see what birds were present when Cindy said, “What’s that?” She pointed to a feeder in the yard below and just beyond the store’s deck. OMG!  

Perched on the rear lip of the seed retainer, fully-framed by the horizontal opening, was a gorgeous adult male ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK. Photo perfect. But I was too stunned to move.  I’ve only ever seen this grosbeak on the east-coast; it's not one I would expect here. It’s black head, light beak and reddish bib (or breast) were set off by the white belly that extended thinly up into its shoulder. Two white wing patches - one solid; the other broken like dabs of white paint on each feather of a wing section were details I didn't really need for this one-of-a-kind bird.

I reached for my camera just as the RBGR dropped down into the deep seed feeder totally hidden from view.  I didn’t move; I wanted to see it again.  I wanted to document the sighting. Cindy told me a mouse was running over my shoe; I didn’t care. I stared. Every now and again I could see the black of the bird’s head. When it turned and lifted its head slightly, its very thick curved-culmen light-colored beak looked white. I waited; I took photos each time it lifted its head from its constant feeding.  Would I never get a diagnostic photo??

It often seems that birds come and go so quickly that I can’t get good photos. This time, the bird stayed and stayed - but mostly out of sight.  Ah, it lifted higher; click..click.  The grosbeak was either filling up or it noticed the attention I was giving it. As if to get a better look at its surroundings beyond the feeder, the bird stood tall enough that its red breast showed.  Click…click….click.  

Just then, a White-winged Dove flew into the same feeder and the Rose-breasted Grosbeak took off, not to be seen by us again that evening.  But it  must have been there for a good five minutes.  

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (male)
The shop was closing.  When Lorie came out, I asked if anyone else had seen it there today.  She said, “Yes”, someone had posted a sighting.  That was the “pinch of reality” I needed.  Having just driven about 150 miles, gotten out of the car and almost immediately seen such a stunning bird was almost more than I could fathom.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (male)

Other birds in the grosbeak family, the Black-headed and Blue Grosbeaks were anticipated and observed at the same feeding station. I really like the attractive Blue Grosbeaks.

Male Blue Grosbeak  (top and bottom)

Entertaining us by running face-first down on tree trunks was this White-breasted Nuthatch.
White-breasted Nuthatch

A family of three Acorn Woodpeckers were noisily active on their utility-pole home close to our viewing area.

Speaking of noisy, here's another bird good at that:

Mexican Jay

Another birder, Vic Nelson, arrived at the viewing area right after the Rose-breasted Grosbeak flew off.  Since he's staying over at the Lodge with his wife, he may get to see the RBGR tomorrow.  But it didn’t show for him before we headed to Proctor Road to see if we’d get lucky and hear the BUFF-COLLARED NIGHTJAR. 

Prior to sunset, I birded lightly and Cindy focused on the Arizona Coues White-tailed deer that were emerging from deep in the canyon behind us (north) to a higher level. She counted 9 or 10 before we lined up along the dirt road to listen on the north side for the Buff-collared Nightjar's call.


Sunset on Proctor Road

Approximately 8 or 9 birders gathered in front of Campsite #1 just beyond the cattle guard.  I parked in front of Site #2 and Vic was behind me. We heard the first “cu..cu..cuk..cuk..cuk..cuk ..cuk..chee-ah” from the Buff-collared Nightjar at 7:45 p.m.as we faced southward.  Not a birder, but interested in all of nature, Cindy was excited at the sound of its call, too.  

After listening to it several times, we turned to talk to one another when right beside us at eye-level, a Nightjar flew from behind us, across the street, to a slight opening between mesquites   We walked slowly in that direction.  Just then, a car drove in on the dirt road, passed us and parked well beyond any of the rest of us. We did not get a good ID view of the bird: its short tail made it look squat and square. With wide rounded wings, not the long pointed ones of a Lesser or Common Nighthawk, and seeming smaller than a Whip-poor-will, Vic assigned its silhouette to that of Buff-collared Nightjar.

We listened to calls of Mexican Whip-poor-wills from various locations, some distant enough from others that we counted three (3) of them. 

We also heard a Common Poor-will prior to leaving the area to discover how many owls we might find back at Santa Rita Lodge. Believe it or not, I had forgotten to take my field notebook with me and all that I recall hearing at our 8:15 p.m. stop at the Lodge were at least three Elf Owls. Cindy identified one of them through its "mew" call that she had listened to on my iPhone app during our drive down.
Next, we drove up the hill to the end of the road at Whitehouse Picnic area (est. 6500’ elevation) where we got out, walked around on the dark parking lot, and listened. One Mexican Whip-poor-will called from nearby.  Just as I was ready to record its call, another car arrived and the bird flew off.  We heard another, and we heard a Western Screech Owl and another Common Poor-will up there.

Vic led the way back down the hill. Driving with our windows open, when he hit his brakes, I did, too, assuming he heard an owl.  Cindy yelled, “BEAR!”  A Black Bear had crossed the road in front of Vic who, after letting it pass, continued on down the hill.  Cindy had a good flashlight, so I backed up to where she had the Black Bear fully visible - sort of sitting on its haunches looking out at us - about 25 yards away.  Another car was moving very slowly down the hill, so the bear rolled onto its feet and moved deeper into the forest. That sighting was definitely the HIGHLIGHT of Cindy’s visit to Madera Canyon!

Still missing one of my target owls, we drove the side road up to Bog Springs Campground but didn’t hear anything.  So, once again, I returned to Santa Rita Lodge where, finally, we heard the Whiskered Screech Owl!  

Driving out of Madera Canyon at nighttime put us in the middle of more wildlife.  Young Coues Deer were crossing the road.  I thought they looked small enough and skinny-legged enough to be fawns, but Cindy said she didn’t see spots. They were definitely young and when two crossed the road and one stayed on the other side, I stopped and waited for the remaining one to make its choice: it stayed on its side, allowing me to pass through.

Home again at 12:15 a.m., I was glad we had made the run south. It was totally rewarding and spectacular in so many many ways.

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27 awesome species recorded here:

White Mountain Birding Trip - Cancelled!

June 6, 2015
Since I don’t always blog my short local birding visits of which there have been only two since my last blog, time has gotten away from me.  But I keep an eye on birds in my community, too.  The Say’s Phoebe that nested in my neighbors’ carport awning chose a bad time.  They were having lots of work done at the house; the carport was used for cutting countertops, laminate, etc.  The nest failed, but the Say’s Phoebes are still around.

I expected to be birding with friends in the White Mountains yesterday, today and tomorrow but the day prior to leaving, the forecast for winds rose to 25 mph Friday and Saturday (today).  Nothing, for me, is worse than big wind for birding.  To find a bird, I watch for leaves to move. Great fun in the wind!  So, we cancelled my well-planned trip.

No one expected rain in the Phoenix Valley so we know the weathermen don’t always get things right.  The headline in this morning’s Arizona Republic reporting about yesterday’s rain in the Valley of the Sun was:  “RAINFALL IN PHOENIX ON JUNE 5TH?  THAT’S A FIRST.”

The weathermen didn’t get it quite right for the White Mountains either.  Reports show that winds during the daytime yesterday and today were closer to 10 mph (not great, but, for me, doable) rising only in the late afternoon and evening to that 25 mph range.  Grrrr.

So, instead of looking at Gray Jays, Pinyon Jays, American Three-toed Woodpeckers and American Dippers, I have free time to take care of managing my Life!  
While getting tires rotated on the car today, I was told what I already knew, that it was past time for new tires. I was trying to hold out past this summer (heat dry-rots the rubber) but, no, I do put safety first.  On Tuesday, I return for a set of new Michelins.  (I use a bigger size than standard for my Honda Insight because I use dirt roads so much.)  

While planning the White-Mountain trip, I didn’t bird locally, so I decided to deal with a nagging lower back problem and went through two hours of physical therapy on Wednesday (6/3).  Amazing how much better I feel already with increased strength in my core muscles.   While being evaluated, it made me feel good when the P.T. lifted my right leg to perpendicular and kept pressing it toward my chest.  He said, “Tell me when.”  I said, “There is no when.”  My favorite yoga position is a sitting forward bend when I lay out my body on my legs! 
With just that one very good workout, I was able to stop taking an Aleve each night and do away with the stick-on pain patches on the lumbar region.  I’ll be following up to ensure continued progress.

On Thursday, 6/4, I had a pre-op doctor’s appointment for a bunion surgery scheduled for June 18th.  So, I’ve scheduled blood draw, knee caddy rental, etc., etc.

But the big news is that on Thursday, June 11th, I’ll be heading to Atlanta to help celebrate the graduations of Megan (Georgia State U) and Ethan (Brookwood HS.), two grandchildren of my youngest son, Jerry, and his wife, Kelly.  They’ve done a fantastic job; one day Megan and Ethan were infants and now they are each very capable young woman and young man.  It seems to have happened in a mere blink of the eyes.  I’m very much looking forward to seeing the whole family and spending time with Megan and Ethan and - YES - I’ll be carrying my binoculars and camera.  During my last visit, each of  the four of them took me to a different park near them I had found on e-bird, enabling me to pick up a couple east-coast Life Birds. On this trip, I’ll probably be pitching in a bit more on prep for the party but if opportunity knocks, I’ll be birding.  (Last visit, I got two Lifers in their back yard—Brown-headed Nuthatch and Pine Warbler.)

Meantime, stayed tuned. 

Photos taken while birding with Julie C. on June 1st at Granite Reef Recreation Area; 
Salt River, Maricopa County, AZ
Rare for this time of year: American Wigeon in Granite Reef's Retention Pond

Sacred Datura (Jimson Weed) at Granite Reef Rec Area along Lower Salt River

Wild horse at Coon Bluff near the parking lot

It must have walked away from the others in its band; I looked but didn't search for the others

Quite tame