Sunday, January 29, 2012

1st pics of Winter birds of 2012 in Northern Illinois

A winter scene from Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL 1/22/2012.
I interrupt my regular scheduled series of "Birds form Southeast Arizona" to bring you photos from my first winter birding outings this January.  I havn't been out as much as I'd like to (only twice), but I managed to get a couple of firsts. My first pic of a Cackling Goose (which became #358 on my life List), and the first Pine Siskin to show up in our yard (the 39th different species of bird to appear in our yard since I started keeping track two years ago). Below are photos of some of the only 30 bird species I've seen so far in 2012: American Goldfinch, American Crow, American Tree Sparrow, Belted Kingfisher, Black-capped Chickadee, Blue Jay, Canada Goose, Cackling Goose, Cedar Waxwing, Dark-eyed Slate-colored Junco, Downy Woodpecker, European Starling, Fox Sparrow, House Finch, House sparrow, Mallard Duck, Mourning Dove, Northern Cardinal, Pine Siskin, Red-bellied woodpecker, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Red-tailed Hawk, Ring-billed Gull, Rock Dove, Ruddy Duck, Song Sparrow, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Yellow-rumped Warbler.
American Tree Sparrow in my yard, Rockford, IL; 1/22/2012.

The smaller goose on the left with the shorter neck and stubbier bill is a Cackling Goose. You can see the size difference from the Canada on the right, Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 1/22/2012.
Cedar Waxwings sharing a meal, Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve, Rockford, IL; 1/16/2012.
A Slate-colored Dark-eyed Junco on the backyard feeder,  Rockford, IL; 1/21/2012.

Another Slate-colored Dark-eyed Junco on the backyard feeder, Rockford, IL; 1/28/2012.
A female Slate-colored Dark-eyed Junco in our yard, Rockford, IL; 1/28/2012.
One of my surprises of this early winter is this Fox Sparrow , which I didn't expect to see until Spring,  Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL 1/22/2012.
The same Fox Sparrow sipping from a cold stream in  Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL 1/22/2012.
A flock of House Sparrows like to hide in this pile of branches in our backyard, Rockford, IL; 1/16/2012.
Mourning Doves have become more numerous feeding at our backyard feeder, Rockford, IL 1/21/2012.
Northern Cardinals are frequent visitors in our yard all year long, Rockford, IL 1/21/2012.
This Pine Siskin was hanging with Goldfinches and feeding on our thistle seed feeder. It was the first Pine Siskin I have seen in our yard, Rockford, IL 1/15/2012.
Pine Siskins have been appearing almost daily at our feeders this winter, Rockford, IL 1/22/2012.
Another regular visitor in our yard, the Red-bellied Woodpecker, Rockford, IL 1/21/2012.
A Song Sparrow; Espenscheid Forest Preserve, Rockford, IL; 1/16/2012.
Another Song Sparrow standing in the icy stream, Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL 1/22/2012.

Another surprise for the winter was this Yellow-rumped "Myrtle" Warbler feeding off of some berries in Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve ... and, No, this photo is not upside down. Warblers are not winter birds here in Northern Illinois, but if one would be found it would be these guys. Rockford, IL; 1/16/2012.

A week later I saw another Yellow-rumped Myrtle, Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL 1/22/2012.
The same yellow-rump, Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL 1/22/2012.
The same "butter butt" sipping from the same stream as the Fox Sparrow (Above). They were only yards from eachother, Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL 1/22/2012.

I hope you enjoyed my slight diversion of Northern Illinois January birds. Next weekend I'll return to my series of birds from my trip to Arizona in December: Fri. 2/3 - Pyrrhuloxias; Sat. 2/4 - Curve-billed Thrashers; and Sun. 2/5 - Brewer's and Clay-colored Sparrows.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Winter Birding in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, AZ

A flock of birds fly along this beautiful vista from the San Pedro River Trail in the San Pedro Riparian NCA, AZ; 12/20/2011.
One of my favorite places I visited in my week in Arizona last December was the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (Above). A link to a website from the Bureau of Land Management dedicated to this area is .

A feeder serving its purpose, San Pedro Riparian NCA, AZ; 12/20/2011.
Upon pulling up in the San Pedro Riparian NCA parking lot, the first thing I noticed were several bird feeders outside the small visitor's center. The feeders (Above) were packed full with White-crowned Sparrows, female Red-winged Blackbirds, House Finches, Lesser Goldfinches, and Pyrrhuloxias.

A Black Phoebe, one of the many birds I saw in the San Pedro Riparian NCA; AZ, 12-20-11
During my visit to this magnificent Natural Area I saw more than 30 different tyopes of birds including: Pyrrhuloxias, American Goldfinches, Lesser Goldfinches, House Finches, Common Ravens, Northern Red-Shafted Flickers, Acorn Woodpeckers, Ladder-backed Woodpecker (unconfirmed), Gila Woodpeckers, Black Phoebe, Says Phoebe (I also was sure that I saw an Eastern Phoebe, although they would be uncommon in this part of the country), Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Red-tailed Hawk, Belted Kingfisher, Red-winged Blackbird (female only), Curved-billed Thrasher, Inca Dove, Green-tailed Towhee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Lazuli Bunting, Yellow-rumped Audubon's Warbler, Mallard Ducks, and many sparrows (Clay-colored, Song, Chipping, Baird's, Brewer's, Savannah, Vesper, White-crowned, and probably others I couldn't ID).
Some of my photos below:
An Inca Dove taking a nap in a tree, San padro Riparian NCA, AZ; 12/20/2011.

A House Finch
A female Lesser Goldfinch (Male in the background)
This Red-tailed Hawk sat in a tree above the Visitor's center for quite some time ...
... then took off and flew directly at me. I hardly had time to get it in focus before it flew over and past me.
A Ruby-crowned Kinglet, which wouldn't get into the clear, but at least I was able to get its "ruby" crown.
There were many female Red-winged Blackbirds on the premises, but no males were seen.
A Says Phoebe.
A Song Sparrow.
Vesper Sparrow.
A juvenile White-crowned Sparrow.
Adult White-crowned Sparrows.
Tomorrow I will feature more photos of the Pyrrhuloxia , and next weekend the Curved-billed Thrasher and the difference between Brewer's amd Clay-colored Sparrows.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Hermit Thrush: Ramsey Canyon, AZ

This Hermit Thrush popped out into full view, Ramsey Canyon, Sierra Vista, AZ; 12/19/2011.
The only thrush that will call Southeast Arizona home year round is the Hermit Thrush (Above).  These Thrushes are one of many that will migrate through my neck of the woods in Northern Illinois; however, down in Southeastern Arizona, residents here might only see two thrushes (Swainson's and Hermit), but the Swainson will migrate through, while the Hermit will spend its winters in the lower 1/3 of the U.S., and spend its summers throughout Canada, the Great lakes regions, and the Northeast and Northwest states. However they will also spend their summers in the cooler higher altitudes of the mountains. There is a small pocket here in southeast AZ and southwest New Mexico where they can be found year round.

This Hermit Thrush tries to stay hidden in the brush,  Ramsey Canyon, Sierra Vista, AZ; 12/19/2011.
I was following this thrush for a good ten minutes as it was scurrying to stay hidden in the brush (Above). Suddenly without warning it just popped out and sat on the corner of a small bench for good minute and let me take photos (Top of page and Below).
The same Hermit Thrush, as it let me carefully move around to a different angle for a photo op, Ramsey Canyon, Sierra Vista, AZ; 12/19/2011.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Winter Birds in Ramsey Canyon, AZ: Brown Creeper

A vista off the side of the road on our way to Ramsey Canyon. I loved the contrast of the dry golden grass of the desert prairie in front of the snow-covered Huachuca Mts., Sierra Vista, AZ; 12/19/2011.
While we were finding our way to Ramsey Canyon, southwest of Sierra Vista in the Huachuca Mts., I saw a raptor on the side of the road and stopped to try to get its photograph, hoping for a new bird to add to my Raptor file. It turned out to be a Red-tailed Hawk (Below), which is the most common hawk I see in Rockford, IL. While we were stopped we took some photos of the beautiful scenery (Above) - loved the view of the blue mountains with a smattering of snow on them behind the golden desert prairie grass.
The Red-tailed Hawk flew off as I came too close, Sierra Vista, AZ; 12/19/2011.

A nice look at the tiny Brown Creeper, which usually camouflages itself quite well against the tree bark, Ramsey Canyon, AZ; 12/19/2011.
At the entrance of the Nature Conservatory, while we were chasing a Painted Redstart (My 1/15/2012 Post), I noticed a Brown Creeper on a nearby tree. This is by far the best positioning I've ever had to photograph of a Brown Creeper, so I was happy to do so (Above).  He obliged by not skirting around to the other side of the tree trunk as these little guys do. During the summer, Brown Creepers can be found in the southern half of Canada and migrates throughout the lower U.S. for the winter with the exception of the Gulf Coast. I see them several times a year in my yard during winter. They can be found year round in the Northwest and the Northeast, as well as in the Rocky and Appalachian Mountain Ranges.
The same Brown Creeper, Ramsey Canyon, AZ; 12/19/2011.
Brown Creepers (Above) have a variegated brown back and wings with whitish underparts and a pale eyebrow, and its signature thin curved bill which it uses to glean insects from the crevices of the tree bark as it creeps up the trunk in a spiral type motion. It generally does not crawl down; it will fly back to a lower position of the trunk or branch of a tree, then creep upwards again.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Painted Redstart, Winter Birding in Ramsey Canyon, Sierra Vista, AZ

Snow on the mountains in the middle of the dessert, Sierra Vista, AZ; 12/19/2011.
I knew I was going to spend the week before Christmas in Arizona, and one of the places I wanted to visit is the Southeastern corner of the state near Sierra Vista which is supposed to be one of America's top birding hotspots - mostly from starting in March extending through October is spectacular birding. So before our trip, I researched the area to see what would be the best places for both scenery and birding. Well, of course, it's December, not the ideal month for birding in the area, but I read enough to be satisfied that there will still be enough wintering birds to make it worthwhile (remember I live in Northern Illinois). I made my list of places that sounded promising and set out my trusty Sibley Field Guide to Birds in Western North America to pack and then promptly left them sitting on the living room coffee table at home when we left for the airport. We arrived in Phoenix late on Dec. 18th, and left early the next morning to spend two days in the Sierra Vista area (Above). It wasn't until after we checked into our Hotel did I discover I left these items at home. So that night in the hotel, I frantically tried to recall all the places and directions. I narrowed the list down to three manageable day-trips near Sierra Vista, so we could get to Tucson to visit relatives by late afternoon on the 20th. The three places I picked were Ramsey Canyon Preserve,  San Pedro River Riparian National Conservation Area, and Las Cienegas National Conservation Area - all near Sierra Vsta and have good reputations for birding. Unfortunately, it is the winter and the birding isn't as great as its spring / summer/ fall seasons, but it's when I could be here, and I was hoping I could find something new to add to my Life List, which at the time was at #346 and I was hoping I could find at least four birds to bring my total to 350 before the end of 2011. So on the morning of Dec. 19, Ramsey Canyon was our first destination.
A Painted Redstart, Ramsey Canyon Preserve, Sierra Vista, AZ; 12/19/2011.
On the way there, we passed a road called Ramsey Canyon Road - it was clearly well before the intersection that the directions told us the trail into the canyon would start. We decided to turn onto the road anyway. We drove a couple of miles and didn't see anything that looked like we were going the correct way, so we decided to turn around and follow the original directions. When we reached the intersection of Hwy 92 and Hereford Rd., we searched all over and didn't see anything that looked like a trail or an entrance into a canyon. We asked a few local people about a trail leading into the canyon, and were stared at like we were aliens, and when we explained we were looking to photograph birds made it worse. "It's winter, birds left a long time ago," was a response.  I remembered passing a Ranger Station along our route, so we turned around to "ask a Ranger." When we reached the Ranger Station we explained that the directions I had for the location of Ramsey Canyon wasn't quite accurate. Then we explained were looking for birds, the skeptical Ranger was nice but told us that it's winter and it's better to come back in another season. We thanked the nice ranger, and headed towards Ramsey Canyon and guess what? The entrance to the canyon is on Ramsey Canyon Road (of course). We just didn't go far enough the last time. While driving up the road nearing the National Conservatory where the trail into Ramsey Canyon begins, I saw a Northern Mockingbird, a flock of Chipping Sparrows, and a Western Scrub Jay. When we pulled into the parking lot and got out, I heard and saw an Acorn Woodpecker. I thought - this is a good sign - then as we were walking to the building there was a bird I've never seen before sitting on an outdoor feeder. It was all black with white on the wings and bright red breast - a Painted Redstart. Bird #347.  The problem was that it was so close my 500mm lens could not focus on it. Then it literally flew straight at me and landed on a wall even closer to me and I still couldn't focus on it. Eventually it flew far enough away for me to get a pic (Above), but it had its back to me and I couldn't get its beautiful red breast. Fortunately, Val was in a good position to get a couple of good shots (Below).
Val's photo of the beautiful Painted Redstart, Ramsey Canyon Preserve, Sierra Vista, AZ; 12/19/2011.
Painted Redstarts are common in oak and pine forests along canyons, which is exactly the habitat we were in. They are found in the southern half and Southeastern corner of Arizona and southwestern New Mexico and into real Mexico.  It was fortunate that we saw this one as they spend their winters in Mexico and should have left the area several weeks ago.
Val's pic of another great look at the Painted Redstart sitting on the roof, Ramsey Canyon Preserve, Sierra Vista, AZ; 12/19/2011.
Despite the very great beginning of this birding outing in Ramsey Canyon, we didn't see many other birds. But we had a great hike up the canyon and I did see another Painted Redstart, more Acorn Woodpeckers and Northern Mockingbirds, a Hermit Thrush, a Brown Creeper, a Red-tailed Hawk, and several Great-tailed Grackles and Common Ravens.
At the top of the trail up Ramsey Canyon on Hamburg Trail,  Ramsey Canyon Preserve, Sierra Vista, AZ; 12/19/2011.
The further up the trail; we went, the more snow there was on the trail. It didn't seem like we were in Southeastern Arizona at all. In fact, there was more snow here in this part of AZ than there was in northern Illinois.
Val on the trail surrounded by snow-laden trees, on the way back down from the overlook,  Ramsey Canyon Preserve, Sierra Vista, AZ; 12/19/2011.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

American Black Ducks, Stage Fort State Park, MA

American Black Ducks, Stage Fort State Park, Glauster, MA; 11/12/2011.
Our final birding stop for the day (11/12/11) in search of coastal sea birds in Massachusetts was Stage Fort Stae Park in Glauster. I was hoping to see a Great Cormorant, but all I found were Double-Crested Cormorants along with quite a variety of water birds in a very pretty setting. Some of the birds which I was able to identify were Great Black-backed Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Common Eiders, Red-breasted Merganser (Below), Common Loons, Buffleheads, Mallards, and Amarican Black Ducks (Above). I was happy to have identified American Black Ducks on sight without the aid of a Field Guide because I have been under the impression that they are so similar to Mallards, that I have probably have seen them before but mistakenly assumed they were mallards. But once I saw this small flock of 4-5 ducks, I knew immediately they were American Black Ducks. They are much darker than Mallards from below the neck to their tail, with a lighter neck and head. They will be darker at the crown and have a dark eyeline with  greenish/yellow bill. In the Midwest these ducks are not very common, but when they are visible they seem to be among a flock of the more numerous Mallards. But on the East Coast, American Black Ducks are more apt to travel in their own flocks.  Primarily a resident of the Eastern half of the country, Am. Black Ducks will reach as far north as Northern Quebec in the Summer and as far south as Georgia in the Winter. They will spend year round starting in a midsection from southern Wisconsin and Michigan, going east to the Atlantic coast and then stretching out from North Carolina to Maine.
Red-breasted Merganser, Stage Fort State Park, Glauster, MA; 11/12/2011.