Sunday, April 29, 2012

Northern Goshawk & Gray Hawk; Raptor weekend

As long as my last two posts were about Raptors, American Kestral 4/27/2012 (  and  Swainson's Hawk 4/28/2012 ), I might as well make this a Raptor weekend. 

A juvenile Northern Goshawk circled above my head, Ramsey Canyon, Sierra Vista, AZ, 4/9/2012.
In three consecutive days in three separate southeastern Arizona locations, I was fortunate to add a raptor to my Life Bird List each day. 

On April 9, while hiking up Hamburgh Trail in Ramsey Canyon near Sierra Vista, AZ, a hawk slowly glided overhead. And just like in a cliche'd scene in a movie, first I noticed the shadow of the hawk on the ground by my feet. Then I looked up and just caught a glimpse of the bird as it passed over the small clearing in between the trees of the trail. Since raptors are a weak category in my Life List, everytime I see a Raptor, there is that potential that it may be a new bird for me.  So it is always worth my effort to try to get a photo and/or identification of the bird. The trail was fairly high over the canyon and steep at that moment and the trees hugged the trail closely so there wasn't much oppurtunity to get a good view. I climbed up a steep bank to my right (since to my left would have been a several hundred foot drop) so I might be able to situate myself in a better viewing spot. As I did so, the hawk flew over again. Good, it's circling. That means I might get another chance. Sure enough, the next time it circled over it was high above the canyon floor, but since I was already quite high, it was only about 20 yards from me. It circled twice more and I was able to burst a few shots each time.  When I caught it in my viewfinder, I knew it was something new, but I wasn't sure exactly what it was since raptors are not a strong category for my ID skills.
The same Northern Goshawk, Ramsey Canyon, Sierra Vista, AZ, 4/9/2012.
Later in the day, when I was able to peruse my Sibley's Field Guide to Birds, I was able to ID this raptor specimen to not be a Juvenile Northern Goshawk (two photos Above).  According to Sibley, Northern Goshawk's are "uncommon to rare" But they do reside year round in the forests of the Southwest and West, and also across Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific and into Alaska. They like forests that have open areas from wetlands or canyons. Exactly the habitat I was hiking in. An adult N. Goshawk is overall very gray, but the juveniles (1st years) are more buffy and cream, as is the one I saw. Sibley said that a good identifying mark is its broad wings and body, which is evident on the top photo.  A good goal for me is to see an adult.

A rare Gray hawk gliding over the San Pedro River Riparian NCA, Sierra Vista, AZ; 4/10/2012.
On April 10, the second of my three consecutive days, I was hiking along the San Pedro River in the Riparian National Conservation Area, also near Sierra Vista, when I saw another raptor floating in the air above me. My initial ID was it was a Merlin, but upon further scruteny of my Sibley's, I realized it was a Gray Hawk (Above), which are known to have a few nesting pairs in this area.  Wow! I was impressed that I was able to spot a Gray Hawk as the only place they exist in the U.S. is in this small area of Southeastern Arizona. They are mostly gray with a very strong banded tail of white and black. It was this feature that initially caused me to think Merlin, but the white stripes of a Merlin's tail are much thinner, plus the Merlin has a white throat which doesn't appear on this bird.
A Swainson's Hawk, Hwy 80, Douglas, AZ; 4/11/2012.
On April 11, the third day was when I spotted the Swainson's Hawk (Above) on the side of Highway 80 between Douglas, AZ, and the New Mexico stateline. The link to this encounter is at the top of this page.
So the Northern Goshawk became #378 on my Life List, the Gray Hawk #385 and the Swainsn's Hawk #386.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Swainson's Hawk

A Swainson's Hawk posing for me in the southeastern AZ desert, Hwy 80, Cochise County; 4/11/2012
6 AM, April 11, 2012: I was tooling down Highway 80 heading east, just outside of Douglas, AZ, about the farthest south you can be in AZ without being in Mexico. I was on Spring Break and decided to go down to Arizona to do some birding. One of my destinations was the Chricahua Mts. in the southeastern corner of Arizona. My hope was to try to get some photos of birds that can't be found elsewhere in the U.S., a Mexican Jay, a Red-faced Warbler, or with luck, even an Elegant Trogon.  Anyway I was the only car on the road for some time, scanning the desert grasslands for a glimpse of Burrowing Owls when I see a large raptor perched on a skimpy withered plant. I passed it going perhaps 60 MPH, when I noticed it had a dark breast and didn't look like the usual raptors I often see.
I slowed down, made a Y-turn and reversed course. I was in luck, it was still perched in the same spot, looking all regal and all that.  I slowed down to a crawl (checking my mirrors to make sure I wasn't holding up traffic) and slowly crept toward a good spot to pull over - close enough to get a photo with my Sigma 500mm, but not too close to become threatening. I got out of the car and immediately took some photos using my car as a blind (I am sure I fooled that old raptor into thinking my bright white Nissan Sentra rent-a-car was a natural piece of desert scenery).  I went into my be cautious, but slowly get closer strategy. That is - I take a few steps closer, stop take a couple more snaps, move couple more steps closer and take a few more pics. I continue doing this until the bird appears to be alarmed or it flies off.
The same majestic Swainson's Hawk; Hwy 80, AZ; 4/11/2012.
I estimated that this beautiful hawk was about 20 yards on the other side of a fence that ran along the side of the road. As I crept closer and took more photos, I could see that it was a Swainson's Hawk - very cool - a lifer for me - my first sighting and ID of this gorgeous bird. I was within ten yards of the fence and Mr. Swainson ignored me and kept his poise. I became bolder and eventually I reached the fence was able to get some very nice  looks in my viewfinder. he posed nicely and other than moving his head from side to side he didn't move a muscle. I really thought that he'd take flight as soon as raised my camera to my face to focus, but he stayed put. Then I thought it would be cool to get a BIF shot, so I switched to autofocus getting ready for it take off flying, but he stayed put. i even started talking to it,
          "Hey, Mr. Swainson, what a beautiful morning isn't it?" Still no move. "How about it if you spread your wings so I can get a nice photo of your wingspan?" He just looked at me as an insignificant object in his way of searching for a meal. I was obviously a bit too big for him to take me down and devour, so I was not  of interest. "C'mon, Mr. Swainson, why don't you make a nice lazy circle in the sky so I can get a nice pic of you flying?" ... No movement. .. "Please?" ... nothing.

After about 5-10 minutes of waiting for him to fly, he never made a move. Then I thought, if I make a sudden move perhaps it will take flight. So I made a great effort to lower my camera, adjust my backpack walk a few steps back and forth ....... nada (remember I was close to the Mexico border).   He was not going to fly for me.  I respected that, resigned myself from a Bird-in-Flight pic, and started to walk back to my desert camouflaged bright white car, with my camera ready. He stood still. As I reached the car, I opened the car door noisily... He sat there.... I bent over to set my camera on the seat next to the driver's seat and hopped in. Before I could even close the door, I saw him fly right past me and I swear he even looked at me (and maybe winked) as he flew by. By the time I could reach for my camera to try to get a bead on him, he was already too far off.  At first I was miffed that I missed my BIF chance, but I realized I had a nice lengthy peaceful, encounter with this beautiful raptor without any interference from anyone else on a rather main highway. I thanked Mr. Swainson for the nice poses and cheerfully continued my journey to the Chiricahuas.

Friday, April 27, 2012

American Kestral

American Kestral scanning the prairie for a potential meal, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/24/2011.
Last December, the day before Christmas, as I was taking photographs of dowitchers, sandpipers, and egrets, out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of color fly by and then land on a tree branch. And there perched an American Kestral (Above), which at 9" is our smallest raptor, but its confident stature made it look plenty regal  and large to me. Unfortunately when it was in good proximity for a a photo, it kept its back to me. Then it caught sight of something in the grassy field and took off chasing it. It was in the grass for a couple of minutes, but I couldn't tell if it actually caught something. After it flew off it alit in a tree clear across the field - too far for a photo.
American Kestral, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/26/2011.
Two days later, the day after Christmas, I revisited the Preserve, and in the same location, I saw the American Kestral again. This time it was in a more friendly photographic position (Above).

American Kestrals are found throughout the United States, often in open habitats such as meadows and fields. They like to sit on open branches, fenceposts, telephone wires. In fact just the other day while biking home from school, I saw a Kestral sitting on a wire overlooking a driving range as a pedalled by.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Anna's Hummingbird

Anna's Hummingbird, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/'24/2011.
In all three of my visits to the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert, AZ, Anna's Hummingbirds were in full force. They are one of the few North american Hummingbirds that can be found year round within the borders of the U.S. Most Hummingbirds will migrate into mexico and South America during the winter months. Anna's can be found along the entiore Pacific Coast from the Baja all the way up to British Columbia. So chances are pretty good that if you see a Hummingbird from November through February, it's an Anna's Hummingbird.

Anna's Hummingbird, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/'26/2011.
The angle of the sun as it reflects off an Anna's Hummingbird, will illuminate what color you will see on its throat and face. (Above) the Anna's face and throat look black. However, (Below) when the sun is at a different angle, the same bird's crown and throat appear rosy.

Anna's Hummingbird showing off its rosy gorget and crown, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/'24/2011.

Anna's Hummingbird, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/'24/2011.
In the photo (Above), the Anna's nape appears red, but the rest of its head appears black.

Anna's Hummingbird, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/'26/2011.
Anna's Hummingbird, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/'26/2011.
Anna's Hummingbird, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/'26/2011.
Anna's Hummingbird, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/'24/2011.
All of the photos on this post are of male Anna's Hummingbirds. Females lack the full color on the gorget and crown and have a green crown, white face and small red patch on their throats.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Double-crested Cormorant eating a fish

Last December while at the Riparian preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert, AZ, I was able to capture a Double-crested Cormorant, which emerged after a dive with a fish in its bill.  I used the burst mode from my Canon Rebel T1i to catch it in action while it maneuvered the fish in its bill until it was in a good position to swallow.

I made a video from Windows Movie Maker, by putting together 18 pics of the many I took while the cormorant was feeding. This is the first time I have use Windows Movie maker, so I didn't use any of the edit tools. With more practice, perhaps I'll be able to use this software more effectively. Anyway, click on the play button (Above) and watch how this cormorant tries to swallow the fish it caught, but the fish must have not been in a good position to go down comfortably. So it maneuvers the fish into a different position, then swallows it whole. Gulp!

Below are a few of the 18 stills I used in the video clip...

I got me a fish...

Now it's time...

... for some lunch.
Here we go ...
... down the hatch.
Mmmm...Mmmm...Mmmmm. Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/26/2011.
This past Spring Break, I revisted the Ripraian Preserve, and found several Cormorants drying off in the sun (Below). Cormorants' wing feathers do not possess the oils as other diving birds. So their feathers do not repel water and they must sun dry their drenched feathers before they are able to fly again.
A Double-crested Cormorant drying its wing feathers off in the sun, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 4/12/2012.
You can see how droopy their wing feathers appear, as their drenched feathers can't automatically repel water, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 4/12/2012.

Once its feathers are dr again, it is able to fly again, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 4/12/2012.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Least Sanpipers - Southwest

A Least Sandpiper in its non-breeding plumage, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ, 12/26/2011.

Another Least Sandpiper in its non-breeding plumage,  Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ, 12/26/2011.

Least Sandpipers (Above) are considered the most widely distributed peep in the world, so it is no surprise that I saw flings of them at the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, in Gilbert, AZ last December. When I observed them in winter they were in their non-breeding plumage (two photos Above) - brownish/grayish upper bodies with white undersides. They sport a thin drooping black bill, which are long enough to probe for food, the muddy flats that they are most commonly found.

A Least Sandpiper in its breeding plumage, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ, 4/12/2012.
hen I returned to the Riparian Preserve just last week, I again saw many Least Sandpipers; however, this time they were spoting their breeding plumage (Above), which is slightly more reddish than their drabber winter plumage.
Another look at the Least Sandpiper's more reddish breeding plumage, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ, 4/12/2012.
In North America, Least Sandpipers will be found in the northern regions of Canada and throughout Alaska. In winter they will migrate to the southern edges of the U.S. and Mexico, spreading from coast to coast.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Short-billed Dowitchers - Famosa Slough

Short-billed Dowitchers on the Famosa Slough, San Diego, CA; 4/7/2012.
As long as I have been talking about Dowitchers this weekend (my past two posts), I saw my first Short-billed Dowitchers (Above) last week at the Famosa Slough, which is a nicely preserved wetlands not far from the Ocean Beach area in San Diego, CA.
A Short-billed Dowitcher searching for its meal, Famosa Slough, San Diego, CA; 4/7/2012.
Like its Long-billed cousins, Short-billed Dowitchers are common on mudflats and shallow ponds and sport the long bill. They look very much the same and are difficult to ditinguish from eachother. Short-bills are only a 1/2" smaller than their long-billed cousins and their bills are just slightly shorter (hence their names); however, out in the field this is not always evident.
Short-billed Dowitchers, Famosa Slough, San Diego, CA; 4/7/2012.
A better way of differentiating between these two similar sandpipers is during the breeding season, the Short-bill's plumage has more white on its undersides (Above), whereas, the Long-bills have more of a solid rufous coloring.
A Short-bill coming for a landing, joining its sleeping brothers, Famosa Slough, San Diego, CA; 4/7/2012.
Except for wintering on the Californian Pacific Coast, Short-billed Dowitchers are more likely to be found in the Eastern half of the U.S. especially during migration seasons. They will spend winters along both coasts, but when they migrate to their Summer grounds in the northern reaches of Canada and along the southern coasts of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands, they can be found inland in the Central and Eastern States, but are more likely to be found along the coasts on salt-water marshes. The famosa Slough, where I spotted these guys is a salt water marsh. Long-bills will winter inland on fresh water ponds and mudflats.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

More Long-Billed Dowitchers at Water Ranch

A deluge of Long-billed Dowitchers descending upon the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, AZ, 4/12/2012.
I just returned from my Spring Break vacation from Southeastern Arizona, where I did a week of birding.  I happened to make another visit to the Riparian Preserve in  Gilbert, and there were literally hundreds of Long-billed Dowitchers in several of the ponds. I was in the right place at the right time when a good-sized arial display of Dowitchers flew towards me and landed in the shallow water directly in front of me. I loved how the Dowitchers and their reflections in the water created a sort of a collage of images (Above). At the time, I wished I had my 24-55mm lens on my Canon Rebel (T1i) so I could have had more of the birds in focus; however, with my 150-500mm Sigma zoom on, the narrow field of focus from that lens only captured a couple of the BIFs, and the rest were out of focus. But now I really like how the blurry birds give a nice effect of motion. In addition, they mixed in nicely with their water reflections which were already soft.  This might make a good jigsaw puzzle photo. The entire occurrence was much more impressive live. As a photo can only capture the essence of the event.
In coming... Dowitchers ...
Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ, 4/12/2012.
This is good timing from my yesterday's post about these Dowitchers, so I can now display photos of what these Sandpipers look like in their breeding plumage (more photos below)...

Long-billed Dowitchers making land fall, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ, 4/12/2012.
A good look at the Long-billed Dowitchers' breeding plumage, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ, 4/12/2012.
A nice close up of a Long-billed Dowitcher's contrasting browns, creams, and black plumage, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ, 4/12/2012.
As you can see, their plumage turns a nice rufous coloring (Above) - a big contrast to the drab gray of their non-breeding plumage (Below and see photos in my 4/13/2012 post)...
A Long-billed Dowitcher in its non-breeding plumage - white undersides instead of the rufous coloring, Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, AZ, 12/26/2011.
Another look at the rufous undersides of their breeding plumage, Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, AZ, 4/12/2012.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Long-billed Dowitchers

It sure took me a long time to identify these guys....

When I first saw these large shorebirds, I knew they would be a new species for me, but I wasn't sure what they were. They were backlit in the morning light at quite a distance. Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/24/2011.

Moments before, I saw this flock of shorebirds swoop by me, but I was unable to get a good focus even with my autofocus and burst mode on. What were they?  Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/24/2011.

What is this bird?  Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/24/2011.
I finally saw one of these shorebirds in more photo-friendly light, and got a good focus, this (Above) is what I saw.

Okay, the head is starting to emerge, but I still didn't know what it was...

I can see clearly now... is it a ...?  Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/24/2011.

Whatever it is, it sure has a long bill, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/24/2011.
After consulting my Sibley field Guide to Birds, I concluded it as a Long-billed Dowitcher. And yes, it was a new species for me to add to my Life List.

Another Long-billed Dowitcher,  Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/26/2011.
Two days later and another visit to the Riparian Preserve, I found many more Long-billed Dowitchers (Above) and had plenty of opportunities for photographing these large freshwater sandpiper type birds. 

A Long-billed Dowitcher landing in its favorite habitat - a shallow freshwater pond,  Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/26/2011.
Long-billed Dowitchers' bills are one and a half times longer than the length of their heads, hence its name. In the summer months they will live on the northern extreme coasts of Alaska and Canada in the Arctic circle scouring the muddy bottoms of shallow ponds. In the winter they will migrate south along the Pacific Coastal states, as well as the the extreme southern edges of the U.S. (Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and the shores of the Gulf States, and up the southern Atlantic Coastal states (Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas).  During migration seasons, they could be found almost anywhere in the country except for the rare appearances along the Northeast and Appalachian States.

The Long-billed Dowitcher can be distinguished from its closely related cousin, the Short-billed Dowitcher by some slight differences in size, colorings, and habitat. Long-bills are only slightly larger (11 1/2" long to the SBD's 11' long), but their bills in proportion to their overall size are longer. And even though the photos I have of these sandpipers are showing their non-breeding plumage (in their breeding plumage, they turn a beautiful rufous coloring from head to tail) and difficult to distinguish from the Short-bills, according to most field guide books, the Long-bills are more likely to be found on freshwater ponds in the West; whereas,  Short-bills are more likely to be found in the East during migration and wintering seasons.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

American Avocet - again

American Avocet, Famosa Slough, San Diego, CA; 4/7/2012.
What Luck! Yesterday I posted photos of my first sightings of American Avocets from last December in the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert, AZ. I was lamenting that the Avocets I saw were in their non-breeding plumage and that someday I would love to see them in their breeding plumage. Well, just yesterday I saw a pair of American Avocets in their full regalia of color (Above) while I was taking my Spring Break in the Southwest. Val and I were once again in Arizona, and on a whim, Val and I set out towards San Diego for a day trip, and we discovered this great wetlands, Famosa Slough, which is not too many blocks inland from the ocean beaches. We spent a couple of hours hiking the trails around the slough. I saw up to 40 different species of birds, ands among them were these beautiful birds.

A pair of American Avocets in their breeding plumage,  Famosa Slough, San Diego, CA; 4/7/2012.