Sunday, February 28, 2010

CA/AZ trip summary

I'm back home after 9 days of birding southern California and Arizona. Overall the trip was a great success. Over the next few days I'll be posting a detailed day-by-day trip summary with photos. You can access all of my postings on this trip by clicking the 'CA/AZ 2010' tag below.

My final route was pretty similar to my original plan except for cutting out a few stops because I just could not squeeze them in. At times it felt as though I bit off more than I could chew, despite trying my best not to rush around too much. Birding southern CA in 4 days and SE AZ in 5 days is quite difficult if you want to try to see everything!

The final route was as follows:
Day 1&2) San Diego area
Day 3) Laguna Mtns and Salton Sea
Day 4) Salton Sea and Tacna, AZ
Day 5) Superior to Tucson
Day 6) Patagonia area and San Rafael Grasslands
Day 7) Florida Canyon, Madera Canyon, and vicinity
Day 8) Tucson to Willcox
Day 9) eastern Chiricahua Mtns and Sulphur Springs Valley

I had to cut out the Anza-Borrego Desert in CA and a couple stops in the Yuma, AZ region due to time.

Except for birding with Jay Hand on Day 7, I was alone the entire time. I wasn't sure how fun 9 days of birding alone would be, but it turns out I was too busy birding to get lonely! Still, doing this with a couple friends would have been ideal.

The birding was great. Folks in Arizona were lamenting that this was a down winter for sparrows, raptors, and Mexican vagrants (in stark contrast to Texas). However for a first-time visit I found it to be plenty birdy. With few rarities around, there was little temptation to chase individual birds. I did choose to chase Rufous-capped Warbler and Rufous-backed Robin in AZ and ended up getting crippling views of both birds, so I can't complain! Of course even common birds were lifers for me.

The San Diego area was very cool...nice town and great weather. I can see why people like it so much. Southeast Arizona, though, was spectacular. Not only was the birding exciting and diverse, but the scenery was just awesome. So far my lower 48 birding has taken me along the entire east coast, Florida, southern TX, Washington State, and now SoCal and AZ...SE AZ is the most beautiful area I've birded thus far (with WA being a pretty close 2nd). I already can't wait for a return visit (perhaps in late summer for hummingbirds, etc?).

The preliminary trip tally is 226 species, which I'll have to double-check and could be off by a few in either direction. Don't know how many life birds, but there were quite a few.

- Nick

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Off to CA and AZ (for real this time...)

After postponing my trip last month due to weather, I'm finally leaving for the desert Southwest tomorrow afternoon from JFK. Here's the tentative plan:

Fly into San Diego. Bird SD & environs for 1-2 days, then move east across the Laguna Mtns, and through the Anza-Borrego Desert to the Salton Sea. I'll give a full day to the southern Salton Sea, then birding in Brawley and El Centro on my way towards Yuma. A few stops around Yuma before continuing eastward to Phoenix, then southeast to Tuscon. I'll be based in the Tuscon area for a few days from which I'll bird around southeast AZ. That should keep me busy until my flight out of Phoenix on Feb 24.

My goal isn't to just tick and run. I hope to spend some time studying the more interesting species I run into. This is my first visit to the southwest, and I can't see everything the first why try?

I'll be sure to snap some photos and post the highlights when I get back.

- NB


Yesterday Ken Elkins and Bill Banks found an EARED GREBE at Seaside Park in Bridgeport. Formerly on the ARCC's Review List, this species was removed after a handful of sightings, both coastal and inland, last decade. I think it's been at least few years since the last one, so it's quite a nice find by Ken and Bill. This bird may find it's way back onto the Review List in future years if they remain so scarce.

- NB

Thursday, February 11, 2010

European thrushes: Time to look hard

As has been mentioned before, birders in the northeastern states and Maritime Provinces have been on alert for two European thrushes: Redwing (Turdus iliacus) and Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris). Why on high alert? An unusually frigid winter in northwestern Europe and the UK, particularly around the New Year, drove incredible numbers of these thrushes to the extreme western limits of Britain and Ireland. As Dave Brown mentions, this situation could only increase our chances of finding one of these vagrants on this side of the pond.

Here is a brief (and certainly incomplete) summary of the status of these two thrushes in the New World:

REDWING (Turdus iliacus)

The Redwing breeds from Greenland east to Siberia and winters in southern Eurasia and northern Africa. The Greenland population was supposedly just established in the 1970s, indicating current westward expansion, and this population apparently continues to grow. Redwing is increasing in North America, with most records occurring over the past 7 years. For instance, the species has been an annual winter visitor to Newfoundland over the past 5 years, sometimes with multiple birds present in a year.

Closer to here, records include:

New Brunswick – 3 (Jan 2001, Mar-Apr 2003, Nov 2004)

Nova Scotia – 1 (Nov-Dec 1989)

Pennsylvania – 1 (Feb 2005)

New York – 1 (Feb 1959)

Rhode Island – 1 (Dec 2005)

FIELDFARE (Turdus pilaris)

Fieldfares are another widespread Eurasian breeder with a small population on Greenland, but in contrast to the Redwing, the Greenland breeders are apparently declining. No worries though…the species is doing well overall. Newfoundland has seen a drop-off in records over the past decade.

Here are records closer to home:

New Brunswick - 3 (1991, Feb-Apr 1997, Jan-Mar 2001)

Nova Scotia – 1 (couldn’t find the date)

New York – 1 (Feb 1973)

Massachusetts - 1 (Apr 1986)

Compare the dates of the Redwing records to those of Fieldfare, which mimics the trend in Newfoundland (Redwing UP, Fieldfare DOWN).

As the Latin names reveal, these two birds are very closely related to American Robin (Turdus migratorius). So it is not surprising that most North American records come from Robin flocks.

I decided to post this now because, although winter’s grip will be loosening over the next several weeks, we are right in the heart of the “European thrush season.”

Here’s the month-by-month breakdown, counting the ENTIRE duration of stay:

Nov – 2

Dec – 2

Jan – 2

Feb – 5

Mar – 3

Apr – 3

And here’s the month-by-month going solely by months in which the birds were FOUND:

Nov – 2

Dec – 1

Jan – 2

Feb – 4

Mar – 1
Apr – 1

Sure it’s a small sample size, but it may be legit. Here are a couple theories: 1) Perhaps these birds (and the Robins they’re with?) continue to move south through the winter as food supplies are depleted, reaching their southernmost point during the late winter. Or, 2) The first real thaws often occur during this time (for example, avg high temp here in CT rises 6 °F through Feb after reaching a nadir in Jan)…and during this time wintering Robin flocks become more visible by feeding on open lawns and fields.

While jogging around here one evening last week I noticed several small Robin flocks heading in the same general direction. I followed them via car to a roost site on private property. This evening I got around to asking the landowner for permission to observe the roost, which he graciously granted. While I was there I estimated about 600 Robins coming into the roost. I may have undercounted, as my chosen vantage point was not optimal. While not the largest Robin roost ever recorded (not even close…), it holds potential and I’m hoping to check on that roost again later this month. I only got a good look at about half the individuals as they came in.

If you happen to run into a flock of robins, take a close look at each one to ensure there’s not a Redwing or Fieldfare hiding in plain sight amongst them.

Happy hunting

- Nick

Friday, February 5, 2010

3 Feb - Outer Cape (PACIFIC LOON+)

James P. Smith and I teamed up for a midweek day trip, this time to the Outer Cape. Nothing earth-shattering to report, but we were able to relocated an adult PACIFIC LOON among the throngs of Red-throats at Race Point.

adult Pacific Loon

Alcids also put on a good show...not in numbers, but in quality views. In addition to the hundreds of Razorbills, we had 5 COMMON MURRES (all solitary basic-plumaged birds sitting on the water) and a fantastic prolonged view of a passing THICK-BILLED MURRE with the sun at our backs.

Common Murre 1 of 5

Common Murre 2 of 5

We spent a fair amount of time on gulls. This adult Glaucous Gull was really nice.

adult Glaucous Gull

Race Point Light

Race Point Beach as the weather begins to break

We came across the following [presumed] seal tracks. They led from the water's edge up to the edge of the dunes, where the seal apparently seated itself for a while before returning back to the ocean.

Looking up the beach's slope toward the dunes, one could see the snow-covered seal tracks leading up to the right...then much fresher tracks coming back down to the left.

close-up of seal tracks

- NB