Happy Birds at Our Feeder!

The last 4 nights I have been traveling to see sandhill cranes. Freezing mornings, but this morning I am able to observe birds from the comfort of my home. All photos of the birds at our feeder were taken while I stood indoors in a warm setting. A really wonderful way to observe birds! I will write about my latest travel, the cranes, and other birds in upcoming posts.

This post is about the 8 different species of birds that came to our feeder within an hour! Wow! There are two feeders for the birds to eat from. Some birds were very patient while they waited for another who is taking up space and feeding at a feeder. The Gamble’s quail and mourning doves are waiting for seed to drop to the ground. When the male northern cardinal swoops in with its bright red color, it is simply beautiful. Then came the female! Of course, the yellow of lesser goldfinch is an eye-catcher too, especially when in the sunlight! The ladderback woodpecker is becoming a regular here, just like the Gila woodpeckers. I am always surprised when a white-crowned sparrow shows up! Of course, the house finch are often here. Many of the birds also like sitting in the nearby trees. We are happy to see the birds at our feeders.

Enjoy the photos of the morning visitors to our feeders:

Gambel’s quail
Northern cardinal – male
Northern cardinal – female
Lesser goldfinch
Ladderback woodpecker
Gila woodpecker
White-crowned sparrow

Don’t forget to look out your window when home. There may be some birds sitting in the vegetation around your home or flying overhead. Take time to enjoy nature!

Thank You Eagle Scout!

An Eagle Scout project is noticed.

El Rio Preserve often has much more water in it than the day I recently visited. However, as I walked around I noticed a duck blind built by an Eagle Scout. It is a fantastic addition when observing ducks from this location when the water is higher and ducks can be seen from it. This area captures overflow from mountain slopes and the Santa Cruz River overflow. Local Tucson Audubon has identified 244 different bird species here. I like stopping here also when I bicycle the Chuck Huckleberry Loop. I look forward to higher water and staying behind this blind to observe waterfowl. Thanks again to the Eagle Scout!

Duck blind
Thanks Taysom.

My 2023 eBird Challenge

I decided to challenge myself and take on a challenge listed on eBird. Could I observe birds everyday and submit a checklist per day in eBird? Don’t know, but I am on my way to attempting the challenge … to be done every day in 2023!

With this challenge, there will be no difficulty in completing a checklist per day when I can observe birds at our home feeder. Then to enter the list in eBird, simple. The challenge will increase when I am not at home, yet there should always be a parking lot, campground or wherever to observe birds and then submit the list. 

I meet the challenge with 2 submissions in one day when there is so much bird activity at our feeder! It happened recently as the morning crowd of birds finished off some of the bird seed. After I replenished the feeders many more birds came by! Word was out … new seed at the scene!

It is interesting to watch the house finches calling others … I even heard the Gila woodpecker, first at a distance and then it flew in to check out the new cylinder of seed. 

So many birds crowd in on the feeder! They seem to take turns, but every so often a couple of lesser goldfinch would challenge each other to a perch. It was fascinating to watch. Exciting at times when a yellow-rumped warbler or a ladder-backed woodpecker would show up. Unfortunately I could not get my camera in place fast enough to capture good photos of them. 

We have railings and plenty of trees near the feeders for birds to simply sit and wait their turn or to call in other birds before that bird went to a feeder. I will continue this challenge … 365 checklists to be done during 2023 … on my way!

Waterfowl Bathe While in the Water

Waterfowl, such as ducks, splash around in water to clean their feathers. While photographing a cinnamon teal recently, the bird was so engrossed in its bathing that it left me few minutes to capture a photo when water was not splashing! So I stayed and watched the bird.

Here is the cinnamon teal:

Cinnamon teal

Besides eating, bathing is an important task for ducks to do each day. Soiled feathers are cleaned of excess oil and ectoparasites. Ducks splash water over their backs and wings, shake the water from their wings and then spend time preening. The bird uses its beak to position and smooth its feathers. Feathers are very important in helping the bird maintain its insulation, waterproofing and aerodynamic flight. 

Getting the spot on the back of its head
This side too!

With an extra shake, water is off the duck and any feather barbules that unhooked can now zip back together. Birds are born knowing this regular maintenance behavior and preen often in a day. And here I thought the bird was having a good time … well, maybe it was while also getting itself clean!

Getting to all the right places!
This is so much better! Shake it off!

Another bird that caught my attention … a ring-necked duck. Here it was:

And then it too was bathing and shaking its feathers …

It is fun to observe birds as they go about doing what they need to do within their day. Take time to notice … another joy in being outdoors in nature.

Ramsey Canyon Preserve, Great Place to Visit

Ramsey Canyon Preserve is located in southern Arizona, south of Sierra Vista and north of Mexico. Its present-day 380 acres of land are on the east side of the Huachuca Mountains. I wanted to scope the canyon out because it has a couple of hiking trails and is known as a birder’s hotspot.

Some history:

In the 1880’s Gardner Ramsey was one of the hundred people who eventually live in the canyon. What is really amazing, Ramsey built a 2.5 mile long road by hand! It was from the current visitor center to what was the Hamburg mine area! The quality of the silver, copper, zinc, gold and lead was poor so mining stopped in 1931. It seems the creek may have been moved because there is a fireplace so near to the creek I cannot imagine where a house was at the time.

Fireplace currently on the trail.

Today one can still see the 1902 James cabin built by John James and the James house which the family moved into in 1911. It is an easy hike in this area. Both houses are beside the Ramsey Creek which you walk along while hiking from the 5500 feet elevation where today’s visitor center stands to a trail leading you to an overlook point at 6200 feet. When you start up the final 500 foot elevation, your heart really does some serious pumping! Take your time, you’ll be fine.

1902 John James cabin
1911 John James house

The birds were quiet in the early morning hours. When headed to the overlook, we are now on Coronado National Forest Land. The overlook point was beautiful, peaceful, and a quiet place to enjoy and have a snack before heading back down. The birds were more numerous in the sun-filled wooded areas near the creek as we descended from the overlook. Numerous benches are on the trail so one could spend time watching birds, nature journaling/sketching, or relaxing. I did see at least 12 different species of birds on this day. More will be here in April. The violet-crowned hummingbird is rare for this area, yet I captured one photo when a bird stopped at the visitor center’s  hummingbird feeder.

Violet-crowned hummingbird
Red-naped woodpecker

1970, Ramsey Canyon was designated a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service. In 1974, 280 acres in the canyon were bequested to The Nature Conservancy from Dr. Nelson C. Bledsoe. The preserve has now expanded to 380 acres. I will need to return here when it is prime birding time!

Note: The Nature Conservancy since its inception in 1951 has protected more than 125 million acres of land around the world in 70 countries and 100 marine conservation programs. Their 400+ scientists with others on staff work to conserve lands and waters which all life depends on. If you are not familiar with their mission, check out The Nature Conservancy. Visiting Arizona, add Ramsey Canyon Preserve to your list.

Other photos from our hike:

On the trail
From the overlook.
Looking toward Sierra Vista, AZ

California’s San Jacinto Wildlife Area

Escape California’s Interstate- 10 traffic and drive to San Jacinto Wildlife Area. As you do, you pass huge dairy farms, dry land wheat farming and agricultural lands. The final mile is down a muddy road to the wildlife area managed by California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife. Nine hundred acres of restored wetlands within the 19,000 acres of wildlife area. It is a great place to look for birds along with other wildlife. We were here to see birds.

We spent more than 5 hours driving and walking the trails within the area. Hundreds and thousands of some waterfowl! Yet then there was also the lone mountain bluebird or a couple of loggerhead shrikes. Various hawks were flying around and while looking into the next pond, more birds. It was nice to see a packed-down dirt trail accessible for handicapped individuals and a couple of blinds for a wheelchair-bound person to have space to maneuver within.

My two new birds for my life list: mountain bluebird and a Nuttall’s woodpecker. Fortunately I able to get a photo of the Nuttall’s woodpecker, see below, which is only found in California.

Nuttall’s woodpecker

I thought I had never seen an American pipit so I was looking for it here. The bird was hopping around near water’s edge in some grasses so I was able to photograph it easily. Then I discovered later in the evening I have actually seen this bird a few years ago…. Oh well, this bird is cute!

American pipit

I’ll include a few more photos from this day. It was a worthwhile visit and if you get a chance to visit here, do so. However, be sure to have a CDFW Land Pass, unless you already have a valid CA hunting or fishing license. We bought our land pass at a Big 5 Sporting Goods store while in Palm Springs. Also, check the wildlife area website for more information since the area is closed certain days for duck hunting.

Bald eagles
American kestrel
Long-billed curlew
White-faced ibis
Northern harrier

Sandhill Cranes at Whitewater Draw

The sandhill cranes are coming to their winter resting area in McNeal, Arizona, specifically named Whitewater Draw. I too drove to the area to see what was happening as winter officially begins in a week. The last time I was here it was February and I saw the birds roost at night and then take off just before sunrise. This visit I did not camp overnight.

I arrived and immediately noticed the water in the draw was higher than my previous visit. What this meant for observing the birds, they were further away and not so easy to individually see. Thus I spent more time capturing photos of them while in the air.

Of course there were other birds at the draw. Here are some of them:

Northern shoveler
Vermilion flycatcher

On my way home, a short distance from the draw, I saw a new bird and stopped to photograph it … a ferruginous hawk!

It was a great day for watching birds!

It’s Not Always About the Birds!

I was thinking about the readers of this blog. Are they saying, is it always about birds? So I went back through my photos to see and this is what I discovered. Many are birds, but there are some exceptions … time to share a few of those photos if I have not done so already.

Other animals: javelina, gray fox, squirrels in various locations in Texas, spider’s web, alligators, flowers and butterflies:

A woman walked by my campsite and asked what was for dinner. I told her minced clams with onions and rice noodles. She was amazed to find out I could cook it all on a backpacker stove. And yes, I do enjoy a Deschutes black porter beer! 

So now I see I am bird – obsessed sprinkled with some other observations! How can I not be though. I saw so many new birds in my life and that has been exciting! What are there, 10,000 different species of birds in the world? I now have 374 … I’ve got some work to do! I look forward to sharing them and my van adventures with you … and other thoughts and happenings … hang in there as who knows what the next year will bring!

Birds After the Festival

Birds are around, even as I travel home … and where are they? The weather in southern Texas turned cold quickly! Everyone said how unusual this was and the birds were smart enough to nestle into warm places. While I was tired of hot and humid, cold is not something this Arizonian loves. Then unfortunately, when I arrived in cold, damp San Antonio, I was not able to bicycle ride. So the next morning, I departed early for South Llano River State Park, Junction, Texas, thanks to a fellow birder’s recommendation. 

This park has 5 bird blinds in different locations around the park and a huge area for wild turkeys to roost in the pecan trees. I spent hours walking in 45 – 50 Fahrenheit degree weather to view birds at each blind. An advantage of blinds is the staff often set food in feeders early in the day and birds regularly check-in for the food. Plus a blind allows viewers and photographers to get views and photos while not scaring the birds off. So I hid in the blind, out of any wind and somewhat protected from the coolness of the day, and often had the blind to myself. It was a great way to spend time before getting back on the road to spend the night in Fort Stockton, TX.

Here are some photos taken on this day:

Ruby-crowned kinglet
Ladder-backed woodpecker
Bewick’s wren
Black-crested titmouse
Northern cardinal

Rio Grande Valley Bird Festival in Harlingen, Texas

This is my first bird festival where I am attending field trips. During the 5 day festival, I attended morning field trips from 6am – 1pm, afternoon speakers and interacted with many other birders day and night. It was wonderful to walk and see birds with people of all abilities. For me, the guides and fellow birders provide support in locating and identifying birds seen or pointing out birds I would have missed if on my own. My goal in coming to the festival is to see different birds. We are not far from the Mexican border and the Gulf of Mexico; there will be different birds than from landlocked Arizona!

Here are the trip locations and number of new birds seen by me at each location:

South Padre Island Birding & Nature Center , SPI Convention Center & Valley Land Fund lots – this was actually my second visit to the Birding & Nature Center since I went on my own a couple of days prior. With my festival group and guide, I added 10 new birds to my list at the listed above locations: buff-bellied hummingbird, clapper rail, Magnolia warbler, bronzed cowbird, short-billed dowitcher, dunlin, red knot, white-eyed vireo, golden-fronted woodpecker and groove-billed ani.

Clapper rail

Magnolia warbler

Kings Ranch – Norias

The next morning we drove to a section of Kings Ranch and I had 3 new birds: Couch’s kingbird, Sprague’s pipit, and after three hours of searching we finally saw a ferruginous pygmy-owl! 

Ferruginous Pygmy-owl

The next day I birded on my own at Hugh Ramsey Nature Park and found 2 new birds: plain chachalaca and long-billed thrasher. I actually had a better photograph of the plain chachalaca in upcoming days but I am including it here.

Plain chachalaca

The next day was many degrees colder, damp and overcast. I found myself wearing a pair of pants and fiberfill jacket, winter hat and gloves. The birds seemed to have hidden deep in the shrubs. At Sabal Palm Sanctuary on the Rio Grande River, I saw an olive sparrow and black-crested titmouse. We were not having that much success here. Our hiking boots had tons of clay on them. We were walking on trails muddy from the previous night’s rain. So we went to the RGV- University of Texas campus. It’s a beautiful campus, we saw a number of birds and my new ones were: greater scaup and social flycatcher.

The next day, our last day of the festival, was a park I liked best: Estero Llano River Grand Park. We saw many birds and 2 birds I would never have seen unless the guides pointed them out. They were a common pauraque and a McCalls Eastern Screech owl.

McCalls Eastern Screech Owl
Look closely for the Common pauraque…eye is in top right area.

San Benito Wetlands

That afternoon a few of us birded at San Benito Wetlands. My new birds were a white-tailed kite, least grebe and a fork-tailed flycatcher. We had a fun time trying to identify birds as we saw them. At one point we saw 4 birds high in a tree. We identified them as 3 scissor-tailed flycatchers and 1 fork-tailed flycatcher, yet we were unsure of our identifications. If correct, this would be the first fork-tailed flycatcher any of us had seen. We were thrilled when another group yelled up to us and asked if we saw the 3 scissor-tailed and 1 fork-tailed flycatcher … yeah, yes!

Least grebe

Afternoons I attended the various speakers, the trade show and checked out the silent auction. The festival was very well organized. It is wonderful having such a positive experience at a festival … not only for the birds, but the many nice people who also attended. It was a joy to be in such a positive experience. I look forward to more opportunities. I suspect I will see some of these people again at other festivals. Come to the Southeast Arizona Festival each August in Tucson, Arizona.

Final tally: I saw 140 different bird species. Thirty-five bird species were new to me! WOW!