Nature Notes 2017: 03 (Arizona Edition)

“Nature Notes” will be a near-weekly blog post to keep you updated on some things going on with Maine’s wildlife. This will include incidental observations (many of which are shared on our Instagram page), recent unusual bird sightings, and notes on our bird walks or other field trips.
In case you missed it, past Nature Notes can be found here: Nature Notes 2017: 01, Nature Notes 2017: 02

Arizona 2017 birding spots
stars indicate places birded

Arizona Birding Vacation:
While my goal of these “Nature Notes” is to keep them about Maine’s wildlife, I thought you all might be interested in the birding vacation I just took to Arizona. This post will be a summary to point out some of the highlights from the trip, avian and otherwise. The 10 days I was there was basically split with birding north and then south of Phoenix:

North – During the first half of the trip, my father and I birded from Phoenix north, skirting the southern border of Utah, to look for some of the expected resident species in that area. Some of these birds are closely related to those we see in Maine, occupying many of the same niches: Mountain Chickadee and Juniper Titmouse being the common ‘tits’, Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay and Stellar’s Jay filling in for Blue Jays, even the White-breasted Nuthatches out there may be different than those we see in Maine (read about that possible split here). California Condor was our other BIG target for going north thanks to the ABA now ruling that this “Code 6” (extinct from the wild) species is now considered “countable” under their new “reintroduced indigenous species” recording rule. To see the condor, we drove to Navajo Bridge at the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area because several have been known to roost there and offer the closest views. Upon arrival we learned that technicians studying the condors had flushed the roosting birds from the bridge in an attempt to keep the birds from becoming habituated to human presence. We had a great chat with the tech and she let us to listen to the ‘ping’ of one of the radio-transmitter-wearing previously-flushed birds that was soaring “about 10 miles northeast” of the bridge. The wait continued, hopeful that the bird could come back to roost for the evening, but with an hour left before sunset (and no audible ‘ping’ from the transmitter) we changed our plan and took the 45 minute drive east, down some sketchy/muddy road to reach the end of Vermillion Cliffs. At this site, as the sun was dropping behind the mountains, we got to see 31 California Condors settle into their roost sites along the cliffs. This vantage point was much further away from the birds than Navajo Bridge would have been but perhaps that made us appreciate the huge wing spans (nearly 10 feet) of these vultures even more. And since “a picture is worth a thousand words” I’ll let these tell the rest of the story from ‘the north’:

Mountain Chickadee – Mount Elden, Flagstaff, AZ – 16 January 2017
Lewis’s Woodpecker – Flagstaff, AZ – 17 January 2017
Mallard x Northern Pintail (hybrid) – Corneille, AZ – 17 January 2017
Anna’s Hummingbird – Tonopah, AZ – 15 January 2017
Le Conte’s Thrasher (with nesting material) – Tonopah, AZ – 18 January 2017

South – For the second half of the trip I was joined by a couple birding friends to explore areas closer to Tucson and around southeast Arizona. This area of the country is well known for hosting rare Mexican birds in the winter so we had a sizable list of targets, which with a lot of luck and more determination we managed to connect with. If there was one story to tell it was our trip to California Gulch in search of Nutting’s Flycatcher. We knew it would be a long trip in and decided to camp as close as we could; another hour and a half drive from the flycatcher spot. Camping was fantastic – what is better than a few guys with a fire and a few grocery bags of meat and carbs? The next morning we didn’t make it far… by car. The road had been flooded / washed out so we decided to leave the car behind and hike the rest of the way. As simple as this sounds, we didn’t actually know how far the hike was (it was a little over 12 miles) and we didn’t have the foresight to bring enough water or any food with us. Long story short: we found the Nutting’s Flycatcher… eventually. Here are some photos from our rarity round-up:

Rose-throated Becard – Tubac, AZ – 20 January 2017
Black-capped Gnatcatcher (female) – Montosa Canyon, AZ – 20 January 2017
Streak-backed Oriole – Portal, AZ – 21 January 2017
Nutting’s Flycatcher – California Gulch, AZ – 23 January 2017

Mammals – While the trip was all about birds, it is hard not to appreciate new mammal species that we encountered. We saw a total of 12 species, most of which were new to me with the exception of a few: Coyotes and White-tailed Deer occur across the country, so while these were not new species for me, their subspecies were. The Coyotes in Arizona are known as “Mearns Coyote” (C. l. mearnsii) and are smaller bodied but have larger ears than our “Eastern Coyote” (C. l. var) – a great example of both Bergmann’s Rule and Allen’s Rule. Included below for photos are some of the more unique species, like the Pronghorn which is the only remaining species of family Antilocapridae.

Pronghorn – Las Cienegas NCA, AZ – 22 January 2017
Tassel-eared Squirrel – Flagstaff, AZ – 16 January 2017
Antelope Jackrabbit – Amado, AZ – 20 January 2017

Gilsland Farm Bird Walk:
Our weekly bird walks continue at Gilsland Farm on Thursday mornings at 8:00AM. Reports are often posted on the Maine-birds Listserv, like this one from the 26th:

Hey Maine-birds:

During yesterday’s bird walk at Gilsland Farm in Falmouth we managed to tally 32 species, helped in part by the high tide but trails remain a bit icy. Here are a few highlights from the walk:Waterfowl numbers were about average with a surprising lack of goldeneye. The last few years we’ve seen goldeneye disappear off Gilsland during late January and early February despite the river staying free of ice over that period. One drake Gadwall was mixed with the American Black Duck / Mallard flock off the West Meadow; likely one of the four that has been reported from the Mackworth Causeway earlier this month.One very vocal male Red-bellied Woodpecker was found visiting a potential/incomplete nest cavity near the pond. There is a great paper from the Auk on “Pair formation, mutual tapping and nest hole selection of Red-bellied Woodpeckers” by Lawrence Kilham that describes a synchronous mutual tapping behavior I hope we get a chance to see at this site. The paper is worth a skim if you have these birds near you: remain in good numbers with 120+ American Robins, 13 Cedar Waxwings, and 4 Eastern Bluebirds around the property.
A complete list form the walk is available at:

Coming up…

Back to Maine! Look for the next Nature Notes to be coming out very soon (and back to being Maine-focused).