Wednesday, January 28, 2015

American Southwest #1: The Travelling Birder, and a New Year, New Destinations, New Birds (#310-318)

I swear I don't mean to post only when I travel, but it's easy not post the local birds I've already seen, but I absolutely can't get away with not posting new life birds! Which inevitably happens on my travels.

So, without making any more excuses, I'll get started. I was very fortunate to spend New Year's in the American Southwest. Of course, birding was not the primary objective, but we do manage to squeeze it in. When Matt had visited last year without me, he came home with all kinds of pictures of dreambirds that were so foreign and wonderful and outside my scope of experience--limited to these drawings in my bird guides, i.e., Roadrunner, Phainopepla, etc.

So it was my time to get caught up. Inevitably a visit to this area involves landing in Vegas, AGAIN, a city for which my primary objective is to get the heck out of there. While feathers are found in abundance on the strip, it's not very interesting in terms of birds (On my last day, I learned that there is actually a bird viewing preserve in nearby Henderson. Next time, and of course there will be a next time, I'll check it out). If you're not interested in shopping, or impressing people with fancy clothes, or gambling at the "money extraction factories," that town sure leaves a lot to be desired. Fortunately, it is surrounded by much awesomeness, just a few hours' drive away.

So, you can imagine my delight when we are finally headed down Flamingo Drive, away from Las Vegas. It's my first visit to Red Rock. I'd never been to this little Conservation Area so close to Vegas, always opting for the big draws - the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, etc. I was pleasantly surprised and the drive through Red Rock was really nice.
First bird spotted. It reminds me of a robin, but of course it's not quite right. I'm embarrassed that I don't know what it is. I've been slacking lately, and don't know every single bird in the book anymore. I have to get the guide out, but when I do, I'm quite certain: it's Say's Phoebe.

#310; Say's Phoebe; Red Rock Canyon Visitor Centre; December 2014
Also just by the parked cars is a clearly new bird. Something feels not quite as satisfying when you spot a lifer in a parking lots, but it's still one of the most exciting things ever. And a little frustrating when you're not actually really sure what it is.

#311: Rock Wren;  Red Rock Canyon Visitor Centre; December 2014
Generally, the Red Rock scenic loop is dry desert, with big rocks. Just think "dirt" and "rocks" and that's basically what it is (on an impressive scale, to be certain). However, at one of the stops, there is some more vegetation and it's quite different from the rest. A ranger has told us it's a good spot to bird (birds liking trees and all) so we get out, long enough to enjoy two lifers.

Something is rustling around in the bushes...every once in a while we get a glimpse of a flash of orange. We also spotted the awesome red eye, but this guy was too shy to give as a really good look at him. Anyways, this is enough for me to know that this is...and look at that red eye!

#312: Spotted Towhee; Red Rock Canyon Visitor Centre; December 2014
PS. How do you say towhee, anyway? Too-eee? Tau-ee? Tow-hee? I never know what's right.  (well, I couldn't wait. The internet says it's "tow-hee," like "tow truck." Important to know, because there's another one comin'!)

Not far away, in fact, just steps away, was this wonderful little bird, perched--a familiar bird, but still a beauty to see.
Western Scrub Jay
Moving along, a few hours drive and across a state line, once nestled into our temporary home in Arizona, just across the Colorado River from Nevada. Although we wouldn't be staying there long really--only a few nights total. But I went for a walk around the hood, with Matt was eager to find me all the birds he'd seen the year before. It was funny--a lot of them were almost in exactly the same place.

#313: Gambel's Quail; Bullhead City, Arizona; December 2014
The Gambel's Quail were such delight! They teeter-tottered around, almost like they had somewhere to go, and while very skittish, avoided flight at almost any cost. Inevitably they were only spotted in a large mass, and they sounded much like grouse do.

#314: Curve-Billed Thrasher; Bullhead City; December 2014
I also saw this Curve-Billed Thrasher on more than one occasion in the same tree. Actually, it felt a bit like déjà vu, every time we visited this one empty square lot diagonal from our house in Bullhead. We'd start from the road, go up a small hill, every time, there would quail on the ridge to the left, which would run across to the back side of the lot on the ride, our steps would scare a bunny under this one bush, and he'd dart in the same direction, the thrasher would be in the palm tree on the left--it happened like that every time with total predictability. It was like just pushing the reset button every time I went. Groundhog day or whatever.
Also at the corner of that lot, we spotted this cactus wren. Sadly I only saw the one, and it was quite dark, but its markings are so distinctive, it's unmistakable. I wish I had more time to observe it.

#315; Cactus Wren; Bullhead City, Arizona; December 2014
This is the second time I've seen the Eurasian-collared Doves. Their expansion must be happening fast. Watch, they'll be the next starling!
This mockingbird seemed to love this very inhospitable-looking tree. Again, another bird predictably perched in the same location.
Also spotted (from quite far away--this is completely cropped...I can't believe it's distinguishable at all!) was this wee little wren (looks like another rock wren, as seen at Red Rock).
At one particular house there was lots of action, all little birds. The first day I visited the yard, I was able to see the birds clearly enough but my shots weren't great. When I returned on a walk, the home owner was leaving in her car. She paused and I felt the need to explain to her what I was looking at in her tree, at which point she invited me to just go up the drive and take all the pictures I wanted! Very kind. At first, I was surprised to learn they were Verdin, since my guidebook said they are generally seen alone (but the tree was full of them). Luckily I had many opportunities to see these adorable birds!

#316: Verdin; Bullhead City; December 2014
It's at this point that I want to mention what an amazing tool ebird is when you are travelling. I did a bit of prep, looking at the guide, seeing what might come up, but there is just so much to look at and analyze in the book when realistically you are probably going to see a pretty predictable assortment of birds. But by exploring the ebird data, I could determine what birds had been reported in the area in the last few weeks, which gave me a pretty darn good idea of what I would see, and it eliminated poring over the entire field guide, looking at birds that wouldn't be there in that season or are just really rare.

Perhaps one of the birds I envied Matt most for seeing last year was the roadrunner. They are hilarious, and a bird we've all been familiar with since childhood. Run like mad, stop, put tail up, look around, run like mad, repeat.  Matt made it his personal goal to find me one. The first one was the hardest, but after that, I spotted them several times. And I squealed with delight every single time.

#317; Greater Roadrunner; Bullhead City, Arizona; December 2014

We did a little day trip to Oatman, Arizona, which is on Route 66. This little town is pretty touristy, with wild donkeys roaming the street and fake gunfights put on every day at high noon, but it's only place I managed to find the incredible Phainopepla. that stunning or what?

#318: Phainopepla; Oatman, Arizona; December 2014
I'm always a sucker for the animals...
 We also spotted this beauty from the car on the ride home.

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