Thursday, 20 September 2012

Just Humming Along

So, 500 species has come and gone and I am still the same, humble bird obsessed guy I was when I hit 499, an hour or so earlier.  Now, when I say humble, take that with a grain of salt, as I am pretty darn stoked about reaching a number that I had not even pretended to think I could reach, when I fool-hardedly decided that I could do a Big Year, even though I knew pretty much nothing about birding, let alone traveling the country to bird.  Sure there are oh, maybe 15 people ahead of me, but they are actually real birders.  So, no, today I am not humble.

Here I sit in the Las Vegas airport awaiting my flight to San Francisco and a drive up to Bodega Bay for what I hope will not be a cancelled pelagic with Shearwater Tours.  I missed by a week birding with Greg Miller, as he was a special guest leader on the boat for the Monterey Birding Festival.  Now that would have been fun.

Not that birding on Tuesday with Matt Brown wasn't fun.  We had a great time.  We drove up to Madera Canyon with the hopes of finding Elegant Trogon and Arizona Woodpecker.  We didn't.  After a quick stop at Madera Kubo for the Magnificent Hummingbird, we hiked the Carrie Nation Trail to nearly the top without finding much of anything.  Matt was down on himself, as he really wanted me to get those birds.  It seemed to be the curse of number 500.  Just like a baseball player who gets to 500 career home runs and takes weeks to get number 500, we spent hours not finding a bird.

However, on our way back down the trail we had our first stroke of luck, a Northern Pygmy Owl calling.  And, since Matt is so good at finding owls, I never doubted I'd get to see a bird I had counted as "heard only," on my last trip to the desert.   It didn't take long for Matt to find the bird and that turned things around.  Soon after, we both heard a woodpecker thumping and hoped it was the Arizona.  As Matt went down into a little valley to see if he could spot it, I looked up and there was the woodpecker we had been hearing.  Matt rushed back up the hill as I took photos.  Once he got eyes on it,(sounds so CIA-ish), he identified it as an early-bird Red-naped Sapsucker.  And thus number 500 was mine and I had found it myself, which made it just a little extra special.

And so we headed up to Whitewater Draw for the possible Barn Owl and Wilson's Phalarope.

By the way, after I typed that last sentence, I had to board my Southwest Airlines flight to SF and am now typing on my iPad at 30,000 feet, using a very nicely priced $5.00 Internet connection. Oh the wonders of the modern world.

Right, where was I? Loaded question, as these days sometimes I don't even know. We were on our way to look for the Barn Owl when Matt spotted something white in a farmer's field. We pulled over and were rewarded with our third year bird of the day, a lovely White-tailed Kite.

As we continued on, I noticed that Tombstone, Arizona was directly ahead and we would have to pass through too get to Whitewater Draw. How perfectly serendipitous. Only a few weeks ago I read "The Last Gunfight: The True Story of the Gunfight at the OK Corral. We had to stop. It was like a little trip back in time with a little Disney magic mixed in. I got to see the vacant lot where the gunfight actually too place, adjacent to the actual corral. We spent about half an hour walking the "old" streets before heading out to Whitewater Draw Wildlife Management area, where the first order of business/play was finding our sixth species of owl together.

As we bushwhacked into the owl's territory, Matt casually mentioned to watch out for Rattle Snakes. Snakes? Why'd it have to be snakes? Anyway, I let Matt take the lead in order to lessen the risk to me and though we managed to avoid the snakes we did, at times, get caught up in some sort of devil's prickly plant, that was very scratchy, but worth it to get to the bird.

And a magnificent bird the Barn Owl was. As we rounded a tree it flushed briefly and flew into another tree, but Matt - The Owl Whisperer - quickly located it just as plain as the nose on Carl Malden's face, and nearly as big, not 20 feet from where we stood.

We missed out on the Wilson's Phalarope but did get to enjoy a huge flock of Yellow-headed blackbirds flying to and fro from some high grass. Seemed like about 50 females and one adult male with a lovely yellow head.

Back on the road again to head back to Tucson we scanned the skies for Swainson's Hawk, the last bird that Matt was sure we could get. However it wasn't to be seen in the flight. With time running out on our day, I spotted a football shaped lump atop a yucca plant. I pulled over, made a fairly acceptable u-turn and we headed back. Matt got his scope on it and yes, it was Swainson's Hawk. Actually, it was my hawk and I humbly take full credit for it.

Pretty good day of birding. I had wanted to finish up with the Plain-caped Starthroat at Ash Canyon Bed and Breakfast, home of Mary Jo's carnival of hummingbirds, but it was too late and dark to see anything. Mary and I sat and talked until the owls begn hooting and I returned this morning and saw the Starthroat right away when I arrived. With Mary and another visitor's, Richard from Orange County CA, I was also able to add Lucifer's and Calliope Hummingbird before heading back to the airport.

Now, through the power of airborne Internet, I have learned that the Bodega Canyon trip is GO for launch tomorrow.

Good night, and Good birds from 30,000 feet.


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