Monday, March 28, 2011

Get Involved!

I think one of the great things about birding as a hobby is that anyone, everyone, can get involved and contribute to our knowledge of birds.  Citizen science also allows amateur enthusiasts to affect conservation and provides a learning opportunity.

What I want to mention is the North American Migration Count.  It's a lot like a CBC, an annual nationwide snapshot of bird abundance.  There are some differences.  For one thing, rather than a count circle, the NAMC runs at the county level.  The other important difference is that the NAMC occurs on only one day, the second Saturday of May.  This year, it's happening on May 14.  If you can be out in the field that day, consider joining in the count, and contact your local coordinator!  The link above lists all the county coordinators in Arizona.  Another thing to consider is birding a new area.  If you live in a county with a lot of birders, how about volunteering in an underbirded county like Greenlee, Graham, or La Paz?

Another way for Arizonans to get involved is to join in one of AZFO's Field Expeditions.  These are like super field trips, outings with a purpose, with some goal towards better understanding the status and distribution of Arizona's birds.  This May (21-22) there will be a backpacking trip to the Galiuro Mountains in southeast Arizona.  Who even knows what that could turn up!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Links (part 2)

In my original "Links" post, I included several links relevant to birding in the LCRV.  Not wanting to lose these pages in the dusty archives, I figured out how to add a "Links" section to the sidebar of the blog.  Now relevant information is always available!

Also, I just added a new one, an eBird bar chart for all three western Arizona counties.  I blogged previously about eBird and their amazing bar charts, so I wanted to provide a quick link for folks visiting the area.  Dates and relative abundance at your fingertips!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Big Year update

Things have been very busy lately, and unfortunately I'm not referring to birding!  The past two weekends I've gone out of town, first to Phoenix then to Santa Cruz, CA.  Not to mention the intervening week which I spent working full-time!  At least in both cases I did get some birding in, and both weekends were fun, but I've gotten a bit off track with my Mohave County big year!  Since I've been neglecting this blog, I thought I'd post a status update on my big year.

The total so far stands at 165.  I was pretty pleased when my FOS Cliff Swallow (flying over LHC February 24) landed me 150, halfway to my goal of 300!  The latest addition was actually a completely new (though overdue) county bird, Yellow-headed Blackbird.  Yesterday while I was outside for work (not birding), a flock of 14 flew over!

I'm feeling pretty good about the year so far.  This project has gotten me out birding in some places pretty far off the beaten track, and I've found two second county records - the Rufous-backed Robin in Kingman and the Dusky-capped Flycatcher in Wikieup.  It's also gotten me looking for some birds that are very local in the county, and David and I were successful in finding a pair of LeConte's Thrashers.

Cold Rufous-backed Robin
Winter is the time for waterfowl, and this winter has been great.  Three species of geese (no Greater White-fronted or Cackling), Tundra Swan, and 24 duck species.  Mohave County is great for diving ducks, and I've already added all three scoters, Long-tailed Duck, Barrow's Goldeneye, and of course, Greater Scaup.  The only duck I'm likely to add at this point is Eurasian Wigeon...though I'm still looking for the really rare ones!

I've been doing fairly well with raptors, though there are some gaps I hope to fill.  The highlight so far was the Red-shouldered Hawk at Pintail Slough, which John West found and pointed out.  I didn't make it up to the Arizona Strip this winter, so I'm missing Rough-legged and Ferruginous Hawk (as well as Northern Shrike).  I have some very local breeding raptors to look for...Northern Goshawk on Mt. Trumbull, Common Black-Hawk on the Big Sandy River, and Harris's Hawk around Wikieup.  Swainson's Hawks haven't arrived yet, but they are a widespread breeder in the central part of the county.

The most skittish of Red-shouldered Hawks
Four species of gulls includes the Bullhead City Mew Gull, and 13 species of sparrows isn't bad for a start--I'm still checking every White-crowned Sparrow flock for a White-throated!

As the migrants come in over the next two months, I'm hoping to add plenty of "easy" birds: warblers, flycatchers, hummingbirds, shorebirds.  Another few trips to the mountains will hopefully bring new woodpeckers, finches, and corvids.  Then of course there's no telling what vagrants will find their way here!  In the short term, I'll be looking for more night birds - I've seen Lesser Nighthawk and found three species of owl, but there are more owls and Common Poorwill out singing!

My bet for #166?  Common Moorhen.  They are plenty common out here, and I am amazed that I haven't managed to find one for the year.  I know one will turn up eventually, and I'm looking forward to seeing what's next!

Always a coot, never a moorhen!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Long-tailed Duck

On February 28 of this year, refuge volunteer Jan Richmond spotted a drake Long-tailed Duck near the Bill Williams River NWR headquarters.  This is a rare bird in Arizona, a "Sketch Details" species found mainly on the Colorado River.  I was very pleased that this guy hung around long enough for others to see it - partly because it's such a beautiful bird, and partly because it was a new species for me for Mohave County!

I went out to the Refuge HQ this morning for a bit of birding.  The Long-tailed Duck was much closer today than it was when I saw it before, swimming contentedly in La Paz County, in the CAP inlet.  I got a few low-quality images, which I doctored up a little bit by darkening them.

I can't say I fully understand the complex molt strategy of this species, but this guy appears to be pretty squarely in his "winter" plumage.  The short tail feathers, however, suggest a young bird - maybe a third-year?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

First spring migrants

Migration is complex in the LCRV.  Spring migration begins in January, when swallows and some waterfowl begin to move north.  The latest of spring migrants are here in June, which is also when fall shorebird migration begins.  November marks the arrival of many wintering duck species.  At practically any time of year, something is migrating in the LCRV.

The appearance of spring migrants in late winter is probably related to the mild climate and abundant food resources of the region.  Also, some of these movements may not pertain to migration as much as shifts in the wintering range.  According to Rosenberg et al. (Birds of the Lower Colorado River Valley, 1991),

 "...there is evidence that some species may make midseason adjustments in their winter quarters in response to sudden changes in local weather or food supply.  These moves may be in the form of continued migratory behavior, as in some small insectivores, or as massive invasions into more suitable habitat, as in berry-eating waxwings and thrushes.  ...Thus, the notion of a static winter range for many species may be inappropriate, as winter in the lower Colorado River Valley is very much a time of flux."

Below, I've recorded some of the early movements that we have seen in January and February.  (This only includes a few observations from other birders.)  Our field observations are compared with Rosenberg et al., the standard reference for the region.

Cinnamon Teal
The first report of this species in the region this year was by John West, who counted nine in the Castle Rock area on January 2.  David and I had two at Pintail Slough January 24, and Kathleen Blair had two on the Bill Williams January 25.  Our first flock of the season was at Pintail Slough February 20, when we had ten.  By February 26, the number at Pintail Slough increased to about 80.  It is not unusual for a few individuals to arrive in early to mid-January, with migration picking up in early February.  It seems that Cinnamon Teal migration is happening a few weeks later than "typical".

Blue-winged Teal
Our first and only Blue-winged Teal this season was a drake in Lake Havasu City January 27.  This species occurs irregularly in the LCRV, though spring migration typically begins in mid-February.

Red-breasted Merganser
David's FOS Red-breasted Merganser was off Take-Off Point on February 4.  Sightings of one on Lake Mohave February 20 and two on Lake Havasu February 22 were more typical of early migrants, which usually appear around mid-February.
Turkey Vulture
This winter had Turkey Vultures wintering further north and migrating earlier than listed in Rosenberg et al.  While this species was formerly absent in winter north of Parker, we had about 11 wintering in the Parker Strip, as well as one individual in the Mohave Valley seen January 5.  We observed migration beginning in mid-January, when scattered individuals arrived around Lake Havasu City.  The first flock we saw north of Parker Dam was of 19 birds near Catfish Paradise on February 22.  Other flocks have been observed since that date.  This is slightly earlier than noted in the book, when spring migration began in early March.
Ash-throated Flycatcher
This species is an uncommon winter resident.  Our first migrant of the season, a singing bird at Pintail Slough February 20, was right on time.
Tree Swallow
We observed the largest concentrations of wintering birds on Lake Havasu, especially the north end.  Estimates of larger flocks during the winter ranged from 200-400.  We observed the first influx on February 18, with 770 at the north end.  Flock sizes then began to increase throughout the region, and our high count in February was 1200 at the north end of Lake Havasu February 26.  Distribution of this species is complex and highly variable year-to-year, though peak spring migration occurs in March.

Violet-green Swallow
Migration of this species began as a trickle this year.  The first report of the season was January 19, when Kathleen Blair recorded five at Kohen Ranch.  My FOS was one in Lake Havasu City February 1; I saw another on the Parker Strip February 3.  We didn't see more until February 20, with two at Pintail Slough and one on Lake Mohave.  Since February 21, numbers have greatly increased, with a few counts of 10 to 30 birds and widespread scattered individuals.  This seems to be a slightly late arrival of this species; migration typically begins in early February.
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Numbers of this species seem to be low this year.  Small numbers wintered south of Parker Dam.  Beginning in late January (as is typical), we began to see small numbers as far north as Willow Beach.  Our high count is 15, from Pintail Slough February 26.

Cliff Swallow
Arrival of Cliff Swallows this year seems typical.  The first reported in the region was on February 22, when Kathleen Blair had one at the Bill Williams NWR HQ.  David and I had our FOS two days later in Lake Havasu City.