Bob Mercer recently shared the information below about their birding trip to Arizona in August.
Who in their right mind would go to Arizona in August? A birder. I have birded in Arizona on three other occasions. Years ago, my first trip was in mid-September. My second trip happened in March. In 2017, Eileen and I spent 5 weeks exploring the birds in Arizona from mid-September to mid-October. Even after spending that much time, there were still a lot of birds we missed. Apparently, by mid-September many of the birds leave Arizona or go quiet and are difficult to find and March is too early.
So, when a young friend of ours, Rachel, said she was going to go to Arizona at the time the Arizona Audubon Society has their birding festival, Eileen and I decided to spend nine days with her on a birding adventure the second week of August. Several surprises awaited us. First, August is monsoon season in Arizona. Expecting a dog biscuit dry desert, we could see rain and hear thunder every day. Fortunately, we only got caught a couple times. To our amazement, the desert was green!
Being familiar with many of the birding hot spots in Arizona, we decided to forgo the expense of joining the festival groups and set off on our own. For those of you who know me, you may know I keep two life lists. One is the accumulation of over 40 years of birding. The other is the birds I have reported on ebird, something I did not start until I retired and then not seriously until late in 2017 (after our 5-weeks in Arizona).
Our itinerary included Saguaro National Park and Wilcox Lake (our best chance for water birds) the first day. Then we spent 2 nights at Cave Creek Canyon at the base of the Chiricahua Mountains. From there we visited the East Fork of Cave Creek, The George Walker House, and Rustler Park. From there (after a short stop at the Portal Impoundment), we swung down to Sierra Vista Arizona where we visited several locations with hummingbird feeders (Ash Canyon B&B and Ramsey Canyon Inn) and took a few short trails. That night we settled into an Airbnb in Green Valley Arizona. That became our base of action for the rest of the trip. From Green Valley visited the Tubac area, the Patagonia area, Madera Canyon, Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, and Mount Lemmon. During this whirlwind trip, we created 45 ebird lists and recorded 146 species of which 31 were ebird lifers and 12 were totally new life birds for me. It is getting really hard to add life birds in North America, so this was outstanding!
The following are some of either my better pictures from the various locations or some of my lifers.
We have participated in many dance and local seasonal festivals over the years, but we were totally unaware of bird festivals until early this year.
The Acadia Birding Festival in Maine was a spur of the moment idea that morphed into a 3 week, 12 state, 3600+ mile road trip. In addition to the birding, we enjoyed lake life, genealogy, and history. We also added 24 life birds to our list.
For those unaware of birding festivals, this is what The Cornell Lab has to say: “A great way to enjoy bird watching is by going to festivals—they’re organized to get you to great birding spots at a great time of year, and they’re a great way to meet people. Experts and locals help you see more birds, and you’ll meet other visitors who share your hobby.”
Although late registering, we were still able to participate in 4 trips. There were talks, and a large variety of scheduled activities. You could schedule 2-a-day if you timed it right—and had the stamina. We were surprised to meet people from CA, TX, and FL.
Last year, while spending time late summer/early fall in Maine, we purchased property on a lake near Bangor, where I grew up. We are so excited to be able to spend “summah upta camp!” The nights are cool, the air has been dry (NO humidity), and even on the hot days, a breeze comes off the lake and keeps us very comfortable as we sit on the screened porch or on our lawn listening and watching our birds.
Last week while talking with Flo’s sister, I said, “I gotta go, a Woodcock just flew into our yard!” It was just before 7pm and we found it huddled in the wet wooded area between our camp and the next. I grabbed the “big” camera and took photos of the American Woodcock.
American Woodcock, Pleasant Lake, Stetson, Maine – Nancy Brown
According to Sibley Birds, the American Woodcock: “Status and Habits – Uncommon and secretive on damp ground under dense cover within woods, where it is rarely seen except when flushed at close range. Displaying birds emerge into open grassy fields at dusk in spring. Secretive and solitary; rarely seen in daylight and never mixes with other shorebirds”. Guess we were lucky to spot him.
My family always called these birds the “Timberdoodle.” According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website “All About Birds,” the woodcock is also known as the Labrador twister, night partridge, and bog sucker.
The following night while taking our dog out for one last walk, I caught another glimpse of the bird in the same general area. In fact, as it moved, I could observe their interesting walk. Cornell reports, “The American Woodcock probes the soil with its bill to search for earthworms, using its flexible bill tip to capture prey. The bird walks slowly and sometimes rocks its body back and forth, stepping heavily with its front foot. This action may make worms move around in the soil, increasing their detectability.” Watch a fascinating video of an American Woodcock here.
We sure do love life at our camp on the lake! I hope to have more Maine birding experiences to share with you this summer.
Note: This article appeared in the July 1 Seabrooker. It’s been updated for SIB blog.
After all the stops and starts of travel during Covid, we had an itch to get on the road again! You may wonder, why the Dakotas? They happen to be wonderful places for birdwatching, particularly in June and July. The birds are plentiful, the weather is wonderful, and the scenery is spectacular. We drove from Atlanta to Fargo, ND, then west across the state, south into SD, and back east across SD to Sioux Falls. A grand total of 5,000 miles!
Common Merganser, Eared Grebe, Ruddy Duck, Western Grebe
The Dakotas are part of an area called “potholes and prairies.” The potholes are shallow depressive wetlands of glacial origin that hold water from snow melt and rains. In the summer, they’re a haven for breeding waterfowl and other birds. North Dakota is sometimes called the “duck factory” of the Midwest because it supports more than 50% of our nation’s migratory waterfowl. Many of the ducks that we see at Seabrook in the winter go to the Midwest to breed in the summer. There is nothing like seeing a breeding plumage Ruddy Duck, who is so plain for us at Seabrook in the winter, but has a shocking blue bill and rusty plumage in the summer. Another highlight was breeding Western Grebes, sometimes colonies of over several hundred. Seeing them doing their synchronized mating dance was a first for us! Another striking grebe was the Eared Grebe, in breeding plumage Eared Grebe with its “maraschino cherry” eye. We saw a Common Merganser with adorable striped ducklings. In the wetland areas are Yellow-headed Blackbirds, with shocking yellow heads and voices that sound like a fax machine from back in the day!
Another of our passions is birding the grasslands of the Midwest. There are several national grasslands in North and South Dakota, and they harbor a wonderful population of birds. We enjoy the drives along miles of dirt roads, with no one around but an occasional farmer waving hi, as we look for Upland Sandpipers sitting on fence posts. It is awe inspiring to see the vast expanses of farmland and meet some of the people that farm it…truly American’s breadbasket. And how out of place and fun to see some of our Seabrook shorebirds in the grasslands of the Midwest – many Marbled Godwit, Black Terns and Willet in the fields and on the roads. Another striking shorebird, the Wilson’s Phalarope, also breeds in the grassland areas.
Other western grassland birds were the Chestnut-collared Longspur, a bird we had seen in previous trips, but never quite as good as on this one. Western Kingbirds dotted the fences everywhere, as did Lark Buntings with striking black plumage and white wing patch. Horned Larks called with their tinkling chirps. Bobolinks in distinctive breeding colors, and their little bubbling “Martian-like” song gave us great looks.
Teddy Roosevelt National Park is a hidden treasure. It has impressive scenery, a herd of bison and beautiful birds – like the Lark Sparrow with its harlequin face pattern, and the stunning Lazuli Bunting. In South Dakota we drove the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Parkway where we found one of our favorite birds, the American Dipper. It is the only songbird that regularly swims and submerges in fast running streams, looking for aquatic insect larvae. It was like finding a needle in a haystack, but we were able to spot one and saw it’s diving behavior! Western woodpeckers are always fun to find, and we found a Red-naped Sapsucker at higher elevation in SD.
Bison, Lazuli Bunting, American Dipper, Red-naped Sapsucker
As always in our travels, I am always looking to add another life bird to my list of US birds. While searching for a Golden Eagle nest, we had an up close look at a Ferruginous Hawk, a life bird for me, as it devoured its prey in a prairie dog town. Another life bird was a Gray Partridge, which we expected to find on the prairie, but instead found it in a downtown city park in Fargo! The park had done an excellent prairie restoration in the center of the city, and it was a great habitat for this elusive bird. We ended our trip with a very special Burrowing Owl, who nests in abandoned prairie dog holes. We drove a long way on dirt roads in Ft. Pierre National Grasslands and it did not disappoint! Two were sitting up by their nest holes late in the day. And a trip to SD would not be complete without its state bird, the Ring-necked Pheasant!
Along with all the beautiful birds we saw, the scenery in the Dakotas is magnificent. The Badlands are spectacular, and Needles Highway is a 17 mile drive of majestic views of rock formations. Custer State Park has a herd of over 1,000 bison, many had calves and they roam freely through the park. We also caught a great look at a coyote and hundreds upon hundreds of prairie dogs. So, if you have a chance, you may want to venture to the Dakotas!
Saturday, April 30, 2022 8:00am-12:00pm Location: 17038 Ace Basin Pkwy Carpool: Meet at SI Real Estate Office to Car Pool at 7:00am, drive is approximately 50 minutes to the nature trail’s parking lot Cost: Free for SIB Member; $5 Guest Fee
Come join us for spring migration, Beyond Our Backyard, at the Edisto Nature Trail. This park, within the ACE Basin on Highway 17, is both a migrant hot spot and a known nesting area for a number of sought after bird species. The park, adjacent to the Edisto River, has a variety of habitats along its one point five (1.5) mile looped trail. As you walk the park in search of its birdlife you will move through a pine and maritime forest habit into, adjacent the Edisto River, a cypress-tupelo swamp. In prior years, because of this varied habit, we have encountered a vast array of wildlife and plant life inside the park boundaries.
Some of the bird species we will endeavor see, and have encountered in prior years, includes such Warbler Species as Prothonotary, Worm-Eating, Black and White, Swainson’s, Kentucky, Hooded, Black Throated Blue, Yellow-Throated, and Northern Parula. Other possible bird species include, but are not limited to, Veery, Scarlet Tanager, Blackburnian Warbler, Rose-Breasted Grosbeak, Blackpoll Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Blue-Winged Warbler, Warbling Vireos, and a variety of raptors.
This nature trail has a number of board walk cross overs to assist in traversing potentially wet areas. Appropriate foot ware is recommended, even during dry spells, so that all participants are able to maximize the enjoyment of their experience. Participants should also consider these other items to maximize the comfort and enjoyment: binoculars, bug spray, sunscreen, hats, layered clothing to adjust to the mornings weather, field guides if print is your preference, eyeglass – lens cleaner, water, snacks, camera, and a pack or shoulder bag for your needs.
Beyond Our Backyard – McAlhany Nature Preserve near St. George, SC
Sunday, April 24, 2022 with morning only (8 am – 11 am) and all day (8 am – 2 pm) options Leave Seabrook Island Real Estate to carpool at 6:30 am (please be there before 6:30 am) Meet trip leaders Cathy & Carl Miller at the truck stop in Jacksonboro (intersection of US Hwy 17 & SC 64) and at 7:15 am to caravan to site Note: Cars with low ground clearance are not recommended for the drive into McAlhany Max: 12 Cost: Free for members; $5 donation for guests
Join SIB to bird at the beautiful McAlhany Nature Preserve up on the Edisto River near Saint George. This 367 acre preserve is under a conservation easement with the Lowcountry Open Land Trust and is owned and managed by the Charleston chapter (Charleston Natural History Society) of the Audubon Society. This property includes such habitats as 1.5 miles of frontage on the Edisto River, a 9 acre oxbow lake, bottomland hardwoods forest, a freshwater marsh, upland oak-hickory forest and a restored longleaf pine and native grasslands area. To get a feel for the types of habitats as well as the species that live and pass through, take a look at “Flora and Fauna of McAlhany Nature Preserve” . All birding will be on foot so wear comfortable hiking shoes.
In the morning, we will cover about 2 miles of wooded trails birding the south side of Wire Road along the River Trail. This area includes the river frontage, the oxbow lake, the Cypress Forest and flood plain. We can expect to see a large variety of birds including Egrets, Herons, Anhinga and Wood Ducks as well as birds of prey like Barred Owl, Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks. We will also see and hear our resident smaller birds like Tufted Titmice, Northern Cardinals, Carolina Wrens, hopefully 3 vireo species – Blue-headed, Red-eyed and White-eyed. A few sparrow species may still be present and we could also see several warbler species such as Black-throated Green and Black-throated Blue warblers, Northern Parula, Common Yellow-throat, Yellow-throated, Prothonotary and Hooded warblers. We will eat an early lunch at about 11 am in the picnic area. Then in the afternoon, we will explore the young longleaf pine and grassland areas on the north side of Wire Road covering about 1.5 miles of sandy trail and fire breaks. We will hopefully see Sedge and House Wrens, Yellow, Prairie and Pine warblers, Eastern Bluebirds, Summer Tanager, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo and Painted Buntings as well as Yellow-throated vireo and possibly Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Many of these species can be seen on either side of the road of course.
As always, be sure to bring your binoculars/cameras, bug spray, hats and sunscreen. Bring plenty to drink and a picnic lunch to eat on the property. We will make use of the picnic shelter however there are no facilities available to us on the property as the cabin will be locked. We ask that all participants wear a mask when unable to social distance if they are not vaccinated
Wednesday, March 2, 2022 — 8:00 am – 2:00 pm Birding at Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site Location: Meet at Seabrook Island Real Estate to carpool at 8:00 am Meet at Charles Towne Landing at 9:00 am Lunch option after birding: Ms. Rose’s Fine Food and Cocktails Max: 16 Cost: Free for members; $5 donation for guests; Park Admission: $12 Adult; $7.50 SC Senior
Join SIB to bird at Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site. Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site sits on a marshy point, located off the Ashley River, where a group of English settlers landed in 1670 and established what would become the birthplace of the Carolina colony. The significant features of the site include river and marsh views, majestic oaks and magnolias and 80 acres of English park gardens. Wildlife you may see at the park include the threatened wood storks, alligators and various coastal wading birds in the wild.
We will bird along the trails and marshes. After the organized walk, you can visit the Animal Forest (included in admission) to see animals that once inhabited the Charleston area such as bison, puma, black bear, otters, various shore birds, wild turkey and more.
In 2021, some SIB members did this walk and enjoyed watching a Great Horned Owl with it’s branching offspring. eBird shows 134 species seen during the spring at this hot spot. The diverse environment provides for shorebirds, wading birds, raptors, and song birds. All near downtown Charleston.
For the end of our morning, for those interested, we plan to make a lunch stop at the nearby Ms. Rose’s Fine Food and Cocktails.
As always, be sure to bring your binoculars/cameras, hats, sunscreen and bug spray. We ask that all participants wear a mask when unable to social distance.
If you are not yet a 2022 SIB member, you must first become a member for only $10 by following the instructions on our website: https://seabrookislandbirders.org/contact/join-sib/. You may bring the form and your dues to the event. Or you may pay the Guest Fee of $5.
Please complete the information below to REGISTER no later than February 28th. All registrants will receive a confirmation letter on March 1, the day prior to the trip. If you need to cancel, please let us know so we can invite people on the waitlist to attend.
Saturday, February 12, 2022 — 7:00 am – 4:00 pm Birding at Santee Coastal Reserve Wildlife Management Area (WMA) at 220 Santee Gun Club Road, McClellanville, SC 29458 (33.14787465209334, -79.3962914942397) Location: Meet at Seabrook Island Real Estate to carpool at 5:45 am Meet at Sewee Outpost at 4853 Hwy 17, Awendaw, SC (32.928946768826464, -79.71288155767162) to buy breakfast, lunch and to use restrooms before preceding to the Reserve Dinner option after birding: Seewee Restaurant, 4808 N Hwy 17, Awendaw, SC 29424 (32.926736397768416, -79.71480264232838) Max: 16 for the morning half-day portion // 8 for the whole-day afternoon option Cost: Free for members; $5 donation for guests
Join SIB to bird at Santee Coastal Reserve Wildlife Management Area (WMA), a 24,000 acre tract, operated by the SC Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC), rich in different habitats including long-leaf pine, bottomland swamp, upland hardwoods and former rice impoundments. The area was originally inhabited by the Sewee and the Winyah tribes. Then, several rice plantations were established here in the 1700s. Today, you can still see the brick ruins of the Eldorado plantation house on a hike through the upland hardwoods. In 1898, Captain Hugh Garden established the Santee Gun Club upon his acquisition of these rice plantations. Finally in 1974, the Santee Gun Club donated the property to TNC who then transferred most of it to the state of SC for management by DNR. Of course, a variety of habitats translates to a variety of birdlife. On this trip, we will focus our efforts on 2 habitats primarily. First, in the morning, we will bird the long-leaf pine forest to find the federally-listed endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker (RCW) and, hopefully, Northern Bobwhite and then, in the afternoon, we will bird the impoundments to observe multiple duck species. The long entrance road runs through the middle of the long-leaf pine forest in which we will find the RCWs. Our birding here will be roadside. In addition to the RCWs, we will listen for owls and Northern Bobwhite. Other species of at this time of year to see are the Blue-headed vireo, Brown-headed Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, raptors, Pine Warbler, Eastern Bluebird, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, and possibly all of the other 7 species of woodpecker in SC. Other possibilities include Yellow-throated Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Black-and-white Warbler, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Fox Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Cedar Waxwing, House Wren, Sedge Wren, Red-breasted Nuthatch, if we are lucky. In the afternoon, we will hike the Cape Trail to arrive at the impoundments where we will observe many species of duck. The impoundments in this area are closed to the public from November 1 to February 9 every year. Just after these areas reopen, the waterfowl begin to fly north to their nesting grounds. Thus, we are taking advantage of this narrow window of opportunity to see many species. Be prepared to hike about 4-5 miles. Since these ducks are very flighty, we need to keep a small group size for the afternoon portion. We will approach the impoundments stealthily, keeping our profiles low and speaking in hushed tones, in order to see the ducks before they flush. Likely species include Blue- and Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, American Wigeon (and possibly Eurasian Wigeon), Mottled Duck, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck, and Hooded Merganser species. Some other possibilities include Redhead, Canvasback and American Black Duck as well as Snow Goose. In the Big Well impoundment area (an area open year-round), a large group of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks have over-wintered and we expect to see them. In all of the impoundments, we will see a large number of waders including Egrets, Herons, Ibis, and maybe American Bittern. Several different species of shorebirds and rails such as Clapper Rail, Sora, Black-bellied plover, Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, Short-billed Dowitcher and American Avocet inhabit the impoundments in the winter. For the end of our day, for those interested, we plan to make a dinner stop at the Sewee Restaurant for a Lowcountry dinner. As always, be sure to bring your binoculars/cameras, hats, sunscreen and bug spray. If you have a scope, you should definitely bring it for the afternoon hike to the impoundments. Bring plenty to drink and a picnic lunch to eat on the property and money for your dinner if you decide to take that option. There are no facilities on the property so be prepared for that. We ask that all participants wear a mask when unable to social distance if they are not vaccinated. Please do not use someone else’s scope without their permission.
If you are not yet a 2022 SIB member, you must first become a member for only $10 by following the instructions on our website: https://seabrookislandbirders.org/contact/join-sib/. You may bring the form and your dues to the event. Or you may pay the Guest Fee of $5.
Please complete the information below to register no later than February 10th. All registrants will receive a confirmation letter on the February 11th, the day prior to the trip. If you need to cancel, please let us know so we can invite people on the waitlist to attend.
Our members love birds and love to travel! We plan to feature stories and photos from our members throughout the year so you can “Travel with SIB.” Let us know if you have a story you’d like to share about your travels!
In mid-April 2021, we, like so many others, were suffering from cabin fever. With the exception of a short trip back to VA in the fall of 2020, we had pretty much been confined to the house, neighborhood walks, and bi-monthly grocery trips.
Now, armed with vaccinations, air filter, Lysol, masks, and SIBLEY BIRDS WEST, we were ready to travel. Not ready to face the hurdles to international travel, we decided to follow Greeley’s advice and “Go West, not so young man.”
Our prime destination was Big Bend National Park, but as is typical of our trip planning, it quickly grew to cover central Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. Some of our destinations were new, others were revisits of places we have enjoyed in the past.
Goals for this trip were varied. History, birding, wildflowers, hiking, parks, and catching up with friends were just some of the main ones.
This foray into post- Covid travel was a mixed bag, fewer crowds, but fewer amenities also. We missed some guided tours and re-enactments. Some venues closed. All in all, we accomplished what we set out to do……get away, see the country, visit National Parks, enjoy ourselves.
We were gone 46 nights and traveled 7483.7 miles, absolutely no idea how many miles we walked (my tracker is dead). Very rough estimate— 100-150 miles
We visited 29 parks. Twelve of them were National Park sites, One, Honanki, was in a National Forest. The rest were state, county, municipal or privately funded.
We identified 100+ species of birds, not all new, and saw a lot more we couldn’t identify. Although I know we disappointed some of our more serious birder friends with our lackadaisical approach, we really enjoyed finding new birds that we don’t see here. Less enjoyable were the grackles(boat-tailed & great-tailed) and the house finches that kept popping up in weird places, making me think I had found a new bird.
It was day 8 before we saw any new birds. At that point, I was beginning to think the Great-tailed Grackle was the only bird in Texas.
My first sighting of a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was a thrill that never lessened as I continued to see them throughout Texas. Their long-forked tail makes them stand out as they perch on fence posts and wires. This tail also helps them twist and turn as they catch insects in mid-air.
Without a doubt, the highlight of our birding adventure was the Swainson’s Hawk we saw as we drove to Marfa, TX. It wouldn’t have been possible without my wonderful husband who doesn’t mind my squeals, and is willing to stop as quick as safely possible, inch up the road, make U-turns so I can take the pictures from the other side. Very little traffic also helped.
This is the 2nd one we have seen. The other one was flying on a grey day, so the photos aren’t anything like these.
Swainson’s hawk is also known as a grasshopper or locust hawk, since it will devour these when available. They will prey on small rodents when feeding their young. In autumn, they leave the plains for South America, where dragonflies are a favorite food.
Another interesting bird was the Crested Caracara. My first thought upon seeing this bird was that it was a leucitic vulture. As we passed a group of vultures on the side of the road, one of them appeared to have a white neck. It was only after seeing another one at the LBJ Ranch State Park that I realized what I had seen earlier. While this bird looks like a hawk, behaves like a vulture, it is actually a falcon.
They are non-migratory birds whose northern range covers central Florida to Arizona and Texas. Like the vultures it is often found with, the Cara Cara has few feathers on its face, the better for eating carrion. Its long legs and flat claws allow it to spend a lot of time walking and foraging.
Without a doubt, one of the most colorful birds was the Vermillion Flycatcher. As with the other flycatchers, they swoop from their perches to catch flying insects, often returning to the same perch. If the insect is big, they will give it a few whacks to subdue and soften it for easier eating. I am not sure if this carries over to US birds, but, in Mexico, the vermillion flycatcher is known as the Good Luck Bird, especially if it is facing you. If its back is to you, that could be a bad sign.
As we set off on our journey, there were two birds I wanted to see, mainly because of their names, which I had no idea how to pronounce. Why they couldn’t just be content with calling the Pyrrhuloxia( peer-uh-LOX-ee-a.) a desert cardinal, I don’t know. Shaped like a cardinal, its coloring is different. Whereas we are used to the bright red Northern Cardinal, the Pyrrhuloxia is grey, with red highlights and a yellow bill.
It turns out that both of my unpronounceable birds have easier common names. Although it is not in a cardinal, the Phainopepla (FAY-noh-PEP-la) is known commonly as a black cardinal. Other nicknames such as black flycatcher, black-crested flycatcher, shining crested flycatcher, shining fly-snapper, and silky flycatcher are more accurate since it is in the family of Silky Flycatchers.
Like a lot of birds, the male with his glossy black feathers is much more striking than the charcoal grey female. They both have orange/red eyes with add to their good looks.
In the US, these birds are usually found from Southern California, across Southern Arizona, the southwestern “boot heel” of New Mexico and the Big Bend area of Southern Texas. We saw them in Big Bend and Sedona AZ area. They are also one of few birds to have separate nesting and feeding territories.
We have all heard the little Carolina Wrens singing their hearts out. If you think the volume emanating from that tiny body is loud, imagine what sounds come from the Cactus Wren, which is at least 2x the size of the tiny Carolina Wren. Unlike the cheerful song of the Carolina Wren, the sound of the Cactus Wren has been likened to that of a car engine that won’t start. As their name implies, they thrive in desert areas among the cholla, saguaros and prickly pear cacti. Unlike the other wrens, this one does not cock his tail over his back, but, rather, fans his tail, showing white feathers.
Our lodging while exploring the western section of Big Bend NP and Big Bend State Park was a cabin in Terlingua TX. Our next-door neighbor was a birder from AZ who had come in hopes of seeing the Colima Warbler. There was a wild fire in the area where the warbler was usually seen, but there were reports of sightings as the birds fled the fire. He pointed out my first Scaled Quail who we followed through the brush trying to get photos.
Also known as blue quail due to their coloring or cottontop for its white crest, the dry grasslands of the SW provide this bird with cover for nesting and foraging. They seldom fly, but scurry about, as did this one. It was the early in breeding season so this was a lone quail. Later on, they are usually in coveys, where they sleep in a circle, all facing outward.
Although we had seen Gambel’s Quail before, it was still fun to see them, looking for all the world like they were chasing the proverbial ‘carrot on a stick”.
A ‘cousin’ of the Scaled Quail, this chunky bird prefers to run rather than fly, although we did see several in trees. Like most quail, they are most often in coveys. When her eggs are due to hatch, the female calls to her eggs. The chicks cheep to each other while in the eggs. Then, leaving a section of membrane, they, in a synchronized movement, emerge from their little “doors”.
When we saw Western Tanagers, we had no idea that one would become a neighborhood visitor to our backyard feeders in the following winter. These gorgeous males were foraging among the ocotillo blooms in search of insects. Our visiting female is not as striking in color, but still an exciting rare visitor to SC. Since it is winter, she is more willing to eat fruits and suet.
One of the strangest encounters was with a Canyon Towhee in Chaco Culture National Historic Park, which was well worth traveling the washboard dirt road to get there. I was sitting in the car with doors open while I changed the battery in my camera. In hops this little bird. No amount of “shooing” would dislodge him until he was ready to go. Cornell describes this bird as plain a brown bird as they come. A little rust on its head and bottom, it lives in scrubby desert, avoiding suburban areas. However, I thought it was cute and adventuresome.
No western birding trip would be complete without the iconic, loveable Greater Roadrunner. Our first sighting wasn’t even real, but a large metal sculpture along I-10 in Las Cruces, NM. Built in 1993 from recycled materials by artist Olin Calk, this bird has had several makeovers and a couple different homes before finding his permanent home.
Contrary to many of our childhood TV memories, coyotes are a threat as they can run 2X faster than the roadrunner.
Despite living in vastly different environments, like seabirds, Roadrunners have a gland in front of their eyes that enables them to excrete excess salt without losing water via urinary tract.
“Greater Roadrunners eat poisonous prey, including venomous lizards and scorpions, with no ill effect, although they’re careful to swallow horned lizards head-first with the horns pointed away from vital organs. Roadrunners can also kill and eat rattlesnakes, often in tandem with another roadrunner: as one distracts the snake by jumping and flapping, the other sneaks up and pins its head, then bashes the snake against a rock. If it’s is too long to swallow all at once, a roadrunner will walk around with a length of snake still protruding from its bill, swallowing it a little at a time as the snake digests.” **The Cornell Lab Website ALL ABOUT BIRDS
Article and photos (with exceptions noted) by Jackie Brooks of Seabrook Island, SC
Learning Together at Ernest F. Hollings ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge – Combahee Unit Sunday, December 12, 2021: 8:30 am – 10:30 am Birding at the Combahee Unit of the ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge Location: Options of where you plan to meet the group – 6:30 Meet at Seabrook Island Real Estate office to carpool – 7:30 Meet at the Food Lion in Ravenel (junction of Hwy 17 and 165) to carpool – 8:00 Meet at the parking lot at the Combahee Unit (32.660443, -80.714264) to bird at 8:00am Max: 16 Cost: Free for members; $5 donation for guests
Cathy and Carl Miller will lead SIB to bird at the Combahee Unit of the ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge. This wildlife refuge was once part of the land grant to Robert Fenwick in 1694. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service purchased the property in 1992 as part of the ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge. It is not nearly as popular as some other regional birding sites, but is nonetheless quite rich in wildlife. The refuge straddles River Road and has two distinctly different habitats. On the Combahee River side (north side) of River Road are the open impoundments where various duck species and other water birds spend their winter months. On the opposite side of River Road (south side) is a mix of upland and bottomland hardwoods with large freshwater ponds and a very different set of birds than those found on the river side.
Their plan is to spend the morning on the south side walking in the old pecan orchard and the bottomland forest. We hope to see some black-bellied whistling ducks (if they have not yet migrated) in the freshwater pond. In recent trips they’ve also see Wild Turkey, Rusty Blackbirds, American Bittern, Hairy Woodpecker, and assorted sparrows, warblers, and vireos. The morning loop will be about 3.5 miles. Please note that the ground can be rather uneven at times so appropriate shoes are a must. We’ll take a break at the cars for lunch and then for those who want to continue, we will explore the open impoundments on the north side of River to Road. There we’ll see some winter ducks, raptors, herons, egrets, and assorted sparrows. This will be an additional 1-3 miles of walking, but well worth it!
As always, be sure to bring your binoculars/cameras, hats and sunscreen. Bring plenty to drink and a picnic lunch to eat on the property. There are no facilities on the property so you may wish to include a stop prior to arrival at the gas station next to the Food Lion where we meet. Also, parking in the afternoon for the impoundment side of the refuge is quite limited, so we may ask folks to carpool as much as possible.
If you are not yet a 2021 SIB member, you must first become a member for only $10 by following the instructions on our website: https://seabrookislandbirders.org/contact/join-sib/. You may bring the form and your dues to the event. Or you may pay the Guest Fee of $5.
Please complete the information below to register no later than Friday, December 10. All registrants will receive a confirmation letter on December 11, the day prior to the trip. If you need to cancel, please let us know so we can invite people on the waiting list to attend.