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May 11th, 2010
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Richard’s Photothon 2010

After a decent effort last year where I photographed 105 species, I took my photothon even more seriously this year and aimed for 110. I decided on a new route, spending more time in the car to reach more sites, so even though I would be in the field less I’d be exposed to more birds. I’d have to really stick to the schedule though and, as it turned out, I was within five minutes either way of my itinerary. It was hard to walk away from sites with species still to be found, but it had to be done.

And it paid off. I saw/heard a total of 127 species and somehow got photos of 114!¬† ūüėÄ

I’ve also come close to raising my goal of $1,400 for Tucson Audubon Society. I’m just $46.70 short! Anybody?… There’s still time to sponsor me, up until May 15th 2010.


Here’s the story of my day.

I started at Sweetwater at dawn after a few quick photos and a breakfast burrito en route, and stayed until 8am. The birds came thick and fast as usual at¬†Sweetwater. Surprisingly, the best sighting was a mammal. I’ve only seen raccoon in Arizona once, at Sweetwater on last year’s photothon. Here’s what I wrote last year:

I was fortunate enough to experience another first –¬†a movement in the reeds caught my eye and I found myself staring straight at the first raccoon I‚Äôd ever seen in the wild. I‚Äôve never heard of anyone seeing at raccoon at Sweetwater before, although I met Mark Stevenson there and he told me he saw one swimming across one of the ponds once, with various ducks in pursuit!

Raccoon-3-SweetwaterSo I was incredulous when one swam straight across one of the ponds early in the morning, tail raised, annoying the Ruddy Ducks. I’ve still never seen one away from a photothon!

As for the birds, along with the regulars there was RED-NECKED and WILSON’S PHALAROPE, AVOCETS and STILTS and CINNAMON TEAL on the recharge basins, and YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD and GREAT EGRET on the ponds. The tamest juvenile BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON perched on the railings around the “keyhole” viewing platform. It got to within two feet of me so I offered it my hand. It thought about giving me a peck but decided to ignore me instead and continued to clamber around clumsily. I had to back off to get photos. The tall eucalyptus and mulberry trees along the road were full of CEDAR WAXWINGS with flocks spilling out and around the ponds at Sweetwater. I reckon over 100 birds were ranging back and forth.

With a good start under my belt, I dashed into town and stopped at Rio Vista Natural Resource Park alongside the Rillito River in Tucson and added a few desertscrub species including PHAINOPEPLA and BLACK-TAILED GNATCATCHER. The GREAT HORNED OWL family were in the cottonwoods at Fort Lowell Park, and a lingering drake RING-NECKED DUCK and two NEOTROPIC CORMORANTS were at Reid Park along with another tame BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON, this time an adult, and a COOPER’S HAWK coming in to drink.

Getting back on the road, I headed out of Tucson and south on I-19. At Continental School, BLACK-THROATED and RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROWS, a pair of LAZULI BUNTINGS feeding on bright orange ocotillo flowers and a frustrating BELL’S VIREO were eventually photographed. I moved on to Florida Wash for more RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROWS and¬†CANYON and GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE.

In Madera Canyon, the famous male FLAME-COLORED TANAGER, HEPATIC TANAGER, BROWN-CRESTED FLYCATCHER and¬†ARIZONA WOODPECKER were seen at Kubo, WESTERN TANAGER, lots of BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAKS and WILD TURKEY at Santa Rita Lodge. Lots more species of oak woodland were photographed and before I knew it I was on my way again. I was keeping to my schedule quite well and had time to grab a quick burger at a drive-thru. Got to keep my strength up…

I gobbled the burger on the move and arrived next at Rio Rico. The ponds and wet fields added more species including eight BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCKS. I took the back roads south to Kino Springs, although it¬†was quiet in the heat of the day and I didn’t manage to photograph the GRAY HAWK I saw briefly or the GILDED FLICKER I heard.

At Patagonia Roadside Rest, HERMIT THRUSH and WHITE-THROATED SWIFT appeared in the frame, just about. Several BLACK VULTURES were along Blue Haven Road along side the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve and I finally got to grips with a splendid GRAY HAWK perched in a dead snag.

At the Paton’s I hit the jackpot and missed my big chance all in one go. Totally out of the blue,¬†a KENTUCKY WARBLER, a considerable rarity in SE Arizona,¬†appeared in the tree in the center of the backyard, gave the assembled birders five or ten seconds in plain view at close range, and then flew into the front yard and disappeared. I couldn’t get the auto focus to fix and by the time I’d fumbled around and switched to manual the bird had flown and I stupidly missed the shot, getting just a couple of out-of-focus shockers. I’d have tracked it down, or tried to at least, but I had to press on… as always the Paton’s delivered the goods, with VIOLET-CROWNED, BROAD-TAILED, BROAD-BILLED, BLACK-CHINNED and ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRDS, female AMERICAN GOLDFINCH, YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT, INCA DOVE, SUMMER TANAGER, LAZULI BUNTINGS, LARK SPARROWS, CARDINALS… not bad for a random 30 minute stop on a Wednesday afternoon!

Time was slipping away from me and¬†I had a long drive to reach my final destination, Willcox Twin Lakes. I arrived with just a little sunlight remaining and drove hurriedly around Lake Cochise waving my camera out of the window at anything that moved. I may have missed something but what I did see was excellent: a SNOWY PLOVER, two SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS, one PECTORAL SANDPIPER, 33 WILLETS, LEAST, WESTERN and spotty SPOTTED SANDPIPERS and¬†EARED GREBE. Lingering NORTHERN SHOVELER and AMERICAN WIGEON were on the seasonal pool next to the golf course pond, SCALED QUAIL and SWAINSON’S HAWK near the golf club, a brief GREEN HERON in flight which evaded the camera, YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD, BARN, N. ROUGH-WINGED, several BANK (also missed with the camera) and the last photo of the day, number 114, a single TREE SWALLOW at the golf course pond as it got dark.


I was lucky enough to meet and get help from Joan Gellatly at Rio Vista, Andrew Core and Peter Salomon at Sweetwater, Charles Melton at Madera Canyon, and Michael Marsden, Mark Pretti and Chris Bard at Paton’s. Thanks!


So, here they are in all their glory…

It should be remembered that the whole idea of the day was quantity over quality. I grabbed a shot and moved on. I’ve added the photos in the order the species were photographed, but have substituted better shots taken later in the day where possible, as noted below.

There are one or two contentious ones I guess. I’m claiming both ravens, the swift photos are laughable and as for the big rarity… it’s all for a good cause so I’m hoping you’ll let me off…


001. Northern Mockingbird, Midtown Tucson (this photo taken at Kino Springs)


002. American Kestrel, Midtown Tucson (taken at dawn, this roosting kestrel can be identified by its shape and size as well as its long wings and tail)


003. Cactus Wren, Sweetwater Wetlands


004. Gambel’s Quail, Sweetwater Wetlands


005. Great-tailed Grackle, Sweetwater Wetlands


006. Abert’s Towhee, Sweetwater Wetlands


007. Killdeer, Sweetwater Wetlands


008. Song Sparrow, Sweetwater Wetlands


009. White-winged Dove, Sweetwater Wetlands


010. Common Yellowthroat, Sweetwater Wetlands (bad photo but clearly identifiable)


011. Gila Woodpecker, Sweetwater Wetlands (this photo taken at Rio Vista Park, Tucson)


012. American Coot, Sweetwater Wetlands


013. Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Sweetwater Wetlands


014. Red-winged Blackbird, Sweetwater Wetlands


015. Common Moorhen, Sweetwater Wetlands


016. White-crowned Sparrow, Sweetwater Wetlands


017. Mourning Dove, Sweetwater Wetlands


018. Gadwall, Sweetwater Wetlands


019. Ruddy Duck, Sweetwater Wetlands


020. American Avocet, Sweetwater Wetlands (this photo taken at Willcox Twin Lakes)


021. Mallard, Sweetwater Wetlands


022. Great Egret, Sweetwater Wetlands


023. Red-tailed Hawk, Sweetwater Wetlands (this photo taken at Rio Vista Park, Tucson)


024. Black-crowned Night-Heron, Sweetwater Wetlands (this juvenile was unbelievably tame! I will post more photos in a separate post)


025. Black-necked Stilt, Sweetwater Wetlands (this photo taken at Willcox Twin Lakes)


026. Verdin, Sweetwater Wetlands


027. Yellow-headed Blackbird, Sweetwater Wetlands


028. Eurasian Collared-Dove, Sweetwater Wetlands


029. House Finch, Sweetwater Wetlands


030. Wilson’s Warbler,¬†Sweetwater Wetlands


031. Harris’s Hawk,¬†Sweetwater Wetlands


032. Cedar Waxwing, Sweetwater Wetlands


033. European Starling, Sweetwater Wetlands (this photo taken at Fort Lowell Park, Tucson)


034. Pied-billed Grebe, Sweetwater Wetlands


035. Wilson’s Phalarope,¬†Sweetwater Wetlands (this photo taken at Willcox Twin Lakes)


036. Red-necked Phalarope, Sweetwater Wetlands (very distant but still identifiable)


037. Cinnamon Teal, Sweetwater Wetlands


038. Pyrrhuloxia, Sweetwater Wetlands


039. Yellow Warbler, Sweetwater Wetlands


040. House Sparrow, Sweetwater Wetlands (I included this photo as this male has an albino secondary feather in the right wing, reasonably common amongst House Sparrows)


041. Lesser Goldfinch, Sweetwater Wetlands


042. Cooper’s Hawk,¬†Rio Vista Park, Tucson (I included this photo as the bird is banded with a green plastic ring on the right leg and what looks like a metal ring on the left leg. I got loads more photos of a bird coming to drink at Reid Park)


043. Phainopepla, Rio Vista Park, Tucson


044. Lark Sparrow, Rio Vista Park, Tucson


045. Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Rio Vista Park, Tucson


046. Great Horned Owl, Fort Lowell Park, Tucson


047. Rock Pigeon, Reid Park, Tucson


048. Neotropic Cormorant, Reid Park, Tucson


049. Ring-necked Duck, Reid Park, Tucson


050. Chipping Sparrow, Continental


051. Curve-billed Thrasher, Continental


052. Say’s Phoebe,¬†Continental


053. Northern Cardinal, Continental


054. Lazuli Bunting, Continental


055. Ash-throated Flycatcher, Continental (this photo taken at Blue Haven Road, Patagonia)


056. Chihuahuan Raven,¬†Continental (this photo taken at Rio Rico – it’s a raven, it looked small… you tell me)


057. Rufous-winged Sparrow, Continental


058. Black-throated Sparrow, Continental


059. Bell’s Vireo,¬†Continental (I spent longer getting this shot than any other – I couldn’t stand that several vireos were singing loudly in the bushes right in front of me, typically well hidden. Nailed it in the end!)


060. Green-tailed Towhee, Florida Wash


061. Canyon Towhee, Florida Wash


062. Townsend’s Warbler,¬†Florida Wash


063. Lucy’s Warbler,¬†Florida Wash (awful shot but the dark red rump is just visible)


064. Pine Siskin, Madera Canyon


065. Common Raven,¬†Madera Canyon (it’s a raven, it looked big and sounded like a Common… go on, cut me some slack!)


066. Black-headed Grosbeak, Madera Canyon


067. Western Tanager, Madera Canyon


068. Mexican Jay, Madera Canyon


069. Brown-headed Cowbird,¬†Madera Canyon (this photo taken at Paton’s Patagonia)


070. Broad-billed Hummingbird, Madera Canyon


071. Wild Turkey, Madera Canyon (can you count these? I think you can for birdathons)


072. Flame-colored Tanager, Madera Canyon (what a bird!)


073. White-breasted Nuthatch, Madera Canyon


074. Bridled Titmouse, Madera Canyon


075. Acorn Woodpecker, Madera Canyon


076. Arizona Woodpecker, Madera Canyon


077. Black-chinned Hummingbird,¬†Madera Canyon (this photo taken at Paton’s, Patagonia)


078. Yellow-rumped Warbler, Madera Canyon


079. Plumbeous Vireo, Madera Canyon


080. Brown-crested Flycatcher, Madera Canyon


081. Hepatic Tanager, Madera Canyon


082. Cassin’s Kingbird, Rio Rico


083. Vermilion Flycatcher, Rio Rico


084. Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Rio Rico


085. White-faced Ibis, Rio Rico


086. Barn Swallow, Rio Rico


087. Spotted Sandpiper, Kino Springs (this photo taken at Willcox Twin Lakes)


088. Great Blue Heron, Kino Springs


089. Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Kino Springs


090. Hermit Thrush, Patagonia Roadside Rest


091. White-throated Swift,¬†Patagonia Roadside Rest (OK, two terrible shots of the same bird – if you go with them being swifts at Roadside Rest where White-throated Swift is regular, even though the details can’t be made out the size, shape and structure rule out any other regular swift)


092. Black Vulture, Patagonia Roadside Rest


093. Black Phoebe, Blue Haven Road, Patagonia


094. Gray Hawk, Blue Haven Road, Patagonia


095. Anna’s Hummingbird,¬†Paton’s, Patagonia


096. Violet-crowned Hummingbird,¬†Paton’s, Patagonia


097. American Goldfinch,¬†Paton’s, Patagonia


098. Kentucky Warbler,¬†Paton’s, Patagonia (you have to really trust me on this one! A mega rarity seen for about ten seconds by about ten people, including several well known and respected birders – and me! – so the identity of the bird¬†is not in doubt. But is this identifiable? Hmm.¬†I couldn’t get it in focus and these blurry yellow blobs are the best I got in a panicky few seconds. But… if you accept that it’s an out of focus warbler, side on, perched on an out of focus branch… and that the bright pink legs and stance in the left photo suggests an oporornis warbler… and the combination of entirely bright yellow underparts visible in the left photo and dark olive upperparts in the right photo, then… if you use your imagination, quite a lot… it has to be… go on, let me have it!¬† ūüėÄ )


099. Summer Tanager,¬†Paton’s, Patagonia


100. Inca Dove,¬†Paton’s, Patagonia


101. Western Kingbird, Willcox


102. Swainson’s Hawk,¬†Willcox


103. Scaled Quail, Willcox


104. Willet, Willcox Twin Lakes


105. Least Sandpiper, Willcox Twin Lakes


106. Western Sandpiper, Willcox Twin Lakes


107. Long-billed Dowitcher, Willcox Twin Lakes


108. Eared Grebe, Willcox Twin Lakes


109. Northern Shoveler, Willcox Twin Lakes


110. Semipalmated Plover, Willcox Twin Lakes


111. Snowy Plover, Willcox Twin Lakes


112. Pectoral Sandpiper, Willcox Twin Lakes


113. American Wigeon, Willcox Twin Lakes


114. Tree Swallow, Willcox Twin Lakes (blurry shot at dusk but still identifiable)


The following species were seen/heard but not photographed:

115. Green Heron (seen briefly in flight at Willcox Twin Lakes at dusk)
116. Sora (heard at Sweetwater)
117. Broad-tailed Hummingbird (seen/heard several times at Paton’s but too quick to get a shot of)
118. Gilded Flicker (heard at Kino Springs)
119. Violet-green Swallow (one or two in the swallow flock at Willcox at dusk)
120. Bank Swallow (one or two in the swallow flock at Willcox at dusk)
121. Cliff Swallow (a couple over Sweetwater but I didn’t get a photo)
122. Orange-crowned Warbler (got one in focus at Continental but it had fled the frame by the time I hit the shutter)
123. Painted Redstart (heard at Madera Canyon)
124. Yellow-breasted Chat (heard and seen briefly at Paton’s)
125. Yellow-eyed Junco (heard at Madera Canyon)
126. Hooded Oriole (one seen briefly at Paton’s)
127. Bullock’s Oriole (one flew across the road at Rio Rico)

As always on birdathons, I missed a few species you might expect in the habitats I visited, although nothing too ridiculous. Misses included all night birds (I drove by Reid Park and La Madera Park in Tucson on my way home to check under the lights for Lesser Nighthawk to no avail, and I didn’t try anything else), Greater Roadrunner, Magnificent and Costa’s Hummingbirds, any empidonax flycatchers, amazingly, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Cassin’s, Hutton’s and Warbling Vireos, Rock, Canyon, Bewick’s and House Wrens, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher,¬†American Robin, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Spotted Towhee, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark and Scott’s Oriole.

A great day, thoroughly enjoyable birding and a satisfying feeling to have raised a good deal of cash for Tucson Audubon’s excellent conservation and education programs. Many, many thanks to my generous sponsors who have raised, to date, more than $1,350.¬†You all deserve a medal (and all get a tax deduction!) ūüėÄ

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