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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.

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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.

Phew!

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!

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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…

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

N-Mockingbird-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)

American-Kestrel-Tucson

003. Cactus Wren, Sweetwater Wetlands

Cactus-Wren-Rio-Vista-Park

004. Gambel’s Quail, Sweetwater Wetlands

Gambel's-Quail-2-Sweetwater

005. Great-tailed Grackle, Sweetwater Wetlands

Great-tailed-Grackle-Sweetwater

006. Abert’s Towhee, Sweetwater Wetlands

Aberts-Towhee-2-Sweetwater

007. Killdeer, Sweetwater Wetlands

Killdeer-Sweetwater

008. Song Sparrow, Sweetwater Wetlands

Song-Sparrow-3-Sweetwater

009. White-winged Dove, Sweetwater Wetlands

White-winged-Dove-3-Sweetwater

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

C-Yellowthroat-Sweetwater

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

Gila-Woodpecker-2-Rio-Vista-Park

012. American Coot, Sweetwater Wetlands

American-Coot-Sweetwater

013. Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Sweetwater Wetlands

Ladder-backed-Woodpecker-Sweetwater

014. Red-winged Blackbird, Sweetwater Wetlands

Red-winged-Blackbird-3-Sweetwater

015. Common Moorhen, Sweetwater Wetlands

Common-Moorhen-2-Sweetwater

016. White-crowned Sparrow, Sweetwater Wetlands

White-crowned-Sparrow-Sweetwater

017. Mourning Dove, Sweetwater Wetlands

Mourning-Dove-Sweetwater

018. Gadwall, Sweetwater Wetlands

Gadwall-Sweetwater

019. Ruddy Duck, Sweetwater Wetlands

Ruddy-Duck-Sweetwater

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

American-Avocet-Willcox

021. Mallard, Sweetwater Wetlands

Mallard-Sweetwater

022. Great Egret, Sweetwater Wetlands

Great-Egret-2-Sweetwater

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

Red-tailed-Hawk-Rio-Vista-Park

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

Black-crowned-Night-Heron-Sweetwater

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

Black-necked-Stilt-Willcox

026. Verdin, Sweetwater Wetlands

Verdin-Sweetwater

027. Yellow-headed Blackbird, Sweetwater Wetlands

Yellow-headed-Blackbird-Sweetwater

028. Eurasian Collared-Dove, Sweetwater Wetlands

Eurasian-Collared-Dove-2-Sweetwater

029. House Finch, Sweetwater Wetlands

House-Finch-Sweetwater

030. Wilson’s Warbler,¬†Sweetwater Wetlands

Wilsons-Warbler-Sweetwater

031. Harris’s Hawk,¬†Sweetwater Wetlands

Hariss-Hawk-2-Sweetwater

032. Cedar Waxwing, Sweetwater Wetlands

Cedar-Waxwing-3-Sweetwater

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

European-Starling-Ft-Lowell

034. Pied-billed Grebe, Sweetwater Wetlands

Pied-billed-Grebe-Sweetwater

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

wilsons-phalarope-willcox

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

Red-necked-Phalarope-1-Sweetwater

037. Cinnamon Teal, Sweetwater Wetlands

Cinnamon-Teal-Sweetwater

038. Pyrrhuloxia, Sweetwater Wetlands

Pyrrhuloxia-Sweetwater

039. Yellow Warbler, Sweetwater Wetlands

Yellow-Warbler-Sweetwater

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)

House-Sparrow-Sweetwater

041. Lesser Goldfinch, Sweetwater Wetlands

Lesser-Goldfinch-Sweetwater

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)

Coopers-Hawk-Rio-Vista-park

043. Phainopepla, Rio Vista Park, Tucson

Phainopepla-Rio-Vista-Park

044. Lark Sparrow, Rio Vista Park, Tucson

Lark-Sparrow-2-Rio-Vista-Park

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

Black-tailed-Gnatcatcher-Rio-Vista-Park

046. Great Horned Owl, Fort Lowell Park, Tucson

Great-Horned-Owl-Ft-Lowell

047. Rock Pigeon, Reid Park, Tucson

Rock-Pigeon-Reid-Park

048. Neotropic Cormorant, Reid Park, Tucson

Neotropic-Cormorant-2-Reid-Park

049. Ring-necked Duck, Reid Park, Tucson

Ring-necked-Duck-2-Reid-Park

050. Chipping Sparrow, Continental

Chipping-Sparrow-Continental

051. Curve-billed Thrasher, Continental

Curve-billed-Thrasher-Continental

052. Say’s Phoebe,¬†Continental

Says-Phoebe-Continental

053. Northern Cardinal, Continental

Northern-Cardinal-Continental

054. Lazuli Bunting, Continental

Lazuli-Bunting-2-Continental

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

Ash-throated-Flycatcher-Blue-Haven-Road

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

Chihuahuan-Raven-Rio-Rico

057. Rufous-winged Sparrow, Continental

Rufous-winged-Sparrow-Continental

058. Black-throated Sparrow, Continental

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!)

Bells-Vireo-Continental

060. Green-tailed Towhee, Florida Wash

Green-tailed-Towhee-Florida-Wash

061. Canyon Towhee, Florida Wash

Canyon-Towhee-Florida-Wash

062. Townsend’s Warbler,¬†Florida Wash

Townsends-Warbler-Florida-Wash

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

Lucys-Warbler-Florida-Wash

064. Pine Siskin, Madera Canyon

Pine-Siskin-Madera

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

Common-Raven=Madera

066. Black-headed Grosbeak, Madera Canyon

Black-headed-Grosbeak-3-Madera

067. Western Tanager, Madera Canyon

Western-Tanager-Madera

068. Mexican Jay, Madera Canyon

Mexican-Jay-2-Madera

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

Brown-headed-Cowbird-Patons

070. Broad-billed Hummingbird, Madera Canyon

Broad-billed-Hummingbird-Madera

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

Wild-Turkey-Madera

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

Flame-colored-Tanager-2-Madera

073. White-breasted Nuthatch, Madera Canyon

White-breasted-Nuthatch-4-Madera

074. Bridled Titmouse, Madera Canyon

Bridled-Titmouse-Madera

075. Acorn Woodpecker, Madera Canyon

Acorn-Woodpecker-2-Madera

076. Arizona Woodpecker, Madera Canyon

Arizona-Woodpecker-Madera

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

Black-chinned-Hummingbird-Patons

078. Yellow-rumped Warbler, Madera Canyon

Yellow-rumped-Warbler-Madera

079. Plumbeous Vireo, Madera Canyon

Plumbeous-Vireo-Madera

080. Brown-crested Flycatcher, Madera Canyon

Brown-crested-Flycatcher-Madera

081. Hepatic Tanager, Madera Canyon

Hepatic-Tanager-Madera

082. Cassin’s Kingbird, Rio Rico

Cassins-Kingbird-Rio-Rico

083. Vermilion Flycatcher, Rio Rico

Vermilion-Flycatcher-Rio-Rico

084. Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Rio Rico

Black-bellied-Whistling-Duck-Rio-Rico

085. White-faced Ibis, Rio Rico

White-faced-Ibis-2-Rio-Rico

086. Barn Swallow, Rio Rico

Barn-Swallow-Rio-Rico

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

Spotted-Sandpiper-2-Willcox

088. Great Blue Heron, Kino Springs

Great-Blue-Heron-Kino-Springs

089. Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Kino Springs

N-Rough-winged-Swallow-Kino-Springs

090. Hermit Thrush, Patagonia Roadside Rest

Hermit-Thrush-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)

White-throated-Swift-Roadside-Rest

092. Black Vulture, Patagonia Roadside Rest

Black-Vulture-Blue-Haven-Road

093. Black Phoebe, Blue Haven Road, Patagonia

Black-Phoebe-Blue-Haven-Road

094. Gray Hawk, Blue Haven Road, Patagonia

gray-hawk-blue-haven-road

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

Annas-Hummingbird-Patons

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

Violet-crowned-hummingbird-Patons

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

American-Goldfinch-Patons

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 )

Kentucky-Warbler-Patons

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

Summer-Tanager-Patons

100. Inca Dove,¬†Paton’s, Patagonia

Inca-Dove-Patons

101. Western Kingbird, Willcox

Western-Kingbird-Willcox

102. Swainson’s Hawk,¬†Willcox

Swainsons-Hawk-Willcox

103. Scaled Quail, Willcox

Scaled-Quail-Willcox

104. Willet, Willcox Twin Lakes

Willet-Willcox

105. Least Sandpiper, Willcox Twin Lakes

Least-Sandpoiper-Willcox

106. Western Sandpiper, Willcox Twin Lakes

Western-Sandpiper-3-Willcox

107. Long-billed Dowitcher, Willcox Twin Lakes

Long-billed-Dowitcher-Willcox

108. Eared Grebe, Willcox Twin Lakes

Eared-Grebe-Willcox

109. Northern Shoveler, Willcox Twin Lakes

N-Shoveler-Willcox

110. Semipalmated Plover, Willcox Twin Lakes

Semipalmated-Plover-Willcox

111. Snowy Plover, Willcox Twin Lakes

Snowy-Plover-1-Willcox

112. Pectoral Sandpiper, Willcox Twin Lakes

Pectoral-Sandpiper-1-Willcox

113. American Wigeon, Willcox Twin Lakes

American-Wigeon-Willcox

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

Tree-Swallow-Willcox

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

1 comment to Richard’s Photothon 2010

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