Friday, February 16, 2018

Common Merganser Looking for Fish

I've learned so much this winter while leading bird walks at Cattail Cove State Park, some things just from daily observations, some things from research, and some things from participants on the bird walk.  This piece of new knowledge came from a participant a few weeks ago.  We were watching a couple of Common Merganser females swimming along the surface of the water with their head partially under water like this photo I took today.  I hadn't given it much thought, but the participant asked if the duck was possibly looking for fish.  The light went on, of course!  As you may notice her head is just under the surface to the point of allowing the eye to see under water.

This photo is taken of the same bird, a mere 10 seconds later after an unsuccessful dive.  I now have a new understanding and appreciation for the times I see this behavior.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Great Basin Whiptail Lizard

This Great Basin Whiptail is the latest addition to the Cascade Ramblings Critters section, a proof positive that I look at other things than just birds all the time.  Buster has taken a shine to lizards, after all there are not that many squirrels here in the desert where we are for him to chase, but he has picked-up on the idea that lizards hang around the creosote bushes, so our walks mean he checks out each creosote bush for lizards. Today he found two of these medium sized lizards out enjoying the sun.  Larger than the Side-blotched Lizards he has found out on the trail, these were along the sidewalk, and lucky for the lizards, or most probably Buster, they were on the other side of a chain link fence.

Monday, February 12, 2018

New Nest Construction

A participant in yesterday's Bird Walk at Cattail Cove State Park showed me an strange nest she had noticed in the north end of the Cactus Garden.  I wasn't sure but thought it was possibly a Verdin nest.  I returned for a second look in the afternoon and discovered a pair of Verdin busy with nest construction.  Taking into account  that they have no hands, only their bill to weave an estimated 2,000 twigs into place, it's a remarkable feat of workmanship.  They build a sphere shaped structure, hollow in the inside, with an entrance on a low corner.  We watched them zoom in and out of this entrance hole as they worked inside and out bringing twigs to strategically put in place to make a strong nest. They will finish by lining the inside with feathers for a soft surface to lay her eggs.  I have been hoping to find an active nest for the past month, but had only been able to find four older sites, so this was a pretty exciting find.  We will be visiting this new nest site with my Bird Walk group daily to monitor the busy activity.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Sneaking Up Behind Us

I am frequently asked if we see any Roadrunners here at Cattail Cove State Park, today we did.  This afternoon while I was in the motor home working on my observation bird list for eBird, Jeanette called to me from outside, "Jim, a Roadrunner!"  I grabbed my camera, slipped into my crocks, and stumbled out the door.  Lucky for me my camera was able to find this Greater Roadrunner climbing up the rocky slope behind the motor home, presumably looking for lizards.  Jeanette and I were both surprised at how quickly he was able to climb up such a steep slope.  Everyday we are amazed here at Cattail Cove at the abundance of wildlife, particular birds, on the water, in the campground, and right here behind our motor home. Click on the photo for an enlarged view.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Progress in the Digital Age

Common Goldeneye (immature male)

The digital age is such a exciting and rewarding time to be involved in birding. Great strides have been made in cameras, enabling even a beginner to take good close-up photos of birds.  The Internet now provides amazing tools to accumulate huge masses of  information on bird populations and migration. A world wide data base called eBird is probably the best example of the use of the Internet to collect and share information.  In the past year they have made it extremely easy to post and share photographs.  My volunteer time here at Cattail Cove State Park has piqued my awareness of the gigantic progress that has been made to birding.  Today, Arizona State Parks installed a link for eBird's Illustrated Checklist at Cattail Cove State Park on the park's web page. You can now look at all the species that have been reported,  bar graphs of the observations, and most importantly photos.  For example by looking at this Illustrated Checklist, and checking on Common Goldeneyes, you can note the latest observation, the bar graph for the times it has been seen, and in this case, photos of adult males, females, and immature males, in order to learn the differences. Click here for the Illustrated Checklist for Cattail Cove State Park.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Update on the Great Horned Owl

On Monday Feb 5th, I decided to take the people on my Bird Walk up to see the owl.  I had people from California, Washington, Oregon, and Colorado.  The California people were Mike and Jan Wacker from Chico who had attended my bird walks at Buckskin Mountain years ago, and have continued to stay in contact with us. I wasn't 100% sure the owl would be there, but it was, and everyone was delighted.  I am now some what certain we have a nesting female.  It even appears she has managed to move a rock to the front of the cave.  You can notice the difference by looking at the former post. Perhaps her lower profile suggests she is sitting on eggs. I will continue to update as soon as we are back at Cattail Cove, right now we are taking couple of days off in Parker to bird with John West at Ahakhav Tribal Preserve, see the bird list here,  and shop for groceries.  

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Great Horned Owl Quest

Since arriving at our hosting site in the over-flow lot at Cattail Cove State Park a month ago we have been on a quest to see the Great Horned Owl.  We hear an owl, or owls every night at some time between dusk to dawn.  Their hoot-hoot-hoot echos between the canyon walls surrounding our parking lot.  A few days ago a camper here spotted an owl at dusk and six of us got a fleeting glance of several short flights, and I got a very poor quality photo.  Yesterday morning just after 7:00 a hoot- hoot sent us scrambling out of our RV in the early morning darkness and we spotted a profile on the canyon rim from where it was calling, and I got another poor photo, shown below. Then last evening just after 5:00 a faint call prompted Jeanette to make another determined effort to locate the owl.  This time she hit the jack pot and found the owl in a small cave in the above photo.  We at first jumped to the conclusion that this was the nesting female, but when we returned some twenty minutes later to locate a second calling the cave was empty.  Our conclusion is that this was just a day time resting spot for either a male or female.  There is a known nesting site, used in past years on the north canyon wall, but so far we have not seen any activity there. It's getting late in the season so we're not sure what the nesting situation is.  This photographed sighting is a significant event in our quest, but still leaves our search open as we continue to hope for an active nest. As I am finishing this blog at 6:00am I hear a male calling on the cliff to the north and a female answering to the south.  Our quest continues.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Spring on the Colorado River

This singing Black-tailed Gnatcatcher male says it all, spring has sprung on the lower Colorado River. Bird song fills the campground here at Cattail Cove State Park. Birds of all species are pairing up. Males are busy either proclaiming their territory or attempting to attract a female. Today I saw a pair of House Finches inspecting a bird house. Trees and shrubs are greening up. Fremont Cottonwood trees seem to have leafed out over night.  Day time temps are consistently in the low eighties. The daylight is starting to last a little longer in the evening. Spring starts earlier in the South-West, and birds need to get serious about nesting to get it done before the oppressive heat of summer. Migrating birds have a different strategy, they head north to cooler climates to breed and raise their young. I was reminded of that this morning when a huge flock of Canada Geese flew over, headed north.  We are starting our last month of volunteering at Cattail Cove for this season, the time seems to be speeding by, and we too will soon be heading north to enjoy a spring in Oregon.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Upswing in Birding

I've been through a tough stretch with a pretty low response to my bird walks here at Cattail Cove State Park.  It's the kind of thing that makes me question if I put together an idea that just was not workable.  Maybe there are not that many people interested in birding.  Maybe this is just the wrong place to attract people interested in birds.  At the same time I have just tried to soldier on, grin and bear it, and try to believe it will eventually catch on.  All those fears vanished this weekend.  I had six people show up on Friday, and today, Saturday, I had ten people show up.

 This is the group from Friday, looking at the cliff where there is a Great Horned Owl nesting sight from past years.  It's strange, but the rumor persists and people insist that an owl and chicks have been seen here this year.  We are camped a few hundred feet away and pretty much keep around the clock watch, and we see no owls.  We do hear them nightly, but during the past week their calls come from further up the canyon.

This is the group of ten today at our meet-up place at the amphitheater. From here we usually walk out through the park, noting Great-tailed Grackles and Gamble's Quail hanging around the campsites. Next we check out Verdin nests, Great Horned Owl nests, and Common Raven nests.  Down at the cove we count American Coots, Lesser Scaups, Ring-necked Ducks, and Pied-billed Grebes.  We end up back at the start hoping to see Black-tailed Gnatcatchers a maybe some Verdin. Click here to see todays list.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Visit from the Klievers

Sonara Tacos y Mariscos

Monday afternoon we met up with friends and fellow Salemtowne residents, Kerry & Debby Kliever and their dog Max in Lake Havasu City.  We set up our RVs in the Lake Havasu State Park overflow lot and then went for a nice walk through the park. Next was a short walk up to Sonora Tacos y Mariscos for their one dollar taco special. This was our second time here this year and may be a standard on our days off. On Tuesday we all did a number of errands and groceries, took the dogs for a walk at London Bridge Beach, and had lunch at Barley Brothers with a view of the bridge. In the afternoon we all moved to Cattail Cove State Park, where Kerry & Debbie are set up in their RV with us in the overflow lot.  This morning, Wednesday, we took a great hike on Ted's Trail out to Whyte's Retreat, circling back on Ripley's Run Trail.  It made a nice loop of around three and a half miles. Any of you hikers, this is the a route we would recommend. 

Climbing through a dry falls

An important junction of Ripley's Run

Friday, January 19, 2018

Changes in the Bird World

Singing male Verdin

We have been here at Cattail Cove State Park for just under a month now, and we are starting to notice changes going on in the bird world.  When we got here there were large rafts of ducks in our cove on Lake Havasu.  I just realized yesterday that has changed, the migrating water fowl have evidently moved on south, we now have only a hand full of a few ducks.  American Coots are down from over 200 to around 50.  Offsetting that down turn, is the changes going on with the non migrating birds.  Pairs of humming birds and gnatcatchers where chasing each other in the Cactus Garden where I was doing a stationary count, the list can be seen here, and this is where I got the above photo of a singing male Verdin close to a nesting sight.  Every morning now the Say's Phoebe are singing in the wash behind our campsite and in several locations in the campground.  Nightly we hear a pair of Great Horned Owls hooting in the canyon where we are camped. The next few weeks should be interesting as nest building gets underway.

 Say's Phoebe

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Monarch Butterfly

Yesterday afternoon while taking Buster for a walk, a butterfly came filtering past and lit on a Creosote Bush.  Zooming in with my camera I recognized it as the beautiful Monarch Butterfly. If you look closely you can see its proboscis inserted into the flower blossom to harvest nectar.  Well known author Barabara Kingsolver wrote an important book, Flight Pattern, about the plight of the Monarch Butterfly in its struggle against the devastating changes going on with our climate and habitat deforestation.  I was doubly pleased to see this Monarch feeding on nectar from the Creosote Bush.  My understanding is that the Creosote Bush is the most widespread plant of the South West desert, and we have lots of Creosote Bushes here at Cattail Cove State Park, so come on by Monarchs! In light of all the current negativity in politics  and the crumbling support of our natural resources, I am happy to spot light a positive observation.  Maybe that should be my goal for the New Year.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Bussman's Holiday

Buckskin Mountain State Park

I have been leading Bird Walks at Cattail Cove State Park for two weeks now.  I'm starting to get in a rhythm, knowing where the birds will be and what kind, and enjoying meeting new people each day.  Yesterday was a day off, so we did what any bird crazed people would do, we went birding.  We traveled on down the Colorado River about fifteen miles to Buckskin Mountain State Park for a morning of birding.  Having spent several years volunteering at Buckskin, we always enjoy coming back and birding.  We got a good list of birds and photos which you can see here

Undisclosed Location

Later in the afternoon we moseyed on down the river to this area we know for some stealth camping for the night.  Of course Buster was anxious to go for a walk, so we also made up another bird list, which you can see here. As the sun went down later in the evening, this was the view out our windshield.

Evening Sunset

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Rare Bird on the Colorado River

The reddish headed duck in the photos is an Eurasian Wigeon.  This is a rare bird for this far inland in the the South-West.  In winter they can be seen occasionally along the coast line from Alaska to California, having strayed from their route along the Asian Coast.  We noticed this guy yesterday while birding at Buckskin Mountain State Park. He seems to have taken a liking to this American Coot.  I'm not sure what he will tell his wife when, or if he gets back home.  But then, maybe it's a case of what happens on the Colorado River stays on the Colorado River.  It certainly goes against the old saying of "birds of a feather flock together".

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Birding at Oxbow Campground

Early morning light on the Colorado

We used our time off this week to travel further south on the Colorado River to camp with friends Glenn Reuben and Rich & Dawn Bailey. All of us have volunteered in the Snowy Plover program on the Oregon Coast in past years.  Glenn has now been camped for almost a week at Oxbow BLM Recreation Area, just across the river from Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, and has been having a fantastic time birding.  The price is right, 15 dollars for a campsite, and half price ($7.50) for us Senior Pass holders. We spent the morning birding with Glenn and Dawn, and Glenn was able to show us all the good spots, like where the Great Horned Owls were roosting, where the Vermilion Flycatcher can been seen, where the Crissal Thrasher roams, and point out Sandhill Cranes flying overhead. You can see our check list with photos here.

Monday, January 8, 2018

People and Birding

During the cold and dark days of winter many people flock to the South-West to enjoy the warmth and sunshine.  RVing makes that migration some what simple, and campgrounds like Cattail Cove State Park fill with folks from near and far. One of the greatest joys for Jeanette and I in leading bird walks is getting to meet new and  wonderful people.  Yesterday Jean and Gary from North Dakota joined our morning bird walk, and we had many discussion of birds familiar to them and different from the birds "back home".

The other great joy for Jeanette and me is the continuing connection with friends met though birding.  Yesterday our good friend John West from Lake Havasu joined us.  We met John while leading bird walks at Lake Havasu State Park in the winter of 2012.  He showed up to see an unusual Yellow-bellied Sapsucker I had observed, and we have been good friends ever since, birding together in both Arizona and Oregon.

Birding is an interesting and engaging experience, but in the end, it's the people you get to share this experience with that make it extra-ordinary.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Pedro the Great Biue Heron

Pedro is a well known Great Blue Heron here at Cattail Cove State Park.  This morning I happend to witness the whole Pedro and Jimmy thing.  I noticed a man walking along the beach repeatedly saying "keep coming" as he walked to the end of the beach.  I later learned that the man was Jimmy.  The story goes, as Jimmy told me, he found Pedro here 17 years ago injured with a broken wing or leg, I can't remember which.  Jimmy took Pedro to Los Angeles to an animal care center and after 3,000 dollars in medical expenses was able to bring Pedro back here.  When Jimmy returns from his morning's fishing he calls Pedro to the edge of the beach and feeds him some of his catch. Pedro is said to be seen walking through the campground some times, and even making an early morning call at Jimmy's campsite.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Start of Bird Walks

Today was another first, we had our first day of officially leading bird walks. These walks will be conducted daily Thursday thru Monday every week. We had five enthusiastic birders show up, three from Alaska, and two from North Dakota. Everybody was appreciative of the good weather and interested in the different kind of birds we have here along the Colorado River, including the Great-tailed Grackles shown below.  
 male Great-tailed Grackle

female Great-tailed Grackle

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year from Cattail Cove

Today was a day of many firsts at Cattail Cove State Park beyond being the first day of the year.  It was our first day of work with our new official shirts and coats.  It was also First Day Hikes, a national program for state parks that now involves all 50 states to promote state parks and their trails, with a healthy start for the new year with a hike. Being the new kids on the block we had agreed to bring up the rear for the 10:00 hike. When we arrived 20 minute early we discovered that the local newspaper had listed a 9:00 hike, and 30 people had showed up, so the volunteer leaders took off with them, and a park Ranger and his wife, a volunteer, were tapped to fill in, and by 10:00 we had another 20 people show up.  The team of rangers and volunteers at this park are outstanding, and this is just another example of their dedication, service, and flexibility. We feel very fortunate to be starting this year in such a wonderful park as Cattail Cove with such a great team of rangers and volunteers.