Jewels of the Desert

I believe the tiny little hummingbirds I get every summer are truly little jewels of the desert.  Their iridescent colors just shine like the most precious stones when the light hits them just right.

July and August are my peak months for hummingbirds.  In spring I get the Broad-Tailed and Black-Chinned Hummingbirds.  They nest here every year.  But starting early July, I get the migratory Rufous and Calliope Hummingbirds.  It’s a wonderful time of year having all four variety of hummingbirds visiting my feeders.  I have 3 feeders that hold 2 cups of sugar water each.  During July and August I have to fill these feeders twice a day!

These little birds are very fast.  Catching them in flight is a real challenge.  I got a couple of decent shots in flight but I definitely need to improve on this technique.

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Broad-Tailed Hummigbird

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Broad-Tailed Hummingbird

Some years it seems the birds are more brave than others.  This year they were a little more hesitant to let me photograph them.  I did manage to get a few nice shots.  Of the 4 species, the most bullying to other hummers and yet the most shy around people is the Rufous Hummingbird.  He’s the most challenging to get a decent photo.

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Rufous Hummingbird

The most challenging to get colors to show is the Black-Chinned Hummingbird.  They have to turn just right in the light to catch that gorgeous purple throat.  After many, many attempts, this is the only photo I got recently that shows the color.  Sadly it’s not a very good pic.  But I will keep trying!

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Black-Chinned Hummingbird

The most common visitor to my feeders is the Broad-Tailed Hummingbird.  Over the years I’ve only managed to find a couple of nests though I see plenty of females out there busily gathering nesting materials.  And come summer there are lots of young hummers at the feeders.

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Broad-Tailed Hummingbird

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Look at that gorgeous color on his throat!

But my most favorite hummer is the Calliope Hummingbird. I love their unique feathers on their throat.  When fending off other hummers from the feeder, they can flare out those long pink feathers.  Just beautiful!   They are considerably smaller than the other 3 species I get.  They are the smallest breeding hummingbird in the US.  While the other species are generally 3 inches in length, this little guy is around 2.5 inches.  They have to really stretch their necks to sit and feed on my feeders.

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Calliope Hummigbird

So I think you will agree, hummingbirds are definitely little jewels of the desert!

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Calliope Hummingbird

 

Wonderful Spring Birding with a New Lifer Sighting

First off, let me just say, I LOVE my new camera!  I’m definitely still in the learning phase, but it’s performance is superior to my old setup.  It’s a joy to use, and I’m very happy with my images.

Not too long ago, we had a spring storm blow through and it dumped 12 inches of snow at my house.  The birds were not very happy about this event, and neither were my plants.

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Bleeding Hearts

A Cooper’s Hawk was hanging out at my bird feeder hoping for a meal.

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Cooper’s Hawk

The hummingbirds were happy I had feeders out for them.

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Broad-Tailed Hummingbird

I think the only one happy with the snow was Scarlett 🙂

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My sweet Miss Scarlett

Thankfully the snow melted the very next day, and the temperatures returned to the mid to high 70s right away.  I got to go out hiking several times this week.  I visited Tingley Beach a couple days after the spring storm.  The Rio Grande was raging and flooded most of the bosque trails.  But it was worth trudging through it to see some new spring birds.

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Ash-Throated Flycatcher

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Green Heron

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Baby Mallard

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Summer Tanager

I have lived in the Albuquerque area for over 20 years.  And during that time, I have never visited Sandia Lakes or Shady Lakes (they are next door to each other).  So one day I decided to check out the lakes.

Sandia Lakes was very nice.  Beautiful lawns and cottonwood trees and three separate lakes.

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Sandia Lakes with the Sandia Mountains in the background

The first bird I saw was a Lark Sparrow (first one I’ve seen this year).  He was singing way up high in a tree.  Then I saw several Canada Geese with their babies.

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Canada Geese

While watching the geese, I saw something that looked different.  I quickly realized it was a Western Grebe.  We don’t see them often in our area, so it was a real treat.

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Western Grebe

I saw a pair of Say’s Phoebes busily hunting for bugs.  I soon saw why they were so frantic to find bugs.  They had three babies squeezed into a tiny nest.

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Say’s Phoebes

I saw lots of Black Phoebes as well.  They are such beautiful birds

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Black Phoebe

While walking around the lake, an Osprey flew overhead.  I thought to myself that he might be part of a nesting pair.  This was confirmed recently by my friend Joe.  I’m definitely going to have to check out their nesting progress.

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Osprey

I came across a pair of Black-Capped Chickadees that were acting very agitated.  I never did figure out what they were so upset about.

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Black-Capped Chickadee

As I was walking through the grass between lakes, I saw a Killdeer doing its “I’m injured, follow me” routine.  So I knew there must be a baby nearby.  It was acting pretty desperate, so I thought it must be very close.

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Killdeer trying to lure me away from its baby

When I looked down, I realized it was only a foot away.  I almost stepped on it!  Yikes!  It never did move.  I took a quick pic and then quickly moved away.  Soon I heard the baby calling for its parents.  It was nice to see them all reunite and be assured all was fine.

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baby Killdeer

I then headed over to Shady Lakes. What a beautiful place!  It has several ponds all covered in beautiful lily pads and lined with irises.  The ponds are stocked with different varieties of fish.  But I was there for the birds.

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Shady Lakes

As soon as I stepped out of the car, I saw a Black-Crowned Night Heron sitting beautifully on an old log.  I then realized there were several of them gathered there.   Fabulous!  They are used to people so they let me get pretty close.

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Black-Crowned Night Heron

I walked around the ponds and admired all the beautiful blooming lilies and irises.

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I noticed a moth feeding among the irises.  These moths often get called hummingbirds by people when they don’t look too closely.

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White-Lined Sphinx Moth

The turtles were enjoying those big lily pads!

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My last hike was up to the Cienega picnic area.  The forest service blocks the road for cars until mid-May.  So you have to hike along the road to get to the upper picnic area.  My goal was to try and find the Northern Pygmy Owl that has been seen nesting there.  Now I have made this hike several times both last spring and this spring with no luck seeing that owl.  Well, this time I was successful!  This is a lifer bird for me!

He was calling repeatedly on a lower branch in the aspen tree where he’s been seen nesting.  All the songbirds in the area were very agitated and were trying to scare him away.  It was a wonderful sighting!

For those of you not familiar with this owl.  He’s very small,  only 6 inches from its head to the end of its tail.  So you can see why he’s so difficult to find.

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Northern Pygmy Owl

I decided to hike over to Bill Spring since I was in the area.  A Hermit Thrush was enjoying a bath.  And a baby was in a tree nearby.

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Hermit Thrush

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Hermit Thrush

A Western Tanager (my first of the year), briefly showed himself deep in the trees near the spring.

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Western Tanager

I hadn’t been at the spring long when a Cooper’s Hawk flew in chasing a chickadee.  After that, the birds were scarce.  So I started hiking back to my car.  I saw lots of Black-Headed Grosbeak singing and squabbling in the trees.  I’m guessing they were vying for the attention of the females.

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Black-Headed Grosbeak

I’m thrilled spring is here.  I’m looking forward to getting out again and seeing what other beautiful spring birds have arrived.  🙂

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Birding With My New Camera!

For the past few years I was using a Nikon 1 V3 mirrorless camera for all of my birding photos.  While I loved that camera when I had plenty of light, I was always let down with any photos I took that were in low-light conditions.  The sensor in the camera just couldn’t handle low light, high ISO conditions.

So recentlly I purchased a new camera.  An Olympus OMD EM1 Mark ii (could they have come up with any longer of a name??!!).  This new camera is a micro 4/3 camera.  It has a better sensor for low light and it has much better in-camera stabilization.  I got a birding lens to go with it that has a reach of 800mm.

Of course, I just had to take it out right away to see how it performed birding.   So I planned a whole day of birding in different locations and light conditions.  When I shot with my Nikon, I mostly used shutter priority.  So that’s what I set the new camera to.  I was less than pleased with the first photos I took that day.

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Western Meadowlark

I headed over to Owlville in Los Lunas.  I had heard there were lots of Burrowing Owls nesting there this year.  I wasn’t disappointed either – I saw lots of owls.  They are located right next to the road, so you can get pretty close sitting in your car.  I played with the settings in my camera and my results were better.  It was a lot of fun watching these little owls.  It was early in the morning and the owls were very sleepy still.

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Burrowing Owl snoozing in the morning sun

They seemed to be having a hard time waking up.  🙂

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Big yawn!

I just never seem to be able to get enough owl photos to satisfy me.  They just make me smile.

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Love this expression.

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This one was a little more alert than the others.

Then I saw one on a bush.  I think this made for wonderful photos.  I really like the bokeh with my new setup.

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I’m impressed with the details in the feathers with this new setup. 

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Burrowing Owl

I then headed to Belen to the Taco Bell marsh.  When you shoot there, you are looking toward the sun – always a challenge to get good photos in those conditions.  I was pretty pleased with how the camera performed though still disappointed in the end results.  I just couldn’t figure out how to set this camera.  It has a very complicated menu system that is not intuitive.

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Killdeer

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Black-Necked Stilt

As I was leaving the marsh, I saw someone had created a track that goes to the other side of the marsh.  Seeing as I own a Jeep Wrangler, I was pretty confident I could drive on this sandy track and be ok.  I knew if I got to the other side, the sun would be behind me making more perfect conditions for photos.  And I wasn’t disappointed!  I saw this Cinnamon Teal right away.  Beautiful!

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Cinnamon Teal

I then saw this Morning Dove fly in looking for nesting materials.

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Mourning Dove

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Getting some nesting material. 

I then headed to a rookery I had recently heard about (thanks to my friend Joe!).  Here the lighting was low due to all the shade trees.

As soon as I got there, I saw a Cattle Egret in the tree right above me trying to get just the right stick for its nest.  I was amazed at how well this bird balanced itself on that skinny limb.

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Cattle Egret

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It took some skill to walk on that limb.

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Of course it wanted the stick on the very end LOL!

While photographing this egret, the owner of the home came out.  We visited for a while, and then he invited me into the yard to get a closer look.  Wow!  He was very kind and you could tell he enjoyed having the annual visitors.

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Black-Crowned Night Heron

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Snowy Egret

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The owner leaves some of the fallen sticks on the ground for the birds to use.  This Cattle Egret was taking advantage of this bounty. 

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This is just one small view of the trees in this yard.  Look at all those nests! 

The owner told me about a Sharp-Shinned Hawk next door.  It was deep in the canopy and my camera was struggling to get a focus.  So I put the camera in manual focus and was pleased with how easy it was to change the settings and focus on the bird.

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I was still trying to shoot on Shutter Priority.  While I like these images, I still think this camera could do much better.  I know it’s all user error.

My next stop was in Santa Fe.  I had to deliver some supplies to a job site there, so I visited the Randall Davey Audubon Center.  I walked the trail behind the center that follows a steam in the woods.  I immediately spotted warblers!  I love warblers but they are a big challenge to photograph – especially with a new camera!

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Black-Throated Gray Warbler

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Grace’s Warbler

I spent a little time in the gardens of the center.  I was really challenged trying to focus on my subjects.  I just couldn’t figure out the settings for center focus.

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Pine Siskin

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Broad-Tailed Hummingbird

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Mountain Chickadee

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Broad-Tailed Hummingbird

I could see I still needed to practice and learn this camera.

My next outing I went to check on the owls at Academy School.  I haven’t been there in weeks.   I figured that baby might have left the nest by now.  He had, but he was still hanging out in the same tree.  I think he needs to grow into those feet!

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Great Horned Owl

At my home I got more practice with my camera.  Lots of good stuff showing up this spring!

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Lesser Goldfinch

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House Finch in gorgeous breeding plumage

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Black-Throated Gray Warbler – the second year in a row it has come to my home

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Plumbeous Vireo

Remember that Mountain Bluebird I saved last December?  Well, he’s doing fine and is nesting with his lovely lady this spring.  I love the photo I got of her, but I just couldn’t get a decent photo of him.

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Mountain Bluebird – female

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Mountain Bluebird – male

I made a brief stop at Kit Carson park to find the owls there.  I had heard about them, but hadn’t had a chance to go by.  I found one adult and one baby.  The baby had left the nest and was way up high hiding well within the canopy.  So well I couldn’t get a decent photo.  But one of the parents was nicely out in the open.

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Great Horned Owl

My last outing was to the Cienega Trail on the east side of the Sandias.  It was a cold and cloudy morning.  Very low light conditions.  By this time I had switched to Aperture Priority.  I was much happier with the results.  I also learned I can set a maximum ISO when on Auto ISO.  This is great because I know I can control the amount of noise in my low-light photos.    I think these low-light photos are much better than what I would have gotten with my Nikon.

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Mountain Chickadee

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Hairy Woodpecker

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Spotted Towhee

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Orange-Crowned Warbler

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler

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Chipping Sparrow

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Say’s Phoebe

So all in all I’m much happier with my new gear.  I know I have lots to learn, but I think I’m off to a good start!

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Not sure what this little guy is…but he’s darn cute!  I saw him at the Cienega Trail parking area. 

 

Birding in Southeastern Arizona – Days 4 & 5

Our last two days in southeastern Arizona were spent in the Greaterville and Sierra Vista areas.

We spent one whole day exploring the mountain area near Greaterville.  Tim was determined to find some gold on this trip.  This area was known for some good gold in the early 1900s.  Tim spent the day in the bottom of an arroyo.  While he did that, I explored the hills around him.

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Tim metal detecting

Nearby there was a small pond.  It really seemed to attract the birds.  There were a pair of Killdeer on the shore.   And several Acorn Woodpeckers were hanging out there too.  There were some large trees at one end of the pond, and I scared a Great Horned Owl out of them when I walked under the branches.  He flew too far away to follow for a photo.

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Acorn Woodpecker

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Killdeer

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Lewis’s Woodpecker

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Cordilleran Flycatcher

There was a very tame Mockingbird hanging out by our vehicle.

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Northern Mockingbird

I kept hearing birdsong I didn’t recognize.  When I finally saw the bird that was singing, I got very excited.  It was a Bridled Titmouse,  a new bird for me!

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Bridled Titmouse

While watching this beautiful Titmouse, a band of Bushtits came through.  I got a nice photo of a male Bushtit before they moved on.

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Flying overhead was a gorgeous Red-Tailed Hawk.

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Red-Tailed Hawk

Tim spent hours digging holes in that arroyo.  And it paid off!  He found several pieces of gold.

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Tim’s nuggets

On our way back to our hotel, I spotted something in the dim evening light.  I made Tim turn around so I could see if my guess was right.  I thought I saw a Great Horned Owl sitting on the ground.  And I was right!

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Great Horned Owl

The next morning we were to head home.  We got an early start, so I asked Tim if we could spend about 30 minutes at a B&B in the area.  This particular B&B had had sightings of the Lucifer Hummingbird.

The yard of this B&B was full of birds.  I could see why too.  She had so many different types of food for the birds as well as several water sources.  I hadn’t been there 5 minutes when the Lucifer Hummingbird showed up.  Sadly, he landed on a feeder right above my head.  I managed to get one terrible photo before he flew off.  And I never saw him again while I was there.  😦  But I was still excited.  Such a beautiful bird!  And a lifer for me!

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Lucifer Hummingbird

But I wasn’t to be disappointed at the short view of the Lucifer Hummingbird.  Because right after seeing him, I saw the Magnificent Hummingbird.  And boy was he truly magnificent and a lifer for me!

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Magnificent Hummingbird

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Magnificent Hummingbird

Another lifer quickly showed up to feed on the grand buffet.  A Mexican Jay!

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Mexican Jay

There were lots of other birds in that small yard.  A very shy Scott’s Oriole came to feed on an orange.  And several Yellow-Rumped Warblers came for the suet.

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Acorn Woodpecker

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Gila Woodpecker

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Scott’s Oriole

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler

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House Finch

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Green-Tailed Towhee

Sadly, we couldn’t stay long at the B&B.   I could have easily spent an entire morning sitting in my chair there with my camera glued to my face!  LOL!

On the way home Scarlett needed a potty break.  So we stopped in at Steins, New Mexico.  It’s a neat old ghost town.  It was closed to tours, but I was still able to enjoy looking at the old buildings from outside the fence.  It is a nicely preserved town.

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Tim spotted what looked to be an old still for making moonshine.

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While photographing Steins, the train came through 🙂

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We had a wonderful long weekend exploring southeastern Arizona.  I hope we get to go back again someday!  Looks like Scarlett had a great time too.  She snoozed the whole way home.

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Scarlett was one tired dog!

 

 

Birding in Southeastern Arizona – Day 3

Our third day in Southeastern Arizona brought us to Patagonia, AZ.  A premier birding spot!  I made big plans for some great birding opportunities.

We stayed at a B&B just outside of Patagonia.  They had so many birds there.  I could easily have spent a whole morning just sitting on the patio.  I got a couple new birds there in just the few minutes I spent on the patio.  I saw my first Broad-Billed Hummingbird – gorgeous!  And I saw a very shy Hooded Oriole.

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Broad-Billed Hummingbird

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Hooded Oriole

Here’s some of the other birds I saw that morning before we headed to our other destinations.

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Say’s Phoebe

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Northern Cardinal

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Lincoln’s Sparrow

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Gila Woodpecker

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House Finch

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Acorn Woodpecker

 

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Ladder-Backed Woodpecker

We stopped at a local coffee shop before heading out.  I just had to snap a quick pic of these beautiful black labs.  🙂

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Our first stop was at the Paton Center for Hummingbirds.  This was a former home of birding enthusiasts.   Now it is managed by the Tucson Audubon Society.  It has been opened to the public and designed for optimal hummingbird viewing.  I had hoped to see the Violet-Crowned Hummingbird, but I guess I was a little early in the season for this sighting.  I did see lots of Broad-Billed Hummingbirds.

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Broad-Billed Hummingbird

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Broad-Billed Hummingbird

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Broad-Billed Hummingbird

There were a few other variety of hummingbirds present as well.  However, they were females and I’m terrible at identifying most of the female hummingbird species.

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One of my favorite photos I took there was of this Gambel’s Quail.

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Gambel’s Quail

While I was photographing birds, Tim spotted this gopher busily cleaning out his den.

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Gopher

From there we headed to Patagonia Lake State Park.

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Kelly and Tim

We stopped in at the visitor’s center first.  Lots of birds on the feeders there!

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Northern Cardinal

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Chipping Sparrow

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House Finch

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Red-Winged Blackbirds

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Great-Tailed Grackle

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Inca Dove

While at the visitor’s center, we heard about a 1-hour boat birding tour.  It was only $5!  So of course Tim and I signed up! While waiting for the boat, I saw this Broad-Billed Hummingbird collecting tidbits for her nest.

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I then followed her and saw where she landed.  She found a good hiding spot.  I had a lot of difficulty just getting this photo of her.

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Broad-Billed Hummingbird

Soon we were on our boat ride.  This was Scarlett’s first time on a boat!  She wasn’t sure what to think of it, until we let her get right up front where she could see out.  Then she loved it!

Lots of great bird sightings from the boat.  It was difficult getting sharp photos while moving.  But I’m pretty pleased with most of my photos.

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Eared Grebe

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Double-Crested Cormorant

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Black-Crowned Night Heron

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Green Heron

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Great Egret with Neotropic and Double-Crested Cormorants

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Neotropic Cormorant

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Pied-Billed Grebe

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American Coot – looking warily at Scarlett 🙂

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Green-Winged Teal

I was very excited to get a new bird on the boat ride.  A Greater Scaup!

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Greater Scaup

The bird guides were quite excited to spot a Hooded Merganser female.  Evidently they are a rare visitor to the lake.

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Hooded Merganser

Coming back to the visitor’s center, I got this nice shot of a foot bridge in front of the marina.  I really liked this bridge.

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The bird guides told us of a path along the lake that is good for birding.  So we quickly headed over there before the day grew too late.  As we started the path, an Osprey flew overhead.

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Osprey

This was a fabulous path.  Birds everywhere!  Tim was a great spotter for me.  He saw many more birds before me.  I told him I was going to take him along more often! Here’s photos of the many birds we saw.

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Vermillion Flycatcher

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Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

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Yellow Warbler

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Black-Throated Gray Warbler

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Hermit Thrush

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Cinnamon Teal

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler

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Common Yellowthroat

Tim spotted a Leopard Frog sunning himself in the shallows.

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Leopard Frog

We saw lots of butterflies along the trail. Hopefully I named these correctly.  Thanks to Joe on my previous post.

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American Snout

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Sleepy Duskywing

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Golden-Headed Scallopwing

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Pipevine Swallowtail

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Texan Crescent

There was a bird feeder station set up on the trail.  The feeders were getting quite a few visitors, including a big squirrel.

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Rock Squirrel

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Lesser Goldfinch

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White-Crowned Sparrow

Just before getting in our car after walking the trail, we saw the Osprey fly over again.  This time he had a fish!

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Osprey

It was a fabulous birding day!  Lots of beautiful birds with a couple of lifers, a day spent at the lake and a wonderful time with my husband and dog.  It doesn’t get much better than that!