Monday, March 12, 2012

Sedona, AZ - Day 5 - 04 Mar 2012

A lovely Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was working the tree just outside the window of the Arrivals  Center this morning at 7 am.  Of couse, I'd left the camera in the cabin while we'd gone to breakfast.

I'd been checking the Arizona Listserve and found a couple of posts regarding Chestnut-collared Longspurs being seen just east of Flagstaff.  A quick check of Google Maps showed the location of Babbitt Tank only about an hour away from where we were staying.  Robin was up for a drive, so we decided to take a trip to Flagstaff this morning.

We drove the Oak Creek Canyon (Hwy 89a) and picked up I-40 through Flagstaff.  At exit 225 South we pulled off onto Buffalo Range Rd., just an 1/8 mile from the exit, and found a large flock of 150-200 'larkspurs' (Horned Larks and Chestnut-collared Longspurs) swirling around a small pond.  The pond was frozen, with only the edges beginning to melt, so the birds had only a few locations where they could possibly land to drink.

I'd never seen such a nervous flock of birds in my life.  They would decend on the edge of the pond, but would flush even before landing.  All I could do was fire away w/ the 300/2.8 VRII and hope that I could capture a few of the Chestnut-sided Longspurs that were mixed in with the Horned Larks.  Note their chestnut-colored collars and white tails that are tipped in the center w/ black.

In the image at left red arrows point to birds w/ all-black undertail coverts.  The two birds in the corners of the image are Horned Larks, but the double arrow points to a Lapland Longspur, a bird considered rare in the winter time in Arizona.  Note: the image is a composite of about 10 images I took of the passing flock - I plucked out those birds that were in focus and showed the traits of Chestnut-collared Longspurs and placed them in this single image. The LALO on the left is the bird banking, and the one on the right is the same bird one frame later - note the streaks on the flank, and chestnut-colored nape.
I attempted to digiscope the birds when they finally landed, and was able to pick out quite a few of the Chestnut-collared Longspurs that stayed only seconds before flushing again.  The Nikon V1 and its 10 fps continuous shooting saved me this morning, although I still had only a couple of record shots.

It was fun to watch these birds attempt to land on the melting ice.  Their toes are not made for grabbing slick surfaces, so there were quite a few body-plants observed when their feet gave out under them.
We then drove Buffalo Range Rd. for a mile or two to see if any other birds would appear.  Horned Larks were seen by the dozens as they chased each other and sang in the late morning sun-lit desert.  An American Kestrel was hovering in the distance, but too far away to photograph.  The road was rough to drive on, so we headed back to Flagstaff.

Without an agenda we decided to grab some lunch, then head out along Historic Route 66 to see what we might find.  After a few minutes driving we spotted the Lowell Observatory up on Mars Hill, so we decided to check it out. 

We spent an hour or so walking around the grounds, took in the last 5 minutes of a Pluto tour, then spent a few minutes observing the sun through a solar scope.  It was neat to see sun spots and solar flares through the special scope.  I couldn't bring myself to ask them if I could try to digiscope the sun, though, since I was worried that I might fry my camera.

Afterward, we spent a quiet half-hour or so sitting in the car in the parking lot.  My attention was drawn to a pair of Acorn Woodpeckers that appeared in the large pines surrounding the parking lot.  Albert's Squirrels were chattering off in the distance, and a single White-breasted Nuthatch was making its 'yank-yank-yank' call as it foraged nearby.

We then headed back toward Sedona along I-17 south, and stopped at Bell Rock lookout for a quick walk.  I took some panoramas of the impressive mesa scenery, and of the famous rock formation, itself.

Western Scrub Jays were actively foraging along the trails, and I managed a few pics as they flew by.  Western Bluebirds were also seen and heard. 

A pair of Cassin's Finches flew by, and I recognized them by call.  They sound much less 'burry' compared to the numerous House FinchesCanyon Towhees were also about, singing from tree tops well out from the trail.

We returned to the car and headed back to our cabin to call it a day.

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