John Yerger, Assistant Director of Borderland Tours, humorously describes himself as a “recovering ornithologist.”  In reality, his enthusiasm for bird behavior is contagious.  In 2006, John helped set new records for 11 of the 12 monthly “Big Day” records for the state of Arizona.  John has served on the Board of Directors of the Arizona Field Ornithologists, the Arizona Bird Committee, and is one of the editors for Tucson Audubon’s Finding Birds in Southeast Arizona.  He has fearlessly taken on many of our office tasks, as well!

Habitat, habitat, habitat

21 February 2017

The familiar real estate addage is "Location, location, location."  For birds, the same is true of habitat.  As a birdwatcher, you tend to learn what areas just "look good" for birds.  If you're birding in the desert, and you see something like this, I recommend you stop and have a look around:

 

The pioneers knew that a good cluster of trees, often cottonwoods, meant water just underground.  Naturally that was a good place to sink a well – especially if you had to dig it by hand!  So, in western states, windmills are practically a signpost for "oasis."  In this case, that was only a few hackberry trees, but sure enough this mini-oasis harbored a half dozen Western Bluebirds.

 

Looking around, I saw nothing but arid grassland in every direction.  I think of Western Bluebirds as more of a forest species, but in the winter they do hang out at lower elevations where they can find adequate food and shelter.  Netleaf hackberry (Celtis reticulata) is a great tree for all kinds of wintering birds, but in my mind hackberries = thrushes.  Vagrant thrushes like Rufous-backed Robin are invariably discovered near hackberry trees or other fruiting trees and shrubs.  So check 'em out!

 

When you look at the pea-sized fruit up close, it doesn't look like much.  When you crack open the endocarp, there's just a thin layer of mesocarp.  Most of the berry is really just a seed.

 

It must take a lot of these berries to fill up a bluebird belly!  But, the fruits dry out and often hang on the branches throughout the winter, making them a reliable food source.  And when they're newly ripened, they're actually somewhat palatable to humans, too.  I don't recommend them by February, though...don't ask me how I know.

 

Good birding,

John Yerger

eBird list at: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S34635985

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Hiking Silver Peak in Arizona's Chiricahua Mts

1 October 2016

Now that things have finally calmed down around the office, I decided to kick off October properly with a hike up Silver Peak.  I'm lucky enough to behold this mountain from my living room window every day, yet I rarely have the few free hours needed to make the summit.  Not wanting to waste this opportunity, the dog and I jumped in the truck and headed out.

b2ap3 medium John and Madison 20161002

A fine day to be in the Chiricahua Mountains, and we had the trail to ourselves!  With 4.5 miles of trail and 3000 feet of elevation gain ahead of us, we put our heads down and hiked hard.  Even though I only birded for a few minutes at a time – while pausing to catch my breath – I still managed 33 species, mostly by ear.  The clear highlight was a "Mexican" Spotted Owl on a day roost only 4 feet above my head, directly over the trail!  Unfortunately, this doubled as a "lowlight" for me, too, since I didn't realize it was there until I had already walked beneath it, accidentally flushing the bird to an invisible perch around the side of a cliff...  Major bummer.  A consolation prize was a small songbird flock in almost the same spot on the return trip from the peak, which held singletons of Mexican Chickadee, Olive Warbler, Hermit Warbler, and Painted Redstart.  My first-of-season Hammond's Flycatcher was an added bonus.  Checklist available on eBird.

Since I wasn't in photographic range of anything avian, non-birding subjects are what I captured today.  While it's impossible to do justice to the 360º vistas available from Silver Peak, this shot overlooking Portal and the San Simon Valley is tough to beat:  

b2ap3 medium Silver Peak looking ENE 20161001

Pondering this landscape from the concrete foundation of the former Silver Peak fire lookout tower (which burned down after a bizarre snowstorm lightning strike in 1992), I chanced to look down just as this odd denizen ambled across the old water cistern:

b2ap3 medium Automeris io larva 20161001

This larva of Automeris io turns into a pretty cool moth, but I personally think the caterpillar itself is a far more fascinating find!

Hasta pronto,

John Yerger

 

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Honduras 2016 preview

​Just returned from a fantastic week scouting for my Honduras trip at the Lodge at Pico Bonito.  This eco-friendly jungle lodge has developed a deserved reputation for both excellent accommodations and great birding, and I was fortunate to have the chance to experience it ahead of our February tour.  Highlights were too numerous to relate here, but a select few that jump to mind are half a dozen Lovely Cotingas in view at once; eleven Keel-billed Toucans gathered in the same tree; displaying White-collared Manakins; and a very cooperative Stub-tailed Spadebill.  If I was a better photographer, maybe I could have managed to capture them all in images!  But the biggest treat for me was a suite of nocturnal birds on daytime roosts, thanks to Elmer Escoto, bird guide for the Lodge at Pico Bonito (see below).

Looking forward to returning with the full tour in February!
John Yerger
Borderland Tours

 

 

 

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2015 Newsletter

Dear Borderland Birders:

If you've had a chance to peruse the 2015 Borderland Tours newsletter in print, we hope you enjoyed the photos and updates! If you haven't had a chance, we thought it might be nice to upload the whole darned thing for convenient reading online. Please don't hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions about the content!

You can view it online by clicking the images below or if you want a larger, printable copy and you have Adobe Acrobat Reader installed, simply CLICK HERE to download the PDF.

 

Cheers,
John Yerger
Assistant Director
Borderland Tours

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Welcome!

Welcome to the new Borderland Tours blog! Please visit periodically for stories from the field, observations on birds and birding, book and equipment reviews, as well as news and information about Borderland Tours and its staff.

Cheers,
John Yerger
Assistant Director
Borderland Tours

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