Sunday, February 16, 2020

A Black Scoter

Lake Pleasant keeps turning out to be a great location to find rare waterbirds in Maricopa and Yavapai Counties.  The latest awesome one that I got to see there was a Black Scoter, which was found by Marceline Vandewater.  This was the second time already in this early 2020 that Marceline has found an awesome bird that I've been able to chase.  While I've seen a decent share of Black Scoters in Arizona and elsewhere, this was only the second time I would have the chance to see an adult male of the species.  My first Black Scoter was an adult male at the Glendale Recharge Ponds in November of 2010, and about ten years later on an afternoon after work I'd get to see my second adult male bird.  This time would give me the chance to get much better photographs, and when I got to the lake and saw the Scoter, I made sure to take my time to enjoy the bird and take some pictures.  A Black Scoter and Lake Pleasant was a great way to spend a few hours of an afternoon.  Thanks Marceline!

When Black Scoters exercise their wings on the water, they have a distinctive motion where they lower their heads while wing flapping.  This is a stand out trait from other scoters.

During the course of this bird's stay, many birders got to watch it from an easy access point at Lake Pleasant where it was just east of the Ten Lane Boat Ramp.  When I went I realized I didn't have my scope with me, but a scope wasn't needed to enjoy this bird.

The one bird that would usually hang around the Black Scoter was this female Common Goldeneye.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

A Chase to Lead off 2020's Gila Birding

I've always wanted to find a Red-necked Grebe in Gila County during my long scans at Roosevelt Lake.  The species is one that has been documented in the county awhile back and only once.  It was an Arizona Bird Committee accepted record from a bird at that Roosevelt Lake.  I believe the record was from the 80s or 90s, I'll have to dig it up again.  In the meantime years, Troy Corman conducts waterbird surveys from a boat for Arizona Game and Fish Department at a handful of central Arizona reservoirs.  At Roosevelt Lake, Troy has found a number of rare species such as Long-tailed Duck and Red-throated Loon, but shockingly, not a Red-necked Grebe.  At nearby Maricopa County reservoirs shortly to the west such as Saguaro, Canyon, and Apache Lakes, he has found Red-necked Grebes multiple times.  During recent surveys, Troy has had Ryan O'Donnell with him.  Ryan found a Red-throated Loon on Roosevelt Lake lake year, a bird that I chased and missed.  During the surveys in January 2020, Ryan and Troy found a Red-necked Grebe on the northeastern side of Apache Lake.  At this section of the lake, the northern half of the lake is in Gila County and the southern half is in Maricopa County.  Although Ryan reported it from Maricopa County on his initial report, he then realized that it was on the Gila side of the lake too.  I had birded this stretch of Apache Lake in the past, which is very narrow and is pretty much the Salt River that creates the lakes.  Ryan gave GPS coordinates of where the bird was, and I knew that I had a fun chase ahead of me.  And it would be my first birding in Gila County for 2020 that came on January 22nd.

Because waterbirds have a strong tendency to remain stationary throughout the coarse of a day, I decided to bird the highly un-explored Rye Creek to start the day off.   The 22nd was very foggy, and it gave the morning a neat hazy look to it.  A view of the valley that harbors Rye Creek was memorable.

I feel like Rye Creek has potential for a few incredible birds according to a Gila County scale (if there was one).  One of those such birds I have in mind is Louisiana Waterthrush.  Rye Creek would be a perfect place to find one, as it has a healthy water flow that goes for quite a distance continuously.  When I got down to the creek, I realized the flow was much higher and stronger than usual, and is one that I didn't have the right shoes or boots for.  I wanted to wade down the creek just like this young deer was.

A better Louisiana Waterthrush search will have to wait.  Bird life at Rye Creek was in decent abundance for numbers of birds.  The cottonwood, mesquite, and juniper stands that I birded through had pockets of activity.  Bewick's Wren is a bird I don't photograph much, but this one was cooperative.  It was immediately followed up by a photogenic Rock Wren.

After Rye Creek, it was that time to chase a Red-necked Grebe.  To get to Apache Lake, I would take Highway 188 along Roosevelt Lake, and then the start of the east side of the scenic Apache Trail.  This stretch of the Apache Trail parallels the Salt River/Apache Lake, where looking north into the water reveals the southern half of the flow Maricopa and northern half Gila.  I've always thought that this route was awesome, and I drove near to the coordinates that Ryan gave for the Red-necked Grebe.  From the get-go, there were a number of birds on the water.  Western Grebes, two rafts of Common Goldeneye, and Eared Grebe to name a few.  A thought that crossed my mind for the future was that someday there will be a Barrow's Goldeneye mixed in with the Common Goldeneye numbers.  I parked my truck and walked along the Apache Trail while looking at the water to the northwest and ahead of me.  Western Grebes were congregated on the Gila County side of the lake, and one grebe that was a little smaller stood out.  I realized that my chase was an easy one and was successful!

The Red-necked Grebe became my first new Gila life bird of 2020 and of the new decade.  It was a worthy chase and I'm stoked I have this bird for Gila County.  Thanks Ryan and Troy!  I loved chasing this bird, and I don't get to chase birds much in Gila County.  I watched the grebe for about an hour, and it had it's times when it came closer to the road, and crossed into Maricopa County a few times too.

Here's a few scene shots from the Red-necked Grebe location.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

My First Worm-eating Warbler

At the beginning of a year, it's always fun to think of what the first major highlight of the year might be.  For 2020, I wondered what it would be several times.  I've come to a point where I don't guess, but I do wonder a lot.  The discovery of a bird is great thing, and it's interesting to wonder on how long a bird can be at a spot before it is detected.  To start off 2020 and a new decade, a great bird showed up.  When a small Maricopa County town called Sunflower was birded, luckily this bird decided to lift it's head up and get active at the right time when there was the chance for it to be discovered.

Marceline Vandewater was birding Sunflower on the morning of January 7th.  She had a great find when she found a rare-in-Arizona Worm-eating Warbler.  

Good thing the Worm-eating Warbler had it's head up and was active when Marceline made the pass through Sunflower.  Otherwise, no one else would've likely went birding at the spot in a replicated scenario to what Marceline had.

I was at work and Marceline sent a photograph into the Arizona Birding community via Facebook.  The news was great, and I headed straight for Sunflower after work.  I've gotten into the habit of taking my binoculars and camera with me everyday to work, and that habit has payed off.  When I got to Sunflower, I wasn't expecting an immediate success when it would come to relocating the Worm-eating Warbler.  Within five minutes of looking, the bird made it's appearance in midst of a feeding flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers.

Celebration time came early, and the Worm-eating Warbler became my first major highlight of 2020.  It was a lifebird for me, and it also became my 51st wood warbler that I have for the United States.  I enjoyed the bird with great views for about 30 minutes on January 7th, and then I returned on the 8th in the morning and early afternoon to look at it and photograph it more.  Plenty of other birders enjoyed it too.

Birders have said that the Worm-eating Warbler is poorly named, and that plenty of other warblers eat worms too.  It's caramel coloration might be more of an appropriate aspect to name the bird after, but in my opinion, I like the name Worm-eating Warbler.  The name is fun to me.

I just read that the bird's main diet of moth caterpillars and worms is indeed where it has gotten it's name from.  This Sunflower bird was observed foraging at high and low levels in trees, in thick understory, and at times on the ground  digging in leaf litter.  The Worm-eating Warbler is big for a warbler, and it feeds by probing and gleaning for insects under leaves and branches in nuthatch-like ways and Black-and-white Warbler-like ways.  I enjoyed this life bird a lot to the point that I went to see it three times over January 7th and 8th.  While the Worm-eating Warbler is an Arizona rarity, it's typical range is in the eastern United States, especially in the southeast and as far north as Wisconsin and Maine.  Thanks to Marceline for a great find.  With this warbler addition, the two remaining regularly occurring Wood Warblers I need for the United States and Cape May and Connecticut Warblers, and the casual ones I need are Crescent-chested Warbler and Golden-crowned Warbler.  For now, here is a series of photographs that I took of the Worm-eating Warbler.