Monday, January 21, 2013

Two Maricopa County firsts to start off 2013...

After getting my 350th Maricopa County bird to end 2012, I was thankful!  That bird was the Red-breasted Sapsucker, a brilliant male to be exact.  Once reaching 350, I still felt like getting right back into the field to see more and more in this sick obsession I have with Maricopa County birding.  Little did I expect, my next two birds would be two first ever official Maricopa County birds to extend the overall Maricopa County list- which is near 450 species.

With a few days left in 2012, I heard from Brendon Grice about a Violet-crowned Hummingbird being found in the Ahwatukee area.  This really shocked me and I wanted it immediately.  The Violet-crowned Hummingbird is specifically a southeastern Arizona specialty.  I've seen the species several times in that region, especially at the Paton's residence, which is famous in the United States for this species.  However, a few vagrant records are elsewhere, including an impressive record in the Prescott area.

At the time when I heard of the hummingbird from Brendon, I was at Tres Rios and I wanted to drop my outing at the Wetlands and head straight for the hummingbird.  But Denny Green, the founder of the bird, posted it on the Facebook birding group for documentation purposes.  The bird was in a private yard with no public access.  I didn't think I'd be able to see this bird, and a week into 2013, I got a call once again from Brendon saying Denny would be willing to take him to photograph the bird along with Bryan Keil.  Now Brendon, Bryan, and Denny are excellent wildlife photographers who seem to automatically shoot calender-like quality photos.  Brendon managed to get me in the mix on my day off of work, and I joined the three excellent photographers to go to the yard of Denny's fantastic discovery.

Denny had even given this Maricopa County first Violet-crowned Hummingbird a name.....Vinny.  For the first 15 minutes, Vinny didn't show, but when he appeared for the first time, he never left in the 1.5 hours we observed and photographed him.  Vinny was extremely aggresive, actively driving off the other hummingbirds in the yard.  Denny had 4 feeders set up throughout the yard, and Vinny aggressively guarded three of them.  This hummingbird had different vocalizations than the others, which was interesting to listen to.  It was a bird I'll never forget and one I'm grateful for getting to see.  Thanks to Denny Green for the find and for letting me see the bird, and to Brendon for helping me get an invite!

Photo's of the Violet-crowned Hummingbird (who's name is Vinny).  And these are of course my lousy video camera stills.  The three photographers managed to shoot the bird in the usual field guide/book quality!

Little did I know when I was watching the Violet-crowned Hummingbird, another new Maricopa County first ever was lurking in the shadows......

On an annual basis, Troy Corman organizes a Greater Phoenix Waterbird Survey for wild wintering birds in the Phoenix area.  Most ponds, lakes, and wetland areas within the city limits of Phoenix are surveyed.  Species surveyed include waterbirds such as geese, ducks, grebes, shorebirds, and fish eating birds such as Ospreys, Bald Eagles, Belted Kingfishers, etc.  It's a fun count, and uncommon to rare birds have been discovered.  This Waterbird Survey of 2013 was to hold something good, which was another Maricopa County first.

On January 19th, 2013, the Survey took place.  Tom Lewis was counting waterbirds in his assigned area in Sun Lakes, which is at the very southern part of Maricopa County.  Around 10 A.M. in the morning, Tom saw something very unusual and out of place.  He had his eyes on something that was never seen before in the area's history, yet this far north in the United States.  It was a small grebe, and by looking at the official Maricopa County list, the only grebe left to fill that possible slot was the tiny LEAST GREBE!  

Least Grebes are mainly thought of in the United States as a southern Texas specialty.  They are by far the smallest of the North American grebes.  This species is usually rather shy and somewhat secretive.  It prefers ponds and lakes with plenty of marshy cover where it can hide.  Recently, they have increased in southern Arizona, even nesting in good numbers at Pena Blanca Lake.  Rarer records than Pena Blanca came from Tucson's Sweetwater Wetlands.  

This Sun Lakes discovery by Tom Lewis is clearly the craziest record.  Another crazy thing is the Least Grebe was in the wrong habitat away from it's densely vegetated ponds where it can hide.  This pond in Sun Lakes is open with literally no appropriate hiding places.  But for some reason this Least Grebe has been happy, and when a vagrant bird finds a pond they are happy with, who knows how long they will stay.....

The next day when I chased it, it was still there!  The many birders present and I had many Sun Lakes friendly residents approach us and ask what the bird was that we were looking at.  It turned out many of the residents who walked by had been seeing this bird since before Christmas.  They were wondering what it was, and were very pleased to have such a rarity in their neighborhood.  What they thought was a "baby duck" was the northernmost ever record of an Arizona rarity.  The Least Grebe was very cooperative for the birders present, as it was regularly feeding on fish. 

As I write this, the Grebe is still on the pond a day later after I and many others were fortunate enough to enjoy.  Thanks to Tom Lewis for the amazing find!

Pictures of the Maricopa County first Least Grebe:

Leading off the first month of 2013, I've been blessed with two remarkable additions to my Maricopa County list.  Which bird will be the next addition?