Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Booby of Lake Havasu

This is Lake Havasu, Arizona.  Well, half of it is in Arizona.  The other half is in California.  Throughout the duration of the Lake, the line for the two states is in the center.  This can be quite confusing for the birder.  It confused me a little.  It's one of those things where if you see a bird in the center, it is quite tempting just to count it for both states.  But this is really being at the western-most limit of Arizona, and the Lake itself is scenic and quite beautiful.  It attracts hordes of boaters, drunks, and swimmers annually, and it also attracts hordes of different waterbirds.  The later is the reason I intend to visit the lake.  On September 7th, 2013, there was a very rare Arizona bird out on the lake, as well as a few other rare Arizona birds.  I joined two of my birding friends for the trip northwest of us to Lake Havasu to chase the bird, where we met up with two of Arizona's best birding experts (who are also my good friends!)

Lake Havasu

Two weeks ago, I went to southeastern Arizona to chase a Blue-footed Booby who was frequenting Patagonia Lake State Park.  At that time, I also knew of another Booby that was found in this area.  It was the Brown Booby.  And yes, these birds have a weird name.  It's the second Brown Booby found in Arizona this year, and it was just hanging out off of a state park along Lake Havasu called Windsor Beach for most of it's time.  I wanted the bird bad, because Boobies are cool and really don't show up in Arizona very often.  Boobies are rarities on an ABA birding scale in general, with the Brown Booby being the most "common" at a Code 3 (which is still rare).  Arizona wise, both species are great finds and are eye/listing candy for any hardcore Arizona birder.  My friends Laurence Butler and Magill Weber felt the same about the Brown Booby as I did, so the three of us said:  "How about we join forces and look for this Booby together, so we can have two Boobies for Arizona".  Great minds sure do think a lot.  After got the Patagonia Lake Blue-footed Booby at three different times, we decided to get the Brown.  In fact, here is Laurence Butler himself and Magill Weber herself as we arrived at Lake Havasu to scan the Lake.

Laurence Butler and Magill Weber searching for a Booby

After scanning the lake for awhile from a high elevated point overlooking the lake known as Pittsburg Point, we didn't have the Booby.  We did find quite a few loons while scanning, including a nice Pacific Loon among the Common Loons.  Without our expert birding friends who were about to join us, we probably weren't gonna get much.  Our expert birding friends have pretty much defined birding in this area of Arizona, known as the Lower Colorado River Valley.  They have found an endless amount of rarities in this area, I mean, an endless amount.  It seems like that list grows daily.  If Batman and Catwoman were birders, I think these two people would replicate that.  As you can tell by reading this, I am very fond of these two awesome people.  I'm talking about the epic Lauren Harter and David Vander Pluym.  And they always show up with an awesome appearance.  

Lauren Harter and David Vander Pluym

Out of the many rarities that Lauren and David have found up here, they have included Brant,Glaucous Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Little Gull, all three Jaeger species, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Blackpoll Warbler, and many others.  Their best find was probably a Nutting's Flycatcher south of Lake Havasu in the area of the Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge.  The Nutting's Flycatcher, a Mexican vagrant, attracted thousands of birders during the winter that it was discovered.  It then surprisingly returned and was found with a second Nutting's Flycatcher.  The two flycatchers bred and produced young.  Not only did David and Lauren find the ABA Code 5 Nutting's Flycatcher for many happy birders, but they also found one of the most remarkable discoveries in Arizona birding history with the discovery that the birds bred.  I think they might have changed the Code 5 to an ABA Code 4 for the Nutting's Flycatcher!  Recently, when David was scanning Havasu, he spied a Brown Booby.  That is the same Brown Booby that we were after, and another rarity on the discovery list of David and Lauren.  As David and Lauren arrived on spot, they quickly spied the birds out on the lake and identified them from 10 miles away like it was nothing.  After 20 minutes of scanning, Lauren spied our target Brown Booby in the distance on it's favorite buoys off of Windsor Beach.  Because the bird was distant, we made our way to Windsor Beach in hopes of getting closer.

The Brown Booby is similar in it's behavior to the Blue-footed Booby.  Both dive and feed on fish, and are very tolerant of human life.  The Booby buoys were fairly close to the shore, and as we approached the Brown Booby, we were able to view it extremely well.  It fished a few times, but most of the time, it sat on the buoys.  

Brown Booby

This Brown Booby is a juvenile bird.  The key field marks to separating this bird from other boobies is the fact that it's back and tail are a dark brown overall, it's tail is completely brown, and it also has white underwing coverts.  

The Brown Booby and it's favorite Buoy

The Booby flew by us at close distances a few times....

The Brown Booby made my day, it was of course a lifer for me.  It was ABA # 423 and Arizona # 410 to be exact, and was a great memory I won't forget.

Besides the Brown Booby, a few other cool highlights made their way to Windsor Beach.  One struck me as very odd at first when I first saw it swim in.....

I knew it was grebe-like, but I wasn't expecting it to be what it really was at first.  I though it was some strange "albino grebe".  When Lauren looked at it, she said it was a baby Clark's/Western Grebe.  I was amazed at the sight of it.  The bird was by itself and was following Mallards along the shore.  It was obviously abandoned and was trying to survive on it's own.  On Lake Havasu, most of the large breeding grebes are Western and most of the ones south of Havasu on the Bill Williams are Clark's.  So Lauren said this was most likely a Western Grebelet.  

Western Grebelet

This Common Tern also made a nice appearance along the shoreline.  I have only seen one Common Tern prior to this bird.

Common Tern w/Ring-billed Gull

Here's a Common Tern (left) and a Forster's Tern (right) flying side-by-side.

A few California Gulls

Ring-billed Gulls

As we scanned, David and Lauren also spied another nice rarity in Arizona, the Red-necked Grebe.  It was very far out on the lake, but we got to see it take flight.  It's very distinctive in flight, and it's features were evident at a long distance away.  

We birded in several other areas during the rest of the day, such as Rotary Park, the Bill Williams Refuge, and the Ahakhav Tribal Preserve.  It was a great day, and Magill, Laurence, and I tallied 96 species for the day between all the stops.  An extra special thanks goes out to Lauren and David for birding with us!  To close out this post, here are a few more pictures of Lake Havasu, known as Arizona's "West Coast".


  1. Hey Tommy,

    Super write up. It was another epic day and you delivered another epic post., with great photos and descriptions of the people and birds involved
    : )

    Congrats on your lifers. Keep cruising at #1 in AZ through December!

    1. Thank you Laurence! It was one heck of an awesome day and one to remember for a long time coming! I'll do my best to keep that #1 spot :)

  2. Nice write-up Tommy! I love your photos, especially the one where the booby stretched its ridiculous bill in flight. Also the pic of the four of us looking super awkward. ;) Great to see you guys!


    1. Thank you Lauren, it was great to see you too! I'm glad you like the pics, I wish the Booby was focused a little better when he opened his bill so I could crop it closer, but it still looks neat!

    2. And the pic of the four of you is great, I had to include it!!!!

  3. Tommy,

    Betty and I enjoyed seeing you today at Huachuca Canyon. Thank you for recognizing us. You looked familiar, but I didn't think "Tommy from Greer" since we were so far from the White Mountains. Next time we decide to chase a rare bird, I'll keep my eyes peeled for you.

    We didn't see you as we left to wish you good luck in a better view of the Sinaloa Wren. Hope you got one. I was also reminded to check out your blog. I enjoyed the Lake Havasu one and will check more often.

    Pete Bengtson