Today, I went out to the Hassayampa River Preserve for three hours hoping to find something good. It's a very good time of the year to find vagrants throughout Arizona during the month of November, and I was hoping to find myself a goody at Hassayampa. With the "jungle" of riparian trees to search through, odds here of finding one are very good. I have seen a lot of rarities at this location, from a Green Kingfisher to a Magnolia Warbler. In fact, I can't remember the last time I visited Hassayampa and didn't have something good. Whenever I visit this location, I seem to have a neat sighting that completely makes the day, whether it's one of the resident Red-shouldered Hawks or breeding Gray Hawk and Tropical Kingbird, or something that's very rare. One can see by this picture, how awesome the habitat is at this place!
I started my day off by hearing a Canyon Wren calling. This is one of my favorite birds. It's super cool looking, and it's song is top notch. At Hassayampa, they favor the undergrowth and tangles in the riparian habitats in places. It's not too "canyon-like" at all, but this wren is one heck of a skulker.
At times, a birder will get lucky here and have them perch up and sing. As you can see, this Canyon Wren was banded, probably by the team of bird banders at the Hassayampa River Preserve. This is the first decent shot I have gotten of this bird.
As I was watching and listening to the Canyon Wren, I heard a late Pacific-slope Flycatcher calling in the dense riparian habitat surrounding Palm Lake. Another highlight quickly came around when I had a Hermit Thrush perch in the open. These birds are numerous at Hassayampa during the cooler months, but they are often very shy and don't perch out in the open long at all!
I then worked my way well out on a trail called the Mesquite Meander. I came across a point of the trail where a section of cottonwood groves start. A medium-sized dark gray bird caught by attention and flew into a mesquite in front of me. I knew it was interesting right away and immediately got on the bird. It wasn't cooperative at first, but as it moved through the dense mesquites, I started to have a good clue of what it was. I saw a dark eye, a gray body, a black cap on it's head, and rufous-undertail coverts. It's actually pretty distinctive! It then flew closeby into another tree.
By this time, I knew it was the Gray Catbird! Gray Catbirds breed in the White Mountains of Arizona's Apache County, but other than that they are rare throughout the state of Arizona. They are very rare in Maricopa County, with only a few records from what I can remember. In the White Mountains these birds favor riverside habitat, and they are very shy, skulking, and hard to observe. This bird acted very shy at first, but then gave me a few great chances of good photographs and it perched out in the open!
I was stoked at the sight of this bird! It is a new addition to my Maricopa County list, one I always thought I would have to be extremely lucky to find. And today, I was extremely lucky. It was my sixth addition to my county list in this wonderful year of 2013, and was really the first one I found on my own. It's always so great to find something on your own! So # 356 is the Gray Catbird. This bird was also very silent, and I didn't hear a meow out of him at all. He then flew up into the surrounding cottonwood grove, and I didn't see him again.
I then knew there was something else good to be found in the dense riparian habitats of the Hassayampa River Preserve. I still searched for more goodies for the remainder of my time. As I came up on a nice little stand of trees along the River Ramble Trail, I phished in a large flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. In midst of them was this Black-and-White Warbler, which I was also stoked to find! This bird behaves like a nuthatch and is an "eastern" warbler that is always fun to see in Arizona. It was also the second individual of this species I have found at Hassayampa this year.
Because I love birding in Maricopa County so much, getting a new county bird feels just like getting a lifer, even if the bird isn't an official lifer. And the Catbird has made my week!!