Monday, December 30, 2013

Red Robins and Feisty Finches

In a birder's world, the end of the year can often be the time to quickly try and add species for the year list.  This includes birds that one has even seen on the list plenty of previous times.  But if it is missing for the year, "what a shame!".  There are a few birds like that on every list, or ones that usually turn up at a reliable location, but just don't seem to in the year that apparently matters the most.  Here in 2013, I have had a few birds like that as frustrating species I felt I should have by the end of this year.  Every year has different results though!  One of those species was the Rufous-backed Robin.  This species is rare, but is usually annual in Arizona with several birds found in central or southeastern Arizona.  Despite the norm, there haven't been many Rufous-backed Robin discoveries in 2013 in these areas.  But yet, one of them showed up at the Cameron Trading post 50 miles northeast of Flagstaff, well north of the Robin's usual records.  Another year bird I feel I should have by now is the Cassin's Finch.  The Cassin's Finch is a very irruptive species who's numbers may be abundant some years and very low the next year.  Regardless, a few Cassin's Finches should be around.  I felt my chances were good by going up to the Flagstaff area.  My friend Steve Hosmer also needed the same birds for his year list as well as an American Goldfinch, and we decided to join forces on December 30th, 2013, in pursuit of these species who were eluding both of our year lists.  Steve and I braved the cold temps on the day, and headed north!

After meeting at 5 A.M. at the intersection of the 1-17 and Carefree Highway, Steve and I made our way to the Cameron Trading Post to search for the Rufous-backed Robin.  The Robin has been present at this location for well over a month, and has been in a courtyard in midst of the motels at the Trading Station.  As I mentioned before, the Trading Post was quite the drive from Phoenix, as it is 50 miles northeast of Flagstaff.  Before I made the trip, I emailed northern Arizona birder Tom Linda and asked him about the Robin and Cassin's Finches.  Tom told me the Robin favors a bush in front of motel room 217 in the courtyard area, and that it often returned to that bush during the day.  Steve and I kept that in mind.  After nearly three hours of driving, we arrived at the Cameron Trading Post.  The scenery surrounding the area was neat, and we geared up appropriately for the 20 degree weather we were getting out of the truck to.  Luckily, there wasn't any wind blowing, or it wouldn't been bad.  We quickly found the courtyard, and started looking.  The courtyard was a neat-looking place, and it's many trees and fruiting bushes were definitely eye pleasing to a thrush.

Steve and I then had the job of location room 217, and then the bush in front of room 217.

After a few minutes, we saw room 217, and then we saw a bush in front of it.  I started to look for the robin in the bush, and I did see a bird in there right away, and it looked very Rufous-backed Robin-ish.

With no white "eye-archs" around it's eyes and a white throat with black streaks, it was quickly nailed down as a success for our first target-the Rufous-backed Robin!

The Robin was giving a high call note, which is different from the typical call of an American Robin. After sitting in the bush for some time, it flew out and started to move around quite-a-bit.  Steve and I had great views of the bird from many different angles.  

Here is one of my favorite views of the Rufous-backed Robin, which this view really says everything about the bird!

The Rufous-backed Robin is much more expected at central Arizona's Boyce Thompson Arboretum or somewhere immediately in southeastern Arizona.  There's been a shortage of them in Arizona this year, but at least this one in Cameron helped us out.  Sometimes a chase further north into an area that isn't birded often can be all the more fun!

The Rufous-backed Robin was also joined by it's more common relative, the famous American Robin.

At times, they are seen perched by each other.

Other than the Robin, our newest year bird, the Cameron Trading Post had some neat scenery nearby.

And for the successful chase, Steve had a big thumbs up!

After Cameron, we headed back south into Flagstaff, where we searched wooded neighborhoods and forested areas for Cassin's Finches as well as weedy fields for American Goldfinches.  After four hours of searching and getting weird looks from the neighborhood folks, we finally decided we weren't going to get a 2013 Cassin's Finch and Steve wasn't going to get a 2013 American Goldfinch.  But the day was awesome, and the scenery around Flagstaff was very awesome!

As most of the waterways were iced over, there were a few ponds with water.  Gadwalls and a Ring-necked Duck were among the ducks at one of these ponds.

After we got back to the Valley, my Arizona year list was at 376.  I had another day for hardcore birding on the final day of the year, the 31st.  A Harris's Sparrow was found in Tucson, and is a lifer for me.  Seems like it would be a great way to end the year.....

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