On Sunday, Melanie Herring reported a young Crested Caracara in the Arlington Valley along Arlington Canal Road. This is a bird that I have had yet to see in Maricopa County, I have chased two of them previously and haven't been able to relocate them. Crested Caracaras are annual in Maricopa County with usually several birds showing up in the southwestern part of the county. Although they are annual, they show up and go quickly. They are rarely cooperative for chasing. You either have to find your own or be in the area when one is reported or have work off to be able to chase once the report comes in. For this species, I haven't had any luck with the trio of scenarios. After Melanie's report, several other eBird reports came in from the same day. On Monday, I was then surprised to see that Justin Hopkins reported the bird in the same area. I thought that it may be hopeful. Today then came, and when I got out of work after a discouraging shift that I would like to be my last at the facility, I decided to chase the Caracara. I hit the Arlington Valley at 3:30 and my spirits were lifted when I saw the young Caracara flying south across Arlington Canal Road once I got into the Valley. It wasn't very close, but I had clear and identifiable looks as it headed south into the distance. Regardless, the trip was already a success, and the Crested Caracara finally made it's way onto my Maricopa list.
The Caracara dropped out of view to the south, but I decided to scan and wait patiently. Many Black Vultures flew by also to the south to roost in the tall tamarisks for the upcoming night.
After scanning, I then got very lucky and relocated the Crested Caracara in the area that it flew down into. It was walking and foraging on the ground and would also commonly perch on a dirt berm. The bird was very distant and I was content with decent scope views.
Today was also the Christmas Bird Count for the Gila River, and this bird was a good get for the count (which someone else got to see it earlier in the day before I). I didn't want to get closer to the Caracara and drive onto private property at first, but the land owner saw me and gave a friendly wave. So off I went, and closer to my Maricopa Caracara at that!
This is a bird I have always loved and one that I haven't seen a whole lot of. I get mixed thoughts about this bird when I look at it though. To start off, it's very strange but very awesome at the same time. It walks around in the grass, on dirt roads, or on berms-making it quite the comical scavenger. And it's a "falcon" that looks more like a hybrid between a vulture and an eagle. I've seen them three times prior to this in Pinal County's Santa Cruz Flats, but this bird was the closest I've gotten to be to one as well as the best I've been able to photograph of one.
The time spent today observing the Caracara was a great way to end the day, and probably to end the additions to my Maricopa County life list for 2014. Although this bird is annual and hit-or-miss, finally landing birds like this can feel more rewarding then the ones that are more rare but cooperative. I wasn't expecting to get this bird at the end of this year, but it's a great story to tell, as this year of 2014 as been. A huge thanks goes out to Melanie Herring for finding this bird! She has found a lot of great birds that have been key for my Maricopa County list besides this one. In the future, finding Caracaras in Maricopa County will probably be a scarce event for me. Although finding them is certainly on the road less traveled, I'm now pleased to say that it's a road that I have now driven on....