Monday, May 5, 2014

Spring Cheer at Glendale Recharge

Phalaropes.  A cool but interesting few species of shorebirds out there.  They spin around relentlessly in the water in order to bring aquatic insect prey to the water surface for food source.  The Glendale Recharge Ponds has hosted many individual phalaropes lately, especially the Wilson's Phalarope.  And when these crazy birds gather, they really look crazy.  Birders often refer to Phalaropes as "water dancers".  True to that, the bird really does look like it is dancing around in circles.  When a flock of phalaropes get together, they look even more strange.  They almost look like a group of dorks at a high school dance party who can't find someone to dance with.  The female Wilson's Phalarope is sexy, and phalaropes are an odd bird where females are more colorful and the males are rather dull.  Maybe the lady Wilson's Phalarope's beauty is just too intimidating to dance with for that geeky male phalarope to get the balls to dance with her.  As a dorky guy, I find it nerve-wracking and scary to ask that pretty girl out on a date.  So maybe Mr. Wilson's should get a break too.  I'll lame joking aside, here is a nice dancing flock of Wilson's Phalaropes.  The Wilson's Phalaropes are a tight family who clearly don't leave a lot of space for outsiders.  Every once in awhile, a strange Redneck will crash their party.  The preppy Wilson's probably don't want a smaller and less colorful Red-neck to join their flock, the two just don't mesh.  It's almost like Hollywood Holly and Shotgun Sally.  Again, all jokes aside, there are two Phalarope species in the picture:  Wilson's and Red-necked.  Now, how many Red-necked's can you find?  Can you find a Red-necked in there?  Welcome to life of birding at the Glendale Recharge Ponds on any given day!

There are more phalaropes in the flock than what is cropped in the picture above, but I found this to be the best crop to show the flock better in a way.  For the answer, there is for sure a Red-necked Phalarope in there.  There is only one, and it's a female bird.  Here's another picture of the flock.  Can you find that Red-necked again?

It's late April/early May time frame here at the Glendale Recharge Ponds as I write this ramble blab.  It's a great time for shorebirds, gulls, terns, ibis, and more.  This is a time where birders will be treated to seeing a variety of shorebirds in their breeding plumage, such as the female Wilson's Phalarope.  Mrs. Wilson is certainly a gorgeous and outstandingly sexy avian being.  She is one of millions of shorebirds who have the crazy task of migrating way north to preferred breeding grounds of North America.

Here is a male Wilson's on the right, and two females to his left.  This guy obviously has a lot of money to get these two hot babes.  He's nothing to brag about, so, he's probably extra good at spinning millions of insects to the water's surface, which is just like cash to a phalarope.  The girls are using you buddy for your insectacash.  And they'll leave you too buddy, so you'll have to hatch and raise your kids all on your own.  You should have been smarter.

The Red-necked Phalarope is the other phalarope present here on the Glendale Recharge waters.  They are much less common than the Wilson's Phalarope, and have to be picked out most of the time from a Wilson's flock as shown above.  But on one of my recent morning outings at Glendale, I did find a nice group of 14 Red-necked Phalaropes, who landed pretty close to shore.  And of course, the brighter and sexier birds are the females and the non-attractive ones are the males.

The Killdeer is the most common and numerous and noisy shorebird at the ponds.  Everyone knows the Killdeer.

There are many young Killdeer around right now, and they have a lot to learn.  Most shorebirds are fine for them to hang out with, but some of them aren't.  Those explicit and rude ones will be obvious later in this blab off, but for now, take a look on how fast this pre-schooler is catching on to life. 

The American Avocet is one of the more beautiful shorebirds out there, but it does have it's problems.  It really likes to make sure everyone is staring at it at all times.  It even stares at it's own reflection also.  But who could blame it, it is very cool!

They are loud and noisy, and relentlessly bully on birders and other shorebirds who come within a half-mile of their nest.  This bird is the explicit one at Glendale.  It sounds to me like they want the attention more than anything once they know the camera is out.  But once again, who can blame them, because they are great and nice to look at.

As I found my first two Willets of the year, a pair of Avocets were clearly thinking "we can't miss this chance to shine and drown out the other birds", once I took out my camera.

As the baby Killdeer closed his eyes and I nearly closed mine, Romeo and Juliet nearly brought the Glendale Recharge Ponds down.  For crying out loud, go in the reeds a little!

All jokes aside, the Avocets certainly are spectacular.  Here is a shot of the odd Black-necked Stilt with Mrs. Wilson's Phalarope.  What is cool about the Glendale Recharge Ponds is that one can photograph multiple species together very often.

Here is a Lesser Yellowlegs with a much smaller Western Sandpiper.

And here's another cool example of seeing two large waders and two large shorebirds sharing the waters of the Glendale Recharge Ponds.  The Avocets have their heads down in this picture, every once in awhile they do need a rest.  Even if briefly.

Here is another fun picture.  The light isn't on our side here as birders, but with overall appearances despite poor lighting due to sunshine, most of these birds can still be identified that are in this frame.  There are at least four species present.  Can you name the shorebirds?

There are at least four species that are identifiable based on gestalt appearance, shape, and "color".  Bill sizes are also a good clue.  There may be five species, but the camera doesn't have superman mode on it for the smaller shorebirds.  The bird on the far left is a Greater Yellowlegs, and immediately to the right of the Yellowlegs is a group of five Marbled Godwits.  On the very far right, the four larger shorebirds with the black-and-white wings are American Avocets, and the small clump below are Wilson's Phalaropes.  There may be a Red-necked Phalarope mixed in with this one.  It's fun to identify shorebirds at distances and challenging lighting situations like this one.  Once I got over to the other side of this pond where the lighting was much better, I enjoyed the awesome Marbled Godwits up much closer.  These birds are hit or miss on most occasions, but this group stayed for two days.  It's always nice to enjoy them when they make their brief stops, and they are a neat bird!

The Glendale Recharge Ponds are heavily used by gulls and terns on an annual basis.  But like the Marbled Godwit, most gulls and terns are brief visitors to the ponds.  During these few visits that I made to the ponds, they were visited by Least and Caspian Terns, as well as a California Gull and several Franklin's Gulls.  This flock of 14 Ring-billed Gulls is what I got from the gull department.  Like most of the others, this flock rested for a short while and didn't stick around very long.

While it was disappointing to miss Least Terns here on several occasions, I did luck out with getting to see two Forster's Terns.  One of them hung around for a few days, and on one of the days, it was joined by a second Forster's Tern.  Terns have a very graceful appeal to them, and anyone should appreciate their smooth flight methods.  The Black-necked Stilts really enjoy watching them too.

For me as a birder, it is always a treat to see any species of tern.  Whether Black, Royal, Elegant, Least, Forster's, or Sandwich, I'm happy to take any tern.  As a photographer also, I usually don't get the chance to see them up super close.  But every now and then, we all get lucky!  The Forster's Tern was very flighty and active one of the mornings I observed it, and it covered more water.  As I was standing by the canal, the tern decided to look for food in the canal briefly.  Cool beans!

The two Forster's Terns spent some time resting on a mud flat in the middle of one of the large basins.  A small Semipalmated Plover joined them.  The flats weren't ever very close to the walking path for the birders, so the Plovers stayed out there well in the distance.

Now that some clues have been given, here is another shorebird identification picture.  There are at least eight different shorebirds in this next bottom frame.  Can you name them?

At the Glendale Recharge Ponds, many rarities have been found ever since this location has really taken off and has been heavily birded since 2009.  Rarities have been found on numerous occasions by birders carefully scanning and searching through dense flocks of species and through species that may look very similar.  It is good practice and may be rewarded with a lot of patience.  I come to visit these ponds a lot, and on days I really take my time to look through the birds, I am rewarded with cool birds often.  And I'll also admit, there are days were I don't look as well as I should, and I'm sure I've missed things.  Are you ready for the answers?  Here we go!  

1.  Marbled Godwits:  Bottom left of picture
2.  Killdeer:  On the left side of the picture, above the Godwits, near the grass 
3.  Western Sandpiper:  Go right from the Killdeer to the right half of the frame.  It is in front of the "island".
4.  Semipalmated Plover:  Above the Western Sandpiper.  The single breast band is noticeable.
5.  American Avocet:  Just upper right from the Semi-Plover.  Notice the light peach-orange neck and face.
6.  Least Sandpiper:  Just above the Avocet.  Notice how small the bird is and how short the bill is compared to the Western Sandpiper.
7.  Forster's Tern:  To the immediate left of the Least Sandpiper.  The solid black cap and solid white breast quickly indicates a Tern Sp.
8.  Black-necked Stilt:  Top right of the picture.

The Willet is another neat highlight every year during shorebird migration at Glendale Recharge.  It is rather large, and may appear rather plain at close distances.

But when the Willet takes flight, it has one of the most spectacular wing patterns one will ever see on a bird.  Wow, first impressions can be quite deceiving.  The Willet gets better looking every day.

The Long-billed Dowitcher is another common bird at the Glendale Recharge Ponds throughout the year.  It is variable in it's plumages, being a plain gray and white during winter and off-breading to a neat and bright orange in breeding season.  

This post has come from four different outings out at the Glendale Recharge Ponds.  Before I get to the last and best part of this post, I'm gonna talk a little about what Glendale means to me.  Sadly, I even sometimes take this wonderful place for granted.  But truely, it is one of the best birding locations in Maricopa County.  Every year yields a plethora of different species here at Glendale, which does include many uncommon and rare Arizona shorebirds, terns, gulls, waterfowl, and more.  A Lapland Longspur even found one of the basins once, wait...make that twice!  What makes the Glendale Recharge Ponds so special for me is the fact that it is the closest birding location to my house and I can be here in 15 minutes when I want.  It is my default "home birding spot".  I'm closing in on 200 species for the basins here at Glendale and their immediate surrounding area.  What an awesome place!

Now for this post, I have decided to save the best for last!  The Dunlin is a shorebird that mainly spends the winter months in Arizona.  It's winter plumage is a dull brown and white, and it's breeding plumage is very striking.  Two breeding plumaged Dunlins showed up during this time frame, and they were spectacular to see.  One of them was even very cooperative for me, and fed with other shorebirds along a shallow edge of the basin.  There were many highlights for me during these few days here at Glendale, and this Dunlin was by far the best.  What a neat-looking bird, eh?  Mr. Black Belly!

The Dunlin is with a Western Sandpiper in the picture above, the species it was foraging and allied with the most.  And the Dunlin didn't mind my presence too much, and he allowed me to get the photographs that I was hoping for.  

The Glendale Recharge Ponds are a favorite of mine, and have delivered once again.  Glendale is a great place to see a variety of waterbirds and to practice identification skills.  To the non-birder and some birders, the Glendale Recharge Ponds probably look like a very ugly place at a first glance.  But when the basins are filled with water and filled with a sea of birds, any place will seem beautiful.  I will be seeing Glendale again soon.  And who knows how many more outstanding birds will be found here in 2014?  We aren't even halfway through the year yet!

1 comment:

  1. "They are loud and noisy, and relentlessly bully on birders and other shorebirds who come within a half-mile of their nest."
    Ha! Awesome summation of the annoying Avocet behavior (Stilts are that way too).

    Congrats on the Dunlin shots too--sweet-lloking bird. It was the first in breeding plumage I've ever seen. It looks like you got just about everything else too!

    Those ponds are amazing. I think more eBird-flagged stuff shows up there than anywhere else in Maricopa. It must be so awesome to have it close by for a lil' rarity chasing too!