Monday, June 30, 2014

Returning to Base and Meridian for the Skulkers

I set my alarm clock last night before I dozed off to 3:30 A.M.  I wasn't sure if I was up for a long birding expedition, or a more leisurely and affordable stroll over to a closer location.  There were several options.  Prescott has been inviting lately, as well as Flagstaff, and of course, my prized Mazatzal Mountains on the Maricopa County sections.  Other locations rather far but not too far have been Lower Camp Creek and Box Bar along the Verde River.  Close locations such as Base and Meridian Wildlife Area have been on my mind also, especially with the awesome birds that were present there last week.  As I slept through my alarm clock and pressed snooze time and time again, I woke up at 5:30 A.M. and decided to go for Base and Meridian once again.  I thought of it as being for the best, since I don't have a whole lot of money.  Family vacation is at the end of the month (which will include hardcore birding daily), and I need to save for that.  So B and M, your a good choice.  I stuffed a bag full of bananas, and snacks, grabbed my camera, binoculars, and headed out the door.  I realized that I forgot to buy water, which is the dumbest move I've made all year.  It's only 110 degrees out, right?  Luckily, there is a Circle K just north of the wildlife area, and I bought three large bottles.  Once again, I was feeling that I would get lucky with a cool sighting or two or three at B and M.  On my way to B and M, I was already in a good mood once my favorite singer Kari Jobe was playing on my truck stereo (Kari is so very), and that I read that the Suns are going to at least try in an attempt at luring Lebron James to the Phoenix Suns (If we can convince him, I'm gonna run a victory lap in the "Heat").  And there are those B and M's too.  The five I mentioned in my last post.  As I arrived on site, I started to play it the same way I did last time.  Clapper Railing, Least Bitterning, Barn Owling, Great Horned Owling, and Yellow-billed Cuckooing.  I still needed the Clapper Rail for the year, and I was hoping today would bring in that result.

Like last week, success hit me immediately.  The Great Horned Owls were gone from their usual locations where I have observed them, but the Barn Owls were there.  I didn't want to spend too much time with the Owls early on, since they do sit there all day long.  The riparian and marshy areas were calling my name from the start, and I wanted to utilize the earlier hours for Clapper Rail searching.  As I came up upon the Cuckoo riparian area, I heard one of the Yellow-billed Cuckoos immediately.  I bushwhacked into the habitat in hopes of another visual, and a better picture if lucky than last time.  Heck, I just love to see the Yellow-billed Cuckoo.  And I got very lucky, as one of them flew in for a short while.  I had great binocular views and a few good chances for the snapshot.

There are branches in the way, yes, but I don't think you can call it a Cuckoo shot unless there is something in the way.  If one gets a clear shot of this bird, it's just plain luck and it doesn't happen often.  The Yellow-billed Cuckoo sounded off a few more times throughout the time I was standing in it's willow grove.  They sound awesome too!  I'll admit, the first time I heard a Yellow-billed Cuckoo it was loud.  It gave it's "coo-coo-coo-coo" song.  I looked up in the sky and was expecting to see a Golden Eagle, and then the Cuckoo called and I realized what it was.  Golden Eagle, ha!  It took me nearly a year to see a Yellow-billed Cuckoo after I heard one.  Beginning birders out there, if you see a cuckoo visually on your first observation, you are birding down the right path!

Up next.  More Least Bitterning.  

Being North America's shyest and smallest heron, the Least Bittern is a tough bird to see and observe.  B and M is one of the better locations for seeing one in Arizona.  Elsewhere, they remain very difficult.  As I was watching the cuckoo, I caught sight of a male Least Bittern as I spooked him out of the reeds.  My attempt in re-finding him wasn't successful.  I did find a female Least Bittern.  Although she was shy, she was playing hide-and-seek in only a few reed patches.  This gave me a chance to get her picture and observe her well.  At first, she allowed decent but very obstructed views.

She then flew off and across the pond from where I was at.  It wasn't far, but it would be a challenge to visually locate her again, of course.  I found a pullout close to where she flew, and a spot that would be good to watch for Clapper Rails.  While I didn't see a Clapper Rail while standing around, I was surprised to see a Virginia Rail briefly come out of the marsh.  I then looked up and caught the movement of the Least Bittern, luckily!

This time, the Least Bittern was very cooperative, and she stayed put for ten minutes.  She was at a much more comfortable distance from me on this run, and I was able to have great un-obstructed views and a few decent pictures.

The Least Bittern provided an awesome time and memory!

After the Least Bittern, it was all about the Clapper Rail.  I stood in the very marshy area where I had the Bittern for a long time, as well as an overlook that overlooks a marsh area in hopes of a Clapper Rail sighting.  While I waited, this Green Heron flew by.  The Green Heron is a small heron, but wow, compared to the Least Bittern, it really seems like a giant.

A White-winged Dove also flew down for drink.  Just like the White-winged Dove sings a song, it needs to drink to keep it going.  Especially in this hole.

Dragonflies were everywhere too.  They are kinda cool.  The things we do when we wait...

After an hour or so of farting around and looking for the Clapper Rails, I realized that they had outwitted me again.  And it was getting hot outside, and it was getting close to the time when I needed to head back.  The Owls were a stop on the way back.  As I began to bird under the bridge, I encountered this Dimwit.  

I didn't find any Great Horned Owls today, but the Barn Owl pair was present and they were quite viewable.   

Out of the three skulkers at B and M today, the Barn Owl is very easy to view.  They are usually very hard to find unless perching in a barn or under a bridge.  To close out the day, I ran into this young Say's Phoebe, who was noisily following his mom around.  

It had come to that time and I headed home.  The Clapper Rail eluded me again this year, perhaps I can try again.  But as far as the Cuckoo and Bittern went, they were both very worth the trip and were a blast to observe!


  1. So that is the female Least Bittern. I only photographed the male. And I have yet to see a Clapper Rail. Nor have I ever seen an owl under a bridge, ever! Very nice story!

  2. Those are some impressive Yellow-billed Cuckoo shots. I wouldn't call those obstructed at all. Nice work!

    1. Thanks Josh! Sometimes I guess we all get very lucky, the percentage is never high for birds like that!