Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Patch and Local Birding

Other than the wonderful trip I recently took to Apache County's White Mountains, I have basically been keeping my birding patchy.  This has especially taken place at the Glendale Recharge Ponds and several areas southwest of Phoenix.  I learn a lot every day from visiting my Glendale Recharge Pond patch, and I'm blessed that I have it so close to home.  Since my last post regarding Glendale, I got a new bird at the ponds, which was a Burrowing Owl, my 199th bird for the location.  I haven't gotten another patch bird yet, so the list is still at 199.  Hopefully, 200 is right around the corner-what will it be?  But I managed to get a much better picture of my most recent "patcher".

My first Greater White-fronted Goose of the year made an appearance at the Glendale Recharge Ponds today.  This is a goose that I don't see very often at all, so the moment was an enjoyment.  My first ever Greater White-fronted Goose was actually at the Glendale Recharge Ponds and there was a flock of them that if I remember right, numbered over 10 birds.

The Greater White-fronted Goose is named for the white border on it's face and at the base of it's bill. 

And shorebirds.  Shorebirds.  Shorebirds!  You've gotta love shorebirds.  If you don't, well, I sure do.  I think I've gotten into shorebirds this year more than I ever had in the past.  With all of my visits to Glendale and several drives into the southwestern parts of Maricopa County to scan ponds, I learn more things about this wonderful and diverse group of birds than I ever have before.  One of my life birds and Arizona state additions this year came from a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper north of Flagstaff in the spring.  What, the spring?!  Until the discovery, Sharpies were unprecedented in Arizona and are as well in most of North America.  Birds can fly though.  Back onto the subject, birds can fly, and some can also make their own 360 waves.

This behavior is showed off by and is unique to Phalaropes.  The Red-necked Phalarope here as well as other phalarope species spin tirelessly in circles to bring insects to the waters surface.  This incredible method is what it takes for the Phalaropes to survive.  Right now, Red-necked Phalaropes are passing through Arizona in decent numbers, and the Glendale Recharge Ponds are usually a good place to observe them at this time of year.

The Red-necked Phalarope is one of three different Phalaropes.  Identification is straightforward.  Phalaropes have breeding and non-breeding plumages.  These Red-necked Phalaropes are in their non-breeding plumage.  Key features to look for are the black eyeline, white eyebrow and dark cap that gives the head a striped appearance, smaller bill than Wilson's Phalarope (which are often nearby for comparison), and a black back with white stripes on it.  In flight, Red-necked Phalaropes often give a weak call-note that is a medium-high, "kip" that is spaced out in notes.

Something I love about shorebirding is when there are multiple species together in one close view.  It gives great study and photograph opportunities.  There are four species in this frame.  From left to right, we have Long-billed Dowitcher, Stilt Sandpiper (upper left) sharing space with a Wilson's Phalarope, and the world's smallest shorebird on the right, the Least Sandpiper.

While Long-billed Dowitchers and Stilt Sandpipers are commonly seen in places like this, the Wilson's Phalarope isn't seen in spots like this very often.  Here, the Phalarope's life has been made a little easier.

In this next picture, is this just a flock of 4 Long-billed Dowitchers?  Look closely...notice anything different in one of them?

The one odd ball in flock that appears Dowitcher like is a Stilt Sandpiper.  They may appear very similar at first, but they are really two very different birds.  The Stilt Sandpiper is one of the oddest shorebirds out there.  They have combined characteristics of Yellowlegs and Dowitchers, but yet are a Calidris.

And the Stilt Sandpiper is one of my favorite shorebirds because it is very awesome despite it's oddness.

Ready for something really fun?  Lets go southwest of the Glendale Recharge Ponds to a dairy slop pond near Gila Bend.  I walk up to the elevated pond and find high numbers of shorebirds with four different species all together.  Despite the low species diversity, this group contained good numbers of Baird's and Pectoral Sandpipers, and the other two were numerous Least and several Western.  All four of the species can be seen in this photograph.  How many Pectoral and Baird's Sandpipers can you find in this picture?  Hint:  focus on leg color and size of the birds.

I love watching shorebirds fly in big flocks as they execute sharp left and right and u-turns in perfect fashion as a big group.

Most of the sandpipers are of course Least.  But in these two pictures below, the Leasts are photographed with a Baird's Sandpiper in one and with a Pectoral Sandpiper in the other.

A wastewater pond in Gila Bend has oddly held two Canvasback for the summer and now into the early fall.  Will this bird ever leave?  It's probably the only Canvasback in Arizona right now.

I went to Gila Bend in an unsuccessful chase at a rare in Arizona Reddish Egret.  Even though I've seen Reddish Egret in Maricopa twice, I thought it would be cool to see another one.  I worked the Egret into my plans of checking ponds and fields southwest of Glendale and then up to Glendale Recharge Ponds eventually on one of the days.  There was the reminder that any of these fields could be filled with White-faced Ibis!

Last and not even close to least, I ran across this Caspian Tern at the Glendale Recharge Ponds on one of my recent visits.  This tern is large and commanding, and is quite the treat to watch!

The remainder of this month shall bring more birding trips, I hope.  As for now, the patch birding has been routinely enjoyable!


  1. Shorebirding seems to be the final frontier for most birders. They provide continual challenges for even the most experienced. And therefore they continue to hold a special kind of excitement for those who have seen and done it all. In the spectrum of shorebirders, I have moved beyond the Fear and Loathing category but have not made it to Shorebirds Rule! yet. The more I see, though, the more fascinating this worm hole gets.

    1. Thanks for reading Josh!

      Shorebirds are tough indeed, but for me I'd have to say my final frontier are gulls, jaegers, and seabirds (they make me tremble with fear!). I guess I'm spoiled by the Glendale Recharge Ponds and I'm decent at looking at shorebirds because of that location. But I still have many of them to see!