Friday, November 7, 2014

On This Date in History on Tommy D's Birding Expeditions: Smoking Weed

I don't smoke weed.  I have never smoked weed.  I know that what you really thought when you saw the title of this post...shame on you.  It does have to do with smoking weed, but not the inhale exhale kinda kind.  Smoking in this post refers to the term similar to that as a hot streak or saying something is smoking hot as in attractive.  Four years ago today, a clump of weeds at the Rousseau Sod Farms in Scottsdale, Arizona, where smoking hot for clumps of good birds.  And some of those birds I had never seen prior to the date.  Follow along for a crazy story in a clump of smoking weed.

On November 6th, 2010, I was at my cousin Cassie's annual post-Halloween costume party.  I went as a Count.  Most of the costumes were hilarious, especially because every relative in my big extended family had their own unique get-up.  My cousin Mariah did say that my costume was the most original, whatever that means.  While I was at the party, I turned Cassie's wi-fi on onto my iPod and a post came in from birder James McKay, saying that he had McCown's and Lapland Longspurs at the Rousseau Sod Farms.  McCown's are uncommon to rare annually in Arizona while Lapland is thought to be rare to very rare.  This was a big deal for me!  Both birds were potential life birds.  I was doing my first Maricopa County Big Year, and this came a week and change after I got my first ever longspur, a Chestnut-collared Longspur at the Sod Farms.  Chestnut-collared was my 285th bird in Maricopa County for the year (which broke the historic Maricopa Big Year record of 284 back in 1974), my 300th overall Maricopa County bird, as well as my 350th bird for the state of Arizona.  It was a milestone for me in three different categories.  And I was now into the early 290's for Maricopa in 2010 and I was wanting to add more birds to my year list in pursuit of reaching 300.  More importantly, these were life birds.  I then tried my best to take my attention off of the birds and have my undivided attention on vampires and trolls and fantasy Disney romantic couples and other scary and silly creatures.  By the end of the night, I took my roll very seriously before I made strategic plans to go searching at the Sod Farms on the following day.

Dracula DeBardeleben

When I woke up on the 7th, I immediately headed out to the Rousseau Sod Farms in pursuit of the two Longspur lifers.  I was pumped, nervous, anxious, and held many other emotions that would go into birding the smoking weed.  At the farms, one would get nice grass, and then all-of-a-sudden just a clump of weeds here and there.  As I got there early, I started to see some longspur like birds and they seemed to land in these weed clumps.  Smoking weed activated!  I also had a short amount of time to work any magic, as I made plans to go to church with my family also.  The search was on.  After James's report, there were of course going to be many other birders at the Sod Farms.  True to my rhetorical assumptions, there were already several cars.  In a case like this, it helps to have multiple birders around.  Before I knew it, I was looking at Longspurs.  The first few were Chestnut-collareds.  No Lapland or McCown's yet.   After driving up-and-down the dirt roads, I finally got on a McCown's Longspur, a lifer at that!  But of course, another birder pulled up and scared them away.  As luck had it, (or it may just have been my unfiltered determination) I found a feeding flock of McCown's Longspurs in great views for my scope a few minutes later in the smoking weed.  I was stoked, even though a non-breeding plumage McCown's Longspur looks like a bleached-out House Sparrow.  But they fed on grass seeds in the weeds and were quite cooperative for me.

McCown's Longspur

The above photo shows a picture I was able to get of the McCown's Longspur later in the day when I figured out their habits better.  But at this time in the early A.M., I was satisfied with scope views.  As I was enjoying my lifer flock of McCown's Longspurs, another bird caught my eye in the scope behind them a short distance.  It was starting to peek it's head out of the weeds.  Once it showed itself, I was beyond shocked, and I nearly pooped my pants.

Is this the awesome rarity I think it is?  That is better than the two Longspur lifers combined?

It was another lifer, and it wasn't the Lapland Longspur.  This bird was better than both of the Longspurs combined.  As I held the exhaling excitement in, I said, "By golly Miss Folly, I've got a Sprague's Pipit".  The Sprague's Pipit is rare but annual in Arizona, and it's numbers are seriously declining.  It's a tough bird to get because of it's retiring and shy behavior.  This bird loves to hang out in tall grass areas, and many birders struggle to find them.  And here I was in shock, my lifer McCown's Longspurs and my lifer Sprague's Pipit, both of which are rare in Central Arizona, were in my same scope view.  As the Sprague's was walking around in the weeds and grass, fellow birder Steve Hosmer pulled up.  I waved for him to quickly come over.  As Steve joined me, he also got a good look at the pipit before a bird frightening factor flew or drove through the farms and scared up the birds.  I kept my eye on the pipit, and he shot straight up into the air and went way higher than the other birds.  WOW!  I managed to get a video grab of the pipit.  More birders pulled up and I explained what I had seen.  They all looked at me like I was smoking weed and Steve said, "No, Tommy wasn't smoking weed" or more likely, "Yeah, Tommy found the pipit and we got photos of it".  The birders were all starting to look for the pipit after I showed off my video grab (see photo above).  Meanwhile, I had to go to church and I was still without the Lapland Longspur.  And after a three hour awesome detour to church and lunch with my family, I came back to the Rousseau Sod Farms.

I met up with my friends Brendon Grice, Lauren Harter, and David Vander Pluym in the early afternoon.  We had no trouble finding the birds.  Lauren then spied the Lapland Longspur, and I got views of my third life bird during the day.  It was enjoyable, and I felt like I was learning about the longspurs very well after never seeing one of them before the beginning of October in 2010.   And then David spied the Sprague's Pipit.  As we expected it to take off, it didn't.  If one was seeing a Sprague's Pipit in a zoo enclosure, this is almost how the bird acted like that day.  It walked around in the grass in front of us at unexpectedly close range.  As the day went on, more birders came and I was glad to point out the super cooperative Sprague's Pipit.  The Sprague's Pipit is one that is a serious birder's dream, but to the non-birder, they see it as a drab and boring little plain bird.  It may be drab and wide-eyed, but it is sure a super cool bird at the same time.  I never do expect to have another encounter like this in my life with a Sprague's Pipit, even though it would be nice!

Sprague's Pipit at Rousseau Sod Farms, November 7th, 2010

Smoking Weed now has a birding meaning, and it isn't anything bad for you!  I ended up with 304 species for my Maricopa County Big Year in 2010, and on this day of November 7th, 2010, it was really the turning point that helped me reach my goal of 300.  What an exciting day it was to be birding and getting lifers.  The Sprague's Pipit is an awesome bird, one that'll always have that special place in both memories and wanting to successfully search for one again.


  1. Ah such awesome birds Mr. Tommy! I hope I can find a smoking weed near my house! Sprague's Pipit is a bird I have been wanting to see for a long time.

    1. Thanks Caleb! There's got to be some around your patch, and Sprague's Pipit is a very fun bird!

  2. Great birds anywhere, Tommy. You are one lucky birder! Probably more skilled than lucky actually.

    1. Thanks Josh! That day I got extremely lucky!