Sunday, November 30, 2014

Strand Strikes Twice for a Thanksgiving Surprise

For the last month I've been preparing for another trip to bird Apache County's White Mountains.  In fact, I just got back from that trip, and it was awesome!  I'm tired from the trip and can't write the recap up just now, but that will come later this week.  For now, I have an awesome story to tell, and one that came as a complete surprise.  As my work week came to and end, and a four day Thanksgiving vacation was around the bend, I got to see another great bird to start off the vacation, and it was on Thanksgiving morning.

On Wednesday, November 26th, 2014, I got another great phone call from Caleb Strand, and he had some awesome news for me.  In Caleb's patch near his house, he found a Painted Bunting on Tuesday the 25th, and it was continuing on the 26th.  The Painted Bunting was a female bird, and Caleb, who just found me my Maricopa-first-Varied Thrush, was on the verge of giving me another awesome bird.  Caleb has an awesome area surrounding his house near Buckeye, and he rides his bike places and finds an incredible amount of birds every time he birds his patch.  And yet, he found yet another rarity to add to his list.  After reviewing my plans, I called Caleb back and told him I would love to attempt a shot of sighting my first Painted Bunting in Maricopa County.

The male Painted Bunting is one of the most popular and colorful birds in North America.  The female is a lime green in coloration, and is unique and distinctive as is the male with that coloration, but not as colorful as the male.  Painted Bunting is a bird I've seen once in Arizona before.  It is rare but annual in the state of Arizona during migration in early fall, particularly in southeastern Arizona.  For Maricopa County, I have three out of the four Arizona buntings, with Painted being the last gap I needed to fill.  In Maricopa, records have indicated that Painted Bunting is very rare/casual, with several fall records as well as several records of wintering birds, most of which have been females.  The three other buntings: Indigo, Lazuli, and Varied; all have plain and dull female birds.  The Painted Bunting female is quite striking, and looks like a flying lime.

Early on Thanksgiving morning, November 27th, 2014, I drove to Caleb's house and picked up Caleb at 7 A.M.  We then headed to the spot where Caleb had his sighting, which was basically a patch of weeds in midst of an area of agricultural fields and canals.  Caleb noted the Painted Bunting specifically visiting one specific patch of tall weeds that were surrounding by tamarisk and paloverde trees.  Once we got to the spot at roughly 7:10 A.M., we started to look and wait for our hopeful target to come in.  It was seeming to take forever...and we were starting to worry that the Painted Bunting had moved on.

Fortunately, some birds just take a little while to wake up.  Once the sun came up, the finches and sparrows of the area started to become more active.  Right about 8, I was away from the weed patch checking a few other weedy areas when I heard a shout that is starting to become a regular phrase from Caleb: "Tommy!  It just came in!  I've got it".  I could see the weed patch from where I was, and there was that lovely Painted Bunting!

It was really amazing how she was the same color as the weeds!

Despite the fact that we had a slight scare of a missed bird chase, it just added to the fun.  Once the Bunting came in, it was really a taste of sweet victory.  And it really added to the list of the many things I had to be thankful for within this hobby of mine!

This bird could really be overlooked quite easily, don't you think?

With the thirty minutes Caleb and I spent watching the Painted Bunting, we were rewarded with awesome views!

This was my 365th bird for Maricopa County, and a great one to add.  A huge thanks goes out to Caleb Strand, who has been finding rarities left-and-right.  And thankfully, he's my buddy and I get to hear about a lot of his awesome discoveries.  My last two Maricopa County life birds have come in the last week, both of which have been found by Caleb.  Thanksgiving week-Varied Thrush and Painted Bunting.  What will come next?  I have a lot more searching to do in Maricopa County for the remainder of 2014.  This was my seventh addition for my Maricopa County list this year, which is very good for me.  Caleb Strand is an epic birder, and I have a strong feeling I will receive many more calls and emails in the future that are similar to this one about the Painted Bunting!


  1. I don't know what's more incredible: the Painted Bunting or the fact that Caleb is a rarity wizard. Good grief, that kid is on fire. Maybe we should all try birding by bike? Congrats on another county bird!

    1. Thanks Josh! The more incredible is the rarity wizard I think. I was amazed beyond belief when I heard about another discovery and then got to see it with my own eyes. I think we should join the birding and rad bike club!

  2. Great post and photos Mr. Tommy!!! It was yet another awesome morning of birding with you! I am very happy that the bird stayed for you, now I wonder how long it's going to stay around for??? Now talk about an awesome way to start off Thanksgiving.

    1. Thanks Caleb, you are the hero of this story. It was an awesome way to start Thanksgiving, and it was another great morning of birding with you too! Hopefully it'll stick for some time, what a cool bird the Painted Bunting is.