Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Miracle Bird Day!

On December 13th, this past Saturday, I had returned home after a tiring day of scouting for a Christmas Bird Count.  As I started to settle down for the night, an eye-raising post came onto the listserv from birder Duane Morse about a White-eared Hummingbird in his front yard coming to a feeder in the South Mountain area in Phoenix!  I was beyond shocked, and I didn't really know what to think at first.  Duane said the bird was a young male on the post, and I hadn't really studied up on younger White-eared Hummingbirds much.  I was overly tired that night and had family plans the next day in late morning, so I was in the mood that happens rarely-I wanted to just ignore the rarity.  When Sunday came around, I wasn't thinking about the hummingbird much.  It seemed to good to be true!  Duane had reported the bird from his yard, so I was a little hesitant to email him about it because it is his home.  I studied pictures of younger male White-eared Hummingbirds, I had that "duh Tommy, you idiot" moment.  It's just as distinctive as the adult male.  By this time, it was too late to see it by the time Monday and two full days of work came around.  I that the pictures were of a stunning bird, and I was still just as shocked when the email came through, and then Duane showed me pictures.  It just didn't seem like it could possibly be true, but it was!  A new Maricopa County record.  And I was dying to see it and was kicking myself that I didn't email Duane and attempt to see it early on Sunday morning prior to proceeding with family plans.

I emailed Duane on Monday, and I asked him if the bird was still around and if I could look at it on Wednesday if it was still around.  Duane answered me back shortly, and kindly told me I could make a visit.  Things got even better when Duane said that the White-eared Hummingbird was actively guarding the feeder and was chasing off any other hummingbird competitors.  When hummingbirds do this, it's a good sign they will stick around for awhile!  I had two painful twelve hour work shifts to get through, which set the stages for me to attempt my first views of this miraculous Maricopa County rarity once they were over with (and I was tempted to call in on both days).  My plans for the chase was secured when Duane said the bird continued through Tuesday night.  When I woke up this morning, I was off on the road before I knew it.  I left early and arrived somewhat early, and poked around until 7:15 came around.  At 7:19, I got to Duane's yard near South Mountain park, and I heard a call note from a hummingbird that sounded very different than what I usually hear.  It came from a creosote bush that Duane said the bird highly favored throughout the day, and I new it had to be the bird.  A hummer then flew out of the bush and landed on the hummingbird feeder.  It was the White-eared Hummingbird!  As it was starting to get light outside, it was still very dark for my camera.  In the camera's eyes, it was still nighttime.  The hummingbird quickly flew back to the bush after a brief drink at the feeder.  It sat in view, and I was able to get a shot off of my earliest sighting.

The White-eared Hummingbird started chasing away every other hummingbird competitor, and he was fierce.  Birder Sean Fitzgerald arrived shortly after I did, and the two of us enjoyed views of the bird.  While it took a long time for it to get light enough for daytime-looking-pictures, we watched the bird up close and coming to the feeder time and time again.  Wow!  White-eared Hummingbirds breed in fir, pine, and oak forests in their normal range.  Some of that range does include southeastern Arizona, where I have seen three adult males coming to feeders at the base of Miller Canyon on Beatty's Guest Ranch.  But no, we weren't even close to being in this birds normal habitat.  As I looked around, there was desert landscape in every surrounding yard in the neighborhood and South Mountain Park was right behind us.  How bizarre!

As we waited for better light, Sean and I talked birds and watched this epic discovery.  Besides the hummingbird feeder itself, the young White-eared Hummingbird was feeding off of flowers from the creosote bush.  Other hummingbirds rarely had a chance to enjoy anywhere near the creosote, and the feeder was the danger zone.  The White-eared Hummingbird had the others terrified in his chases, and at times, the 1,000,000x speed chases wound up skimming our heads.  If any of these birds made contact with my eye, it would be gone.  Once it got lighter up, we got to have better photo chances at the hummingbird as he came and came and came and never let up in the two plus hours of observation.  There was one time when the hummingbird was somewhat tolerant of another....

But other than that, this bird rolled solo on the sugar!

"This is mine.  Stay away!"

The two plus hours of observing this miracle rarity went by very fast, I never grew tired of this Maricopa County White-eared Hummingbird.  I'm still shocked as I write this that this bird is now a part of the County list.  Here are just a few more views I had of the bird throughout the observation.

The White-eared Hummingbird is my 366th bird for Maricopa County, and certainly one of the best I have ever had in the county.  This is one we may never get again, so my urgency to get this bird was very high.  It is also the eighth addition that I have added to my Maricopa County list this year, and it is certainly one that I never would've expected to show up.  Those ones are the best!  Last year, I also had eight additions to my Maricopa County list.  With two weeks left in the year, I would think that this will be my final addition for Maricopa lifers, but who knows?  The hero of this story is Duane Morse, who I am very grateful to for allowing me to see his discovery and mind-blowing yard bird.  I didn't get to meet Duane while I was watching the bird, but hopefully I can thank him in person someday as well.  What a year it has been so far, and this bird has probably taken over as the top bird for my 2014 rankings.  Cheers to White-ears!

After the hummingbird, I still had some more birding left in me.  Gilbert Water Ranch!  I had only been to Gilbert Water Ranch twice before this time today earlier this year, so it was going to be a treat.  Several rarities have been a Gilbert lately too, including a Brown Thrasher.  The Brown Thrasher is a skulker and one that doesn't prefer to venture out into the open world, and many views have to be in this manner.

I was initially happy with my first views and twig lined picture above, but then the Brown Thrasher became a little more cooperative.  I was just happy I got to see it.  Brown Thrashers are rare but annual in Arizona, and this this was my third, my second for Gilbert Water Ranch.

The Brown Thrasher eventually came hopping over my head by only five feet and then flew over my head to another side of the trail as I stood there still.  Wow!  

A White-throated Sparrow Sean found earlier in the week was present further down the trail, but this Swamp Sparrow was much more cooperative for my camera!

Sean also informed me of a neat Cinnamon Teal X Green-winged Teal hybrid in Pond 4 at the Ranch.  I was able to find that also.  The one target I missed at Water Ranch out of 4 was a Fox Sparrow, which I still don't have for 2014.

Birding at the Water Ranch was a great way to wrap up a memorable day such as this.  Who knows how long the White-eared Hummingbird will continue?  It's interesting to think about right now..


  1. Stunning is the word. That is crazy that Maricopa got a new county record! I love how birds continually surprise us no matter how long we have been at this hobby. Congratulations on yet another Maricoper, Tommy. You seem to be grabbing fistfuls of those lately. Excellent photos in this post, especially of that skulking Swamp Sparrow.

    1. Thanks Josh! It was a great day, this is one of my favorite Maricopers I have ever gotten. I don't care if I see another bird the rest of 2014, I am content with this. You are right about birds surprising us with crazy occurrences This one was a huge surprise, I still can't believe it. I've been very blessed lately, that's for sure! The Swamp Sparrow was a surprise also, they usually aren't so cooperative.

  2. Great photos and post Mr. Tommy!!! Wow what an amazing bird that hummer is, and to have it in Maricopa! Great finds at Gilbert too. I missed the BRTH, WTSP, SWSP, and the teal hybrid but the hummer was well worth the drive. Only 44 away from 400!!!

  3. I mean 34 away from 400, sorry about that.

  4. That Swamp Sparrow is a stunner! Thanks Tommy for the kind words. I had a fun year chasing birds across the country and I achieved my goals but I'm back to the enjoyable stuff like finding rarities around here. That last month was incredible! For you guys up in Maricopa to have a White-eared Hummingbird is not only epic but almost unheard of! Not crazy about the skulkers. Found that Brown Thrasher with Pierre but the bird DID NOT want to pose. But I'll settle for a Swamp Sparrow photo anyday!

  5. PS. Happy New Year! Hope we get to do some birding together down the road. That Greer trip was so much fun.

    1. Thanks Chris! Hopefully so, that Greer trip was a lot of fun!

      You had one heck of an awesome birding year. The White-eared Hummingbird is one of my favorite birds that I have on my Maricopa list now, it was truly a crazy crazy bird!