Monday, December 1, 2014

On This Date in History on Tommy D's Birding Expeditions: A Blue Miracle

I woke up on December 1st, 2011 with plans on going to bird at the Hassayampa River Preserve.  I had already broken my Big Year record for Maricopa County, which was 304 the previous year, and I had the entire month of December to add to my new record.  This was the fun and more relaxing part of the big year, although I would still attempt to chase every new possibility.  Although I wanted to go to Hassayampa, there was Sophie, who always got in the way of things.

I woke up that day, and started to hang out with the lovely Sophie.  Sophie was hard to leave, and she was very addicting to hang around.  When it would be time for me to need to start heading out, Sophie would win my heart over every time.  She was funny, she was cool, and she was beautiful.  She was easy to get along with, and times with Sophie made time fly by.  Before I knew it, it was kinda late to go to Hassayampa.  Going to Hassayampa from my house is a long task if you wait to long, not because of distance, but because of traffic.  I let Sophie steal the show, and it was hard not to let her steal the show.  After all, she was an Australian Shepherd, and Sophie was one good dog.  She was good enough to delay my birding day.  I decided to go to Tres Rios Wetlands at the historic Hayfield Site.  Hayfield is now dead, but back in 2011, the location was dynamite.  And thanks to Sophie, I found myself staring into birdless trees at Tres Rios.  The place was seemingly dead, but Sophie was worth it.  As I walked around the rather small location for about 1.5 hours, I was then starting to consider heading back homeward.  In an open area with lots of space, something caught my eye and would eventually make Sophie the real HERO of this story...

The first hour was quiet and boring, but that changed quickly as I got my eyes on a bright male Bluebird perched in an open shrubby area.  It had a bright white belly and I thought it was something else at for a split second, and then when I realized what I was looking at I jumped.  No bluebirds in Maricopa County have ever had that bright white belly, and when I saw that it had an orange throat and orange sides on it’s neck, that contrasted with the white belly, I jumped even more.  It then flew over me and vocalized, and I took pictures of this bluebird, which had a solid blue back.  I knew I was looking at and listening to an EASTERN BLUEBIRD!  It was cooperative and allowed me to get perfect pictures, as it vocalized a lot.  I was shocked at the sight of this bird, as I knew it was a first record for Maricopa County.  After ten minutes of watching the bird, I lost it after spooking it.  Luckily, Jeff Ritz arrived at Tres Rios and relocated the bird in a big cottonwood grove close by about an hour later.  The bluebird was cooperative for both of us while we observed it. I went home and birders discussed this was likely the eastern race of Eastern Bluebird, “Sialis”, where the southwestern and pale subspecies “Azure” hasn’t been known to migrate.  Finding a first Maricopa County record meant the world to me!  I returned the following day to Tres Rios and heard the Eastern Bluebird briefly, but after that, it was never observed again.

After finding Maricopa's first Eastern Bluebird, another Eastern Bluebird was found in the Lower Salt River at Coon Bluff Recreation Area and my friend Jim Kopitzke happened to be in the area and was able to see that bird.  Interestingly, Eastern Bluebird has never been found in California, and my bird is one of the furthest western records I'm pretty sure.  For my home county, this is one of my favorite birds on my Maricopa County list due to the fact that I discovered it and it was a first Maricopa County record.  

I wasn't singing any sort of blue's on December 1st, 2011!  The Eastern Bluebird was bird # 307 for my Maricopa County Big Year, which ended up reaching 313 species for the final tally.  It resulted in being my favorite bird of all of 2011.  And if it weren't for the irresistible Sophia, I never would've had my plans changed and yet alone would've found an Eastern Bluebird thirty minutes from home!

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