I've had fun days here-and-there lately for birding. Most days are spent sitting on my butt at my hospital job. There aren't any good birding spots that I know of in the hospital parking lot. Rock Pigeons and Great-tailed Grackles are present in high numbers. I always think it's great to see a pile of Pigeon feathers in the lot, because I know that my buddy is back. He hangs out on the roof of the hospital, looking for the helpless pigeon.
American Kestrels are around in high numbers everywhere right now. In your reading this, take a look outside and you might see one. For such a common bird, it's one that is always a treat to see, and it is the second falcon to lead this post off. Kestrels perch on funny things sometimes. This one says, "do I look like a freaking Osprey?"
The Baltimore Oriole was far away at first, but Steve and I still had good binocular looks and then great looks through Steve's scope. And then we were able to get closer to the Oriole, with much better views. This bird was stunning, and I was very glad I was able to add it onto my life list!
Winter season hosts raptors and waterfowl in abundant numbers in Arizona. Northern Shovelers and Red-tailed Hawks are two perfect examples.
Immediately after Sweetwater, Steve and I were heading back north up to Pinal County's Santa Cruz Flats in pursuit of the Black-throated Blue Warbler. The Warbler was found on private property within the Flats from a public road, so when Steve and I got there there were other birders birding from the road but looking onto private property. It had been found a week or two earlier, and thanks to Magill Weber and Muriel Neddermeyer, they relocated it and prompted our trip and attempt at this beautiful eastern warbler. A handful of birders were on the scene as expected other than Steve and I: Babs Buck, Barb Medding, Laurens Halsey, Lindsey Story and her father Dick, Brian Walsh, Larry Norris, Doug Jenness, Keith Kamper, and more. The warbler wasn't cooperative during most of the search. Several other birds such as an American Redstart, Acorn Woodpecker, Summer Tanager and "Western" Flycatcher were good side kicks. After two hours of waiting with some of the birders listed above, we were about to move on and search the Flats more and would then come back to try for the warbler again. Luckily, as people were getting in their cars, I took a last-second scan at the house on the property, which had some berry bushes around it. A small bird caught my eye foraging on a branch and then on the house itself! It was the Black-throated Blue Warbler!
No, this isn't a good picture and I wasn't trespassing to get a better one. The binocular views were quite good. Most of the birders had gotten back to their vehicles but quickly came running to the sound of my voice once I spied the warbler. The warbler started to jump around on the house and even the Christmas lights that were hanging down from the roof! Sadly, it flew before I could take a picture of the Christmas light sequence. You'd have to see it to believe it, but I swear it happened. The warbler was singing Jingle Bells too.
Steve and I drove around the Flats looking for other goodies after the warbler excitement. We did come back for the warbler again and weren't able to find it the second time, but Laurens Halsey did, and it was a nice addition to his epic Arizona Big Year he is doing that is now the current Arizona Big Year record. Other birds around the Flats included my first Lark Bunting of the year as well as the neat Prairie Falcon.
And then came along a fun scouting trip along the Verde River on December 13th for the upcoming Salt and Verde River Christmas Bird Count on December 15th. I can't participate in any official count dates this year, but I did help several awesome birders scout the area and get birds for count week. The Verde River is a fun place to bird, but it is on the Fort McDowell Indian Reservation and we aren't allowed to venture into the Reservations during other times of the year.
I don't stop to look at Lesser Goldfinches very often, but a tree full of them is a neat sight!
Before we arrived to the Verde River, we were rather nervous about the weather conditions, as forecasts said there would be heavy rain most likely through mid-morning. Luckily, the rain was gone by the time we got to the Ft. McDowell! During bush-whacking treks along the Verde, we certainly did get our share of high mud levels in places. Most birders (99 percent) would avoid this mud, but the mud also accesses amazing habitat areas where Troy, Justin, and Marceline have found great rarities in in the past. If you don't get your feet wet, you won't discover a lot of what's out there!
As we were in the earlier hour of our expedition in the mud zones, I heard a Red-shouldered Hawk calling from the riparian across the river. After a muddy crossing, we were able to get around on the cottonwood and willow islands much easier. We then found a male Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers with great views, which was cool. It sat low at one point and I was able to have great visuals through my binoculars. We went further into the habitat and had a Dusky Flycatcher, and we then had a great visual of the Red-shouldered Hawk. The hawk was perched in a cottonwood at first after we followed it's loud screams for awhile. It eventually flew up over our area and we had great views. I was able to snap a few pictures.
Also, here's a cool dragonfly that Justin found along the route! Birds aren't always the only things to look at out there, the world of dragonflies is another awesome thing that requires a lot of searching.
We are a little over two weeks away from the end of 2014. What an awesome year it has been for 2014. I have a feeling there may be several more awesome outings remaining on my calendar to close out this year. Regardless of what else I see, this year has been great.