Monday, January 12, 2015

Ending 2014, Beginning 2015

It's January 2015, and things have began for this new year.  For me I've had plenty of busy work days, but I've also had time to get some birding in so far.  There have been some neat highlights.  No life birds or Maricopa County life birds have found my binoculars yet, but there is no say of when that may or may not happen.  It's the time to get out in the field and enjoy a new year of birding.  2014 was a great year for me.  A very great year!  It saw 21 life birds in southern California, 4 more life birds in Arizona, 7 birds to my Arizona state list, and for the most fun of all, 9 birds to my Maricopa County list.  Highlights were numerous and variable.  The reel included everything from looking up to see a Spotted Owl at point blank range to seeing a White-eared Hummingbird in Phoenix, finding Pine Grosbeaks breeding in the White Mountains, going on a rare bird chase after an Asian shorebird on a random afternoon, attempting two big days, spotting an eastern warbler on Christmas lights, and seeing my first ever pelagic bird.  These were just a few of 2014's highlights, and I begin to seriously wonder:  What will 2015 bring to the table?  How can it possibly top an epic 2014?

It's safe to say that I've now gotten my feet wet for 2015.  I've chased a few birds that are rare and will be good for my 2015 list.  The first three goodies to start my list off have been ducks.  Two of them have come from Lake Pleasant, which are three different scoters of two different species.  These two Black Scoters and this White-winged Scoter have spent a lot of time together.  Many lucky birders have successfully chased these two rarities at Lake Pleasant.  However, one of the Black Scoters since this picture was taken has appeared to have left the area or was forced to leave or vanish.....there was a Peregrine Falcon loafing in the area.

Common Goldeneye numbers are increasing on Lake Pleasant, and there have been a few Red-breasted Mergansers around lately too.

The third rare duck to start off the year came from a local park in Glendale called Los Dagos.  For the second straight winter, it has now hosted a striking male Eurasian Wigeon.  I initially thought this bird was going to have my attention for a year tick, but I ended up spending an hour plus with it for obvious reasons.

A fun day came around on a Sunday afternoon when I joined Caleb Strand for an expedition in Buckeye and Arlington.  Our main goal was to find both Lapland and McCown's Longspurs where Caleb had been having them on a regular basis in a plowed field close to his house.  For awhile Caleb thought that there was one Lapland and two McCown's.  By the end of the day, we added another McCown's and another Lapland to increase the count to five birds of two species.  Starting off the day gave us good looks at the McCown's, while the Lapland Longspur was being very difficult to see.

It took Caleb and I another visit to this barren field to catch sight of the Lapland Longspur.  Caleb had been seeing them on at least four prior visits out to this field in late afternoon.  Whatever Caleb had to say, I listened and never questioned and let him take charge.  I left the job up to him to find the Lapland Longspur.  I even handed him my scope and said, "here, find it".  Within minutes Caleb said the Lap was in the scope, and seconds later, I had an awesome view of it, thanks to Caleb.  These birds are very hard to see and they blend right in with the ground.  As Caleb found the bird, I realized there was a second Lapland Longspur feeding with the first one that Caleb caught sight of!  It was hard to see, but I caught the movement and saw that there was something in the shadow "spot'' on the barren ground.  We were able to get fairly close to one of these birds to snap photos.  For me, it was the first time I have ever been able to photograph a Lapland Longspur, and I was very stoked at that.  It is a very good-looking bird, even in it's basic plumage as shown below.  Photographic lifers are always very fun to get to.  Thank you Caleb!  The thought of "What will Caleb discover in 2015?" always crosses my mind too.  He found me 2 of my 9 Maricopers last year.

Without Caleb Strand, "good luck" finding the Lapland Longspur!

During the day, Caleb and I also went to Arlington to look for goodies such as the recent Crested Caracara as well as Sandhill Cranes and more.  Arlington wasn't very active, but we did come across a few Ferruginous Hawks.  This raptor is quite diverse in it's plumage range, and Caleb and I both enjoyed incredible views of both light and dark morph Ferruginous Hawks.  Who could ever pass up watching this gorgeous bird...

Up next was a very fun morning of birding Seven Springs Recreation Area and Rackensack Canyon with Kurt and Cindy Radamaker.  Kurt and Cindy are both great birders and it was a pleasure to bird with them.  As expected, we had many birds and found some goodies of our own.  We went to Seven Springs first, and the area was filled with Cedar Waxwings, American Robins, Cassin's Finches, Western Bluebirds, Sage Thrashers, and even a wintering Painted Redstart!

At Rackensack Canyon, Kurt, Cindy, and I walked down the trail in pursuit of Fox Sparrows.  This is where I had roughly 15 individuals in December of 2013, and we wanted to check up on the numbers.  The Fox Sparrows didn't give us a hard time at all, and we had at least a dozen individuals!  I was very glad to tell Kurt and Cindy about the numbers I had here and them have the numbers be present again.

Kurt Radamaker also has a serious eagle eye.  While watching a Fox Sparrow, Kurt scanned a distant sparrow flock and picked out the rare Golden-crowned Sparrow.  The bird wasn't too far out of my camera's reach and I was able to get a distant but diagnostic photograph.  Kurt and Cindy are bird magnets.  Whenever they are around, good things pop up!  Out of many of the rare things they have found, the Smith's Longspur in 2012 (Arizona's second ever record, Maricopa's first) was something I was glad I was fortunate to be able to see.  

An obliging Green-tailed Towhee also made it's presence known in Fox Sparrow country.

At the end of 2014, Fulvous Whistling-Ducks were found at Tres Rios and at several other spots southwest of Phoenix.  Birder Robert Bowker recently saw another Fulvous Whistling-Duck flock at Tres Rios, and I went there to put in a search.  No luck, but I'm going to keep trying.  These ducks are starting to seriously annoy the living crap out of me.  Despite the no show, it's always fun to bird at Tres Rios, where abundant bird life is always found!  

Hello 2015!!!!!!!!


  1. Wow, amzing photos Mr. Tommy!!! It was awesome birding with you and being able to show you the longspurs. Man, you have so many rarities already. I think 2015 will be an AWESOME year! I have been searching through so many WCSPs for a GCSP but luck has not been on my side.

    1. Thank you Mr. Caleb! It was awesome birding with you too, thanks again for the Lap! I'm hoping for Maricopers more than anything in 2015 :)

      You will find a GCSP, trust me...

  2. This post is dripping with good birds and great photography Your duck photos are sublime! I'm glad you came to your senses and didn't just tick the Eurasian Wigeon and leave. I can't even process the concept of that being a "year bird."

    Well done, Tommy. Your 2015 is off to a rocket start.

    1. Thanks Josh! I'm glad I stuck around and enjoyed the bird too. Eurasian is one stunning Wigeon!

  3. Too many good birds around here. I love winter here. It always flies by full of rarities. Those longspurs are tricky to get photos of! Congrats! I'm still not sure how to tackle those two longspurs with the camera. Either way, they are very cool birds. Hope lots of new and old birds come your way!

    1. Thanks Chris! You pretty much have to keep on finding them after they flush and try to move slowly in to get photographs. They are pretty shy, and hard to approach!