Friday, January 22, 2016

Early Into 2016

I hope you all have read my 2015 recap post that I published almost two weeks ago...

2016 is now underway, and so is it's birding.  I haven't come up with a goal birding wise for 2016 yet, but once I find one, hopefully it will be a winner.  Perhaps I'll find more birds for my Maricopa County list, perhaps I'll find more aspects to bird in Maricopa County, or perhaps this will be a year where I get extremely lucky and find something mega-rare that will cause a statewide ruckus in Arizona.  I do know that I want to cover Maricopa County extensively, because it is the heart and soul of my birding efforts.  I've even entertained the thought of another Maricopa County Big Year several times, but I've already gotten burned out on that idea.  However, I do want to bird the heck out of 2016...

I've seen many good birds so far to start this year off.  One of those birds was a Red-necked Grebe on the Yavapai County side of Lake Pleasant.  Susan Fishburn and I made a trip to the lake, and the Grebe really made the day when it showed up after a long wait.  I even wrote a dorky poem about it, and here's a grebe picture to go along with it.

Lake Pleasant Epic Grebe Sighting

Susan Fishburn and I went birding this morning,
and we said, "Lake Pleasant shouldn't be boring".
We wanted to see the Red-necked Grebe found by Kurt and Cindy,
but at first, the weather seemed to be very windy.
Despite the fact there were winds to fear,
At Castle Creek Boat Launch area, the winds weren't near.
For the Grebes we then decided to scope,
Gosh by now, you all have figured out my poetry skills are dope.
Westerns and Clarks and Pied-billed Grebes filled up our list,
but the Red-necked Grebe was no where to be seen, and I was shaking my fist.
We followed Steve Hosmer's tracks to look for the bird,
but a Common Loon yodeling was all we heard.
I spied a Bald Eagle and Susan spied a Gull,
By now, the Red-necked Grebe's presence we were starting to mull.
An hour-and-a-half went by, 
and Susan and I gave the Grebe one last try.
I climbed back up a hill,
hoping for a last second thrill.
Looking down into Yavapai Lake Pleasant I looked,
Hoping that with a Bald Eagle nearby that the Red-necked Grebe wasn't something that had been cooked.
But when that Red-necked Grebe suddenly said hi,
I thought for a second I was going to die.
In the cove area north of the north parking area is where the grebe was still having fun,
When I yelled out for Susan, she came on the run.
Through our scopes we both enjoyed the Red-necked Grebe,
Thank goodness, we were relieved.  

On January 1st, I went out to the east side of the Valley and started my year off at Coon Bluff Recreation Area along the Lower Salt River Recreation Area.  I joined Jeremy Medina and we were in pursuit of two Rusty Blackbirds who have been frequenting the river.  It didn't take us and a group of birders very long to find the blackbirds.

My first bird of the year was a Great-tailed Grackle at a QuickTrip gas station while I was on my way to and after my first target bird of the year, the Rusty Blackbird.  It's interesting how some scenarios can be illustrated through pictures...

Bald Eagles and Cedar Waxwings also highlighted that first outing of this year.

The next stop was at a park in Scottsdale where a Red-breasted Sapsucker has been seen.  Luckily, I got to see this cool-looking woodpecker after it has become difficult to locate at times.

Here's some bird life from the Tres Rios area...

Before I could even see a Red-naped Sapsucker, my second Sapsucker of this early 2016 was a Williamson's at Kiwanis Park.  It was a stunning male, and one that doesn't make it lowlands very often.  This bird has drawn in the attention of many birders.

Kiwanis Park was full of other birds.  Not as uncommon as Williamson's Sapsucker, but very fun.  It's neat to see two comical birds side-by-side, such as this Lovebird and Coot.

As most know, the Rosy-faced Lovebird is Phoenix's established exotic.  They are everywhere!  It all started when two Lovebirds from two homes escaped from captivity.  The male probably was losing hope of finding a mate in exotic Phoenix, when all of a sudden...

I actually think this particular Rock Pigeon is pretty cool..

After Kiwanis, I went out to the Wild West of Maricopa County, the Arlington Area.  Sandhill Cranes and a Prairie Falcon greeted me.

The Arlington Valley was rather slow, without any of my White-tailed Kites that I was wanting to see.  My direction then went to the Thrasher Spot to look for Thrashers and Sage Sparrows.  A Bendire's Thrasher was present when I got there to be the only Thrasher of my time spent.  However, the Sage Sparrow species turned out to be obliging and I got good looks at both Sagebrush and Bell's Sparrows.  These birds act like a mix of a Roadrunner, Usain Bolt, and Velociraptor.  True huh?

Here are some pictures of both species.  I'll start with Sagebrush.  Notice the light colored malar that is the same shade as the bird's head.   

And here are some of Bell's.  Notice how dark and thick the malar is, with the malar being a "blackish" color that contrasts with it's gray head.

One stop I made after the Thrashers came at a field along McDowell Road in Phoenix.  Geese were abound in the field, and I was quite surprised to see five Cackling Geese in the flock.  Two of the geese were of the Aleutian subspecies, while the other three were of the Richardson's subspecies.  One of the Richardson's even foraged with the two Aleutians.

Then came my first visit of 2016 to my patch, the Glendale Recharge Ponds.  The visit was productive.  How about a Bald Eagle, Herring Gull, two Dunlins, and a male Vermilion Flycatcher!

Next up in the first week of 2016 came a visit to Skunk Creek's riparian habitat.  This location is very close to me, and is in Glendale/Peoria.  A surprise in a Varied Thrush showed up.  And that bird was what I was in pursuit of...

After joining some other birders, we got lucky after some searching to see the Varied Thrush.  This bird of the Pacific Northwest is a favorite of mine, and it was only my third-ever Varied Thrush that I've seen in my life.  It was well worth the trip and it was also well worth the several hours I spent watching it.

I then got lucky and discovered a Purple Finch.  After an influx of Purple Finches have appeared in Arizona this winter, it was fun to find my own.  My first found rarity of 2016, and it was quite surprising.

I also made two trips out to some ponds and lakes in northern Glendale.  One trip I made solo, and the other one I showed the area to Melissa.  Both times resulted in Eurasian Wigeon.  This bird was in a molting plumage when it first showed up, and now it's a striking bird.

The Eurasian Wigeon was almost roadside when Melissa and I drove up to it, and this picture really shows it!

In the Arrowhead Lakes area, there is also a lake that holds an impressive flock of Common Mergansers.  Stove Hosmer recently counted as many as 1700 individuals.  When I came to see this flock and when Melissa came with me to see this flock, it was sure incredible!

Gilbert Water Ranch and Veteran's Oasis Park have had their share of eastern warblers lately!  Gilbert Water Ranch has had an American Redstart and Black-and-white Warbler while Veteran's Oasis Park has had an American Redstart also as well as a very-rare-in-winter Northern Waterthrush.  The Waterthrush avoided my camera.  I joined Sean, Tyler, Steve, and Ryan during these days of birding.

Melissa joined me on one of the days I was in Gilbert for an afternoon/evening expedition around Veterans Oasis Park.  We enjoyed great views of the American Redstart, but it moved too fast for both of our cameras.  We also enjoyed a Greater Scaup that has been at the park for some time, a Greater Roadrunner, a Great Horned Owl, and a Northern Harrier!

During the Northern Waterthrush search at Veterans Oasis, this Swamp Sparrow made a tame appearance..

Notice something in my rear-view mirror?  It's a Long-billed Curlew, and many of them decided to come close to my truck as time went on and they quickly accustomed to it being there...

A flooded agricultural field was being flooded in Buckeye, and the Long-billed Curlews took advantage of it.  So did I, in terms of photographing Curlews that is!  What an incredible bird this is, North America's largest shorebird.

My latest outing came on a trip and thorough exploration of the Thrasher Site, for the second time in this post.  The first visit highlighted Sage Sparrow species, and this one highlighted Thrashers.  Although I did see both Bell's and Sagebrush Sparrows again on this second time around, the Thrashers are what stole the show.  I had Bendire's, Crissal, and Le Conte's up and singing.  The expedition even started before I was even out of my truck and when I was at the Salome Highway and Baseline Road intersection. As I was driving and getting ready for a u-turn to park, I looked and saw a Bendire's Thrasher sitting on a fence right by the road.  There wasn't any traffic coming, so I put my truck in park in the middle of Salome Highway and fired away.  And Bendire's was singing away.

The Crissal Thrasher is one that isn't very friendly to observers most of the time.  It looks mean too.  Most of the time, it slinks away before people can get good looks at it.

But every once-in-awhile, this skulker will sit up and give one excellent views.  I was stunned at the sight of this Crissal, who was singing away.  It sang from several perches, establishing his territory apart from other interested intruders.  

The Crissal Thrasher let me get up to nearly as close as 15 feet away.  He continued to sing and wasn't to concerned about my presence at all.  The broadcast needed to be said, and this guy wasn't planning on moving anytime soon.  This is probably the best experience I've had with this species, who is usually the exact opposite.

And then it all came down to Le Conte's.  The Le Conte's Thrasher is the shyest of the three thrashers I was after, and it is very wary, smart, can hear better than a deer, and is quite the runner.

But it is that time of year for Thrashers, and the Le Conte's Thrashers need to broadcast too.  Their song is a nice melody too like the other Thrashers.  During my walk, I had at least three but probably four Le Conte's Thrashers.

Although the Le Conte's wasn't as brave as the Crissal, some of them let me get reasonably close.

Birding wise, 2016 is off to a great start.  Stay tuned, because there shall be some very exciting stuff coming to this blog very soon!