Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Rump Whiter Than Mine..

Recently on May 18th, 2016, I teamed up with Sean Fitzgerald to bird in the northwest section of Maricopa County, both extreme and basic northwest.  The extreme took us to Aguila, a small agricultural community at the northwestern tip of Maricopa County.  Basic northwest took us to Lake Pleasant and a brief stop at the Rest Area along the Hassayampa River.  Aguila is a neat place that is very underbirded.  It does have a known population of Pyrrhuloxias, and that was Sean and my main target for the morning.  After taking Highway 60 about 30 miles west of Wickenburg, we stopped at the 60's junction with 453rd Avenue, where Pyrrhuloxia's are known to breed and be present.  Before we got to our search, rains the previous night and early in the morning created some cool effects.

As we birded along 453rd Avenue we heard a cardinal song that could have gone either way between NOCA and PYRR.  The two species really have a lot of overlap.  Once we got to the 60 and went east of 453rd, the singing kicked up a notch more.  The question was quickly solved when we spied our target fly up and land on a power line!

Before we knew it, we tallied five individual Pyrrhuloxias and we had killer looks at one of the males.  4 out of the 5 birds we tallied were males, and if each one of them had a mate somewhere, than there could possibly be 8 birds right at this intersection.  A good bird for Maricopa County.  Here are a few pictures to show off this cooperative and awesome Maricopa County Pyrrhuloxia.

Sean and I kept going west to see more of Aguila.  At a farm area, we found a male Indigo Bunting in a weedy area surrounded by mesquite.  What really impressed us were the fields in the area.  Some of them were tall grass farmfields.  In the winter, these fields look to have good potential for Short-eared Owl.  There is no doubt I will be trying for them in this upcoming winter.  From here, we ventured shortly north into Yavapai Counties and landed both Pyrrhuloxia and Bendire's Thrasher, two new Yavapai County birds for me.  On the way back, we checked Lake Pleasant for any odd birds.  Three Forster's Terns sat on buoys, and the best highlight came from Sean's first-for-Maricopa Willet and my first-of-the-year Willet.  The Willet was sitting right below the dam.  Exploring Aguila was a nice accomplishment.

As it was still around noon when Sean had to get to work, I had the entire day left to bird.  I didn't know what to do at first, but I then decided to go south into Pinal County's Santa Cruz Flats area to look for the very-rare-in-Arizona White-rumped Sandpiper.  Sean had found three of these casual visitors to Arizona on a trek through the flats at a small dairy farm at the southeast corner of Harmon and Toltec Roads.  For about five days, I passed up on the chance to go see these birds.  I had Bushnell Tanks to cover on May 14th for the North American Migration Count, and I was wanting to find a rarity of my own in Maricopa County.  But this seemed to be a good day to see these White-rumped Sandpipers, a potential life bird for me if I could have a successful chase of an hour and change plus.  My chances seemed better when Caleb Strand, and Walker and Dalton Noe reported the birds still being present.  I started on my way and got to Toltec and Harmon right before 2 P.M.

Most White-rumped Sandpiper records in Arizona have come from the eastern half of the state, especially in Willcox.  Sean's discovery was a Pinal County first.  Maricopa has never had a White-rumped Sandpiper record.  The pond that the birds were being seen in was pretty ugly, but hey, if ugly has nice birds than ugly is awesome.  I didn't see the birds at first when I scanned the pond..

Turns out the birds just blended in well and on my third scan of the small pond I caught movement of four peeps.  Two of them turned out to be Western Sandpipers and the other two turned out to be White-rumped Sandpipers.  The White-rumped Sandpipers stayed far away, but I snapped some pictures anyways and studied them through my scope.  In these pictures, the birds were moving east (left) and were behind two Black-necked Stilts.

White-rumped Sandpipers are similar to Baird's Sandpipers with the fact that both have long wings that project noticeably beyond the tail.  Both are also bigger than the smaller peeps we see often such as Least and Western Sandpipers.  If the White-rumped Sandpipers are with these birds, they are picked out because of the size factor.  Separating a breeding White-rumped Sandpiper from Baird's Sandpiper is pretty straightforward too.  White-rumped has a white supercillum, streaking on it's sides, rufous scapulars, and a white "rump" that is diagnostic and stands out in flight.  Luckily, one of the White-rumped Sandpipers flew closer to me for much better study.  Can you see the white rump?

The bird was then a little cooperative for me to get some decent photographs.

After foraging on the mud flat for a few minutes, the Sandpiper took flight and I was ready to document it's white rump where it gets it's name from.  And true to the title, it's rump is whiter than mine...

Like most sandpipers, White-rumped Sandpipers breed in the far north on mudflats.  They usually migrate south and north through the eastern and central part of the United States.  Getting to see one in Arizona is a treat, and it was number 497 on my life list.  I am getting close to 500 folks!


  1. Congratulations on a new life bird, Tommy! They get harder to come by close to home.

    It always amuses me how rarity is relative to where one lives. If that photo of the Black-necked Stilts and White-rumped Sandpipers was taken here, people would be going crazy over the Stilts (or mud poodles as you call them) which are casual here. White-rumps are lucky if they even get a mention on listserv shorebird reports.

    The best field mark that Randy taught me in identifying the white-rumps are the "diamonds" on the chest that also run down along the sides. Since then, it jumps out at me when white-rumps are present.

    We are now exactly 100 species apart! How cool would it be if we not only cross the respective thresholds on your trip, but also accomplish it with the same bird!

  2. Congrats on the WRSA and a new life bird. Just need to have one show up at Glendale now!