Saturday, September 24, 2016

Eastern Warblers who find Maricopa County

It's that time of year in Arizona birding when things can be really exciting when one thinks about migration.  I'll use this month, September as an example.  It is a good time for Sabine's Gulls and Jaegers to be passing through in migration over lakes and large water bodies, it's a good time to find rare shorebirds on crappy dairy ponds, it's a good time to be finding shorebirds on short grass fields who are rare to our state, and it's a good time to find eastern songbirds that a drawn to migrant traps such as isolated stands of trees or riparian area.  September marks the start of fall migration, and it's also fun in October and November.  While I was birding with Sean Fitzgerald recently at Morgan City Wash, Sean spied a Red-eyed Vireo working the willows and staying high.  I couldn't photograph it, but it was an awesome rarity to see and only the second I have ever seen in Arizona and Maricopa County.  And it came after a successful Gray Catbird chase, in which the Gray Catbird was found by Troy Corman.  So stuff is really moving through right now.  One day can be dead in a riparian woodland, and the other can be full of life without a dull moment.  One exciting day came on September 15th, Caleb Strand's birthday.  I wanted to celebrate Caleb's birthday by birding with the boy himself.  And we went back to Morgan City Wash, hoping to find the Gray Catbird and Red-eyed Vireo again, as well as anything else we could have possibly been lucky with.  We found the Gray Catbird quickly and had a few brief glimpses of it, but we couldn't relocate the Vireo.  The Vireo would be a lifer for Caleb, and I was hoping we could celebrate his 17th with a lifer.  Birds were everywhere in Morgan City that day, but we couldn't find any further rarities despite searching and birding hard.  Word than came into the Listserv from Dale Clark at about 11:10 A.M., that he had found a Blackpoll Warbler in a line of cottonwoods at a pond in Chandler.  Caleb and I decided to take our time heading out of Morgan City Wash, and then we would drive for about an hour and fifteen minutes to reach the location where Dale saw and photographed the Blackpoll Warbler.  Dale mentioned that access would be difficult in ways to see the warbler, as the pond was fenced off and birders would have to stand behind a fence and look about forty feet in front of them for the small bird.  Caleb and I didn't let anything stop us, and once getting back to my truck, we made a beeline for Chandler.  This Blackpoll Warbler was important.  It would be a life bird for Caleb and a Maricopa County lifer for me.  Once Caleb and I arrived on spot, close to 2 P.M., we searched through a few cottonwoods around the pond at Gilbert and Chandler Heights Road in Chandler before checking the cottonwoods where Dale had the bird.  We were surprised because the cottonwoods the warbler was in was full of nesting cormorants.  I didn't think the Warbler would be in there.  After focusing on the cottonwoods, I spied the Blackpoll Warbler quickly.  It was Caleb's lifer and his 341th Maricopa County bird, and it was my 381st Maricopa County bird.

The Blackpoll Warbler was in first-fall plumage, a plumage that can be quite confusing for birders.  With it's appearance, the other warblers involved that look similar to it in this plumage are Pine and Bay-breasted Warblers.  With good looks, the streaked back of the Blackpoll Warbler is a good field mark, as shown in the above photograph.  Actually, I'm too lazy to write up the explanation of field marks right now for this bird.  My buddies at Arizona Field Ornithogists describe it much better:  "The general structure and plumage characteristics eliminate all species but Bay-breasted Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler and Pine Warbler. Pine Warbler can be eliminated by the distinctly streaked back, white tips on the primaries, and relatively short tail. The characteristics of this warbler that support Blackpoll Warbler over Bay-breasted Warbler are: the white undertail coverts that contrast with the greenish-yellow flanks, the streaked sides on the greenish-yellow breast, gray sides of the neck, and the pale coloration of the legs and feet. In addition, there is no chestnut coloration at all on the sides of this bird, which is sometimes present in fall Bay-breasted Warblers".
With that being said, I focused on this bird's yellow feet, which is a classic field mark for Blackpoll Warbler.  Caleb even got this thing in the scope several times.

The funny and awesome thing is, a week before this Blackpoll Warbler appeared, I was watching a Storm-Petrel in Mesa.

While Caleb and I watched this awesome rarity, we had Sean Fitzgerald and Chris McCreedy join us.  We stood on the sidewalk and watched the warbler from the behind the enclosed fence.  McCreedy got some crazy shots of the warbler.  Here's a picture of the famous cottonwood where the Blackpoll Warbler and Neotropic Cormorants join forces and here's a picture of the three epics I watched Warbler with.  Happy Birthday Caleb!  Big thanks to Dale Clark for the amazing find on this bird.

The four of us got lucky to see the Blackpoll Warbler.  Shortly after we left, it was seen one last time by Gordon Karre.  It flew out of the cottonwood and elsewhere, never to be seen again...

Morgan City Wash has become an easier place to access without a ton of bushwhacking like I was used to before.  This has made it possible for me to visit the location on a regular basis.  Right now, I'm obsessed with Morgan City Wash and I can get there in about 40 minutes.  It's one of the closest great hotspots to home.  With the rarities that have been there in the past that Troy Corman has found at will, I've been fortunate to see some over the years.  Because Morgan City Wash is easier to access, I will visit it a lot more often this fall in search of eastern vagrants.  I went there on this recent Thursday, September 22nd.  I got lucky and found this Magnolia Warbler.  Fall migration for me is on!  Time to get serious!  Need I say more...

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