Thursday, November 10, 2016

Maricopa Madness: A New Record

You know what can really be frustrating when your doing a County Big Year and when your about to break the record?  The answer is silence from the birds you need.  And not just silence from ones you need, they are the ones that others find and you chase them only to miss them.  Once the Winter Wren tied my record on November 2nd at 313 bird species for Maricopa County, I was anxious to get that 314.  In the course of a week, I made 6 attempts in 6 chases at that potential record breaker.  3 times I fell to an American Bittern at Hassayampa River Preserve.  This bird would work it's schedule and would show itself on days that I wouldn't be there, or at times just hours or less before or after I would leave.  One came from a hypothetical White-winged Scoter at Lake Pleasant.  The other came from a Ruddy Ground-Dove in a backyard.  Finally, I missed an Eastern Phoebe in Phoenix, one that has a tendency to be chase able.  These birds excited me and each would have been great for 314, but as things go in a Big Year, it's always unpredictable and you never know what may happen.  But 0 for 6 over a week.  At least the company has been good with the birding buddies that I have.

One huge plus during the week of strikeout after strikeout was getting to photograph my first Maricopa County life bird of this year, a Wild Turkey.  I wasn't able to photograph the Wild Turkeys in the Reavis Ranch area of the Superstition Mountains because of how wary they were.  A second observation of Wild Turkey at Sunflower was great but that Turkey was also too afraid of me for me to be able to snap off a documentation photograph.  But the third Wild Turkey observation came for me this year at Hassayampa.  It was mind blowing to me that after not recording a Turkey in Maricopa County ever prior to 2016, that I have now had 3 sightings in 2016 alone.  This one that I got to document at Hassayampa was very wary too, luckily I spied it at a good distance away.

Caleb Strand spied this Red-shouldered Hawk soaring over the Hassayampa.  One of our neatest hawks.

Gordon Karre and I searched for White-winged Scoters and Surf Scoters at Lake Pleasant.  We didn't get to see any Scoters, but Gordon added several birds to his Maricopa County year list that day.  Two recent additions to my Big Year, the Red-necked Grebe (far left) swam past a flock of Red-breasted Mergansers.

On the Eastern Phoebe chase in Tolleson, Gordon and I searched and searched only to miss the Eastern Phoebe.  But two Merlins were a decent consolation.

November 9th came around, a week after I tied my record and of course, a week full of six strikeouts that would have broken the record.  I had some decisions to make on the 9th, but I decided to go after an easier target and form up a good day plan that would mix together a variety of habitats to give me a shot at discovering several year birds.  That easier target was the Fox Sparrow, and I went to Rackensack Canyon north of Cave Creek to attempt that.  Rackensack Canyon is the best spot to see Fox Sparrows in Arizona, and shortly into my search, I found myself looking at my record breaker, the 314!

More than one Fox Sparrow showed itself at Rackensack, and by the end of the walk I had 5 individuals.  And there are many more to arrive at this spot where they spend the winter.  One time I had a count of 15 birds.

The rest of the 9th was spent searching and then striking out on a Black-legged Kittiwake found at Lake Pleasant by Caleb.  Luckily, Lindsay Story discovered a Golden-crowned Sparrow at Phon D. Sutton Recreation Site along the Lower Salt River.  This GCSP was a probable returning bird that spent last winter at Phon D. Sutton and was in the same area as this one.

I went to the Salt River today on the 10th in pursuit of the Golden-crowned Sparrow.  If I could land it, I would set another new record for myself at 315 Maricopa County year birds.  I got to Phon D. Sutton before the sun was up, and so did Barb Meding.  Barb and I searched the usual spot without any luck.  An hour went by, and the sparrow was a no show at it's usual spot.  I decided to work my way around the surrounding area to listen for call notes from Zonotricia sparrows.  Luckily, I found the Golden-crowned bird and was able to bring Barb into the desert so she could see it too.  After I initially refound it, I had to refind it again.  Luckily, the bird appeared for Barb and me, and it was relatively out in the open.  This was a perfect look, one that we were hoping for!  And my 315th year bird for Maricopa County was the Golden-crowned Sparrow.

At Phon D. Sutton, I also found another Winter Wren.  This one showed itself well, unlike the previous one that was a heard only.  Now if only I could find it's brother the Pacific Wren...

The Salt River was also home to this super tame Greater Roadrunner.  I even got within feet of this bird, and selfies were included!

We have 7 weeks left in 2016.  What else will show up in Maricopa County during the remainder?...

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