The Big Year is now over with. It's pretty crazy as I write right now on December 31st. I'm exhausted and I haven't had time to write posts since my last, but there have been some incredible birds around Christmas that were really early Christmas gifts as well as a Christmas gift. Here is the final post from the Maricopa Madness series, and after this, there will be a long recap post.
What has been cool about this year is that my Maricopa County Big Year was secondary behind TOBY. I've been blessed to attempt two Big Years in one year.
On December 14th, the Salt and Verde River CBC took place. Many birders counted birds and surveyed the area. Gordon Karre and I had plans to bird on Mount Ord for the 15th and then take a boat tour that covers a good distance of Saguaro Lake, a lake that has much more to it than what is seen from the typical recreation areas. However, late on the 14th I got an email from Sean Fitzgerald saying a waterthrush was found at Coon Bluff Recreation Area at the Salt River by Brian Curtice. Sean noticed that it was a Louisiana Waterthrush. Louisiana Waterthrush is a mega rarity in Maricopa County despite the fact that it shows up in southeastern Arizona annually. In Maricopa County's known birding history, it has had 3 previous records of LOWA, all from Seven Springs Recreation Area. Gordon and I quickly changed plans from Mount Ord to Coon Bluff and we arrived right at dawn. Ryan O'Donnell beat us to the spot and was already searching for the warbler. The warbler was quiet at first, but once it started to get light out, Ryan and Gordon started calling me in their direction. As I made my way over, the Louisiana Waterthrush could be heard calling, and it eventually popped into view. I was stunned to get this Maricopa County lifer, my Big Year 326 and Maricopa County lifer 383.
The Louisiana Waterthrush is very similar to Northern Waterthrush, but has an unstreaked plain white throat, pinker legs than Northern, buffy areas on flanks, and a long white supercillum that widens up at the end near the bird's nape. This waterthrush put on a show for us a few times. Like Northern Waterthrush, it forages along water edges while constantly pumping its tail up and down. After Ryan, Gordon, and I enjoyed the LOWA for awhile, Sean Fitzgerald enjoyed it with us too. What an incredible bird to see in Maricopa County!
In June this year and over my summer vacation to Minnesota, Josh Wallestad and I enjoyed LOWA on their breeding grounds. I'm grateful to have one now in Maricopa County!
On December 18th, two year birds showed up. One was an Eastern Phoebe at Needle Rock Recreation Area that was discovered by Anne Leight, and the other was an American Bittern found by Justin Jones at Morgan City Wash. On the 19th I went after both, and the only thing I got out of the two were a few calls from the Eastern Phoebe. It was a very windy day and the wind made things challenging and kept birds down. But I was glad to hear the Phoebe, which was my 327th bird of the Big Year. I missed Bittern for the sixth time this year when I couldn't relocate Justin's bird at Morgan City Wash. The Verde River where Needle Rock is did have highlights during that time period of a family of River Otters as well as a Black-and-white Warbler.
On December 21st, Gordon Karre and I set out on a long trip to a remote area named the Vekol Valley. The Vekol Valley lies southeast of Gila Bend and it takes a long time to drive out this way from Phoenix. On top of that, the area has heavy drug running and can be very dangerous. In 1996, David Griffin discovered Rufous-winged Sparrows in this area, as this remote corner of Maricopa County holds appropriate habitat for the species and it is like a small piece of their grassy mesquite habitat in southeastern Arizona. In 2013, John Arnett took me to this area and there were 2 of my Maricopa County first Rufous-winged Sparrows. Because the species is primarily a resident throughout their range, Gordon and I were hoping that we would find some. As we walked through the grassy mesquite habitat, it took us about an hour before we got lucky and found our source. It was my 328th bird for my Maricopa County Big Year, and it was only the second time I have seen this bird in the County. It was Gordon's first for Maricopa. We were thrilled that we eventually counted six Rufous-winged Sparrows and we had no doubt that there were more of them in the Vekol Valley's appropriate habitat.
On December 22nd, Caleb Strand found a Rough-legged Hawk near his home in Buckeye. I sped over to look for it. 5.5 hours later I still had no luck and it was dark outside. 2 White-tailed Kites were a very nice consolation.
On December 23rd, I went to Lake Pleasant after work for about an hour and a half. It was rather dull at the lake with not much of interest. As I was about to leave, I went up to Two Cow Cove Road and looked down in the cove to see a large flock of Common Goldeneye swimming into another cove. I knew something good was with them because they were quickly swimming out of sight. As I quickly got my scope on them, I saw one of them with a black back and a dark "spur" that extends down from the shoulders. The black back had a narrow row of white spots/small stripes that were surrounded by black. As the bird lifted it's head, it had a perfect white crescent in front of it's eye. Right then and there I knew I had a Barrow's Goldeneye! This duck was my 329th bird for Maricopa County Big Year and was my Maricopa Life bird # 384. After I relocated the flock and was getting in position to take pictures, the flock flew off. And sadly, Mr. Barrow's hasn't been relocated since. This duck is very rare in Maricopa County and had three county records prior to mine, as Janet Witzeman told me about their records in Maricopa County.
On Christmas Eve another crazy rarity showed up and it was one that would be a life bird for me, a Black-throated Green Warbler. This warbler showed up at the US 60 Rest Area along the Hassayampa River south of Wickenburg. The Black-throated Green Warbler was very cooperative for birders on the 24th, and I couldn't make it because I was celebrating Christmas with my family that night. I had friends texting telling me to get over to the rare eastern warbler, but I waited till Christmas morning. I arrived at the spot on Christmas Day close to 8 A.M., where I joined forces with Janine McCabe and Steve Ganley. Steve is someone who has a higher Maricopa list than I do. Luckily, the warbler made a quick showing for us for about ten minutes before it would disapear and not be found again. For me it was my 385th bird for Maricopa County, my 330th bird of the year for Maricopa, and for my life list, my 532nd bird. Thanks to Janine and Steve, they detected the bird while I was checking the opposite side of the rest stop at the Hassayampa River.
Black-throated Green Warblers are eastern warblers that favor coniferous forests.
This warbler is similar to our Townsend's Warblers of the west. Black-throated Green as dull olive on it's aricular region on it's otherwise bright yellow face. What really nails this warbler down is the yellow going across it's vent. Some of these pictures I snapped really nail the identification down, and the yellow in the vent is always diagnostic for Black-throated Green Warbler.
The Black-throated Green Warbler was just about as good as any Christmas present I could have asked for!
Owls have made a few good appearances to close the year out, reminding me of TOBY. I found a Long-eared Owl at Morgan City Wash and I also showed my Aunt Tracy, Aunt Gretchen, and Uncle Larry a few Western Screech-Owls at night during an awesome birding day I took them on to the Salt River.
This past week has had hardcore birding involved. I reached a milestone for myself on Christmas Day when I hit 330 birds, a number I never thought I'd reach when I first started birding Maricopa County actively. Since December 25th, I didn't add any year birds and the final total for this year is 330. What an awesome year it has been for me in Maricopa County. My last birding of 2016 came today on a strike out chase for a Rufous-backed Robin at Lower Camp Creek. I got soaked from the rain, but it was worth it!
As this year is over and the Maricopa County Big Year of 2016 is over, the next time I bird it will be in 2017. Stay tuned very soon for a big summary of this Big Year!