Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Birding: The True Royal Ternout

Hey everyone.  I've been very behind in this birding blog of mine lately.  It's been getting harder and harder for me to keep up on it.  Call it laziness, maybe even say it's because I'm really busy.  Maybe it's a little bit of both.  Maybe it's because I've decided to lean towards observing other wildlife rather than just birds all the time. I have really come to love odes over the last two months.  And maybe it's because I have limitations on going far away places right now.  And maybe it's because the Phoenix area typically has three good birds at this time of year which are Least Bittern, Ridgway's Rail, and Yellow-billed Cuckoo.  And maybe that occasional vagrant.  As I've been intrigued by all wildlife lately, all it took was a text message to remind me that birds are still by far in first place.  A rare bird in Maricopa County at that..one that I thought was only remotely possible someday.

Wow, Dale, wow.  Dale Clark is a friend of mine, good birder too.  I was at work when I received his text message, and I was stuck there for the rest of the day (which would include well after dark).  There was no doubt it was a Royal Tern.  Do you all know how rare that is?  Well, in Arizona's previous birding history, one known Royal Tern in 2006 circled Willcox Lake and I don't think it ever landed.  One lucky observer was there, and the rest wish they would have been there.  On July 23rd, Dale found this bird near his home in Chandler, Arizona, and I thought it would be another repeat of the 2006 scenario.  After all, Dale found the bird in the morning, it quickly flew away, and then, it didn't come back the rest of the day.  Dale, who loves others to be able to see such rarities, kept on checking throughout the day without any additional luck.  After a storm blew through the entire Phoenix area, I thought, "Yeah, that tern is for sure gone".  I played my XBox after a long day of work and decided to forget about it.  On a better side note at the time, the Phoenix Suns are the best team in the NBA on X Box and Kawai Leonard is the star of the Suns.  

On July 24th, I heard my text message alert go off at 6:38 A.M.  I knew it was most likely something that was birding related.  I rushed to my phone after getting out of bed.  Sure enough when I looked at my phone, it was Dale.  Dale said, "The Royal Tern is back at same spot!".  Within 10 minutes, I was out the door and had a 45 minute drive ahead of me to Chandler.  The location the bird was at were at a series of ponds right outside of the Sun Lakes Community, near the intersection of Riggs and Old Price Roads.  Rain clouds filled the sky, and at times, it was raining well.  Traffic had good mercy on me, and I was able to get to the spot quicker than I thought I would get to it.  This area of Riggs and Old Price Roads can be very good for birding.  It is Dale's patch, and he visits the ponds on a regular basis.  The area has hosted 170 different bird species, and Dale has an incredible number of 165.  There are a few ponds, fields, and some trees bordering the ponds.  But this time, Dale had a mega Arizona rarity on his hands and one that every birder in Arizona wants to see.  For me and the Maricopa County birder that I am, I was thinking more of how awesome it was that it was a Maricopa County record.  

I arrived at the spot at 7:40 A.M. and found Dale.  On the west side of Old Price Road about 1/3rd of a mile north of Riggs Road, was the pond where Dale was seeing the Tern.  The bird flew off once while I was speeding up to the location, but then returned after a few minutes.  As I drove up Old Price I saw Dale, away from the pond.  He told me the bird was there at the pond, but he kept away for awhile to kindly assist others, such as me so I would be able to see it.  I looked to where Dale pointed and there was the Royal Tern, just sitting out in the open.   I drove up adjacent to the bird, who was about 100 feet away from the road.  Before returning back to where Dale was, I took some shots of Maricopa County's latest addition.

I went back and visited with Dale after getting my first good look and we eventually went back up adjacent to the Tern.  Good grief!  The rains picked up, and we started to get poured on.  I rarely say this, but I loved the rain in this time span because it was keeping the bird down.  Birds don't like to fly when the rain is pouring.  It wasn't long before birders started to pile up and chase this remarkable discovery by Dale Clark.

Prior to this outing, I have only seen Royal Tern in San Diego, California and a little north of San Diego, too.  It's a large tern that is slightly smaller than a Caspian Tern but larger than Elegant Tern.  The size of Royal Tern approaches Caspian Tern, but it is noticeably slimmer with much more slender wings and more of a slender bill.  The age of this Royal Tern is a 1st year bird.

A huge thanks goes out to Dale Clark for finding this bird, and not only for finding it, but for assisting me and many others in hopes that they would get it too.  The Royal Tern remained at the pond for most of the day on July 24th, allowing dozens of thankful birders to see it and appreciate it's vagrancy away from the coasts.  I spent an hour and 45 minutes watching this awesome discovery, and a neat bird I don't see often.  Most of the time, it sat at the farm pond west of Old Price, but a few times it flew a short distance into the Sun Lakes Community on private property.  Thankfully, it spent most of it's time at the pond where it could be viewed publicly!  I'll close this post with a series of more pictures that I took of the Royal Tern...

Royal Tern with Green Heron

Royal Tern with Great Blue Heron

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