Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Headin' South to Chase Rarities Again
Late last week, I was contacted by the 2 other 'Phoenician Kingbirds' about heading south to the Tucson area on Saturday to chase some rarity warblers. Yes, we kind of come up with a nickname for the 3 of us, Tommy DeBardeleben, Mark Ochs and myself. Tommy and I met Mark at Picacho Peak and we headed straight to Reid Park and our first stop was the pond behind the Hardesty Building where a female Black Scoter has been residing for over 2 weeks. I had seen it once before with another birder friend, Chris Rohrer, but it was not very cooperative with us, staying in the far shadows of the back part of this fenced in pond. This time we had a bit of better luck as it swam out into the central part of the pond and we got some really good looks at this rather odd duck. Scoters are diving sea ducks that have short necks and breed in the far north. There are 3 species of scoters, the Black Scoter, the Surf Scoter and the White-winged Scoter and they are uncommon in Arizona as migrants. Strangely, I have seen all 3 species in this desert landlocked state of Arizona. Who knew?
Next we ventured to another part of Reid Park to try our luck at finding another rarity, the Pine Warbler. All I can say is that I am really lucky to have had some expert birders with me along with another couple that was there also searching for it. We knew it was not going to be in its bright breeding coloration, but this turned out to be one of the dullest and drabbest warblers I have ever seen. It was hanging out with a large flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers, and it was pretty difficult to pick it out amongst the Yellow-rumps. Someone had left remnants of a cake on one of the benches by the playground equipment and all the warblers (and a Gila Woodpecker) were very busy pigging out on the cake. This was probably one of the most disappointing new life birds that I can recall. Now I am going to have to head to the eastern part of the US to see one in breeding plumage.
Gila Woodpecker, pigging out on some cake
Had a couple of Vermilion Flycatcher females entertain us in the park, plus I had to take a side trip to one of the ponds to check out water birds such as a Snowy Egret and an American Wigeon.
From there we headed to the Tanque Verde Wash in Tucson to try and locate another warbler that is rare for Arizona, the Magnolia Warbler. This is a bird that breeds in the far north, especially Canada and into northeastern United States. Well this one turned out to be fairly easy to find as it was still hanging out right where several others birders had seen it and reported it. And for all the drabness that the Pine Warbler provided, this one made up for it quite quickly. A very stunning bird and this one showed off its flashy tail several times for us.
So far we were doing quite well, so on the road to our last target bird, we made a brief stop at Evergreen Cemetery in Tucson to maybe find the Greater Pewee that has been living there for the past few weeks. This is a bird that should be spending its winter much further south down in Mexico. This time we were not so lucky, but we know it was still there as it had been reported earlier in the day by others, but since we were short on time we needed to move on, but before we left we had a nice Merlin pay us a visit right above us along with several Northern Flickers. What was cool to discover was that one of the Northern Flickers was a 'Yellow-shafted' form. The yellow-shafted is the form most generally found in the eastern part of the US while the most common form we get in Arizona is the red-shafted. While it is not considered a separate species, it is always nice to see and document an unusual bird for the state.
'Yellow-shafrf' Northern Flicker
Our last target bird was a Louisiana Waterthrush which has been spending it's time on the Santa Cruz River near the Ina Street bridge. Yes, we found it by is distinct chip note and caught some brief glimpses of if as it flew from one area of dense vegetation to another. Alas, no photo opportunities were going to happen on this day. But that just gives me another new goal, get a photo of one!
After dropping Mark off at his vehicle, Tommy and I head north and made a brief stop at the Veteran's Oasis Park in Chandler to check out the Horned Grebe that was found a couple days earlier. It was not hard to find this handsome small bird on the fishing lake and I was surprised at the distance it would travel under water when it would make a dive. You never knew where it was going to surface. This spotting helped me reach a milestone of viewing all 7 species of United States grebes in Maricopa County in Arizona. This was considered almost impossible until last January when a Least Grebe was found in a small pond in Chandler Heights. That bird was way far north of its range and allowed several birders to hit that milestone back in January. I had seen the Horned Grebe in Lake Havasu before, but this was my first viewing in Maricopa County.
Once again a very successful trip and I have to give thanks to Tommy and Mark for helping me to achieve more birds to my lifetime list.