Fan-tailed Warbler

Fan-tailed Warbler

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Lake Havasu - (Arizona's west coast)

Most people with any knowledge of Geography, will say 'How can there be a West Coast in Arizona?'  That would be a very valid question, but to many birders in Arizona, the Lower Colorado River Valley is oftentimes referred to as Arizona's West Coast.  The border with Nevada and California is basically water in the form of the Colorado River and the various lakes and dams that are found here.  This is a place where a huge variety of birds can be found in Arizona, but hardly no where else in the state.  It is a bit of a drive from the urban setting of Phoenix, but well worth the drive to add birds to a personal list.  A scope is a very important necessity if one wants to really benefit from the addition of new species.  I was contacted by a couple of excellent birders that very kindly invited me to join them on a 1 day trip to the Lake Havasu area, Tommy DeBardeleben and Mark Ochs.  It is always a pleasure to join both of these birders as I seem to gain a wealth of knowledge and get some new life birds. 
One of our first stops was the Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge Overlook where I picked up 3 new life birds, Barrow's Goldeneye, Greater Scaup, and White-winged Scoter.  The Scoter was too far out for photos, but thanks to both Tommy and Mark and their scopes, I was able to still get a good look of this bird, which completed my list for all 3 species of Scoters in the United States and also in Arizona.  The Barrow's Goldeneye is a bird I have long had on my want list.  The Common Goldeneye is much more common and can be found in other parts of Arizona in the winter and on Lake Havasu, it was easily the most common of the 2 species.  But with careful observation, a few Barrow's Goldeneyes were in the mix and the drakes of both of these species are stunning.
Barrow's Goldeneye

 Barrow's Goldeneye on top & Common Goldeneye below
The Greater Scaup is a bit more of a challenge.  Lesser Scaup are also very common in much of Arizona in the winter, but the Greater Scaup is not easy to find and to identify as both species are very similar to the untrained eye. 
Greater Scaup-female
Most of the Western Grebes were far out in the lake, but eventually, one of them decided to trust these 3 humans on land and sailed close enough for a better look, maybe to check out our crowns. (That can be seen at the end of this post!)
Western Grebe
While we were checking out all the waterfowl, we were treated to a fly-over of the rare Blue-footed Booby that has been there for some time and also a couple Bald Eagles including this adult. 
 Bald Eagle
The next stop was a place called Mosquito Flats over a rough and rocky road about 2 miles off the highway.  We had one bird in mind when we came visiting this spot.  A couple of years ago a bird that is usually found only in southern Mexico, was found by 2 excellent birders in the Lake Havasu area, Lauren Harter and David Vander Pluym. This bird is the Nutting's Flycatcher and they have been monitoring this bird now for over 2 years and they discovered that a 2nd one had joined the first.  Then just this last spring they discovered that this pair had bred and raised a couple more in this same area.  This is a remarkable find and even more remarkable to find and document the first breeding of this species in Arizona.  This bird belongs to the family of Myiarchus flycatchers and many of these birds are similar in appearance, but their calls set them apart from each other along with some variations in size and other visual differences.  We spent a great deal of time looking and listening for this bird and finally heard it give out 3 very distinct call notes on the north side of the road, so we knew it was there somewhere in the dense vegetation.  We spent time going in and looking and finally came back out on the road and waited and watched some more.  We were spread out a bit and I happened to hear a flutter back behind me on the south side nearer to the high cliff and looked around and there it was.  It did not take long for all 3 of us to get great views of it and we observed it as it moved from one tree to another.  Unfortunate part for me was that I had left my camera in the car, so by the time I got it and back, the photo opportunities were not that great, but I did manage to get at least one fairly decent photo of this 4th new life bird.  It was just exciting watching this bird's behavior.
Nutting's Flycatcher
At another stop along the eastern shoreline of the lake where we made a brief stop, we found a Common Loon fairly close to the dock.  Not a life bird by any means, but always a nice find in Arizona and then to have one fairly close to the shore is a big plus.
 Common Loon
Finally we come to the gulls of Havasu.  Once a person sees the amount of gulls in this area, it does remind a person of being on a coastline somewhere.  Of course the most common gull found here is the Ring-billed Gull.  They are usually seen at various lakes within the state of Arizona, but at this location they probably number in the hundreds or maybe even the thousands. 
Ring-billed Gull
But along with the regular gulls, this location at times gets some rarities and this time we had two 1st year Herring Gulls which is a hard bird to find in Arizona.
Herring Gull, 1st year
On this day we also discovered an unusual 1st year gull, which Tommy decided was probably a Glaucous-winged x Herring Gull hybrid.  After consulting other experts we think the general consensus is this rare hybrid. 
 Glaucous-winged x Herring Gull hybrid
 Glaucous-winged x Herring Gull hybrid
Glaucous-winged x Herring Gull hybrid
What a great day of birding and the 3 Phoenician Kingbirds finally left Lake Havasu with a lot of memories and photos.  (Obviously, we received a lot of strange looks from others while we were wearing our crowns!  Might as well have some fun while we are birding!)
 Mark and Tommy
Tommy and yours truly


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