Thursday, December 11, 2014
Meandering in the Valley of the Sun
Last weekend, I had a 3 day weekend and of course I went out birding all 3 days, but this time it was all local with a variety of sites to visit. I first started off on Friday by meeting good birding friend Tommy DeBardeleben and we headed to Lake Pleasant which is located on the northwest edge of the Valley of the Sun. This is a fairly large lake in Arizona and in fact parts of it lie in two different counties, Yavapai and Maricopa. This spot is a great spot in the winter for some of the more uncommon winter migrants and some have been reported there in the last month. And as with viewing birds on most lakes, most of the viewing is done by spotting scopes with very little chance of good photos. We started out in Yavapai County where I was able to add 5 new species to my Yavapai County bird list. From there we headed to the Maricopa County area where one of my target birds would hopefully be found after it had been report there sometime ago, the White-winged Scoter. This is not a life bird for me as I had very distant views of some at Lake Havasu a couple of years ago and then the views were only through a scope. Being able to see one a bit closer and in Maricopa County would be great. Tommy was quick to find it in his scope about 2 coves away on the lake with a fairly large flock of Common Goldeneye. So we took off on foot to see if we could get any closer, and we did, however as soon as our heads appeared over the ridge, the goldeneyes took flight and so did the scoter. I just raised my camera and fired off about 10 shots of it flying away. Not quite what I wanted, but at least good enough for identification purposes.
I added 2 more birds to my Maricopa County list as well.
Saturday morning, I headed out to the Gilbert Riparian Water Preserve and once again I had a target bird in mind that had been reported there about 2 weeks before, the Brown Thrasher. This is not a new bird for me by any means as I remember seeing many of them when growing up in Nebraska. And I had the fortune to see a couple of them in my visit to High Island, Texas in April of this year. This species is a bird of the eastern United States and just about every year one or 2 of them are reported in Arizona, so it is relatively uncommon in the state.
I headed to the area where this birds had been reported and sure enough it made an appearance. This species is not usually the most gracious in allowing photos as they tender to skulk a bit and can be fairly secretive and wary and such was the case with this one. It did however give me one chance at photos, so I took advantage of it and was surprised that the photos were actually in focus considering all the foliage in front of the bird.
The Brown Thrasher is not only a new Maricopa County bird for me but a new Arizona state bird as well. I also was able to find the Ross's Goose that has also been reported there and the juvenile Harris's Hawk that was being seen and showed very little fear of humans.
Juvenile Harris's Hawk
Juvenile Harris's Hawk
Just before I left this place, I stopped at the north end of Pond 7 for one more scan with my scope and as I was scanning the sandpipers, one of them really stood out from the rest. It was a leusistic Least Sandpiper and needless to say it was quite striking compared to the normal ones. In all my viewing of the thousands of sandpipers, I have never seen a leusistic one. So here are a couple of photos of this bird and also a photo of a normal one for comparison.
Leusistic Least Sandpiper
Leusistic Least Sandpiper
Normal Least Sandpiper
And last but not least, I spent Sunday checking out 3 spots in Chandler; Zanjero Park, Veteran's Oasis Park, and Higley Ponds. Zanjero Park is well know for its Burrowing Owls that reside here. This was a human effort by the Desert Rivers Audubon Society to introduce these owls into some man made burrows and they have definitely made this place their home. I found 4 of them in the early morning light, with a couple of them watching me warily with their big golden eyes.
Probably the oddest bird I saw while I was there was an adult Bald Eagle flying in for a brief moment. Really was not quite the right place for one to be spending a lot of time.
Next stop was Veteran's Oasis Park, which turned out to be a bit unnerving as there were several hunters just over the fence on the east side hunting doves and would shoot at any dove that flew over. Was not enjoying my day with shots being fired so close by. About the only good thing that I discovered was a small covey of Gambel's Quail that were smart enough to stay inside the boundaries of the park and near the parking lot.
Birding around the Phoenix area offers a big choice and a big variety of birds at all times of the year, however winter, fall, and spring make it a much more enjoyable and accessible hobby.