Saturday January 17th, I took part in the Greater Phoenix Waterbird Count. This is an annual event that is initiated by Arizona Game & Fish. It focuses on identifying and counting all birds that rely on water in their daily routine. The city is divided up into several mapped out designated areas and teams are assigned to cover those spots. The data collected by this massive count helps AZG&F in keeping a handle on the population trends of all these water related birds and what kind of impact it is having on the city. When a person stops to think that most of these birds would never be seen here as this is Sonoran Desert, it is incredible. But the hundreds of ponds and lakes that have been made by man for golf courses, housing developments and many other uses has made this a premium spot for many of these birds to spend the winter.
This year I had the great fortune of being teamed up with Scott Christopher and we spent over 7 hours checking on every little pool, pond and lake in our designated area. There are some good aspects of doing something like this, and of course there are a few that get a bit tedious, such as counting American Wigeons. In our area, we had just a little over 1500 of these birds and yes, it tends to get a bit old looking at and counting these birds.
Probably the most exciting find for the two of us was a pair of Wood Ducks. They are not considered rare but are uncommon in and around the Phoenix area. Always fun to see these birds as they are just so stunning to see.
Luckily, we had access to Leisure World due to a person by the name of Bill Weaver that drove us around to take in all the ponds within that location. Had we not been able to get access to this wonderful spot, we would not have had any Great Blue Herons or Great Egrets on our list for that day. The Great Blue Herons that have nested there are now feeding some young that will be fledging in the very near future. They almost look out of place at the top of a tall pine tree.
We also had a couple of Black-crowned Night Herons in Leisure World as well that were still perched in the trees waiting for the sun to rise and create some heat for them.
Great Blue Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron
Also in the enclosed area of Leisure World, we were checking out the other birds as well, even while we were counting. Scott found a Harris's Hawk and the Gila Woodpecker made an appearance at the home of our guide, Bill Weaver.
Gila Woodpecker - Female
OK, now back to the waterbirds. We had the fortune to locate a few Canvasback at various places, including males and females. At Longbow Golf Course that held two Canvasback drakes, they had their heads tucked and did not want to show us their full beauty, but they were keenly watching us even as they rested. That red eye is a dead giveaway that they were Canvasback.
Canvasback - Female
Canvasback - Male
At another pond we had a pair of Bufflehead, and also a group of fairly large carp in the water. Cannot recall ever posting a photo of a fish on my blog, so this might be a first. These carp were probably at least 24" in length (and that is not a fish story!).
Bufflehead - Female on left, Male on right
The most photogenic ducks for us were some Redheads at a pond in the northern areas. They were sharing the pond with some Ring-necked Ducks and it was obvious that the locals must have been feeding these birds as they quickly swam towards us and really allowed some great close up shots. Even one of the local American Coots got active as it got out of the water and walked around a large tuft of grass right towards me. I was so intrigued by its lobed feet that I just had to focus on a photo of how unique it is.
American Coot - lobed foot
Many of the pods we visited were located in residential areas and it is always amazing at what some of the locals do to try and keep unwanted birds such as Canada Geese away. Most of the methods involve decoys of one kind or another. This one left us a bit puzzled as to whether or not it was supposed to be an alligator or a crocodile, and if it really succeeded. Most of these birds don't frequent habitats that hold these reptiles, so not sure if they really know what one is.
Who knew??? Alligators or Crocodiles in Arizona????
We had a great day of counting birds with a few surprises along the way even though it got a little old counting some of these ducks. Will be interesting to see what next year holds.