On February 7th, I had the good fortune to spend a day birding with Caleb Strand. This young man is an extraordinary birder for his age and birding with him is really something special. He has keen ears and eyes and has many chip notes memorized. Only makes me regret that I did not pursue this hobby much younger in life when I had the chance. We met in central Phoenix and we had left the day open without a concrete destination in mind. Two days before, he went birding with good friend and excellent birder, Tommy DeBardeleben, and picked up two new life birds. So the pressure was on to see if I could help him add another bird or two for the week. I knew that I could find at least one new bird, that was pretty easy, but we headed east instead to the Salt River area, and specifically Coon Bluff. Tommy and Caleb had dipped on this bird, (although, not for the lack of trying), on Thursday. Might have been the time of the day though, as they searched in mid afternoon when the birds are less active. I had found this bird myself a week before, but in the morning hours.
We arrived around sunrise and decided to check out the river area first to allow the sparrows in the mesquite Bosque to warm up and wake up. In the process we got to see a lot of cool but common birds such as the Vermilion Flycatcher, Gila Woodpecker, and Phainopepla. Coon Bluff is the Phainopepla capital of Maricopa County. This is probably the best spot in Maricopa County to find this bird. Sometimes they even photobomb other photos such as one of the Gila Woodpecker shots.
Gila Woopecker - Photobombed by a Phainopepla
Phainopepla - Male
Finally after the sun had risen and the temps started warming up, we headed to the land of the mesquites to look for the target bird, the Harris's Sparrow. We knew it was hanging out with a small flock of White-crowned Sparrows, so we concentrated on finding them first. While doing so, a few flocks of Cedar Waxwings flew in and this is just one cool and sleek looking bird and they just beg for a camera to be pointed at them.
We spent a lot of time looking for the sparrow and sifted through about 3 small flocks of them, even checked the other side of the road to see if it moved over there, but alas, we were not having much luck. Finally went back to the original area and we split up to cover more ground and I heard Caleb shout that he had it. I hastily joined him and we followed it as it kept moving further away from us and did not want to pose for photos. Both of us finally got photos, and Caleb was just fascinated to watch this handsome looking sparrow. SUCCESS! Caleb had found his first new life bird of the day.
We then headed back west and our next stop was at the Arizona State University campus in Tempe to try and locate a Chestnut-sided Warbler that someone had a discovered in a lone cottonwood tree a few days prior. It is not a new bird for either of us, but one that is not that common in Arizona, so they are always a pleasure to see. Within 2 minutes, Caleb had already found it in the cottonwood. Typical of most warblers, they do not sit still and pose for photos, so any photo is better than none and I never expect too much. However, I think I lucked out on one of my shots on this day and caught this cutie with part of its chestnut colored side showing.
Our next target was the Eurasian Wigeon located at Dos Lagos Park in Glendale. This is the bird that I figured should be pretty easy to find for Caleb and it was. This bird has been reported here for the last couple of years and can be found in the flock of American Wigeons that spend their winters in Arizona. Did not take long to find the wigeons and all the other waterbirds in the pond because on the opposite side, some of the local people were feeding the ducks. I quickly found the Eurasian in the water and pointed it out to Caleb. so we headed around to the opposite side of the pond and we both got photos. Caleb just informed me today that this was his 300th bird species that he has photographed.
Decided to take a photo of the feet of an American Coot while they were there since they were fairly tame and used to humans. These feet are just fascinating to look at.
Our last stop was the Rio Salado, just south of downtown Phoenix right off Central Avenue. No, we did not discover anything rare at this location, but I did manage a photo of an Orange-crowned Warbler.
As we headed back to the car, Caleb followed the river bed area while I went up on the path on the bank above the river. It was there that I met up with a pair of Greater Roadrunners that were in courtship display. Most people are surprised to find out that these birds are members of the cuckoo family. They can be quite entertaining to watch and these 2 did not disappoint.
Pair of Greater Roadrunners - Running, imagine that!
Caleb - Photobombed by Roadrunner (the blur in the front)
Greater Roadrunner - Caleb, blurred in the background
We covered a lot of miles that day, but in the end it was all worth it as we had a great time and found and observed some incredible birds. Caleb is a phenomenal birder and is a joy to have around on birding field trips. Thank you Caleb for a great day!