Wednesday, April 8, 2015
A Golden Nugget in Maricopa County
Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my birding expeditions that I fail to stay home and take care of yard and household chores, so last weekend, my intent was to stay home and get something done instead of birding. Those plans went by the wayside for me on Saturday.
A rare bird for Arizona, let alone Maricopa County, was discovered by Louis Hoeniger in the west valley; an American Golden-Plover. This bird has one of the longest migratory flights of all birds. Its breeding grounds is the Arctic tundra in Canada and Alaska in the summer of the Northern Hemisphere. They spend their winters in Patagonia, a distance of about 25,000 miles. This is incredible when a person considers the fact that they fly this distance twice a year!!! Louis found this bird at a little known pond of water at the end of a dead end street that is not well marked. Not knowing how long this bird might stay was impetus enough to get out there to try and locate it before it decided to move on.
I arrived before the sun came up and before anyone else arrived and I started my search. It was not long before 3 more people showed up looking for it as well. It took us a while to locate it and all of a sudden it appeared right where we were looking for it. But alas, I discovered that I had a 'senior' moment as I got ready to take photos and my camera was indicating there was no memory card in the camera! So I enjoyed watching the this marvelous bird while other were getting killer shots. I finally left and drove to the nearest Sam's Club and purchased a memory card and headed back. Of course when I arrived for the second time, it was a new cast of birders, including birding pal, Laurence Butler and he was on his way out, but gave me the scoop on where he last saw it. So I headed to the extreme eastern edge of the pond but was not having much luck in relocating it, and it was not long before I was joined by Caleb Strand and his mother Debbie. We then joined forces looking for this bird. We did discover another smaller pond of water at the far east end inside a cattle corral and it did contain a lot of shore birds including a cousin of the American Golden-Plover, the gregarious Killdeer that is very common. But what was cool about that, was 4 baby Killdeer in the mud flats foraging with the adults. While this is not the best photo due to distance, it is still kind of cool to see how even the chicks blend in.
Killdeer and 4 chicks
After searching for quite some time, I decided that my own stupidity was going to leave me photo-less on this cool bird and I started heading back to the parking area. Leaving Caleb and Debbie on the far eastern edge, I noticed another couple had arrived and they were on the far western edge of the pond. All the while I was scanning the pond to no avail, until I was about halfway, and I glanced across the pond and there it was!!!! Eureka, I had re-found it and I started waving my arms and both parties, trying to get their attention that it was here after all. While waiting for them to show up, I was trying to keep an eye on the bird and also get photos at the same time. Both parties managed to get close enough to see it briefly and then it took flight and flew to the northeast in a direct straight away pattern that made all of us wonder if it had decided to start heading further north on its way to the tundra regions. I finally did manage to get a couple of photos of this 'Golden Nugget' after all. But a lesson was well learned from this because the views I had earlier were much closer and better than the second viewing.
American Golden-Plover on right, Black-necked Stilt on left for comparison
Very thankful for Louis Hoeniger for finding this marvel and reporting it.