Tuesday, September 30, 2014

AZ Big Year - Week Thirty-Eight 9/17-9/23

The tropical weather system that moved through the area did not deliver the hoped for displaced seabirds.  The worst of the weather (mostly flooding rains) went south & east of Tucson/Green Valley; Nogales, Patagonia, & Portal/Cave Creek areas flooded.  On Thursday 18th I found a Forster’s Tern at the Amado Pond that was more likely a migrant slowed down because of the weather rather than a bird displaced from the Gulf of California. 
Juvenile Forster's Tern Amado WTP

On Friday 19th, I took Terry & Virginia up the Catalina Highway birding.  We had scheduled to make this trip earlier in the week however because of the forecasted rains we rescheduled.  The whole day was a calm enjoyable experience with wonderful clouds and few migrants.  One bit of excitement occurred while we were walking down Incinerator Ridge Road and a juvenile Northern Goshawk flew up to the road turning away only a few yards from our position. 
I always get a charge out of seeing something new.  Saturday 20th afternoon after picking up a bag of birdseed at the Amado Feed Store, I noticed a couple of Swainson’s Hawks soaring overhead.  It turned out to be at least 26 Swainson’s Hawks, both light & dark morphs, soaring over the field west of the highway and north of the feed store. I don’t notice kettles of Swainson’s Hawks very often in Santa Cruz River Valley.  As I was photographing a couple of the dark morph birds, I watched them randomly diving as if attacking a fellow raptor but I could not see what they were diving at. Then I noticed several times that they would bow their heads and bring their talons forward towards their bills. I had witnessed this latter behavior before with aerial feeding Zone-tailed Hawks & Swallow-tailed Kites, but at the time didn’t realize that Swainson’s Hawks also aerial feed when their prey is an invertebrate. I get home and look at my photos finding several images showing the transfer from talons to bill of some sort of flying invertebrate (like a grasshopper).  I read the behavior paragraphs in the Swainson’s Hawk section of “Raptors of Western North America” by Brian Wheeler and confirm my observations.  A wonderful personal discovery!
Dark morph Swainson's Hawk near Amado, AZ

For days I had been toying with a trip to Lake Havasu to search for jaegers, terns, & Sabine’s Gulls. I felt as if I was running out of the window of opportunity these birds.  Saturday evening Troy Corman reported that he and two fellow birders found a juvenile Reddish Egret west of Gila Bend.  Well, my plans solidified instantly - leave the house early Sunday afternoon, drive to Gila Bend, see the egret, continue to Havasu, and hopefully bird sunset at BWD, and Monday all day & Tuesday morning birding around Lake Havasu City.  Simple and high risk, the egret should stay around and time of day shouldn’t be important, Sabine’s Gull have been unreported from Havasu this month, and the only jaeger was a Long-tailed more than two weeks prior.  In order to break 400 I will need to take these risks and do the best I can.  After hiking in Madera Canyon with Louse Sunday 21st morning I leave Green Valley at 13:35 in route to an area ten miles west of Gila Bend.  I’ve never been to this particular spot, following Troy’s direction with one south to north substitution I find the canal that the Reddish Egret was seen along yesterday.  There area numerous white egrets and a few Great Blue Herons along the canal.  About a half a mile in from the paved road (Painted Rock Road) I find the Reddish Egret standing on the dirt bank above the canal.  I snap a few “for-the-record” shots and then work my way closer.  This egret and all his white colleagues are very skittish.  I eventually get a fairly close shot followed by a flying away shot.  And later get a shot of it with other egrets at a mud hole.  Great bird for Arizona and particularly for the year.   The sun had long set by the time I reached the south end of Lake Havasu (BWD area).  I check into a hotel in Lake Havasu City and rested for the big day tomorrow. 
I am scoping the lake before 07:00 Monday 22nd from the red & white lighthouse on the north side of Pittsburgh Point.  There were surprisingly very few gulls & terns out on the lake.  I was equally surprised to see several Common & one Pacific Loon.  My big excitement came in the form of a jaeger.  At 07:30 I found a jaeger sitting on the water that I immediately believed was long-tailed.  I was even more convinced when I saw it flying & chasing some terns.  However it has been such a long time since I’ve seen let alone studied jaegers, I thought it best to leave it unidentified until I could compare my notes with some reference material.  [See http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S19912950 for my write up after determining it was a Long-tailed Jaeger!] A little mishap between the tripod & myself caused me to lose track of the bird while it was chasing terns and I was not able to find it again for the next forty minutes from this location or any other spot around the lake for the rest of the day (and the next).  The next spot I check was Site 6.  As I was approaching a place to park I saw a small gull very close to the shore.  A quick check revealed my first Sabine’s Gull.  By the time I got parked and had my camera ready, this bird had moved further off the shoreline and joined four others.  I watched five juvenile Sabine’s Gulls for thirty minutes; mostly on the Arizona side though I am sure all ventured into California waters multiple times.  Where would a jaeger go? Surely it would go to where there is a concentration of gulls.  Where do gulls concentrate on Lake Havasu? Rotary Park of course, so I make my next stop Rotary Park.  There was a small group of 31 gulls but not what I would call a concentration.  My next stop was Lake Havasu State Park at Winsor Beach.  If it weren’t for the Sanderling I probably would have left after 30 minutes.  While trying to get pictures of the Sanderling, I see a very dark bird far out on the water.  I turn the scope in its direction and find another jaeger.  This one is very dark brown and different that the one seen previously.  I send an email to Lauren Harter and she informs me the David Vander Plyum is in the field also looking at a jaeger.  After phone calls & text messages we determine that David & I are looking at the same jaeger feeding on a dead fish and we both conclude that it is a Parasitic Jaeger. After I take the best photographs I can manage from this distance (digitscoping, long lens camera, flying, swimming) I meet David, Michael Lester, & Andrew Eberly at Mesquite Bay south view point hoping for a less distant look.  David finds the bird; it was not less distant and flying directly away to the south.  I end up back at the red & white lighthouse on Pittsburgh Point.  After a few minutes of not seeing any jaegers, I return to my hotel for a short rest.  Then before sunset return to the lighthouse and let it get dark.  What a fabulous day!

I am at it again early Tuesday 23rd.  My plan is to leave Lake Havasu City by noon so that I can get home at a reasonable hour.  Starting again just before 7AM, I search the lake from the red & white lighthouse, Windsor Beach, Mesquite Bay South, Site 4, and Rotary Park.  I returned to the hotel, closed my eyes for about five minutes, checked out, and started the drive home.  I thought about stopping at BWD but that was about it, a thought.
What a week! The year list climbs by five and I am at 390.  Only ten more species to go! Ten more difficult species!

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