This is the final week of 2014 and my Arizona Big Year. The time is waning as well as my energy and motivation for the chase. There are currently several known potential year birds for the taking. Why should I continue? My goal has been met and exceeded. A new record has been set. Isn’t it just a waste of gas, driving several hours just to see a bird?
When I began this challenge I made a commitment to myself to follow through with it. I was not going to let this goal interfere with my guiding (more on that later), the only avenues out were the health & well being of my wife, my Mom, or myself. If Louise or my Mom needed my attention, they would get it. Fortunately all has gone well here. I have cut an excursion or two short because I want to support Louise with a few of her objectives but I have not given up. So what if I you stop now? No one will know, I’ve broken the record. I’ve met my goal. So what? Well I would know that I had “given up” or took the easy path.
On Christmas Day, Thursday 25th, I headed out to the grasslands north and east of Sonoita. I hoped to find my own Lapland Longspur. Several of this species have been reported around the state in the past several weeks and I even chased one in Maricopa County (twice). I found plenty of Chestnut-collared Longspurs and a single McCown’s Longspur, but no Laplands.
On Saturday 27th I decided I would hike up Florida Canyon. Florida Canyon is one of my favorite spot to bird alone and a favored spot for guiding. Today was birding alone. If I saw anything - great, if not - great! It turned out to be rather productive. I photographed a pair of Black-capped Gnatcatchers. I found a Golden-crowned Sparrow, and photographed it. I heard, saw, and photographed one Rufous-capped Warbler. I saw a flock of 27 Band-tailed Pigeons and photographed more than half of them at once. And finally I heard one of the Elegant Trogons previously seen in this wonderful little canyon. When I get home I hear about a possible Pacific Loon in Green Valley, I verify it, photograph it, and report it to the List Server for the TAS Rare Bird Alert. What a day! No new year birds but one of the most fun days I’ve had in a while.
Instead of panicking about the end of the year and what year birds to chase, I head up to Florida Wash (not the canyon). I find the lone male Black-capped Gnatcatcher that been hanging around this area for a while. In fact he was the first bird I saw after getting out of my vehicle, he was flying across an open area and posed for pictures. Later I find the female Evening Grosbeak that was first found on the Christmas Count a week & half ago. She too posed for pictures. As I was leaving, both the gnatcatcher and the grosbeak appeared in the corral. The gnatcatcher played through the bushes while the grosbeak landed on the water tank to drink. What a wonderful way to delay my departure!
By now, Monday 29th, I knew of a few new potential year birds around. A White-eyed Vireo in Portal and a Red-necked Grebe northwest of Phoenix. From a time & distance aspect, neither was very appealing. I guess if I had not yet met my goal, I might have been more motivated. So I went exploring down Proctor Road to where it turns into the Elephant Head bike path. I didn’t see or hear much exciting but thoroughly enjoyed myself. Monday night I learn that the Red-necked Grebe was seen again by a number of folks and there are two species of scots on this lake. If timing can be worked out, I could make another try for the Fulvous Whistling Duck and the Lapland Longspur.
I back out of the garage at exactly 5AM. I arrive at Lake Pleasant at 07:48 and the sun has just popped over the hills to the southeast. I am pretty quick at finding the three scoters from the Two Cow Cove overlook, not looking in the cove but out towards Burro Island. Two Black Scoters and one White-winged Scoter have been present on this lake for several days now. I had previsouly seen both of these species this year (the Black Scoter in Tucson and the White-winged Scoters on this lake in February). I take a few long distance photographs so that I can claim I photographed a Black Scoter this year. After an hour of following yesterdays directions, I decide to follow the directions of the person that originally found the grebe. I stationed myself on the southwest shore of the reservoir near the ten-lane boat ramp. I find the Red-necked Grebe across this cove near Burro Island to the east of the scoters (I can see them too). I called Larry & Brian knowing that they too were looking for this species. I lose the grebe when it dives at the same time a Peregrine Falcon flies by. I have a nice conversation with a Maricopa County Deputy Sheriff. Seconds after the deputy leaves, I find the Red-necked Grebe a few hundred yards off the shore. I try digiscoping with no success, it just too windy to hold both the iPhone and the scope steady. I call Larry & Brian again, there other the other side of the boat ramp and quickly get over to my position. We find the Red-necked Grebe for several minutes before loosing track of it and finding a Horned Grebe. This grebe comes in even closer and I get some decent photos with my long lens camera.
I leave Larry & Brian with the grebe & Lake Pleasant behind. I head south to Tres Rios to look for any whistling-ducks. I then head to Liberty School road to look for longspurs. Farmers are working in the field. I continue on the Old Highway 80 where the first Fulvous Whistling-Dick was reported. I see a Greater Yellowlegs, its just not the same. I start heading home. I make a stop at Coachline Gravel Pit pond and pick up the female Common Goldeneyes but miss the two geese that have been present. I get home at about 6pm, thirteen hours and 460 sixty miles.
Louise and I have appointments in Tucson on the 31st, the only birding I do is to look for some Eastern Bluebirds and a Yellow-shafted Flicker (neither year birds) that Mark & Molly found earlier in the day. So I end my 2014 Big Year birding season by getting blown and rained out of Fort Lowell Park. What a year! 413