Friday, December 19, 2014

AZ Big Year - Week Forty-nine 12/3-12/9

Again, this week turned out to be very interesting.  I had helped Rich Hoyer review Pima County eBird records last month while he was on tour in Peru.  He resumed the duties once he returned home and then this week asked if I would be the primary eBird reviewer for Pima County.  I have trouble saying no and now I’m it. 
Lucy's Warbler
I started at Sweetwater Wetlands on Wednesday 3rd hoping to see the Baltimore Oriole again. I missed getting a picture when I saw it a few weeks ago.  I did not see the oriole however others (a group from Green Valley) said they saw.  I did find and photograph a Lucy’s Warbler, which may be the first December Pima County record.  After Sweetwater I did a wee bit of scouting for the upcoming Tucson Valley CBC.  My area includes the Ina Road Bridge over the Santa Cruz River where last year a Louisiana Waterthrush spent the winter.  Well it has returned or at least that’s the current belief. I heard and then saw the Louisiana Waterthrush in the dense vegetation surrounding the effluent outflow that is now the headwaters of the Santa Cruz in this area.  The main channel of the Santa Cruz River was dry due to the closure of the Roger Road WWTP further “upstream” month ago.  That was about it for scouting. I surveyed the river to the north from under the bridge and returned to Green Valley. On Thursday 4th I did some local Green Valley birding, kind of scouting for another CBC, with no exciting finds.   On Friday 5th Louise and I walked the Proctor Road trails.  Even though I saw a pair of Black-capped Gnatcatchers and a pair of Hepatic Tanagers it was not a serious birding expedition.
Black-and-White Warbler
On Saturday 6th I meet Pamela at the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale.  Pamela had only one day to get out in to the field and I agreed to get up to Phoenix (not my normal area for guiding).  From the resort we headed east to some of the recreation sites on the Salt River.   In route, somewhere on East Indian School Road we found a Merlin, always fun to see.  At the marina area at Saguaro Lake we searched the lake and the scrubby hillsides.  Though nothing too exciting for the local, Pamela enjoyed several Arizona specialties including Black-tailed Gnatcatcher; Rock, Canyon, & Cactus Wrens, Gila Woodpecker, and a male Costa’s Hummingbird.  At Butcher Jones Recreation Area, of interest locally were Black-and-White Warbler and two (at least) Greater Scaup. We both enjoyed the close looks at the Eared Grebe that somehow managed to dive in less than six inches of water.  Just before reaching the Granite Reef Rec Area Pamela saw a Greater Roadrunner along the side of the road.  We stopped & looked but were unable to re-locate it until we were about to get back into the truck.  The roadrunner was catching grasshoppers along the side of the road; Pamela was able to get many photographs before it decided to head into the bushes.  Though Granite Reef had nothing particularly unusual this day, it appears that this site has much potential and worth more visits when in the area.  Our final stop was at the Riparian Preserve at Gilbert Water Ranch; again nothing too exciting but nice to see the mixture of water birds and desert birds.
Canyon Wren
After dropping off Pamela, I made a few phone calls to determine if I should proceed to Lake Havasu or head north towards Ashurst Lake for a reported Common Black-headed Gull. The Black-headed Gull turned out to be a Bonapart’s Gull so I headed towards Havasu.
Red-throated Loon
On Sunday 7th at Lake Havasu Lauren Harter, David Vander Pluym, and Paul Lehman picked me up for a pre-meeting excursion to Pittsburg Point overlooking Lake Havasu.  There we met Gary Rosenberg and Chris Benesh.  Almost immediately David finds a Red-throated Loon, the first of the season for Lake Havasu.  Minutes later it flies by and I was able to get some shots of it in flight.  Rather satisfying after a very distant study of two of this species on January 17th earlier this year.  There was an incredible number of Eared Grebes out on the lake; the estimate was thirty-some thousand with at least two-thirds on Arizona waters.  It looked as if parts of the lake were covered with a mat.  Much of the rest of the day all of us were in attendance at the Arizona Bird Committee meeting.  Somewhat ironic was that we voted Red-throated Loon off the review list after jokingly voting to accept our record by viewing the back of my camera.  I tried to summon up a rare gull in the few minutes of daylight left after the meeting.  No luck, but wish I had more time to study the first & second-cycle Herring & California Gulls among a large flock of Ring-billed Gulls at Windsor Point.
I spent the night in Parker and early Monday 8th morning I was at the Parker Oasis.  Laurens & David had found two Gray Catbirds and a Varied Thrush at this site recently and I very much wanted to see a Varied Thrush for the year.  The first rare bird I saw was a Rufous-backed Robin among a small flock of American Robin.  I was fairly dark due to overcast skies so taking pictures did not come immediately to mind.  I watch this small the Rufous-backed Robin & it companions fly westward towards & perhaps into California (honestly not sure if I watched long enough to say I saw them in Cali.).  I eventually saw one of the Gray Catbirds popup in a dead snag briefly.  And shortly afterwards found the Varied Thrush feeding at the fruiting palm until a flock of robins flew in & spooked the thrush.  The Varied Thrush was species 411 for the year in Arizona.  This appears to be a very interesting spot worthy of more visits when I’m in the area.  Other interesting birds included Western Bluebirds and Cedar Waxwings.  I had planned to head south to Cibola NWR after birding in Parker.  But with renewed reports of the Black-throated Blue Warbler on the Santa Cruz Flats, I decided to bird the Parker Valley on the way to the interstate and then try to twitch another year bird for the day.  The Parker Valley is in many ways like the Santa Cruz Flats and I could have spent an entire day wandering the farm road searching for anything.  Some of the more exciting species for me were Ferruginous Hawks, hundreds of American Pipits, large flocks of Great & Cattle Egrets, several flocks of Sandhill Cranes, and a single Mountain Bluebird. 

I reach the intersection of Baumgartner & Wheeler at around 14:30.  Keith & Doug have also just arrived, they station themselves at the driveway where the warbler was last reported.  I begin wandering back and worth along the road checking out every blasted Yellow-rumped Warbler I see.  At least there were a few Orange-crowned Warblers around to make it interesting.  Tommy & Steve arrive several minutes later.  They were returning from seeing the Baltimore Oriole at Sweetwater and had seen Black-throated Blue and an American Redstart earlier in the day at this location.  While trying to get a better view of the warbler and perhaps a photo, I keep hearing a Summer Tanager that sounded to my ears like the eastern form.  I never saw this bird.  After a while I got the Black-throated Blue Warbler in flight flying between trees.   It was kind of shocking how obvious it was in flight.  Later I see it foraging along the side of the house in pomegranate & citrus trees  with the American Redstart.  I think the warbler & the redstart were competing for whom was the most active flitting bird in the grove.  As I am about to leave I see a hawk on a pole that Tommy & Steve are also looking at.  When it flushes I recognize it as the “Harlan’s” Hawk I had seen a few weeks earlier nearby.  As I am driving away, I find that it has landed on another pole to the south and uncharacteristically (for a Harlan’s) allows me to get a few relatively decent photographs.  I get home after dark pretty tired.

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