Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Weekday Snapshots

For those modern anomalies, the non-retired birder,s it may often feel like we're just trying to survive from weekend to weekend, parallel to living paycheck to paycheck. Truly, is there anything more precious than time spent doing what one loves? I doubt it.
But in that mean time (in all senses of the word 'mean'), we do what we can to get by. Here are a couple odds and ends:

If you're feeling bold, brash, and hungry for wild honey...I know a place. 

An observation first, hummingbird feeding from a wild perch. They feed stationary at feeders of course, but I admire the ingenuity here. A very convenient ocotillo.

Most flycatchers are not sexually dimorphic. Most flycatchers are not as cool as Phainopeplas. Most Phainopeplas aren't as confiding as this female. Even she is bashful to the camera.

Burrowing Owls sure are leggy sons of the earth. Apparently they pursue prey on foot, like top-heavy Roadrunners, when not ambushing from the wing. I have never seen this, but would like to.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Caught in the Infinite Space Between

No, there are no ABA 1st Red Warbler photos or sagas here--not yet anyway. Although an amazing find and a beautiful bird no matter what, recent photos and analysis of this bird, showing it likely to be the white-cheeked subspecies and to have overly worn tail feathers are raising increasingly problematic provenance questions. Even more problematically, the bird has not been re-found since Day 1. Perhaps it returned home.

This past weekend, attempting to make good on resolutions not to be a total wash-out birder and blogger, I met up with a friend at Tres Rios, hoping to post some big numbers for the day. But birding for sake of vanity and bravado seldom ends well.
It has been unusually warm in Phoenix the last week or two, hitting the upper 90s, and this combined with the timing to make for a pretty lackluster showing. Most waterfowl had departed, but migrants and breeders were sparsely present. Cliff Swallows were typically industrious, foraging and homemaking before sun up.

Upon closer examination I discovered the supposed Swallows were actually flocks of miniature Bald Eagles. Or maybe not; the Eagle might've come later. I don't know. It was a slow morning.
The resident Burrowing Owls at Tres Rios are always a highlight, though Red-Winged Blackbirds were by far the most numerous and cacophonous bird of the day. There were good numbers of superiors Yellow-headed Blackbirds around as well, but they are much more secretive at this location, and the advanced warmth also meant the riparian channels were already well overgrown and nigh-invisible from cattails. 

It was interesting to bird this site again after probably two years. I think of these familiar haunts as being fixed and reliable--and on a macro scale they are--but a channel like Tres Rios is also a dynamic environment. There had clearly been some large floods and rapid growth since my last visit, and some of the nooks, paths, and trails I used to stake out were almost unrecognizable.
Heraclitus observed change as a constant, quipping, "A Man never steps into the same river twice." One can extend this observation as well to, "A Man never squats and squints at birds in the same spot twice." Black-crowned Night Herons prove ever-adaptable.

eBird flagged a late Sage Thrasher, which I didn't bother to record at the time given the poor photo-op it offered, but perhaps the most interesting find, one even non-birders can appreciate, was a a friendly George Washington.

Feeling unsatisfied with the lack of crushing, I slunk out again Sunday morning to some local spots. The Tres Rios experience was too late for winter birds and too early for spring/summer birds. The DBG, like 10 minutes away from home, is a tidy little migrant rap in its own right, and always offers close views of something. In this case, it was close views of many, many nature photographers, birds, bugs, flowers and otherwise. The place was overrun by Geri Photog, though I managed to sneak up on some water chickens all the same.

At the DBG, Cactus Wren--probably North America's best Wren--is almost a trash bird. I have seen them steal from purses, be baited into eating out of people's hands, etc. It's rather undignified for a State signatory. Great great bird though.

LEGOS and Verdin showed typically well. Of course, LEGOs show well just about anywhere in their range, especially if thistle is involved. Verdin are pretty accepting of people as well, though curiously I have never seen them around feeder stations. Do they not have a diversified diet that includes seeds and such? I always thought of them as opportunistic feeders and have seen them noshing on mesquite blooms and buds, but why never seeds at feeders? Are Verdins actually purist snobs?

The day had its pleasant surprises too, not on a monumental scale so much as the, "Huh, well I guess it was worth it to get out this morning" scale (it always is, by the way). Tres Rios is always a good time, but the disappointment was that we picked up almost no migrants or breeders during the Saturday foray. 
It was thus unexpected that the little self-contained, high-traffic DBG held several FOY migrants.

BTYW actually breed prodigiously in the higher elevations of Maricopa, but Orange County Warbler and Nashville--a photo first for the site, woot woot--consider this fly-over country, or fly-through at least. But migration and mesquite are great equalizers.
We've all been there, a long road trip when, scratchy of eye, tired of limb, and grumbly of stomach. Scruples fall away. Golden Corral, or a little roadside diner with 'eats' and gift shop attached gives welcome relief to the weary. We eat, gratefully. We buy a trinket, perhaps. And we go on our way.

In addition to warblers there were migrant empids being all shady and ambiguous. Given my severely atrophied birding skills, I probably should not even try, but this seems like a Dusky Flycatcher to me--though the bill is on the smaller side the primary projection doesn't seem to measure up to Hammond's standards.

It's a case of the candle that burned twice, maybe ten times as bright, with the one-day wonder Red Warbler in Pima County. In many ways though things are just heating up; the birding will only get better and better the next several weeks, unless you're only into ducks.. Stay hungry.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Who..? Where..? What HAPPENED!?!?

It has been over 14 months since Butler's Birds last posted, which is fairly reflective of a pretty fallow period of birding, excursioning, and adventuring over that time.
This is NOT to say the last year has been uneventful. So much has changed. Species have been split and lumped. Thayer's Gull Gull is no more. Rivoli's Hummingbird is vogue. Bottle rockets and fire crackers are still more heavily regulated than assault rifles (ok that's not a change). Amazon, Tesla, Google, Chase, and Facebook now seem to control most of the world. Norway reminded people that it's very good at Winter sports. Tottenham won at Stamford Bridge.
More locally, Butler's Birds is now a Butler brood. The wife and I hatched a Red-Headed Chubby Thigh, on whom I blame most of my lack of bird-blogging and sleep deprivation as well as my constant delight. He is crawling and pulling up and large and has 3 teeth.


During these months away, I have missed birding very much, even when able to squeeze a little in here and there. Although weekly birding and blogging will be a thing of the past, I am committed and confident in getting more regular again. I will be taking my birding fiber.
Being so long removed has its consequences. I am no longer #1 in Wayne County, NC, nor was I even top 3! It's been over a year since I lifered on anything.
I also got, like, really bad at birding. During a recent visit to North Carolina, I was shocked and appalled and how many calls and songs with which I had to reacquaint. I was confusing NOCA songs with CAWR, and calling Semi-palm Sandpipers Westerns. Why am I confessing this? I don't know, half seeking absolution and half seeking condemnation.

Ideally, I could go through a get-my-shit-together birding montage, coached by a raspy voiced over-the-hill formerly great birder who would put me thorugh a series of rigorous exercises in that would show steady, sweaty improvement, IDing first skulky sparrows and then empids and then nocturnally migrating thrushes by their flight calls.
Then I would win a head-to-head birding competition against an evil Russian birder, who had killed my good but platonic friend Apollo Creed in an earlier birding competition.
But, since I had no montage, grizzled trainer, or Russian nemesis, it was just slow and steady, back to
basics, one foot in front of the other...

Apparently I say "...For Pete's sake" now. How domesticated : /

Swamp Sparrow was a nice county bird, one I have seen only a handful of times generally. While not fully crushed, I spent enough time with this bird to include it in the next installment/update of the Salute to Sparrows, the American Idol of the emberizid world and perhaps the most worthwhile thing I ever did with this bird blog, (any time one can make birding more judgmental or exclusive).

As you may have heard, 5-Mile Radius birding patches and competitions are totally hot right now, may they always remain that way. Although I have not really put it o good use, I have a pretty diversified 5MR in Phoenix currently, now in range of the Salt River, which could net over 90 species on a good day.
However, the 5MR from our home base in North Carolina was...disadvantageous. One definite downside to the rural scene is the distance between amenities. It's more than 5 miles to the nearest grocery store, and 3.5 to the nearest convenience store. Similarly, all the hotspots in the county are 7+ miles away from home base, meaning a 5MR expectation for this area would be...30-40 species on the best of days? It doesn't lend itself to head-to-head challenges, unless we switch it up to golf rules to who can seen the fewest birds in their 5MR while still trying hard.
It makes birds like a Red-shouldered Hawk, found in the same shoe-sucking Swamp sparrowing slough, very valuable indeed.

And yard bird Waxwings are even better, if not really accommodating.

Also of interest in the area (and also out of 5MR range) was an old orchard, complete with decrepit silo containing nesting Swallows and an impressive bone pile.
To add to the atmosphere, it's also just down the road from an old insane asylum...

Carolina Chickadees have a cool sort of echo call or whistle--4 notes total--a sort of 'tee hee tee haw'
Strangely, I hear this often in NC, but have not encountered nay recordings on it on the birding apps. Another confession: try though I did, I couldn't not visually distinguish between CACH and BCCH--not that one has to in NC but...still.

It would be nice to explode onto the bird blogging scene with a fantastic post full of witty observations and face melting photos, but we're just not back there yet. Were we ever??
We'll see what the weekend brings.
Hello again Nerds.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Cardinals and Mudflats, Mudflats and Cardinals

Sometimes that is what life gives you...and you can make lemonade or take pictures--all have their own appeal. This past weekend I was down southeast with some of the family for a half-day hike. We didn't get to pick up some of the iconic and masterclass SE birds, but perhaps some good takes on old classics. Pyrrhuloxia is like Casey Affleck is to Ben Affleck (don't ask me why that's coming to mind; I recently saw Manchester by the Sea), not as immediately recognizable or stunning, but more nuanced and arguably more attractive overall.

In fact, while I'm hesitant to indulge in anthropomorphizing so heavily, Pyrrhuloxia channels the Ziggy Stardust look pretty well, certainly better than I did that one fateful and liberating Halloween...

Of course even NOCA is pretty irresistible when it perches right next to the trail with indefatigable determination. The Cornell site is positively effusive: "The male Northern Cardinal is perhaps responsible for getting more people to open up a field guide than any other bird. They’re a perfect combination of familiarity, conspicuousness, and style: a shade of red you can’t take your eyes off. Even the brown females sport a sharp crest and warm red accents. Cardinals don’t migrate and they don’t molt into a dull plumage, so they’re still breathtaking in winter’s snowy backyards. In summer, their sweet whistles are one of the first sounds of the morning."
(Northern Cardinal is a true American hero).

Say's Phoebes may not be the most impressive color spectrum of Flycatcher--not compared to Vermilion at any rate--but they do have a pretty impressive longitudinal range, stretching all the way up to the northern borders on Canada and Alaska. Considering I take them for granted as a common, conspicuous, and very crushable bird year-round in Phoenix, it's trippy to think of this same species rubbing shoulders with Rustic Bunting 3,000 miles up north.

Despite the preponderance of close-up Cardinals, I recently realized I did not have enough mudflats in my life and set about remedying this. The ponds in Gilbert supplied plenty of Dowitchers, which I like to watch. Avocets without personal boundaries do too...

Ain't no party like a mudflat party.

Mudflat parties, like any big event, tend to get crashed by cads or cops. In this case it was a spiffy male Northern Harrier {cad}. 

Perhaps the oddest weekend sighting was more circumstantial than taxonomical. The shrubby gravel around the ponds is popular foraging for doves, sparrows, and shorebirds. It was surprising to see a Wilson's Snipe hanging out, doing its best not-a-snipe impression.

With nary but some shade for cover and naught for camouflage, this may well be the boldest WISN in Arizona, the tip of the spear in micro-behavioral adaptations. It is probably dead by now.