Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Nemesis No More!

Finally, after some years of working and waiting and searching and swearing (not too badly), I have seen the Yellow-Headed Blackbird. This bird was a true nemesis for Pops, and its elusiveness grew to bother me more and more as well. Always taunting were the descriptions in the bird books, "locally common." Wherever their locales were, we could not find them. I finally struck gold, so to speak, at the Tres Rios Overflow Wetlands in west Phoenix. The lush and buggy swampland there was too much for even the most aloof Blackbirds to ignore, and I saw several dozen of these beautiful hooded squawkers through a thick chain-link fence. They had finally let their guard down, gotten careless, and given me a sighting. It was fantastic, but not fully satisfying either. Having to view beautiful birds through fences ...it's not really the right birding ethos, even if they were wild.

Fortunately, I hit the real jackpot on the drive home. I had arrived at Tres Rios in the afternoon. While driving back through the odiferous dairy farms, a spectacle of startling proportions prompted me to pull over:


As they are known to do, these Blackbirds were congregating around the dairy farms and adjacent land en masse. I had checked these farms before, but it must've been the wrong time of year. With little regard for the dim lighting, smelly surroundings, or private property of the farms, I exited my vehicle and began romping around after the massive Blackbird flocks as they bounced from field to field.

Trying to keep up with the flying birds, especially with limited sunlight, was a lost cause. There were plenty of the birds hanging around the cattle though, happy to pick through the bovine left-overs and jostle for places along the fence.


Phew! It was great to make up for lost time. I will definitely have to go back and make up for lost light too. I watched them graze with their cud-chewing chums for a little while. Some of the birds would stop their foraging and offer up a little song of thanks for their bountiful slop. At least, I'm assuming that's what they were doing, because I couldn't spot a single female in this macho throng (granted, that's easier said than done).


A yellow hood, black body, and a white shoulder patch makes this one of the easiest identifications. I'm not sure what it was they were eating with the cows. It appears to be brown sugar. It's probably brown sugar.


I felt a little bit like Indigo Montoya from The Princess Bride: "I've been in the revenge business so long...now that it's over, I do not know what to do with the rest of my life." Unlike Montoya, I would not make a good Dread Pirate Roberts. In fact, I get motion sick just from reading in the car. Even though I found this nemesis, I shall continue to be a birder...for now.

25 comments:

  1. Yeah.....brown sugar:) LOL!!! If you ever stop down in Tucson, there is a huge colony of them in a certain area of the Sweetwater Wetlands. But they can be elusive in the reeds. I love your closeups....I have yet to get those extreme closeups. I love when they fly en masse around you. Beautiful birds! The Wetlands are segregated blackbird wise. The Red Wings take up about 75 percent of the area while the Yellow Headed ones 25 percent. The best viewing is before sundown as things become heated up. It's a pretty incredible show.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've heard a lot about the Sweetwater Wetlands, definitely need to check them out. I didn't come close to getting a picture of the marsh birds. I was lucky to have these YHBB nearby and out in the open. As you aid, it was amazing to have a big flock flying all around, the noise and wind of just their beating wings was incredible.

      Delete
  2. Laurence, congrats on getting your nemesis bird! Yellow-headed Blackbirds are so neat.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Mia. They're startlingly brilliant.

      Delete
  3. Congratulations on conquering your nemesis bird! It looks like you've got plenty to spare, if you want to send some over here. Odd that they should all happen to be males - I guess the males migrate back earlier?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gratzi Nicholas. I intend to go back for some better photos, so I'll try to flush them in an easterly direction if possible. Also, I'll try to catch a few and mail them to you.

      That's a great point about the different migratory times for males and females, and one that hadn't occurred to me. Since the females are the less iconic of the species, it's very strange to now picture a huge migratory flock of all female blackbirds. Chauvinistic though it may be to admit, I'd be pretty disappointed to find that flock instead of this one : \

      Delete
  4. Wow!! That is impressive!! Great pics. And well-written, too! Anyone who makes a Princess Bride reference gets bonus points, in my book. I have an Inigo Montoya tee shirt, in fact, that has a pic on the chest that looks like a name tag, and it says, "HELLO. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." Hahaha!

    I was just out in this area -- sort of -- yesterday, as I took my children to the Wildlife World Zoo (at Northern & Sarival). I was thinking, with a laugh, that I just couldn't put any bird I saw there on my life list, even the North American ones, because being caged surely didn't count. The ones flitting wildly around, though, might. :) Birding with five children is an exercise in futility; I have to get out on my own to really devote any attention to it. But, I did keep my eye out, while driving, for anything special. Alas, I didn't see anything remotely like your Yellow-Headed treasure trove!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Stop Saying That!!!" (To continue to the Princess Bride references)

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting Mr. Clever. I've often driven by that WW Zoo and wondered what it's like. I daresay the dairy farms don't have quite the color of a zoo, and probably smell a fair bit worse, but hey we all do what we've got to do to get our birds (I'm glad I wasn't bleeding as much as Indigo when all was said and done).

      Birding with 5 children does sound pretty difficult, but I guess that just means you saw a lot of storks earlier on eh? : )

      Delete
  5. Wow! Amazing...so many! Love the photos.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Ahh...sweet success! Well done Laurence.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Indeed Robert, thank you. It was very nice not only to get the check, but to have the "soul-satisfying view," as well.

      Delete
  7. Wow, you conquered that nemesis bird with a vengeance! Very nice! Also, I loved that you referenced The Princess Bride. "You killed my father. Prepare to die." Congrats on these lovely blackbirds!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry about your father...at least now I can die happy.
      It was nice to make up for my years of blackbird famine, if that's a silver lining.

      Delete
  8. Well done! They certainly are stunning birds!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Tammy. They are stunning birds, and it was a pretty stunning circumstance to see them.

      Delete
  9. Congrats! Great show and beautiful shots!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Hilke, I appreciate you stopping by.

      Delete
  10. Awesome, awesome post! Congrats on finally finding this species! It's as if you had a yellow-headed blackbird party and they were the confetti! Wow! that's a lot of birds!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha! That's exactly it Kathie, great observation. I'll have to go back and crash their party soon.

      Delete
  11. Wow! Great photos, I've never seen a flock that big, what a spectacle indeed! I've always thought that zombies would/should sound like Yellow-headed's. I admit I've taken to calling them 'zombie birds' and have received some strange looks for doing so. Now that I think of it, someone really should make a birder zombie movie...Night of the Living Birder? Birds of the Dead?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a great point Lauren. The birder/zombie angle really hasn't been done yet. Perhaps another Big Year rendition now as Zombie Year. It'll all start with the vultures...
      Zombie Shrikes?? The very idea makes me shudder.

      Delete
    2. Yes! I'll get in touch with Spielberg right away...

      Delete
  12. WOW is right!! I'd love to witness something like that!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was super! I'm ashamed to say that I felt a little bit entitled to see some YHBBs after so many busts, but this sighting blew away all expectations, like finally getting a winning lotto numbers (except they weren't supposed to be rare in the first place).

      Delete