Friday, November 15, 2013

Light Birding and a Feat of Swallowing

This past Saturday a strange thing occurred. I woke up, got dressed, and went outside (in no particular order of course) and it was chilly! Mark the calendar: it was November 16th when autumn finally happened in Phoenix. By now, most of our summer visitors have gone and many of the snow birds have arrived, even if the temperatures are just starting to get their act together. I decided to head up to the Hassayampa Preserve for one last visit (there aren't many reasons to visit this site in the full-on winter months) and see if any late migrants or vagrants, like the Catbird and Black and White Warbler from three weeks before, were still dawdling in the lush riparian channels.

Truth be told, it was pretty slow birding. The overcast skies didn't clear up for the first several hours of daylight, and the bird activity was never anywhere near what is usually is for Hassayampa. Either everybody had already left, or they were sleeping in this Saturday. This Great Blue Heron was running behind too, and hadn't started his breakfast until half past nine.

Some breakfasts are more manageable than others. While trying to position and undulate the willing catfish down its throat, the GBHE often had to stop and dip his head back into the water, the substantial weight of the fish being too much for him to bear for more than a few seconds.

Of course, it's harder to eat or dance or dance-eat when people are watching, and in that restrictive sense I was being somewhat rude intruding on the Heron's morning mastication.

This wasn't his first rodeo. The champ swallowed down and seemed almost surprised with himself for doing so. Just as he managed to close his jaws, he may have realized how his gluttony had totally cost him his mobility, and that if I were a predator, I'd be getting an easy two-for-one meal myself.

In the Phoenix area we do not get an indicative first frost or snowfall to introduce us to the cold season. We get a precipitation of Kinglets. As the delicate, yellow leaves detach from cottonwoods and willows, even from palo verde and other desert scrub, so too drop the Ruby-crowned Kinglets. Of course, they don't simply drop. They flutter and bounce like a rubber ball, and chitter all the while.

In relentless, garrulous hordes they descend upon hapless Phoenix, bringing both a blessed rejuvenation of motion to the emptying canopies but also tiring the poor birder with their constant reappearances in proximity to other birds.

A handful of Brown Creepers and some Spotted Towhees were nice highlights at Hassayampa, but the nicest bird of the day came later in the afternoon. The resident Harris's Hawk population seems to have done very well this year, and I'll go so far as to say that they're also one of the best looking raptors in North America. STATEMENT.

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