Friday, March 22, 2013

A Bit of Brit

Recently I listed myself as a birding reference though the Birdingpals site for people visiting the Phoenix area. This nifty network allows out-of-state or out-of-country enthusiasts to get in touch with locals and meet up for some birding or at least get some information about their locale. It's an opportunity to share some of the Phoenix area birding delights and meet some interesting folks, folks one might not otherwise meet out and about at the Maricopa County birding sites. I know what you're thinking and yes, it is indeed irresponsible for someone who makes as many clumsy ID mistakes and typos as I do to take people out and about the treacherous Sonoran Desert in pursuit of birds. We all know the risks... 

Last weekend I met up with Peter, a peripatetic peregrinating birder and aviation enthusiast from Lancashire, Britain. While he was in Phoenix for a couple of days we were able to visit several different sites, racking up lots of lifers, getting some great sightings, and also sampling cuisine better than the usual fast food to which one is often restricted when visiting a foreign place and staying in a hotel by the airport. 

After work on Friday I picked up Peter (with my car) and we headed over to the Desert Botanical Gardens. These beautiful gardens showcase a wide range of desert fauna, but post a staggering $18 admission fee if you are not a member. As one would expect, excellent desert habitats host excellent desert birds, and even some birds that aren't exclusively desert, but do just fine there anyway. Embarrassingly enough, this is the first time I had a visual on a Western Screech Owl, a bird I often hear and am taunted by at night. This fellow was in a north-facing cavity on a saguaro about 100 yards south of the wildflower loop trail. 

There are always Curve-billed Thrashers, Doves, and Quail around the DBG, along with Northern Cardinals and Ruby-crowned Kinglets is great numbers during certain times of year.

After doing a loop through the DBG, further picking up Gila Woodpecker, Red-shafted Flicker, Lesser Goldfinch, Black-chinned Hummingbird, and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, we headed to the neighboring Papago Ponds, which are great spots for waterfowl.
Last week was absurdly warm, hitting the lower 90s on several occasions, and it proved too much for many of the ducks. The Pintails and Canvasbacks were all gone; only a few Wigeon and Gadwall remained to keep the Ring-necked Ducks company. There was an interesting domestic duck on the shoreline, which caught my attention because it did not have a Mallard beak (usually there's Mallard-type beaks on all the domestic ducks). The dark brown head and bit of white at the base of the mandible, like the beak, almost indicate that some Scaup is involved, but I will postulate no further.

The next day we headed out west, first stopping at the Thrasher Spot in Buckeye and then moving east to Tres Rios, the Glendale Recharge Ponds, and Encanto Park. It was heavily overcast in the morning, much too dark for photos, but we succeeded in finding all four Thrashers at the spot, with the trickiest and last Thrasher being a very handsome Crissal that Peter picked out of a tree top while we were exploring the north side of the road. The pair of Le Conte's were again reliably seen on the narrow wash just north of its intersection with the old fencepost line.

Tres Rios is one of the birdiest spots in Maricopa, and in just a couple hours there we logged another sixty or so species, only birding the first mile of the site. Of course, the only raptor that was photographable had to blink and ruin the picture.

There were plenty of Yellow-headed Blackbirds, as well as all three Teal species sighted in the first marshy stretch. We also saw at least one Mexican Mallard, told by the darker body and clean, bright yellow beak. This was a first for the site for me, and as far as I am aware is an infrequent occurrence much north of Tucson.

Someone must have told this Snowy Egret a great joke just before we saw him. He was really yucking it up, and was indeed too preoccupied to even bother flying away as we walked along the Tres Rios flow channel. Alas, this was the only snow we had in Phoenix this winter (not the only Snowy).

One of our best stretches of birding was along the south-side riparian corridor, starting adjacent to the big clump of eucalyptus trees. We had Orange-crowned and Wilson's Warblers, along with Ash-throated Flycatchers (one of my favorite birds) and this grumpy-looking, backlit Great Horned Owl.

It was a great weekend for Owls, with the Western Screech the day before and the Burrowing Owls found along the nearby agricultural fields making it a three-owl weekend. 

We picked up Black-necked Stilts, Yellowlegs, Kingfisher, and American Avocets at the Glendale Recharge Ponds, and then found the resident Harris' Hawks at Encanto Park. Peter ended up with some seventy or more lifers for the trip, and with another stop in Pennsylvania he may well end his vacation with over one hundred new birds to add to his life list. Pretty stellar!
We finished off the afternoon with Thai food, chilled pears and India Pale Ales. It was a great weekend of birding and I am looking forward to further experiences with the Birdingpals network.