Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Returning to the "Field"

2013 snuck away quietly into that goodnight, and for the first week of 2014 I was similarly unable to do much birding. Now, two weeks into the new year, I am still not satisfied with my time out in the field, but life is busy and it tends to sweep one along in its current unless you grab onto something and buy yourself some time. This past weekend I was finally able to get back out after the birdies, accompanied by a British birdingpal named Christopher, who was in town for a conference on Renewable Phosphorous, but really just for the Sonoran specialties.

Our first stop, a long-time favorite of mine, was the thrasher spot out in west Phoenix. Our time there was not overly productive though we did hit some targets. For the first hour or two after sunrise there was a lot of vain searching, and semi-vain listening. Wafting out among the creosote bushes and sage, the stuttering song of a Le Conte's Thrasher called to us. 

Say's Phoebes, Sage Sparrows, White-crowns, Verdins and Gnatcatchers all went about their daily business, but the birding was pretty slow at the Thrasher Spot. Admittedly and expectedly, I'm also terribly out of practice by now. The birds could tell too that I hadn't been putting in the requisite hours. They fled in disgust, even those that usually sit still.

Eventually we got a bead on a singing Le Conte's Thrasher and enjoyed some really nice scope views, courtesy of Christopher. The Thrasher seemed to be singing out its territorial claims, and no others dared sing a response, but an Anna's Hummingbird got involved at one point to insist on its own suzerainty.
As my British associate pointed out, it was one of very few birds in Arizona to actually boast a pretty, involved song, even if they're not exactly eye candy. Thrasher have many appeals for me, and their vocalizations certainly are a strong one.

Although Le Conte's is a rarer/more specialized/generally more desired bird, the best sighting at the Thrasher Spot was a Great Horned Owl conspicuously perched in a mesquite tree. I've never seen these large predators out here before, figuring they fancied higher concentrations of larger trees, the large population of meek cottontails not withstanding.

From the Thrasher spot we drove west through Arlington, picking up Ferrugionuous and Red-tailed Hawks, a dozen Kestrels, Meadowlarks, and other expected species of the agricultural land.

A quick stop at Tres Rios, cut short by my obligations elsewhere, helped bolster our species list for the day, adding many riparian and aquatic birds to our raptor and desert-heavy list of species.

It was a little weird to see this bird in January, but not because of its species. Any guesses?

The cattle pens a mile northeast of Tres Rios were also a nice attraction. It's such a large, expensive operation to feed so many birds...and the cows occasionally get food too.

Next weekend I hope to hit up the Seven Springs recreation area and Rackensack Creek for Fox Sparrows, Waxwings, and Solitaires. It's time to get this birding year back on track!


  1. I was wondering where you went. Glad you got to get in some birding time. That LeConte's is a piece of work. I've gone twice to that spot and I believe I had my eye on the bird in that same spot but I want better views....no scope:( Have a pic but it's rather poor. Next time:)

    1. Yes indeed. Many is the time I've gone out there, and I've always been able to locate the bird, but never have I been satisfied with my photos. Never ever.

  2. Cool post Laurence and a neat day! It's always cool to show someone around. I had a similar experience out there at the Thrasher Spot too a few years ago. I also had a Great Horned Owl out there and I spooked him out of a mesquite tree. I had been looking for over an hour for Le Conte's Thrashers. As I was watching the Owl through my binocs, he was flying rather low. He then flew over a bird perched on a low bush, which was.......my Le Conte's. Great Horned Owls have a history with leading to good birds, at least in my book.

    Is that one bird a Sora? And, have you thought of a birding goal for 2014?

    1. Hey Tommy,

      Interesting point about the GHOW. They do flush em' out don't they?
      It's an immature Common Gallinule in the second to last photo. My birding goal is to see all of the breeding birds and residents in Arizona by the end of this year, which is going to require some very specific trips.

    2. Good goal! That would include Black-billed Magpie, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, and the dreaded Pine Grosbeak, right?

    3. Oh yeah!!
      I figure I'm not going to be out in the field as often this year, so I might as well target the state/lifer birds I still need here when I do get outside of Phoenix. White-eared and Berylline Hummers too, and I still don't have friggin' Gray Vireo or Martin!

  3. Laurence, I have missed hearing from you and reading your pithy comments! I am glad you are getting back on track, but you won't have me competing with you here in AZ for much longer. I don't know if you heard, but I am moving back to Maine. I am so sorry that we never met while I was here. I do hope you get more time in the field and soon, and come back over and say hi to me once in awhile! (Besides, who is going to help me increase my vocabulary if it isn't you?)

    1. P.S. I recognized the Common Galliunule. Chris and I saw one at Sweetwater a week or so ago!