Tuesday, April 29, 2014

One Hand Empty, One Shaking Fist

The lesser weather god whose jurisdiction reigns over Phoenix has a cruel sense of humor. With temperatures in the mid 90s through the last two weeks, we sends merciful reprieve only on the weekends--the last 3 weekends in a row--with heavy clouds, slight rain and plenty of wind. It's gloriously comfortable, encouraging weather for just about everything...except for birding.

Knowing that this weekend would be another struggle, I decided to try for some late-night owling on Saturday, when the weather wouldn't matter so much, and maybe pick something up at the Papago Ponds on Friday after work. I never did find the confiding Sora I was hoping for at Papago, nor get visual (or photos) on the nocturnal targets, so both of those pursuits will carry over into next week. So, instead of cool stuff, here's some boring stuff from a local city park near you. 

Cooler than Coots but not as cool as Purple Gallinules, the widely distributed Common Gallinule occupies an existentially aggravating level of the gallinaceous waterbird hierarchy. This is, most likely, why they vocalize so often and with such angst in their voice.

I've been reaching a slow realization through my park/canal birding over the last several months. In any given Gulp (that's the real term) of Cormorants, it's now 95% Neotropic (this is a percentage I just made up). I hardly ever see Double-crested around town any more, and the big colony at Tres Rios is predominantly Neotropic too. I have no idea of these two similar species are competitive nesters, if the Double-cresteds just wander continually farther inland and the Neotropic come in their wake, like large-family farmers moving west after the pioneer mountain men. Anyway, I'd be curious for any other Phoenix-area birder's thoughts or observations on this. What's happening to the Double-crested, once the famous rebel of the Cormorant group, raider of the inland waterways, scourer of countrysides?

The longer tail, mottled brown, pale (non-yellow) lores, white border on the chin, behind the lower mandible, all indicate that this bird is yet another Neotropic. Behold the vacant, dead-eye stare of a monumental usurper.

Perhaps as a side effect of the humidity and wind in recent weeks, there are some pretty bold algal blooms in many of the city ponds right now. The prematurely warm temperatures this winter pushed most of the waterfowl north several weeks ago, but the resident birds are making the most of it.

Pied-billed Grebes do not mind Algae. Pied-billed Grebes do not mind anything.

Many American Coots, being good Americans, have lots of big fat babies roaming the ponds now too. I do enjoy when the spontaneous Coot fights break out--this species seems to have a greater propensity for violence than most other birds--and how embarrassingly long it takes them to get airborne.


Coot chicks...these flame-kissed bald headed things are somewhere between hideous and endearing, both of which are stronger reactions than often invoked by an adult Coot. Science has no know explanation for why they look the way they do. Too unappealing to eat?


Part of the American Coot's key to success is that it's a very unscrupulous eater. It's not an om-nom-nomnivore or anything, but they eat lowest common denominator stuff, such as algae and pond slime. With this recent algae bloom around town the Coots, no doubt, are feasting well. This adult was diving to bring up big swaths of the gunk for its chicks. In the photo below of the submerging birds you can see how green the disturbed water is, showing the super algae saturation in the ponds right now.


Most of the chicks waited helplessly for their meal, feigning ignorance and/or inability. But some chicks are straight up precocious, like this man-child here. 


And now I must apologize--but not too much--because I'm about to run a series of Great-tailed Grackle images. I don't feel too badly about this for a couple of reasons:
1) Great-tailed Grackles are cool birds for east-coast visitors.
2) Great-tailed Grackles are hardy, cool birds in general, as long as they're not too urbanized such that they've lost their glossy iridescent sheen.
3) Great-tailed Grackles have a glossy, iridescent sheen.


This dude was being all Green Herony near one of the run-off points where I was waiting for a Sora to reveal itself. 

Whenever one gets a chance to capture nictitating membranes in action, it's also worth sharing. I don't know what all this fellow was fishing for: garbage, algae, minnows, larvae...he probably didn't care.


Did you ever have that one friend in high school who was really shameless, dirty, irresponsible, crafty, guileful, and affecting all at once, probably an Italian? He was abrasive and obnoxious, but every once in a while you had to stand back and just admire his incredible good looks and admirable success, even despite how bothersome he was?
Yeah, I didn't have a friend like that either; I don't even think that's a sterotype. But if it were a real thing, it might fit the Great-tailed Grackle pretty well.

"I'm my own stereotype, a really cool one, way better than any you can think of because of your narrow life experience, punk."

Alright then, I solemnly swear on the little dust pile that's left of my birding and bird blogging reputation never to post Great-tailed Grackle again, even if I see one riding a tiny motorcycle through a ring of fire. Step lightly; step boldly. Drink Bulleit bourbon. This grackle does.

12 comments:

  1. Last month I arrived in Phoenix by plane and immediately got into a van. I was sealed off from all bird sounds and my birding by sight was at freeway speeds for a half hour. Then we stopped at a park in Maricopa. I opened the door and was greeted with the crazy cool sounds of the Great-tailed Grackle - first lifer of the trip. The sounds of the grackle were magical, even more so as I was listening to them while getting the Neotropic and Cinnamon Teal lifer at that stop. So don't beat yourself up over the grackle post. I think they're neat. Plus we go ape over them when they show up in MN.

    Speaking of MN, I better start looking through the Double-cresteds for a Neotropic. I've heard they are starting to increase and expand their range, further evidenced by your post. We'd go ape for them too.

    Cool photos of some very unusual-looking birds!

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    1. Cheers Josh! Nothing like a little change of scenery to reset priorities and appreciations. I'd salivate at the prospect of shooting a...COMMON GRACKLE!

      New Jersey had its first or second state record of Neotropic recently. I bet Minnesota is not far behind. They're taking the waterways, and I'm thinking the relative lack of publicity farther north is, in some part, due to overlooking as well as their rarity.

      Best of luck out there this weekend.

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  2. Really excellent photos Laurence. I'm so sorry about the wind. We had a similar experience in Tucson.....I had 3 lifers and all terrible pics because of the clouds! There is nothing that irks me more than finding a lifer and getting a terrible pic. Hopefully this weekend will play nice.

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    1. Yeah! Weird as it is to say in Arizona, but we're overdue for some good weekend weather!

      By the way, I saw your photos, and those are some GREAT birds! At least they'll be around for a bit so you can crush them properly soon!

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    2. I hope so Laurence. I'm going to retread this weekend up to Mt. Lemmon and try for better. The photography bug is strong in me. I get frustrated when I get that blurred shot.

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    3. They
      ll be there all summer : )

      Well, maybe not the Grosbeaks, but hey you might get that Short-tailed Hawk that's haunting people up top.

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  3. Nice stuff, dude. Did you invest in a new crushing device, or were you 5 feet from these birds? Well done.

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    Replies
    1. A Magician never reveals his secret...

      I'm not some pansy magician though, plus you guessed my secret anyway. I was 5 feet away from these birds.

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  4. Ah, two of my favorite things: made up percentages and coot babies! We have zero grackles here in PDX so I am not horrified at all by all these photos. I rather like them in fact. May I point out that since you did not actually have a friend like the one you described in high school, that can only mean that YOU were that person? YOU ARE THE GRACKLE. Accept it along with your whiskey, neat.

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    1. no...No...NO!!!
      Am I...the Grackle? I didn't even know I was Italian, although people have remarked before on my cobalt iridescent skin and piercing metallic call.

      76% of all percentages are made up on the spot, and 110% of those are accurate.
      Cheers to that.

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  5. Aww, love seeing the baby coots! I enjoyed seeing my first ones in S Dakota a few yrs ago. Another great post, and photos! :)

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    Replies
    1. Cheers Jann,

      Curious and Cute and full of cooties, they're always fun.

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