Thursday, January 5, 2012

New Birds!

I've been trying to cram as much last minute birding into this week before school resumes, and while we (Pops and I) haven't always visited the most lush or beautiful places, we've made an excellent run with new species these last few days. With half-day parent-teacher conferences all this week, I'm needing all the escape I can get. We checked out both the notorious thrasher spot west of Phoenix, where the Salome Highway meets the I-10 , and later paid a visit to the Rousseau Sod Farms on the other side of town.

I'm used to birding now at the Gilbert Water Ranch and the Desert Botanical gardens, places where the birds are somewhat acclimated to constant foot-traffic. This is not the case outside of the city, where the birds are wild and the people are rare. It's difficult at times to get close enough to use your binoculars, and harder still to get good pictures. It has been an exciting, if poorly documented series of sightings, and the challenge has helped shake me out of that complacent urban birding mentality.

The first hour or so of birding at the thrasher spot was pretty fruitless, but finally this Bendire's got things going. The speckled breast along with the shorter beak make for a pretty straight-forward identification. Little did we know at the time that this was the best look any Thrasher would give us.

We chased this Crissal Thrasher, named for its rusty rump, a long way down an old river wash. In a way it was good that I only ever really saw this bird's backside--that's his most tell-tail feature--and after a while he alighted to some higher scrub where he briefly paused to sing before vanishing.

We ran into another birder who had come all the way out from Maryland (in Phoenix for business), and who had made the drive out solely to see a Le Conte's Thrasher. Pops and I had a brief but satisfactory look at the bird, with the buffy breast and dark eye again making for an easy identification, before it too disappeared into the scrubby undergrowth. I hope it resurfaced later for the far-travelling gentleman.

We were also hoping to see some Sage Sparrows, and they finally obliged us as we were about ready to head out. They kept their distance, a little bit to my disappointment, but even from far away we could admire their silver and white heads, as if they were named sage for their wisdom, instead of their choice in habitat.

The drive out and back had it's own fun sightings, including a Mountain Bluebird, a White-Faced Ibis (new bird!), and plenty of Meadowlarks among the agriculture. We were also able to pull over and get some nice views of this Long-Billed Dowitcher before finally committing to the highway and heading back into the city. The three Thrashers, Sage Sparrows, and Ibis added 5 new birds to the List, and made for a great half-day of birding.

We decided to next check out the Rousseau Sod Farms east of Phoenix, in essence scouting out the fields and canals in search of plains-dwelling birds such as Longspurs and raptors. While the Longspurs never showed, we continued to find new species and got some great looks at Northern Harriers, a Sharp-Shinned Hawk, Kinglets, Savannah Sparrows, and Blackbirds.

By funny coincidence, the Kinglets were the best photographic subjects of the day (usually they're the bane of cameras). I'm still falling short of getting a good look at that ruby crown, but they're such darn perky birds it's inevitable that they lifts one's spirits, even if you're already having a great day!

Here's to great birding in 2012!