Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Evening Dregs

We caught some brief thunderstorms last night, but otherwise it has been silly hot this week. I spent a lot of summer doing prep work and attending seminars; now school has started. Summer break is gone, but the heat is still here. It's very nice to be back to work in a meaningful way, but it has severely cut back my time outdoors, and I can feel my birding skills already starting to rust.  

I had not paid a visit to the long-favored Tres Rios site since last May and a return at the first opportunity beckoned me, even in an enervated state and on a school night. after all, birding in the evening is very relaxing; everything is calm and getting clamer. Time and light are against you, but there's a sort of cozy quality to everything you see and hear in the evening stupor. 

Alas, when I reached the Tres Rios site, it was closed! Not just regular closed to the public, but closed to everyone. They even took the time to move large boulders in front of certain access points, and the boulders refused to acknowledge my nifty orange permit to ingress. Digging a tunnel underneath the boulders was out of the questions, and I left all of my dynamite at home. Ugh. Evening birding opportunities come few and far between now, so after shaking a fist at fate, I decided to explore the adjacent farmland and see who was left in the dregs around Tres Rios, the muddy farmland around the beautiful preserve that sinks into the landscape like the gritty gunk at the bottom of a wine bottle.

Of course, before I fully exited the Tres Rios site, I paid a quick visit to Burrower's Row and greeted its quaint residents. The soy crops and alfalfa along Burrower's Row were recently harvested and the Owl numbers seemed to be down. They were also staying much farther away from the road than normal. It was sad to see the Row in a state of relative disarray, but if the owls have lived here for more than a year then they're probably used to it. They seemed to be enjoying the sunset just fine. 

"Dude...I'm totally dilating right now!"

It was very disappointing to make the drive out to Tres Rios and find it closed, but birding in the surrounding area did allow for some safari-style (that is, in-the-car) birding, which is pretty rad when it works. From the relative shade and concealment of my vehicle, I got to steal looks at all the evening diners of Farmington Glen. Red-winged Blackbirds crouched low and munched away. With the chores of singing, mating, and rearing young seemingly past them, they were all unusually quiet.

In the back of my mind, I was secretly hoping for a gem shorebird, something rare and conspicuous like the Upland Sandpipers that turned up in southeast Arizona today. No such luck in the rare shorebird department, so it fell to the White-faced Ibis and Lesser Yellowlegs to represent, and all-in-all they did the waders proud.

These Ibis were having a little preen-n'-gossip session, no doubt making quips about who would be too fat to fly south for winter (or too not fat? I guess it's kinda the other way around with birds).

The Yellowlegs were a bit more conspicuous, or at least they tried to be. They didn't blend in very well but that was fine with me. Usually I only see Yellowlegs in Arizona around nasty sewage ponds, so it was nice to find them within a greener, healthier-looking environment.

A single Black-bellied Whistling Duck was the highlight of the evening. He flew in from the now off-limits Tres Rios preserve with his Red-winged Blackbird sidekick.

After making their grand entrance, this dapper duo paused only for a minute before they realized that Tres Rios was, in fact, a much better spot than this slough, and they soon departed. Oh, to have flown after them...

Bird activity wasn't restricted just to the semi-flooded farmland. The telephone wires and fences were covered with Eurasian Collared Doves--probably the largest concentrations I've seen in Phoenix--and they certainly were acting like they owned the place.

"The Sun is setting on the White-winged Dove empire...mwuahahaha."

Across the street a forlorn American Kestrel cast heavy glances towards some shrubs, perhaps mourning the field mouse that got away.

I was surprised by how quickly the sun set, but, I am proud to say, unsurprised by its beauty. It may just be empty boasting, but the Arizona sun really knows how to make an exit. A gorgeous sunset is probably the best way to deliver the news that birding time is over. 

A few more trips around the valley can hopefully tide me over to Labor Day weekend, and a trip to the Salton Sea. The sun never sets on the Birding Empire.