Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Staying Alive with Irish Ponds

Hello Humans! And anyone else who might be visiting from beyond the stars...

It's been super busy these last few weeks. The opportunities for birding have been scattered few and far between other work and social obligations. Alas, I am not made of the sterner stuff required to endure a perpetual birding weekend. At least the residual glow and satisfaction from my early September Salton Sea trip has kept me alive, aided by some occasional forays to local urban sites.

Last Friday I made it out to the McCormick Ponds in east Phoenix/Scottsdale, hoping to maybe see some early waterfowl or an unusual migrant. The waterfowl have not yet arrived in Phoenix en masse, but the drab fall-plumage warblers are trickling through. I had some decent looks at MacGillivray's and Orange-crowned Warblers around the ponds, and was also happy to see Sparrow activity picking up as well. The McCormick ponds are a great place to see Lincoln's, Brewers, Song, and White-crowned Sparrows in winter. I'm hoping that later this year they'll pull in a vagrant White-throated or Golden-crowned to really put McCormick on the birding map.

There were no range rarities, but a perpetually blurry and intrinsically early White-crowned Sparrow was a noteworthy sighting. I don't know that I've ever seen White-crowneds in Phoenix as early as September 14th before. Even eBird scoffed at my sighting, until I provided a photo that would make Bigfoot proud.

A pair of early Northern Flickers also added to the sense of prematurity around the ponds. I have to keep their images blurred too because they wouldn't sign a legal release for me to use their photos publicly. Bummer.

With lots of overhanging vegetation near water, the McCormick ponds are a pretty good spot for Flycatchers. They pull in summer Kingbirds and are a reliable location for Say's Phoebe, Black Phoebe, and Vermillion Flycatcher year round. It is too bad the top of this Phoebe's nasty pipe isn't brown. It could've matched the bird perfectly.

A Western Wood Pewee produced on my recent trip was a first for the location. He seemed to be gearing up for some flycatching just while the sun was gearing down. This may be one of those rare, purely nocturnal subspecies that hunts with echo-location and night vision goggles.

There is a large population of Great Egret and Herons in the McCormick area, and often times they try to disguise themselves as lawn ornaments on the golf course, you know, like those wire-legged flamingo decorations. They stand for a while and then evacuate their bowels in a very torrid fashion (If you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about!). This must drive the golfers nuts. The thought of them stepping in Egret discharge makes me chuckle every time.

As I was safely disguised as/behind a palm tree, this Egret felt comfortable enough to indulge in a little scruffy fluffy shakin' down.

As mentioned before, one of my goals this winter is to find a nice rarity at the McCormick Ponds. In part this is just to vindicate my trips to the area, as I've never encountered another birder there and do not know that anyone visits these sites anymore. I also feel like, in part for that reason, they're overdue. Even if I dip on the rarity this year, it will not be time poorly spent.