Saturday, November 3, 2012

Tricks and Treats at Tres Rios

I did absolutely nothing for Halloween this year, and ya know what? It was great. That being said, I don't have kids or friends or good costume ideas, so the potential was never great. Anyway, my trick for good birding this weekend was getting some on-loan Swarovski binoculars in the mail, and the treat would be Tres Rios, one of my all time favorite Phoenix birding spots. A friend and fellow teacher Joe Swope also joined me on this chilly and birdy morning. We saw at least sixty-eight species of birds--an excellent count for November--and I even pulled an unexpected lifer.

Like a champ, Joe biked over to Tres Rios (91st ave and Broadway) from 24th street and Indian School. That's about two hours and over twenty miles. My bike had a flat tire and, not being one to let adversity overcome me, I drove :) Before the sun was fully risen, I drove down the old canal road that's about a quarter mile north of the Tres Rios site. This strip of shrub opens into farmland and is a very reliable place to see Burrowing Owls, along with Raptors and other telephone wire birds.

While Joe was still en route, I started driving along the mesquite and sage strands searching through the Sparrows. As one would imagine in November, it was ninety-five percent White-crowned Sparrows with a few Vesper and House Sparrows mixed in too. Now, I really like my Bushnell binoculars. They've served me well for years, and like those old Nokia cell phones, they're pretty much indestructible. But when it comes to picking out fine details and distinctions with mixed flocks of Sparrows...they can't hold a candle to the Swarovskis. The resolution and clarity with the Swarovski glass is incredible, and even at the same magnification as other binoculars, I was able to pick things out much more quickly and definably. With Swarovskis in hand, I noticed this skulking White-throated Sparrow, an uncommon bird for Phoenix and a new one for the ol' life list.

I don't want to go too head-over-heels, but I don't know if I would've picked this bird out of the pile without the new nocs'. The bold white throat is a giveaway with the golden lores, but when you've also got twenty White-crowned Sparrows tearing around and everything is thirty yards away, it's hard to tell.
I had been hoping to see a White-throated Sparrow in Arizona this winter, but the odds of finding one at the massive Tres Rios site were low, so I'd relegated it from the realm of possibility. I guess that's the Tres Rios trick, and my treat.

Speaking of tricky, here is a Great Egret scratching its own back.

The Tres Rios site combines lots of different habitats and, at its best, can supply an energetic birder with nearly one hundred species in a day. The trade off is that with the thick brush along the rivers and wide open spaces in between, it's terrible for photography. The birds are plentiful but very unused to people. They're extra skittish and likewise the photographer has few places to hide. I am continually frustrated with my photographic attempts there, but that frustration, in part, keeps me coming back to try again. Now having some swanky Swarovski specs helped with the distant birding, but unfortunately most images from today are of the 'little bird on a fence/twig variety'.

This shouldn't mislead from how excellent the birding really was. There were more Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets and Night Herons than we could track. We had five or six Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk, Kestrels, Pelicans, and plenty of Waterfowl. Common Yellowthroats, Yellow-rumps, and Orange-crowned Warblers were out in force, and three Belted Kingfishers always make for a good day. Here's Joe, first-time-birder-extraordinaire, checking out a Green Heron.

The solution to the photography problem is, of course, picking a nice spot and staying put. But with so much space and many different habitats around, it's hard to stay in one area, especially if you're going for variety. The one surprising dearth for the day was in the Waterfowl department--we didn't see that many ducks. However, we did see evidence of an intricate Heron/Egret dance number in some of the muck, which was pretty cool. 

It was great to get back out into the Arizona birding scene this weekend, and there are few places better to do so than at Tres Rio. The scale and scope of the site are huge. In fact, I really need a scope to make the most of it, especially because there might've been some Longspurs in the nearby agricultural fields.