Sunday, March 31, 2013

The expanded guide to solving all empid enigmas (not really, no no no no no) is up now over at Birding Is Fun.

Check it out, for your sake and the sake of your children!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Bull's Eye at Buckeye

During my spring break week I was able to visit some phenomenal and far away birding sites, with Patagonia and Madera Canyon down south and Mormon Lake up North being some of the highlight trips. During the subsequent week of work, I was of course still on a high from a week of near-nonstop birding, and given the great anticipation for a continuation of great birding, I had to plan that precious, upcoming Saturday carefully. With it being a holiday weekend and having some other responsibilities to attend, I decided to keep it fairly local and head out west to the Buckeye agricultural areas, with a stop at the Base Meridian Wildlife Refuge along the way.

The Base Meridian Refuge is essentially a little preserve where the Tres Rios water reclamation site ends and the Gila river continues to flow. It's one of the better places to try for Clapper Rail in central Arizona, and while my chances were still slim, that was the plan. Heavy overcast (for the third weekend in a row!) nixed the photography from the start, and in general the area wasn't very birdy. Some surprises came in the form of a Cattle Egret mixing it up with a few Snowies and a Barn Owl that flushed from under the northern end of the Avondale Bridge. Apart from these year birds there wasn't much to report, and I quickly moved farther west. It's the end of March and that means the birds they are a changin.' Well, some of them at least. 

Along Palo Verde and other north/south roads in Buckeye, it's now prime time to go trolling for Swainson's Hawks, the Hawk that wants to be a Falcon. These pointy-winged, long-tailed Hawks can currently be found perched on the ground in fallow fields and low farmlands as they refuel and rest up in their continued journey north. It's still on the early side of migration, so their numbers will continue to grow and a few weeks from now there will be real spectacles, with some fields hosting dozens and dozens, if not hundreds, of these grounded raptors. They come in a dark, light, or intermediate color morph, all of which were on display today but not all of which were photogenic. 

There were thirteen Swainson's Hawks in a field of Lower River Road and Palo Verde, and a bit farther south was another conspicuous raptor perched in an old cottonwood tree. When first approaching the bird I was thinking the white indicated a light-morph Swainson's, but when I had a full frontal view the predominant white and the feathered legs ID'd this bird as a juvenile Ferruginous Hawk. I hadn't taken any presentable photos of Ferruginous Hawk this winter so I was glad to have an opportunity, even if the hazy overcast made things less than ideal.
This young bird hasn't yet developed the rusty flanks of the adult Hawk, and still has the yellow gape of immaturity on its beak.  Even so, there's a burgeoning ruthlessness in those eyes...

"When I grow up, I'm going to be a mammal mass murderer..."

It's also that time of year when a new, but familiar silhouette again adorns the agrarian utility lines. The Western Kingbirds are prominent perchers and a common sight, but keep an eye out for Cassin's, and maybe even a Tropical, trying to disguise itself with these similar yellow-bellied tyrants.

When I first arrived at the Base Meridian site in the very early morning, I witnessed several hundred Ibis leaving the Tres Rios site in different flocks. They were all heading out west to graze in the Buckeye and Arlington fields. and I came across a group of sixty or so birds foraging near Palo Verde, not much farther north than where it terminates. Seldom do I get close to these birds at Tres Rios, so it was nice to run into a group out where the terrain isn't as limiting.

After finishing the raptor scanning, I headed farther west to the Arlington Wildlife Area off of Arlington School Road. This series of ponds and marshes borders some very lush farmland and is also a good spot for Rails, as well as the other expected waders and riparian birds.

Unsurprisingly for this time of year and this time of day (10am), I heard no clacking Clapper Rails. Instead, Yellow-headed Blackbirds filled the air with their tormented, metallic call as they sought to establish territory and prove their manliness.

There wasn't too much happening at the Wildlife Area, but the adjacent farmlands were very popular. A few dozen Great Egrets and Yellowlegs loped through the tall grass. The most exciting find there, even though it was not a new bird for the year, was a flock of forty-nine Long-billed Curlew. I had seen a couple of Curlew in this area before but they were distant and flying away from me--not a very satisfying way to see North America's superlative sandpiper.

This time they were contentedly grazing and gossiping in the tall grass, grass that would've frustrated and thwarted birds with lesser beaks, so I was able to spend a goodly while observing and photographing this incredibly cool species.

I took Arlington School Road back east, stopping along the way to gawk at a massive kettle of birds along one of the canal roads. When I reported thirty Black Vultures the eBird automated check was a bit incredulous, but hey there ain't no arguing with this, and if anything I under-counted.

Not that Black Vultures prefer to argue either. They'll just wait til' you're dead, and then have the last word. The cloudy weather was a bummer for photography, but I was able to have lots of close-up views to compensate for the poorer image quality. It was a super Saturday of birding, full of year birds and satisfactory sightings that made the wait for the weekend well worth the anticipation.

I'll follow up with more photos and specifics on each location and the sightings throughout this week, and hopefully that enduring focus will get me through to the next weekend!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Rough Around the Edges: Mormon Lake Grasslands

Last weekend saw my final days of March Madness, my spring break week in which I was able to do lots and lots of birding, to see what the world would be like fifty years down the road (I already have the disposition of a seventy-something year-old too) when I can go out birding everyday. I had excellent birding adventures around Phoenix, and a truly marvelous day down in the southeast corner of the state (more to come on that later), so for my spring break's birding swan song I headed up north to Mormon Lake and Flagstaff. Spring, even uber spring, is happening down in the Phoenix valley, where we've already had record high temperatures in the 90s. That wasn't so much the case up north, where windy, 20-degree conditions greeted me outside of the car. Luckily I wore pants, but why bother seeking out wintery conditions in March? For this:

Yes, the largest natural lake in Arizona, Mormon Lake and its surrounding grasslands were hosting some serious BOIs (birds of interest). A listserv report from several days before listed Eurasian Wigeon and Rough-legged Hawk both being in the area. With limited time and scoping abilities, I didn't try very hard, nor find, the Eurasian Wigeon, but the Rough-legged Hawks were on the most-wanted list. Staring hundreds of yards down into the grassy, dryer parts of the lake bed, I could see some butiful buteo silhouettes.

Killer looks huh!? Even at significant distance, the Unshaven-legged Hawk seemed apparent for its different dimensions and gait. The Common Ravens didn't care if they were Roughies or Red-tails, and they quickly drove this bird away from its fence post. On closer inspection though, this bird had far too much white on its breast and belly. Despite it almost being a rarer sighting for the time and place, some of birding gurus pointed out that this is likely a juvenile Ferruginous Hawk, something that wasn't really on my radar (another newbie mistake, ugh!).

At the time I was assuming Rough-legged, since I had seen some kiting when I was first approaching by car. The distant sightings were not very soul-satisfying, and as it later turns out this wasn't even the right bird. There were other stops to make on the opposite side of the lake though, and with the morning growing older I decided to move on and then check again on the way back to the interstate. While continuing to drive south down Lake Mary Rd, which runs parallel to the eastern shore of the lake and amid the bordering grasslands, I was treated to the sights and sounds of signing Meadowlarks.

It was cold. There were snow banks in places along the road and a formidable breeze, but none of these   factors proved prohibitive to the loquacious Meadowlarks. Both Eastern and Western varieties can turn up in this area. Listen to the song and decide which species is singing here. 

Near the southwest corner of Mormon Lake, the Mormon Lodge and adjacent campsite provided some fantastic birding. It was great to get back into some high altitude pines--a habitat I haven't visited since last summer--and see the cool birds up there. There's something about high-altitude birding...everything just feels more rustic, more wild, more genuine and impressive when you see it. That material will be in another post. 
On the drive back up from Mormon Lodge, I kept my speed low and my eyes peeled for any Rough-Legs that may have perched nearer the road. Perhaps it read my mind, or I read its. Anyway, sure enough one of the Roughies was perched prominently on a fencepost maybe twenty yards from the roadside.  Of course, it chose the east side and was thus pretty back-lit, but I won't complain. 

I took a few snaps of this regal raptor, a sense of great wonder and satisfaction warming me up as I gawked at this stunning bird. Alas, I wasn't the only one who's attention was caught by the Hawk. Another fellow in a truck pulled over and parked just behind me. He must've been in a chatty mood, for he immediately openned his door and walked over to my car (which I was using as a blind of sorts). 

"Hey friend, watcha looking at over there, the Hawk? Oh yeah, I drive up and down this road all the time and I see lots a' hawks and birds along.....(he kept talking about stuff and things)."

"Well mister," I thought, "To answer your question, I am looking at nothing now. Nothing." 
The Hawk flushed when he got out of his truck. I probably wouldn't have gotten better shots anyway, but it was still a bit vexing. At any rate, as the bird retreated I got to see that white and brown tail too--another diagnostic sign--and overall felt much better about my sighting. If I had only the early morning opportunities, it would have been a long, bleak ride home.

This coming weekend it will be time to find some Swainson's!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Run out of Town on a Rail

Last week I fulfilled a long-time goal. No no, I didn't swim the English Channel in one breath or slam-dunk a basketball with ma' feet--those are still on the list. I had been wanting to bike along the Tres Rios spillway for a while, both for the general experience and to measure how long it takes to get from the 91st avenue entrance to the approximately 121st avenue termination. The best birding at Tres Rios is, in my experiences, in the first mile or so and then at the end, which leaves 2 or 3 miles in between to cover that's not very birdy and, in the hotter months, is a serious deterrent to seeing what's at the end.  Since there's no driving on the site, biking is the quick alternative, and in truth it only took maybe fifteen minutes to go the distance. 
The downside is that bicycle birding is not great birding. It's difficult to hear vocalizations, and while you can still pick up waterfowl and raptors, you tend to miss the smaller birds. Maybe it's just as well, because little buggers like this Wilson's Warbler always pose with a branch in their face anyway.

It's a really pleasant ride though, and I am glad to have scoped out the schematics for future expeditions when I need to go down the and back the site, and want to do it quickly. The real triumph of the day though was not just the minor feat of biking, but a nifty bird sighting. Very often at Tres Rios I hear Virginia Rails, but seldom see them. Whizzing by on a bicycle only exacerbates this problem, which means it just must've been a lucky day. Near where I stopped with my dad and younger brother to examine a chunk of dry-ice someone ditched out in the middle of the trail (Was it from a cooler or something? I don't know, it was odd.), I just happened to be standing in the right spot to see one of these common but elusive swamp chickens tip-toe out of the reeds.

With my frame largely concealed by the tulles, the Rail comfortably foraged around, sometimes in the sun and sometimes in the shade. Of course, it was often obscured from view too, but every few minutes it would stray into visible areas.

Ah yes, it might be impolite to stare at the bird's derrière, but there is much to appreciate in it's lateral shape--perfect for slinking through tall reeds with minimal disturbance. Thin as a's an appropriate expression.

It was most satisfying to finally see one of these birds out in the open. Eventually it spied me and bolted back to the reeds. That part of the experience was a little bit heart-breaking; here I was thinking we had been bonding and becoming good bro pals. Wild animals will always be wild, and they will always hurt you, eventually.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Hustlin' Hassayampa

An hour northwest of Phoenix but still within Maricopa County is a totally sweet birding spot. The Hassayampa River Preserve is a beautiful and well-known riparian area fed by underground springs that make up the Hassayampa corridor. It's a fabulous birding site, far more fabulous than my subsequent photos will demonstrate, as migrating Black Hawks, nesting Gray Hawks, and tons of passerines turning up there every spring. Recently there have been impressive sightings of Williamsons's Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Winter Wren, and in the past few years it has also hosted cool vagrants like Dickcissel and Green Kingfisher.

Here is the view from Lyke's Lookout, a tidy little hill west of the visitor center. This big strand of green is visible flying into Arizona from California and is one of the most extensive and densely foliated riparian channels in the state.

Unfortunately, I have only birded hew a few times. One big reason for my negligence is that the hour of driving must take place on Grand Avenue, a perverted freeway still possessing numerous traffic lights and speeding cameras, along with lots of aloof drivers. Grand Avenue is literally my least favorite place to drive in Arizona. It also has an entry fee ($5 isn't too steep though) and is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. At any rate, my recent trip there was a reminder of how truly special this site is, and I promise to be more dutiful to it in the future.

At about 6:30am I met up with Tommy DeBardeleben, also known as the Mayor of Maricopa for his exploits in Maricopa County birding and blogging. If you've ever google-searched a birding site in central Arizona and been to this website, Tommy is to thank, and if you haven't, well, then you really should visit it. Anyway, he had clued me into a report of Williamson's Sapsucker at the preserve, a bird I was planning to chase at Boyce Thompson Arboretum but which had not been relocated there for a couple of days. We started our morning of birding at the Hassyampa rest stop, which is about two miles southeast of the actual preserve and is one of the best places to see concentrated Vermilion Flycatchers doing their thing.

Their thing is basically limited to perching and being gorgeous, devouring flies, and chasing each other around while trying to also perform flight displays. It was funny to watch all of these birds, because the males would perform their twittering fluttering flight displays for the ladies, and then also chase them away if they got too close to the favored perches. Life is full of angst for these birds. Can't have it both ways...

The Hassayampa Preserve opens at 8am, and for the next three hours or so we scanned cottonwoods, chased after shadows, and saw a lot of cool birds on the way to never actually finding the Sapsucker. Flocks of Lawrence's Goldfinches, calling Gray Hawks, and one flushed Black Hawk made for an excellent morning, even with our target bird a no-show. We did get some nice looks and vocalizations from an over-wintering Scarlet Tanager too, and I am ashamed to admit that this is the best photo I've managed of this canopy-craving species. Blotchy and pale...this bird is a mockery of the true Tanager form, but maybe he'll turn up again when he's more sexy.

In the vein of getting poor photos that are still better than anything else I'd managed, we also relocated a  tiny Winter Wren that Tommy had discovered at Hassayampa a while back. Yup, this grainy, twig-heavy shot is another personal best. Winter Wren played right into our hands...

By 11am, we were starting to feel that the Sapsucker would be a no-show, and the rest of the day's testimonials proved that this ultimately was the case. During this period we had also developed an unhealthy annoyance, even anger, against the numerous, distracting, false-hope-giving Ladder-backed Woodpeckers frequenting the same haunt as the Sapsucker. So that we could still take something great from the afternoon and not swear a vendetta against Ladder-backs, we swung by the private residence of another birder friend who has hosted a wintering Orchard Oriole for the last several years. Nothing about this occurrence and this sighting wasn't weird, but nothing about it wasn't awesome either.

Rather unbelievably, my first and only Oriole of 2013 is an Orchard, seen in central Arizona. For the next few months the birding will only get better and better at Hassayampa, and I intend to return soon. There's always great scenery and seemingly some rarity to chase too, even if you have to drive down (not so) Grand Avenue to get there (*note: there are alternative routes).

Friday, March 22, 2013

A Bit of Brit

Recently I listed myself as a birding reference though the Birdingpals site for people visiting the Phoenix area. This nifty network allows out-of-state or out-of-country enthusiasts to get in touch with locals and meet up for some birding or at least get some information about their locale. It's an opportunity to share some of the Phoenix area birding delights and meet some interesting folks, folks one might not otherwise meet out and about at the Maricopa County birding sites. I know what you're thinking and yes, it is indeed irresponsible for someone who makes as many clumsy ID mistakes and typos as I do to take people out and about the treacherous Sonoran Desert in pursuit of birds. We all know the risks... 

Last weekend I met up with Peter, a peripatetic peregrinating birder and aviation enthusiast from Lancashire, Britain. While he was in Phoenix for a couple of days we were able to visit several different sites, racking up lots of lifers, getting some great sightings, and also sampling cuisine better than the usual fast food to which one is often restricted when visiting a foreign place and staying in a hotel by the airport. 

After work on Friday I picked up Peter (with my car) and we headed over to the Desert Botanical Gardens. These beautiful gardens showcase a wide range of desert fauna, but post a staggering $18 admission fee if you are not a member. As one would expect, excellent desert habitats host excellent desert birds, and even some birds that aren't exclusively desert, but do just fine there anyway. Embarrassingly enough, this is the first time I had a visual on a Western Screech Owl, a bird I often hear and am taunted by at night. This fellow was in a north-facing cavity on a saguaro about 100 yards south of the wildflower loop trail. 

There are always Curve-billed Thrashers, Doves, and Quail around the DBG, along with Northern Cardinals and Ruby-crowned Kinglets is great numbers during certain times of year.

After doing a loop through the DBG, further picking up Gila Woodpecker, Red-shafted Flicker, Lesser Goldfinch, Black-chinned Hummingbird, and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, we headed to the neighboring Papago Ponds, which are great spots for waterfowl.
Last week was absurdly warm, hitting the lower 90s on several occasions, and it proved too much for many of the ducks. The Pintails and Canvasbacks were all gone; only a few Wigeon and Gadwall remained to keep the Ring-necked Ducks company. There was an interesting domestic duck on the shoreline, which caught my attention because it did not have a Mallard beak (usually there's Mallard-type beaks on all the domestic ducks). The dark brown head and bit of white at the base of the mandible, like the beak, almost indicate that some Scaup is involved, but I will postulate no further.

The next day we headed out west, first stopping at the Thrasher Spot in Buckeye and then moving east to Tres Rios, the Glendale Recharge Ponds, and Encanto Park. It was heavily overcast in the morning, much too dark for photos, but we succeeded in finding all four Thrashers at the spot, with the trickiest and last Thrasher being a very handsome Crissal that Peter picked out of a tree top while we were exploring the north side of the road. The pair of Le Conte's were again reliably seen on the narrow wash just north of its intersection with the old fencepost line.

Tres Rios is one of the birdiest spots in Maricopa, and in just a couple hours there we logged another sixty or so species, only birding the first mile of the site. Of course, the only raptor that was photographable had to blink and ruin the picture.

There were plenty of Yellow-headed Blackbirds, as well as all three Teal species sighted in the first marshy stretch. We also saw at least one Mexican Mallard, told by the darker body and clean, bright yellow beak. This was a first for the site for me, and as far as I am aware is an infrequent occurrence much north of Tucson.

Someone must have told this Snowy Egret a great joke just before we saw him. He was really yucking it up, and was indeed too preoccupied to even bother flying away as we walked along the Tres Rios flow channel. Alas, this was the only snow we had in Phoenix this winter (not the only Snowy).

One of our best stretches of birding was along the south-side riparian corridor, starting adjacent to the big clump of eucalyptus trees. We had Orange-crowned and Wilson's Warblers, along with Ash-throated Flycatchers (one of my favorite birds) and this grumpy-looking, backlit Great Horned Owl.

It was a great weekend for Owls, with the Western Screech the day before and the Burrowing Owls found along the nearby agricultural fields making it a three-owl weekend. 

We picked up Black-necked Stilts, Yellowlegs, Kingfisher, and American Avocets at the Glendale Recharge Ponds, and then found the resident Harris' Hawks at Encanto Park. Peter ended up with some seventy or more lifers for the trip, and with another stop in Pennsylvania he may well end his vacation with over one hundred new birds to add to his life list. Pretty stellar!
We finished off the afternoon with Thai food, chilled pears and India Pale Ales. It was a great weekend of birding and I am looking forward to further experiences with the Birdingpals network.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Epic Bird Day: Patagonia

Last weekend my wife worked a double on Saturday, and all bird nerds know what it means when one's spouse or significant other is working on a weekend. It means Epic Birding Day! It was time to saddle up and get down to southeast Arizona for a rigorous day of indulgent bird-seeking. With it being early and unseasonably warm in March, expectations were high both for seeing lots of the southeastern residents and also for seeing some migrant birds that would be new for the year. I'll admit, I had the faintest optimism of seeing some Evening Grosbeaks that had been reported in Tubac two days prior.

So, heading south down the I-19 from the I-10, I first stopped at the De Anza trail in Tubac, and hiked along to Santa Gertrudis Lane. As expected, the Evening Grosbeaks were long gone, but there were still some great birds out in the early morning haze, including a new one for the 2013 birding year.

Woodpeckers were the first to great the timid sun. They were impatient and it took its sweet time in rising. When it was finally up, it had delayed long enough to let the clouds come in and dim the sky. There is an uncanny correlation between visiting great birding spots and getting overcast weather...
Anyway, the first minutes of clear skies were a head-banger's dream as Northern Flickers (3 above), Ladderbacks, and Gila Woodpeckers went to work in the mixed woodlands. They had Cottonwoods and mesquites to choose from. The Flickers liked the taller cottonwoods, while the Gilas stuck to the mesquite, and were thus, oddly, more photogenic.

Apart from some skulking Song and Lincoln's, it was a relatively sparrow-less dawn, but from ground level to mid level, my attention was enraptured by this mid-molt Vermillion Flycatcher. This poor fellow was at that awkward stage experienced by many the college freshman, when they molt into their mature adult beardage to show they're ready to breed.Yes, he's sporting the equivalent of the scraggily freshmen-year facial hair, and like the freshmen he won't be attracting many mature ladies this year, no matter how loud or obnoxiously he behaves. Hang in there bro; soon you'll be one in a vermillion.

The self-conscious Vermillion was hanging out along a little stream, and while trying to get different angled shots of the awkward Flycatcher, I noticed the silhouette of what appeared to be an inordinately large Say's Phoebe. After a minute the bird flew lower down into the tree where the back-lighting wasn't so debilitating, and revealed itself to be a first-of-the-year Cassin's Kingbird. Hazy photo, branches in the way...this guy must've been hanging out with Bigfoot this winter. 

There were plenty of Towhees and Cardinals, along with gangs of House and Bewick's Wrens, all rustling around the hedges of Santa Gertrudis Lane, whose large pyracantha bushes supported the Grosbeaks a couple of days before. It's hardly a consolation prize but hey, without Abert's Towhees doing their thing, scientists estimate that we'd all be living up to our waists in leaf litter, bugs, and old seeds. Abert's Towhee: the unsung custodian of the forest floor.

The De Anza trail was a very pleasant walk, but it was just an appetizer for the birding feast to come.This time around the main objective was Flycatchers. Patagonia provides the very similar Gray, Dusky, and Hammonds Flycatchers all within close distance of each other, and I was greatly wanting more time to study the Gray's and Duskies in addition to obtaining better photos of these two species.

In my experiences, the Gray Flycatcher is the most common/visible of the three. It perches and hunts from mid-level in the trees around Patagonia Lake (and anywhere it lives). There are some subtle variations that helps to separate this bird from the similar Duskies and Hammonds--short primary projections, non-contrasting wing-bar and tertial coloration and more of a gray band across the forehead--but for my money the easiest way (and hopefully still a consistent way) is by taking a look at the beak. This guy's beak is very long, in proportion to his head.

By contrast, this Dusky Flycatcher, which also tends to prefer lower, brushier habitat, has a stubby beak. The Hammond's has a stubby beak as well, but they tend to prefer taller trees and higher perches (this bird was foraging and photographed just a couple of feet off the ground, an elevation at which it stayed for the duration of my fifteen minute observation). Of the three birds, the Dusky has the most noticeable contrast between the head and back, and Hammond's has the longest primary projections, long like this fellow here.


Truth be told, the primary-projection business if iffy for me, as can be obscured by the bird's posture and movements. It seems like the odds are better for getting a good look at the beak length, but maybe others would care to weigh in on this observation. At any rate, I can't say I'm a glutton for punishment, but I do have a certain proclivity towards tormenting myself in the pursuit of these empidomax.
*The more-informed opinion on this bird is that it is, indeed, a Hammond's (Cheers Seagull Steve), so ignore everything I said.

Rooting around the narrow paths on Patagonia's east side, near Sonoita Creek, will turn up the vast majority of Patagonia's species, both in mixed flocks and as individuals. Common Ground Doves often travel in little bands but this solitary bird was the only one I saw. 

Commonly grounded, this Dove seldom gets to hang out with its friends on the weekend.

A conspicuous Canyon Towhee was trying to fit in with an un-abiding group of Abert's Towhees around the same area. It was surprising to see a Canyon Towhee near the comparatively lush, green undergrowth around Sonoita creek, especially as I did not see any when hiking around the move arid, elevated north side of the lake--the kind of terrain they usually prefer. Towhees are such butts to photograph, and the thickening clouds didn't help the situation. All the same, it's still satisfying to find something unexpected, even if it's not rare.

Despite being expected, common, and easily seen, the Bridled Titmouse is still a delightful bird. Chinstrap Beard Titmouse is a less eloquent name for this bird, but it would also be fitting. As far as black, white, and gray birds go (there are more than a few), these are one of the most stylish.

After several hours of rummaging around the bird-rich Sonoita Creek area, I finally resolved that the Trogon was a no-show for the day and decided to continue hiking around the lake (I hate to admit it, but it felt good to later read that nobody found the bird that day. Although I am sorry for others who spent time and money chasing it, I feel less incompetent now). For the most part, it seems like birders concentrate their efforts on the south shore and Sonoita Creek parts of the lake, ultimately with good reason. The south shore also has elevated desert chaparral frequented by Rufous variety Sparrows and other arid dwellers, so in terms of specialization there is no reason for the long walk around the lake.

Nonetheless, I set off, mostly just to content myself that I would have hiked all around the lake. The clouds continued to thicken, the bird numbers dropped off, and with each passing minute of the dreary afternoon the decision felt more and more rash. But while walking and musing along the northern shore, a delightful ball of saturated, sweet-ing yellow caught the eye. In the gloomy lighting and under gloomy skies, this first-of-year Yellow Warbler looked positively radiant. It also looked out of place.

He is likely wondering why he is so exposed, why this sycamore tree yet has no leaves.

Another conspicuous, first-of-year bird I found on the way back to the car was this resplendent male Broad-billed hummingbird. Even more exciting, I actually had an opportunity to view the impressive breadth of its bill. It's very bride.

For sooth, it's unfair how colorful this bird is. Luckily for birders, nature isn't always fair.

Speaking of unfairly colored birds, I swung by Fort Lowell Park in Tucson on the way back to Phoenix in the hopes of seeing a reported Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. I had some brief looks at the bird while it was high in a eucalyptus tree, but the real attention grabber, in addition to some people trying to have a wedding in the windy, rainy, chilly weather, was a brazen Vermilion Flycatcher. There were half a dozen such Flycatchers around Patagonia Lake, but they were all much more shy. He must have known that the lighting was too poor to get proper feather detail, and that his colors would be almost disgustingly saturdated. He definitely knew. Nature isn't fair.

It was an epic day of birding, and not just in the over-used, relatively meaningless sense of the word as it is employed today. In about nine hours of birding I saw around eighty species, a half-dozen of which were new for the year, hiked around Patagonia Lake, and found perhaps the world's cutest Muscovy duck. This bird is not countable to any ABA lists in Arizona, but seriously, I challenge anyone to find a cuter version of this normally disgusting bird.

If one has to pick just one site to plunk down and explore for eight hours, Patagonia is among the best in the state, though it is at its zenith a bit later in the spring. Patagonia is famous for its birding diversity and also because it has hosted an early Male Trogon along the Sonoita Creek wash for the last ten or so years. This secretive but reliable bird has been attracting people past the $10 per-vehicle charge for years now, though I have never seen it is this area.

It was a great trip, and best of all, I'll be back soon for the Trogon and some Black-capped Gnatcatchers, and I will be back with back-up, big back-up!