Friday, January 11, 2013

A Lake Named Havasu

A long time ago, Arizonans dug a large moat on their western border to protect against their Californian neighbors, always eager as the Californians were to flee the verdant valleys and stunning Pacific coastline in favor of the spacious, arid, dusty lands to the east. This "Colorado River," as the moat came to be known, is also used for many other things, including hydroelectric power. The Parker Dam, built in the mid 1930s, subsequently created the Lake Havasu reservoir.  It is not the largest man-made lake in the world, but it is the largest reservoir named Havasu, and it helps to keep California and Arizona separate. The lake and its various estuaries, including the Bill Williams River, is also home to all manner of waterfowl, and is one of the few places in the state where deep-water ducks, such as Scoters and Goldeneyes, can be found.

After successfully chasing the Nutting's Flycatcher a few miles to the east, I spent the early afternoon around Lake Havasu looking for some of the winterfowl that seldom strays into the Phoenix area.
A single, distant, but unmistakable female White-winged Scoter provided instant vindication for a stop by the lake. Many Western Grebes and Canvasbacks also added to the pretty scenery, but the White-winged Scoter, though comparatively dull, was a new bird for me in Arizona and a certain highlight. 

There is about a 1/2 mile finger jutting out into the southeast corner of the reservoir, not far from the turn off to Planet Ranch Rd (which leads to the Nutting's), and it provides excellent views of the waterfowl on both sides, particularly near the marina and I-95 bridge. Although the Havasu finger gives a lovely panoramic perspective, the winterfowl still flush very easily, giving me far too much credit for being able to run, jump, and swim after them in a fast and predatory fashion.
Common Goldeneye were one of my target Ducks, and while they were not very hospitable, they were still stunning through the binoculars.

Given the size of the reservoir and the skittishness of the birds, digiscoping will likely yield better photos than the ol' telephoto lens, but I was low on options, having not yet procured  kayak, and had to make peace with photographing the Goldeneye rafts from the nosebleed seats.  

Driving southwest from the lake, I made a stop atop Parker dam, where the secluded inlets and man-made covers allowed some closer views of the smaller waterfowl pockets that didn't mind the shallower water. Lesser Scaup were among the species paling around up there, and of course the American Coots had to make a perfunctory appearance as well.

The sort of crew-cut look to the Scaup points towards Lesser (as I recently was reminded by Alex Lamoreaux), versus the more gradually rounding head one would find in Greater. The reservoir can also pull in Long-tailed Ducks and a variety of Gulls, but alas some time constraints prohibited me from further exploring this charming area.