Tuesday, February 5, 2013


After dipping on a Northern Parula at the Tres Rios Wetlands last weekend, I was determined to find the bird this week and thus not have it nagging at me next weekend. So, it would be a simple drive over in the evening, with clear skies, to spend some time looking in the one little area where this bird has been seen off and on for the last few weeks.

It sounded simple enough on paper, but the mission would prove to be very difficult. Getting off work at 4pm, Maria wife would have to come pick me up, then we'd pick up our car from the shop. We'd both head to our apartment where I could change and get my gear, before trying to power through several miles of rush hour traffic on the west-bound I-10. By the time I reached Tres Rios it was 5:06pm, which meant I had about 40 minutes of honest-to-goodness sunlight left. While the Parula has been seen and heard consistently in one little, contained area at Tres Rios, this was the area:

A group of three huge eucalyptus trees, already teeming with Yellow-rumped Warblers, is not the easiest place to spot a little 5 inch, non-breeding plumage warbler, especially when it's about the same size as an individual eucalyptus leaf. With the fading light and the high canopies, I was not expecting much in way of photos, just a documentation shot.

But the greatest tribulation of all, and one I was not so much expecting (in large part due to my inexperience in this sort of endeavor), was the intense, paralyzing stiffness in my neck from staring straight up whilst also supporting binoculars and a camera. Warbler neck is a common, professionally recognized and diagnosed problem in the east, with many cases occurring in the spring and summer, but it doesn't break out so much in Arizona. I think the Surgeon General needs to start putting a warning on all binoculars and birding optics:

*WARNING: The use of these optics to view and enjoy wood warblers for a sustained period of time surpassing five minutes may result in severe neck soreness and the haunting worry that one has instantaneously become 117 years old.*

At any rate, after about 45 minutes of searching while the sun was sinking below the South Mountain range, I finally caught sight of something. With its smaller size and yellower belly and breast, I'd finally found something that, at least, wasn't a Yellow-rumped Warbler. 

I cranked the ISO up to 800 on the camera, rolled the EV compensation up to +7, and reduced the aperture to 5.6. With all the pent up rage of a sore neck and a frustrated weekend excursion, I unloaded volley after volley of digital shots at the tree, hoping to catch the Parula in the viewfinder. As the sun finally set and my camera barrel was till smoking, I felt satisfied that I had something for my trouble, and could now add this unusual eastern visitor to my Life list.

I hope to see more Parulas up close and personal when I can make a properly timed and located birding trip in May, but until then these sorts of sporadic chases will have to do. On the way out of the preserve, a few hundred Ibis moved in to roost for the evening. There were purple skies and I was Parulyzed. Not bad for a Monday!