Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Soaring Over Arlington

Last weekend I drove out west to Arlington and its agriculture fields in search of Kites, Ferruginous Hawks, and Long-billed Curlew. I didn't get any photos of the Ferruginous Hawks and didn't even see the other two targets, but it was still a nice spot for some safari (from-the-car) birding. I also ran into a fellow who tipped me off on a place to observe nesting Common Black Hawks and Zone-tailed Hawks in later March, so I'll just look at this trip as a long-term investment for future good birding. The Arlington fields were not without their own birds either. It seemed like Kestrels dotted every telephone pole, and there were various raptors constantly flying overhead. 

I ran into this same Bald Eagle multiple times throughout the day. He liked to perch on the telephone polls (who doesn't!?), but would also always spook every time a car drove by. His must be a life full of angst. The Arlington fields also afforded some nice Harrier views, including the less common, or at least less conspicuous, silver-backed male.

This immature Red-tailed Hawk was about the only bird that stayed perched while I drove by it. He's no silvery Northern Harrier, but I appreciate the good-faith gesture on his part nonetheless.

But watching birds take flight from posts was definitely the theme of the day. Adding in Belted Kingfisher, Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret along the canals, and Meadowlarks on all the fences...I must've seen a good dozen species at least take off of fence posts or poles. It was remarkable thematic coordination on behalf of the avian world. Even the Red-tail didn't stay still for long.

It never feels good to flush birds. It makes one feel clumsy and unpopular...high school all over again. But these birds would all perch by the roadside and then spook as soon as anybody drove by, often flushing from other traffic before I'd get anywhere near. So, in short, they weren't making it easy for themselves either. 

Little did we know that, when we'd make 'V' or 'M' shapes to signify birds in our little kid drawings, we were actually always drawing Osprey. 

To be fair, not all of the birds were chickens. When you could pick the Horned Larks out along the gravel embankments (which was easy when they were facing you), they were pretty accommodating. It's funny to have these birds down here in Phoenix, enjoying the 55 degree weather, and also seeing pictures of them foraging in below-freezing weather in the Midwest. Hey, with mustaches like that, is there any doubt they're tough?

While trolling for Kites and Curlews--an ultimately futile task--I did see some other unlikely farmhands.
Six large white figures foraged with the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in the background. Maybe they were spying for the Russians.

Despite their namesake, these Swans must have been sick of eating hard, frozen Tundra grass. They've been hanging out in Arlington for several weeks at least, and seem very content in the plentiful alfalfa fields. Tundra Swans turn up in the chillier northern parts of Arizona, but west Phoenix is not a place I figured I would ever see wild Swans. This is what must have used up my Curlew luck.

As was pointed out by Seagull Steve in the comments below, and also pondered upon by others, second Swan from the right seems large and bigger-billed than the others. Not to blow the Trumpet too soon, but here are a few more heavily cropped shots.

It wasn't a resounding success, but it was a good bout of birding, and next time I go out to the Le Conte's Thrasher spot, about ten miles farther west, I can comfortably detour through Arlington to photograph some big birds and telephone poles on the way home. It's always good to add another site to one's repertoire.