Sunday, September 1, 2013

Humdinger--A Fond Farewell

Spending time in the White Mountains in July turned up some great hits and misses. I was able to add some much-coveted Life and State birds to my list, and also come away with some satisfying photos. On my second and last day in the White Mountains, the afternoon thunderstorms forced us down from the mountain trails of the Grouse and Gray Jays, back towards Greer, where we decided to spend our last hour or two chasing and photographing some of the less reclusive high elevation species. Tommy had already turned up Northern Pygmy Owls and we had heard Gray Catbirds--a very solid find in Arizona--in the Greer area. Just walking down the middle of Greer, we had Cordilleran Flycatcher, Band-tailed Pigeon, Swallows, and Williamson's Sapsuckers. The last target group, one which I was aching for and one we were saving for last, was the high altitude Hummingbird gang.

Broad-tailed Hummingbirds were the most numerous up in the White Mountains, filling the role that Anna's Hummingbirds play in the lower valleys of Arizona, but they were only the tip of the...uhh...Hummingbird iceberg.
Many of the lodges and restaurants in Greer have well-attended hummingbird feeders hanging out for the mutual enjoyment of bird and person alike. Hoping to get looks and shots of Calliope and Rufous Hummingbirds, we had a stake out at the Molly Butler Lodge for our temperamental quarry. 

We were able to find males and females of every expected Hummingbird species in the area, though photographing them was another challenge altogether, and since we were up in the rustic mountains, it didn't feel quite right to only plunder lots of shots of perched hummingbirds on feeders, which meant the above photo was as good as I could do with the intriguing and majestic Calliope.

Around the Molly Butler Lodge, we also had the pleasure of observing some nesting Cordilleran Flycatchers, a pesky member of the dreaded empidomax mafia. IDing these empids was no problem in the White Mountains though, as their vocalizing and high altitude presence ruled out the look-alike Pacific-slope Flycatcher from any empid-related ambiguities.

Even with all the gorgeous Hummingbirds buzzing around at arm's length, I spent a fair amount of time watching this Cordilleran catch insects and bring them to a nest in the underside of an eave on the back of the Lodge. I don't have a favorite species, but the Flycatchers are certainly, overall, my favorite group of birds.

Somewhat embarrassingly, the Calliope was a Life bird for me, but seeing and photographing that special, streak-necked Hummingbird was not my main goal for our photo stomp. 
With its fiery coloration and personality, the Rufous Hummingbird, along with the American Dipper (totally opposite personality and coloration) was the main photographic target for my trip. These feisty, irascible little buggers are immensely entertaining, unless of course one is a mild-mannered Hummingbird just trying to get a drink in Rufous territory.

Perhaps you've had the experience with a college friend, or going out to a bar or having a night on the town, or even at a family reunion, where there's just some jerk who seems to want to pick a fight or start an argument with every single person that makes eye contact with him. There's no pressing reason, he's just a territorial turd who can't relate to anybody except by being competitive or pugnacious.

Now picture that jerk being only half the size and weight or everybody else around the bar or wherever, and picture the jerk with an absolutely fabulous, flamboyant orange beard, over a white corsage and an orange suit. That's the Rufous Hummingbird. He's totally obnoxious, and totally gorgeous.

I left the White Mountains feeling tremendously satisfied with my photos and sightings. The scenery and weather alone was worth the trip, and with so many specialties up there too, I will have to add it to a yearly birding repertoire in the summer months.