Sunday, November 3, 2013

Ponds, Rivers, and Big ol' Puddles of Sh*t

Yes, yes, those water features provide some of the most variable and high quality birding in any state, even in states like Arizona that do not feature much water in the first place. I was originally planning on hitting up the Hassayampa Preserve today after hearing about Tommy D's great finds and seeing his great photos, but I got a later start in the morning and didn't have time for the drive. As such, it was back to the west side staples with trips to the Glendale Recharge Ponds and Tres Rios promising some reliable species and maybe a migrant or two.  

I ran into Muriel Neddermeyer on the east side of the ponds, and we decided to join forces for the morning. Suffice it to say, the west Phoenix birding world shook mightily at the news of this alliance, even if some nearby foragers didn't take much heed.

The southeastern basins had good water levels, a bit too deep for some waders but deep enough to hold the daily increasing waterfowl. We had all three species of Teal, Wigeons, and a few Pintails, in addition to hundreds of Black-necked Stilts, Dowitchers, Leasts, Coots, and some Avocets.

Since the water was too deep for most of the smaller shorebird migrants and I'd already picked up my Short-billed Dowitcher for the year, I wasn't overly scrupulous nor scope-u-lous in scanning the mixed flocks (this laziness is not something to publicly admit if one wants to improve on the GBRS, but some of us birders are not so ambitious, and prefer to keep our heads down). 

In the migrant department we did pick up a non-breeding Dunlin, which isn't the most excitingly colored bird to find but it's an uncommon one, one that makes the casual Phoenix (non-shore)birder scratch his or her head for a moment and think back to those pages in Sibley. Unfortunately the handsomer and rarer Black-bellied Plover was no longer present.

Raptor activity around the ponds was very solid, with Red-tailed Hawks, Peregrine Falcons, Kestrels, and Merlins all making an appearance. A Loggerhead Shrike on the way out rounded out the carnivorous category well, though few of these rapacious raptors stayed put for pictures. 

Of course, in a large drainage basin full of sunfish and carp, the Ospreys do quite well for themselves too, and we had several of these kleeping piscivores flying loops throughout the morning. 

That was it for the ponds, so next Muriel and I decided to try some west-side rivers. The Tres Rios concatenation can be dizzying to bird, with so much space and so many species all sounding off and darting around at once. That amounts to good birding though, and it's a guaranteed 50+ species spot, if you give it a good hour or two. With those sorts of numbers the statistical odds of getting some up close and personal sightings are ever in one's favor. 

There were White Pelicans flying overhead, which never cease to amaze me with their giant-ness, and Brown Pelicans floating down below. The Brown Pelicans are a much more recent, though now reliable, addition to the Tres Rios family. To my knowledge, this is the only site in Maricopa County, and perhaps any part of Arizona away from Lake Havasu or Yuma, where one can expect to see both North American pelicaniformes.

It is not the only place in Arizona to see Belted Kingfishers, nor is it even one of the better spots, but they are another staple of the site.

Muriel and I spent a fair portion of our Tres Rios time distracted by the brazen antics of this Rock n' Roll Wren. I was very glad to see this bird on a prominent boulder spillway dam, because this long wall of loose rocks has cried out for a Rock Wren inhabitant for so long and for so long had been lacking. 

Even among the relatively drably colored Wren family, Rock Wrens are still pretty bland, but they're also very hospitable, accommodating birds. I find them and Canyon Wrens to be, by far, the most delightful Wren species. They don't have the colors, but they do have the personality of a peacock.

They also really love rocks...a lot.

After some time at the Tres Rios rivers I was compelled to head back into Phoenix for a Sunday Thai buffet, but I still didn't feel quite satisfied with the day's sightings. As anyone who's driven south down 91st avenue can attest, there is a miasmic odor that permeates the air around the Broadway/91st avenue intersection. A series of cattle feed lots to the east are responsible, and I like to drive by some of the corrals from time to time in search of Yellow-headed Blackbirds or anything else that'll perch up on the rails for a photo. Adjacent to the feed lots is a large, throbbing, beating, growing pit full of raw sewage. Two drainage pipes maintain a continual flow from the cow pens into the pit, and this rank, festering stew holds a certain attraction for the birds, and thus birders as well.

Where do Black-bellied Whistling Ducks take their chicks for a Sunday funday? To the poo pool of course! C'mon kids, hop on in! The water is...fine.

This is the satisfied look of a fulfilled parent who knows it's been a job well done.

There were several dozen Black-necked Stilts around the the sewage ponds and three species of Blackbird too (Wallace Stevens would have been happy). Just look at that Stilt, daintily posed on its little floating island of excrement above the bubbly, frothy goodness that is the domain of Whistling Ducks.

I definitely kept the windows down for the whole ride back into town, but left the west side birding sites, as always, feeling satisfied with enough birding to make it to next weekend.