Monday, December 29, 2014

Empty-Handed Chasing and Swarms of Things

Over the past couple weeks I have been very bad about posting, but this is not because I fear you or hate you, dear reader. Rather, it is because I had nothing much to post. Being unable to make longer trips throughout the AZ, and not desiring to seek out non-lifer scope-view Scoters at Lake Pleasant, my birding options and motivations took a hit this December. More recently, there has been a Fulvous Whistling-Duck reported in west Phoenix, first in the Arlington area and then around the Tres Rios Wetlands. Many people have chased after this wandering bird, among the many miles of agricultural fields, canals, and run off ponds. A few have been lucky enough to find it; while I am resolved to continue after the new year, I have not been one of them. On the up side, chasing after this phantom duck has at least given Butler's Birds some post-able material, so we're back in business!

Nothing announces a return to better days like a Kestrel on a telephone pole huh? This could be classified as a "vintage" or "classic" shot. It could also be classified as "crappy" and "mediocre."

Birding the agricultural fields is always fun. You can stay in the car for the most part, and the bird views are largely unobstructed. Of course, when the birds keep low to the ground, it presents its own problems. Bald Eagles still stick out like dislocated ogre thumbs. What is that duck nearby you ask? Is that a Fulvous??? No it is not. That would have been sweet.

Winter time and smelly farm country are a winning combination for non-Oriole Icterid watching in Maricopa County. Some people spend their entire careers and lives watching Icterids but not Orioles. True enough, not all Icterids are made equal. Look at the regal pose of this Yellow-headed Blackbird, compared to the sniveling, pusillanimous Cowbird nearby. But that would go for Orioles too right?

Well, when I ask non-Oriole Icteriders why they do what they do, the response is usually, "Up yours, kid." In their defense, Orioles don't congregate like this. 

...Or this

...Or this

Everybody likes swarms of things, except perhaps for ancient Egyptians (I don't mean swarms of Ancient Egyptians, although that does sound like bad news too) and people with a fear of bees. For those fearful of you out there, here's a nice, solitary and quiet Wilson's Snipe, one of the non-swarmiest birds there is. Theirs is an anxious existence, but damn they have nice mantles.

The trouble with the Fulvous Duck is that in its foraging it moves around a lot, and it has a lot of options. I went out to Arlington where it was first seen, thinking all the while that if I were that duck I'd head east towards Tres Rios, where there are larger, protected wetlands. Sure enough, I dipped on the duck and it turned up near Tres Rios. Since then it's been seen at different watering holes. Knowing the regular spots were being monitored without success, I decided to check a few from days of yore. This was also a mistake, because most of those retention ponds, where I birded a few years ago, now look like this. This is not very good Fulvous Whistling-Duck habitat.

Another upside to patrolling canals and retention ponds along agr. fields, of course, is the Burrowing Owls. I understand that Burrowing Owls are one of the only reasons people stop by Butler's Birds, and like any grimy politician, I give the people what they want. Different Owls, different times of day, same pose and cuteness factors.

The rarity chase has thus far been unsuccessful, but some neat stuff has turned up. Check out this dark morph raptor; Red-tail would be the first bet but the eyes and beak also are reminiscent of Ferruginous to me, and dark morph Ferruginous is pretty rare (10% of population, I have read). If this bird would have flown, that would've clinched it one way or another, but of course this is the one raptor that stayed still (and Buteo Regalis should be so brave...)

Butler's Birds has migrated over to North Carolina for its annual, weekly winter sojourn, so the Fulvous Duck must wait a little while (and maybe for a TX return, alas), but in the mean time we're going for the all time Wayne County, NC eBirding record. It's 97 species before Jan. 1st or bust, 21 to go!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Shroud, A Veil, Covering up a Fail

My birding has been pretty minimal these last few weeks. I must admit, considering how good November and December are for vagrant/rare birds, I am a total grinch in getting with the 'chasing' spirit. I justify this surliness in that most of the vagrant birds are eclipse-plumage waterfowl on large reservoirs, and it would have to be a very rare bird indeed to make crumby scope views worth a long chase. Some vagrant Warblers have turned up, as well as a Baltimore Oriole hanging out in Tucson. There was a time I would have chased many of these birds, but having now seen most of these species in other states, I've lost a fair bit of motivation, at least as much of the motivation as is required to get over the various and sundry obstacles inimical to early-morning birding. Plus it's been rainy the last two weekends.

Anyhow, even I had to get into gear when someone reported a Long-tailed Duck (not quite annual in AZ) at Saguaro Lake, a mere 35 minute drive without traffic. This would be both a lifer and a pretty great bird for Arizona, and it was close. But of course, all of those earlier grinch factors were still in play. The Saguaro Lake reservoir had a nice, primordial fog going as the sun labored to crest its bluffs. 

I set to work scanning the near-shore waterfowl, not expecting to find a Long-tailed so close to land, but more for a lack of anything else to do until the light improved and the stratus lifted.

I feel like every bird blogger and his cousin have all had one or more experiences in which a Sora walks out into plain view and just loiters, allowing for fantastic crushing. Soras, for the most part, have been mean to me in denying such an opportunity. One fellow was pretty accommodating this morning, but this was in large part due to the soporific lighting. The Hi-Res crush must wait.

The Saguaro Lake reservoir is a nice area, great for logging all of the expected waterfowl and some semi-rarities like Surf Scoter. The surrounding mesquite scrub is pretty good for the Sonoran species--woodpeckers, sparrows, thrashers, and wrens.

Out of the mist materialized many such birds, including some spiffy Buffleheads, but Long-tailed Duck was not one of them. I did have to make note of how quick it was to register all of the waterfowl in the area though, including 4 Grebe species. This might be quite the essential spot in a Big Day challenge come spring...


Eared Grebes are nice, though scant consolation for a Long-tailed Duck. If only the cheeks were whiter, the head less peaked.

Since the bird was first reported on Friday, there has been no further mention of it on the listerv, which was very curious considering how centrally located Saguaro Lake is. Perhaps the Long-tailed Duck was simply a long tale. Well, it was still nice to be out. White-crowns and Cardinals are expectedly everywhere. This is like the AZ equivalent of the Cardinal-eating-sunflower-seeds-in-snow that we'll all being from the east in the next few weeks:

So, even the close-to-home chase was bust this time around, doomed from the start perhaps. At any rate, I have one more week of work before winter break, and then there will be some serious chasing. Until then, I shall remain an existentially troubled Coot, wanting much, yet seeking little.