Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Returning to the "Field"

2013 snuck away quietly into that goodnight, and for the first week of 2014 I was similarly unable to do much birding. Now, two weeks into the new year, I am still not satisfied with my time out in the field, but life is busy and it tends to sweep one along in its current unless you grab onto something and buy yourself some time. This past weekend I was finally able to get back out after the birdies, accompanied by a British birdingpal named Christopher, who was in town for a conference on Renewable Phosphorous, but really just for the Sonoran specialties.

Our first stop, a long-time favorite of mine, was the thrasher spot out in west Phoenix. Our time there was not overly productive though we did hit some targets. For the first hour or two after sunrise there was a lot of vain searching, and semi-vain listening. Wafting out among the creosote bushes and sage, the stuttering song of a Le Conte's Thrasher called to us. 

Say's Phoebes, Sage Sparrows, White-crowns, Verdins and Gnatcatchers all went about their daily business, but the birding was pretty slow at the Thrasher Spot. Admittedly and expectedly, I'm also terribly out of practice by now. The birds could tell too that I hadn't been putting in the requisite hours. They fled in disgust, even those that usually sit still.

Eventually we got a bead on a singing Le Conte's Thrasher and enjoyed some really nice scope views, courtesy of Christopher. The Thrasher seemed to be singing out its territorial claims, and no others dared sing a response, but an Anna's Hummingbird got involved at one point to insist on its own suzerainty.
As my British associate pointed out, it was one of very few birds in Arizona to actually boast a pretty, involved song, even if they're not exactly eye candy. Thrasher have many appeals for me, and their vocalizations certainly are a strong one.

Although Le Conte's is a rarer/more specialized/generally more desired bird, the best sighting at the Thrasher Spot was a Great Horned Owl conspicuously perched in a mesquite tree. I've never seen these large predators out here before, figuring they fancied higher concentrations of larger trees, the large population of meek cottontails not withstanding.

From the Thrasher spot we drove west through Arlington, picking up Ferrugionuous and Red-tailed Hawks, a dozen Kestrels, Meadowlarks, and other expected species of the agricultural land.

A quick stop at Tres Rios, cut short by my obligations elsewhere, helped bolster our species list for the day, adding many riparian and aquatic birds to our raptor and desert-heavy list of species.

It was a little weird to see this bird in January, but not because of its species. Any guesses?

The cattle pens a mile northeast of Tres Rios were also a nice attraction. It's such a large, expensive operation to feed so many birds...and the cows occasionally get food too.

Next weekend I hope to hit up the Seven Springs recreation area and Rackensack Creek for Fox Sparrows, Waxwings, and Solitaires. It's time to get this birding year back on track!