Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Encanto Encounters--Reigniting an Old Flame

This past weekend, in addition to fitting in some most satisfactory birding in Gilbert, I met up with an old flame via the internet. The first time I met this gorgeous friend it was such a new experience, exciting in so many ways. It also burned out pretty quickly--she proved to be too clingy and quickly grew distant, even skittish, and didn't like me taking photos. 
I'm referring, of course, to a lifer Lewis's Woodpecker from several years ago found at Encanto Park, an assuming urban park in central Phoenix. The park itself is mostly water features and palm trees next to a golf course, but there are three well-stocked and, importantly, uncontested oak trees near the park clubhouse, and this Lewis's wintered there quite comfortably, stashing acorns in the palms and enjoying the mild weather. The bird was rediscovered this year (assumedly it's the same bird--that works better for the narrative and bad jokes I'm making), back at its old tricks, and upon reading the listserv report I couldn't resist a reaquiantance. Even though it had been a surprising lifer those years before, I've been unsatisfied with my photos of the species and there isn't many a better opportunity to photograph these predominantly montane birds than a comparatively open city park. 

When I returned to Encanto, which also happens to be close to the best Thai restaurant in Phoenix...the Lewis's was readily apparent, being far larger and slower flying than its timid Gila counterparts. It was wasting little time in making hollows and stockpiling its winter store.

It's no birding gem, by any means, but Encanto Park also has some other feathery attractions. It's a very reliable spot--as is any park with a bit of water and some palms--for Rosy-faced Lovebirds, which are a recently countable bird in the ABA area. These birds are second only to the Le Conte's Thrasher as the subject of many emails I get from out-of-town birders looking to boost their life lists. Unlike those coy, skittish Thrashers, these birds are conspicuous, cute, and more gregarious than the neighborhood ice cream man on a summer day.

They don't just associate with their own kind either. They're obliging of Starlings, Grackles, Curve-billed Thashers, Doves, and, as it turns out, they don't even really mind Kestrel company. Can you spot the third bird in this tree?

The Eurasian Collared Dove...they may seem innocuous, and they're not even overly numerous in central Phoenix, but this species has spread out and conquered North America faster than just about any other introduced species of which I can think. They'd make the blitzkrieging panzer divisions, USMC, 101st Airborne, and the Ottoman Turks all green with envy and uhh...purple?...with respect. Their secret to vast, rapid conquest seems to be having lots of babies and being bigger than the other doves, that, and having a really raspy, surprisingly ugly dove call. Despite their lily-white facade, they're also very hardy. I see them in slummy parts of town next to pigeons, on cattle farms, in the desert, and up in below-freezing temperatures in the mountains, where even Pigeons and Starlings will not go.

I can't say I'm thrilled to see or read about their expansion, but I'll take them over Pigeons at least. Their cleaner, chalky complexions are easier on the eye, and sometimes they seem very empathetic:

"Would...would you mind if I conquered you? Would that be alright?"

After initially seeing the Lewis's and then doing a quick walk-about to see if anything else was out and eye-level, I returned to the woodpecker post, transforming into a Stalking Gawker. No doubt it's been said before, said well, said often, even said superfluously (the fourth one is my personal style at any rate), but this Woodpecker is absurdly colored. It looks like the result of a Crow and a tropical Tanager's wild night of passion, made all the more weird by it being a woodland/montane bird now witnessed bringing home the bacon, so to speak, on a palm tree. 

The Lewis's was much more cooperative than when we first met years before, even if its significance for the list and what not had lessened. I was able to scoot right up to the base of its palmy acorn reservoir and fire dead ahead, finally getting a little eye contact, recognition, and justice. What an outstandingly gorgeous bird. When we first met...I was young and reckless. Things will never be the same between us, but I and the Lewis's...we have an understanding now, from time shared together.