Sunday, March 9, 2014

What's the Secret?

It has been a grossly long time since I've been able to post, with weekends being full of other considerations and, more recently, heavy rain (which I really shouldn't grumble about). Recent car hiccups and expensive gas discouraged too far of a trip this weekend, but the Hassayampa River preserve offers some precious riparian junk at only an hour away, and a nice reprieve from the somewhat repetitive central phoenix birding. At least, that was part of the reason for heading to Hassayampa. Truth be told, there are more species to see at Tres Rios and the surrounding farmland. 

These Mallards met at dawn along a non subterranean portion of the Hassayampa River, presumably to duel to the death for the lady's honor.

Hassayampa is a smaller area than Tres Rios, so in a sense it's easier to bird and relocate sightings, and it has also been a hotbed for great Maricopa County finds. Grey Catbird, Rufous-backed Robin, Downy Woodpecker, Gray Hawk, and Green Kingfisher, Winter Wren, and  Magnolia Warblers have all turned up here in the last couple of years. It's a lush strip of riparian in the middle of an arid fly-way, the perfect vagrant/migrant trap.

And yet...I dunno, I just can't get this place to work for me. Whenever I bird Hassayampa it is pretty lackluster. I find the expected stuff, maybe a few uncommon birds, and never the big rarities. I haven't found the key quite yet, haven't unlocked the full potential of this place, which is maybe why I bird the closer Tres Rios much more often.
It's a beautiful place and time at Hassayampa is never poorly spent, but looking at the all-important good birds vs. time spent finding them ratio, my ratings there are pretty poor.

There's still something to be said though for a place where Vermilion Flycatchers are a common, expected sighting, something to be said like, "Wow, Butler, what are you complaining about?"

With this unseasonably warm weather in Phoenix weirdly early migrations are already underway. I decided to hit up Hassyampa for any nifty migrants and then peruse Tres Rios is later on. Some notably early finds were Lucy's Warblers as well as Bell's, Hutton's, and Plumbeous Vireo.

Lesser Goldfinches were some of the most numerous and vocal birds. I find their chirps to be very pleasant on the ears, and that their flocks also attract other nice birds.

The best find at Hassayampa, more so than the early birds, was a pair of Lawrence's Goldfinches gathering nesting material. This is only the third or fourth time I've seen these birds--Hassayampa is definitely the best place for LAGOs in central AZ) in the last few years, so naturally I took no decent photographs.

Anna's were already on the nest when not busy berating one another or other unassuming flycatchers and the like. Winter definitely got skipped down here.

In addition to wanting to turn up my own rarity at Hassayampa, I also went for another pride-based reason, which is that I have absolutely no photos of Cedar Waxwings. 

One assumes that by my age you'd have have at least one lovely, intimate photographic experience with Waxwings. I mean, I saw them often enough, heard their calls, appreciated them from afar just never happened for me. As time goes on, it becomes more and more difficult; there's more and more pressure, and pretty soon I just stopped trying...

Actually that's not so true. They just tend to perch pretty high around Arizona, not being forced to come down lower to forage as in snowier places, so there aren't as many opportunities for photograph them well here, especially not around Phoenix. The Seven Springs site in Cave Creek, with its many juniper bushes, is the only exception I can think of.

Hassayampa has some the most clean-cut examples of the southwest subspecies of Song Sparrow. Many of the SOSPs around Phoenix are much darker intergrades, but at Hassayampa they're predominantly light and chestnutty, as southwestern Darwin intended.

There are always plenty of Robins to see too, not a common/widely distributed bird elsewhere in Maricopa, and this time of year the Robin flocks hold a bit of extra intrigue because of what it might conceal.

Alas, the dozen or so examples were all Non Rufous-backed Robins, the lesser known cousin.

Do you have any spots like that, a spot's reported on listservs as having all kinds of awesome stuff, and then when you arrive it's like the party ended just before?

There were plenty of year birds and some nice sightings, but I'm still feeling I haven't unlocked the potential here, and it's a bit too far to bird often with many excellent options only half the distance. 

Sometimes you have to pick your battles, and this is one gorgeous site I'll recommend to anybody, but probably wait to visit again myself until I hear something reported. In the meant time, I'll stick to places I know well, or else try to find some that are totally new.