Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Magnolia in the Evening: Winning on Wednesday

Wednesday was a double victory. The last week of school is now more than half over, and while I will not yet think about the gross amount of things I have yet to grade and evaluations to write, climbing over that hump is encouraging. This Wednesday evening also brought another boon, the opportunity to chase and fine spring vagrant, one both uncommon and bodacious.
A male Magnolia Warbler was found by several birders on Monday morning just outside of the Desert Botanical Gardens, presumably during the weekly bird walk. The bird was relocated photographed on Tuesday in the same area, feeding near some acacia and mesquite trees adjacent to the canal walkway that runs parallel to the DBG. Dios mio it looked good. Warblers are bad enough at staying still even in their appropriate range so I wasn't overly optimistic about a Wednesday chase, but the DBG is only 6 minutes away from work, so if I passed up that possibility than I really wouldn't be any sort of birder at all. I was also joined on-site by Pops, and this would be a coveted and rare weekday lifer for both of us. 

There were plenty of meetings after school but I'm a good Bird Scout with several make believe preparedness badged, and thus my birding junk was in the car, along with some dynamic swim trunks. We actually got there with plenty of daylight left. In fact, there was too much daylight. It was still quite hot and the bird activity was initially low, so we had to make do with other critters, like this Desert Spiny Lizard.

Another cool find early into the birding (really before there were any noteworthy birds) was a Giant Desert Centipede. This dude was about seven inches long and just hanging in the open. I can handle, literally, spiders and roaches and leeches and internal human organs, but I'll be honest in saying centipedes creep me out a bit, and not just because of the innovative surgeries and subsequent films they can inspire in some people.

So on a hot spring (summer) afternoon with little shade, what else does one do? Check out the Rough-wing Swallows being all dramatic on the utility lines, for one.

And observe the local but kinda boring Gilded Flickers for another.

if you're really desperate, you can even creep on shadowy female Lesser Goldfinches, some of the dullest birds in town.

After about forty-five minutes of patrolling the acacia and mesquite trees along the canal, Pops finally had a sighting. A small, darkish bird with white flashing on the tail skipped into a mesquite from across the fence in the DBG area. The yellow was initially covered but pretty soon we were getting semi-obscured but continuing looks at a gorgeous lifer. Magnolia Warbler on the up and up!

The Warbler, unlike those of use who were chasing it, was wise enough to wait on its evening forays until after the sun had drifted below the horizon. Our binocular looks were fantastic; the bird didn't care about we quiet bystanders, though frequent cyclists and joggers would give him a scare.
Shooting warblers without direct light and in a bushy mesquite tree is a losing battle, so I was satisfied with the great visual and some diagnostic photos, especially considering that this was a bird, up until a couple of days ago, that wasn't really on my 'expected vagrant' AZ radar. This is only the second or third record I've seen in the last few years.
After several minutes a couple of bikers flushed the bird across the canal and that was that. There's a certain temptation to try again in the morning with better light, but the foliage on the other side of the canal is much broader and nicer, featuring some dense transplant pines that are actually more in-line with its usual habitat, so there's also a worry that the bird won't bother coming back.

We had just enough time with the Warbler and the residual heat to melt our faces pretty well, no complaints about a near-chase, Wednesday evening lifer.
On the way back to the cars, we were treated to darting Nighthawks and a few other desert species perched atop their respective thrones.

So is the birding luck used up, or is this a powerful omen for the weekend? Only time and terrible tasting, brittle, gimmicky, thyroid-shaped cookies will tell.