Saturday, September 27, 2014

Spurred On in a Slow Day's Birding

There has been a lot of talk in the news about California's on going drought and water-related problems. Perhaps surprisingly, we're having the opposite experience in Arizona, where this summer's monsoons have brought record rainfall to the valley (including the most in a single day and also overall). There have been flooding problems in many of the lower areas around town and even on the interstate. There was a heavy microburst Friday night and another this evening on Saturday. Even though the timing for birds (late September) isn't great, and Pops and I tried for some west Phoenix birding just in case something of particular interest had been grounded during the storms. 
Water levels were predictably high in all but Basin 1 at the Glendale Recharge Ponds, and we did not have any surprising Peeps or Gulls/Terns except for the lone, immature, and annual Short-billed Dowitcher (It seems we get one at this location every year in almost identical circumstances). 

The best birding highlight of the day was a single Greater White-fronted Goose in Basin 6 and some distant but nonchalant Rails.

In addition to the Goose, all three Teal species were represented as well as Shovelers, which seems pretty early for all involved. The anticipated waders were in good numbers as well. Somewhere in this picture is an American Avocet, adopted and raised by the Stilts with their milk and culture, truly believing it is a BNST. Can you spot it?

Even though Stilts can be kind of a gossipy, snooty bunch, the Avocet would insist it is one of them. It's a touching thing in this cruel cruel world, but biology can only be denied so much, and Avocets can't bank as well as Stilts...revealed!

Oddly enough, the day's highlight came away from the water, in one of the run-off canals that was littered with masses of vegetation and silt from recent flooding.

The tortoise was making a break away for the shaded, muddy mouth of the wash, moving with incredible speed and a battle-hardened determination that comes with carrying one's own house on one's back everywhere (Snails know what I'm talking about). He was mobile-homing like a beast; we caught up to him in about 10 seconds.

Pretty impressive forearms. This tortoise was a large tortoise, probably close to 40 pounds and bristling with spurs. He had a bit of camouflage on his face, though it did not leave much to the imagination.

Obviously, one doesn't get the opportunity to consort with such ancient and slowly-metabolizing creatures every day, and I had many pressing questions, the foremost being, of course, what to do to stop The Nothing from destroying everything. As one might expect, I was sneezed on several times. What I did not expect was how super creepy tortoises look when they blink.

Pops brought some fruit down from the car to see if we could entice the ol' terrapin. It responded immediately, as if it had interactions with people before...

This is not a species of Arizona Desert Tortoise, but I believe an African Spurred Tortoise. This species grows to be the third largest tortoise in the world and the largest that is not island-bound. African Spurred Tortoise, and you have guessed, are not native to North America. I didn't know the species until doing some research at home later, but this animal's ready response to our offerings already had us believing it to be a release or escapee.

We were musing as to how this fellow could have survived the heavy flooding that the area experienced, an indeed its possible he was only recently abandoned. I'm tempted to swing by again tomorrow, both to quickly scan the basins and reclaim Brandon Marla, as I now name it, for a rescue shelter. 
It's introduced, and while I have no doubt it could find subsistence and is probably too big to worry about predation, flood waters are something it might be unprepared to deal with. On the other hand, post-monsoon and early spring are the only two times in the year when tortoises are active, apart from that they mostly hang out in semi-subterranean haunts.
About an hour after first finding Brandon Marla, we followed its tracks just for funsies and found it had moved all of 10 feet, some prospects for relocating are good, will update.