Monday, December 29, 2014

Empty-Handed Chasing and Swarms of Things

Over the past couple weeks I have been very bad about posting, but this is not because I fear you or hate you, dear reader. Rather, it is because I had nothing much to post. Being unable to make longer trips throughout the AZ, and not desiring to seek out non-lifer scope-view Scoters at Lake Pleasant, my birding options and motivations took a hit this December. More recently, there has been a Fulvous Whistling-Duck reported in west Phoenix, first in the Arlington area and then around the Tres Rios Wetlands. Many people have chased after this wandering bird, among the many miles of agricultural fields, canals, and run off ponds. A few have been lucky enough to find it; while I am resolved to continue after the new year, I have not been one of them. On the up side, chasing after this phantom duck has at least given Butler's Birds some post-able material, so we're back in business!

Nothing announces a return to better days like a Kestrel on a telephone pole huh? This could be classified as a "vintage" or "classic" shot. It could also be classified as "crappy" and "mediocre."

Birding the agricultural fields is always fun. You can stay in the car for the most part, and the bird views are largely unobstructed. Of course, when the birds keep low to the ground, it presents its own problems. Bald Eagles still stick out like dislocated ogre thumbs. What is that duck nearby you ask? Is that a Fulvous??? No it is not. That would have been sweet.

Winter time and smelly farm country are a winning combination for non-Oriole Icterid watching in Maricopa County. Some people spend their entire careers and lives watching Icterids but not Orioles. True enough, not all Icterids are made equal. Look at the regal pose of this Yellow-headed Blackbird, compared to the sniveling, pusillanimous Cowbird nearby. But that would go for Orioles too right?

Well, when I ask non-Oriole Icteriders why they do what they do, the response is usually, "Up yours, kid." In their defense, Orioles don't congregate like this. 

...Or this

...Or this

Everybody likes swarms of things, except perhaps for ancient Egyptians (I don't mean swarms of Ancient Egyptians, although that does sound like bad news too) and people with a fear of bees. For those fearful of you out there, here's a nice, solitary and quiet Wilson's Snipe, one of the non-swarmiest birds there is. Theirs is an anxious existence, but damn they have nice mantles.

The trouble with the Fulvous Duck is that in its foraging it moves around a lot, and it has a lot of options. I went out to Arlington where it was first seen, thinking all the while that if I were that duck I'd head east towards Tres Rios, where there are larger, protected wetlands. Sure enough, I dipped on the duck and it turned up near Tres Rios. Since then it's been seen at different watering holes. Knowing the regular spots were being monitored without success, I decided to check a few from days of yore. This was also a mistake, because most of those retention ponds, where I birded a few years ago, now look like this. This is not very good Fulvous Whistling-Duck habitat.

Another upside to patrolling canals and retention ponds along agr. fields, of course, is the Burrowing Owls. I understand that Burrowing Owls are one of the only reasons people stop by Butler's Birds, and like any grimy politician, I give the people what they want. Different Owls, different times of day, same pose and cuteness factors.

The rarity chase has thus far been unsuccessful, but some neat stuff has turned up. Check out this dark morph raptor; Red-tail would be the first bet but the eyes and beak also are reminiscent of Ferruginous to me, and dark morph Ferruginous is pretty rare (10% of population, I have read). If this bird would have flown, that would've clinched it one way or another, but of course this is the one raptor that stayed still (and Buteo Regalis should be so brave...)

Butler's Birds has migrated over to North Carolina for its annual, weekly winter sojourn, so the Fulvous Duck must wait a little while (and maybe for a TX return, alas), but in the mean time we're going for the all time Wayne County, NC eBirding record. It's 97 species before Jan. 1st or bust, 21 to go!