Friday, February 13, 2015

Target Birding: Maricopa Bull's-Eyes

A dangerous thing happened this weekend. Bird bloggers met up, face to face, without their electronic screens and safeguards and anonymity, and then went birding. Such endeavors have all the beautiful and terrifying potential of hybridized online dating combined with an antique fan-collector's convention, except in this case the unifying esoteric interest is birds, and birds provide plenty of their own heartbreak. No longer content with crushing it in Austin, Nate McGowan decided to come and crush it in central Arizona for a few days. First on the docket was a visit to the Thrasher spot in Buckeye, west Maricopa County.

With clear skies and cool temps we got the business done, logging some cooperative Bendire's Thrashers first thing, who provided a near-continual soundtrack throughout the morning. We also had individual Le Conte's and Crissal Thrasher, with which Butler'd Birds continued its hallowed tradition of not getting good photos.

The Thrasher Spot has a reputation throughout North America as one of the best areas for Le Conte's Thrasher, and as an added enticement it also plays host to the short-staying Sage Sparrow complex, both Sagebrush and Bell's. We did not see these birds until near the end of our excursion. While the Sagebrush eventually showed well, we could not pick out any Bell's Sparrows, which leaves them for a separate trip--if they're still in town. Both birds tend to be the first to depart for their breeding grounds.

As is also the case with astronauts, sailors, and bees, our trip out into west Maricopa needed to be followed by a trip back home. When returning from the Thrasher Spot, it is most advisable to swing through the nearby agricultural fields (and Arlington WMA, if there's time) for raptors. We were sadly bereft of Ferruginous Hawks, but Nate happily reminded me to appreciate the darker, western morph of Red-Tail that we commonly enjoy.

With the morning targets mostly secured (Bell's Sparrow withstanding), we then bolted to the far east side of town and the Salt River. Coon Bluff treated us to typical looks of Phainopepla and Gray Flycatcher, though photo ops yielded diminishing returns in the high noon dynamic. The Granite Reef site provided some distant but compelling views of Common Merganser, Bufflehead, and Common Goldeneye. Speaking of compelling, the Goldeneye drake was making time with his special hen. How's this for solicitation?

The Gray Flycatcher was one of very few remaining empid lifers for Nate, but at multiple points along the river we failed to come up with Gilded Flicker, which Nate was also seeking the day before. It was a peculiar shortfall for us, since the Flicker was, relatively, the easiest of our targets. There was this peeping tom at Granite Reef to add some welcome distraction.

With the Gilded Flicker failing to materialize along the Salt River and the day before around Papago, I played one last desperate, domestic card. I tried to get Mom and Dad to solve my problems. With dusty, tear-streaked face I swung by the folks' place, as they also host Flickers around their property. Although the shady seating and cold beer was consoling, GIFL still eluded us. 
Psht. Costa's Hummingbird is cooler anyway.