Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Oh, just a Pokey Polkin' around kinda Post

After last weekend's excessivley eventful birding, I have little to show either in comparison or really even in its own right. With a lot of help from birding protege Caleb Strand, I finally saw a Varied Thrush this past weekend. This almost-nemesis (one can't really call a bird that's only a vagrant in your state a nemesis) was equal parts gorgeous and obscured, boldly colored and shyly behaved. Neither of us captured images of this bird in its dense Hassayampa haunt, which means I'm opening up the sock drawer now. But, slightly more interesting than looking at my socks (or not, depending on what you're into) will be looking at these birds picked up from poking around east Phoenix parks. 

Before that, here are a couple of pictures from the Hassayampa Preserve where we had this VATH. This is one of the best birding sites in Maricopa, respective of good riparian habitat and vagrant potential (more than potential; this place is always turning up great vagrants). Despite all of this, I still tend to have mediocre luck here, and it bugs me to no end. Hassayampa is also the only area in Maricopa that consistently hosts breeding Gray and Red-shouldered Hawks with Lawrence's Goldfinches. Here's some crumby photo evidence of the middle one.

Additionally, here's a goofy Black Phoebe with a messed up eye. The number of out-of-state birders who email me for information on where to best see this bird is...slightly cringe-worthy.

This weird winter has been good for vagrant Warblers in central Arizona, so during this past week I used the odds and ends of spare time on various afternoons to check out some of the urban sites where cottonwoods and/or pines were growing near a bit of water. Most of the better, well-known spots around Phoenix were already getting good coverage, so I decided to check out a park for which I have seen no eBird reports. There's a big clump of trees--pine and bottle mostly--across the canal from the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. Every now and again I'd wonder what was over there, and so with a little downtime one afternoon I finally checked it out. It was pretty bland, but it hey it had more birds than my living room. Killdeer in the parking lot? Good sign. It's an increasingly known fact that ideal Killdeer nesting grounds are concrete, asphalt, or gravel plains near heavy automobile or pedestrian traffic. No doubt this bird will be plopping out eggs soon. 

The impressively-foliaged park I had often glimpsed from across the DBG/Papago Park canal is called the Pera Club, which it turns out is a private park for employees of the SRP power company conglomerate. It has free admission and is very well kept, with stands of elm, aleppo and afghan pine, and mesquite providing decent birding potential. Recently, Nate McGowan found a nesting Anna's Hummingbird in an aleppo pine in my apartment complex. I found another at Pera, and this was mid-February. Kids are growing up way too fast these days. 

Park birding is not a very pure nor very productive enterprise, but it has its appeals. For those who like listing and growing their patches, it makes common birds appealing and exciting again--like the many dozens of Quail and Brown-headed Cowbirds found at Pera. I also tend to turn up weird stuff at these parks, which attract hobos of both the homo sapien and avian world. Non-countable, abandoned or escaped birds like Budgerigar, or this Cockatiel from Encanto a few years back, can make for an interesting visit to such urban oasis. This time at Pera, it was some subspecies of Vampiric Siberian-collared Wedding Dove that made for an awkward spectacle. 


I watched this bird wander around the grassy areas and crash into a chain-link fence while flying. It may be bright in plumage, but it wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer. Given the healthy population of Red-tail Hawks in the area, I doubt it will be around much longer. 

For an invasive/introduced species to be eaten by a native predator, at least, seems the best way to go. 
From observations past I know at least one pair of Red-tails nest at this park. As a young lad, I often watched them copulate from across the canal at the DBG, curious and ready to learn about the world the bees as well. More relevantly here, this bird seems to have the bottom half of a Round-tailed Ground Squirrel, which is the second best half of such a squirrel to have.

With Pera failing to turn up any warblers (excusing YRWA), I swung by Tempe Marsh off the Tempe Town Lake, an area always good for waterfowl and the occasional passerine-of-interest (POI) in the riparian thicket. The cottonwood/tamarisk groves did not look healthy, and some construction in the area limited access to the Salt River ("Tempe Town Lake") for persons without wings. 

So I was resigned to scanning from a distance with inadequate equipment for such a task. All the same, groups of Cormorants, waders, and Mergansers, plus the afore-shown Bald Eagle, made for an eventful winding down of the afternoon, before such pesky things and laundry and prepping for Monday returned to the fore. As a (possible) recent highlight, the birds below might run as candidates for Red-breatsed Merganser (not that such things should be voted on), with the lengthy crest and lack of contrasting white on the flanks and wings/scapulars. It's always good to have something bothersome, just a bit unsettling, to keep you frosty through the week.