Friday, March 6, 2015

Roger Wilco Foxtrot Willcox: More Chasing (...and a bit too fast)

One of my only and best streaks was broken on Sunday. A Red Phalarope was phalaroping in Willcox, about three hours east and south of Phoenix, and this would be both a lifer and a pretty sweet bird to pick up in the middle of not-the-coast land. Alas, I also had some time constraints, which meant this had to be a quick chase, leaving Phoenix at 5:00am and returning at 11:30am. The streak was that despite 9 different warnings in 7 different states in the last 10 years, I had not received a speeding ticket directly from a police officer (those unconstitutional cheating speed cameras in AZ were another story). That ended a bit south of Tucson on Sunday, where the speed quickly dips from 75 to 65 and yours truly was still cruise controllin' at 80mph, just minding his own business, which in this case was seeing good birds. So, that was a bit of a spoiler, as will the weekend traffic school likewise be. Anyhow, the trip was worth it. 

The first bird of the morning--after the obligatory highway birds--was a shady female Pyrrhuloxia who was demonstrating the truly bizarre mandible shape and configuration of this species. Great bird though, great bird...way better than Cardinal. 

Lake Cochise in Willcox is a modest body of water but it's one of very few in a pretty busy flyway, so it has had its share of rarities over the year, and is about the only place in Arizona to get White-rumped Sandpipers in spring. It also has more than its fair share of the common and expected birds.

Coming soon, to a parking lot near you...

Lake Cochise is a small drainage basin from the nearby Twin Lakes golf course, and it is surrounded by the otherwise natural desert grasslands, punctuated here and there by sprouts of wiry mesquite. The habitat and geographic location make it one of the best spots in Arizona to pick up Eastern Meadowlark, and several species of Sparrow, as well as some Longspurs, winter here with great success. There are also Lark Buntings, a bird I hope to see some day in sexy plumage--maybe this summer in Montana or North Dakota.

The golf course area itself provides some foreign habitat in the form of pine and willow trees, along with rushy reedy stuff on its derivative golf course ponds. The pond cover suits Teal species and maybe even an American Bittern if one is very lucky, while the ornamental pines make appreciated perches for   talon-less birds of prey. 
P.S. Why is no gang or sports team given the collective name "The Shrike." It sounds totally badass. 

"My favorite car is the Chevy Impala."

I know what you're thinking: "Quit stalling and just show the damn Phalarope or admit that you busted again and quit wasting my time you mook. Also, your casserole sucks and the only reason your mother hasn't publicly admitted that you were her least favorite child is because she knows she'll have to rely on you for drawn-out hospice care in 30 years." 
Well geez man, that was pretty harsh and personal, but I take your point. Here's the rub though, not only was the REPH in its expected non-breeding plumage, it was also pretty far away, so enjoy this for all of your impatient degradation!

Yeah, not great looks or really much else, but a great tick for Arizona. I should be thankful that this bird was so reliable and easy to spot with only binoculars (and I am; thank you, hopelessly lost Red Phalarope). Also of interest in the area were a pair of corvids that look pretty good for Chihuahuan Raven. They were smaller/more delicate than what I'd expect for CORA, and the nictal bristles on this bird seem to extend all the way to the downward curve of the culmen. The tail is also pretty flat across the edge of the primaries, less 'wedged' than I'd expect on CORA.

Why am I saying all of this out loud? Because CHRA is usually a bird I only count when I've got other people backing me up in the field. This prudence stems not only from my generally conservative birding nature and lack of ID skill, but also from a deeply ingrained belief that the less of anything 'chihuahua' in the world, outside perhaps that region in actual Mexico, the better.
(I kid I kid, CHRA is a cool bird, but I surely do dislike those little rat dogs).