Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Birding the Bush: It's that Time of Year Somewhere

March 8th and a projected high of 83 degrees? Yeah, and it's moving to 88° on Thursday. At any rate, such conditions mean it's time to  get out to the riparian channels and beat the bushes for early migrants and breeders, birds or otherwise. There are several good spots for such behavior along Highway 87, where sycamore riparian habitat and juniper/oak scrub coalesce beneath unambitious granite canyons. In the foothills of the Mazatzal Mountains, Mesquite Wash, Bushnell Tanks, and Sunflower make for fantastic sites, with excellent overall diversity as well as notable breeders like Common Black and Zone-tailed Hawk, Gray Vireo, and Violet-green Swallow. These sites are grouped close together and i in the shadow of Mt. Ord, Maricopa County's highest elevation and one of its best birding locations. 

I'm waiting on the Mt. Ord and/or Slate Creek Divide (another hot spot for tough-on-county birds) trips for a few more weeks, but the more easily accessed Bushnell Tanks felt like an overdue stop, and I was not disappointed. This is a bit cruel, because everyone else will be disappointed. the riparian corridor and liminal juniper scrub was super birdy, with several FOY birds and a county-first Greater Pewee, but with the bird activity being of a high octane, I was pretty lazy with the camera. Plus, the CBHA and  ZTHA had not yet arrived, so we all must still content ourselves with immature RTHAs, which is not contenting at all as it turns out.  

Of course, hawks are the best thing ever, the superlative thing to watch, and all the more so when they start getting their breed on. There was a whole political conglomerate in the early 1800s who wanted to go to war on their behalf against the British ("Red-tails over Redcoats!!"). But it's also just about time for the Black-throated Sparrows, Black-chinned Sparrows, Chin-throated black Sparrows, and Sparrow-chinned Blackthroats to start their breeding bonanzas--almost

This dude perched right next to the trail like he was ready to start his vocalizing and then, as if remembering what day it was and that he was now rudely early, the ugly cousin of fashionably late, he just kinda froze. It probably took him a while to work up the guts too.

The juniper scrub of the Mazatzal foothills has hosted some unusual vagrants/migrants this winter, especially considering the relatively mild winter we've experience west of the Rockies. Evening Grosbeaks and Cassin's Finches have been present in these channels throughout the winter, and while their numbers were much lower than on my visit to the area a month ago, they still had a very audible presence. Unfortunately, all the males were attending a stag party or something, or they're sick of juniper and ready to get back into the pines. 

So not a whole lot to show from the weekend. Saturday was a recovery day from Friday, which was one of those rare and unholy events where work and personal life come together for an entire evening, and this always requires heavy imbibing. No doubt listservs and eBird alerts will be lit up with FOY/Early reports in the ensuing weeks. Birders will be on call. For those of you out east who are begrudging my constant prattling about our weather, I shall get just desserts when it starts breaking 100° in April. Then the sweaty shoe shall be on the other foot. Enjoy.