Sunday, April 5, 2015

Crappy Birding is Good Birding

Dumps and landfills, reclamation sites and sewage ponds, treatment facilities and New Jersey...yes indeed putrescence and productivity seem to go hand-in-hand when it comes to birding. While some of my fondest birding memories come from the beautiful mountains in Arizona and Carolina, or from the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and the coasts, I have picked up just as many lifers and birds-of-interest around otherwise unsavory sludge basins, and it's safe to say that many other birders have too. 

The latest such expedition was for an immature American Golden-Plover discovered in west Phoenix--very near the Tres Rios hotspot--in a run-off basin for a nearby cattle farm. It didn't exactly smell like coffee in the morning (although there were trace elements...) but it was equally enlivening, a much more multi-sensory experience! After scouting along the pond for a few minutes I quickly picked out the plump Plover with a few vociferous Stilts.
The AGPL was somewhat wary and flew farther down the slough, which left me taking nearby inventory before continuing the pursuit.

Burrowing Owls, much wiser and unimpressed by all that, looked on with typical blasé dispositions. Some birds are tough to see but really attractive, and others are easy to see but unattractive. BUOWs are easy to see and super attractive, and we should thank them for this.

I don't know how they compare to all other Owls, but BUOWs seem to be very fecund. Everyone has seen those adorable images of 3-10 BUOW chicks all gregarious and bug-eyed around their burrow. How many other birds are there that lay (much less hatch and raise) that many eggs in a clutch? Outside of waterfowl, I struggle to think of any.

The AGPL has been around for a few days now and given pretty clear, accessible looks to most everyone who has chased it, though the bird seems to disappear later in the day. This immature bird was more brown overall than BBPL, with a longer primary extension and browner cap contrasting with the broad white supercilium.

Another telltale identification sign, which you may have noticed from the photos, is that American Golden-Plovers always face to their left. ALWAYS. If you see a similar plover that is facing to its right, it's either an immature Black-bellied or an adult European Golden (in which case, congratulations).

The marshy theme continued at the nearby B & M WMA, where I was hoping to hear Ridgeway's Rails (to no avail). Vocalizing Sora are always a treat, though they continued to deny me that perfect bird blogger moment when they step totally into the open and in good light. 

Likewise Common Yellowthroats continue to be a species I have not properly crushed, which is additionally embarrassing considering their numerical presence.  When I get the camera on these birds I just...lose...focus. They've been singing on territory for a couple weeks now.  

So the chasing was productive, not to mention easy, and the rest of the birding was nicely complementary. Saturday night I returned to the Salt River mesquite bosques in search of a Western Screech Owl photo, since I had failed there where everyone else succeeded earlier in the week, and brought some reinforcements, plus a tripod and junk.