Thursday, May 7, 2015

Binge Birding in the Santa Ritas

I mentioned some romping reckless birding a couple of weeks ago, where a lovely evening at a friend's house was followed by a drive down to the Santa Rita Mountains, an all-nighter sort of jaunt the likes of which would make cool cool college Butler cringe and think, "gross."
This rash decision making, and rash-making decision, was largely un-vindicated as well, since I did not get visuals on any of the nocturnal targets for which I left so early. But ya know what? I'm going to do it again anyway, and soon, because they are all still there, and probably a Buff-collared Nightjar too. 

Every dark night has its dawn, as various motivational posters around our offices remind us, and even if the dawn is still kinda gloomy and overcast, it does allow for  better overall birding. After visually-dipping on my Madera Canyon targets, I went down the block to Florida. Rufous-capped Warblers are still resident in the canyon, though seemingly higher up now than they were in previous years. I had poor looks at one individual and no photos, but the diversity at Florida Canyon was impressive. Because there's nothing more impressive than distant Canyon Towhees.

Or distant Harriers, harrying along on their way. This bird is a bit late in the season, perhaps lingering behind in search of her missing primary feathers.

In the area where I had luck with RCWAs in previous years, there was male Indigo Bunting, flagged by eBird as rare for the time and place. The bird may be a slightly wayward migrant, but rather curiously I heard the bird before seeing it, and it continued to sing throughout while I was in the area. This is uncharacteristic of migrant INBUs in my limited experience.

Lower Florida Canyon has a terrific mix of riparian vegetation and chaparral, where one can consistently see objectively good looking birds like Black-headed Grosbeak, as well as soon-to-be objectively good-looking birds, like 1st year Scott's Orioles.

Currently, the biggest buzz about Florida Canyon is not the resident tropical Warblers, but a nesting pair of Black-capped Gnatcatchers that are normally very visible near the parking area (and an on-again, off-again Rufous-backed Robin in the adjacent wash). I was not able to locate the BCGN nest (not that it would've done much good anyway), but the male and female were both actively foraging with a devil-may-care attitude, which was a cruel attitude for them to have with such poor lighting.

Inappropriate flashing is a problem with bird and nature photography as well as with city parks and gas stations late at night. But as I've been trying my hand more often at nocturnal birding, it has been something with which I've had to try and make some peace and practice, which means flashing birds in the daytime as well. The truth is, of course, that having a good flash is super useful. It gives you control over the most important and most variable element in photography--light. Too much flash just feels kinda unnatural though, especially at nicer parks or gas stations, and I also predominantly don't like the effect it has on daytime photos, but I do like the effect of getting a damn photo. Note the weak, broken eye-ring, shallow cap, and longer beak of this male BCGN as compared to BTGN. 

Now it would be foolish, committably insane even, to spend time in the Santa Ritas in late spring (or summer) and not make a concerted effort at seeing Trogons. Carrie Nation and other trails have consistent reports this year, but the Super Trail in Upper Madera Canyon has always been good to me. This time around it had to be hard-earned, and it wasn't until after a couple miles that I sighted a pair. In keeping with the damp, mellow aesthetic of the day, the birds I sighted were silent the whole time and the male pulled a quality disappearing act that belied his flamboyant coloration. Trying to track Mrs. Trogon through the dense vegetation and steep canyon walls was as exerting as it was rewarding. 

It was a little disappointing not to be treated to the enchanting, hoarse croaks of the Elegant Trogon, but  some counter-calling Greater Pewees  were compensatory. Ornithological America agrees; this bird should have been named Greatest Pewee.

Factoring in the misses and the zombified-state in which I returned to Phoenix, the trip was draining but fulfilling at the same time, gross in some ways but beautiful in others, joyful and yet somewhat dampened. But time spent in the Santa Ritas is always time well-spent; this trip was perhaps most analogous to a soggy Painted Redstart, very pretty but short of its potential.