Friday, July 3, 2015

Out of Town on a Rail (3:10am to Yuma)

The more money one has, the more expensive one's tastes often get. The more varied one's appetite, the harder it is to find something new and exciting. There's a reason Baskin Robbins had to come up with 31 flavors. The ice-cream bloated, Baby Boom generation market demanded it. So too is it with birding. The birding in Arizona has not gotten old nor stodgy nor dull, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to find new birds in the state, particularly new birds that are resident for part of the year and not whimsical code 5 rarities. Five-striped Sparrows and Ferruginous Pygmies still await at their respective locales, but there was one more loose end I needed to tie up.

I put off Black Railing on the western AZ border for a few reasons. It's a long, unpleasant drive. It's uncomfortable. It comes at the expense of other birding opportunities. It's a near-gaurantee one will get crappy-to-none looks and photos of the bird. Turns out that all of these negatives cannot outweigh the downsides of a torrid Tuesday in Phoenix inbetween two 10-hour workdays when no one else is in the office. As such, Butler's birds finally headed west to Mittry Lake, which is accessed through the Imperial Dam area and ubiquitous desert Army base. Here at the YPG, birders, Euclidian geometrists, and coming-of-age adolescent boys who have troubled relationships with their fathers all convene for their various and sundry needs. 

Truth be told I had additional business here as I have recorded exactly 0 ebird lists in Yuma, so before debasing myself after the Rails I took some time to check out other areas along the Mittrry lake watershed. Typcial raptors stayed hidden in shadows, and Indigo Buntings did not.

Indigo Buntings are gorgeous right? This is something that everyone would admit, and yet I still get the impression that we (myself included) do not hold them to be of the same pulchritudinous caliber as many Warbler species. They're certainly not prized in the same way, and some of this can be explained by the fact that is a pretty quotidian bird in open fields and riparian areas around most of the country in summer. But here's my adjoining theory: INBUs are a brilliant blue, and they're entirely blue. It's like eating a piece of double fudge flourless cake--delicious but you can only have a small amount of it because it's so rich and so homogenous. It's harder to appreciate and sustain without some variety. Cardinals and Summer Tanagers suffer from this syndrome as well--again, not that anyone dislikes them or casts aspersions on their aesthetic, but they'll never occupy the highest levels of bird beauty pageants.    

Mittry Lake has its share of open water, but most of the territory is a forest of 5-to-6 foot reeds and rushes. Considering that Black Rails are about 6 inches long and super secretive, and that most dudes have a hard enough time finding their own weeners in a public restroom, it seemed a daunting task.

Walking around the reeds and rushes was fine, but it was pretty clear that doing so would yield little, and certainly no actual sightings. This is where the birding got unapologetically terrible. As I was determined to get some thin sighting such that Black Rail wouldn't languish on the dreaded 'heard-only' list, I decided to take off the sneakers and walk right through/over/under/around the flood plain...for hours. It is a rare thing indeed for a birder to un-ironically utter something along the lines of, "Fan-freaking-tastic it flushed away!" but that's almost the operating goal with BLRAs.
"Much like a public restroom toilet, BLRAs will flush if stepped on." -- Magill Weber
I eventually lucked into a spot where a couple of the birds where calling, and with only a modicum of shame I can also say that after recording the vocalizations I sloughed around enough to eventually flush one of them. It was an even more glorious 1.9 seconds than that time after Junior-year prom, and just as then there are no pictures to prove any exploits or allegations, absent sound recordings. Enjoy the grass video.

You have to pay the piper...if you want to dance. My beautiful dancer's legs got scraped straight to hell and I do not believe that my shoes will recover (there's stinking tar-mud and standing water underneath all the pretty grass) but hey lifers is as lifers does. It was tempting to stick it out for an hour or two of nocturnal birding, especially as the Rails became more active, but the bugs were also becoming intolerable and, since this is Arizona, there was still plenty of spiky thorny stuff even in the marsh areas, so much like any mal-adapted creature that finds itself caught out at nightfall, I chickened out.