Sunday, August 30, 2015

Failed Chases and Fine Consolations

Slate-throated Redstart seems to be annual in Arizona now, at least there have been 1 or more reports in AZ for the last few years, typically with one from the Chiris and one from the Huachucas, Santa Ritas, or even Catalina mountains. At the rate they're turning up, I wouldn't be surprised if STRE is the next tropical warbler to establish small breeding populations like the Rufous-caps. But I am getting ahead of myself. STRE is still strictly a vagrant in the state, and one I have now unsuccessfully chased two times (if you don't have a lot of luck or skill, you gotta earn it with raw determination--be the Rudy of birding). The foothills of the Huachuca mountains, as well as the Sierra Vista valley, are pleasant enough but their relatively bland facade belays the richness of birding that is found within their drainages. It's all about the location.

The most recent (and documented) STRE reports have been coming out of Hunter Canyon, one of the shorter and more overgrown canyons in the Huachucas that actually links up with the more famous Miller Canyon next door. Whenever one has the time and stamina to make a chase to the Huachucas it is certainly worth doing. My rarity-chasing success record in these mountains isn't actually very good, but they're probably the best birding destination in the state. It's like going to a bourbon bar that happens to be out of whatever brown liquor you were after that day. You're still there anyway, and there are still 1000 other really good you might as well.

Dipping on the Slate-throat was a bit painful, I should add, because apparently I only missed the bird by about 30 minutes. Over the last few days it seems to have a habit of making two morning appearances any time between 7 and 10am and then disappearing. I missed its morning show, and was not treated to an encore in the time I waited. The main frustration came in knowing the bird was likely still around, but further up canyon/wash or down, in an inaccessible area. Sure enough, it was re-sighted this morning as I sat back in Phoenix (with lots of bourbon). But what else was hanging out in Hunter Canyon? Good friggin' stuff. 

On most days and in most places, Elegant Trogon would be the highlight of any hike, one that often must be earned with blood and tithing. This one almost pooped on me and you can still see the cloacal opening in the feathers--that's the kind of raw footage one gets at Butler's Birds.

Lurking (rather uncharacteristically) like 30 feet away from the Trogon was this peeking Rufous-capped Warbler, now an integrated resident in at least three different Arizona Canyons. The looks and photos did not do this bird justice this time around, but, again, normally the highlight of a any trip.

Hunter Canyon's wash was pretty dry despite recent monsoons in the area, but the surrounding vegetation was very lush and it housed an amazing number of migrant warblers, like some veritable avian hostel in south Germany. Almost all of the migrants were small, skulky, and yellow. I saw more Nashville and Wilson's Warblers in that one area than ever before, and there were Virginia's, Orange-crowned, Black-throated Gray, Yellow, and MacGillivray's as well.
Most of the birds, like the 1st year/1st winter MAWA below, were not dressed to impress, but how many of us really go the full nines when traveling?

Painted Redstarts, on the other hand, are very consistent in their plumage. The fact that every single one of these birds was a painful reminder of the Slate-throated I was not seeing did not deter much from the positives. PAREs are not only colorful. They will glean off of ponderosas like Nuthatches and rifle through leaf littler like Wrens. They do not much worry about people and they are a cornerstone of any alcohol-fueled argument that the western United States also has good Warblers. 

If this bird had a longer tail I could call it a Wrentit and save myself a southern CA trip in the future (not that such a trip should ever be avoided). Alas, it is only a Tit-o-the-Bush. Bushtit comes off as a very positive and single-minded bird in my experiences. In Hunter Canyon, as in many canyons with mid-elevation oak scrub, they were legion.

What is there to say about Arizona Woodpecker? It probably should be our state bird. It is brown-backed. They strip trees--especially burned trees--of their bark. They almost stripped me of my clothes, but that is another story.

Hunter Canyon was pretty dead by later afternoon, and there were also some mean cumulonimbus rolling over the mountains. As such, I cut my losses with the STRE and decide to fortify for the drive back to Phoenix at the Ash Canyon B&B. If one needs to sit and eat warm sandwiches prior to braving the I-10, one should do it at a feeder station. Geri-birding has it advantages, chief among them being easy photo-shoots. I have been in a bit of a slump lately with bird photography so I figured I'd benefit from the handicap-assist. Acorn Woodpecker--the Goth-loving Clown Woodpecker--agrees. 

There was also a male Lucifer Hummingbird at the B&B, outstanding consolation number 3 of the day. The B&B feeders were pretty hotly contested by Anna's, Broad-bills, and Mags, but I happened to spy the LUHU hanging out mercifully away from the red plastic perches. I also turned two German birders onto it and I'm pretty sure one of them farted from excitement, which is appropriate.

I had been planning the Huachuca run for a few days prior, and in the mean time a 4th cycle Sabine's Gull had shown up at the Glendale Recharge Ponds. The handsome bird persisted for a couple of days and was a very nice bird for Maricopa County, especially in such swanky plumage. It wasn't enticing enough to override a trip to down south, but upon arriving back in Phoenix I made the local chase. Apparently the bird had departed Saturday morning and was not seen since (including through Sunday), so once again the birding day ended with a dip. Once again, there was also some consolation in the form of these blurry peeps. 

The bigger, whiter bird is a Sanderling--nothing to sneeze at in Maricopa--flanked by two Baird's Sandpiper bodyguards. Seeing a solitary Sanderling was odd. Sanderlings always come in packs or gangs. What this bird did back on the west coast, whatever caused him to become a Pariah must have been truly heinous. Even the Baird's Sandpipers split off from him pretty soon, and everyone agrees Baird's is a tolerant peep. 

Embarrassing fact: this post is the first time that Baird's Sandpiper and MacGillivray's Warbler have been photo-featured at all (to say nothing of 'well'). I need to get out more.