Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Who Needs the Ballet?

As promised, this past weekend was pretty rainy in central Phoenix, and when it wasn't rainy it was still pretty damn gloomy (which will be the case this weekend too). In combination with other business, this was enough of a deterrent for dedicated birding and exploring time through Sunday, but by Monday morning I could no longer resist the Call of the Wild, or of the Almost Wild, or of the Maybe Wild...or of the Definitely Not Wild.

Sunrise is usually good after a storm, even if there was still thick fog in the valley. RTHAs dig it.

Mopey weather given, western Maricopa has been host for the last few weeks to 3 swan species (couldn't turn up that Black Swan, alas), and questions of provenance aside the possibility of logging a '3 Swan Day' was too enticing to pass up.
It may not sound like an obvious migrant trap, but it seems every couple of years the alfalfa fields in the Buckeye/Jackrabbit area of western Phoenix hold one or more wayward Swans. A couple years ago it was a half-dozen Tundra, and this time around a lone Trumpeter decided that here would be as good a place as any to spend the winter.

Lamentably the bird was very far from public roads. Some birders have had luck asking for better access from the hay business in the area, but no dice on MLK Day. TRSW is a great county bird, even if this sighting was sort of better on paper than in practice. Of course, once one gets a taste for Swan--even from range--one is not easily sated.

The Deer Valley golf course, which runs through subdivisions in Sun City West (one of my very least favorite places in Arizona) has a perennial and pinioned population of Mute Swans patrolling its various water features. More excitingly, these birds were joined by a lone Tundra Swan first spotted in December.

Brontosaurus have since been, I recall, adjudicated never to have existed. Maybe the fellow who misconstrued his fossils originally had Mute Swans in mind?

To the extent anything with a large leathery testicle on its forehead can be elegant...these birds are pretty elegant.*Author's note the number of people who report these MUSWs on eBird as "Continuing rarities" is disconcerting.

Scanning the first several ponds where the most recent eBird reports placed TUSW was unsuccessful. The object bird did like to hang around with one or more Mutes (they're good listeners), but there were also Mutes that did not have this noteworthy accompaniment. One such pond did have a noteworthy Vermilion Flycatcher, noteworthy only because, well, it's a Vermilion Flycatcher.

It is widely accepted as impossible to properly photograph/expose this bird in overcast lighting. The color is too saturated at all times.

After dipping on the first 5 of 7 possible ponds I was feeling about as glum as the weather, but the last pair hit pay dirt. Behold this semi-tragic portrait of pinioned (crippled) Mute Swans, the lost Tundra, oblivious CAGOs, disparate lawn colors, and quintessential golf cart in the background. I guess it still beats landfill birding.

More so than other classes, vagrant waterfowl must pass the barometer provenance test. This bird is not a long-time or yearly resident (according to the long-time yearly residents), has all of its flight feathers (and has been witnessed flying), and is not missing any toes. Furthermore, TUSWs do winter somewhat regularly in Prescott, which is only about an hour north. That is negligible straying.


Naturally, if this bird hangs around after spring the provenance question may be opened again. But who could say he/she isn't just staying out of loyalty to the flightless Mute comrades trapped in Sun City, where the grass is well aged?

What nice halluxes you have, Tundra Swan.

Fun fact I read about TUSWs, the symbol of measured passion and love; they pair up for a year before breeding, taking it slow and getting to know. Lewis and Clark dubbed them "Whistling Swans" due to the sound of their wing-beats, but Prudent Swan would also suffice. 

P.S. Here's another Burrowing Owl shot. It was stored on my camera. I do not know when or where I took it, which is unusual. The ubiquitous setting of the shot is thus reflective of the ubiquity of Burrowers out in the agg. fields of west Maricopa--not that I'm complaining.