Thursday, April 12, 2018

Caught in the Infinite Space Between

No, there are no ABA 1st Red Warbler photos or sagas here--not yet anyway. Although an amazing find and a beautiful bird no matter what, recent photos and analysis of this bird, showing it likely to be the white-cheeked subspecies and to have overly worn tail feathers are raising increasingly problematic provenance questions. Even more problematically, the bird has not been re-found since Day 1. Perhaps it returned home.

This past weekend, attempting to make good on resolutions not to be a total wash-out birder and blogger, I met up with a friend at Tres Rios, hoping to post some big numbers for the day. But birding for sake of vanity and bravado seldom ends well.
It has been unusually warm in Phoenix the last week or two, hitting the upper 90s, and this combined with the timing to make for a pretty lackluster showing. Most waterfowl had departed, but migrants and breeders were sparsely present. Cliff Swallows were typically industrious, foraging and homemaking before sun up.

Upon closer examination I discovered the supposed Swallows were actually flocks of miniature Bald Eagles. Or maybe not; the Eagle might've come later. I don't know. It was a slow morning.
The resident Burrowing Owls at Tres Rios are always a highlight, though Red-Winged Blackbirds were by far the most numerous and cacophonous bird of the day. There were good numbers of superiors Yellow-headed Blackbirds around as well, but they are much more secretive at this location, and the advanced warmth also meant the riparian channels were already well overgrown and nigh-invisible from cattails. 

It was interesting to bird this site again after probably two years. I think of these familiar haunts as being fixed and reliable--and on a macro scale they are--but a channel like Tres Rios is also a dynamic environment. There had clearly been some large floods and rapid growth since my last visit, and some of the nooks, paths, and trails I used to stake out were almost unrecognizable.
Heraclitus observed change as a constant, quipping, "A Man never steps into the same river twice." One can extend this observation as well to, "A Man never squats and squints at birds in the same spot twice." Black-crowned Night Herons prove ever-adaptable.

eBird flagged a late Sage Thrasher, which I didn't bother to record at the time given the poor photo-op it offered, but perhaps the most interesting find, one even non-birders can appreciate, was a a friendly George Washington.

Feeling unsatisfied with the lack of crushing, I slunk out again Sunday morning to some local spots. The Tres Rios experience was too late for winter birds and too early for spring/summer birds. The DBG, like 10 minutes away from home, is a tidy little migrant rap in its own right, and always offers close views of something. In this case, it was close views of many, many nature photographers, birds, bugs, flowers and otherwise. The place was overrun by Geri Photog, though I managed to sneak up on some water chickens all the same.

At the DBG, Cactus Wren--probably North America's best Wren--is almost a trash bird. I have seen them steal from purses, be baited into eating out of people's hands, etc. It's rather undignified for a State signatory. Great great bird though.

LEGOS and Verdin showed typically well. Of course, LEGOs show well just about anywhere in their range, especially if thistle is involved. Verdin are pretty accepting of people as well, though curiously I have never seen them around feeder stations. Do they not have a diversified diet that includes seeds and such? I always thought of them as opportunistic feeders and have seen them noshing on mesquite blooms and buds, but why never seeds at feeders? Are Verdins actually purist snobs?

The day had its pleasant surprises too, not on a monumental scale so much as the, "Huh, well I guess it was worth it to get out this morning" scale (it always is, by the way). Tres Rios is always a good time, but the disappointment was that we picked up almost no migrants or breeders during the Saturday foray. 
It was thus unexpected that the little self-contained, high-traffic DBG held several FOY migrants.

BTYW actually breed prodigiously in the higher elevations of Maricopa, but Orange County Warbler and Nashville--a photo first for the site, woot woot--consider this fly-over country, or fly-through at least. But migration and mesquite are great equalizers.
We've all been there, a long road trip when, scratchy of eye, tired of limb, and grumbly of stomach. Scruples fall away. Golden Corral, or a little roadside diner with 'eats' and gift shop attached gives welcome relief to the weary. We eat, gratefully. We buy a trinket, perhaps. And we go on our way.

In addition to warblers there were migrant empids being all shady and ambiguous. Given my severely atrophied birding skills, I probably should not even try, but this seems like a Dusky Flycatcher to me--though the bill is on the smaller side the primary projection doesn't seem to measure up to Hammond's standards.

It's a case of the candle that burned twice, maybe ten times as bright, with the one-day wonder Red Warbler in Pima County. In many ways though things are just heating up; the birding will only get better and better the next several weeks, unless you're only into ducks.. Stay hungry.