Monday, October 10, 2016

ABA Bird Number 400: Lesser Sand-Plover

     My First eBird checklist was submitted in May of 2002. It has taken me 4 years since then to finally tick my 400th ABA record. I did live in Ireland for nearly 2 years, so my global list is nearly 600, but I like round numbers, and for some reason it felt like a battle for me to get the last few ticks that I needed, as a matter of fact, most of my last few were rare birds that I twitched. I did spend a few weeks trying to see a Sora to get 400, but I still haven't seen one. Same with Common Black Hawk. But as an update for the blog, I'll go over the last few.

Number 396 was the beautiful Tricolored Heron. It showed up at the Gilbert Water Ranch in late August, and is continuing there as of today (10 October).

Tricolored Heron
Tricolored Heron - Gilbert Water Ranch, Arizona
     And then a week later Hurrican Newton blew in some amazing birds to the state, including the Wedge-Rumped Storm Petrel to a small pond in nearby Mesa, number 397 for me.

Wedge-Rumped Storm-Petrel
Wedge-Rumped Storm-Petrel - Mesa, Arizona
     I wrote about the Storm Petrel in my previous blog post, here. The weekend after that, September 11th, I headed towards Gila Bend with a list of target birds to see. The only one that I was able to find were some adorable Red-Necked Phalaropes, number 398.

Red-Necked Phalarope
Red-Necked Phalarope - Gila Bend, AZ
     ABA number 399 for me came as a report on the AZNM Listserv, someone spotted a Blackpoll Warbler in a stand of trees next to my local ACE Hardware. The timing worked out that I was able to shoot over there after school with my kids in tow. Once I found the right tree, it was easy to spot the Warbler gleaning the leaves in a big Cottonwood.

Blackpoll Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler - Chandler, AZ
     Just then another birder showed up and I pointed the bird out to him and then we both watched it disappear down along the bank of a large pond and out of sight. Some other birders showed up, but the bird was never seen again. It was just luck that I was there in time.

     I spent most of the rest of September looking for a Sora. I tried a few different places, but no luck. Even one spot where 4 were seen at the same time in the middle of the afternoon out in the open. But on 3 or 4 separate trips I never saw or heard any. Then my kids started a long Autumn break at the beginning of October, 2 weeks off school. So the family decided to go back to Albuquerque to see the International Balloon Fiesta and visit some old friends. On Sunday October 2nd a report of a Lesser (aka Mongollian) Sand-Plover was seen in Northern Arizona, just east of Flagstaff. This bird is rare for Attu, let alone the middle of Arizona. A first state record and the first inland record of the Asian Species in the USA. It also happened to be just off I-40, the route that we would be taking home from ABQ. I spent the next day watching the reports still coming in and crossing my fingers that it would remain for just one more day, which it did.
     Tuesday morning, October 4th, we left New Mexico after spending the morning watching the balloons launching on a beautiful fall day. We made our way West and I kept an eye on my inbox and talked my wife into making a quick detour. After leaving I-40 and driving through the Navajo Nation and town of Leupp, we left the paved road and followed a sandy track to the muddy puddles where the bird was located. We pulled up and my kids jumped out to run around. I begged them to stay away from the water and not to throw any rocks in. I also noticed a couple of other birders already there. I walked up and anticlimatically saw my 400th ABA bird, it was the only wader near the water. 

Lesser Sand-Plover
Lesser Sand-Plover - Round Ceder Lake, Leupp AZ
     It was fun to watch the bird for a bit while my kids collected some rocks and watched some "Bison" (just regular cattle). As luck would have it, another birder arrived and he turned out to be one of the co-discoverers of the Sand-Plover, Chuck LaRue. I asked Chuck what were they doing in the middle of nowhere. He simply said that they knew there was water out there and decided to see what could be there. An amazing discovery for sure. 

Round Ceder Lake
Round Ceder Lake - Navajo Nation, Arizona
     We left scenic Round Ceder Lake for a few days in Sedona where we rented a cabin. I didn't do much birding, but I did try my best to see a Common Black Hawk to no avail. It seems they've all gone for the winter. But we weren't back for a day when someone else found a wandering warbler on the far side of Chandler, and my 401st ABA tick: a Chestnut-Sided Warbler.

Chestnut-Sided Warbler
Chestnut-Sided Warbler - Chandler, AZ

    I do want to apologize for sounding like such a lister, but we move so often that I want to see what I can see in as short a time as possible. But it is really fun to twitch those rare-birds.


Thanks for making it this far.

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