Sunday, June 5, 2016

Santa Cruz Flats

A few weeks ago I had the chance to twitch some rare birds. Three White-Rumped Sandpipers were found in a tiny pond in the Santa Cruz flats, an agricultural area in Pinal County, located between Phoenix and Tucson. I found the pond, basically a giant puddle in a horse pasture next to a house. First I noticed some Black-Necked Stilts wading around.

Black-Necked Stilts
Black-Necked Stilts - Santa Cruz Flats, Pinal County Arizona
It took me a few moments scanning with the scope to find the small waders that were there. The listserv mentioned 3 of them, but they were spread out.

White-Rumped Sandpiper
White-Rumped Sandpiper - Santa Cruz Flats, Pinal County Arizona
Eventually I found all 3 of the White-Rumped Sandpiper, which is a rare visitor to Arizona. From what I can tell with Ebird data, they've only been found in the state twice before.

White-Rumped Sandpiper (rare bird)
White-Rumped Sandpiper - Santa Cruz Flats, Pinal County Arizona
And as an extra treat, a pair of Mexican Mallards dropped in, the first time I have seen this subspecies. The male really resembles the female of "normal" mallards. I can't remember the last time that I was excited to see one of these.

Mexican Mallards
Mexican Mallards (Female and Male) - Santa Cruz Flats, Pinal County Arizona
As I was watching the birds, another birder stopped by. He said that he was doing "sort of a Big Year" and was glad to tick the White-Rumped Sandpipers on the West Coast. He asked me if I knew where Tropical Kingbirds were nesting and I said no. But a quick check on Birdseye gave some reports from just a few miles away. I hesitated on joining him, but then he mentioned seeing Crested Caracaras there a few years ago and I had to go.
As I was driving down I saw some Turkey Vultures soaring north of me, and then another bird flew to join them. I saw some white on the wings and I thought that maybe it was a Black Vulture. I stopped the car and jumped out and managed a quick look before it flew off.

Crested Caracara
Crested Caracara - Satna Cruz Flats, Pinal County Arizona
It wasn't a vulture at all, but the largest member of the Falcon family, a Crested Caracara! Finally a bird that I've been dying to see since I started birding and had dipped on the last 2 visits to this same area. I was so excited as it flew off and I kept on to the Kingbird area.
The first Kingbirds that I saw had white edges on the tail, which told me that they were Western Kingbirds and not Tropicals.

Western Kingbird
Western Kingbird - Santa Cruz Flats, Pinal County Arizona
But just a further walk down the road were Kingbirds with a higher pitched call and no white edges on their tails, Tropical Kingbirds. Apparently they nest in a row of Cottonwoods on the Southern edge of Picacho Highway.

Tropical Kingbird
Tropical Kingbird - Santa Cruz Flata, Pinal County Arizona
As you can see, the bill is a bit my sturdy too. There were quite a few flying around, I recorded 3 as the high count, but there could easily be more. 

Tropical Kingbirds and Say's Phoebe
Tropical Kingbirds (Left 2) and Say's Phoebe - Santa Cruz Flats, Pinal County Arizona
I said thanks and good luck to the guy doing his Big Year and turned back for home. I had just enough time to drive north to where I saw the Crested Caracara fly off to in hopes of getting a better view. But low and behold, what did I see sitting just off of the road but one of the bloody birds. I was so excited. I put down the passenger side window and crept up beside it. Wow, I couldn't believe it.

Crested Caracara
Crested Caracara - Santa Cruz Flats, Pinal County Arizona
It had most of a mouse in it's beak, so maybe there was a nest nearby. I was able to get a few shots off before it flew off. 

Crested Caracara
Crested Caracara - Santa Cruz Flats, Pinal County Arizona
Three great lifers in one morning made for a great spontaneous day of birding. It's days like these that are the rewards for all of the time, money and effort that goes into this "simple" hobby. 

You can check out my eBird post here, which will give you the location of the Tropical Kingbirds and potentially a Crested Caracara, along with the normal birds of the area. Unfortunately, the horse pond has dried up and the White-Rumped Sandpipers have moved on.

You can follow me on Instagram for more recent bird photos (I'm a few weeks behind on posts and have some mega-rarities to talk about), and also some photos of Lego and my kids. 

Stay tuned for a page redesign (I'm learning CSS), and as always, thanks for making it this far,