Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Autumn Adventures part 2

My Autumn has been busier than I expected. Even though migration season has been over, there are still some surprises showing up here in Arizona. I'm don't know enough about the state to know if this is normal or not. I've also made it a point to visit my local park, Veterans Oasis Park, at least once a week, which I have not been doing as well as I'd like.

But first off, I took a trip back down to the Santa Cruz Flats in early November. I was hoping to see some Mountain Plovers (I didn't) and some better views of Crested Caracaras (oh yeah). This area is prime sparrow habitat with a mix of fields and built up shrubs along the roads and intersections. I was able to tick a Clay-Colored Sparrow, who was hanging out with some White-Crowned Sparrows.

Clay-Colored and White-Crowned Sparrow
Clay-Colored Sparrow (lower left) and White Crowned Sparrow (upper right) - Santa Cruz Flats, Arizona
I also managed to see some Savannah, Vesper and Lincoln's Sparrows too. And I unexpectedly got some very good views of a Common Yellowthroat, which I had not expected to see in such an arid area.

Common Yellowthroat
Common Yellowthroat - Santa Cruz Flats, Arizona
Instead of seeing Mountain Plovers, I had to settle for my first photograph of a Merlin.

Merlin - Santa Cruz Flats, Arizona
As I mentioned above, I had hoped to see more Crested Caracaras. Their numbers increase here in the winter, which I did not know when I had spent the Summer looking for them. I was driving around some of the dirt roads when I noticed a group of Common Ravens in the distance. I knew that they and Caracaras can be found together, so I drove that way. I was greeted with a group of 17(!) Crested Caracaras in one field.

Crested Caracaras
Crested Caracaras - Santa Cruz Flats, Arizona 
I'm going to be heading back down there this coming weekend to try and see some Rufous-Backed Thrushes which have been reported there. If you are curious about visiting the Santa Cruz Flats, search eBird for hotspots of the area. It's mainly driving around various agricultural fields on dirt roads and seeing what is there.

Skip forward to the middle of November and an amazing bird was reported at Veterans Oasis Park, not more than 2 miles from my house. A report came on the AZNM Listserv of a Groove-Billed Ani at the park that was seen by the poster's friend the day before, on Tuesday. As it happened, I was at the park on a bird walk on that Wednesday, but never saw anything exotic, and I was in the exact spot were the Ani was being seen. 
I was able to get back there on Thursday after dropping my son off at school. The bird was reported early that morning by a group of experts, but when I finally made it to the area it had not been seen. I spent the next 2 hours expanding the search area while counting down the time that I had to go back for my son. I was a bit north of where the bird was seen that morning, and was doing some intense pshing. Suddenly, a black bird was up in the back-side of a row of brush that circled on of the retention ponds at the park. I got a fuzzy look and heard the gull-like call of the Ani.

Groove-Billed Ani
Groove-Billed Ani - Veterans Oasis Park, Chandler AZ
I waved over a birder visiting from New Jersey who was twitching the bird, who also got great views. And then the Ani flew up to the top of the shrubs and was in plain view. That bill shape was unmistakable.

Groove-Billed Ani
Groove-Billed Ani - Veterans Oasis Park, Chandler AZ
We got to see the bird for less than 2 minutes when it flew off across the basin, disappeared into some brush and was never seen again (we'll come back to this).

For Thanksgiving we drove from Phoenix West to Los Angeles to spend the holiday with some of my wife's family. I'm trying to forget about the probable Black-Tailed Kite that I saw over Studio City while on a cheesy Celebrity Home Tour... The family did meet some friends at the awesome, and busy, El Dorado Nature Center in Long Beach for a walk. We really wanted to see groups of wintering Monarch butterflies, but they were all up in higher elevations due to the warm temps. But I got to tick a California Towhee on my life-list.
California Towhee
California Towhee - El Dorado Nature Center, Long Beach California 
Back in Arizona another rare bird was being reported north in Mesa. A birder noticed an odd sparrow at his feeders. It ended up being a Harris's Sparrow, very rare for the Western half of the USA. I became friends with him on Facebook and got his address. This was another twitch while my son was at school. I arrived while the homeowner was at work, but he was nice enough to have stacked up some concrete flagstones along the outside of his wall for us to look into. Fortunately for me, there was another local birder already there so I didn't look too odd. The Harris's Sparrow made an appearance right after I arrived and I managed some quick photos.

Harris's Sparrow
Harris's Sparrow - Mesa, Arizona 

Harris's Sparrow
Harris's Sparrow - Mesa, Arizona
I was there long enough to see it on 2 visits. What a great looking bird. I would trade all of the House Sparrows in my back garden for this guys. But once again, the bird wasn't seen again after I had seen in. This was just the second time (Groove-Billed Ani), or the third time (Blackpool Warbler) but the fourth time (Chestnut-Sided Warbler) that I was the last one to see a rare bird on a twitch in Maricopa County. I would not be surprised if I was kicked off of the listserv and everyone kept reports of rare birds away from me.

I'll end this post with some photos of Northern Harriers from today at my local park: Veterans Oasis Park, in nearby Chandler. 
Northern Harrier
Northern Harrier - Veterans Oasis Park, Chandler AZ

Northern Harrier
Northern Harrier - Veterans Oasis Park, Chandler AZ

Northern Harrier
Northern Harrier - Veterans Oasis Park, Chandler AZ

As I said, I've had a busy Autumn, mostly with kids and family stuff with some birding sprinkled in. I'm hoping to see some rare robins this weekend and I'm planning on really getting a nice Arizona list together for 2017 (not a Big Year).

If you are interested in visiting the Santa Cruz Flats or Veterans Oasis Park, please contact me with any questions, or for some company. 

Follow me on Instagram @bothering_birds 

Thanks for making it this far,


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