Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Tug o' War

Much has been written about the different types of birding and birders.  Are you an armchair birder or a chaser?  Are you a competitive birder?  Do you take in each bird and their behavior, or do you tick and run?   Do you fire away with your camera at the sight of a bird or do you take time to observe and identify it?  I like to think I'm a well-rounded birder that enjoys all aspects of birding.  But I admit I could take more time to truly observe the birds.

As you know, many factors dictate how much birding one does.  Currently my outings are limited.  But I did have a few hours this weekend to bird two Tucson parks.  It was birding not dictated by recent reported rarities, but a chance to go out and just enjoy the birds and beautiful weather.  This is something I wish I could do more often, but doesn't everyone?.  You see, Southeast Arizona has so many good birds and such an active rare bird alert in terms of reporters and rarities, that my few birding adventures are often of the chasing variety.  Not a bad problem for a birder to have.  This makes it hard to keep that little Sandy Komito on my shoulder quiet- that drive to go, tick, and conquer.  But this weekend the little Kaufmans (Kenn and Kimberly) on my other shoulder reminded me that it's refreshing and relaxing to just go out and enjoy all the birds, even the common ones.  It's a delicate balance, right?  Not when little Sandy is screaming at you to get your butt out of bed and go find a rare bird!  More like a tug of war.

My first stop found me at a park with a decent sized pond, which we call a "lake" here in the desert.  Here I've ticked such rarities as Greater White-fronted Goose, Pacific Loon, Tricolored Heron, Ring-billed and Herring Gulls, Least and Elegant Terns, and both pelican species.  Wait, I said I was going out to enjoy the common birds, right?  Yes, in a minute.  First I scanned the water for any vagrants, maybe a Eurasian Wigeon or California Gull?  No luck, only lots of Coots and a few Mallards.  But they need love too.  Then I noticed a large flock of blackbirds across the water.  I could make out a couple yellow heads among them and decided to go around and check them out.  Yellow-headed Blackbirds are uncommon in the city and are most often found in my neck of the cacti in marshes or on farm land.  When I do see them, they're usually distant, hidden in the reeds, or flying away.  I rarely get an opportunity to photograph one in the open.  When I saw this bird perched on a bare branch, I observed it for a moment in my binoculars.  Then I moved in a little closer with my camera and snapped a few (dozen) photos.  It's nice to finally have a shot of one without a feed lot in the background.  After taking advantage of the photo op, I took time to enjoy the bird in my binoculars again.

Yellow-headed Blackbird
Among the flock were Brewer's Blackbirds, abundant here this time of year.  I decided to study them more than I have before and gained a new appreciation for their iridescent plumage.  Komito says, "Fine, if it'll help you pick out a Rusty Blackbird one day, go for it."  I snapped a few photos because I don't remember ever getting a decent shot of one, or ever really trying to.

Brewer's Blackbird
My final stop was at a little known park only 2 miles from my home.  It's hidden back in a neighborhood so I didn't know about it until recently.  It has lots of big trees and sits adjacent to a wash so I was looking forward to checking it out.  There were lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers chipping and foraging in the trees, a good sign.  As I walked along the edge of the park near the wash I flushed a Sharp-shinned Hawk from a mesquite and heard a familiar chattering.  It was a House Wren!  Common in the Catalina and Santa Rita Mountains, this was my first one in the lowland.

House Wren
I continued my leisurely stroll around my newly discovered patch and contemplated its potential as a productive birding spot.

It was a gorgeous and relaxing outing just like I had hoped, until I got home and read the rare bird alert...

*Note: Sandy Komito and listers are not evil.  If they were, I'd have horns.  But the Kaufmans probably are angels.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Clark's Nutcracker

A few years ago I searched for Clark's Nutcracker in the White Mountains in eastern Arizona without success.  So four days ago when some were reported on Mt. Lemmon, I couldn't wait to go.  On my third stop I found three foraging in the pines along the Meadow Trail, a lifer!

These birds are casual wanderers in Southeast Arizona with most records coming from the Chiricuahua and Huachuca Mountains.  They are more common further north and east, but very rare in Pima County.

CERange Map for Clark's Nutcracker

Friday, October 11, 2013

Rare Hawk

A rare hawk was found this morning at the Randolph Golf Course driving range 7 miles from my house.  When I arrived the guy who had found it and another birder were looking at it through the netting that surrounds the driving range.  The bird was originally reported as a possible Red-shouldered Hawk but apparently others thought the description fit well for Broad-winged Hawk. 

The birders and I witnessed some odd behavior a couple times when the hawk flew into the netting, grabbed on, and flapped its wings.  It also spent some time on the grass.  It was flying well, but clearly not feeling 100%.  Golf balls whizzed by the perched bird more than once.  Then out of nowhere a Red-tailed Hawk swooped down and tried to grab it!  We thought that was the end of it, but it somehow survived.  It wouldn't have been the first time a rare bird was killed right in front of a group of birders. 

After getting good looks at it, it was clearly an immature Red-shouldered Hawk.  This bird is casual in Southeast Arizona with around 20 records, but this is the first that I know of from October.  I've seen them in California, but this was my first for Arizona.  These photos show the brown head, very light red shoulder, barred secondaries, and the beginning of dark streaks at the top of the breast.

These flight shots by my friend Andrew Core show the rufous wing linings and white crescents near the tip of the wings, making it the subspecies from California.

CERange Map for Red-shouldered Hawk