Monday, February 9, 2015

Warbler Woes

This is my original work. These birds are not easy:) A few warblers have since been added to this chart.
This past weekend was truly a test of patience. Target birding. Not the kind of birding some people prefer. As several birders climb to the top of this imaginary pyramid; things become trickier. Trickier birds require trickier maneuvers. On this particular weekend, birders from all over the state(s) came together.  These finds were not only epic but state firsts for many people. 

Chestnut-sided Warbler. Photo courtesy of Gordon Karre!  Thank you for helping me tell this story. 
I began this weekend with the mind set, "Warblers or die."  So I chased 4 rare warblers that were reported in the state.  My first challenge was the Chestnut-sided Warbler near ASU in Tempe. The second and third warblers were the American Redstart and lifer, Black-throated Blue Warbler within the region known as the Santa Cruz Flats. Finally, I went after the Yellow-throated Warbler in Patagonia.  Each one presented different challenges.  

The Santa Cruz Flats and within this vast land, a few Sprague's Pipits hide. 
Lately, I have turned into a binocular-before-photographer type birder. The binos allow me to reach the bird quickly and observe behaviors that I normally wouldn't see with the camera. I arrived at the ASU campus and located the Chestnut-sided Warbler in a lone Cottonwood tree.  For a few moments I saw the bird sit still long enough for me to clearly ID.  When I reached for my camera to snap a shot, the warbler was gone.  To make matters worse, an ASU sports event let out, creating chaos around me.  At that point, I put my head down and walked away. Why do birds pick these loud and obnoxious locations? Did I find the bird?  Yes.  Did I get a photo? No.  This is where my bud Gordon Karre comes in to save the day!  He did get a shot of the bird earlier that day and was very kind to share his photo on Las Aventuras this week.

The watering hole on Sasco Rd.
But I knew I was facing an uphill battle for the next day.  There were two lifers involved here.  The Sprague's Pipit and the Black-throated Blue Warbler. Both on private property! I knew that getting pics would be difficult.  We assembled the most amazing team of birders around the state to find these winged gems.  Our day was a success and the odds played in our favor. All targets accomplished.  My lifer, the Sprague's Pipit, was seen in the collection of scopes.  As the bird lifted off from one field, I snapped a poor shot of it flying into another grassy patch. Then it was off to THE house.

I hope no one lives here. 
Birders flocked to this home and waited and waited to see the reported male American Redstart, Black-throated Blue Warbler and Summer Tanager flying around the Pomegranate Tree. Technically, we were stalking. For 93 minutes we stared at that blasted house in the shade swapping stories with one another.  We still aren't sure if there were people living there, but a sheriff did come to see what we were all doing.  We blamed it all on Magill. 

I sat staring at that pony or cow creature in the yard.  Definitely cute and out of place. In fact, it looked like Samwise Gamgee's pony Bill from Lord of the Rings.  I thought about how nice the shade was.  I thought about how much I liked the people around me and wished we could hang out more often.  I wondered if the machine under the pomegranate tree was a tractor or grill.  And I wondered if that damned warbler would show up.  And eventually it did.......

Black-throated Blue Warbler gets the tractor ready
But this time, I wouldn't let the warbler get away.  So I got rid of the binos and held my camera instead. That warbler was beautiful.  WOW!  We watched as it drove the tractor around the yard a couple times.  And then it was off for more target birding.  

Ferruginous Hawk
Then it was off to the small town of Patagonia for the Yellow-throated Warbler.  This wintering warbler is currently feeding on bugs found around the mistletoe at the Patagonia City Park. However, we sat in this park for 2 hours before it BRIEFLY showed up!  We were with two other birders.  This bird was not a lifer for me so I used my binos instead. 

Yellow-throated Warbler.  Photo taken in 2013 at Sweetwater Wetlands
My ears were sharp and I spotted the bird quickly.  Unfortunately, our new birder friends had their eyes on the doppelganger Yellow-rumped Warbler.  So they followed that bird with their bins instead of keeping their eyes on our target.  Madness ensued.  Russian tourists entered the picture and chased the Yellow-throated Warbler off as they ran pointing at the bird.  Another woman decided to follow us around and chat.  When we didn't answer her, she responded, "Oh this is serious business, isn't it?"  When you wait for a bird for more than two hours, yes, it is. The other birders never saw the Yellow-throated Warbler and I never got a shot of the bird feeding at the mistletoe.  Instead while we sat under the tree waiting for the warbler, we watched this guy bored out of our minds. People watching can also be fun.  Between the Russians, Japanese and elderly, it was a busy day at the park. 

That guy hanging out on the bench for as long as we waited for the warbler
Who was he? A local? An artist?  Then I started thinking to myself. Why can't my hair grow that long?  How did I get so stuffy in my life? Blah blah blah. After a long afternoon in the park, I thought about calling my mother to wish her a happy birthday, getting home to do the laundry and finalizing some summer plans with my other half.  Ahhhh!  The joys of rare warblers.  

 I'd like to thank all the wonderful people behind this post today.  I think without each other's support, we'd have given up empty handed.  It was a blast and it's fun playing detective with you all.  Thank you Linda, Magill(for organizing), Gordon, Nathan and Muriel.   You guys rock!  It's surprising but the life list is slowly growing.  10 more birds until I reach 600.  Who will the next life bird be?  Over the next several weeks, we'll meet up with friends Randy, Cindy and Pam. Stay tuned for more....   


  1. What is amazing is that you keep adding birds on your list. I wonder sometimes on how many birds do I know by name outside the ones I observes growing up or around the houses we lived in on sometimes when hiking.
    Always something new to read here. Bravo.

  2. Great photos Chris and well done on the new life ticks. I really do admire your perseverance and patience - you have a great life list already :)

  3. Цікава розповідь!

    xoxo, Juliana | PJ’ Happies :)

  4. Chrsit, congrats on your sightings and lifers.. The warblers are cute, nice shots.. especially driving the tractor..Have a great week, happy birding!

  5. Hey 4 for 4 is pretty great average Chris! Gordon seems to have gotten, by far, the best photo of that Chestnut-sided of any that I've seen floating around.

    Yellow-throated is a great bird. It is crazy that it and the Black-throated Blue have been making camp so long!

    What a weird ass winter it has been.

  6. Laurence, it has been a strange weekend. Lots of amazing birds all doing crazy things on crazy plants. But it was a good weekend and that experience will be something that stays with me for a long time:)

  7. Warblers, always a treat to see one, or many. There are certain times of the year that birders her travel near and far to see one of a kind. It looks like you got some great shares and enjoyed yourself too~

  8. You are so dedicated. Glad you're getting more out of these experiences than just birds.

  9. It's great to have helpers/friends when searching for that rare bird --who loves to HIDE from you... Sounds like you had a great time.

  10. Chris, you are having too much fun without me! I still can't get used to you using bins all the time. It's quite a change! Glad you found your birds. Congrats on all the lifers and for finally passing me on your U.S. Life List!

  11. Great post Mr. Chris!!! Are all ov those warbler photos on that one photo yours? It was nice running into your group out on Sasco Rd. Keep up the awesome posts!

  12. Hi there!! It was great seeing you as well. Wished we could have spoken a bit more. Yes, all those photos are mine except that one of Gordon's. It has taken me 3 years to create a warbler grid like it's just adding a few here and there. I look forward to reading your reports. The one thing I was sad about was the Sprague's Pipit. I wish I could have gotten pictures. Someday......someday:)

  13. Finding and actually getting a photo of ANY warbler is a challenge. They flit around so.

    Loved your images...and that hawk photo is outstanding.

  14. I admire your enthusiasm for birding, Chris! You do work hard at it so deserve to be adding to your life list!

  15. Gordon't little warbler with its bum to the breeze is very cute....

    I have to far I have not seen any warbler.... maybe this summer....I'll definitely keep my eyes peeled...

  16. Chris, your warbler mosaic is truly remarkable. I have only managed to photograph one warbler so far. I like the image of the guy and dog too.

  17. Chris! Great shots. I love the YTWA in flight. Congrats!

  18. Yes I did notice the 'artsey' images making an appearance Chris :) nice.. you know I'm a big fan of all things artsey! Enjoyed this and last post very much, adore your bird captures.

  19. This was an absolutely delightful post! I loved every minute of it. Sounds like an awesome way to bird! Loved the photos (including the first one provided by birder friend) Glad you had a great time....hope your Mom had a happy birthday too. My Aunt (mom's sister) is turning 90 Sunday! Gotta give her a call, for sure. :-)

  20. I admire those who do bird-watching and photograph them. It's not easy and takes great dedication. - This was a very interesting and enjoyable post.


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