Saturday, May 16, 2015

Within Limits

Least Tern at Sweetwater, marks the 300th bird

Pima County, Arizona is an amazing place to bird.  It's one of the birdiest areas of the US! Thanks to our mountain, canyon, grassland and desert habitat, it's home to so many wonderful critters. 

Yesterday was an important day for me as I hit the 300 species mark in Pima County. A rare Least Tern flew into Sweetwater Wetlands helping me achieve this unintended goal. The highest species count for Pima County is 445 birds.  Here is a look back at some of the gems discovered around Tucson and surrounding areas. 

                                         Black-capped Gnatcatcher on Proctor Road
Pima County has a special group of birds that most birders need on their lists. Eventually they have to make their way to Southern Arizona:) It's amazing how many people just care about getting these birds on their US list.  And then there is that ABA list!  If they aren't on the ABA list, it's not important.  I don't get that thinking.  I understand it, but I'm not the kind of person that likes having someone tell me whether or not a bird "counts".  All birds matter! Either way, these two birds are countable and very much desired! I had seen both of these birds in other countries first.  Later, I added them onto my US list.  

                                           Rufous-capped Warbler at Florida Canyon 

Articles have been written on both of the Black-capped Gnatcatchers and Rufous-capped Warblers.  Thanks to global warming, these birds are beginning to expand their range. 

                                               Sage Thrasher
It's always a treat to find birds migrating through our various areas like the Sage Thrasher(above).  A central to lower US state bird, the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, erased my terrible day woes last year as it flew right past me at Sweetwater Wetlands!  It perched on a branch for a few moments reminding me that work is just work.  Life is more important.  While work is important, it doesn't define who I am.  I am more. 

                                       Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
I think I can speak for most birders this year on these birds below.  Trumpeter Swans flew into the Sweetwater Wetlands shocking the local birding establishments!  People wet their pants and dropped whatever they were doing and ran to Sweetwater! I'm serious. I'm going to write something here that speaks volumes about us. We could be in the most serious conversations.  Maybe we are signing divorce papers, attending a funeral, etc. But mention a rare bird and watch your birder friends secretly slip out the door:) These incredible swans stuck around for the day allowing many birders to join together on this unofficial holiday. They were one day wonders! And I would say that these two swans have been the best birds so far in Pima County this year. 

                                        Trumpeter Swans at Sweetwater

Another excellent bird for us this year has been the Heerman's Gull.  There have been several sightings over the past several months!  This is a pretty cool gull and a bird I hadn't thought I'd add to my Pima list anytime soon!  They are found along the coasts of Southern California and Mexico.  It's a pretty sexy gull and an easy ID for people who aren't great with gull ID. 

Heerman's Gull

One of my favorite birds is the Common Loon. Never in a million years when I first started birding did I think Tucson could have visiting Loons.  As a young child growing up around Wisconsin and Minnesota, I remember their magical calls.  An all-time favorite movie, On Golden Pond, always comes to mind when I see one of these majestic birds. 

Common Loon

So here's a weird one.  The Black Scoter.  On a cloudy and rainy day, a massive storm front delivered a Black Scoter to the Old Pueblo!  There, for several months in a random deep pond, a female scoter hung out.  An ocean bird in the desert!

                                            Black Scoter

Other shockers included this Juvenile Tricolored Heron on a golf course. 

                                                                                        juvenile Tricolored Heron

Or this random Whimbrel in the middle of the desert.  And just for fun, it hung out with a Long-billed Curlew to mess with birders:)


Other birds, like this Barn Owl, are sometimes hard to come by! What a treat to have seen one here within the Tucson limits!  Again I don't advertise their locations as there are a few photographers who who will cross unethical lines. Since when is a picture more important than the welfare of our birds?  One of the tenants of a good birder is to never intentionally disturb a bird out in the field.  If I see them eating or nesting, I keep my distance.  I have met several birders/photographers in the field who bait their birds(i.e. hawks, etc) for a better photo.  Or they cut a branch down to get that "annoying" thing out of the way.....for a better photo. This is unethical. And that is why this particular Barn Owl left the tree.  Thanks to some crazy owl fanatic who decided to cut down a couple branches, this Barn Owl didn't return to that spot. 

                                         Barn Owl at Sweetwater

Mt. Lemmon is a prime location for finding nesting Red-faced and Olive Warblers during our summer months! 

Red-faced Warbler

Once birders believed that Elegant Trogons(below) could not be found in Pima County.  Then last year, the infamous Florida Canyon sported a pair.  And they were in Pima County.  This year they are still there!

During my beginning days as a birder, I went to see the visiting Brown Pelican during our monsoon at a nearby park. I was hot and sweaty, but I sure enjoyed viewing this pelican. During monsoon, it's common to have a Brown Pelican or two blown into the deserts.  Many times they are rescued and taken back to San Diego, CA.  A small few have remained and can be found up around the Phoenix area. Pelicans in the desert. 

                                           Brown Pelican

Finally, several years ago, a Groove-billed Ani came to the Sweetwater Wetlands and got me excited.  I love Spanish and the tropics!  Nothing says tropical like an Ani!  I fell in love with this bird so much, I went back several times to observe it.   This is one of my top ten favorite birds...for now:)  The Audubon guide who discovered this bird flipped out! And this bird put Tucson on the US map for a week!

                                                Groove-billed Ani

As you can see, birding within your own area can be fun and exciting.  It's a challenge like everything else, but all these birds add up over time. Have you tried birding within your own county?  If so, what were some of the cool birds you've discovered?

                                    Black-bellied Whistling Duck

I have several key trips planned this year that will hopefully propel me towards the 800 life bird mark.  In June, I celebrate my 4th year as a birder.  This life journey continues to change me forever.  We'll be heading out of Arizona to several states this summer while also traveling to Southern Mexico. 

 On a whim, I followed a theory and discovered a 2nd tern on my own in the city of Tucson!  That was a bonus!  Here it is flying about at Lakeside Park.  Pretty cool!


  1. This was a great post that brought to mind three ideas:
    1) I really need to get back to Pima County. Most birders need to make multiple trips to southern AZ to get it all.
    2) The rarity of birds for the most part is relative to where one lives. Here in west central MN,Trumpeters and our beloved COLOs are quite common. On the other hand my "best" birds here are fairly common out west.
    3) County birding is incredibly rewarding, especially when you find a rarity on your own turf. Since you asked, my best personal discoveries in the county are Lesser Black-backed Gull (first record), Spotted Towhee, White-winged Scoter, Swainson's Hawk, Western Kingbird, Eastern Towhee, American Avocet, and Snowy Owl.

    1. Swainson's Hawk in MN??!!!! NICE! And I still have yet to spot a Lesser Black-backed Gull....and to have one there! I need to go to MN during the winter. There are 3 or 4 owls I need to find:) And I still haven't figured out how to approach the Boreal Owl situation. I know that is a tricky one. With the others, I have a clue, but this one is a mystery for me. Anyhow, you DO need to come back:) There are some great things popping up out here which include a certain Flame-colored Tanager:)

    2. Both SWHA and LBBG are regular species here, seen annually but infrequently.

      Yes, just as we all must step on your turf, you also must come to ours for those precious Owls. I'm told Boreals irrupt every four years. The last irruption was in 2012-2013 and was phenomenal. I missed out on the party by a week. :( Maybe plan a trip for 2016-2017? Some phenomenal owlers have found breeding Boreals in the summer.

      Congrats on the Tanager!

    3. I think that can be arranged:) Boreals would be huge. I still am in shock about a 4 Tanager day. I had Hepatic, Western and Summer along with the Flame-coloreds. Pretty amazing. Throw in a Scarlet and wowsa! A SCTA would be much more rare than the FCTA.

  2. Gorgeous birds! The photo of the pelican is awesome.

  3. Looks like you have a Birding Paradise right there in your own area/state.. NEAT pictures.. Glad you (and other birders) got to see the Swans while they were there. And that Elegant Trogon is gorgeous. WOW!!!!!

    Great set of pictures.. The Thrasher looks like our Brown Thrasher in our area...

    Looks like you have a fun birding summer planned.

  4. Amazing birds all... The Pelican is really an interesting bird isn't it. I love to watch them dive. But my faves will always be the owl and the loon. Nothing like a summer evening on a lake in
    Northern Wisconsin or Minnesota listening to the loon call.

  5. Great post Chris with some amazing birds. I really love the shot of the pelican :)

  6. If I'd got the possibility of seeing all those fabulous birds in my home county, Chris, I reckon I might become a little insular!

    Best wishes - - - Richard

  7. Such a great self challenge and great finds, Always nice to have a look at what you are finding.
    And I can't prevent myself of smiling when I think at myself trying to spot a bird in a tree whom I can hear but not see. :-)

  8. Finding all the birds on your list can definitely be wearing on your tires.

  9. Great post and wonderful photos. Love the Elegant Trogon - what a gorgeous bird!

  10. Look at the neck on that Pelican! Love the Loon too.

  11. Wow....I lived in Tucson for over a decade and NEVER once saw a brown pelican there....that shot you shared, is MAGNIFICENT!!

    As all your other very colorful!!

  12. hooray for bbwds! :) you get to see such variety there (and in your travels). congratulations on #300 in that county!

  13. Amazing! We saw a lot of birds on mt Lemmon when we stayed in Tucson... But nothing like these. Marvelous, thanks for sharing.

  14. Awesome photos of that tiny tern Mr. Chris! 300 is such an awesome number to hit for the county! I'm so close I can taste it, only two more for Maricopa and I'll know what you're feeling.

  15. Oh Chris,. this is so exciting! I can't believe we have so many species here that aren't normally found here. I would just DIE to see some of them! I will have to keep trying in my small ways. Congrats on the tern...and seeing the trogon in our county and the scissor-tail (my hubby is pretty sure he saw one as well) ...By the way, I didn't know the white-winged doves left here mostly during the summer. I guess they are storing up lots of food for their trip! I have noticed there are times when I don't see them as much. Thanks for sharing that info, and for all your wonderful info on the different birds on your post. This is such a great post, but then all of your posts are awesome! I will have to get out there more and try harder!

  16. Wonderful video and it is marvellous that so many people are helping protect the Terns in that area. Mt favourite shot is the Pelican. Great post overall.

  17. What an abundance of beautiful and unusual birds you have shared!

  18. So many unique birds, but that brown pelican shot is just fabulous. Happy birding,

    1. Yes! That pelican shot is just AMAZING!

  19. Chris, you are amazing! I am so glad we met, and it was the birds (and your kindness) that brought us together! I still need some of these birds, like the Sage Thrasher! I need to come back and bird with you again! What wonderful memories! what wonderful photos you got! I really want to see an Ani! you tried so hard to help me when I was there. As I predicted, the pupil has become the teacher! You have it in your blood and you are good at it! I am so glad that you love the birds so much!


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