Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Blow A Kiss, Fire A Gun

Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson
December.  It's the month of crazy as we kiss the year good-bye.  Birders rush to get their birds before the year is over. Holiday shoppers clog the highways up.  And duck hunters are out shooting ducks. This time of year brings everyone together whether we like it or not. 

Pied-billed Grebe
It's always weird going back to work after an intense weekend. I'm constantly studying birds out in the field whenever I get the chance. I began on Friday evening at Sweetwater.  I needed to clear my mind and think about my options. I stood observing several birds for a long time deciding how I'd tackle the weekend. When I left, I had a plan. Possible life bird in sight! On Saturday, we headed up to Prescott to visit friends Cynthia and Roger. 

Green Heron
It was cold and rainy.  Perfect weather for a Tundra Swan.  So I kicked Micheal out of bed and we took a road trip up to find this not always present bird:)

Saturday was a really fun day.  It felt like the holidays!  I was lazy with the camera but thanks to Cynthia, I have photos to share from our visit to Prescott!  

Cynthia, Roger and Micheal
We eventually relocated the swan giving me a rare Arizona Swan Trifecta for the year!  Earlier this year, a pair of Trumpeter Swans came to Sweetwater Wetlands.  Then we got our non-countable(for AZ) Mute Swans.  This weekend, we finished the swan chase with the beautiful Tundra below. 

Tundra Swan-note yellow lores/Photo by Cynthia White
I wore my "old man" outfit.  I didn't care.  It felt SOOO comfortable!

At Willow Lake searching for the swan.  Photo by Cynthia White
However, the clock ticks and it was off again on Sunday for a very important bird known as the Rusty Blackbird. It was still hanging out along the Salt River.  So Sunday came and another early morning began. 

We reached the Coon Bluff area and were greeted by many Rock Wrens including the one below. This wren decided to perch on top of someone's tent.  Or maybe the bird owned the tent?

Rock Wren at Coon Bluff Campground
Once we got onto the trail, I spotted the infamous gang of wild horses.  For now the horses are safe.  At one point, they were going to be taken off these lands, but public outcry kept them from "disappearing". It has been a very controversial topic between environmentalists and the public. This wild locale is also a recreational space for many people living in the Phoenix area. Birders were birding.  Photographers were capturing with their cameras a pair of Bald Eagles nesting.  Horseback riders were crossing the creek. Hikers hiked. And fisher people fished.  This recreational area was getting plenty of use on Sunday.  All was calm. Until....

The last wild horse population in Arizona
Bullets flew past our heads!  I was with Magill at the time and we were very angry. These irresponsible "hunters" almost hit the photographer to the right.  Another photographer came out and asked if the guy was okay.  The hunters shot what they thought was a dove.  Turns out they were complete idiots.  They killed a Greater Yellowlegs! A NO NO!  Not a duck or a dove. Looks like these morons need to read and study up on what they are killing. It was all senseless.  It's duck season right now and there is hunting allowed in this area but most hunters were further down the river away from the crowds of people.  It's these kinds of people who give hunters a bad name.

Irresponsible Hunters
Calls were made to Game and Fish and the Sheriff's Department. They didn't apologize to the guy and when they saw the camera, they took off. The whole incident really made us upset and ruined a perfectly beautiful morning.  IRRESPONSIBLE!  We were okay as were the others.  It could have been a lot worse.  That morning we dipped on the Rusty Blackbird.  One of these days I will find this beauty but it was wasn't meant to be on this day. I'm just thankful we're okay.  These guys shot at ground level and through thick vegetation not looking to see if there was anyone in the vegetation.  Photographers like to hide in a natural or created "blind" to capture wildlife in action.

White-throated Sparrow
Over the past two weekends, we've added several sightings of rare sparrows from our walks. While the Rusty may have been a "no show", we were able to add on a juvenile Golden-crowned Sparrow. It was a first for my state list. I never pay attention to that stuff but all the birders have been asking me where my state list is at right now?  Still don't know. I first saw this (at the time) life bird in New Mexico at the magical Bosque Del Apache. While these photos are NOT of the bird we observed, the bird appeared similar to the juvenile below with the gold crown forming.

Golden-crowned Sparrow-Juvenile
The weekend was a success.  I would have to say that I was more of a birder than a photographer this time around.  And if we had a dollar for every time someone asked us if we had seen the Bald Eagles, we'd be rich. They ARE beautiful birds and our national symbol.  Don't think for a minute that I don't stop and enjoy their presence. It's just that a Rusty Blackbird is also quite amazing.  Its' populations are in severe decline and ornithologists still haven't been able to figure out what is happening with this species of blackbird.

For now, I wait.  I'll chase a local bird or two, but the year is not over.  And there's a job to do. For now, I'm staying away from areas full of weapons. Gun rights?  Not for everyone.  The US needs to get its' act together and screen people better.  Until next time. 

Summer Tanager-female


  1. The feral horse issue is very controversial to say the least. I have seen the destruction to some of the habitat and that will only make it more difficult for the native wildlife to flourish. I love to see the horses when I visit, but I also enjoy seeing what else can be found there, including the bird life. That small area can only sustain a certain number of the horses which are not native. Not sure what the solution is, but hope all parties can reach an workable solution in the future.

    1. I agree with you. That area and Patagonia State Park need to examine these issues with the cattle and horses. I can't believe how angry people were. I think it comes down to these horses being killed and without notice. I threw away my hiking shoes after that trek:)

  2. That is totally scary!!! A little too much multiple use. Glad you two got up to Prescott.

  3. Hello Chris, the gun shots would scare me. I hope you were wearing some orange. I love the green heron and the tundra swan. The Tundra Swan and Mute Swan seem pretty common around here. A rare Trumpeter sometimes shows up. Happy birding, stay safe.

  4. a wonderful post. Love it all except for stupid hunters.

  5. I'm glad no one was hurt. Very scary. The recklessness some people exhibit with fire arms is awful. The wild horses are beautiful as are the birds you shared. Be well and be safe!

  6. Beautiful and scenic place with such lovely birds.

  7. I always worry about shooters' ID skills. Anyone can decide to become a wildfowler here without any test of their competence to tell quarry from non-quarry.

    Have a great Christmas Chris

  8. I always worry about shooters' ID skills. Anyone can decide to become a wildfowler here without any test of their competence to tell quarry from non-quarry.

    Have a great Christmas Chris

  9. In my opinion, better screening of the gun owners just won't help. There will ALWAYS be the idiots behind the trigger!!!!

    Now for the birds, beautiful images. And, living in Tucson for a decade, I have never heard of the Sweetwater Wetlands!!!!

  10. Relieved to hear everyone was safe after the shooting incident. Can never ever understand how people can get pleasure from shooting wildlife or hunting :(

    A great post Chris with some wonderful photos of birds and scenery. Have a wonderful Christmas.

  11. Para si e sua família desejo um Natal de Luz! Abençoado e repleto de alegrias.

  12. Fat too many hunters have a 'if it flies, we can kill it' approach.

    Love the birds in this post.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  13. Why are people allowed to hunt in places where others like to hike and make photos!? I'm glad no one was hurt...this time.

  14. Glad no one got shot. Very irresponsible idiots.
    This brings to mind an old hunting story. Years ago, hubby and his brothers were turkey hunting up in Wisconsin, the neceedah area. I dropped them off and took my camera and the truck about a mile and a half past where they were, just the other side of the woods. There were the turkeys all gobbling along side the road. I took a bunch of pictures And laughed out loud.

    1. I laugh as well:) I have no problem finding the critters the hunters are looking for, but they certainly do:) The clever ones go where it's safe:) Neceedah is a beautiful area with some really nice forests....and there be bear there!!! Scary stuff. I remember hiking that forest and finding a black bear eating berries. It was awesome!

  15. I'm glad you lived to bird another day. I always enjoy reading your birding adventures. We're off to Panama soon. Great birding ahead for us on Baru! Happy Holidays to you. And happy trails in 2016.

    1. OH OH OH!!!! Do you know where you will be going in Panama! SO excited for you! Hope you have Gamboa in there with that Pipeline Hike involved! It's great! You are going to love it!

  16. Until relatively recently, Chris, I've had ambitions to return to the USA. I'm afraid that I've totally changed my mind over the past year or so, purely because of the gun situation. I shan't be setting foot in your country until the gun laws are significantly updated to offer safety to innocent people.

    I hope that you and Micheal have a wonderful Christmas and wish you both a happy, healthy and prosperous 2016, filled with amazing birds!


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