Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Wildest Birds

They say that after 400 state birds, it gets interesting. The chases are more intense and often times, our treks take us to the far reaches of the state boundaries so that we might try and add one bird. And sometimes that bird isn't even a lifebird!  Here's a look at the crazy vagrants(or not) that have come to visit Arizona. Warning: some of the photos presented today are of really BAD quality!  It just shows that being a birder is a 24/7 kind of job! At number 400......

Prothonotary Warbler State Bird 400
The Prothonotary Warbler hid in the Arizona Cottonwood leaves during a warm spring day.  It wasn't hard to find but it did require a little patience.  This warbler was close to home and obviously a no brainer to chase. 

Nutting's Flycatcher 401(upper right hand corner) The rest are all the similar looking Myiarchus species!
Then came the Nutting's Flycatcher.  I hate this bird.  It's not exciting to me NOR was the crazy drive to Lake Havasu.  To be honest, it was one of the last of my "expected" birds on my state list to find.  When you get to the bottom of the barrel, you do what you gotta a crazy monster truck to the top of a rugged road and find this uneventful number. To make things worse with this bird?  It was in a remote area.  While it was beautiful, there were moments I panicked. Never again.....

                                                                   Black Rail 402
To make things worse, we went to find a Black Rail on the same day. When I decide to rip the bandage off.... Of course, I knew that spotting this lifer and state bird was most likely not going to happen because 1) It's a rail. 2) It's a tiny rail. and 3)Birders rarely ever see this bird. Many times it's a count as a heard only bird. So I brought my phone and took this vocal recording of the bird.  After many mosquito bites and hearing the bird, we drove away from the dark Yuma night for another several hour drive home.  

Red-headed Woodpecker 403
Things started to get exciting when this Red-headed Woodpecker made its way into Arizona and hung out in a very hidden and secret location. This bird was closer to home BUT we needed a sturdy vehicle to get there.   Thankfully, we had one!

Pine Flycatcher 404
An ABA first(first time in the US), the Pine Flycatcher, was a hike and a rocky road trip that had us all biting our nails.  After a little sun and heat along with drinking lots of water, we found this female flycatcher making a nest in a sacred glen.  Magic!

Berryline Hummingbird 405
I'd chase this next one, the Berryline Hummingbird, often and dip. And I would always dip on the bird since it came to visit during my international treks.  So while I sat at the hummingbird ramada of Miller Canyon, I was shocked and surprised to see this bird casually fly to the feeder.  There was no plan.  It just happened as it happened. Right place; right time.  The way real birding should happen.

The heat of the summer came and so did a rare Hudsonian Godwit.  This lifer was seen with a scope demonstrating that not all state birds, or lifers, play nice for viewing. 

Hudsonian Godwit 406
On a beautiful trek up to the White Mountains, we finally discovered the American Three-toed Woodpecker!  It only took 5 attempts!

American Three-toed Woodpecker 407
Then.  A major fallout happened from Hurricane Newton.  I paced my classroom after hearing the news about crazy ocean birds dropping from the sky.  During the last bell, I shooed my students out the door and grabbed my umbrella to witness storm-petrels in the desert!  The drive seemed like eternity.  It was an event I'll never forget.

Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel!!! 408
The shadows from the clouds of the hurricane made photography nearly impossible.  We watched helplessly as this Least Storm-Petrel(below) perished in the waters. So adding state birds can also be a sad one. 

Least Storm-Petrel 409
But some birders held hope when we saw a healthy Black Storm-Petrel fly around the ponds of a water treatment plant days after the storm. By nightfall, we believe this bird made it back to Mexico(which isn't too far away).  This bird has occasionally strayed into Arizona as it lives off the shores of Baja California.

Black Storm-Petrel 410
Some state birds don't play fair. Here is the case of the accidental pretty bird. During work (and during yet another storm), we were all having lunch when Margie spots this rusty orange and black bird from the office windows.  "Chris, what is that bird?"  OH. MY. GODS!  A rare Orchard Oriole came to visit and I did not have my camera.  So Margie snapped a shot with her IPHONE.  The bird took off afterwards and wasn't seen again. 

Orchard Oriole 411
A boring bird to add to the state list, the California Scrub-Jay, was more of a technical trek.  I don't really care for those too much but we were able to hear the bird and check it off the list. 

California Scrub-Jay 412
Another stormy (do you see a pattern here?:) and fun day out after work had me using my cell phone to snap a picture of the Common Tern.  I don't always bird with my camera now.  Sometimes I just want to be a birder with binos and not bring that heavy camera. 

Common Tern 413
The furthest and most stressful bird of the year, the Lesser Sand Plover, had me in suspense for a couple weeks.  It was a state first/lifer that required MANY hours of driving.  Thankfully, it waited for us before disappearing into the unknown THE NEXT DAY!  Talk about luck! Afterwards, we slowly birded our way back down to Tucson visiting with friends and not wasting gas on one bird. The whole trek took 3 days long.  

Lesser Sand Plover 414
While not ABA countable, I'm counting this one.  Monk Parakeets have been breeding in this state for awhile and if the birds breed successfully, I count them. For the ABA listers out there, I actually got my countable Monk Parakeet in Florida several years ago. If it's one bird group I enjoy the most, it's the parrots/parakeets.  So I have been studying their populations around the US for quite some time. There were several AZ populations of the Monk Parakeets years ago but then they mysteriously disappeared.  Over the years, we have tracked down their disappearance and in the process, have also relocated their last breeding colony. Several colonies were taken out by wildlife management as they were considered invasive.  And the neighbors didn't really appreciate the noise:) This is a bird of interest for me in this state.  I'll continue monitoring the small? population.  There are rogue birds discovered every year in strange places around Phoenix.  

Monk Parakeet 415
After finding the Pacific Wren 2 years ago, it was time to locate the Winter Wren.  Easy. But the little buggers are tricky to capture on camera as they act like little mice with wings!

Winter Wren 416
Then a Christmas miracle happened.  A happy male Long-tailed Duck came to visit for quite some time.  And he made many birders happy:) It was strange observing this one in the sunny Phoenix area.  Back home in Wisconsin, they love the icy waters! But this one had a taste for the desert:) A true "snowbird"......

Long-tailed Duck 417
The Rose-throated Becard was tricky.  I tried once for this bird in Arizona but it hung out in a remote area. I dipped! And I had to have my car aligned after driving on that washboard of a dirt road! I've seen the bird many times in Mexico and Guatemala but never in the US!  This year several RTBE were seen along the DeAnza trail and I was able to add this bird to my state list.  It felt good!

Rose-throated Becard 418
The Mexican bird species all played nice for me this year.  Normally the elusive Green Kingfisher doesn't like to hang around for a pic.  But thankfully two stuck around this winter in Patagonia for a photo shoot.  Finally!

Green Kingfisher 419
I didn't chase a Palm Warbler outside of Tucson because I knew one would eventually come to me.  All I had to do was be patient.  It has been a good year for adding warblers!

Palm Warbler 420
And more recently, I finished with yet another "FINALLY!" as we spied this Tennessee Warbler.  State birds after 400 are not easy and it gets trickier as we climb the ladder towards the top.  There are no prizes other than the smiles and satisfaction that happen when we find difficult birds. I should also mention that I wouldn't chase many of these birds without the help and support of friends like Brian, Magill, Gordon, Muriel, Kathie, Jeremy, Janine, Babs, Micheal and so many others. Let me put it this way.  When you are dealing with remote areas, always...ALWAYS bring a friend for safety. I now sit at 421 and wait. Who will the next state bird be?

Tennessee Warbler 421


  1. So nice to see the Berryline Hummer, as it graced you with its presence! :-) And the California Scrub Jay which is now one of my sightings here in OR. Neat post!

  2. Such a mix Chris. I would never have thought you might get a Long-tailed Duck in Arizona and I know what you mean about troglodytes.

    I think actually I enjoy your narrative as much as your photos. I think if we were to go birding togther there would be as many laughs and as much fun as the ticks.

  3. what can I way? Had to giggle for a while there. Hard job to be a birder :) But you catch a lot of gorgeous ones :)
    Loved to see the Long-tailed duck. :)


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