Monday, May 29, 2017

The Whirling Dervish

It started as an innocent weekend up in Phoenix.  I'd visit my family during Comicon and then head north of Phoenix with friend and birder Gordon to the town of Pine for a little research on the northern most range of the Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher. That was the plan....

We had a great time watching everyone dress up for Comicon.  While enjoying the ambience, we kicked back a few Malibu and Cokes at the pool with my family.

Then it was time for sushi.  We had an amazing dinner.  During our visit, I had my phone off for much of the time.  Then I took my phone out......

Part of my family
"Code 5. Little Bunting reported at the Mexican border!"  It was the first Arizona record ever.  I hugged everyone good-bye and Gordon and myself were off the next day bright and early to hopefully spy this amazing Eurasian bird. How in the hell did it get down here?!?!

Sunday morning arrived bright and early.  We were at the border town of Douglas at a random hotspot called Slaughter Ranch Museum.  If you like US history, I think you should visit here.  I'm not sure what the story is behind the ranch, but it looked interesting. It's 5 bucks to get into the place. I know, I know.  I'm terrible.  But we're birders. We're all about the habitat and birds!  Slaughter Ranch did not disappoint.  Well, it did if you went to find the Little Bunting on Sunday.  It never showed. However, let's start at the beginning....of the line:)

You know it's serious business when you find a very long stretch of vehicles lined up to get into any museum. We arrived just as they were opening the gates. Anytime a mega rare bird shows up in Arizona, it's like a special holiday of friends and family getting together to celebrate a bird. This was to be the location of our church get-together.  So at the Church of Birds, some 50+ members arrived and flooded the property as they set up a perimeter around the pond.  Mass was about to begin!

Now I've heard some people call the Church of Birds a cult.  Maybe.  I mean it represents every type of human/bird hybrid personality out there like 1) The ducklings (they respond well to direction).  2) The mother ducks ("While I'm not the bird police, I  we need you to get out of this area and get in line behind me!").  3) The doves (they always wait for someone to feed find the birds for them).  4)The jays (they look pretty innocent, but they are always watching you and everyone else for an opportunity to mob when your guard is down; they like to hang around together in groups of 4 or 6) 5) The paired swans(independent married couples who float around wherever, oblivious to the ducks and ducklings and any other birds) And the waxwings(or the roamers). I'm definitely the nomadic bird.

The duck, duckling and dove hybrids all stay behind and concentrate their efforts on the Little Bunting.  The jays stay near the gang but continue their whispers watching the others move about them. Several of the waxwings realize there are too many birders hanging out in the area where the bird was foraging the day before.  So like the waxwings do, both Gordon and myself go where the food bird song is being heard.  We searched similar habitat that might have been attractive to the Little Bunting. 

All the while, we were observing some amazing birds. At one point, I just let the Little Bunting go and opened myself up to relax and bird.  We were going to do that anyway up in Pine. It was time to just have fun and observe the incredible amount of bird activity on this museum's property. And when we did, we discovered something more.......

Great Horned Owlet
The heat of the morning began to wear on me.  We needed water.  As we slowly made our way to the car, we noticed a different looking bird moving through the grasses. Birding in the Arizona sun is taxing.  In Wisconsin, when the weather is too cold, I snap a panorama of pictures of the ice sheets with gulls on them.  I stitch that panorama together later in the warmth of my house and ID the gulls from the comfort of my desk. So on this day, I did the same thing with the strange bird.  I was too tired to concentrate anymore. 

Barn Swallow
We eventually returned back to Tucson and I filed my reports, recordings and photos.  When I got to the files of the unusual bird and blew the picture up, I realized that we had something very special, a rare migrating Bobolink.  We both became very excited and I sent a couple photos to friends to verify the bird.  It was indeed a female Bobolink, the first record for that area ever.  I wanted to get the word out to other birders and immediately filed the photos and documentation into the rare bird alert.

 The Bobolink was a state bird for both myself and Gordon.  While we didn't spot that Code 5 Little Bunting, we had a blast exploring a new part of the state.  

And for our hard work, we were rewarded with a different rare bird.  Even better?  We were able to contribute new data for that area!  The countdown begins. I have some very exciting projects coming up in the next few weekends.  Stay tuned for more......


  1. I like the analogy of birdism with church. And congrats on finding the Bobolink.

  2. Always someting exciting goin on with you...
    Good luck for the next outing.

  3. Hello Chris, great post and report. I am so happy you saw the Bobolink. I love their song. Great photos of the Owl, Swallow and the cute frog. It does look like a hot place for birding, you need lots of water with you. Looking forward to reading about your next adventure. Happy birding.

  4. Well done on the Bobolink - what a super find :) Lovely to see photos of your family and read all about your adventures :)

  5. That is quite a story, and you were certainly not disapointed, worth the heat I think.
    All the best, Gordon.

  6. Well, success, of a sort, after all! Loved your characterizations of the different "species" of birders. Thanks for a very engaging post!

  7. Good for you-- love how you all share your findings -- that group heading to 'church' is impressive (and I would be happy to be a member). I'd probably be a dove since I am never the first one to spot a bird. Always grateful to those like you who don't mind sharing in real life as well as in blogdom).

  8. Interesting trip! They must have been giving away something free that day at the ranch or were having a western shooting exhibit, or something. :-) Glad you saw the bobolink.


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