Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Tactical Alert

My weekly observations at Reid Park includes watching people watch birds.
Recently, I had to send my professional lens into the shop again because it locked up on me during our Wood Thrush journey.  So I sent the lens out of town for a fixin' and stayed close to home for some tactical training. 

My favorite habitat in Arizona, the grasslands.  And my favorite group of birds, the sparrows!
Tucson birders have pretty much all stayed in town this past weekend(which is uncommon).  A friend contacted me and asked if I wanted to do some birding in town.  I got the vibe that we were all doing the same thing and our plan went something like this, "We want to find something rare.  We don't care what it is.  But let's challenge ourselves and see if we can find something cool around town."

Magical and breathtaking, the open spaces of our Arizona grasslands make me feel alive
So that was our challenge. For the most part, it was unspoken but everyone who was doing a big year in Pima County decided that this was the weekend that something good was going to show up.  And I have to say we did great. 

Sheri, Jennifer and Peggy observe some great sparrows.
Before we did our big challenge, I had some friends come to town who needed help finding a Baird's Sparrow.  Easy.  

We sit at a water tank whispering and watching birds come to take a sip.  This Savannah Sparrow is thirsty....and wary!
We scanned the cattle tanks and along fence lines for our sparrows and had a great time observing some beautiful birds. 

Western Meadowlark
Around the Sonoita and Patagonia areas, we found several Baird's Sparrows, an American Bittern and a small flock of Chestnut-collared Longspurs.  

Patagonia Lake
It was a fun day out with Jennifer, Peggy and Sheri as we searched for all kinds of birds.  

Jennifer and Sheri are enjoying the butterfly show
So that was my fun birding.  Then came the tactical birding.  And again, the WHOLE week was set up to find something rare at our local parks and watering holes. Lens or no lens, the challenge was on!

Northern Cardinal at the Patagonia State Park feeders

It was a very good week full of surprises.  We had Cackling Geese, Red-breasted Mergansers everywhere, and something even more rare and special, a Couch's Kingbird. 

A Couch's Kingbird is a bird that might be seen in southern Texas but more commonly observed in Mexico. And here's how this chase organically evolved in Tucson.  One day I went to bird at Ft. Lowell Park.  I spotted Red Crossbills crunching away on pine cones. They were a nice find and I posted my sightings.  Then Melissa Williams went to find them the next day.  In the process of birding the park, she found an unusual out-of-place kingbird.

She posted on Facebook that she thought it was a little late for a Tropical Kingbird to be in Tucson.  And she was right. The next day, the Tucson birding crew all met up in one of those rare gatherings.  For a long while, we all worked together to figure out Melissa's bird and at the end of taking audio samples and photos, we concluded that her bird was a very special and rare Couch's Kingbird, a first record for Pima County!  This is not an easy bird to ID.  It looks a lot like our Tropical Kingbird:) If the bird calls, the ID is a snap.  Luckily for all of us, this kingbird made the "kip" calls.

Couch's Kingbird
 While all of this was going on, we were dealing with our poor Cassie.  She became very sick and was having a hard time breathing.  Afraid that we'd lose her, we took her to the ER.  I'm glad we did because we would have lost her.  She has a genetic disease known as Congestive Heart Failure. She is only 10 years old and hopefully with the meds, she'll be with us a little longer. I can say that her health has improved and her appetite has returned.  All critters have my heart.  They are my kryptonite.  She has health insurance which is better than our own! We still have a few more doctor appointments and we're hoping that she'll make a full recovery. 

Soon my professional lens will back and I will be preparing for some arctic cold temps in the North.  Until next time....


  1. Great Kingbird adventure. Hope Cassie is doing better!

    1. Thankfully she is. Yesterday she was almost back to her playful self:)

  2. that sounded like great fun and what a speccial surprise bird you found

  3. I well know your frustration at losing your main lens, Chris. I'm about to go through the same process, due to unreliable electrical contact between lens and camera. I've also got to send off my main camera body soon as I seem to have oil spots on the sensor. Each one could take three weeks! Ouch!!

    So sorry to hear about Cassie. I shall be keeping my fingers crossed for her.

    With my very best wishes to all three of you - - - Richard

    1. Ugh! It's the worst Richard. Yesterday I got home and I had a package with the lens in it! So glad to have it back. 3 weeks is a little too long but if it means that it will be sharper clearer photography then it's worth it:)

      Cassie is better. Yesterday she was back up to her playful self.....well better than where she was a last week. Thanks for the good thoughts!

  4. Very nice images and narrative, Chris. You certainly were not disabled by the temporary loss of your lens!

    1. Thanks Ken! You are too kind. Enjoy your upcoming weekend! Chris

  5. So pleased that Cassie is feeling a little better. It is always fun to stay local and see what wildlife surprises you can find :)

    1. Thank you. Yesterday she hung out with me and it was almost like normal times so I know she is feeling better. Thanks for the positive thoughts!


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