Sunday, November 25, 2018

A Taco Salad and a Ringed Kingfisher

I watched a herd of Pronghorn with Indigo at the Empire Ranch in the Cienegas Grasslands
Over the past 2 weekends, I've had the pleasure of birding with some great people searching for some excellent state birds.  And mammals. 

Scott scopes Lake Pleasant
Scott was free to bird one weekend and so we took off to find the rare Iceland Gull at Lake Pleasant near Phoenix.  It was a juvenile gull first discovered by the talented Melanie Herring.  

We find Usha and Janine already on the gull
Birders from all over the state went to go find this bird.  Last year, the Thayer's Gull was lumped back into the Iceland Gull species.  This was the trickier Thayer's subspecies.  It looks similar to a juvenile Herring Gull but has softer, more muted tones.  Even in the adult form, this subspecies can be tricky to ID. 

We get to the shore and start planning the rest of our afternoon after the gull find
This was a great opportunity for the two of us to study this bird up close.   

This subspecies of Thayer's now goes officially by the name, Iceland Gull
And like any gull, the Iceland's was no different.  Where there was food; there was the opportunity to eat. I captured this adorable scene along the lakeshore.  What an absolute thrill to see this bird in the state!  Gulls are amazing.  In North America, we are very lucky to have so many interesting gull species. 

This little girls lectures the gull on sharing something of which gull nor geese are known to do. 
While this wasn't a life bird, as they are found in Wisconsin during the winter, it was an Arizona first for both of us. It has been some time since one has been seen here. So I celebrated with a taco salad at lunch:)

I wish all birds were as cooperative as this gull.  This past weekend, Magill asked me if I would go down with her to find the first state record of a Ringed Kingfisher.  Honestly I groaned a bit.  I had gone several weeks earlier and had a VERY brief sighting and I'll be honest, it sucked.  So I gave hope a chance. When we bird together, we always get our bird. It just took patience and some skill. 

Along the way, we stopped and looked at water birds. The trek to Safford is a long one from Tucson.  In my head, I worked out a plan.  I helped Magill find all the places I had previously investigated on my first attempt.  We were meticulous.  The person reporting the bird threw the rare kingfisher on a general marker without telling anyone where the bird was. And that's ok. This wasn't our first rodeo. We spent the morning canvassing map points around the various ponds careful not to trespass onto anyone's property. 

A Long-billed Dowitcher struts around this other onlooking bird.  The bird appears to be saying, "What's up?"
The park ranger played coy with us because she was concerned about the safety of the bird.  And the birders.  Apparently, Safford is run by savage gun owners.  We did not see any bad behavior by the locals at all. They were very friendly with us. But maybe that was just with us and our Wisconsin charm. We had fun playing detective. I mean, we were also the same team who investigated the Tundra Swan mystery with several golfer ladies in their carts.   

a drake Green-winged Teal
I remembered the lovely weekend birding for the Iceland Gull with Scott.  Nice habitat, easy bird and great company. Why couldn't this bird hang out in nicer conditions for us?! I wouldn't say that the habitat is exciting nor is it my favorite place to bird in the state. But I was thankful for the great company as we did quite a bit of laughing. We stopped in this restaurant that smelled like a church. So I ordered cheese curds to cover the smell. Then the moment of truth happened after eating our taco salads.  Before lunch, I was getting to that grouchy birder phase, not quite giving up but not wanting to bird until I had some food in my stomach.  We both decided to hit the pause button and grab a bite to eat. The taco salads hit the spot.  A quick scene replay. 
Magill, "Does this taco salad have romaine lettuce?" (Romaine lettuce is getting recalled right now in the US and has been taken out of many of the restaurants)
The Waitress, "Huh? It's just lettuce!"
So we took our chances:)

scenic Lake Pleasant on a cold morning
During our meal, we played the roles of psychologist, scientist and of course, birder.  Then we went after our bird narrowing the list of possibilities down to 2 hotspots.  

Wilson's Snipe chill in the mud clumps
And VOILA!  We found this tricky devil perched quietly in the shadows. We legally observed the bird from the public road.  When it came time to ebird this information, we had a serious conversation about publicly sharing the hotspot. We hid the spot for a couple hours to have our talk.  Eventually we came to the conclusion that we'd share the spot for other birders who have been wanting to see this bird as birders have shared with us their special birds. 

a distant photo of the Ringed Kingfisher
Because it's a first state record, a lot of birders have been wanting to see this kingfisher. The problem is that humans are nuts. I don't know what is true or not, but I trust several of my friends who saw birders illegally trespass! We knew the rules before looking for this bird. Anyhow, there was drama the next day.  So part of me wishes that we had hid the checklist.  I do it with owls and other endangered birds.  Some birders didn't know the whole situation but had their 2 cents to add.  We saw the bird, never trespassed and waved and said hello to the neighbors sporting this pretty pond.  No issues. We did our documentation and left the bird to hunt alone. 

Celebrating the day is just something people should do more often.  I discover my lifer Scarlet Macaws in 1996. 

Years ago, when life was simpler and my camera was film, we'd share our experiences over a meal while on the road.  The pic was taken 22 years ago, in southern Costa Rica after a day of chasing Scarlet Macaws. There's nothing quite like a meal to celebrate a moment. It has been an amazing past two weekends here in Arizona.  I think I had the best car ride home with Scott listening to Spanish music while the sun was setting over the ag fields.  Or was it catching up with Magill and her Maine adventures?  Maybe it was watching Indigo get excited about his first Black-tailed Prairie Dogs in the field? This is what nature is all about; bringing people together.  And we need to protect it.  Until next time..... 


  1. i am so glad you found the kingfisher and yes we do have to be careful how we go searching for rare birds so that they are always protected

  2. Wonderful post and birds I am never likely to see so thaks for sharing. Have a good week Diane

  3. Congrats on your sightings. It is cool to see these birds show up in your state. I love the Snipe and the Teal. Great shot of the Kingfisher. Happy birding, enjoy your day!

  4. Such a delightful post. Friends, food and feathers make for wonderful days.

  5. Well done on the Iceland Gull and finding the Belted Kingfisher. One of the latter turned up in Staffordshire not that far from here (one of only 6ish UK records!) a few years back. It only stayed around for one day and by the time I heard the news it had long disappeared!

  6. Hello! Lovely post and great photos.


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