Friday, December 3, 2010

I Thought I Was Going to Boston, But Ended Up in AZ

When I woke up yesterday morning I had decided since the sun was supposed to be shining in northern CA that I would drive back up to try for the brown shrike again today. At about 9 AM I got word that a lapwing had been seen in the past hour at Plum Island outside of Boston. I also still need to go to New England to look for the common redpoll and thick-billed murre, so I made a reservation to fly to Boston on American. Bob Ake decided to go back to VA first flying on Southwest, and then was going to come up to Boston.

When I arrived in Dallas about 7 PM I got a call that a baikal teal--a rarity from Asia--had been found that afternoon just outside of Phoenix. I did not get back on my plane to Boston. Instead I bought a new ticket for the 10 PM flight to Phoenix, and was asleep a little after 1 AM in my motel room. I was up at 6 this morning and arrived at the Gilbert Water Ranch about 7. When I walked up to the spot where the teal had been seen yesterday there were already 15 birders there enjoying good views of the teal. The top photo was taken by Brendon Grice. Gary Nunn who had found the teal was also there--a transplanted brit--who was having a bad work day yesterday so he went birding!

The challenge with a baikal teal is that sometimes they are kept as pets, so there is always some question about whether any given bird is in fact wild, or just an escapee. The good news about this particular bird is that it appears to be a 1st year male with no bands on its legs or clipping of its feet/toes based on the many photos taken. It has appeared in a place and at a time that fits previous accepted vagrant sightings. Finally, this year is generating so many "northern" and Asian birds that it is not surprising that a baikal teal would make an appearance.

That said, like the white-cheeked pintail that I saw a month ago in NC and will be reviewed by the NC bird committee, the AZ bird committee will study the"evidence" and determine if this bird is deemed to be wild. Unlike the white-cheeked, this teal has a much higher probability of being accepted as a wild bird. Therefore, while I have put the white-cheeked on a provisional status for my big year, today I am going to count the teal.

I also was able to bird around the Gilbert Water Ranch some and took a photo (bottom) of 3 rosy-faced lovebirds that have been expanding there numbers in the Phoenix area for over 20 years. As a result, I was told by Gary Nunn that the AZ bird committee will be considering this year whether to add them to the state bird list as an established exotic. As I left to go back to the airport, there were still 20 birders looking at the teal as it was flushed probably by a cooper's hawk, and more birders were pouring in from the parking lot. Bob is flying as I type to AZ.

Today is the beginning of week #49 and 29 new birds were seen. The baikal teal is a life bird and raises the YTD up to 698. I am writing this blog entry at home, having arrived here this evening. While sitting in the airport in Chicago, I heard as I had suspected would happen that the brown shrike was seen again today. I may be heading back to CA very soon. Stay tuned!

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