Thursday, May 26, 2011

Can You Say Fan-tailed Warbler?

Last Monday a fan-tailed warbler was found in Madera Canyon located 4o miles south of Tucson, AZ. Usually this very rare visitor from Mexico when seen in the US never hangs around. Someone will find one, and few lucky close by birders may also get to view it over the next few hours before the bird disappears. Most recently two fan-tailed warblers were sighted last year in SE AZ but neither lasted for more than 4 hours. Of the 56 new world warblers recorded in the ABA area, the fan-tailed is the only one that I had left to see.

When I read that it was seen again throughout the day on Tuesday I decided to put a ticket on hold to fly down here early this morning if it was also seen yesterday. When for the 3rd day in row it was in exactly the same place, I called Melody Kehl, who is a friend and professional bird guide down here, to see what she thought about this bird. She had seen it on Monday, and felt that it had good water and plenty of food to stay happy for a bit longer. That sealed the deal for me.

I was up at 4 AM to catch my 6:15 flight thru Dallas, arriving in Tucson at 10. I was in Madera Canyon checking on the situation by 11:15. The good news was that the warbler had been seen and heard frequently from 6:30 to 8:30. The not so good news was that it had not been seen or heard since. So the stakeout began. Lots of birds were around including sulphur-bellied and dusky-capped flycatchers, a pair of painted redstarts, several black-headed grosbeaks and hummers. Unfortunately there was also a sharp-shinned hawk coming and going along the creek. This bird of prey loves eating other birds.

About 1:45 while I was watching 2 dusky-capped flycatchers chase each other around I noticed a bird fly toward me from across the creek. I located it in a small tree, and saw that it was the much sought after fan-tailed warbler. I immediately called out that it was back, and within 2-3 minutes upwards of 15 birders were all oohing and aahing as the bird foraged on the ground not more than 20 feet in front of us. We were able to watch it for 10-15 minutes before it moved out of sight. Given the light conditions, the 3 not so great photos above are the best my camera could do to capture this beautiful bird--click on any photo to enlarge.

One of the birders who walked up after I alerted others about the warbler was Martin Meyers who I met a few times during my big year. He had driven 800 miles from Truckee, CA because like me it was also the last new world warbler for him to see. It was very nice to share the moment with him. There were also 3 birders in from Rhode Island that I had met last year on a few pelagic trips out of Hatteras, NC. Given that the fan-tailed warbler is a code 4 bird (there are only 10 records of the bird over the past 50 years in AZ), it is not surprising that so many birders from far away have made the effort to come look for it. I will be birding here again tomorrow and will try to see the warbler one more time. Stay tuned!

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