Monday, October 28, 2013

Wrens, Lovebirds, Geese and More Boobies

We were back at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery by 8 AM to look again for the yellow-green vireo.  Since it was Saturday morning, there were several other birders who came by including Scott and Linda Terrell who are regular spotters on Debi Shearwater trips.  Unfortunately none of us saw the vireo, and we left at 10 AM to begin the 450 mile drive to Sierra Vista, AZ.

We decided to make a short stop at the Paton's in Patagonia just before sunset.  A plain-capped starthroat had been reported from there the prior week, so we figured it was worth the effort.  I have visited this renowned birding spot for years, and had seen a plain-capped in 2010 during my lower 48 big year, but at dusk we found almost no birds there.  The highlights were the resident violet-crowned hummer, a few pyrrhuloxias and a late migrating lazuli bunting.  After about 20 minutes we climbed back into our rental car to cover the last 45 miles of our trip. 

We were up at 6:30 on Sunday, and were thru the main gate checkpoint at Fort Huachuca at 7:15.  We headed up to Garden Canyon to look for a sinaloa wren, but quickly realized that we needed to be in Huachuca Canyon.  I called Melody Kehl, a local bird guide that I have gotten to know over the years.  She explained how to get to Huachuca Canyon, and exactly where to look for the wren which she had seen again just the day before.  We arrived at the right location for the wren by 8:30, and within 5 minutes it was calling and feeding very close to us (photo above taken by Laura Keene--click on any photo to enlarge).  I had seen a sinaloa wren back in 2009 when the first one ever recorded in the ABA area stayed for several months at Patagonia, AZ.  This bird was a life bird for both Doreene and Laura.

Our next target bird was the rosy-faced lovebird that was added this year to the ABA accepted list.  This exotic has been breeding in the wild around Phoenix for many years, and its numbers are now in the 1000's.  I had first seen them in 2010, but could not count it for my big year.  The ABA rules for adding a newly accepted exotic to one's life list requires that you see the bird again even if you have already seen it in the past, so Dan, Laura and I needed to see it again, and Doreene needed to see it for the first time.  

Since I had found them at the Gilbert Water Ranch outside of Phoenix, and because Laura was hoping to find a ruddy ground dove, we first stopped at the Ranch.  After an hour of looking at mid-day we had not found any lovebirds, or ground doves.  We then drove to Encanto Park in Phoenix where Laura had previously found them.  Within minutes we had one flying around, and others in the palms.

It was now mid afternoon, and the next hour was spent dropping Dan and Doreene at her relatives, and Laura at an old friend's house before I drove back to Chandler to have dinner with Jana, a long time friend who has been living in the Phoenix area for many years.  After dinner I drove part way towards the Salton Sea to be in position to look for a tundra bean goose that had been seen on Saturday hanging out with 2 greater white-fronted geese, and 500-600 snow and Ross' geese.

I was up and on the road by 6 AM.  I arrived at Unit 1 of the Sonny Bono wildlife refuge by 9:45 where I met Neil Hayward.  A bean goose had been found at this same location in 2010.  I say bean goose because while most birders believed the 2010 bean goose to be a taiga, a few of the birding experts thought it was an "intermediate" sub species that left some doubt as to whether it was a taiga or a tundra.  Even though many birders had failed to relocate the goose on Sunday, Neil and I decided to give it a go.

Only about 1/2 the number of geese that had been reported from Saturday were still in the area, and no greater white-fronted geese were around.  We did see a single cackling goose, and 1 first year blue phase snow goose which briefly had us thinking the bean goose had returned.  After 2 hours of scanning from the raised viewing platform, we decided to try to locate other possible water spots that would be attractive to geese.  We found none, but did stop at Obsidian Buttes, and Neil got a nice photo of 7 blue-footed boobies.

We returned to the viewing platform, and spent 2 more hours waiting patiently for a the tundra bean goose to grace us with its presence.  I finally left at 4 PM to make the 200 mile drive back to LA.  Neil kept up the vigil until dusk.  I flew home on Tuesday feeling very good overall about the birding, and time spent with Dan, Doreene, Laura and Neil. I also added 2 more life birds--the mannikin and the lovebird.

I have been asked many times over the years what my ABA area life list total is, and my answer is the same that it has been for 40 years--I don't know.  I mark the birds down in my book, but have not added them all up.  However, after so many years of being asked, I have decided to finally total them up at the end of the year, and will share that number then.  My next post will be another update on this year's big year efforts.  Stay tuned!

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