Sunday, March 17, 2013

Phoenix, Arizona 9 Mar 2013

Phoenix, Arizona 9 Mar 2013

Getting to Phoenix on Saturday evening gave me a free day before a conference starting on Monday. Googling around had given me some ideas about birding areas, but one species in particular caught my eye  - Burrowing Owl.  ‘Where to see Burrowing Owls in Phoenix’ got me an article saying that the grounds of Scottsdale Community College at dusk or dawn was a good bet, so the plan was laid.

Jet lag helped me get up before 6, so I donned my special underpants and headed down for the first breakfast available – just me and the aircrews. Then into my hire car and 25mins up to Scottsdale. Interesting story on the college – apparently in the 70s, students rebelled at the disproportionate amount spent on sport and as part of the settlement sought to embarrass future sport teams by dictating that they had to be called The Fighting Artichokes, which they still are today.

Anyhow, when I got there the huge parking lot was (understandably at 0700 on a Sunday) empty so I parked near the edge – it is right on the outskirts of town so surrounded by fields. Greater Grackles all over the place, then some entertaining  Gambell’s Quails careering wildly across the plain.

Walking along the edge of one field I noticed a muddy bank and there on top was an owl looking at me! As I got closer it flew off to a nearby mound, then returned to look again. It crouched closer to the ground to get a better look, then retreated into a burrow, then came out again. Brilliant!

Gambel's Quail

Burrowing Owl
 Dotting around a domed nest just in front of me were a couple of tiny yellow-headed birds – Verdins I discovered later.

Northern Mockingbird and Mourning Dove.

Heading back to the car some screeching attracted me to a tree with some parakeet-green birds who then flopped down onto the ground and
revealed themselves to be Rosy Faced Lovebirds – presumably escapees originally?
Northern Mockingbird


Rosy Faced Lovebird
So that’s 4 lifers before 8am!

Next location was Rio Salado – along the banks of the Salt River, which is what started the inhabitation of Phoenix. Whilst this area has been reclaimed as a leisure area, it is still very scrubby and stony…but I guess that could just be because it is a desert…
Around the little car park Great Egret, Black Phoebe on a post in the pond, House Finch and Yellow Rumped Warbler in trees.

Yellow Rumped Warbler
Gilded Flicker

House Finch
 Walking under the roadbridge, lots of swifts which I worked out were Cliff Swifts. They were nesting under the bridge and several times all alarmed by something, which on about the 3rd pass I identified as a Prairie Falcon.

A couple of groups of  Doube-Crested Cormorants flew over. A Killdeer showed up and started making it’s usual racket. A bigger bird flying into a tree  caught my eye. Wonderful colours, amazing jagged orange tail and a sharply defined balc crescent on the chest – Gilded Flicker.

Walking along a hare raced across the path, with a Coyote (you say Koy-Oat, I say Ko-yo-Tay) ambling with sinister intent short afterwards. I reached for my radio-active dog-scarer (hoping it also works for non-radioactive dog-types), but it showed no interest in me.

I soon reached the next car park along the river, and here there was a well equipped Audubon centre. One of the exhibits was of commonly seen birds here and that helped me to nail the Verdin – as well as a yellow head it has a tiny scarlet shoulder mark- , that a bird I had seen scrabbling in the dirt was an Abert’s Towhee and also gave me the info to enable a White-Winged Dove and Allen’s Hummingbird to be subsequently identified. Green Heron in their pond.

The Audubon Centre also had some details of other possible birding locations, and as I had several hours left I decided to try the Boyce Thompson Desert Arboretum, designated as an ‘Important Bird Area’, an hour out of town to the East.

The drive was livened up by catching a Lake Woebegone Days episode on the radio, and then a Car-Talk phone in, where the hosts were interested to find that a caller had a Welsh name. They got talking about Wales. They had a hunch that half the population speak Welsh, and the other half speak French. But they were absolutely confident that the one thing everyone knows about Wales is that it is where Sean Connery comes from.

The SatNav claimed to know where the Arboretum was, but directed me, predictably I suppose, to an empty piece of desert. I tried the dangerous tactic of ‘let’s just carry on and see’ and on this occasion in a few miles I reached it. At first sight it seemed to be a Cactus Garden Centre for Seniors, but there is in fact a 90 min circuit in amongst Buttes and river/lake. Not many birds though. I think the qualifying criteria for IBA must be quite low.
 I got nice views of Northern Cardinal and White Crowned Sparrow, and the lake had American Coot and Pied Billed Grebe.
Northern Cardinal

The highlight was seeing a couple of Red-Tailed Hawks wheeling around in their mating formation, with legs dangling, and then landing on top of eachother on top of a bare tree right on top of the highest outcrop. A dramatic and romantic, if brief, coupling.

Red-Tailed Hawks
Some folk I met told me they had seen a Vermillion Flycatcher near a patch of water by a rock near a cactus. I sped off to try to locate, but there were many, many such locations and no sign of the VF.

So that was it, 25 species /12 lifers and a fascinating day out in Arizona.