Thursday, December 11, 2014

The monthly post on my patch: November

November is one of the best months of the year to find rarities in Arizona. With myself only being a hardcore birder this year, (hardcore meaning: looking at the local blogs, rare-bird alerts, eBird reports, and the listserve a couple times a day) I did a lot of searching in a lot of new areas, but during the first week of my searching I came up patch-birdless. I must admit that the reason I was not finding many notable sightings on the first week was because I didn't have enough motivation. When someone goes out birding and wants to find a nice rarity, sure it's possible that you might find one while just taking a stroll through the old park, but if you want to clean house at a hotspot you have to bird hard!!! For instance almost all of the rare birds I have found near my house are from when I was exhausted, but decided to at least bird one more field, patch of weeds, or tree line. Now on November 8th I had just gotten back from one of the monthly birdwalks at Estrella Mountain Park lead by Mr. Joe Ford, I was a bit tired (just getting back from a concert the night/morning before) however, I pushed myself to take a birding trip around my patch. The main place that I birded for the evening was a pond that runs off from the Buckeye Canal. As I peeked through the thick vegetation that surrounds the ponds I found three American Wigeons feeding on the duckweed that covers the pond but once I looked to the right of the birds I saw a beautiful adult male Wood Duck!

Patch bird #192!                 
After observing this awesome patcher I walked down along the edge of the salt-bush bordered pond. When I got to the area where the duck was I could see it was already hiding.
Throughout the time that I observed this very handsome duck it never came out in the open for very long. In November I also took many trips down to the Gila River with good friend and wildlife-enthusiast,  Alexia. We found an awesome Great Horned Owl, I heard my patcher Least Bittern and Virginia Rail, we had a glimpse of a donkey (I have no idea whether it was wild or not), there were many signs of beaver, and we also found a lot of marsh habitat that I suspect is breeding territory for Ridgway's Rail.

With Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day rolling in my family was very busy with preparing,  but I was able to cram a few biking trips around the patch. On the 25th I went out birding to try to find some Sagebrush Sparrows. I found one area earlier in the month but after revisiting the spot the salt bushes looked to thin to have any SAGS's. As I continued birding I saw a large dark buteo perched on a tamarask I was already 90 percent sure that it was a RTHA but I got closer anyways. The bird then took flight,  but the area where the hawk was had a bit of greenery around it, so I said to myself "Ah, I might as well check it out". Here is a photo of this small wet patch.
Once I walked down near the patch of grass I saw what looked like a Swamp Sparrow but my looks were to brief and bad to call it for sure. As I walked around the area a little more I saw a small greenish-bird fly up into one of the tamarasks.
It only took one glimpse to find out  that it was a female Painted Bunting!!!
I was very exited as this bird is casual to uncommon in SEAZ but very rare to accidental in Maricopa County. On the following day I came back to this spot and showed Mr. Ford the bird.
Mr. Ford has seen many Painted Butings across North America including many males, but he has never seen one in AZ so this was a very nice bird for him. After getting back I gave Mr. Tommy D. a call and the next day we arrived at the bunting spot just after 7:00AM. It took the bunting a while to make it to the patch of grass but once it did we were stoked, this was a maricoper for Mr. Tommy, and to add onto all of the awesomeness it was Thanksgiving Day!!! 
Maricoper #365, Booya!!!

Two days later on the 29th I decided to try to dodge the weekend hunters and make my way over to the bunting and attempt to get some crushes on the bird. As soon as I reached the spot I could see the bird in the patch of grass, so I made my way down to the bird and started snapping away.

The "bunting patch"

After getting to observe the bird for a while I headed back to my house to end the day. On the 30th I took a trip to look for Sagebrush Sparrows some more and Lark Buntings as well. The SAGS's would be patchers and the LARB's would be lifers, so both of them would be good. Before I reached Cotton Lane I heard the distinctive "zeet" call of the Eastern Meadowlark and after scanning the field I was rewarded with good views and even a photo.

There was also a large flock of American White Pelicans that were flying over the river, but I was too focused on the meadowlark to take a photo of them. Once I crossed the river I biked back west only on the south side of the Gila. I came here before earlier in the month and saw hundreds of American Pipits in the fields that are surrounded by the desert. I was very pleased to find some awesome sage habitat and with sage-brush comes the Sagebrush Sparrows. So after birding the area I came up with over a dozen Sage Sparrows and I was able to identify a few Sagebrush out of them.

After observing the sparrows I started heading back as I was low on water, but I knew that I wasn't Lark Buntingless yet! There was one more area to check, sure enough as I was riding through my  last stretch of hope I had 5 of them flush up from the ground! The only problem is that I did not see where they landed, so I started searching the area, and after looking for a good ten minutes I found them foraging along the edge of the river.

As you can see in the above picture, the bird was very exited after it caught a grasshopper. I then had three of them fly up onto a tree right above where I left my bike!

 Once the birds flew up high into a eucalyptus I finally started heading back,  I took a quick stop by the bunting patch and came up empty. I ended November with many highlights, I ended the month with 108 species, I set a new big day record for my patch at 73 species, and I found two lifers with both of them having bunting as their names.



  1. Very nice! PABU is so fantastic for Maricopa! Keep up the work!

    1. Thanks Mr. Laurence!!! I'll try to keep it up : )

  2. Caleb you and your birding just keeps getting better and better and better. Killer shots, awesome expeditions, and congrats on your life birds! Thank you so much again for getting the Painted Bunting for me, I'm very thankful for it. I'm looking forward to your next patch post!

    1. Thanks Mr. Tommy!!! It was an honor getting to show you another Maricoper! PABU is a good looking bird for your list.

  3. That is an unassuming patch of weeds you found that incredible PABU in! Finding a rarity in a tiny patch like that is very cool. Only someone birding on a bike and going the extra mile could have turned up that find. Great work, Caleb, your finds recently are most impressive. You are obviously birding hard and being rewarded for your efforts.

    1. Thanks Mr. Josh!!! I was amazed that the bunting stayed in that patch of weeds. My bike is a substitute for a car (for now!).