Monday, April 18, 2016

Spring Chasing!

Yes, spring is finally here! The time of year when you can't keep up with the birds, when every day of birding is different, when you look at a distant raptor only to find a large flock of Swainson's Hawks, spring is awesome! In the past two weeks I've been very fortunate as to being able to bird quite often. On April 9th I had just gotten back from a great birdwalk at Estrella Mountain Regional Park and a nice hike with an awesome friend when I decided to chill for the rest of the day. However, a quick look at the AZNM Listserve totally changed my plans! Ms. Melanie Herring had just found a Crested Caracara about six miles from my house! Immediately I jumped on my secondary bike (my good bike's tire popped recently so there I was on my three-year-old BMX bike) and zoomed over to the field that she had the bird in. I arrived at the field about two or three hours after she found the bird and knowing caracaras this bird had likely gone off and continued on, however, you never know with these unusual birds. On my way to the caracara a nice Swainson's Hawk sat close to the road on a telephone wire.

Swainson's Hawk

Approaching the area where the caracara had been seen earlier, I started scanning the berms in the fields and quickly spotted what looked like a Bald Eagle x Dinosaur hybrid!

Crested Caracara

Throughout my birding career I have seen six Crested Caracaras in Maricopa County and four of those have been in Buckeye. This caracara was the beginning of a great week of rarity chasing! My next chase was an unexpected one. On April 14th I had plans to help Ms. Susan Fishburn find some yearbirds for her Maricopa yearlist. We met at the Glendale Recharge Ponds where we enjoyed a couple of fledgling Great Horned Owls.

Great Horned Owls

However, once she found out that I didn't have Golden-crowned Sparrow for Maricopa she, in her kind heart'd ways, proudly drove me out to Wild Horse Pass Spa in Chandler. I have had bad experiences with Golden-crowned Sparrows in Maricopa. To start it off a Golden-crowned Sparrow had been spending several years at a spot in Sun City but the year I became a birder I decided to wait until the next winter to chase it. Well the sparrow never came back so there goes that! Then last winter a Golden-crowned Sparrow was found at Phon D. Sutton along the Lower Salt River. The sparrow had stayed for two months and was super easy to get (most people got it within 15 minutes or sometimes less) so my Bird Hard Bro Walker Noe and I chased it! Well it turns out that in those two months it stayed we searched for it on the day that it left! So I didn't want this to be a third miss. We arrived at the Spa at around noon and I jumped out of the car and immediately walked over to the patch of grass that it had been seen on. No sparrows were on the grass but all the sudden I saw movement way back in the brush and once I put my binocs on it I could clearly see that it was my Maricoper Golden-crowned Sparrow!!! After a little waiting my prize proudly perched in the open.

Golden-crowned Sparrow--Maricoper #326!!!

The Golden-crowned Sparrow was my last North American Zonotrichia (including White-crowned, White-throated, Golden-crowned, and Harris's Sparrows) I needed for Maricopa. After enjoying the sparrow, truly worthy of a golden crown, we birded across the valley in search of yearbirds. Then on Saturday morning of April 16th I woke up earlier than I normally do but soon after awakening my weekend rest I got a call from Ms. Laura Ellis asking me if I'd like to chase a Red-necked Grebe at Canyon Lake! Of course I said yes, and before long I found myself at the beautiful Canyon Lake in northeastern Maricopa County! We arrived at the overlook of the lake and although the lake was a ways off I brought out the scope and found a distant flock of Western Grebes, then I noticed that the Red-necked Grebe was mixed in!!! My looks were super distant and not satisfying so we drove closer. Then we found the flock of grebes again (only this time there were Eared Grebes too) and I quickly spotted the Red-necked Grebe only a lot closer!

Red-necked Grebe--Maricoper #327!!!

I then decided to do something crazy. In my shorts I was gonna bushwhack down the scrubby/thorny hill down to the water's edge and get some better photos. And better photos I got!

Red-necked Grebe

Nearly all of Maricopa's Red-necked Grebe records are from the winter and they're in their drab gray-and-white winter plumage. However, this bird was in striking breeding plumage and was amazing to see! When I first saw a Red-necked Grebe it was in its winter plumage and in a lake in the forests of Northern Idaho. To see this bird in breeding plumage in a lake in the deserts of Central Arizona was practically the opposite of my first sighting!

The Red-necked Grebe was a grand bird, and although it wasn't a lifer it kinda felt like it. This bird has probably been my favorite of my Maricopers this year (very close to Northern Parula)! Throughout the area there were many Eared Grebes catching fish. Coming from a fisherman, it is amazing how birds can catch fish in front of your face when you have your pole in the water and haven't even had a bite! The Creator definitely knew what he was doing when he made these amazing creatures!

Eared Grebe

I had an overall amazing couple weeks of birding and getting two Maricopers within a week was awesome! Thanks Ms. Susan and Ms. Laura for helping me out on these Maricopers! You can look forward to me starting up my monthly posts on my patch in May, but until then here is a sneak-peek photo from my patch that I recently took.

Franklin's Gull

Have a great week everyone!!!

God Bless and BIRD HARD!!!



  1. It is such a different experience to observe a bird in its breeding plumage. The Red-necked Grebe is one of my all-time favorites. Continue nailing Maricopers and taking awesome photos!!!

    1. Thanks Josh! Maybe I'll get some more Maricopers like Steller's Jay and Mexican Whip-poor-will soon... ;)

  2. Congrats on the Maricopers, Caleb! The new ones get a lot more fun when your lust is so high and they become harder to come by.

    Long before I was a birder and about your age, I remember fishing on the lake I grew up on and have a breeding plumaged Red-necked Grebe swim right up to the boat. I just knew it as a "grebe" at the time and did not find it interesting. Twenty-some years and many birds later, I still have yet to see a breeding plumaged bird. They truly are remarkable--glad you got to see such a bird and appreciate it too!

    1. lol Thanks Mr. Josh! I am very blessed to live in MC!

      RNGRs are truly an amazing bird! Heck, grebes in general are awesome! I like how Red-necked, Horned, and Eared are all black and white in the winter and stunning in the summer!