Chipping away: Early January birds

I admit it: it’s 15 days into the new year, and I’ve only made five trips to La Paz County. Meetings and deadlines have done plenty to keep me busy, and daily gusty winds have done their part to keep me inside. Still, two of the trips I’ve made since January 1 have landed me Year Birds, including some excellent rarities.

Since David and I were driving to Tucson on January 3, I thought we could make a few stops along the way to try to pick up a few county birds. Most pressing on my mind were the Nutting’s Flycatcher and the Blue-footed Booby, rarities I would be very disappointed to miss on my Big Year.

Accordingly, we left early for the Bill Williams January 3. We stopped briefly at the hilltop overlook of the Bill Williams Delta, hoping for a sighting of the elusive Blue-footed Booby. I was also still thinking of sly mergansers; Common was my biggest Big Day miss and Hooded had eluded me as well. We saw not a single Common Merganser on the water, but Hooded came through feeding in the shallow inlet near the hill. I also apparently picked up Ruddy Duck, which I must have forgotten to write down anywhere on my Big Day (I probably picked it up first at Hart Mine Marsh)! No, this discovery actually doesn’t affect my Big Day total. While entering my lists into eBird, I discovered that I had written down and counted Double-crested Cormorant twice.

After the usual dip on the booby, we cruised down Planet Ranch Road and stopped at Mosquito Flats. Two birders were way down the road, waving their arms: clearly they were on the bird. I hustled down the road until I heard WEEEP! All I really needed was to hear the bird, and I was keen to find the Golden-crowned Sparrow that is wintering in the same area, so I cut off the Nutting’s hustle. I believe this may have left the other birders bewildered. Sorry about that, other birders, and thanks for the arm waving!

Nutting's Flycatcher

No La Paz County Big Year can even start right without Nutting’s Flycatcher!

Mosquito Flats was rather active that morning, and I picked up new species like American Robin calling from the forest, and Rock Wren calling from their favorite Rock (where they were silent on January 1…). While the Golden-crowned Sparrow didn’t show up, the continuing Hammond’s Flycatcher did put in a brief appearance. A good bird to pick up in January.

Back at the refuge headquarters, we continued to not see Blue-footed Boobies or Common Mergansers. David did pick out the “brrt” of a flyover Northern Rough-winged Swallow. We continued down to the Parker Valley. I pulled over at a flooded field full of White-faced Ibis, and David and I both estimated the flock and came up with about 900 birds, an excellent count for winter. The other prize for the stop was a briefly heard “deet dee dee!”, a Greater Yellowlegs. This species shouldn’t be difficult in winter, but I’m having some trouble finding the flooded fields they prefer.

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs: Check. Now I need its friends Long-billed Dowitcher and Dunlin.

We continued south, stopping again to check the fields where Mountain Plovers had been January 1. Although the Mountain Bluebirds held fast to their powerline perches, the plovers had gone. We drove down a dusty side road, where hundreds of sparrows would perch tantalizingly in the open only to disappear the moment we tried to look at them. It took quite a bit of sneaking before David spotted both Vesper and Brewer’s Sparrows among many White-crowned and a few Savannah Sparrows. We also made a brief stop at Quartzsite on the way to Tucson, but it was quite birdless.

On our way back, we checked out Vicksburg, where we found a sludge pond tucked away behind one of the dairies. No birds, but good to know about for the future! We stopped again at the Bill Williams Delta and again lacked booby and merganser.

A week later, friends Frances Oliver, Linda Pittman and Karen Zumwalt ventured east to Arizona to look for the Nutting’s Flycatcher and other goodies. At Mosquito Flats at dawn, the Nutting’s was perfectly cooperative and we enjoyed great looks. A sparrow lurking at the edge of the road turned into a lovely Golden-crowned Sparrow, and as we watched it, a surprise FOX SPARROW popped out of the brush! Not only a Year Bird, but a County Bird for David and I! Mosquito Flats rarely disappoints. In fact, while we were watching the flycatcher, a lanky shape darted over the treetops in and out of view: a Common Merganser!

Fox Sparrow

Pre-dawn Fox Sparrow. Photo by David Vander Pluym

We also stopped at the Bill Williams Delta, where everyone enjoyed good views of Barrow’s Goldeneye. Then, with his eyes to his scope, David called out, “Lauren!”. I wasted no time getting there and rested my eyes upon the distant Blue-footed Booby loafing on Heron Island. Awesome! Hopefully this great bird continues to use this roost site where it can be found by birders.

There is still plenty to do this January. I’d like to take a trip to Cibola to look for the Red-shouldered Hawk at CVCA (it would be nice if it were on the Arizona side) and a Black-and-white Warbler at Nature Trail found by Donald Sutherland. Paddling the Bill Williams, I may be able to find Green Heron, American Bittern, and rails. A desert venture could produce LeConte’s Thrasher, and a trip to the mountains could include a scarce wintering Gray Vireo. Who knows what good birds are hiding out at Alamo Lake or the high Harquahalas. I’m sure there are still rarities to find in the Parker Valley along with wintering Bell’s Sparrows.

Blue-footed Booby

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About Lauren Harter

I live in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, where I work as a field biologist and spend as much of the rest of my time as possible looking at (and listening to!) birds.
This entry was posted in Big Year, Bill Williams, La Paz County, LCRV, Trip reports, Vagrants and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Chipping away: Early January birds

  1. Pingback: Common merganser and avocets | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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