Monday, March 16, 2009

Last day of birding - a lucky day!

My last day of birding was along the San Pedro River, a birder's 'mecca' as it is a major riparian zone in dry, dry SE Arizona. I saw a lot of birds I could easily identify and many I could not. Birds have this habit of flying just when you get them in view through the binoculars - the nerve!

However, I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time when one bird popped up from the ground to perch on top of a tall piece of grass right in front of me and then hung around long enough (which is maybe a full minute!) for me to actually get a pretty good view. I knew I had not seen this bird before, and there is no time to simultaneously be looking in a bird book at the same time I am looking at the bird through my binoculars (or by eye alone). 

So my technique is to first look at the whole bird for an "overall look" (sparrow) and then to start at the front of the bird and work my way to the tail, talking to myself out loud telling myself what distinguishing features I am seeing (i.e., size, color, shapes of the bill, eyes, head, throat, chest, wings, back, tail, legs) or if I am lucky by what I also hear in terms of a song or a call. When I finally lose sight of the bird, I have a somewhat systematic way of remembering what I actually saw when I finally get to open a bird book to review the options for doing an ID of the bird I saw. 

So after doing all of this, and comparing my possibilities by looking at options in several different bird field guides, looking at photos on the internet, and consulting a birding expert from SE Arizona, I feel comfortable declaring that I saw a Baird's sparrow, which is considered a rarely sighted bird. This was another new bird for me, which is called a "life bird", worthy of a toast! 

Now I actually know some people (they will remain unnamed!) who have no interest in trying to figure out sparrows because 1) they do not have interesting colors, 2) they are 'just' sparrows and/or 3) they are hard to figure out! I'm here to tell you that the Baird's sparrow is beautiful! I was mesmerized by its beautiful streaking on its chest and facial patterns. Because this sparrow spends most of its time on the ground in tall grass, it is not often seen or appreciated. I hope I have the chance to see one again some day, perhaps in its breeding territory when it does spend more time being visible and singing while attracting a mate and defending its home turf. 

The second thing I saw that was new to me was a huge huge huge flock of blackbirds of various types that seemed to be composed primarily of females. It's typical for male blackbirds to arrive north in their nesting territory to "stake their claim" on the prime nesting spots before the female birds arrive. As male red-winged blackbirds have already started to arrive in Michigan, perhaps this flock of females was having their last "girls weekend" before they needed to make that long flight north and get down to the business of being a mom. 

To cap the week, my husband and I stopped to see the Casa Grande Ruins National Historical Monument and there running through the parking lot was a roadrunner, a classic way to end a trip to Arizona! However, I can't wait to come back. :-) 

We fly home tomorrow, pick up our dog and get re-organized on Tuesday, and then back to a routine on Wednesday very well refreshed. It should be 55 degrees tomorrow at home, so we are eager to get home to first give our dog a hug and smooch and then to pull back the mulch from the garlic and get our hands in the dirt. Let the gardening begin!

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

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