Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Spring Around the Corner

I have to admit, late February around here is starting to taste like a flat soda.  Several of the local rarities continue, but there don't seem to be many new birds moving into the area.  While there has been some notable gull movement, they just seem to be leaving - without new birds coming in.  Birding is getting rather predictable.  Caught in the late-winter doldrums, the best we can do is keep monitoring the wintering birds, see how long the rarities will stick, and watch out for new migrants.  While doing just that this weekend, it was refreshing to see some signs of spring.

Starting at Rotary Park on Sunday, David and I found that gull numbers were down, and none of the eleven California Gulls I saw on Friday remained on the beach.  Starting the day off on a bright note, though, we saw our FOS White-winged Dove.  This was a surprise, since this species does not typically arrive until mid-March!

It didn't want its picture taken.
As we headed north to Havasu NWR, we noted large numbers of Tree Swallows foraging over the road.  Within the past week, we've seen Tree Swallow numbers skyrocket.  At Pintail Slough, we enjoyed the increase in bird activity that comes after a rain, though we didn't have any rare species.  A couple of Violet-green Swallows were good to see, indicating the beginning of their spring migration.  With the exception of a few sightings of single individuals in early Feb, this weekend was the first real movement of this species we've seen this year.  This is actually a late arrival, as Violet-greens should show up around the first week of February.  Another spring migrant, a singing Ash-throated Flycatcher, was right on time.  This was a county year bird for me, as was a flyover flock of White-faced Ibis.  After a bit of walking, we discovered a few swarms of Neuropterans.  Freshly molted adults were emerging en masse.  Surprisingly few birds were taking advantage of this easy food source, though I suspect all the swallows foraging over the road were doing just that.

Pintail Slough - leafy cottonwoods and storm clouds

We ended our Sunday birding around Bullhead City, where we saw the continuing Mew Gull twice.  While we were driving through Bullhead City in the mid-afternoon, we briefly saw it fly over the car.  Around 6 p.m., it showed up at Katherine Landing and loafed with the Ring-billed Gulls.  Alas, the Thayer's Gull seen earlier in the week did not show up.  It was interesting to note that numbers of California Gulls were way, way down, with only a handful of individuals seen.  Herring Gulls were absent altogether.  We did see five Horned Grebes on Lake Mohave, and three Wood Ducks in the area.  A male Red-breasted Merganser was unusual for this time of year, and another county year bird.

One of two males in the bread line at Katherine Landing

Monday was spent around the Bill Williams Delta.  We checked out Mosquito Flats, a beautiful stretch of riparian forest with complex structure and very little tamarisk.  The cottonwoods are fully leafed out, humming with the constant buzz of bees, and ready for migrant warblers.  The warblers, of course, are not migrating yet, and the birding was a little slow.  Fortunately there were other distractions.

 Cool fungus

Crayfish - an invasive species.  I managed to trap this one under my boot so we could get a better look at it.

Tent caterpillars were everywhere!

Most of the trees are fully leafed out.
We headed for the Bill Williams Delta, one of the best birding spots in the region.  There are almost always rare species to be found at this spot, and it is always exciting to bird, as it seems to offer more turnover than other places.  Some of the continuing rarities were Greater Scaup, Barrow's Goldeneye, and Black Scoter.  Almost all of the scaup, a flock of 230, were fairly close to our viewpoint, allowing us to get an accurate count and search for Lesser Scaup (none found).  The two female Black Scoters were with the scaup, as usual, and we counted eight Barrow's Goldeneyes, a new high count for us this winter.

Next, we headed for Parker Dam.  The birds there have been particularly predictable this winter, but we want to catch any changes as soon as they happen.  Lately, we have made it part of our routine to check Take-Off Point next to the dam.  Though it has been very quiet this winter, there had been sightings of the Yellow-billed Loon from there, and we have been checking for the bird (unsuccessfully) whenever we're at the dam.  To our surprise, on this particular check, there it was!  Along with five Common Loons, the Yellow-billed was in the Bill Williams Arm - in Mohave County!  An excellent county bird (year bird #149) for David and I, though one can't help but wonder - why does this bird bother to fly back and forth over Parker Dam?

A weekend of late February birding had the effect of getting us excited about April.  With so much habitat to cover, who knows what will turn up during migration!

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