Saturday, April 9, 2011

Migration and Big Year Update, spring storms

Blogging has been put on the back-burner in the past few weeks, due to increased demands from birding, work, and my immune system.  I'm starting to get back into the swing of things, though, so here is an update about avian goings-on around here!

Life became exciting on March 30, when a scan from the north end of Lake Havasu produced a push of waterbird migrants!  Among the birds moving by were a flock of 45 Bonaparte's Gulls, 35 Long-billed Curlews, 3 American Avocets, and 45 Red-breasted Mergansers.  Another flock of 44 Bonaparte's Gulls was at Rotary Park that day.  This was a great count, given that Bonaparte's Gull is considered rare in the LCRV!  The next day, we went back to the north end and observed moving north: 6000 Tree Swallows, 23 California Gulls, 10 Bonaparte's Gulls, a Marbled Godwit, and a smattering of waterfowl.

Marbled Godwit
Since then, the waterbirds have been shuffling about and moving through.  Scaup, Redhead and Red-breasted Mergansers have been on their way out, while Bufflehead have also gradually decreased.  The Black Scoters and Long-tailed Duck consistently seen at Bill Williams Delta seem to have taken their leave.  Today, 83 Marbled Godwits graced the beach at Rotary Park.  Caspian Terns are moving through as well.

Songbirds have been late to arrive.  Typically, the LCRV leads the rest of Arizona in spring arrivals.  This year, however, we have lagged well behind.  The sudden arrival of White-winged Doves around April 3-4 was a welcome change (remember the early loner that showed up at Rotary Park in late February?).  Male Lucy's Warblers are singing up a storm, but Wilson's Warbler migration is still just a trickle, and no Yellow Warblers or Yellow-breasted Chats have been reported yet.  A few Bullock's Orioles have arrived and started singing, and a Western Kingbird in Needles today was my FOS.  Meanwhile, the resident birds - Anna's Hummingbirds, Great-tailed Grackles, Abert's Towhees, Black-tailed Gnatcatchers - have already begun nesting.

Just passin' through - Wilson's Warbler
The Big Year stands at 181.  Since my last update, my 16 new species have all, save two, been migrants.  Most were listed above.  Most were expected or overdue, although a few, such as American Goldfinch and Cattle Egret, are less common in the area.  For those who are wondering, #166 was Virginia Rail, heard on a solo night hike around Pintail Slough.  And the newest addition, seen today, at long last, was my big year nemesis, Common Moorhen!  After a thorough scope of Beal Lake searching every visible cranny for this recently-elusive Rallid, I decided to double-check one nice-looking patch of marsh...and there it was, swimming across the open water as fast as its lobed toes would take it!

I would be remiss not to mention the storms going through town the past few days.  Last week, temperatures broke 100, and I was preparing to live in a furnace until October.  Relief came swiftly, with highs below 70 (!) and rain falling Thursday, Friday, and today (Saturday).  I-40 was closed today due to snow at higher elevations, and trucks piled into the gas stations at Highway 95.  As we were leaving Beal Lake, great big gloppy raindrops began to splatter on my windshield, and before long it was pouring, with freezing rain, and lightning striking around us.  As we were driving, paralleling Topock Marsh, I noticed a plume of black smoke.  Getting closer, we could see it was a fire in the marsh - presumably caused by lightning - with tall flames licking the damp sky, pouring out a stream of cattails reduced to ash.  It was a memorable sight to see, a completely natural process at work.  In the short term, habitat was burning up, undoubtedly taking some wildlife with it.  In the long term, though, fires open up the marsh, recharge the soil, and keep the marsh healthy and functional.

Topock Marsh fire

Snowing in the Hualapais

The north end of Lake Havasu after a storm