Friday, November 30, 2012

The Nutting's Flycatcher is back!

Just after 8:00 this morning, after about 15 minutes of birding, I was walking down the road at Mosquito Flats in Bill Williams River NWR, planning out my post to the listserv about the continued absence of the Nutting's Flycatcher.  Of course it was at that moment that I heard that singular "WHEEP!"  I didn't think I had missed it so much, but that sound brought a huge smile to my face. It's back!

The flycatcher is behaving much the same way it did last year.  It called infrequently and was difficult to pin down, but once I located it foraging next to the road, it gave me some great looks.  Photos and sound recordings below from this morning.

"Miss me?"

Eating a mantid.  Check out the cinnamon secondaries!

Short, stout bill, bright yellow belly, cinnamon secondaries, and a greenish back are all good field marks.

The Bill Williams River NWR is about halfway between Parker and Lake Havasu City.  You can get to the flycatcher from Highway 95.  Take Planet Ranch Rd east from the highway (between the refuge headquarters and the Bill Williams bridge) and drive to mile marker 2, where cliffs rise on the east side of the road and riparian vegetation borders the left side.  Also check out the map.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Lesser Black-backed Gull - Lake Havasu

Two days ago (26 November 2012), John West photographed an odd gull on the beach at Rotary Park.  He sent the photos to David Vander Pluym, who immediately identified it as a juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull!

Photos by John West

Above are two of John's photos of the Lesser Black-backed Gull.  I have fairly limited experience with Lesser Black-backed Gull, but I do see California and Herring Gulls regularly.  This bird is striking to me because the scapulars, tertials, and some of the wing coverts are solidly dark with narrow white edging.  Some important ID points are the long wings, narrow white edging on the tertials not reaching the greater coverts, fairly small black bill (though it seems to be on the large side for LBBG), fairly white ground color, masked face and streaked sides, and a dark bar on the greater coverts formed by dark bases growing broader distally.  In flight, it shows a black band on the tail (white bases to the outer rects) and plain dark underwing coverts.

There are two records of Lesser Black-backed Gull for Arizona.  Photos of those birds are here and here.

I've spent the past two days running around Havasu looking for this bird, without success.  However, I have seen a number of other goodies just being out and about.  In the Bill Williams, David and I saw the continuing two White-winged and four Surf Scoters.  At Rotary Park, we saw the two Pacific Loons which John found two days ago.

Pacific Loon on Thompson Bay, photographed 28 November
Also on Thompson Bay yesterday were two Arizona Review Species, a Black Scoter and a Red-throated Loon.

Red-throated Loon on Thompson Bay, photographed 27 November

Black Scoter on Thompson Bay, photographed 27 November
Today, I did something new, and bought a day pass to Lake Havasu State Park.  I think $10 is a bit steep to walk around on otherwise abundant lakeshore, but there is usually a nice gull flock there.  Not so today, but I checked the small cactus garden there, where I ran into a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at Lake Havasu SP, photographed 28 November
Best of all these birds, though, was a White-winged Scoter on the California side of the lake.  A county bird for me yesterday, and for David today.  I'm planning to give the Lesser Black-backed Gull another day of searching.  After all, the Glaucous Gull was notoriously difficult to find, and that bird was a cinch to pick out and ID even when it was over a mile away!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Guest Blogger: Tips for Birding Havasu

Now that we're into mid-November, things are really begin to pick up here on Lake Havasu.  It's a prime time for birding the LCRV, and now is also the time for visitors to check out the area.  Below, David Vander Pluym steps in as a guest blogger to provide some tips for birding Lake Havasu and other large reservoirs!  Also, be sure to check out the links on the right side bar for useful websites for visitors.


November and December are prime times to bird Lake Havasu with waterfowl migration under way. With all three species of scoters as well as a Red-throated Loon and the now regular large numbers of Greater Scaup and smaller number of Barrow’s Goldeneyes having arrived for the winter it’s a great time to be out and looking! One of the main questions we are asked is how do you find these birds? Given that the majorities of birders in Arizona live away from large reservoirs and are not used to identifying birds at such a distance this is a very understandable question. Below I will try to offer some tips and guidance for looking for birds on the lake.

First and foremost, be aware that compared to sewage treatment plants and places like Willcox, Lake Havasu is huge; you are often trying to identify birds that are a mile away or more. To give everyone some perspectives here are some distances starting with the Bill Williams arm. From the NWR HQ the nearest reed island is ~.45 miles away while the distant end of the buoy line is roughly .7 miles away. To put this in perspective Lake Cochise at its longest point is only .4 miles long! Scanning the main body of Lake Havasu the birds are often more distant. Scanning from the red and white lighthouse on Pittsburgh Pt. the ferry boat that crosses the lake, at its closest point is ~1.35 miles away! At the north end the lake is still about a mile across. Added to this even in winter heat haze can be a problem, making seeing a bird a mile away difficult, let alone identifying one. Generally when the sun is most intense it is best to skip the main body of the lake.
Now for some tips, number one of which is to bring a good scope. As I mentioned the distances are great and having a good scope certainly helps. If you don’t have a great scope, that’s ok, but you should be prepared to let some birds go as being simply too far away to identify as well as knowing you might miss something. You can also help with some of the distances by checking multiple locations, as some may be closer to an interesting bird than others.  For example, in the Bill Williams arm it is often helpful to walk the CAP peninsula to get closer to some of the distant flocks of diving ducks.

Second and equally important is patience. There can be a lot of birds around and it can take time to go through them all. The birds often move around a lot, feeding flocks will form, boats will flush birds, or they may just decide another spot is better. Waiting around will give you the chance to spot something that has finally moved out from its hidden cove. It is easy to spend a couple hours on a good day scanning from one spot. This also can help with changing your perspective on the size of birds. If you are used to seeing birds up close it takes a while to relearn field marks that are useful on distant birds. Because of the distance involved, it isn’t uncommon to think you have come across a rare grebe because it looks huge compared to the Common Loon behind it, only to realize it is a Pied-billed Grebe that is a quarter or even a half mile closer than the loon!

Be sure and study up ahead of time knowing what field marks are useful at a distance to help you spot the birds. Things like knowing that Red-throated Loons are about the same length as a Western/Clark’s Grebe, while a Pacific Loon is slightly bigger is the type of knowledge useful for trying to figure out what that distant loon is. Finally knowing what birds are expected and where can be helpful. There is now an invasive mussel in Lake Havasu and it is particularly common in the Bill Williams Arm. Because of this, species like Barrow’s Goldeneye and scoters are most likely there. Does this mean that you shouldn’t look for them elsewhere? Of course not, scoters can be found below Parker Dam or on the main body of Lake Havasu. However for time spent scanning, I have seen far more scoters in the Bill Williams Arm than all other areas of Lake Havasu combined. A final note on scaup, because of the mussel Greater Scaup have increased astronomically in certain areas. They are now the expected species in the Bill Williams Arm and around Pittsburgh Pt and it can often be difficult to find a Lesser Scaup at these locations when they are not actively migrating. Lesser is still the more common species around Parker Dam and in the shallow weedy waters of the north end of Lake Havasu. 

I hope these couple of tips will help out on your next visit to Lake Havasu!

-David Vander Pluym


Now I'd be interested in hearing what kind of specific information and tips would be most helpful to visitors and readers.  Share your problems, experiences, questions, etc. in the comments!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

News Tidbits

This morning I came across a few interesting and relevant items in a newsletter from the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

For one, over the next week the Bureau of Reclamation will be running an experimental high-volume release from Glen Canyon Dam.  The main purpose of this is to mimic natural flood events, and redeposit sediment from the river bottom to the banks, creating beaches and sandbars.  This is possible this year because of heavy flood events during the monsoon season which deposited large amounts of sediments into the Colorado from its tributaries.  The higher flow will mainly affect the Grand Canyon; after passing through that area, the water will be caught and stored in Lake Mead.  Although it doesn't directly affect the lower Colorado River, it's worth reading up on this effort here.

Another exciting bit of news is that the AZGFD has created an interactive map of Arizona showing land ownership, game management units, access and easements.  Check it out at