Friday, January 2, 2015
Lake Pleasant was anything but pleasant when three of us birders arrived to see how many of the five reported rarities we might find on this 10,000-acre man-made lake in the City of Peoria.
Rare bird reports of Red-necked Grebe, White-winged Scoter (male), Black Scoter (2 females), Red-breasted Merganser and Common Loon continued to be reported and we didn't want to miss catching sight of them in the desert.
Having left home in cold but calm sunny weather, we arrived to what felt like gale-force winds that were stirring the lake into high swells, deep troughs and frothy white caps. We couldn't let go of our spotting scopes to use binoculars for fear of them being blown over. We call this a "hard day of birding" and try to smile as we say it. Susan had the right idea when she suggested we change our strategy to search just the coves in both Maricopa and Yavapai Counties since Lake Pleasant straddles the two.
Before we pulled out, I spotted this Pied-billed Grebe in a cove near 10-Lane Boat Ramp. One of the smaller grebes, it caught itself a nice-sized fish that it maneuvered into swallowing position. By stretching its neck high, the grebe polished off a well-earned breakfast.
Over in Two-Cow Cove, we finally spotted a Red-necked Grebe, one of the rarities.
It's dagger-like long yellow bill lit up in the sunshine catching our attention. In the scope we managed to pick out its pale ear patch as well. But it was way too far out to get a photo in the stirred up water.
In this same cove, we spotted two Common Goldeneye, not rare, but still a very nice bird to see in the desert. High winds and rough water continued.
A drive over to Scorpion Bay (Yavapai County) turned up a raft of about two dozen more Common Goldeneye, but none of the rare birds we had driven so far to see! We settled for a light lunch at Dillon's Scorpion Bay Marina before calling it a day. Got skunked today!
As we drove out of the Regional Park, I looked for the burros I had seen there about a week ago on my birthday (12/24). They weren't around on this day, but I remembered them clearly:
Monday, January 5th. Susan F. joined me for a return to Lake Pleasant and on this day it lived up to its name! Sunny and cool but very still water. We were more comfortable in finding our way around and having read reports of where the rarities had been seen, we started with their last-reported locations.
Our first sighting was the single White-winged Scoter swimming and diving with the two Black Scoters in Two-Cow Cove. Although I prefer getting photos of rarities, the scoters were too distant for pictures.
Finding no other rarities there, but seeing something over in Sunset Cove, we drove over and sure enough, there were three (3) Common Loons swimming together.
Both of us were pleased with having seen both Scoters and the Common Loons, but we kept searching. When we drove down to the road along the lake that leads off from 10-Lane Boat Ramp, I spied a merganser-shape off shore. Susan identified it with her binoculars but I pulled out the scope to be sure of its ID markings. Its long-thin red bill glistened in the sunshine and its double crest was visible. YES! But it was swimming out and away from us; too far for pictures.
Over three holiday visits to Lake Pleasant we managed to see all five of the rarities reported: Red-necked Grebe, White-winged Scoter, Black Scoter, Common Loon and Red-breasted Merganser. For me, that's one heck of a good start on a New Year of birding.
* * *
CLICK ON PHOTOS TO ENLARGE THEM.