Using circles fifteen miles in diameter, Audubon birder volunteers go out each year between December 14th and January 5th to take a census of the birds within the proscribed circle. The circle might be evenly divided into pie-wedge shapes (Areas) that are further broken down into specific locations to provide coverage throughout the entire circle. Last year there were nearly 2,000 circles in our country.
This event has been happening for over 100 years, this being Audubon's 117th Christmas Bird Count in the USA. When you realize that counting the birds replaced shooting them as a Christmas past-time (known as the "Side Hunt"), it gives even more meaning to the event than just the census.
It can also be a lot of fun. That is, if it isn't raining, snowing, windy as the dickens, or just plain freezing outside. This being Arizona, we felt the cold but at 42°F, we could hardly call it freezing. Dressed in many layers, I joined two birding friends, Lois Lorenz, our organizer, and Julie Clark to check out the birds in Queen Valley, east of Superior, in Pinal County.
Our count started on a high note when we stopped first at one of the golf-course ponds: a female COMMON MERGANSER was swimming back and forth.
|Common Merganser (female)|
Scratching hard at the base of some tall cypress trees next to the pond was a NORTHERN FLICKER. In the West, we see the Red-shafted Flicker as opposed to the Yellow-shafted Flicker of the East.
The color beneath the wings when the Flicker flies is the easiest way to ID this bird. But, here in the two photos above, you can see the shafts of red feathers under the tail area.
Another bird was flitting around the tops of these same trees -- a SAY'S PHOEBE, a small flycatcher that I think is particularly attractive.
We would see lots of this species throughout the day.
Trying to cover the golf course ponds prior to the golfers getting on the course, we parked and started walking to the second pond. Lois headed directly to the pond; Julie spied some birds scratching around in the pebbles by a wall. I took a quick glance at them and realized they were INCA DOVES. Julie counted four and I said, "Look at that one!" It's not an Inca; its darker and more stout. Whoop! Whoop!
Lois is waving her arm for us to catch up with her at the pond so she must have something good. Julie is finding something else new right where we were standing; and I'm trying to get a photo of the chunkier dove...when all our birds flew off.
So, we walked out to this second golf-course pond where Lois was pointing at yet another treasure: three HOODED MERGANSERS. They appeared to be three (3) females but I recalled Cindy Marple (birder/photographer) at Gilbert Water Ranch a couple years back showing me how to discern the juvenile male. And, we discovered that one of these three was a juvie male. The secret is in the color of the bill. The center bird in the top photo and the one in the second photo below is the juvenile male.
|Juvenile male Hooded Merganser|
When we returned to the area of the parked car, we walked along the road to search for the small flock of doves and whatever else had flown out from the base of a tree.
A VERMILION FLYCATCHER distracted us...and why not?
After a short while, we came upon some birds in the grass on a slight rise. Ah! These were the ones that had flown from the base of the tree; they were now foraging in the grass:
WESTERN MEADOWLARKS. The trees created shadows so this is the best photo I managed.
We walked slowly forward checking left and right into some work equipment areas on one side and grassy edges on the other. Then, there they were: the Inca Doves plus one not an Inca. In this light I got a good look that made me really excited. Definitely, this had to be a RUDDY GROUND DOVE...not a common sighting at all. First one for me this year (a Year Bird!).
|Ruddy Ground Dove|
After completing the census of birds on four ponds, we drove the streets of the community searching for birds at feeders and counting those on wires and roof tops. We walked into some desert areas where we found CURVE-BILLED THRASHER, GAMBEL'S QUAIL, VERDIN, NORTHERN CARDINAL (male), and BLACK-THROATED SPARROW.
We followed the fight of a dark hawk as it flew over our heads and landed high on the hill upon the railing of someone's deck.
|HARRIS'S HAWK [above and below]|
Having signed up for just a half day, we had only one area left to cover and that was walking the stream eastward. We walked the south road first; the north road back. And the stream, filled with recent rains was music to our ears -- not a frequent desert sound at all! And to see water coursing along over rocks and down little depressions made Lois exclaim about a "waterfall".
Breezy enough for me to retain all the clothing layers I had started out wearing, the sun did come out to make our day very briskly pleasant. We put in five hours total. There are lots of rules surrounding this CBC and we were just one small part of a much bigger census of birds that is used by not only Audubon but other organizations to measure, among other things, health of species and habitat variations.
|From left: Julie Clark & Lois Lorenz|
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View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S33216112