Birding Blog Archives

September 29th, 2008
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I’d managed to wangle a day off and my original plan was to go to Patagonia again and try to see the wren, but in an attempt to inject a bit of success into my birding trips I changed my mind at the last minute and opted for a day of checking watery sites. I’m better at that, anyway.

So, first stop, Sweetwater. I don’t get there at opening time often, and I didn’t today. I was there at 6am, but it was Monday, when they do the mosquito spraying and don’t open until 10am. D’oh!

Sod it, straight to Benson WTP (Water Treatment Plant) then. Not much going on here, but a friendly Say’s Phoebe did pose on top of the chanlink fence briefly, and a Killdeer, as you can tell from the photo, stood prettily on the other side of it. A similar story at Sunsites WTP; a nice enough selection of birds but nothing out of the ordinary.

One thing I particularly love about Arizona – and I’ll admit this is a bit Steve Irwin, but there you go – and that’s the wildlife that has potential to harm me. It’s the old element of danger. Well, just before I arrived at my next destination, Whitewater Draw, I had one of those half-hour purple patches. The road to Whitewater Draw is called Coffman Road, and I’ve seen more interesting wildlife along this stretch of dirt than any road in Arizona. For example, there’s the time that, when describing the story I can use the line “and as I was picking up the tortoise, a snake ran through my legs!”

But that’s another story. Today, it was already clear that another big grasshopper day was in store. I dread to think how many I must have “dispatched” (by that I mean kill, dead, squished… sorry!) on the road during the day, despite trying to avoid as many as possible. There were thousands of them. And amongst the grasshoppers scuttling across the roads were other things… some of them very big and hairy… tarantulas! This (below) was the biggest one I saw, but try as I might (and I did, but I didn’t fancy picking it up) I couldn’t get it in the open for a decent photo.

Then one of those moments I won’t forget for a while. Snakes aren’t always easy to spot on dirt roads, especially medium-sized brownish ones. Thankfully I was concentrating on the road itself (I barely noticed any birds along the verge) and saw this one just in time. I backed up. It stayed put. Immediately I thought this was something new. It was a rattler, but it didn’t look like a Diamonback. My reptile book was at home, but something about the look of it – which was, basically, very mean – and the pronounced green tinge told me this was my first Mohave Rattlesnake, aka Mohave Green. Mohaves have a reputation for being the most aggressive of the rattlers, and it’s potent neurotoxins make it genuinely very dangerous. I stayed back. Sort of…

No more than 100 yards further down the road and another snake! And another new one for me. But, getting the hang of this snake business as I seem to be, I knew this one was not dangerous. It was very smart looking, though, if a tad more furtive than the rattler, which had the stone cold confidence of a killer. It’s a Checkered Gartersnake.

It took a while but I eventually got to Whitewater Draw – and into grasshopper heaven!

As with the previous sites, the birds weren’t too exciting. I did, however, get closer to a Loggerhead Shrike than they normally allow. No sign of the occasional American Golden Plover of the previous couple of days, unfortunately. Once more, the insects stole the show.

Back on Coffman Road, and the most amazing grasshopper I’ve ever seen landed on the car as I was crawling along. I was able to get a couple of shots before is gracelessly slid onto the ground and immediately flew into the roadside vegetation.

It was high time I got lucky with a bird, and my next stop finally provided the chance. I’ve stopped at the roadside pond at Faria Farms, south of Kansas Settlement, many times, and there’s often something interesting. I was hoping the bird sighted the previous day was still there, and it was – incongrously, an American White Pelican. It even flew around for me a couple of times before coming back down to feed. A Belted Kingfisher was also here – the pond’s fish are in trouble, it seems.

I really wanted to see some decent shorebirds and for that you go to Willcox. Lake Cochise was, as always, eventful. A total of 14 Stilt Sandpipers was the pick, with a supporting cast of Baird’s, Least, Western and Spotted Sandpipers, Avocets, Dowitchers and the like. Nothing stunningly rare though, and oddly, not a single phalarope. The long grass between the car and the shore (or more pertinently, between me and the bird) made photography tricky.

If you drive around Lake Cochise in a counter-clockwise manner, as I always seem to do, there’s a large semi-permanent puddle on the right just after the first blind/hide. I’ve learned that, with patience, this is a great place to see Horned Larks up close as they come in to drink. They do this frequently as their diet of dry seeds makes them thirsty birds, just like Crossbills, goldfinches, etc. These are perhaps not the world’s best photos, but it’s always fun…

And there were more grasshoppers, of course. This feeding frenzy (below right) made for an interesting if somewhat gruesome sight; two of these three grasshoppers are feasting on the corpse of one of their own species!

Whilst concentrating on all things shin height, I noticed, for the first time, the smallest butterfly I think I’ve ever seen. Considering their size (about a quarter of an inch) and the buffeting they were taking from the breeze that is always kicking up in the Sulphur Springs Valley, to get a couple of shots was something of an achievement. It’s a Western Pygmy Blue, and it turns out to be the smallest butterfly in North America. Which didn’t surprise me – they’re tiny!

I stopped in at Benson again to confirm that pretty much nothing had changed, and then toddled off home happy with my lot.

I like September in Arizona 🙂

2 comments to Dangerous!

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