November 07, 2007

Chasing a Lifer

Many hardcore birders subscribe to various "Rare Bird Alerts" in order to stay updated about any new or interesting species that are being seen in a particular area, and I'm no exception. Most of the time, I just find it interesting to learn which species are in the area, or to plan future birding trips. But once in a while, an alert comes down the wire that just can't be ignored. Sunday morning was one of those occassions.

I opened my email to see a report of a species for which there were only three records in the state of Arizona. A typically Mexican species whose "normal" range doesn't come within hundreds of miles of the U.S. border: the Northern Jacana. The only catch, it was hanging out on a golf course 170 miles south of us. But with the prospect of seeing a bird we may never get a chance to see again, a 350 mile round trip drive wasn't much of an obstacle.

So by Sunday afternoon, Sonja and I found ourselves dodging golf balls on the 13th hole of the Casa Grande Municiple Golf Course, watching this tiny little wading bird foraging along the edge of a water hazard. No bigger than a jay, jacana's have incredibly long toes that they use to walk on top of lily pads and other aquatic vegetation.

It was definitely a satisfyingly easy experience, but far from typical for most "lifer chasing" adventures. Click here for more pictures of this jacana from some of the other birders that stopped to see it. The best thing was that the jacana wasn't even the only lifer we saw. About 20 minutes into our time at the course, we spotted another pair of birds we had never seen before...

These Harris Hawks decided to hang out in this snag for about fifteen minutes, giving us a great look at what some ornithologists refer to as the "wolves of the sky". Harris Hawks actually hunt cooperatively in "packs" to flush their main prey, jackrabbits, into the talons of their pack-mates. I like to think of them as the motorcycle gang of the bird world.

And finally, I thought I'd post a couple more pictures of the striped skunk that stopped by our place a couple nights ago.


Patrick Belardo said...

Congrats on the lifers! I followed the discovery of this bird on the NM-AZ list.

P. Ollig said...

Thanks, Patrick! It's kind of funny how it seems to have been around for quite a while before any birders got wind of it. Apparently, the golfers have all been watching it (and not thinking it was anything unusual) for months.

Tim said...

What a great story! And it was definitely worth the drive.

I recently relocated to a new state and it was, oddly, discovering your blog that got me into birding in mid-September. I love getting the lifers (up to about 158) but in the end its definitely the journey and not the destination. So 70+ lifers later, thanks for your inspiration!

We just got a rare bird alert in Oklahoma of a snow bunting and I am so frustrated to be stuck several thousand miles away in Argentina. I am definitely addicted.

Mike said...

Paul, the jacana is quite a bird for your ABA list. Those Harris' Hawks are just plain cool. Congrats on not missing your twitch.