From my vantage point here on the east side of this manmade lake I see ducks and coots paddling in the water below me. Swallows swoop low over the lake catching insects and getting drinks. As I finish my sandwich I realize that this is not the best position to view the birds, since the sun is setting in the west and is in my eyes. So, I turn the car back on and drive around to the Northwest parking lot and get out of the car. Immediately that cold wind slices through me like ice. I grab my tattered birding jacket and put it on over my long-sleeved shirt. It’s getting late and I just want a quick look at the birds, a quick count to put into eBird. Besides, I am not dressed for tromping around. I have on my high-heeled boots, but at least I did bring my bins. I never leave home without my bins. But I did leave my camera behind. Too bad I did.
I can still feel the rush of adrenalin as I turn to walk back towards my car. With the sun sinking lower the wind is getting even colder and I am ready to leave. I have only been here a half hour and already I have seen such drama, but as I turn to drive out of the parking lot I notice another flock of birds on the other side of the baseball field fence. Though I have already counted about 50 great-tailed grackles, this seems like it might be some Brewer’s blackbirds, which I have not seen or counted in awhile. So, I drive over to the Westside parking lot and I use my car as a blind. Because I do not get out, the birds actually let me get quite close and I can see and count them easily. A flock of 25 house finches is feeding near the curbing in the grass. Next to them a flock of Brewer’s blackbirds feeds. Something startles the birds and they fly off a bit, then quickly return to feed again. This time some other blackbirds join the flock and as I am busily sorting out the red-eyed bronzed cowbirds from the winter-speckled starlings and plain Brewers Blackbirds there is a sudden explosion of feathers and wings and my mouth drops. Some other raptor has just hit this flock of birds so fast that none of us saw it coming. I watch whatever raptor this is lift off with a dead bird in its grasp. Though I can see the feathered carcass dangling below the raptor, the predator is flying into the setting sun making ID impossible for me. Oh for my camera! Though I am not sure I would have been quick enough to get this shot. I am stunned; gape mouthed and stupid. If I were a ground squirrel I would be dinner.
The birds have fled for good. The sun is sinking low. I have a half hour ride home, so I put the car in gear and turn around. I have only been here for 45 minutes in a city park that is well populated but I have seen more “nature” than I ever expected. In that space of time I counted 18 species of birds and added another species to my Arizona Life List. What a great way to spend my late lunch break! Glad I thought of it! Come to think of it, so did the raptors! I must admit, I’m glad I didn’t have to hunt and kill my meal though.
Lakeside Park is located at 8300 E. Stella Road at the corner of Sarnoff in Tucson, Az. The lake itself is 14 acres when at full capacity. There is a one mile walking path around the lake. It has baseball and soccer fields and a playground for the children. There are also picnic tables and ramadas. The lake is stocked with fish by the fish and game and fishing is allowed. There is a boat launch at the west end of the lake for canoes and rowboats. The park is a well known spot for bird watching and many errant species have been documented here. I know it as a reliable place to see spotted sandpipers in winter and both brown and white pelicans have been seen here. This was my first time seeing an osprey here and Lakeside Park is also one of the places I have seen vermillion flycatchers.
On Friday night, October 30, Gus and I stopped by the park again, this time WITH my camera, so I could get a shot of the lake for this post. Unfortunately the western grebe was gone, but as I was taking shots of the trees and the water, Gus told me to look up in the large eucalyptus tree I had photographed only moments earlier bathed in the golden light of the setting sun. The fingers of gold had left the tree but in their place the osprey now perched large and dark and beautiful. I started snapping right away, trying to control my excited shaking. Even vibration reduction cannot overcome this! I slowly calmed myself and slowly inched my way forward as far as I dared. I did not want to scare the bird off. I finally felt I had a shot decent enough to post, and so we left. What a magnificent bird. One look at that beak and those talons tells you why this bird is known as a fish eagle.