Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Big January: Chestnut-sided Warbler Surprise

Chestnut-sided Warbler, Sabino Canyon 1-23-09 by Kathiesbirds

Friday morning I wake early and head for Sabino Canyon. It's been a couple of months since I have been here and today is the first Important Bird Area Survey of the year. I meet Jean, Pam and Peggy under cloudy skies near the visitor center and we begin our hike up the canyon. though the sky is lead wool, the air is only slightly cool, with that muggy, humid component to it. We take off our light jackets and overshirts from the exertion of the hike, then put them back on when we round a corner and encounter a light wind. Around us the normally noisy desert is silent, save for a few cactus wrens and thrashers. A bright red Cardinal sits atop a hackberry bush, unmistakable against the soft gray sky.

Clouds climb over the canyon's peaks and tumble down the canyon's walls. the creek swells with run off and I can hear the roar before I can see the water. We start our survey in the usual area near the first picnic sight, but no birds sing. We hike along the wet and grassy bank, but see, nothing. I am starting to think the birds are smarter than we are and they've all stayed home, but we trudge onward. Soon the swollen creek turns us back and we cannot go quite as far as we usually do. We head back to the paved trail, then descend along the cliff to the riparian area once again.

Down here by the creek the ruby-crowned kinglet flitter about. We hear their high-pitched voices before we finally spot one in the thick underbrush. Around us giant reed grows tall above us, transforming the creek banks to a jungle. These invasive plants are in the process of being removed by the forest service and a group of trained volunteers. We duck under their towering heights and wander among the willows by the dam. It has been reported that a rare chestnut-sided warbler has been spotted in the area. We crane our necks combing the treetops looking for the little bird.

I expect to see the lovely chestnut sides of the bird indicated by the photo in my bird guides, but when I finally spot this tiny feathered gem in the African sumac by the dam it isn't what I expect. Jean, Pam, and Peggy are more experienced birders than I am and when I call them over they confirm it is the chestnut-sided warbler in non-breeding plumage. the little bird flutters in and out of the foliage, making it very hard to photograph. I barely get a bead on it and it's gone once again. One surprise to me was the way it holds its tail upright like a wren. A visit to the newly formed Arizona Field Ornithologist page gives me further information:

Chestnut-sided warbler photo by Kathie Brown 1-23-09

Even when it completely lacks any Chestnut on the sides, non-breeding Chestnut-sided Warbler is a distinctive bright yellow-green above and unstreaked grayish-white below. It also has wingbars and an eyering. No other warbler has this combination of features.

From AZFO Photo ID Pages-chestnut-sided Warbler.

We continue past the dam and along the creek. Though our list is small today, this one bird is worth it all. Over the dam the swift water tumbles roaring a song in our ears. The boulder strewn creek bed is evidence of its power. Gray sky above becomes life-giving water below.

Big January Update:

105. Chestnut-sided Warbler
106. Anna's Hummingbird

Also, check out Diane's Sabino Canyon Blog

Blogger's Note Update 1-29-09: I submitted my Chestnut-sided warbler photo to the AZFO Webpage where it was accepted and posted. This is a first for me.


Arija said...

I know you would like the quantity for your bird count, but sometimes quality beats quantity! Nice post as always.

Ruth said...

I have only seen these warblers in their breeding plumage in the few weeks they are in our area. I would have missed their ID for sure in their plain clothes.

Ruth's Photo Blog said...

I'm glad you got to see this warbler.The waterfall is beautiful as well.

Kathie Brown said...

Arija, that chestnut-sided warbler was a real treat!

Ruth, without the other birders to help me I wouldn't have known what I was seeing, except that it would be different! I'm so glad I brought the camera!

Ruth's photoblog, I do so love that waterfall and when it isn't so full the still waters above the dam make me want to take off my shoes and socks and splash around like a little kid!

Gaelyn said...

Thank you for another great day of hiking and birding. I'm always amazed how clear your tiny bird photos are. As always, a great post.

Deborah Godin said...

Great find! And what a dear little face peering out at you!

Vickie said...

Nice post with beautiful photos. I have seen "one"! chestnut sided warbler and it was this fall, in fall plummage. Enjoyed.

me ann my camera said...

Delightful pictures of the little Chestnut-sided Warbler. This little bird is quite common in my area and I love its spring/summer chestnut sides. Your hike up the mountain in the warm air sounds so absolutely appealing as I sit here looking out my window after a heavy snowfall yesterday and overnight. Hopefully spring will be here soon.

Shelley said...

With all that beautiful scenery - it wouldn't bother me if the only bird I saw was your handsome warbler!

Diane AZ said...

What beautiful photos you captured of the Chestnut-sided warbler! I've never seen that bird before. I know what you mean about the roaring water at the dam, when it's flowing like that, it's hard to hear anything else.

Kathie Brown said...

Gaelyn, I try hard but this litle bird was very busy and hard to focus on!

Deborah, isn't it though!

Vickie, does this mean there will be a painting of it soon?

Ma and my camera, you are an eternal optimist!

shellmo, like someone else said above, quality beats quantity! I agree!

Diane, well, if you go back you may just find it. It was in a willow/african sumac tree to the left of the dam when you look at the dam from below.

Mary said...

Yay, Kathie! You got published! That's a beautiful lifer (for me). Good work!!!!

Diane AZ said...

Congratulations on having your photo posted on AZFO webpage! We looked for the rare warbler in the African sumac at the dam today. No warbler, but we saw our first blue-bellied lizard. :)

PJ said...

You have a beautiful bird blog.

Mary C said...

Way to go, Kathie, getting your photo published!

Larry said...

I commented on the wrong post so moved it-

You're birding like crazy out there! Published photo! That is very cool. Great photos-So the end of January is almost here. You've done such a great job with your Big January list.I'm afraid that I'm not providing you with enough competition this year.-You may have to bring in new challengers for your title next year.-I'm used to seeing Chestnut-sided Warblers occasionally-in Portland during the summer but I'm more familar with the males with the chestnut markings..I notice it has a bit of a dark line near the eye.-Is that a typical mark

Celeste said...

Your perseverance was rewarded! I am not surprised that your picture was posted on the AZFO site - it's a beauty.