Monday, November 2, 2009

My World: Lakeside Park

Lakeside Park, Tucson, AZ 10-30-09

click to enlarge

It’s been a busy day this last Thursday of October and I have come to town late in the afternoon to do a couple of quick errands. Nearby to the store I have stopped at is a Subway sandwich shop. Since my stomach is growling and it’s long past lunchtime, I stop in and pick up a 6” turkey sub and a bag of Barbeque Baked Lays. Not wanting to sit and eat on the corner of a crowded and busy parking lot I jump back in my vehicle and head down the street. Now, where can I eat and watch birds at the same time? Ah, Lakeside Park is not far away. I head south on Kolb, then turn right on Stella. I drive east to Lakeside Park and pull into the parking lot there on the east side overlooking the lake. I want to get out and eat my sandwich at one of the many picnic tables, but a chill wind has blown in from the north and it is gusting to over 25 miles an hour. Thus is without surprise that I notice a couple walking down the street in fleece jackets in this 54 degree weather. I almost laugh at them all bundled up as I sit inside my warm car with sunlight streaming through the windows to warm me until I step outside myself.

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.

Osprey 10-30-09 Lakeside Park

As I walk down the steep slope towards the lake I notice a large raptor soaring above me. I look up to see an osprey hunting the waters below. It flaps its long wings rapidly, hovering over the water searching the depths for prey. Below the osprey a flock of mallards, domestic waterfowl and a few widgeons vie with the coots for pieces of bread tossed out by a child. Over the water the violet-green swallows swoop and dive and I follow their erratic flight with my binoculars. Then, I am distracted by a bird at the far end of the lake. I see a white pelican floating like a medical ship in the water and then, could it be? A western grebe! This is my first sighting of a western grebe here in Arizona. I look carefully at the head trying to be sure that it is a western, which has the black cap extended below the eye, and not a Clark’s, which limits the black cap to above the eye. This one has the black below and so it is a western. Suddenly I hear something, I am not sure if it is the sound of the osprey breaking the water or the exclamations of the boys fishing at the south end of the lake, but I look up to see the osprey rising from the water with a bright orange fish help tightly in its talons! It re-adjusts the fish so its head and tail are aligned with the bird’s body and then it flies straight at me and over my head! OH! If I only had my camera! I follow the bird’s flight off to the north over the bank and the treetops until it is out of sight.

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.


Sylvia K said...

Great shots, Kathie! Really marvelous one of the Osprey! Beautiful!

Hope you have a great week!


Celeste said...

Wow how exciting! And how fantastic that the Osprey was still there when you returned with your camera. Great post.
Thanks for the birding recommendations, I am really looking forward to my first (brief) visit to Arizona.

Anonymous said...

Very cool post! Osprey breed near where I live in Ontario, something I just learned a couple of months ago. Now that I know they are here in good weather, I'll start looking for them in April. I'm quite excited about this as I now know where several had nests this year but discovered them too late to get decent photos.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't have expected a lake that large near you, which shows what I know. You got a great Osprey photo, Kathie - well done, and well worth the trip back.

Arija said...

Kathie, what a wonderfully rich outing with so much drams and nature to watch. Glad you went back with Gs and got those lovely shots. Now you know why I don't move without my camera, although this morning in a national park, on a long (for me) walk, I ran out of battery and my spare was in the car., so the laugh was on me!

Snap said...

What treat seeing and photographing the Osprey!

Anonymous said...

Wow. Impressive shot of the osprey.

If you want to see some hawks try my canon blog.

Oman said...

thanks for the wonderful info. the eagle shot look so majestic while the first shot is so serene. thanks for sharing.

Glennis said...

Beautiful lake you have near at hand, Great Osprey pic too.

Gaelyn said...

I too am glad you're not a chipmunk. What great sightings. I've not seen an Osprey since the Pacific NW. Even the smallest of urban parks can offer a taste of the natural.

DeniseinVA said...

What a great post Kathie. I am back from my vacation and was eager to visit to see what you had been up to. You never disappoint with your wonderful photos and exceptional dialog. It's good to be back.

Bella Sinclair said...

Wow, I was startled when I read about the raptor bird swooping down and snatching a bird for lunch! Must have been a hundred times more startling and awe-inspiring to witness it in person. Lots of excitement at the park. Sounds like it's a fantastic place to spend an afternoon.

Kathie Brown said...

Sylvia, thank you for your visit. I am having a great week!

Celeste, I hope you have fun and I hope you get to see some new birds even if your visit is brief!

Stine, I hope we get to see those photos! They are amazing birds!

Wren, thanks! It was worth the trip back!

Arija, it never fails, if I don't have the camera I'm bound to see something worth shooting!

Snap, thanks!

Abe, I will check it out!

Lawstude, how preceptive of you! I hadn't thought of that!

Glennis, it is a very nice place to visit and see lots of birds!

Gaelyn, perhaps it will still be here when you come to visit!

Denise, how nice to see you again. Glad you made it home safely! I hope you enjoyed your trip!

Bella Sinclair, I had no idea it would be that exciting!