Friday, January 8, 2010

White Vermillion Flycatcher at Sweetwater Wetlands

"White" Vermillion Flycatcher at Sweetwater Wetlands 1-4-10

White Vermillion flycatcher 1-4-10 by Kathiesbirds w/Nikon D80 set in sports mode and the 70-300mm lens. Seen along the stream right behind the parking lot and restrooms. 1:55 PM MST.

After 2 weeks of hustle and bustle and Christmas excitement I need a break and so, as my son and grandchildren are flying back to the frozen northland, and as Gus heads off to work, I head for Sweetwater wetlands to see what I can see. Monday is a sunny day, calm and warm and as I drive up Sweetwater Drive I notice the parking lot full. I think to myself, there must be some rare bird hanging around, as I pull into the last available spot. As soon as I opened the car door I can hear birds calling. Right at the edge of the parking lot I see my first birds of the day, a pair of Abert's towhees and my first sighting of them this year. The mesquite and palo verdes surrounding the parking lot are alive with yellow-rumped warblers and ruby crowned kinglets. Across the stream I see and hear a marsh wren. I can already tell this is going to be a very good day. However, I have no idea yet how wonderful.

I meet a nice couple from New Jersey who are here watching birds for a couple of hours before they have to catch a plane back to the east coast. Mike and Nora accompany me for the rest of their time here, and I am able to spot a sora in the reeds for them. They have never seen a sora before and soon another joined it at the edge of the grass. Everywhere we turn there are birds. Father down the pathway we see literally thousands of ducks in the settling ponds to the east. Most of these are too far away and backlit to positively identify, so I did not even try to count them but we were able to make out a double-crested cormorant in their midst. Mike saw a swallow but I did not so I could not count that either. No matter. There are still plenty of birds I can count. We meet another birder who tells us there is a rare white vermilion flycatcher flying around somewhere here at Sweetwater. Supposedly it has even been in the newspaper and on TV but apparently I had missed that report. Now we kept our eyes open for it as we travel on.

In the main ponds we see almost every species of duck one can see in Arizona except for canvasbacks and redheads. We see every species of teal and plenty of pied-billed grebes. Someone else told us of snowy egrets being spotted in the farthest ponds, but Nora and Mike have to leave, so I continue on by myself as the sun continues to warm the day. I find the snowy egrets. I find herons and warblers. I see a Harris Hawk briefly across the street in its usual nesting area. A few red-winged blackbirds fly across my path and disappear into the reeds and rushes. My list grows and grows and so does my thirst and hunger. I walk back to the car to retrieve a fresh drink and a snack. By now it was well after noon and I have been here since 10 a.m. I walk back to the gazebo to relax and watch birds. I still have not seen the ghost vermillion.

With the day wearing on I decide to leave, so I pack up bird guides and food, bins and camera and make my way back towards the car. I come to an intersection which allows me to go in either direction back to the parking lot. I can see the cars through the trees and across the manmade creek, but I must choose which way to get there. I don't know what made me decide to go right, which is actually the longer way around, but I do. As I near the bridge I see a pyrrhuloxia on the ground near the bushes. I stop to add it to my list, then look up to see the white vermillion flycatcher flitting from bush to bush across the creek! I drop everything except my camera and bins and start snapping!

The cute little bird is like a ghost in the sunshine. It shows no fear but rather seems curious about me. I stand holding my breathe and snapping away. It flies in closer and cocks its head to look at me from every angle. I am overwhelmed with this sweet beauty, this rare gem. I cannot get enough of it. However, the other birds are unimpressed and yellow-rumped warblers, a black phoebe and a song sparrow continue with their business as if this were just an ordinary day. And I suppose it is. This is an ordinary day at Sweetwater Wetlands where birds fill trees, bushes and ponds, where on any given day you may spot a rarity as well as numerous "regular" birds. I counted 55 species here in the 3 1/2 hours I walked the loop and watched birds. Who knows how many other species I missed. I know someone saw a spotted towhee, but that species escaped me. I have no complaints, however. None whatsoever! For the rest of the day I walk around thinking and saying to myself, "I saw a white vermillion flycatcher. I saw a white vermillion flycatcher," as if repeating it to myself could drive the reality into my brain.

Species seen at Sweetwater Wetlands:
  1. Mallard
  2. Ruddy duck*
  3. Northern shoveler*
  4. American widgeon
  5. Ring-necked duck*
  6. Northern Pintail*
  7. Bufflehead*
  8. Gadwall*
  9. Blue-winged teal*
  10. cinnamon teal*
  11. Green-winged teal*
  12. Double-crested cormorant*
  13. Great Blue heron*
  14. Green heron*
  15. Black-crowned night heron*
  16. Snowy Egret*
  17. American coot
  18. Common Moorhen*
  19. Spotted sandpiper
  20. Killdeer*
  21. Harris hawk*
  22. Red-tailed hawk
  23. Cooper's hawk
  24. Pigeon
  25. Mourning Dove
  26. Anna's Hummingbird
  27. Gila woodpecker
  28. Northern Flicker (red-shafted)*
  29. Flicker sp.
  30. Red-naped sapsucker*
  31. Pied-billed grebe
  32. Vermillion flycatcher (1 white!)
  33. Say's phoebe
  34. Black phoebe*
  35. Verdin
  36. Ruby-crowned kinglet*
  37. Marsh wren*
  38. Cactus wren
  39. Sora*
  40. curve-billed thrasher
  41. Phainopepla*
  42. European Starling
  43. Yellow-rumped warbler
  44. Orange-crowned warbler*
  45. Black-throated gray warbler*
  46. Yellow warbler*
  47. Abert's towhee*
  48. White-crowned sparrow
  49. Brewer's sparrow*
  50. Song sparrow*
  51. Pyrrhuloxia
  52. Red-winged blackbird*
  53. Great-tailed grackle
  54. House finch
  55. House sparrow

I should be getting my computer back soon. If I had it now I would have included more photos. On Thursday I did my first IBA survey of Sabino Canyon for the year. We saw bridled titmice and Western bluebirds in the canyon, the first time in over 2 years these species have occurred on our transect count. I will add any new species from that count to the Big January Master List.

Sabino Canyon Bird Count:
  1. Anna's Hummingbird
  2. Broad-billed hummingbird*
  3. Ladderbacked woodpecker*
  4. Gila woodpecker
  5. Black phoebe
  6. Western bluebird
  7. Ruby-crowned kinglet
  8. Bridled titmouse*
  9. Common Raven*
  10. N. Mockingbird
  11. European Starling
  12. Phainopepla
  13. Bewick's wren
  14. Black-throated sparrow
  15. Rufous-crowned sparrow
  16. Canyon towhee
  17. Lesser goldfinch
  18. House sparrow

*first sighting in 2010


A Scattering said...

Wow, what a day list! The little white fellow is sweet. Really enjoyed this post, Kathie. Happy New Year! Elaine

Anonymous said...

Oh, wow, Kathie - what a great sighting! Plus, you got great photos. Awesome.

And what a beautiful bird it is ...

Kathie Brown said...

Elaine, thank you so much. I couldn't believe the numbers when I finally added them up!

Wren, you so would have loved it!

denapple said...

How fondly I remember going to Sweetwater right after we got off the airplane last year. Hope your weather is warmer than we have in South Texas!

Arija said...

Kathie, what an experience to top your day! WOW, he really is a most special little guy. I so wish we had the grea variety of birds here that you have.

Birding is Fun! said...

Amazing! In many ancient cultures a white animal has many spiritual connotations.

sweetbay said...

What a wonderful birding day! I am glad you got to see the white Vermillion Flycatcher. He is beautiful!

Gaelyn said...

What a great day to get out birding. You are so observant Kathie. I love to go walking with you.
I saw my first bridled titmouse here a week ago.

Doug Taron said...

This may be your coolest birding blog post ever. It would have been a treat just to see the white vermillion flycatcher, but you got some great photos of it, too. You will never forget this visit.

Celeste said...

What a wonderful New Year gift for you Kathie. I am so glad that fate lead you to the right spot and I am especially happy that you were able to get such beautiful photos so that we could all share your remarkable sighting.
In answer to your question - yes I most assuredly was drinking a cup of earl grey tea whilst I was armchair birding! You know me too well!

Kathie Brown said...

Denapple, it is much warmer and I was just at Madera today and I thought of you and your husband! Wings Over Wilcox starts today!

Arija, don't you have a wide variety there? This truly is an amazing place because we have so many habitats here and we are so close to the Mexican border.

Robert, I did not think of that but you are right! Perhaps it is an omen that I will have a wonderful birding year!

Sweet Bay, thank you for your visit once again. It was a wonderful day and I still can't believe I saw this magnificent creature.

Gaelyn, you would be welcome! I thought you were coming down this way this winter? Glad you saw the titmouse. Aren't they the cutest things?

Doug, you are right. I will never forget this visit or this bird. I have lots more photos but I am waiting to get my other computer back. This laptop is not set up to do all that my main computer does. I am just thankful to be able to get online!

Celeste, I can't wait until we can share another cup of tea and some more birding together!