Thursday, January 2, 2014

Bill Williams NWR for Nutting's Flycatcher, December 12

As stated in my post about my visit to Nome, I left Anchorage on a red-eye flight leaving at about 12:50 am on December 11 and arrived in Phoenix at about 2:30 pm.  I slept all evening and all night until arising at approximately 2:30 am on December 12.  It was about 2 hours and 51 minutes to Bill Williams NWR from my motel just west of Phoenix, Arizona.  I picked up some breakfast from a 24 hour nearby McDonalds at 3:13 am and was on the road by 3:30 am.  I stopped in Parker, Arizona to pick up some hot chocolate and fruit to supplement my very early breakfast eaten on the way.  It was still dark at 5:58 am, and Bill Williams NWR was about half an hour away.  I had made good time on I-10 with no traffic.  I arrived at Planet Ranch Road when the sky was just starting to get light.  The NARBA instructions were to go to the 2 mile marker, but there were no mile markers for at least the first mile.  Uh, oh!  Not to worry, Neil Hayward, who had been there in January, told me that the double power poles were a better marker.  Eventually, a mile marker showed up on the right on Planet Ranch Road at about 1.5 miles and soon the double power poles were visible on the left in the dim but growing light to the east.  Shortly, I arrived in a dip after the first double power poles on the left and found the 2 mile marker.  It was about 6:30 to 6:45 am, very close to sunrise.  I got out, got my camera and binoculars ready and walked the road to the east a short distance.  There was a second set of double power poles not far to the east visible in the gradually lightening morning sky.
Sunrise at Mile Marker 2
Planet Ranch Road, double power poles to the east

First set of double power poles to west and 2 mile marker on left, looking back toward entry,
Planet Ranch Road
At first, it was quiet, but then I started to hear Canyon Wrens scolding and calling but not singing on the cliffs to the south very close to the road.  Then it happened.  "Week"..... "week," the call of Nutting's Flycatcher at 7:44 am.  I had first heard this call and saw and photographed Nutting's Flycatcher on January 31, 2001 in Mason Park, Irvine, California, where a Nutting's Flycatcher had over-wintered.  This Nutting's Flycatcher was calling from the riparian, north side of Planet Ranch Road opposite to the cliffs.  It was back off the road and seemed to be low.  I soon found it in low bushes sitting and flying around searching for insects.  It was quite chilly, and I wondered what it could be finding, but perhaps it was picking inactive insects off of the vegetation.  As I watched, the Nutting's Flycatcher soon moved toward the sun-lighted areas to the east toward the second set of power poles, and became available for photos.  See below.  The first three photos are in the early morning shade, which affects the appearance of the back color.  I saw the yellow edges of the secondaries on the closed wings, transitioning from red edges on the primaries, unlike the similar but slightly larger Ash-throated Flycatcher which does not show yellow edges on the secondaries.  In addition, the tail below of Nutting's Flycatcher shows a less extensive dark tip to the inner web of the outer tail feather on each side of the tail than Ash-throated Flycatcher.  This results in a rather straight dark area on the outer tail feathers without bending around at the feather tips as in Ash-throated Flycatcher.  However, the best identification is the distinctive "week" call of the Nutting's Flycatcher unlike the "prrrt" of Ash-throated Flycatcher.   The Nutting's Flycatcher continued calling until about 8:15 am.     

Nutting's Flycatcher
note transition from red edges of primaries to yellow edges of secondaries

Nutting's Flycatcher
dark outer and inner webs of outer retrice (tail feather) on each side that go straight to the end of the tail
without bending around as extensively at the tip as in Ash-throated Flycatcher 
Nutting's Flycatcher
very cooperative in morning shade

Nutting's Flycatcher
back view in early morning sunlight, showing olive back
I was very pleased to see this quite rare bird in the ABA area.  I was all alone on Planet Ranch Road with the Nutting's Flycatcher and thoroughly enjoyed watching and hearing it as it searched for breakfast.  I had tried to go for it earlier in the year in late March, but it had become unreliable and difficult to see, having been seen reliably in February.  By the time I had chased other rarities, it was suggested, by Lauren Harter, who was tracking the bird, that I wait until the fall/winter for the Nutting's Flycatcher to return for the winter.  Luck and good fortune were with me.  The Nutting's Flycatcher actually bred at this location this past summer.  I saw that on the Arizona-New Mexico list-serve and NARBA and knew that I still had a chance this fall and winter.  I was very pleased to see the continuing reports this fall winter at Bill Williams NWR.  This is the third winter for Nutting's Flycatcher at Bill Williams NWR.  What a great bird to add to my Big Year!  Thanks to Lauren Harter for very good advice back in March!  Luck does play a role in a Big Year!

I drove to the end of Planet Ranch Road.  It is a beautiful area, with a mix of desert vegetation and the cottonwoods in the riparian area which were a golden brown to brown color by this time of year.  I enjoyed the other birds in the area--Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, overwintering Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Phainopepla, the Canyon Wrens, Northern (Red-shafted) Flickers and Canyon Towhee, and I thought I heard a Crissal Thrasher, calling and singing briefly, and saw a thrasher briefly before it disappeared into the under-brush, behaving typically like the very secretive Crissal Thrasher.  However, I never got an identifiable view of the thrasher; therefore, Crissal Thrasher remains on my heard only list.

This was my first time visit to Bill Williams NWR, and I wanted to see more of the area.  I drove to the Visitor Center and walked out the paved path to look at waterfowl on Lake Havasu.  There were lots of Western Grebes on the lake.  On my way back to the parking area, I found several Barrow's Goldeneyes.  It was great to see this bird at close range and get photos.  I had seen a distant Barrow's Goldeneye in early June in Anchorage, Alaska.  See photos below.
Barrow's Goldeneye
female, left, showing steep forehead
male, right showing white crescent on face and dark mark to waterline on side

Barrow's Goldeneye
male, left and female, right
There was also a cooperative Verdin on the paved trail along the water.  It was a great morning for birding at Bill Williams NWR!  It would have been great to spend more time; however, there were more new birds to add to my Big Year list in Arizona.  I headed south to Parker, where I got more hot chocolate and topped off my gas tank.  I headed toward Madera Canyon, but soon had to stop for a nap for an hour at the first rest area along I-10.  There was still residual tiredness from the red-eye flight from Anchorage to Phoenix and the early start today in spite of the long sleep last night.  I arrived at Madera Canyon at about 2:30 pm and went directly to Whitehouse Picnic Area to look for the Red-breasted Sapsucker that has been regular there over the past few weeks or month.  When I arrived at the sapsucker tree, the picnic area was already in shade as the sun had dropped behind the peaks to the west.  There was no sapsucker; however, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a Painted Redstart were regular visitors to the tree where the sapsucker had drilled.  They were either enjoying the sap or catching insects attracted by the sap.  I stayed until about 4:30 pm in Madera Canyon, checked the Kubo and Santa Rita Lodge feeders and birded the Nature Trail that passes below the sap tree and along the entry road.  However, I found no Red-breasted Sapsucker at Whitehouse Picnic Area or on the Nature Trail below the sap tree.  I would check again tomorrow and spend more time looking for the sapsucker.

Nutting's Flycatcher is number 713 + 3 provisional (White-cheeked Pintail, Common Redstart, and Eurasian Sparrowhawk).

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