Thursday, March 6, 2014

Search for Lawrence’s Goldfinch at Ina Road and at Rillito River and Santa Cruz River Junction, December 23

I got up early on December 23. wrote and published a short post about finding a Northern Goshawk in the Anchorage, Alaska area.  I had been trying to update my blog but with difficulty, because since August 23, I had been constantly birding morning till night and on the move.

There were recent reports on eBird of Lawrence’s Goldfinch at Ina Road at the bridge over the Santa Cruz River on November 14, December 10, 11 and 12, all by expert Arizona birders, who were birding tour leaders and/or with years of experience in Arizona.  However, the reports were flyby Lawrence’s Goldfinches, apparently by the call which is distinctive.  What this meant to me was that Lawrence’s Goldfinch was definitely present at Ina Road, but could be iffy for me to find if only present as a flyby and to identify by flight call.  There was also a recent post to the Arizona Birds list serve about three Lawrence’s Goldfinches seen on December 7 near the confluence of the Rillito and Santa Cruz Rivers.  I also contacted an Arizona birder who was also looking for Lawrence’s Goldfinch and had heard a particular call found on xeno-cato that she heard at the Ina Bridge on December 18.  I was hoping that this birder had a more recent update.
I arrived at the Ina Road bridge over the Santa Cruz River close to 9:30 am and parked down near the bike trail in the dirt area on the west side.  Shortly before that I had received an e-mail response to my request for information from the Arizona birder.  Two people had told her to go the confluence of the Santa Cruz and Rillito Rivers.  I would head there next if I was unsuccessful at Ina road.  She asked me to e-mail her husband’s smart phone if I found the Lawrence’s Goldfinches.  Later I got an e-mail that they were heading out birding to the Santa Cruz Flats and might stop at the Ina Road spot north of the bridge on their way out of the county.
At Ina Road, right away I got excited, because there were two goldfinches in a nearby tree with a few House Finches.  However, it was not to be.  The Goldfinches were Lesser Goldfinches, the common goldfinch species in Arizona.  I walked the bike path north for about 0.25 mile, listening and watching for finches.  There was a Red-tailed Hawk perched in the tree along the river hunting the tall grass along the river on the west side.  There was also an American Kestrel and a Northern Harrier hunting the area, causing bird activity to be reduced.  I found a flock of house Finches feeding on some weed seed heads, a few White-crowned Sparrows, one or two Swamp Sparrows and a Song Sparrow.  As I walked back toward my car, a group of three small finches, apparently goldfinches flew south and diagonally toward the river and landed in some trees near the bridge.  I watched where they landed, but was unable to find them again after walking back to the bridge. 
It was now almost 10:30 am.

With no success at Ina Road, I decided to find the confluence of the Rillito and the Santa Cruz Rivers and found the Rillito using google maps.  It took me several tries to determine where the confluence of the Rillito and Santa Cruz Rivers was located.  I drove south on the I-10 Freeway Frontage Road to Sunset Road and turned right and parked immediately near the bike path.  It was only 3.4 miles and 6 minutes from the bridge across the Santa Cruz River at Ina Road.  I walked the bike path north to the Rillito, which was only a dry wash.  An old portion of the bike path went west to the Santa Cruz to a service road to a mining operation, and there was a ramp down to the wash before the end of the old portion of the bike path.  There were not many birds active.  I walked down into the Rillito River/Wash and hiked west.  I saw a few house Finches.  As I got closer to the Santa Cruz River, I eventually saw a Red-tailed Hawk.  I was seeing very few birds.  I continued until I found the Santa Cruz River, only a small creek by the standards in Ohio where I live.  I decided to hike along the Santa Cruz River south for a short distance and found a flock of water birds along the river: 75 Black-necked Stilts, 8 Long-billed Dowitchers, 6 Least Sandpipers and about 20 Green-winged Teal.  I headed back toward where my car was parked and found a Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s) and a Swamp Sparrow near the river.  When I got back into the Stillito River/Wash, I found some more sparrows, a Lincoln’s Sparrow and another Swamp Sparrow.  I also found a Western Bluebird.  When I got back on the western extension of the bike path, I found a House Finch and Say’s Phoebe.  I headed back to my car.  I needed to turn in my rental car at 2:30 pm, but first made a quick stop at Ina Road for one last look there.  No luck in finding Lawrence’s Goldfinch there.

I headed north to Phoenix and Sky Harbor Airport to turn in my rental car.  Birding in Arizona was a great success.  However, the last two days were disappointing, but overwintering Dusky Flycatcher and Lawrence’s Goldfinch can be difficult birds to find with limited time.  Although there were reports of these birds at other locations in Arizona, it did not seem worthwhile to use my last week of birding in 2013 looking for these birds, given my experience the last two days.  I thought about trying for Spotted Owl in Miller Canyon, which I had missed in August.  I had met a birder from Canada who was going to Miller Canyon with Joe Woodley from Sierra Vista to look for the Spotted Owls.  However, I had communicated with Joe by e-mail and discovered that they did not find the owls, only white wash indicating that the owls had roosted recently.

My plan was to go to Antelope Island State Park near Salt Lake City to try for Chukar.  Antelope Island SP is known as one of the best places to find Chukar.  I thought the change in location and scenery would be good for me and maybe change my recent luck.  I turned in my rental car, and waited for my flight to Salt Lake City leaving at 5:55 pm.  Tomorrow on Christmas Eve, I would try for Chukar.

While I was waiting on my flight I completed communicating with the Arizona birder and her husband, telling them of my lack of success and how to get to the Rillito River where the Lawrence’s Goldfinches had been reported.  The husband had asked questions about how to get there. 
As a sequel to my story, on January 2 Miriam Weber, reported to Arizona Birds that she finally saw Lawrence’s Goldfinch along the Rillito River.  She saw a flock of ten, mostly males, at 1:30 pm.  It was at the location where I had been.  She was the Arizona birder mentioned above.  I sent her a congratulatory note on her success.  It was her tenth try!  As all birders know, it is all about timing and perhaps a good slug of luck and a whole lot of perseverance, neither of which I had in this case!

I arrived in Salt Lake City at 7:30 pm, picked up my rental car and headed to my motel for the night and then got some dinner.  Tomorrow would be a new day.  No new birds added on December 23.   

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