I got up very early on December 22, completed and published my post that I had started, Last Days at Adak: December 8 –December 9. Then, I completed and published an updated post, Quick Update Post-Alaska and in Arizona and New Mexico, to give readers the latest news about species seen in Arizona. Consequently, I got a late start for the morning, picked up breakfast to go just before 10:30 am and arrived at Tanque Verde Wash on Wentworth road between 11:00 and 11:30 am. I did not expect this late start to be an issue, because the early mornings were quite cool, keeping insect activity down. I expected more activity for a Dusky Flycatcher later in the morning; at least that is what I hoped, when insect activity should be higher with higher temperatures.While I was on my way to Tanque Verde Wash, Neil Hayward texted me about reports of Dusky Flycatcher on eBird on December 11 and 14 and a report of Lawrence’s Goldfinch eBird at Ina Road at the Santa Cruz River. I had texted him yesterday that I was looking for these birds next after giving him a daily update. When I arrived at the wash, I texted Neil back, joking that it must be ESP, and we were starting to think alike. I was only 4.6 miles from the intersection of Tanque Verde and Wentworth Road when Neil first texted me, and I had also targeted the Lawrence’s Goldfinch at Ina Road. Neil texted back, “Big Year birders are birds of a feather!” I got a good chuckle out of that!
At the parking area along Wentworth Road at the wash entrance, I grabbed my camera, binoculars, packed a coat for the cooler part of the late afternoon, water and a snack in my knapsack. By the roadside where I parked there were active White-crowned Sparrows at the wash entrance and calling Phainopeplas. I headed west in the wash. The Dusky Flycatcher had been seen at least as far as 1.1 to 1.5 miles down the wash based on notes in the eBird reports. The eBird report of December 11 had excellent photos showing the field marks of Ducky Flycatcher. The report on December 14 was made by a very reliable reporter. Therefore, I knew I was chasing a good bird, provided that the Dusky Flycatcher was still present. I hoped that the Dusky Flycatcher was vocalizing, giving its distinctive “whit” call, to make it easier to find. Not too far into the wash on the north side, I heard a call somewhat like “whit” but I could not find the source. Soon thereafter, I found a few House Finches, and suspected that I had mistaken their flight calls. There were a small flock of about six Western Bluebirds. As I continued walking and birding westward in the wash, I found a cooperative Abert’s Towhee for a photo. See photo below.At about 2:00 pm, I started walking and birding again westward in the wash. The sun was very warm and there was considerable insect activity. Close to Wentworth Road, I found two different Vermillion Flycatchers, a first year male and an adult male, a Black Phoebe and a Say’s Phoebe. See photo below.
However, there was not very much bird activity. I continued west for about a mile, but did
not find the Dusky Flycatcher and no other empidonax flycatchers. I turned around and birded back toward
Wentworth Road. On the way back on the
south side, I found a Say’s Phoebe, a few Ruby-crowned Kinglets and a
Black-throated Gray Warbler feeding low toward the ground in a sunny spot. This was promising, but I found no other
birds in this small flock. I continued
back to my car, and had a snack and some water to drink. I was planning to stay at this location all
afternoon searching for the Dusky Flycatcher.
There were also some goldfinches which I followed and studied carefully in case they were Lawrence’s Goldfinches. Historically, at least, Lawrence’s Goldfinches have been seen in Tanque Verde Wash. However, all of the goldfinches were Lesser Goldfinches. In spite of all the flycatcher activity, I did not find the Dusky Flycatcher near Wentworth Road where the other flycatchers were active. There was another or the same Black-throated Gray Warbler that may have moved toward Wentworth Road and one or two Yellow-rumped Warblers. I continued westward and saw a large flock of puddle ducks fly over me which included Gadwalls and American Wigeons. As I got further west in the wash, I found a perched Red-tailed Hawk. I continued beyond the point where the golf course was close to the wash, and I could see a power line on the north side as I had done before. However, I did not find the Dusky Flycatcher. I started back toward Wentworth Road. Bird activity was decreasing. I arrived at Wentworth Road and checked the time. It was after 4:00 pm and rapidly approaching 4:30 pm. The sun would set in about one hour. I decided to one more time walk the wash to the west and go as far west as I could but still return to Wentworth Road before dark. I did manage to get further west in the wash, and returned to my car before dark. On the way back as the setting sun was streaming through the tree tops, I found a few Ruby-crowned Kinglets feeding high in the trees in this sunny zone, apparently finding active insects there. However, I remained empty handed with no Dusky Flycatcher seen or heard.With no Dusky Flycatcher, my string of success in Arizona in December had been broken. This was the first day of birding with no new bird since December 12. In ten days of birding in Arizona starting with December 12, I added 18 new species. Either my luck had changed or the birds I was looking for were more difficult to find.
At 5:30 pm, I headed toward a motel to stay near Ina Road to be in position tomorrow morning to try for the Lawrence’s Goldfinch that had been reported at the bridge over the Santa Cruz River.My total list remains at 730 species plus two provisional, Common Redstart and Eurasian Sparrowhawk as of December 21. (See the final total for the year, 733 + 2 provisionals, reported on January 3, 2014.)