Falcated Duck in California

It took a while to rest up from the trip to Papua New Guinea in August, 2012.  Much of my birding for the rest of 2012 was confined to my own back yard here in West Des Moines.

I participated in the Red Rock Christmas Bird Count in late December.  Among the better sightings on that gray, cold, drizzly day were a pheasant, 100 or so Snow Geese, 5 Trumpeter Swans resting on a plowed hillside, 2 Swamp Sparrows and a Northern Shrike.  On December 22 I participated very casually in the Des Moines Christmas Bird Count, by noting whatever showed up in my back yard.  The only species that was different from what all the other participants were able to identify was a pair of Common Grackles hanging out by my feeders.

On Christmas eve my son-in-law spotted some large, white birds flying toward my house from the west.  I was able to get the binoculars out in time to identify the 11 Trumpeter Swans that were flying eastward through the mist, like angels going to find the Babe.  It was a beautiful sight, and to add to the pleasure, these were the first Trumpeter Swans that I have ever seen from my yard, so they became my Yard Bird number 155.  (I have lived here for about 28 years).

On December 18th I flew to San Francisco where I rented a car and drove northeast to the Colusa National Wildlife Preserve.  A Falcated Duck, which I have never seen, was being seen there on a regular basis.  The afternoon was clear, windy and cold, following upon the heavy rains of the preceding few days.  Colusa is a very special place.  Thousands of ducks, Snow Geese, other geese and other water birds winter there.  Two other birders and I arrived at about the same time and after an hour or so spent scanning the thousands of ducks and geese, hunters’ guns spooked nearly all the geese and I was able to spot the Falcated Duck, actually quite close (my North American Life Bird number 708).  One of the other birder’s, Lew Milligan, got a good photograph, and with his permission, I am posting it here.  Thanks very much, Lew, and good birding to you.

I drove back to San Francisco and flew to Los Angeles where a White Wagtail (which would also be a new North American Life Bird for me), had been seen for several days on the Outer Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro.  I arrived early and spent the whole day, but the bird did not show (and has not been seen since).  The hours spent lounging on the rocks in the sun while the waves lapped the beach and shoreline rock, was a decent consolation.  I left in time to catch a flight to Las Vegas and drive to Lake Havasu City, Arizona, where I hoped to find the third of my “life-bird” trip targets, a Nutting’s Flycatcher.  One had been reported at mile marker 2 of Planet Ranch Road, south of Lake Havasu City. Planet Ranch Road is posted as “Primitive”, and lives up to its billing.  I was able to maneuver my little rental car around the rocks and wash-outs, arriving at Mile Marker 2.  The day was a bit chilly and windy, but not too bad.  I spent it walking up and down the road, exploring a few trails off road and warming up in the car now and then.  The Flycatcher was very reclusive, and I neither heard nor saw it.  (It has been seen there again in recent days).  Net result of the trip:  1 for 3.

My statistics for the year 2012:  91 species of “Yard” birds; 143 species of “Iowa” Birds, 2 new North American Life Birds (Purple Sandpipers in Maine in January and the Falcated Duck in California in December); 4 new Iowa Life Birds (Cinnamon Teal, Arctic Tern, Roseate Spoonbill (believe it or not) and a Townsend’s Solitaire.  Lifetime totals to date:  North America, 708; Iowa, 332; Yard, 155.  I haven’t made a count of the species that I have seen elsewhere in the world, but if I get bored enough in the next few winter months here in Iowa, I will probably try to calculate that.

This “empty nest birder” wishes all of you birders around the world (and anyone else who happens to open this blog) a happy and productive year in 2013. Birding is a wonderful hobby, whether you are traveling to the remote corners of the earth or sitting on your own back deck.  I am looking forward to adding a few new species to each of my lists in 2013.

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