After a relatively uneventful morning at the Desert Botanical Garden, I decided to stop by the McCormick Ranch pond were I had yesterday seen the Sora and the Common Yellowthroat. Although the company was very nice at the DBG, and we did see the normal desert quarry one comes to expect at the Gardens, I did not get a single good picture, nor any new birds. That's just the way the cookie crumbles sometime, so I hadn't quite got my fix.
My stomach was communicating to my brain that it was lunch time, but my brain had to explain to my stomach that we just won't be satisfied, even after a meal, with so little to show for our troubles.
I parked farther away from the pond this time and walked along more of the McCormick golf course, and saw nothing along the way other than a few Grackles.
However, as soon as I reached the southern banks of the 'U' shaped pond, I saw that treasure of a bird, the fiery flyer I had been longing to see since I got my camera: the Vermillion Flycatcher.
Photography in noonday lighting is never ideal, especially when you're trying to track a flycatcher that never let's you get closer than 30 feet, only sits still in 3 second increments, and keeps going from shady to sunny perches. I guess I couldn't have it all on my photographical debut with the Vermillion, so when I took off across the pond, I followed in his direction without expecting or needing to see more.
It was a bonus then to see a weather-beaten Harris's Hawk in one of the larger trees on the north side of the pond. He stayed put for a while and seemed content to finish with his preening before moving on.
At 20-21 inches tall, the Harris's Hawk is about average size for a Hawk, but this specimen seemed especially large to me.
There's no other hawk with the dark head, and dark body offset by the brown shoulders. The tattered end of his tail feathers indicate this hawk has seen the seasons change many times.
Yes, he is scratching his lower back with his face--no big deal. The white rump here and white tips of the tail (almost worn away) enclose the dark tail, and make for an easy identification when you see a Harris's flying overhead.
Is it just me, or does this Harris's have especially prominent eyebrows?
It was a tiny bit frustrating to never get the clean body shot--a stick always seemed to be in the way.
By time the Harris's Hawk left, I could no longer see the male Vermillion Flycatcher, but I did notice a Black Phoebe arguing with a slightly smaller bird, which turned out to be the lovely female!
She was even more skittish than the male, but still preferred to stay out in the sunshine. I have to admit, I woefully underestimated how bright it was. I was shooting here at f6.3 and 400 ISO--error.
The female Vermillion Flycatcher has to be one of the prettiest lady birds out there. It was odd though, that the male and female never occupied the same side of the pond. It was almost like they stayed opposite each other on purpose, as if they weren't getting along or didn't want to compete for food.
I made my way back into the bullrushes hoping to stir up some warblers or sparrows. I did get a decent look at a pair of Marsh Wrens, which was a new bird, but never enough for a picture. It was at this point a sympathetic Cooper's Hawk landed in a nearby mesquite tree, paused for a quick shot (again with me underestimating the brightness), and then departed. Two new birds in as many minutes!
This swampy soiree was already hugely successful, and on my way back around the Vermillion male gave me one more look.
That poor other bird has never felt more dull and drab in its entire life. To be fair, it'll probably never get it's picture taken again either. Vermillion Flycatcher, you're the best!
Dear McCormick Ranch Drainage Pond,
I'm sorry I ever thought you didn't have much to offer. I'm sorry that, even after seeing my first Sora hidden on your reedy banks, I did not think you were the most special pond in Arizona. Thank you for giving me another chance, and for hosting awesome birds today.
I love you, to the extent a man can love a pond, which it turns out is a lot.