Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

August 30, 2012

Purple Gallinule at Water Ranch

Filed under: Birds, favorite places, Gilbert Water Ranch, rarities — richditch @ 4:17 pm
Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule

I don’t know any birder who isn’t excited by a vagrant bird – one that shows up far outside its range. Although common in Florida, a Purple Gallinule is a definite rarity in AZ. When this bird was discovered on August 25 and was still being seen on the following day I decided I’d risk the continuing unbearable heat and go looking for it.

I was at the Gilbert Water Ranch just after sunrise and made my slow way to the center where the bird was being seen. It still took an hour of careful scanning the proper area until I saw this juvenile bird out feeding in the vegetation along the edge of pond 2. The bird was farther away than I wanted, and I had to shoot against the light making exposure troublesome. The sun was bright and the temperature was already well into the 90’s and I had to stand in the unshaded open to get any shots.

I gave the bird a bit more time hoping for a closer opportunity but didn’t get one, so I headed back to the parking lot for departure around 8:30 am.

I hadn’t been out shooting with the bird gear in quite a while. It felt good to be taking some photos again, and I managed not to forget anything critical while using the camera gear.

According to AZFO this is the 13th Purple Gallinule discovered in AZ. Surprisingly, it is the third one I’ve seen in AZ, and the second one I’ve seen at the Water Ranch! I wrote about the previous adult on this blog before.

This image: Nikon D300, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S lens with TC20E III (2x), Gitzo tripod, ISO 400, 1/320th second @ f/8, aperture-preferred spot meter, 27% of frame, 7:59 am on 8/29/2012


March 3, 2012

Red-necked Grebe, another AZ rarity

Filed under: Birds, Kearny Lake, rarities — richditch @ 4:26 pm
Red-necked Grebe, Tempe Town Lake

Red-necked Grebe, Tempe Town Lake

Nikon D300, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S lens with TC20E III (2x), ISO 800, 1/1600th second at f/8.

Rarities continue to turn up in Arizona – the latest in the Phoenix metro area is a Red-necked Grebe discovered afew days ago on Tempe Town Lake. Word didn’t get out about this vagrant until Friday morning, March 2, and I couldn’t get to see it until early afternoon.

Quoting from

Casual fall and winter visitor.  Through 2009 there were 14 accepted records, but recently there has been a dramatic increase in reports and there have been approximately 10 reports filed with the ABC since 2009.

This is my third in AZ, and my first in Maricopa County.

Red-necked Grebe, Tempe Town Lake

Red-necked Grebe, Tempe Town Lake

Nikon D300, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S lens with TC20E III (2x), ISO 800, 1/1250th second at f/8.

Tempe Town Lake is a strange place: an artificial lake created in the dry bed of the Salt River by a giant rubber dam and filled with water diverted to central AZ from the Colorado River through the canals of the Central Arizona Project. The riverbed is dry for many miles around Phoenix because the natural flow is prevented by a series of dams farther to the east. A couple years ago the rubber dam failed in a spectacular event, many years before the advertised lifetime.

But it is a magnet for interesting birds. The all-time best bird was a Yellow-billed Loon – very out of range and season.

Just for fun here’s the second Red-necked Grebe on my AZ list, from Kearny Lake south of Superior, AZ, on November 23, 2006. This bird was an easier photo subject, but a lot longer drive from Phoenix.

Red-necked Grebe, Kearny, AZ

Red-necked Grebe, Kearny, AZ

Nikon D200, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S lens with TC20E (2x), ISO 200, 1/180th second at f/11.

January 22, 2012

White-throated Sparrow at Boyce

Filed under: Birds, Boyce Thompson Arboretum, favorite places, rarities — richditch @ 5:17 pm
White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

Another day, another uncommon bird in AZ.

White-throated Sparrow is primarily a  bird of the eastern U.S., but a few can be found every winter in AZ. They are closely related to the White-crowned Sparrow and are usually found flocking with them. In the eastern U.S. their roles are reversed: White-throated is the common bird and white-crowned is the prize to seek out in winter flocks of white-throats.

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

I see one or two about every three years it seems, and almost always I see them at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

This bird was seen at Boyce on January 19 in the area I always look for them – along the main canyon trail between the palm trees and the herb garden. As I scanned the bushes on the north side of the trail I noticed movement which brought my eye directly to this bird. Before I could get a photo it dropped out of sight. But I quickly relocated it along a side path where another photographer had sprinkled some cracked corn and was taking shots of white-crowns. The white-throat hung back and preferred the shadows so it took a while to get a few frames in the sun. I still needed to make significant crops of the images (30% for the top image, 37% for the bottom shot). I’m already thinking it might be worth another visit this week to try for better photos.

Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), ISO 800, 1/800th second at f/8, spot meter, Gitzo 1325 tripod with RRS BH-55 ball head and Sidekick.

January 8, 2012

Rufous-backed Robin @ Anthem, AZ

Filed under: Birds, light, rarities — richditch @ 10:52 pm
Rufous-backed Robin

Rufous-backed Robin

January 8, 2012, Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), ISO 800, 1/200th second @ f/5.6, Gitzo tripod

Yes, another rarity. The Rufous-backed Robin is a Mexican species that “spills over” into the U.S. in winter from Texas to California, but primarily in southern Arizona. It is very similar in appearance to the American Robin known to and loved by almost everyone in America.

The Rufous-backed Robin differs from the American Robin by a rusty “saddle” across the wings and back, more prominent streaking on the throat, and by the lack of white crescents by the eye. This head-on view isn’t the best way to see one as it is only gives a hint of the rufous wings, but at least it shows the throat streaking and the lack of eye crescents. The best way to see one is from the side as seen in this old post.

This has been a good winter for Rufous-backed Robin in AZ with multiple birds in multiple locations. This is was discovered about a month ago in the “master planned” community of Anthem on the extreme north edge of the Phoenix metro area. It has been seen most often in or near pyracantha bushes by the railroad station in the community park. When I went to look for it this morning I wasn’t expecting it to be so windy and I was half expecting I wouldn’t see it at all. But it gave me two brief looks during the 90+ minutes I stood around waiting for it and on the second appearance I managed to get this one frame before it headed back to cover.

For a species that few outside of AZ have seen or even know about I feel lucky to have seen them in 13 of the 17 years I’ve lived in Phoenix.

December 20, 2011

Brown Thrasher – today’s rarity

Filed under: Birds, favorite places, Gilbert Water Ranch, rarities — richditch @ 4:14 pm
Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher


This morning (December 20, 2011) as I was making my usual rounds at the Gilbert Water Ranch under heavy overcast skies I caught a glimpse of rusty brown movement in the brushy tangle under the trail-side bushes. I immediately suspected that I’d found a Brown Thrasher: – a species I know well from our old New Jersey backyard. I’ve been fortunate to see one that returned to Boyce Thompson Arboretum a few times over many years, but this is my first for the Water Ranch and my first in Maricopa County.

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Typical of the species this bird was rather shy, staying in the brush and behind the twigs. It was associating with a pair of Curve-billed Thrashers.

For those who know the Water Ranch or wish to look for the bird I had it near the northwest end of the path between ponds 3 and 4, between the metal gate and the first bench. At first it was at ground level on the pond 3 side, then crossed the path (when I got these shots), and ended up about eye level not far from the path in a dense cedar wher it was impossible to take photos.

Nikon D300, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S lens, ISO 800, 1/200th second @ f/2.8, tripod, 25% of frame, 8:45 am on 12/20/2011

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