death birding

Observers: Justin Hite and Chris McCreedy
Remote Name:
Date: 09/26/2006
Time: 02:24 PM -0400

Chris McCreedy and I drove through Death Valley yesterday on our way to the lower Colorado River to count Palo Verde and Ironwood trees in the washes. There wasn’t much at Panamint Springs of interest other a Roadrunner begging for food with the fearlessness of a Brewer’s Blackbird at the Mono Cone as well as a megaryncha Fox Sparrow hopping around like a thrasher in the RV campground. At Furnace Creek we saw a Peregrine fly by, and then we found an adult Red-naped Sapsucker and a Blackpoll Warbler. Check out the palm grove in the front of the ranch, between the gas station and the bar. Neither of us have much experience sorting out the differences between fall-plumage Blackpolls, Bay-breasteds or Pines, but we’re pretty sure it’s a Blackpoll (or maybe a Pine). It had a pale whitish undertail coverts, which seemed to rule out Bay-breasted. The noticeable streaking down to the flanks seems more like Blackpoll than Pine. The wingbars are also bright white, and Dunn and Garrett’s book says Pines have relatively dull wingbars. Our bird seems to have more overall dorsal/ventral contrast (dark back and yellow/pale underparts) than the bird Wurster, Dunn, Auzins, and the Heindels photographed at Deep Springs recently. We’d welcome comments. After we’d found it but before we’d gotten any good pictures or views we watched in horror as an Accipiter slammed into the palm/tamarisk thicket it had just flown into, heard a bunch of passerines squeaking with fright, and saw the Accipter fly out with some hapless little bird. We thought we’d lost it, but saw it several minutes later nearby. One less House Sparrow at Furnace Creek I guess. There was also a Western Wood-Pewee at the sewage pond there (real men sometimes bird Sewage Ponds) with Blue-winged Teal, Snipe, Spotted and Least Sandpipers, a Gray flycatcher with some Inca Doves, Lazuli Buntings, and a Vesper Sparrow in the golf grass, and a total of 8 species of warblers. And check out the grass in the palms east of the sewage pond – we saw what may have been a Clay-colored amidst the Chipping Sparrows, and its face looked a bit too contrasty for a young Chippy – but we were way Furnaced-out by then.

Photo © Chris McCreedy
Following Photos © Justin Hite