Sunday, March 4, 2012

Neotropic Cormorants, Grebes and other Water Birds on the Tempe Canal, AZ

Bridge over Tempe Canal, AZ; 12/24/2011.
I took a short walk along the Tempe Canal (Above), also known as Tempe Town Lake, near the Tempe Center for the Arts. There was some water bird activity, especially lots of Cormorants, both Double-crested and Neotropics, along with  a smattering of Grebes (Pied-billed and Horned), Ruddy Ducks, Northern Shovelers, American Coots, Mallards, and a lone Snowy Egret. Along the shore there were lots of Great-tailed Grackles and some House Sparrows.
A flotilla of Neotropic Cormorants under a bridge, looking up like they are watching fireworks or some such air spectacle, Tempe Canal, AZ; 12/24/2011.
Even though I wasn't expecting anything new, I was able to add a new bird to my Life List, during my short walk. With all the cormorants that were flying back and forth along the Canal as if it was a super highway, I was able to pick out two different species: the usual very common Double-crested Cormorants and a new species for me, the less common Neotropic Cormorants (Above and Below). At first glance they look very similar, but the Neotropics are smaller (about 2' long with a 40" wingspan)and have less yellowish/orange on their chins which are bordered by a thin white v-shaped outline.
Neotropic Cormorants; one small flock of the many that were zooming along the water's surface, Tempe Canal, AZ; 12/24/2011.
Neotropic Cormorants are less common than the Double-crested, but can be found in a very limited range, most commonly in southern Texas and along the both Mexican shorelines of the Pacific and the Gulf. They make spotty appearances in lakes and rivers of New Mexico and Arizona. So I was lucky to have found quite a large group of them here near Phoenix.
Another fly-by group of Neotropics, Tempe Canal, AZ; 12/24/2011.
A more common, Double-crested Cormorant, Tempe Canal, AZ; 12/24/2011.
The Double-crested Cormorants' (one Above) range pretty much spread out over the entire North American Continent, depending on the season. Summers they can be found from coast to coast well into Canada and much of the northern half of the U.S. In winter they will congregate along both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts as well as the Gulf and the entire southeastern quadrant of the U.S.  They are larger (almost 3' long with a 52" wingspan).
A Horned Grebe, Tempe Canal, AZ; 12/24/2011.
Another nice find was a pair of Horned Grebes (Above) swimming very close to shore. Last spring in Rockford, IL (my hometown) was the first time I saw an Horned Grebe, which was in its breeding plumage. Now I feel fortunate to see one in its non-breeding plumage. At first it was difficult to distinguish between a Horned with an Eared Grebe in its non-breeding plumage. I vascillated back and forth with my ID choice until I finally decided that this guy was a Horned. My initial thought was an Eared because it had less white on its cheek and neck. But with closer analysis, I felt it was a first-fall Horned for two reasons: Horned Grebes have white lores whereas the Eared 's are dark. These Grebes (Above & Below) have that small white patch. Also the final distinguishing field mark was the the tiny white spot (more visible on the pic Below) at the tip of the bills which are present on the Horneds, but not on the Eareds.
Another look at the Horned Grebe in its non-breeding plumage, Tempe Canal, AZ; 12/24/2011.
Horned Grebes can be found from coast to coast in the U.S. during the migration seasons, but during the summer will stay up north in Canada from western Ontario stretching all the way to Alaska. Winter months will find these Grebes along both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts and throughout much of the southeastern quadrant of the U.S. and in isolated pockets of New Mexico and Arizona. So where I saw these Grebes is far less common than their usual winter digs.
Another Grebe, the Pied-billed Grebe, was also present on the Tempe Canal, AZ; 12/24/2011.
There were also a pair of Pied-billed Grebes (Above) searching the Tempe Canal for its meal, which succeeded. I saw both types of Grebes with fish in their bills after coming up from a dive. Sorry that my pics of these didn't turn out very well. pied-billed Grebes are much more visible throughout the entire U.S.
A Snowy Egret searching for its next meal along the waterways of Tempe Canal, AZ; 12/24/2011.
A lone Snowy Egret constantly cruised back and forth along the Tempe Canal looking for prey. During the entire hour of my walk, this Snowy Egret never landed, but kept circling over the Canal.

Next weekend I will feature birds from a fantastic Nature Preserve that I didn't know existed, until my last two days of this trip.

No comments: