This past Sunday night I received several emails about the discovery of an extremely rare bird at Granite Basin that was hundreds of miles out of its normal range – a crescent-chested warbler. It was first seen on Saturday by a Prescott birder and was seen again on Sunday by several birders. This species is extremely rare north of the Mexican border and it had never been seen in Prescott before.
I hate to admit it, but when I read the emails I had never even heard of this species so I pulled out my Sibley Guide to look it up – and the bird wasn’t even in the book! I then went and got out my old “Birds of Mexico” field guide that I’ve owned for more than 40 years. The book was published in 1953 – several years before I was even born. Sure enough, the warbler was identified in the book.
Once the significance of this discovery sunk in, it was obvious that I had to go and look for it – first thing Monday morning. I got up at 4:30 a.m., and was on the road by 5:30, headed for Granite Basin, at the base of Granite Mountain. My strategy was to get there early – before other birders descended on the area.
It was a good plan – but a lot of other people had the same idea. I arrived shortly before 6 a.m. and there was a little caravan of cars headed into the basin Like me, everyone was eagerly hoping to see the bird. If I were successful in seeing it, it would be my first “life” bird of the year.
Cars kept arriving, one after another. Birders from the quad-city area and beyond, including Flagstaff and Phoenix, were converging on the basin in hopes of catching a glimpse of the warbler.
The best chance for finding it was to hear it vocalizing and track it down. Before going to bed Sunday night, I got on a website, www.xeno-canto.org, to familiarize myself with its distinctive call so I would know what to listen for.
On the west side of the “lake,” there is an area with a lot of old willow trees. It was in this area where the bird was first discovered on Saturday. As individuals and groups of birders arrived, they fanned out through this area looking for the warbler.
The bird activity was impressive – there were birds of every kind everywhere, it seemed. There were cedar waxwings, hairy woodpeckers, acorn woodpeckers, northern flickers, Hutton’s and warbling vireos, bushtits, bridled titmouse, black-headed grosbeaks, Bullock’s orioles, summer tanager, western tanager, spotted towhee, Bewick’s wren, house wren, house finches and lesser goldfinches – just to name a few!
And yes, there were lots of warblers. In my search for the crescent-chested warbler, I saw seven different warbler species – yellow, hermit, orange-crowned, yellow-rumped, Lucy’s, Virginia’s and Wilson’s.
After several hours of canvasing the area, I neither heard nor saw the rare warbler. I have to admit, it was really disappointing not to see it. In spite of having the ‘A’ team of birders out there scouring the area, the bird was not seen by anybody on Monday.
For the morning, I saw 37 species, and I heard and identified several more by their vocalization. In spite of not finding the crescent-chested warbler, it was a really unique and special experience to spend time birding with so many other individuals who were driven by the same passion – to see a new bird.
Until next week, Happy Birding!