Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Tempe Town Lake Aquatic Bird Survey 2014

Eared Grebes in their winter plumage at Tempe Town
Lake, Jan. 18th, 2014. Note the high rear end, peaked
crown above the eye, and dark on face below the eye. 
Photo by Jeff Stemshorn.

The biggest challenge this year at the Tempe Town Lake Aquatic Bird Survey was trying to tell the difference between the Eared Grebes and the Horned Grebes, both in their very un-showy winter plumage.  A pair of Horned Grebes were known to be lurking among the lake grebes this winter so the search was on.

We looked for the Horned Grebes to have a much whiter neck, no high rear end, and solid white under the line of the eye.  Eventually two grebes were spotted that stood out from the rest, one shown below. Though not easily seen, and varies with age, the Horned Grebe has ruby red eyes while the Eared Grebe has a golden eye.  The Horned Grebes were also slightly larger.

Horned Grebe at Tempe Town Lake on Jan. 18th, 2014.  Note the white neck,
and the solid white below line of eye.  Photo by Peggy Thomas

Two juvenile Brown Pelicans entertained us throughout the count as they circled above the lake searching for breakfast, occasionally making exquisitely ungraceful dives into the water.  So we nick-named one "Cannonball" and the other "Buster Brown".

Brown Pelican juvenile posing for the camera at Tempe Town Lake on Jan. 18th, during the
2014 Greater Phoenix Waterbird Census. Photo by Kimberly White-Knight

Canvasback drake with two female Ring-necked Ducks in the mini-marsh at Curry and Miller Rd.s
(NE end of TTL) just a few days before the count. No Ring-necked Ducks seen on count day.
Photo by Peggy Thomas

Me peering through the brush at Jeff "Big Bird"
Stemshorn on count day.  Photo by Big Bird
Our foray into the mini-marsh viewing area was less fruitful than years past, with no sightings of the Buffleheads, Blue-winged Teal, Green-winged Teal, or Cinnamon Teal.  But a nice family of Canvasbacks were there amongst the usual Coots.

In the area between the mini-marsh and the lake there were much fewer Ruddy Ducks, and no Sandpipers or Black-necked Stilts to be seen poking around the shoreline.

We ended the day at the north side marina next to the Papago Stables, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Bald Eagle who "fishes" there.  By "fishing" I mean stealing fish from the Osprey.  The Bald Eagle was not seen, but three Osprey put on a show for us, soaring high, then suddenly diving fast into the lake.  At times they just skidded across the lake, dragging their feet along the water and eying the lake for fish feeding on bugs at the surface.

Osprey skidding across Tempe Town Lake, Jan.18th, 2014
Photo by Jeff Stemshorn

Brown Pelican searching for breakfast at Tempe
Town Lake on Jan. 18th, the 2014 Greater Phoenix
Waterbird Census. Photo by Jeff Stemshorn

Tempe Town Lake 2014

Canvasbacks 8
Gadwalls 2
Northern Shovelers 18
Ruddy Ducks 13
Pied-billed Grebes 3
Eared Grebes 8
Horned Grebes 2
Western Grebes 2
Neotropic Cormorants 24
Double-crested Cormorants 83
Great Blue Herons1
Snowy Egrets 8
Green Herons 1
American Coots 34
Killdeer 3
Osprey 3
Brown Pelican 2

We had a total of 18 species (24 in 2012, 2013) and a total of 229 birds counted  (629 in 2012, 174 in 2013).   Our area included the habitat just downstream from the new pedestrian bridge, the entire lake, and the small marsh area near Curry and Miller Roads.   Missing this year were the Blue-winged Teal, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Ducks, Buffleheads, Black-necked Stilts, Spotted Sandpipers, and Great Egrets.  New this year were the pair of Horned Grebes.  Water levels upstream of the lake were extremely low this year, with no water at all beneath the McClintock Bridge, and Tempe Marketplace Marsh nearly dry. 

Peggy Thomas and Wynn Ronstadt, with Jeff Stemshorn giving a thumbs up to the end of count day 2014.

Special thanks to Jeff Stemshorn and Wynn Ronstadt for coming up from Tucson to help with the count. Thanks also to Don Witter, Joyce Goodman, and Jackie Anderson from Desert Botanical Garden, and to my personal assistant Kimberly White-Knight.  Great job everyone!

Don and Joyce conducted the census at the very dry Tempe Marketplace Marsh. Their census count is listed below. 

Osprey soaring between Tempe Town Lake and
Tempe Marsh on Jan. 18th, 2014
Photo by Jeff Stemshorn

Tempe Marsh 2014 (2013)

Canada Geese 2 (4)
Gadwalls 2 (9)
Mallards 3 (3)
Green-winged Teal 0 (2)
Northern Shovelers 8 (68)
Lesser Scaup 0 (1)
Ruddy Ducks 30 (7)
Buffleheads 0 (1)
Common Mergansers 10 (13)
Red-breasted Mergansers 0 (2)
Pied-billed Grebes 10 (10)
Western Grebes 0 (5)
Clark's Grebes 0 (1)
Neotropic Cormorants 45 (8)
Double-crested Cormorants 94 (126)
Great Blue Herons 3 (5)
Great Egrets 3 (2)
Snowy Egrets 10 (35)
Green Herons 1 (2)
Black-crowned Night Herons 3 (1)
Sora 0 (1)
American Coots 26 (74)
Killdeer 1 (3)
Spotted Sandpipers 2 (1)
Ring-billed Gull 0 (1)
Osprey 1 (2)
Belted Kingfisher 0 (2)

Total Species : 21  (28 in 2013 and 23 in 2012)

Total individual birds counted : 280 (397 in 2013 and 659 in 2012)

These surveys are part of the Arizona Game and Fish Department's "Greater Phoenix Area Water Bird Census".  The Greater Phoenix Area Waterbird Census is held each year on the third Saturday of January.  The survey includes ducks, geese, herons, egrets, coots, cormorants and shorebirds and covers all the urban lakes, ponds (including golf course ponds), and canals throughout the greater Phoenix Metropolitan Area.

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