Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bare-naked Birding in Arizona

I'm at a business conference in Phoenix.  The itinerary indicated no time for birding, so I didn't even pack binoculars or a camera.  A trip to Arizona with no birding?! ...This was going to be a waste of a trip!  

Well, I was fortunate in that we wrapped up our first day of meetings by 5 p.m..  There was plenty of daylight, so I determined to go for a little bird walk in the vacant lot across the highway from the hotel.  This would be bare-naked birding at its best!  I stripped off all my cloths and started wandering through the mesquite and cholla looking for birdies.  The endemic plants of the desert southwest can sure be prickly on a bare bottom.

Not really, but I did go bare-naked birding in the sense that my only tools were my eyes and ears.  No bins, no camera, no scope.  Birding with only the senses the good Lord gave me.  I found it to be very rewarding and the experience refreshed my birding spirit.

Several tiny Verdin, with mustard yellow heads were calling and fluttering about the brush and trees.  I found one of their nests in a large shrub.  The entry was tiny Verdin-sized hole at the bottom of the cluster of twigs.  I could see by looking up from below that the inner lining of the nest was of finer and softer materials.  

Next I found a Cactus Wren singing from the top of another bush.  An Abert's Towhee darted through the brush.  A Gambel's Quail called from the top of rock several yards away while Mourning Doves and Lesser Goldfinch jetted overhead.  Another Mourning Dove bolted from a lonely tree as I passed by, but there on the top of a haphazard cluster of twigs were two gleaming white dove eggs.  Looking back toward the hotel I saw a big dark bird carrying something in its bill.  It landed on the hotel sign where it had its own nest; a Common Raven.  

While circling a large palo verde tree I saw a tiny bird flitting among its branches.  It was small enough that I thought it might be another Verdin, but then it popped up in plain site and I could see its black and white color pattern...a Black-throated Gray Warbler!  A stunning warbler that I had not seen since observing three of them in October 2006, here in Arizona.  Those sightings were so early on in my birding life that I had forgotten I had ever seen one.  I thought I had my first bare-naked life bird.  My eBird records set me straight..oh well, but super exciting to see a Black-throated Gray Warbler all the same!

I was able to identify 14 species without the aid of optics.  One little-brown-job frustratingly scampered beyond the power of my eyes to focus on it.  From reading Kenn Kaufman's latest edition of Advanced Birding, I made the mental choice that it was okay, and I finally let it go unidentified.  Other highlights included my FOY Western Kingbird and a Northern Mockingbird.  

Bare-naked birding can be really exhilarating and gives the regular birder a fun challenge.  I highly recommend it! But please keep your clothes on.


  1. You sighted many cool birds!
    Bare Naked birding is a good thing. It takes me back to the sheer joy of seeing the birds in all their glory.

  2. @Cynthia @Jean @Kelly - thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment! What I didn't mention in the post was that I sat down in the shade for about 20 minutes too and had Abert's Towhees, Verdin, and a White-crowned Sparrow all approach to within a couple feet of me while I sat motionless. That was cool! I have to admit that binoculars to help me enjoy seeing the birds "in all their glory" because I get to see their colors and patterns with so much more clarity. Bare-naked birding indeed does help change things up a bit and gets you back to some fundamentals of birding. I recognized that I have come a long way in my birding skills when I could tell it was Lesser Goldfinches flying overhead.

  3. Cute and fun post! It is always hard for me to let go of IDing a bird but you are right, it is nice to take a break and just enjoy the birds! What you need are some compact bins that are lightweight and easy to pack! My eagle optics are pretty light and small but I would still love to get something even smaller.

  4. @Kathiesbirds - letting go of that unidentified bird usually just kills me...I guess I was having a zen moment.

    I have thought it might be nice to have a pair of quality small bins for traveling, but I am such a cheap guy.