20 January Update

I arrived in Yuma (about “3:10 to Yuma” [remember, Paul A?], actually) early enough to make it out to the Ruddy Ground-dove (RGD) site with a half hour of daylight to spare – to at least scout the place out for a more effective morning assault. It’s a strange place in a strange land – of course I forgot to photograph it. It’s a rare well-treed but funky fenced in property about a hectare in size. An old dilapidated ‘Animal Farm’ sign is sort of fixed to the fence. Within is a mishmash of ducks, chickens, goats and donkeys milling about under willows and other trees that are separated by bare earth. In one of the willow trees, spilling to surrounding shrubs was the 30-odd Inca Doves that two RGDs were reportedly hanging out with. Separating the two species is a lot harder than I’d thought it would be, but I’m pretty sure the target birds weren’t in the mix of doves that appeared to be hunkering down for the night. There were also hundreds of much larger Eurasian Collared Doves, recent invaders to the US that are spreading far and wide. So, back to Yuma for a good night’s sleep, but I thought it would be smart to swing around to a supermarket and grab a bag of birdseed. Couldn’t get any sense from Siri, but Googled ‘Safeway Supermarket’, and got a bite. I was driving, so probably could have been more careful with my choice for the Google Maps queue. Anyway, I didn’t realise the weigelisation til I was way the #$%^ (my Mum is on the mailing list guys, so please behave) out in the middle of nowhere. I was planning the next day or two in my head, but when when Kelly, the GPS girl said “you have arrived at your destination”, I was out in the middle of a citris farm, irrigated by Colorado River water, maybe 20 minutes on the wrong side of Yuma. Crikey.

The RGD had been reported on the 17th and the 19th, so I was pretty confident for my 20th morning attempt. Still, I got to the intensely fecal smelling animal farm an hour before sunrise so as to secretly blanket targeted areas over the fence with birdseed. Unfortunately, the place has a residence at the back, and the house dog barked at me immediately. Not wanting to blow the gig I abandoned the seed idea and got back in the car to drive off and kill an hour or two. Returning at 730ish, I was displeased to hear occasional 4:10 shotgun blasts coming from within the property – presumably picking off Collared Doves, which must be good eating, as I didn’t hear any lead shot whizzing past my head. Still, not a nice start to my hunt. Whether it was the gunfire or whatever, the Inca Doves were not on the job. I walked around the roadside front of the property and had a look around the nearby caravan park where a single RGD had been reported three or four days before having been seen at the dove ranch. Didn’t find the mother lode, but noticed thousands of Collared Doves flying fairly high overhead in a particular direction, with the occasional flock of up to 50 Incas as well. Then I saw a good sized flock of the tiny Incas drop steeply into the animal farm. Yeah baby, I’m in – so long as the cease-fire lasts. The Incas were spread around cluster of trees, shuffling gradually away, toward the dogs and guns. Once gone, I got brave and sauntered around the side of the property for a look. When I got to the access driveway I saw three things at the same time – a bunch of doves and chickens feeding in front of the house, a probable owner looking at me with palms up and ‘what’s up?’ look, and thirdly, his dog barking at me and heading my way. I spun on my heal, not wanting the fatal ‘piss off’ directive just yet, and headed back to the car. An hour later, when I figured the scene had cooled, I approached the front fence again, and was pleased to see a big mob of small doves mixing it up with chickens, and feeding from a spread bit of chook feed – in just about the same place I’d planned on throwing birdseed early on. Thankfully I’d pored over images of RGD vs Incas, as the differences are very slight. But in reality, the two target birds were fairly obvious, being slightly smaller, a little bit warmer coloured, and with spotting on scapulars and gw coverts that in photos look very obvious. No scaling on neck or elsewhere, so not a Common Ground Dove. Bingo! 20th mega on my 20th day.

So where now? Freezing cold Duluth, Minnesota, obviously. The Ivory Gull I missed last week in -33C arse-freezing conditions has made a return, after a near death experience when rescued from a gang of crows four or five days ago in someone’s backyard, and was seen yesterday avo, and this morning, and in both cases given a descent feed of fish stuff by local heros. It’s a big big hit in Duluth, with lots of media interest in the bird, and the seemingly endless stream of birders coming to see it.

So at 9AM, minutes after the RGD tick, I had bookings right though from Yuma to Duluth. Fine. Except that once we boarded the 11:25 first leg to Phoenix, the Captain announced that there was a problem and that we’d be dis-boarding. I couldn’t get any information – and in a potentially expensive decision decided to abandon ship book the next flight to Phoenix, and change my onward flights to Duluth. Man what a lot of drama. It’s a small town and a small-town airport, and the US Airlines guys couldn’t figure out how to bypass the system challenge that dictated I couldn’t board a flight while still in the air on another. Eventually it worked out, and I’m now in Phoenix airport putting a spin on the events of the last day for you lot. Can’t attach images of the dove, but I will, hopefully along with images of the bird I want most – the first year Ivory Gull

I’ll need to find time to recount the story of the scary hunters in room next door in my Arizona stay a couple of nights back. Had to request a room change as I’m convinced there was a murder in the making.