Tuesday, May 7, 2019

And Another Surprise: A Lazuli Bunting, one of the Prettiest of Birds

It has been an extraordinary week. We are halfway through the spring season, and I've seen plenty of my favorite tropical spring migrants, especially the Hooded Oriole, the Bullock's Oriole, the Rufous Hummingbird, the Yellow-headed Blackbird, and the Western Tanager.  But as of a week ago I had not yet observed my "holy grails" of the spring: the Blue Grosbeak, the Black-headed Grosbeak, and the Lazuli Bunting (Passerini amoena). As of today, I have!

The story of the Black-headed Grosbeak is coming in a future post, and the Blue Grosbeak was the subject of yesterday's post, but it's today that surprised the heck out of me. I was changing up my walking location by exploring the Ceres River Bluffs Regional Park. The park is primarily a soccer field complex, located on the high terrace above the Tuolumne River. But tucked away at the northern end of the park, down on the old floodplain, is an abandoned walnut grove and a drainage pond that may have once been a quarry. The floodplain is reverting to its original riparian environment, and native birds have been returning to the floodplain. One birder has reported Lazuli Buntings at the park once or twice a year since 2009, but few others have seen any there. But...the sole report for this year was on May 5. If I had any chance at all of seeing one, the day after a previous sighting seems a reasonable bet.
I saw a pair of Lazuli Buntings during the summer of 2018 on the Tuolumne Parkway Trail, but only at an extreme distance, and my pictures served only to identify the birds and nothing more. This afternoon I was walking on the north shore of the pond and I saw a flash of blue. I zoomed in and much to my delight, it was a male Lazuli Bunting, and it was only 30-40 yards away. I started snapping pictures, and after a moment I realized there were two birds, one a lot more drab in color. It was a female!

It may be a function of the rarity of sightings, and I realize that beauty is a highly subjective thing in any case, but this is one pretty bird. It's no surprise that Sibley selected it as the cover bird for his authoritative guide to birds of the American West.

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