A week of birding in and around Arizona

Saturday, March 10, 2018
While solo birding adventures often work out very well for me, today was an exception. A bird that ranges from Guatemala in Central America to the Gila River in Arizona had been reported for many days at Madera Canyon, south of Tucson on I-19.
Male ELEGANT TROGON -- seen and photographed by me on 3/11/16 in Patagonia State Park
Yes, I had seen it several times since I started birding seriously, but who wouldn't make an effort to enjoy its company again, if possible.  So, this was my quest for the day.

Beginning at Proctor Road trail, I arrived in good time but clouds soon moved in. Walking slowly with another birder (Dave, from Tucson) we looked at all the tree limbs. The Elegant Trogon sits so quietly, it can be missed if you're not looking for it. Dave apparently had a new camera and could think of no better bird to practice on!  
When the Proctor paved trail began to loop around, we went directly forward on a dirt trail that led us to the Whitehouse Picnic Area where we continued to search trees, ravines and horizontal tree limbs for the trogon. 
With my car still at the Proctor Road trailhead, I left Dave at that point to return to drive farther up Madera Canyon Road to the other site the trogon had been sighted: Madera Picnic Area. Able to park there, I started searching again. . . ending up across Madera Creek from behind Santa Rita Lodge.  Thus, I found a way to cross the creek and return to the main road where I plopped down in a chair at the bird feeding station at the Lodge. Birds, in general, had been so quiet in the wooded areas that I was immediately rejuvenated by seeing and hearing good mountain birds...far different from ones normally found in the desert where I live.

Per the 6th edition of National Geographic's Field Guide for Birds of North America, this bird was the inspiration for Woody Woodpecker. The ACORN WOODPECKER is loud, social and has a face like no other bird I've yet seen. I rather like it.


Some of the best birds at the feeding area were on the ground: WILD TURKEY, DARK-EYED JUNCO, RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROW. There was also a LINCOLN'S SPARROW, photo below.

Driving a bit farther up the main road, I stopped to visit at Kubo Cabins B&B and found two delightful birds: BRIDLED TITMOUSE and YELLOW-EYED JUNCO.

Before leaving Madera Canyon, I hiked up to the bench on the Carrie Nation Trail where I sat and listened and watched for the trogon. It croaks in a manner that sounds to me like a dog barking!  Alas!  Not a peep!

With time to spare, I decided to check out Quail Creek Veterans Memorial Park. In ten minutes, I heard and saw more birds than I had during my morning trek on Proctor Trail.
The sky was so dark, I had left my camera in the car. So, of course, the first bird I saw was a VERMILION FLYCATCHER followed shortly by a dozen or more LARK SPARROWs. It erases our general opinion of "sparrow" with its highly contrasting facial pattern.  Photos below are from my files.

Then, I headed home knowing that sometimes you see the bird you want; sometimes you don't. No one else reported it the day I was there, so it appears to have been a "no-show".  As soon as the next day, pictures of the ELEGANT TROGON started popping up on Facebook by people who had come across it along the same route I had walked this morning.  Photo below is also one I took at Patagonia Lake State Park in 2016.

Birding locally has been revealing. For two months in a row during my Bird Walk at Lost Dutchman State Park we've seen SAGE THRASHER.

On Mark Ochs' Bird Walk at Boyce Thompson Arboretum yesterday (3/17/18), we had a wonderful day full of birds. FOX SPARROWs are infrequent visitors to Boyce Thompson Arboretum but I found this Slate-colored subspecies scratching around the leaf litter close to the hummingbird/butterfly garden.

I'm not sure who spotted the above INCA DOVE hidden in plain sight within the Demonstration Garden but I managed a photo.

More challenging was the CANYON WREN, singing its beautiful song -- also in plain sight!

Surprising us birders at the old Red-tailed Hawk nest was the bird that flew out from it: a RED-TAILED HAWK.  Following soon was another RED-TAILED HAWK!  It looks like the nest may be no longer inactive!  

One of my favorite sightings at Boyce Thompson was this ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRD perched on top of a boojum tree, a very unusual "tree".  (cacti and succulent family)

Today, Sunday, March 18th, Hinde Silver joined me for an exploration of Granite Reef Recreation area along the Salt River in Mesa, AZ.  With road construction and construction on the site itself, Granite Reef hasn't hit my radar for some time. Beginning at 7:00 a.m., birds were already quite active. I heard and then we saw a brilliantly-colored VERMILION FLYCATCHER. I think it was feeding a young sitting on a limb peeping and flapping its wings.

At the river, ducks were less abundant than usual, but we had no complaints.  CINNAMON TEAL, COMMON GOLDENEYE, and BUFFLEHEAD were busy foraging and preening when not just out there swimming.
Note the large spatulate bill of the pair of CINNAMON TEAL below; not as big as a NORTHERN SHOVELER's bill, but bigger than most duck bills. Photo below:

The COMMON GOLDENEYE -- male is on the right; female is preening on the left. Photo below:

   BUFFLEHEAD - Photo below:

Not all our best birds were in the river. Perched way far out in a bare snag tree across the river on Native Land was a BALD EAGLE. It was so far distant I could barely find it in my viewfinder but ended up with this photo below:

Because I finally managed to get a half-decent photo of a MARSH WREN, that was my bird of the day.

Hinde got a Life Bird with this CRISSAL THRASHER; photo below:

Hinde spotted our mammal of the day: a RIVER OTTER!  

As migration approaches, I'll have lots to blog about and little time to do it!!  I enjoy the process of summarizing or wrapping up my birding adventures, so you know it won't be long before you hear from me again.

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High Desert Birding, Maricopa County, AZ

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

SEVEN SPRINGS RECREATIONAL AREA, Cave Creek, Maricopa County, AZ [photo by Marsha Wiles]

With two birding friends, Marsha Wiles and Linda James, I arrived around 8:45 a.m., to start birding at this high desert location north of Cave Creek. With clear sky and calm winds, I was delighted -- much better than the mist/rain from last visit.

At Lower Camp Creek, we were fortunate to locate the LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH, a bit of a rarity in Arizona. Marsha spotted it first!  A Life Bird for Linda, it provided lots of good but brief profile views, thus giving us great ID markers to confirm our sighting. The Waterthrush never stopped moving; thus, no photos by us, but below is one from the internet.

LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH [stock photo from internet]
Other birds at the creek area included a SPOTTED TOWHEE doing its "towhee shuffle" in thick leaf matter.

After about an hour of birding at Lower Camp Creek and chatting with a few residents and their welcoming dogs, we continued driving up the rising S-curved dirt road to higher and higher elevations (approx. 3600').  

Birds continued to perch up, singing their hearts out!

Male NORTHERN CARDINAL   photo by Marsha Wiles]
When we birded Humboldt Mountain Road (Forest Road 562), we turned around at 4,000' instead of continuing up to the peak due to lack of any more bird activity. What I perceived to be an observatory at the summit of Humboldt Mountain is an FAA radar station. Other towers also rise from the peak.

With shrubby grasslands on either side of that road, we had come upon various sparrows and flocks of WESTERN BLUEBIRD at the lower levels. With light winds picking up a bit along that road, absolutely zero birds perched up for us but immediately dived into the thick of a bush after lifting from the ground.

However, at the Group Campsite, AMERICAN ROBINs did perch up.

Three AMERICAN ROBIN in same tree
Close up of the two robins on the left side of top photo
RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER  [Photo by Marsha Wiles]
Can you ID these two birds?  [AMERICAN ROBIN (top); WOODHOUSE'S SCRUB JAY (bottom left)

Saw lots of Northern Cardinals all day, including several at the group camp site/picnic area.

Male NORTHERN CARDINAL   [Photo by Linda James]

Foraging on the bare ground in the picnic area were DARK-EYED JUNCOs.  

OREGON DARK-EYED JUNCO - two top photos

We also explored the road behind the old campground that got destroyed in a flood several years ago. 

Linda James (L); Marsha Wiles (R)

While I thought our "Bird of the Day" would be the highly active LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH spotted early in the day, we saw an unexpected and probable migrating BLACK HAWK in the vicinity of the pond along Seven Springs Road. Spotted by Linda, all three of us got an excellent view of the perched bird on an open tree. But, of course, when we lifted our cameras, it also lifted -- thus revealing its broad white band at the base of its tail in addition to the white tail tip we could see while it was perched.  None of us took a photo of it in the air.
Exciting to see that bird at this location!

COMMON BLACK HAWK [from my files]
Another enjoyable day with friends in the wilderness!

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View this checklist online at https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S43465530

View this checklist online at https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S43465769

View this checklist online at https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S43466319

Gila County, home to the Pinal Mountains, Arizona

Monday, March 5, 2018
Arriving at the Russell Gulch (hot spot) at 8 a.m., Hinde Silver, Glenda Jones and I took time from birding some desert areas to check out the Gila County Landfill just off Russell Road. It's a good place to check for CHIHUAHUAN RAVEN, a US and Mexican resident, that is scarce in the Phoenix area.

As a beginning birder, I laughed when I heard that the species differs from the COMMON RAVEN by the bristles on its bill. Really?  Well, yes!  Really!  But the fact that it is more crow-sized (20") than the COMMON RAVEN (24") definitely helps when they can be located together at the same site, like a landfill. Its purple sheen also helps sort them from a crowd but the ID determination is actually made by the length of the bristles relative to the length of the bill. Chances are, you either already know that or don't care. But we actually had fun sorting the CHIHUAHUANs from the COMMON RAVENs.

Another help in knowing which is which occurs when the bird is preening and turning its neck or if the wind blows the feathers away from the neck. If white feathers show up, it's a CHIHUAHUAN. In flight, the Chihuahuan tail appears spatulate and squared off while the Common's tail is wedge-shaped.

CHIHUAHUAN RAVEN has shorter bill than COMMON with its nasal bristles extending out along the bill farther than on the COMMON RAVEN.

It wasn't necessary to enter the landfill; things have changed since last year. The Ravens congregated on the NW side not far from a pull off from the entry road where we had ready access to enough of them to find some CHIHUAHUAN RAVENs. Mission accomplished. To me, it seems to be a "Mexican" bird because it is more rare here than in southeastern Arizona.

Driving up the mountain on Russell Road produced a variety of song birds, quail, and raptors.

Songs rose from the gulch and occasionally I got a picture of the songster.



Once we reached 7,000' elevation and above, snow was not just found in patches across the mountain but was still frozen on the dirt road. Glenda, driving her SUV, handled the roads, some that were melting into mud, with a sure hand.

Birding around the top area provided us with some old familiar sounds. Snow crunching under our hiking boots...Abert's squirrels running over stiff dead leaves still in the snow...and a quiet that comes when the sounds stop.

Such varied habitat is so close to home!

'Til next time.

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A Day Trip to Pima and Pinal County Birding Hotspots, Arizona

Friday, March 2, 2018
A two-hour drive from home, we could have arrived 45 minutes earlier than we did at Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson, AZ. But I convinced Glenda Jones, with me, that a quick stop at Red Rock Feed Lots off of I-10 might produce some good birds, mainly the elusive (to me) Ruddy Ground-Dove. (nada)

Overhead, we immediately spotted two BLACK VULTUREs. Differing significantly from our much more common Turkey Vulture, the Black is shorter, squatter with short tail, and its short broad black wings tipped with white seem a bit flashier than the Turkey Vulture’s bi-colored under wing of black/gray-white. Not usually seen from ground to air, is the red head of the Turkey Vulture or the dark gray head of the BLACK VULTURE.

BLACK VULTURE (from my files)
 [photo by Glenda Jones Tubac Hawk Watch 2017]

We gave some effort to finding our target bird, by searching for all the calling Inca Doves but came up empty. Happy, however, with spotting other birds less likely to be found in our desert habitat: LARK BUNTING (6); LARK SPARROW (12); BREWER'S BLACKBIRD (150), we hung around the strong aroma of the cattle feedlots longer than anticipated.

Timing is everything! A 9 a.m. arrival at Sweetwater is "late" to me, but what we came upon at the edge of the parking lot was a Lifer Experience.

A male GREATER ROADRUNNER was cooing and waving its lifted tail back and forth like a windshield wiper to attract the female within a dense bush beside us. She cooed a response, so the male moved forward.

Male ROADRUNNER displaying to attract female in nearby dense shrub 
Upon hearing the female "coo" in response, the male was emboldened to move closer.

At the edge of the shrub hiding the female, the male bent its neck and began cooing again.

Male, cooing

Getting another response, the male walked up to "the door", so to speak to announce his arrival.

Soon, the female appeared, bent and cooed (note action in throat) in front of the male.


The female really got into her cooing behavior by bending her neck way down to, I assume, continue indicating her interest.
Female GREATER ROADRUNNER - cooing position
After responding to the male in this way, she returned to the cover of the shrub...perhaps because of our presence.

By now, the male is fully ready and does one more display. By lifting his wings away from its back, the gray down beneath is usually warmed by the sun to keep the bird warm in winter. Today, he preened the fluffy down into a bird-spike to present himself to the female.

Male with fluffy down spiked up while displaying to female
The female must have been impressed; the male was invited in and the two of them disappeared into the shrub.

With a start like that, you might guess that Sweetwater Wetlands produced additional delightful sightings.

Pair of CINNAMON TEAL above

SNOWY EGRET with mating plumes coming in

After observing 43 species, we opted for a return north on I-10 via an eastern piece of Santa Cruz Flats to finish off the afternoon.

With a second stop by Red Rock Feedlot, we were treated to a fly over (very high) of a CRESTED CARACARA, a bird in the falcon family seen more readily south of the border.
But it's been a regular visitor to Santa Cruz Flats in recent years and I think everyone holds out hope for seeing one or more while birding there.

From the feedlots, we entered the Flats via Baumgartner/Wheeler.

RED-TAILED HAWKS were abundant on perches and flying in the air

A calling CRISSAL THRASHER caught my attention. Both Glenda and I moved closer for a hopeful photograph of this normally secretive bird.  My not-so-good one is below:

Long-tailed, plain grayish bird with strong thin decurved beak
Our final stop in the Flats was at the Picacho Highway/Green Reservoir Road to see what birds might be active there. Fortunately, woodpeckers were everywhere (GILA and NORTHERN FLICKER for the most part) so I was able to focus on finding the rare LEWIS'S WOODPECKER in the row of pecan trees. Yay!  Found it!

The LEWIS'S was uncooperative for its photograph. It flew from one tree to the next to the next to the next....all the way down the row as far and as long as we followed. Finally, after three (3) very good views of this colorful bird, we called it a day.  Photo below from my files.


A WESTERN MEADOWLARK close to my car was a much better subject for picture-taking:

Three above photos:  WESTERN MEADOWLARK
A very good day of birding!

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