Pinal Mountains, Gila County, AZ

Monday, October 16, 2017
When the outdoor temperature at 5 a.m. is 77°F, it's difficult to plan for a cool day at the higher elevations of the nearby Pinal Mountains at Globe. Thus, at 57°, we were more than a little chilly and, driving with windows down to hear birds, the car heater was running! 

With an early start on Russell Road, we expected, correctly, that the day would warm up but the car thermostat stuck at 57° (AZ freezing temp?) until we were headed home again when it leaped into the 90s. (100° at my house at 4:30 p.m.)

A breezy day isn't a great help to birders because birds fly in and scoot down toward lower parts of the shrub instead of perching up. But we were very happy with the different variety of songbirds, jays and nuthatches that came our way. Mostly, we enjoyed a single Autumn Day in the midst of what still seems to be our "October Summer" in the desert.





Hinde Silver & Lois Lorenz at Sulphide del Rey Campground
Turning leaves a Pinal Mountain Peak
Most of the colorful leaves were at the Peak.  After turning south at Russell Road (paved) and following it to Route 651, a dirt road to the peak, we traveled approximately 20 miles but stopped numerous times to check out any birds we heard or saw.

Lightening started a big fire in the Pinals in early May. A decision was made to allow it to burn to benefit the environment by removing forest debris (leaves, needles, branches). Help from other fire fighters was used to help build a perimeter fire to make sure the natural one didn't leap toward civilization. Much of the perimeter work was done from Route 651 -- our birding route to the top -- which closed it off until just recently.


Part of the controlled burn area; photo taken from FR651 

Many of the birds we spotted were the little speedy ones, so I didn't even try to take pictures of them half way behind leaves or branches.  The only one I did manage was one of the hardest to photograph. It stopped and stared at me and I just moved slowly.


Ruby-crowned Kinglet 


Because it let me take a picture, I thought it might be a very similar looking little bird -- a Hutton's Vireo that moves a step or two slower than the kinglet. But I didn't notice a hook on the beak and the eye area appeared to indicate it was a Ruby-crowned.

As we enjoyed more color in the forest, we came upon a woman out hiking. A real outdoors person, she related how she had just kept a bear at bay at a spring over and down the hill.  Yikes!

No time left on our agenda for a hike to the spring; we were wrapping up and just allowing the autumn coolness to fill our pores for our return home.






It felt good to be back on the mountain.


* * *
To view our bird lists, check the links below:

View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S39967226





Page Springs Fish Hatchery and Bubbling Springs Preserve, Cornville, Yavapai County, Arizona


Monday, October 9, 2017
One place I always enjoy visting is the Page Springs Fish Hatchery and its Bubbling Ponds Preserve located in Cornville, near Cottonwood (south of Sedona), Arizona.

A long drive from the Phoenix Valley, I chose to join a local Audubon field trip with seven other birders (8 of us altogether). Accessed off of I-17 North from Phoenix, then 89A into Cornville, the Hatchery is located at 1600 North Page Springs Road in Cornville. 

Bubbling Ponds is a short drive farther north on the same road where multiple lined ponds provide a hatchery for raising native fish species. 



The cool breeze felt wonderful when we arrived. Walking slowly past the ponds, we noted the BLACK and SAY'S PHOEBEs, two medium-sized flycatchers feasting on insects. Among the MALLARDs and AMERICAN COOT in one pond, we spotted four (4) AMERICAN WIGEON.





Almost 9:30 a.m. when we started birding the Black Hawk Trail, we noticed how quiet it was in the forest. The cicadas were louder than bird chirps. Even the LESSER GOLDFINCH and PINE SISKIN were spotted before we heard them as they worked hard to devour the seeds on the remaining sunflowers in the meadow beyond the forest.




Large cottonwood and sycamore trees, still in full leaf and just beginning to change color, provided good hiding spots for our quiet song birds. Even the sparrows that flew past occasionally dived right down into the thick grass rather than perch up for us in the wind. Many butterflies and dragonflies flew around us so some birders took advantage and took many photographs of them.

The 1.8-mile Black Hawk Trail eventually led to Lower Oak Creek where the first bird I spotted was a BELTED KINGFISHER. Quietly, it zoomed up stream -a brilliant blue and white flash- and into some dense foliage - a somewhat unusual behavior since they usually perched in the open to fish. Before we left the trail along Oak Creek, I saw two more kingfishers and, later, heard one's rattle. 

It was the small OWL that got us going! Perched on a very low limb close to the water, the first thought I had was that "habitat is totally wrong". When I realized what it was (and Dan, too), he called, "Northern Pygmy". Everyone came running--this was going to be the best sighting of the day!  And, in a way, it was.  

Our OWL that someone had painted or created with objects on a small rounded piece of stump!!

On a slow birding day, someone's masterpiece had lifted our hearts!



After driving the short distance back to the main Fish Hatchery Complex and eating at picnic tables under the shade trees, we were visited by the resident COMMON BLACK HAWK.




Note how it is standing on just one leg. On this bottom photo, its other foot is showing beneath its feathers.
Taking a look up the hill, Hinde and I stopped in our tracks as a Bobcat looked over its shoulder at us. I stayed still instead of lifting my camera, but it quickly walked off into the brush anyway. Having taken only one other photo of one, I post it below.


Bobcat - taken in Sierra Vista, June 2013

We ended up with 26 species in almost three hours of wandering along the beautiful trails. 


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Butcher Jones Recreation area (Saguaro Lake), Maricopa County Arizona

Tuesday, October 3, 2017
With a dawn start to our birding Butcher Jones cove of Saguaro Lake, Kathleen was shivering and I was chilly at 62°F.  What a welcome change to the oppressive heat from June through September!

Barely light, we heard birds beginning to chirp and a GILA WOODPECKER came flying through announcing its presence. Many of us in this area of Arizona have them as backyard birds - especially hogging hummingbird feeders.

Able to find a reclusive stealthy bird so early was cause for celebration. (I’m quiet; my joy, internal.) The GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE was hungry. It pecked its way beyond the cover of its bush and showed its colors. Too dark for photos, I’m posting one I took a few years ago.

GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE
Walking the perimeter of the parking lot and beyond, we managed to spot two warblers: BLACK-THROATED GRAY and ORANGE-CROWNED.  

Another back-yard bird, CURVE-BILLED THRASHER was doing its usual early “wheet wheet” call. Later, it perched on top of a saguaro to give melody to our morning. 

PHAINOPEPLA, having returned from their summer homes north of the desert, were out in force. A handsome bird, the strange name derived from Greek means “shining robe”. While common where it is found, it’s not found everywhere in the desert. But anywhere there is lots of mistletoe in the trees, you’ll find them.

The PHAINOPEPLA, a flycatcher, is often found perched out in the open. Both male and female have a thin crest and non-birders often report seeing "black Cardinals". We counted a conservative number of 35 during our almost three hours there. The female wears softly muted gray feathers.

Male PHAINOPEPLA [fane-o-pep-la]
Female PHAINOPEPLA [note red eyes for both sexes]

Many of our sightings were located closer to the beach and marsh.

Out on the water, we spotted three (3) DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT and a couple hundred short, hefty white-billed black AMERICAN COOT(s).

A GREAT BLUE HERON stood partially hidden in the reeds, its eyes on the water.


A few sparrows flew into the base of the reeds at the mudflats. We had walked very slowly to a place about fifteen feet from there. A RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROW, with its striking dark throat stripe edging its white malar, ran up the hill when it spied us. CHIPPING and BREWER’S sparrows weren't as spooked.

BREWER'S SPARROW

BREWER'S SPARROW [note who is photo-bombing this pic]

More often heard than seen, two SORA considered us no threat as they methodically pursued invertebrates, seeds and/or insects in the mud. They are among the variety of "rail" that inhabit our marshes and is small and compact. Looking very much like a chicken, the beak and legs are yellow; the tail short and often cocked upward. The paler of the two appears to be a juvenile.




The black-faced SORA is an adult
In the midst of our SORA observations, a frenzy of activity out on the water caught our attention. Kathleen, immediately inquisitive, wanted to know what was going on. I couldn't see the threat but I suggested she look for a raptor. 

"Yes!" she reported. Just then, a very low-flying BALD EAGLE flew over.

BALD EAGLE
The American Coots that had covered the width of the cove, had run noisily across the water in their defensive strategy. By closing the gap between themselves as they foraged on the surface, the Coots converged into three very tight groups of "black" so that no one duck was an easy target. 

The first eagle was joined by two other mature eagles that continued to circle over the cove before heading out to the larger lake.





To top off our great day, a small band of wild horses came through the mesquite bosque of the picnic area to water's edge.




* * *

Click on the link below to view all the birds we saw.









Sierra Vista, Cochise County, Arizona and a spur of the moment stop in Pinal County AZ


Day #1 Saturday, September 23, 2017
We departed the East Valley of Phoenix early enough to get a decent start on the birding trails at the San Pedro House in Sierra Vista. (8:25 a.m.)

As Kathleen McCoy, Hinde Silver and I reached the San Pedro River trail, the local birding group caught up to us so we stayed with them for awhile. Adding so many more eyes to the field, trail, river and cottonwood trees had us swinging our binoculars first one way and then the other as someone would call out a sighting. “ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER in the short mesquite.”  “LAZULI BUNTING at river’s edge taking a bath.”  “BLUE GROSBEAK.” And, on and on it joyfully went.

Young LAZULI BUNTING at San Pedro River
Adult male LAZULI BUNTING  [from my files]

BLUE GROSBEAK
I was a bit disappointed that we had turned toward the bridge. My target bird was upstream (San Pedro flows North to South; Mexico mountains to Winkleman where it flows into the Gila River.) But I, too, follow the birds and they were all around us. Eventually, a man noted that time was elapsing and he wanted to see the LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH, also my target bird. A few of us split from the main group to follow this man upstream.

Just as I heard the bird’s first definitive “chip”, Richard one of the group leaders arrived and spotted our target bird but it flew off. He followed the bird upstream, as did we. I began to hear the “chip” repeatedly and finally Richard stopped with the bird showing beautifully on a downward bending peeled thick limb close to the water across the narrow river. At a distance of about 20 feet downstream from the bird, I still had my clearest view ever of a LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH! And, then! It was gone.

Again, I heard the chip so I stayed still. Soon, the bird popped out into clear view on a big fallen log on the opposite bank directly in front of three of us. So in awe of my sighting, I was too slow with the camera. 

LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH  [Internet Photo]
While Hinde, Kathleen and I headed further along the river trail toward Kingfisher Pond, the main bird-walk group went elsewhere. Soon, though, Judy from Tucson Audubon caught up and joined us. She had been with Hinde and me when the LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH showed itself directly across the San Pedro River from us!

Not a single duck paddled on Kingfisher Pond. But lots of other birds got our immediate attention. Two GRAY HAWKs calling to one another intrigued us. But then we got distracted with the whinny of a SORA (chicken-like marsh bird) and the sight of a male COMMON YELLOWTHROAT.  

SORA  [file photo]
COMMON YELLOWTHROAT  [file photo]
We had moved closer to the GRAY HAWKS so their calls seemed less conversational. “PEOPLE!  PEOPLE!  PEOPLE!”  A screaming quality had entered their whistling communication.

We searched the trees for them. Finally, I just laughed. I said, “I’m looking at a pair of yellow feet and legs but the rest of the hawk is behind a thick limb.” As they searched for the bird, it lifted off and flew over us. It was an adult with light gray short wide underwings and boldly banded black and white tail showing very clearly under the darkish cloud above us. 

The second hawk took off from its perch to follow the adult. It flew directly past us! I gasped; it looked like a Northern Goshawk face! But the body was not that bird. This was a juvenile GRAY HAWK with a tail as long as a Cooper’s Hawk with many thin bands across it. Its white rump is actually the first band on the top of that tail (as also on the adult where it appears to be part of the rest of its black and white barred tail). 

Adult GRAY HAWK  [my photo files]
Juvenile GRAY HAWK  [Internet Photo} showing its brown back, spotted chest & belly and white cheek
We enjoyed more birds in the trees around the pond: WILSON'S WARBLER, YELLOW-RUMPED (Audubon's) WARBLER, LINCOLN'S SPARROW and BROWN-CRESTED FLYCATCHER.

What a morning it had been! We wished Judy the best on her return to Tucson as we moved up the highway (Rt. 90) a bit toward town. At midday, we stopped at the EOP (Environmental Operation Project) where viewers stand on a platform to view the wastewater treatment plant ponds. Reeds were so high, no water was obvious. The only ducks that lifted and flew back and forth were MALLARDs. A GREAT EGRET did show itself and several kingbirds (both WESTERN and CASSIN'S) were flycatching over the grassy area below the deck. We ate our lunch there.

By 1:00 p.m., we had reached Mary Jo's Ash Canyon B&B where her side yard full of feeders was being inundated with so many varieties of hummingbirds, I didn't sit down for half an hour until I got a handle on the many species.

Mary Jo's side yard with hummers buzzing around all the feeders
Water feature in backyard of Ash Canyon B&B with lilies blooming
ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRD (male)

When we weren't watching hummingbirds, we could observe the birds scratching on the ground or at suet or seed feeders.
CANYON TOWHEE (above and below)

INCA DOVE
BEWICK'S WREN
But, still the hummingbirds flocked to the feeders.

Obviously, I was seated poorly to get a clear photo of the RIVOLI HUMMINGBIRD (formerly MAGNIFICENT) but did catch a female RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD in the process. Note the significant difference in size!

Always looking for the greatest rarity at any birding spot, we did see the continuing rare southern species, LUCIFER HUMMINGBIRD, but I got no photos.

RIVOLI'S HUMMINGBIRD showing its magnificent colors 
After two hours there, we moved on to Ramsey Canyon. Birds were unbelievably quiet. During the hour it took us to walk up the canyon, around Bledsoe Loop and back, we managed to collect all of five (5) species. 

L-R: Kathleen and Hinde at the old chimney
Most exciting were the thirty-one (31) WILD TURKEYs. 

WILD TURKEY (above and below)
Coues' White-tailed Deer (buck)
The Coues' White-tailed Deer and a White-nosed Coatimundi were the other highlights so we didn't leave disappointed.

We pulled into Brown Canyon Ranch on our way out from Ramsey Canyon where we picked up a few more interesting birds before heading out for a bite to eat.

Day 2 Sunday, September 24, 2017
The first stop on my agenda for today was a canyon I love but hadn't visited for over two years. It's on Fort Huachuca. Security was tightened at the Army Base then and we could no longer just show our Arizona driver's license to enter. The Base relocated its entryway and required all visitors to stop and fill out a form to gain entrance. Although other birders assured me it was no big deal, I had procrastinated until now. Today, we would go on the base and up Huachuca Canyon.

The Visitor's Entrance Center was small but efficient and we were the only ones present at 8:00 a.m. this Sunday morning. After filling out a form, the guard took our photo and then, surprisingly, gave us a pass for one year's entrance. Yay!

With only the entrance road changed, it was easy to find my way through the Army Base to the canyon road. But what a road! Once again, my Honda Insight became the jeep of the day as it found a line between rocks to make it all the way to the "parking lot".

Having never birded Huachuca Canyon in September, I was surprised to find so few birds. I'll assume the recent post in eBird was done by ear since the number of physical birds in our presence seemed slim.

After 0.8 miles up the Canyon, we decided to work our way back (1.6 miles total) and discovered we had seen some very good birds - just not gobs of any one species.  Except for WILD TURKEYS @14.

ACORN WOODPECKERs, NORTHERN RED-SHAFTED FLICKERs and MEXICAN JAYs were fairly common back and forth over the trail. But we spotted only One (1) BAND-TAILED PIGEON (a forest pigeon).

Butterflies and dragonflies were everywhere. Many times we lifted our binoculars to the movement of these insects thinking they were birds!

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (that's the name I located on the internet)
Unsure.  Perhaps a Sootywing?  Help appreciated.
I heard tanagers several times and we came up with a single SUMMER TANAGER (male) and two WESTERN TANAGER (male and female).

Kathleen had never seen a PAINTED REDSTART and was thrilled with seeing that colorful bird.
PAINTED REDSTART  [file photo]
We saw several warblers and a small flock of bushtits, but our best sighting for me was the INDIGO BUNTING.

INDIGO BUNTING
[file photo provided by Mark Moore when I visited my sister in Western Pennsylvania a few years ago.]
With the rough road (heavy rains and washouts), the drive back down to civilization (the Army Base) took almost as long as going up. When we were far up on the trail, a man with his daughter asked if we (all women) were the ones that came up in that little car.  Yes!
He just smiled and shook his head.

Since Huachuca Canyon was my only plan for the day, I improvised for a stop on the way back home. I wanted to check out El Rio Open Space in north Tucson to see if it would be worth a stop when I next visit some birding spots in Tucson. We spent twenty (20) minutes there but with no water at all in the depression that holds overflow from the Santa Cruz River, no waterfowl were present.

So, we continued west on I-10 toward Phoenix. As we neared Red Rock exit, I explained that on my last several runs to Santa Cruz Flats, I hadn't visited the Feed Lots. They may stink but birds are plentiful. With two fairly new birders in the car, I thought I might be able to share one of my favorites with them. Lark Buntings are often in the grasses across the narrow paved road from the feedlots. But the desert was bare; no grass at all; and no Lark Buntings.

So we contented ourselves with birding out the car window with binoculars trained on the mesquite trees in front of the feedlot fence. If I shook just one tree, at least 10 MORNING DOVES, 35 RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS, a half dozen GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE and 10 BROWN-HEADED COWBIRDS would fall out. Within that dense gathering of birds were some small birds, so I focused on them. What I saw took my breath! I was looking at a female DICKCISSEL. I recalled that other birders were seeing them migrating through so I didn't discount my sighting but looked at all the details -- that added up to exactly what I had called. Unfortunately, my camera was in the trunk for the ride home. But, I had no question about that bird and I was thrilled!

You can check out all our bird lists by clicking on the links below.
75 species from 8 locations.

We were surprised at the mild temperatures upon our return to Tempe and home (85°F).

Our adventurous weekend had been superb!

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View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S39381567






View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S39382742





View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S39383617


View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S39383763



View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S39384027