Lost Dutchman State Park, Apache Junction, AZ [Two Visits]

February 11, 2015  (Visit #1)
This will be a short blog about the Bird Walk I led this morning at Lost Dutchman State Park. The January and February walks attract the most participants and today was no exception.  Because I had 30+ people show up last month, I had invited my birding friend, Susan, to assist me today.  It had been impossible for me, as leader, to communicate well with that many people strung out along a single-file trail through the Superstition Mountain foothills.  

So, with Susan along today, the 35 birders and photographers who showed up were able to see and hear some good desert birds, even if they were in the last half of the line of participants.  We got started just as the sun was rising behind the Superstitions even though it was 9:00 a.m.

West Face of Superstition Mountains, Apache Junction, AZ
The Bird Walk is designed for people who simply want to know our Sonoran Desert birds.  Participants generally come from Iowa, Montana, Colorado, Minnesota and other cold-weather states and have at least a casual interest in birds.  

To have adults get excited about seeing a Verdin, one of the smallest song birds, is a thrill for me as leader.


 Although it was quite windy today, we managed to see 19 species in an hour and a half.  The songbirds tend to stay low in the wind instead of sitting up and singing.  When small birds popped up as we walked past, they were soon out of sight and down into dense bushes.

Always a favorite with our "Snow Bird" visitors, is the Phainopepla.  Learning to say its name is their most frequent question.  (fane-o-pep-la)   This sleek, long-tailed, red-eyed, glossy flycatcher whose Greek name means "silky robe" is well named.  

The male, as in photo above, appears totally dark but in flight, its broad white wing patch is distinctive -- a great help to the beginners in identifying it.

One of the best sightings we all enjoyed during the morning walk, I didn't catch on camera.  A Harris's Hawk, in flight, was being harassed out of the area by a Sharp-shinned Hawk.  The Harris's Hawks reside in the park area; the photo below shows what one looks like, perched.  A Sharp-shinned Hawk is about half the size of the Harris's.

I always like to wrap up the walk by distributing Lost Dutchman State Park Bird Checklists to each participant and having them check off the birds we saw. They were surprised at how many birds (new birds for them) they actually saw out in the desert.

A big thank you to Susan who volunteered to help me out even though she lives an hour's drive from the park.  

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February 12, 2015   (Visit #2)
I had planned to do a little target birding when I finished up some morning appointments, but the breeze continued, potentially making a warbler in a cottonwood tree hard to find.  So, I returned to Lost Dutchman State Park where most plants are close to the ground, the Palo Verde trees have long needles and the mesquite have not yet leafed out.  

My purpose for hiking this steep trail (that leads up to Flat Iron) was to bring my body into shape for some mountain climbing this spring when I go in search of a rare Life Bird in Big Bend National Park.  A bad back had kept me off Siphon Draw for a long while, but I've been out and about with no problems, so it was time.

The breeze helped to cool me as I hiked and birds were singing from various perches.  Thanks to the presence of a Sage Thrasher, I learned its song.  I knew its voice was neither the Curve-billed nor the Bendire's and I had recently heard the Crissal Thrasher and it didn't sound like that one, either.  It was perched on top of a jojoba bush and I managed an identification photo of it from the hiking trail.

Sage Thrasher
My favorite thrasher is the Bendire's and as I was descending toward the the end of the trail, I heard it singing.  But could I find it?  No!  It was singing non-stop so the bird on top of the saguaro that I was viewing could not be it; it wasn't singing.  (It was a Cactus Wren.)  On and on went the song -- hidden in plain sight.  I found it on the back side of a palo verde tree, not visible to me on the trail, but by going down the wash a short distance I was able to get its picture.  It continued to sing on and on until I simply couldn't hear it anymore as I approached the parking lot.

Bendire's Thrasher

All sparrows are not "little brown birds".  Take a good look at this gem of a sparrow; it's one of my favorites -- Black-throated Sparrow of our arid southwest desert scrub land.

Black-throated Sparrow in a Palo Verde tree
The hike went well at a bird-watching pace.  The trail is moderately difficult with small rocks and loose pebbles and uneven footing.  I climbed about 1,000 feet ending at about 2600 feet. 
We're far enough from Phoenix that the trails seldom get jammed with people. Today, there were some families, lots of couples (old and young), and an occasional runner going up or coming down the steep trail.

Another good day out in the field!

View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S21787752

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