Sunflower and North Sycamore Creek, Highway 87, Maricopa County, AZ

February 6, 2015
After Tommy DeBardeleben reported at least 60 Evening Grosbeaks at Sunflower two days ago, I was itching to do some birding up at that higher elevation of about 3500'.  There may be a town of Sunflower but I know only of the Old Beeline Highway I used to drive to get to Payson.  It was a 2-lane curvy road up the mountains for weekend get-aways.  But traffic got so thick and slow that a new highway- Highway 87- replaced it and is now a four-lane road to the high country.  A full section of the Old Beeline Highway is open for residents and ranchers who still live along it but after 1.5 miles, it is blocked off to through traffic. So, I parked car at a wide pull out near Sycamore Creek to walk the old road.  That area is full of Arizona Sycamores in front of the private property.  In winter, with no leaves, birding is phenomenal.  Friends, Maureen and Jan joined me this morning (their first birding visit to the place).  We were no sooner out of the car at 7:40 a.m., than Maureen called, birds overhead. Since I wanted to see the rare Evening Grosbeak here and Tommy had seen big flocks of them, I called out in question, "Are they the Grosbeaks?" 

Old Beeline Highway
Jan called out to look at  a raptor -- a Red-tailed Hawk -- in one of many Arizona sycamore trees decorated with its little brown seed balls.  

Red-tailed Hawk
After the flock in the sky disappeared, I realized the very high-pitched voice among them was   probably that of the Cedar Waxwing.  I'm just learning how to ID birds by song so I didn't call them.  But when another flock circled over and landed, they certainly were one of my all-time favorite birds, the Cedar Waxwing.  Neither the light nor the branches were kind to my picture-taking today, so below I've imported a photo from the internet, Cornell's  site, "What Bird?" so you can get a good view of what we saw.  Look at that sleek swept-back crest, the yellow-tipped tail, the tiny touch of red on the wing, and that thin dark eye mask!  I counted 40 Cedar Waxwings, minimum; there were probably over 100.

Cedar Waxwing
After birding the beginning of the road, I walked back to get the car and drove forward to where Jan and Maureen were still birding.  We continued in the car, stopping for any birds, until we reached the gate blocking further vehicular access.  After parking, we hiked through on the path and onto the next portion of the Old Beeline Highway.  There were two more blockades of the road before reaching the Work Station with open and clean restrooms.  We enjoyed a bit of lunch on the picnic tables hoping for juncos or Juniper Titmice to show up but they were not obliging.  We still had not seen the Evening Grosbeak but had talked to another birder who had.
L-R:  Maureen and Jan

Surroundings as we returned from the Forest Service Work Station to the car.
 When we returned to the parking area, Jan (who had injured her back yesterday) had not gone all the way with us, but had turned back and was birding by the car.  She motioned for us to come quickly.  Yay! -That could mean only one thing!  She had seen the Evening Grosbeaks fly into some nearby trees a few minutes before we arrived and, together, we then watched about 8 of them flit about for another 15 minutes behind limbs and not still enough for decent photos.

Again, the photo above is from the internet in case you've never seen an Evening Grosbeak; the one below is the one I took.  a)  See if you can find the bird!  b)  See if you can find its humongous beak!

Since Jan and Maureen are full-time RVers and are visiting for awhile, I wanted to also show them North Sycamore Creek.  The entrance to it lies across Highway 87 from the entrance to Mount Ord where a cross-lane is available.  At North Sycamore Creek we saw a beautiful Northern Cardinal and heard Black-chinned Sparrows and one Juniper Titmouse.
The weather was gorgeous; Sycamore Creek was flowing; the birds were singing and somedays, it just seems nothing could be better than to be outside birding.  It was one of those days.  Thank you, Jan and Maureen!

Northern Cardinal

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