Sunflower, Maricopa County, Arizona

March 31, 2015
Leaving the house before dawn, the outdoor temperature was already 65 degrees. So, I was headed for cool country, about 2000' higher. Saguaros thinned on the hills, the higher uphill I  drove. Then there were junipers and pines and lots of scrub land.

At Milepost 222 on the present Highway 87, there is a left turn lane to cut across over the west-bound lanes to pick up the "Old Highway 87"--a stretch that runs along Sycamore Creek, ranches and a few new houses tucked back from the remnant highway. I parked at a pull-off at the first big curve in the road where Cliff Swallows were swarming out from under  the Route 87 bridge, catching their insect breakfast on the fly. A glance at the temperature: 45 degrees! Brrrr. I pulled a windbreaker from the back of the car to slip on over my short sleeves! I was also wearing my birding vest and a CamelBak for water. 

Lucy's Warblers were the first songbirds up singing, followed shortly by Yellow-rumped Warblers. A few Violet-green Swallows arrived; European Starlings perched in the tall Arizona sycamores to catch some warmth from the rising sun; woodpeckers began searching for grubs; Bewick's Wrens began sounding off; and bird activity picked up. After 30 minutes of easy walking up the old highway from the car, my cold fingers could no longer get the 4-letter abbreviations down in my field notebook; they just wouldn't work!

Retracing my steps only slightly faster than the slow speed at which I was birding, I reached the car about an hour after my arrival. I checked the pasture to the northwest. I heard a sound I knew: Kingbirds - Cassin's, actually. With my binoculars, I was able to watch two of them fly into some mesquite below some juniper bushes. Their squeaky chitter chatter, to my ear, makes them sound like they are really excited. They did a few little playful fly-off and return patterns during which I was able to confirm that they were not the lighter gray Western Kingbirds but had very yellow bellies, darker gray chest up to the very minimal white throat, and long dark tail with no white edges like the WEKI. First of Year (FOY) species for me!

Inside the car, I cranked the heat to 85 degrees and held my hands over the vents until they lost their numbness and moved with ease. Then I shed my jacket and continued driving very slowly up the road stopping whenever I heard or saw a new bird. Cedar Waxwings, in my book, are always worth stopping to view. Handsome birds!

Cedar Waxwings

Later, when I started walking toward the research station, I counted a flock of twenty Cedar Waxwings fly into one tree. 

While close-up views of Turkey Vultures are rather odd-looking, several of them had just landed to catch the morning sun.   

Two Turkey Vultures

A Red-shafted Northern Flicker kept busy at various sycamore trees.

Reaching the metal gate was the end of the line for the car, so I parked, followed the path around the gate and started walking farther up the old highway.  In the distance I saw a large black bird (not a Turkey Vulture) perched on a limb. I thought it was a Black Hawk, but then it vocalized with a sort of scream that's rather unforgettable. The scream was returned from the other side of the road (my left) but I couldn't find the Zone-tailed Hawk there. "Scream" may not be the ornithologically correct description, but that's what I hear.

Zone-tailed Hawks have banded tails, barely visible in these photos. They also have more white on their bills than Black Hawks

The Zone-tailed Hawk was quite far out from me so the photo is not real good. Nor is the one of the Black Hawk below, even though it was quite close to me. It's looking directly at the camera and is showing off its single wide white band in its tail with the end tail feathers looking like they've dipped into some white paint.
Black Hawk

There are two more barriers across the old highway, with paths around them for hikers, walkers (met some fit-bit young women) and birders! After reaching and checking out the birds at the work station, I turned back toward the car thinking I would have nothing more to add to my list. But it was on this return walk that I finally saw the Black Hawk and saw it in the sky but I need a little more practice on aerial photography!

Another birder walked towards me. Although we didn't know one another, we exchanged birding news. She had seen the Zone-tailed Hawks and the Black Hawk (which I had not yet seen) as well as a Hooded Oriole. I searched for it while continuing my return to the car but never found it.

Instead I was enjoying the scenery of Sycamore Creek, the juniper/pine forest and in the distance, Mt. Ord, another great birding spot along the main Highway 87.  

Saving the best for last, it is not everyday a birder gets to see this bird. And, maybe, a birder might overlook it because it's just another dove. But take a closer look. My first thought was Common Ground Dove and that's why I took photos. Then I realized it didn't have the scaled  breast and nape. Looking in Sibley for a correct identification, I came up with female (Western) Ruddy Ground Dove. Neither photo is very good but serve to identify the species. The final photo was the first one I shot that does show some of its underneath rufous color. 

Wrapping up at 10:30, I had experienced a 30-degree change in temperature; it was now 72 degrees F.  Birding Sunflower was a very fulfilling four-hour day in the field. 

* * *

A Few Days of Birding Locally

March 27, 28 & 29, 2015
With the thermometer reminding us that summer is quickly devouring spring, I decided to get up earlier to arrive at various birding spots at dawn or as soon thereafter as possible. Thus, I re-tried a visit to Gilbert Water Ranch arriving at 6:25 a.m. where I was rewarded with a sighting of my long-sought target bird -- Brown Thrasher. Spotted not down low and skulking under the shrubs and behind low limbs as I expected, but sitting up high on a bare mesquite branch facing a singing Northern Mockingbird, I couldn't believe my eyes.  Seeing the "clean" brown stripes on its underparts, its long rufous tail and back and with just the slightest down-curve to its bill, I had no doubt about this sighting. Still, I wanted a photo for documentation. Reaching for my camera did me in! The Brown Thrasher quickly flew down into its favorite jumbled habitat not to be seen by me again. I looked at my watch: 7:00 a.m.  

Not wanting to spend a lot of time at the place I had birded just yesterday, I did have two nifty sightings before I left: Rosy-faced Lovebirds and a female Hooded Merganser (on Pond 3). My next stop was Arizona State University Research Park in Chandler where the Nanday Parakeets visit from time to time. Today was not their time! There were no unexpected birds present there, so I drove through some nearby neighborhoods as well looking for the parakeets, but could not locate any. With these two stops completed, I was home before 10 a.m. with the heat of the day just rising.

On Saturday, the 28th, I headed to Phoenix's West Valley since there would be no commuter traffic clogging the highway. Having visited the Baseline & Meridian Wildlife Area several times with Audubon groups or friends, I knew my way around. When I see reports of birds on the listserv (an email hot-line) that I haven't yet seen this year, I often head for those locations to try my luck. Today, I was hoping to see a Ridgeway's Rail (formerly Clapper Rail that has been split into an Eastern (Clapper) and Western (Ridgway's). If I see it, I will be able to add the Ridgway's as a Life Bird, since my original sighting of Clapper Rail was in Virginia.

At 6:50 a.m., I began birding there under a clear sky in 75 deg. F.  Several cars were already parked, but I saw no one else that early. The location of the Wildlife Area is adjacent to the Phoenix International Racetrack (PIR)! When I walked out on the short spit to the southeast of the main trail, the birds in view were all backlit. I saw a large bird fly in and perch on a tree limb. It's distinctive rounded-shoulder shape was my "spirit bird" (the bird that got me started birding), the short-legged Green Heron. Despite not seeing its contrasting green and brown colors, I knew the bird. The sun was so directly into the camera though, that I couldn't see anything through the viewfinder!

Out on the water, I could easily see the white bills of the American Coots and the lone Pied-billed Grebe. Just then, I heard the kek kek kek of the Ridgway's Rail. I listened for a repeat, but it stopped. I wrote it down as a heard bird. 

Returning to the main dirt-road trail, the river water pools around some reeds and wetlands. There, I was surprised to see a lone White-faced Ibis which, in my photo, is totally backlit, so that it's mating-colored white border around its red-face does not show.

White-faced Ibis
Continuing my walk toward the bridge, where other birders had reported finding a Barn Owl, I tried to sort through the many swallows zipping this way and that overhead. I heard a few Northern Rough-winged Swallows but the majority were Cliff Swallows.

Cliff Swallows at their nests under the bridge 

Fishermen began to arrive to try their luck at the full flowing streams or ponds off the Gila River. I walked along the main flow hoping to see or hear a Belted Kingfisher but it didn't travel the river during my short foray along it.

The 1/2-mile-long bridge has many beams. From one end to the other I walked carefully, peering up at both sides of each cross beam. Lots of "whitewash" ran down the sides of the beams but I saw no owl. When I retraced my steps, though. I saw something in the distance, separated from me by water. The photo of it looks like an apparition with haze in the dark undergirding of the bridge.

The roar of engines revving and slowing as racers ran the track at the PIR filled the air. It was definitely time to leave. It seemed too early at 9:30 to head home, so I drove over to Tres Rios, another hot spot wetland in the same general area.

Spotting a Burrowing Owl along the way (at Broadway and 98th) definitely gave me a "feel good" sighting. When I reached Tres Rios, two men were there telling me I shouldn't enter over the horse opening in the fence. In the past, I usually arrived with friends and never noticed the NO TRESPASSING sign. (I had placed my parking permit on the dash.) A young man, Noah, and his Dad from California, were doing some birding while in the area for some spring training games (Oakland A's, of course). They told me I needed to enter by a path toward the Gila River, so I said I would after I used the porta-potty. When I returned, the two men were talking to a birder who was telling them the same thing I did: we may walk the dirt road.  The birder's name was Darrel Wilder! After the CA men walked off, Darrel and I talked a bit about what he had seen. I really had no intention of walking almost to the end to see IF I might spot an American Redstart; he thought he had heard one. He shared with me that it was his birthday! It was neat seeing him out celebrating the day birding as he turned a year older.

I caught up with Noah at the river trail. He told me he had spotted a Myrtle Warbler in the tamarisk cluster near the river trail (and provided the necessary ID markers), and mentioned that he wasn't totally familiar with desert birds, so I birded with him for quite some time. 

In the 45 minutes I birded there, I saw mostly what would be expected and I again heard a Ridgeway's Rail. I left Tres Rio for home at 8:15 at 68 deg. F.

Common Gallinule (formerly Moorhen)

Black Vulture

This morning, March 29th, I again set out early so that I was able to start birding at Granite Reef Recreation Areal along the Salt River at 6:45 a.m. Lucy's Warbler's were already singing! They're one of those "little gray jobs" -- a small, plain gray bird with a sharply-pointed bill.

Lucy's Warbler (above and below) in mesquite tree

Surprised at that hour to see a family arrive without fishing poles, I wasn't very happy about their presence interrupting my solitude! The man took photos of the young girl; the mother led them off to other spots for more photos along the western trail, my intended route. I decided to take the trail to the east. It was there that I spotted a female Lesser Goldfinch down in the reeds.

Lesser Goldfinch

Eventually, I walked the trail west of the picnic area, up the berm where I found a Lesser Yellowlegs in the small pool of water at the west side of the water retention area. Lots of Verdin were singing in the mesquite bosque.

Verdin: very small gray bird with yellow head and rufous shoulder patch
More people were starting to arrive at Granite Reef, so I departed for my next favorite spot along the Salt River, Coon Bluff Recreation Area. Oh, my!  Granite Reef was not THIS crowded! The place was loaded with Boy Scouts. One of the leaders noticed I was birding and told me about the owl in the mesquite tree above his tent who was WHOO WHOO WHOOING all night. When he mentioned its wide wing span, I suggested it was a Great Horned Owl. He wondered if it nested in the tree; I didn't know, nor did I look right then. He told me that 40 scouts had shown up for the clean up and overnight camp out. The bag of trash he was carrying including a sleeping bag, broken chair, etc.

Later, I was so busy taking a photo of a Greater Yellowlegs up river (to the east) that I hadn't noticed the Green-winged Teal on the shoreline. Photos popped up out of order below: bottom one was the first shot and when I noticed the GWTE in iPhoto, I zeroed in on it to include it.
Green-winged Teal
Greater Yellowlegs and Green-winged Teal
Greater Yellowlegs
Other sightings at Coon Bluff included this Black-chinned Hummingbird. It's not a "showy" photo but does provide the dark head and purple throat.  According to Sibley Birds, Second Edition, this is the Western counterpart to the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Black-chinned Hummingbird
To wrap up, I must say it is more common to see wild horses at the river than to see the three White-tailed deer I saw there this morning!

White-tailed Deer on north side of the Salt River, east trail from Coon Bluff picnic area

Getting out with the wild ones is always a treat for me and today was no exception. For today, I tallied 40 species; and overall for the past three days, 69 species.

View this checklist online at

Gilbert Water Ranch, Maricopa County, AZ

March 25, 2015
For two main reasons, I returned to one of the most prolific birding spots in the Phoenix area this morning. I wanted to give my new "replacement" [see yesterday's blog] Canon SX 50 HS a good work out to determine whether it would work properly.  And, while there, I held out hope that I might see at least one of three potential "year" birds there.

Although I collected 47 species in three hours without covering the whole place, I ended up taking photos that would convey a little bit of what the Riparian Area at Gilbert Water Ranch looks like. As usual, some of the best birds, like the Black & White Warbler eluded the camera but I got awesome looks at it. It's very strikingly handsome.  

Cactus Garden at East walking path

White-crowned Sparrow

Trail between Ponds 7 & 1; Gambel's Quail in distance

Two Curve-billed Thrashers

While the Black-chinned Hummingbird below was not my first sighting of it this year, it was the first time I had seen it at the Water Ranch.

Two Black-chinned Hummingbirds (same bird)

Palo Verde tree in bloom (ah-choo)

Blue-winged Teal (male) Pond 6 
I never tire of seeing the American Avocet below, especially in its breeding plumage shown here on two males.  The females, whose bills are more steeply curved upward than the males, were too far out on Pond 7 for photos.

So, I think I'll keep the replacement camera.  Of the three potential year birds I might have seen, I dipped on all three: White-throated Sparrow, female Ring-necked Pheasant seen by a photographer this morning at mostly dry Pond 5; and the rare Brown Thrasher still hanging out at the south end of Trails 3 & 4.  I spent 45 minutes at that location and did not find the skulking visitor from the east.

* * * 

White Bridge, Beasley Flat and Clear Creek Campground (Prescott and Coconino National Forests), Yavapai County, AZ

March 23, 2015
To explore a new birding area, I rolled out of bed quite early on Monday morning to join the Maricopa Audubon Society group of eight birders (maximum permitted) for a trip north of Phoenix to Camp Verde.
I met friend, Lois, at our usual shopping center parking lot meeting place at 4:45 a.m. so that we would be on time to depart in Car #1 from North Phoenix at 5:30 a.m. We met Car #2 at the McD's at Carefree Highway and were able to move on up I-17 from there at 6:15 as planned.
Kathe Anderson, Leader, and Duane drove the two cars. Other participants were: Sue, Maria, Barb, Lois, Cathy and myself.

Not by plan, but by a missed turn, we birded White Bridge first [N. 34 deg. 32.976'  W. 14 deg. 51.048']. We had passed over the Verde River and this was a great place to stop right after the bridge. Northern Rough-winged Swallows zipped around overhead - lots of them. My count is definitely conservative. With eight sets of eyes searching the ground, the sky and the trees, we counted twenty species there, including a Lincoln's Sparrow, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, a female and male Mallard up on shore where we walked, Bewick's Wren, Lucy's Warblers that have just recently arrived, two American Robins and an Anna's Hummingbird.

We re-traced our drive a very short distance to Salt Mine Road that would lead to our original destination at Beasley Flat. The word, "flat" (historical) is used interchangeably with the common usage of "flats" (colloquial). [N. 34 deg. 28.860' W. 111 deg. 48.297']  Elevation: 2962'

"From I-17 in Camp Verde, AZ: Go east on Hwy. 260. Turn right on Salt Mine Rd. (County Rd. 163; it’s the first right after Main St, shortly before the bridge over the Verde River). Follow paved road for approximately 9 ½ miles to where it ends at a “T.” Turn left (this is FR 334) and follow gravel road ½ mile to Beasley Flat."

Beasley Flats is just that: a flat expanse of desert scrub land. We birded along the road to the picnic ramada area along the Verde River below us. Aside from two Wood Ducks on the river, two Canada Geese and a Great Blue Heron flying overhead, waterfowl was scarce but sparrows were plentiful. I took photos of the caves in the cliffs across the Verde River from us.

Interpretive Sign about Cliff Dwellings across the Verde River from us

Not by plan, the photos I took of the prehistoric cliff dwellings do not appear here. Read on to discover how I managed to turn a well-planned birding exploration into a personal mishap.

For the group's next stop, we returned to I-17 and turned west to Clear Creek Day Use Area, to explore an area just beyond the campground.  Clear Creek irrigation ditch ran through this section surrounded by gigantic sycamore trees with gleaming white bark trunks and spreading limbs.  Cottonwoods also lined the ditch that was running full tilt with water so clean the well-worn river rocks beneath were shining clearly. I took a photo.

Our best finds at this location were the Zone-tailed Hawk and a Black Hawk, with Bridled Titmouse and a Green-tailed Towhee a close second for me. In the course of our birding, we hiked a single-file trail along the ditch with a few logs to step over and a little mud. I was walking in the middle of the group, when, SPLASH!, I was suddenly in the ditch! Startled I stood up, looked at my dripping wet binoculars and camera, then spied my field notebook floating downstream and called out for someone to catch it.  Scrambling out of the two feet of water to the other side was easy enough, but how did I end up in the water? Sue, who walked behind me, told me later that my right toe clipped an embedded rock and somehow, fortunately, I was propelled toward the ditch rather than forward toward a rock. Since I had gone in face first but only up to my chest, my gear was soaked as were my clothes. I must have caught my balance with my left side, as I have just a dime-sized bruise on my index finger and below the knee on my left side. The cold water actually felt good, but I was a bit shaken and walked along my side of the canal to a lock where Kathe helped me cross back to the group.  

Lois suggested I spread all my electronics (camera, iPhone, Nuvi Garman) on the back ledge on the inside of Kathe's car where the sun would dry it out - perhaps.  And, so the walk continued. When I lifted my "waterproof" binoculars to look at the titmouse, water ran down my cheeks in Clear Creek tears. It came from the eye cups, so I spun them out, drained them and kept on birding until we stopped and ate lunch, sitting on rocks around the parking lot. Duane's homemade cookies were a huge hit with all of us!

By the time I returned home, the field notebook had dried out sufficiently to allow me to enter data into eBird (with some help from another birder who recalled better than I what had been seen, post "swim").  

Also, by then I discovered that my phone worked (thus the photos above) and the Nuvi GPS seemed fine. But the camera was still full of water. The Canon SX50 HS had been purchased within a year from Best Buy and, today, I was able to replace it with the Protection Plan I had purchased. It was filed under "submerged" and approved for full replacement at its new and somewhat lower price. Even with a purchase of a new ScanDisc, I have a credit with Best Buy. The Canon Warranty was also in effect but would not have provided me such instant gratification!  

Many thanks to the birders who checked in with me later to see if I continued to feel well; I did. My right hip was a bit tight this morning but that can happen from sitting for long periods in the car, too. So, all is well and I'm so grateful that I somehow lurched toward the water instead of the rock in the path.  

To view my bird lists, check on each posting below.

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Mt. Lemmon, Santa Catalina Mountains, Coronado National Forest, Tucson, AZ

March 21, 2015
The pull of reports of a rare Mexican bird the past two days at Mt. Lemmon got me out of bed really early on this Saturday morning, the first full day of Spring.  What better way to celebrate the new season than by seeing the Slate-throated Redstart.
For me, the most direct driving route to Mt. Lemmon took me through Florence to Oracle Road before winding through Tucson to reach Catalina Highway that leads up the mountain.  After passing several of the lower recreation areas, I reached Gordon Hirabashi (Prison Camp) Recreation Area (approx. 4,000' elevation) where the bird had been seen on Thursday and Friday. The parking lot was already full at 7:15 a.m.  A birding group from Tucson Audubon Society (TAS) decided to try their luck there, too, before their scheduled walk and I was invited to join them. Having never visited this site before and although I had details from eBird to follow regarding the bird's location, I was grateful to join the group.

The large group was split into two of about ten each; I was in Ken's group.  He had seen the bird on Thursday and knew its call so I was comfortable searching with him. At first, we stood quietly still in the area near the parking lot and restrooms where the Slate-throated Redstart had spent much of yesterday afternoon. Ken had described the bird's call as being somewhat like a Chipping Sparrow but higher. That was a good clue for me because I hear the higher registers better than the low.  After about ten minutes in that spot, we began walking slowly and quietly up the dry rocky and sandy creek bed stopping to listen from time to time. I noted several birds along the way but was more intent on listening for our target species than tallying a comprehensive list.

We reached the dam and went well past it to a fork in the creek that prevented easy passage beyond.  We stood; we listened.

Eventually, we walked back to our starting spot on the high trail that the other TAS group had covered.  The two group leaders stayed in radio contact in order to search as much of the bird's known territory as possible. It was an intense effort so I kept my camera quiet, not even taking a photo of the Cooper's Hawk flying from one tree where it gathered sticks, to its nest-making tree nearby. Nor did I photograph the Anna's Hummingbird nest fairly close to us because the two young and ready-to-fledge babies were obstructed by leaves no matter where I stood or squatted.  As we were standing close to the parking area by this time, I also met Jay Taylor, another Phoenix area birder who had made the trek for the rarity.  He was arriving about the time I would leave. Two hours had elapsed with TAS and they decided to move on to its scheduled Bird Walk area while I chose to continue up Mount Lemmon.

When I reached my destination at Rose Canyon at about 7,000' elevation at 9:45 a.m., the gate blocked entry but cars were parked in a small lot beside the entrance road so I parked there. I noted that the clear sky we had at the lower elevation was changing to very black clouds but the mostly ponderosa pine forest would probably yield some good birds. Right off the bat, as I got out of the car, I heard and saw Olive Warblers!  That species is not an everyday bird for me as it's usually limited to higher elevations. A small group of four of them, at my eye level along the highway parking area, were foraging in the tree tops. They were moving quickly but I tried photos. I'm not sure if there were two males and two females, because of their movements but I sensed seeing the females more often and it's possible the male was alone with them. He always seemed to have his head buried into the thickness of the pine needle stem.

Female Olive Warbler
Also flitting about next to the parking area were a male and female Western Bluebird. I observed them for about ten minutes.
Western Bluebird
When I descended into the canyon, I was early enough to hear a lot of bird song, more than I could identify. Although I intended to walk all the way to the Lake, the dark clouds were overhead and bird calls had dwindled, so I turned back when I was very close to the lowest part of the paved road.  As I walked uphill, I heard a Hutton's Vireo, but not totally confident about "birding by ear", I pulled my iBird app and played it.  It was a match.  When I looked up, I saw two birders coming toward me. It took me a second to realize it was my friend, Tommy Debardeleben who was accompanied by Dominic Sherony. They had also showed up for the Slate-throated Redstart and spent two hours looking before coming up to Rose Canyon. It was great seeing them.

Not yet having seen a Yellow-eyed Junco this year, I was delighted to have them ignore me and my camera while they poked around the edges of the roadway.
Yellow-eyed Junco

Despite dipping on the target bird, a day in the coolness of the mountain was highly enjoyable especially considering the birds I did see and hear. It was a 275-mile round trip, mostly because I decided to return via I-10.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

March 18, 2015
My friend and house guest, Sharon, wanted one more visit to Boyce Thompson Arboretum before returning to Ontario the end of this week.
Under a totally overcast sky at 8:30 a.m., we noticed immediately that the Turkey Vultures had returned in full force. We counted 45 in the process of lifting off from trees and cliff sides.  Later, we noticed a kettle of many more (including the 45) high over the eastern part of the Arboretum.

The Bell's Vireo was making its presence known as we strolled down the slight hill to the Hummingbird Garden where we saw four Anna's Hummingbirds at one feeder, so I used that number on my list.  It's hard to get an exact number when they race to and fro individually; is it the same bird or a different one?  There was only one male present along with three females.

The Demonstration Garden revealed some good birds, including another Bell's Vireo, along with its colorful and fragrant blooms.

Sharon at Lady Banks Rose Trellis


A striking Broad-billed Hummingbird struck a pose for me, as did a Northern Cardinal as we continued strolling.

Broad-billed Hummingbird

Me, with Picket Post Mountain rising above the Arboretum cliffs

Northern Cardinal

In the picnic area, we saw additional Inca Doves to those spotted in the Demo Garden and, as always, the Abert's Towhees were scooting around beneath the picnic tables and scratching at the edges of large shrubs.

Before wrapping up, I noticed a flower that I had seen only once before and that was in Death Valley, CA.  And, here it was again at Boyce Thompson Arboretum - Desert Five Spot.

Despite a gray sky, our two-hour walk was filled with plenty of birds and blossoms!