North American Migratory Bird Count (NAMC) 2015

Saturday, May 9, 2015
As I have done for the past three years, I volunteered to coordinate the NAMC count at Lost Dutchman State Park. Years ago, I participated in these annual counts when they were called “Spring Bird Counts”. With the advent of Cornell’s eBird database for cataloguing citizen sightings of birds all year round, the NAMC data is now available to eBird, often by the end of the day of the count. This year, Cornell expanded its reach to include a Global census on this date.  And, NO, we didn't count from the air!

With six (6) participants, I was able, this year for the first time, to divide us into two parties to cover the State Park from its Superstition Mountain foothills, west to eastern boundaries, and on up into Tonto National Forest to about 2500’ at Green Boulder.  Erica, a new staff member at the State Park who had the day off, volunteered to help us out by covering the campground area plus other west-side portions of the park. Kit and John birded with her.  Diana, a long-time Ranger at Lost Dutchman, joined Marsha and me for the uphill climb to see if we could log in a Canyon and Rock Wren this year. All of us counted species and bird numbers for six (6) hours.  As of this morning (Sunday, May 10th), Arizona had posted the third highest count in the USA for yesterday’s census.

The weather was a hugely favorable factor for our desert count. Temperature at 6 a.m. was 48° (downright chilly) and only 75° when we finished up at noontime. So much better than the wilting temperatures of previous years!

So, how did we do?  Our total tally came to 42 species of birds (8 more than last year and 2 more than in 2013). With barely any wind early in the morning, many birds were out and about.  Within those 42 species, the six of us counted 666 birds!  Species with 50 or more count included: 
Gambel’s Quail 78
Mourning Dove 51
Curve-billed Thrasher 51
Violet-green Swallow 50

With our eyes attuned to ground-scratching and running birds to birds perched atop flowering saguaros and birds soaring or diving above the Superstition Mountains, we did well, bird-wise.  And, got several surprises to have the air space filled with “unusual” activity.

Marsha, searching for White-throated Swifts above the mountaintop, came upon five people standing on a flat section of the mountain quite east of Flatiron, its most notable flat space. I knew the mountain was accessible from various trails, so we noted their presence and went about our upward climb. 

Next thing we noted was those people in the air!  They had jumped from the mountain top and were sailing down. 

Base Jumpers

The Jumpers were not exactly an e-bird-data entry, but they were an exhilarating diversion from our very focused birding. I'm an Earth-based person myself, but the moxie it takes to jump from a mountain is remarkable.

Scanning the mountain again, I found two Harris’s Hawks circling at the east end of the rock face of the Superstitions.  

It wasn’t until we reached Green Boulder (2500’) that we began to spot the birds we went up to see.  The Canyon Wren was not vocal but we spotted one perched on a rock.  The Rock Wrens were also scarce as we hiked up to the high point, but from there on were more vocal and visible with a total count of 8, including at least one young still taking food from an adult.

Young Rock Wren
Canyon Towhees were also out and about in that higher elevation.

As we walked down the Prospector's View Trail, Ranger Diana pointed out the blossoms on some of the cactus.

Chain-fruit Cholla blossoms
And, while we were higher than some of the saguaros below us, I was able to get a photo of some of its blossoms that bloom only on the tops of its arms and main stem.
Saguaro blossoms (State flower)

Around 10:30, we re-grouped and birded the lower elevation together.

Again our airspace gave us a thrill (except for the noise) with the flyover over of a World War II B-17 Flying Fortress. Giving away my age, those planes flew over my house in PA when I was a youngster and I prided myself then in knowing the names of all the different bombers. Kit and John knew this one (long gone from my memory) and identified it for us. It was flying out of nearby Falcon Field in Mesa.

Together, we managed to pick up a few new species in the wash below Cholla Day Use area as well as over at the staff residence where feeders are located. Photos of birds are scarce: I was focused on counting.

Gambel's Quail and Mourning Dove at seed on the ground
An enthusiastic birding group is always fun and so it was today.

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