Coon Bluff Rec Area along Lower Salt River, Mesa, Maricopa County, AZ

Monday, November 30th:
Today's birding followed some chilly birding over the weekend. First, a weekend update: 
Although I birded two places on Saturday, 11/28/15, I took only a few photos.  Lois and I joined Kathe Anderson (and her husband) for a bird walk she was leading in a place I rarely visit: the McDowell-Sonoran Preserve. It was 32° when we gathered at 7:30 and it didn’t seem a whole lot warmer when we finished a part of the Granite Mountain Trail at 10:00! In high desert, we were lucky to get 12 species since the sparrows weren’t yet out in the sunshine.

Moon setting over Granite Mountain, McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Scottsdale, AZ

After six of us enjoyed a nice breakfast at the General Store Cafe at Pinnacle Peak & Pima, Lois and I continued on to Scottsdale Ranch Park to see if we could locate the Red-breasted Sapsucker reported by Diana BlueHerron on Thursday.  Although we came upon other birders (including friends Lindsay, Keith and Dick), none of us came up with the uncommon sapsucker. Even though we "dipped" on the Red-breasted Sapsucker, we enjoyed other birds at this location that none of us had previously birded.



American Kestrel

Say's Phoebe

On Sunday, 11/29/15, Lois joined me for a search of the Riggs-Price Road ponds where birder, Dale Clark had posted photos of three classic species on Thanksgiving Day: Snow Goose (juvenile), Ross’s Goose and Cackling Goose. We did get to see the birds in the alfalfa fields across Price Road, a bit northwest of the ponds. We had just started viewing the three species when all the Canada Geese decided to lift off and the three Snow Geese, two Ross’s Geese and the Cackling Goose joined them. Although we waited for them to finish circling in the air with the hope that they would return, they had moved on to feed elsewhere.  It’s my understanding that they return to the ponds around noontime after feeding all morning, but Lois and I have been birding so much neither of us had that much spare time. It wasn’t a great sighting, but their relative sizes were clearly seen when they flew, especially the Cackling Goose, darker than the white birds but associating with them, that appeared smaller than the Ross’s Goose and obviously nowhere near the size of the regular Canada Geese.
Here’s a link to see the photos of the 3 classics:
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S26006713

Another cold morning today (Monday, 11/30/15), so I decided to bird close to home. The Reddish Egret had been spotted at Coon Bluff over a period of two or three days and then not again for about a month. But birders had reported its presence again over the past three days, so I showed up there a little after 9 a.m. — again because it was close to freezing temperatures when I got up. 

Lindsay and her father, Dick, had just arrived when I pulled into the parking lot so we ended up birding together. However, they entered from a different direction than I had so I was startled to hear Lindsay call out to me. “I’ve got it!”  She had had to leave her scope at the first wide flat fishing area to get my attention and by the time she tried to re-find it in her scope the Reddish Egret was gone. Her misfortune turned out to be my good fortune since they wanted photos. 

Dick, Lindsay’s father who was obviously older than either of us, carried the camera while Lindsay handled her bins and spotting scope as we continued eastward on the trail. Dick had the best eyes of any of us and saw our bird lift and fly two or three times as it continued to move eastward, up the river. Tamarisk, shrubs and mesquite blocked our view much of the time but Lindsay finally got the bird in her scope again and at last, I got to see it in the distance.

We walked and walked trying to get past it so the sun would be behind us for photos. Dick rarely walks this far, especially over river rock terrain. We stopped 1.1 mile from the concrete sidewalk at the camping area to get our successful photos. I’ve seen the bird in Florida and Texas but never Arizona so I took lots of photos of this rare occasion. It was spectacular to view the bird through Lindsay's scope that picked up feather pattern and coloring that doesn't quite come through in my photos.

Juvenile Dark form Reddish Egret

Juvenile Reddish Egret flying off
Ruffled Feathers: Reddish Egret - juvenile
Young Reddish Egret in the Salt River at Coon Bluff
Dick, Lindsay's father returning from our successful FIND of the Reddish Egret  [Lindsay's photo]

After returning home, eating lunch and entering my list into eBird, I checked today’s email and discovered another rarity had been located at Gilbert Water Ranch.  At 12:38, Tyler Loomis reported seeing three Purple Finch along a certain trail and provided details. Too nearby to ignore, I headed out again, arriving by 2:30. As I entered Tiger Moth Trail, I saw two birders about half way down the trail. They didn’t look like they were on to anything so I walked up and chatted with Rich Ditch and Steve Ganley.  Steve had arrived closer to 2:00 and had seen one Purple Finch and heard the other but wasn’t satisfied with the looks he got. Or, so he said. Since we didn’t see them again during a two-hour wait, maybe his sighting will suffice. Steve and I left about 4:30 with late-comer Dale Clark staying on to see if they might return. My past several days of excellent birding couldn't dampen my spirits for having missed the Purple Finches. It was a delightful day of birding!

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Higley & Ocotillo Ponds, Maricopa County, AZ

Thanksgiving Day, November 26th:
In early-morning darkness while driving to the Gilbert Library to meet Lois, I recalled Thanksgiving holidays of past years — all of which memories were of family — from my  childhood when my Dad went pheasant hunting early in the day to bring home our “bird” for the table, to when my three boys would return from college to gather for feasting and fun. It wasn’t until recent years that my now daughter-in-law, Kelly, told me how shocked she had been when the turkey dinner she had anticipated turned out to be a vegetarian lasagna casserole! Today, my three sons, who live on the east coast, are celebrating the holiday with their father in Virginia. No longer a vegetarian, I was looking forward to enjoying a turkey Thanksgiving feast later this afternoon with my good friends, Jody and Rhoda, and others from my chosen family in our RV resort community.

As soon as Lois arrived just minutes after I pulled into the parking lot, she joined me for the ride south to the water-treatment ponds at Higley and Ocotillo Road to try our luck at finding several continuing rarities reported there over the past three days. Would the American Golden Plover, Eastern Phoebe and Black and White Warbler still be there?

Carrying my spotting scope always makes me grumble a bit but it would be needed to ascertain the identity of the rare plover. First birds observed were Killdeer and Least Sandpipers at 7:40 a.m. (44°), easily detected with binoculars. Having memorized the locations of the previous sightings of the birds we’d like to see, we checked out Pond #1 to the south of where we had parked. Many Northern Shovelers, Green-winged Teal and American Coots were quickly added to our list. The Eastern Phoebe was a no show in the cottonwoods or on the shrubs anywhere along that first pond or across its narrow end, but birds have wings and, although territorial, might be found elsewhere. It was our lowest priority.

A Black-tailed Jackrabbit brought smiles as we felt a bit of warmth from the sun trying to break through fairly heavy cloud cover. Two raptors in close succession (Cooper’s Hawk and Northern Harrier) sent birds upward until the sky was full of ducks.



What a view of the ducks for these low-flying balloonists!

The back ponds, even more full of ducks, Black-necked Stilts, sandpipers, dowitchers and killdeer were packed in and moving around. No ticket counter or security lines, the pond crowds could pick up and go at whim. That’s what drives me crazy using the narrow but magnifying lens of the scope. When I turned to show Lois a bird I was on, it was out of scope view by the time she looked.

Lois, with her bare eyes (recently free of cataracts) found the perfectly still  American Golden Plover in the middle of the mayhem. With her good directions, I was able to easily zoom onto it with the scope and WOWEE! - she had nailed it.  An unknown gentleman birder who earlier had stopped and chatted briefly with us before walking farther to the end of Pond 3 to take up the search himself, hiked back and admitted he didn’t expect us to find it. (Never under-estimate women on a mission!)

The rare plover was beyond my camera's range, but that didn't stop me from trying! Poor photos below for your enjoyment!

The distant view for us. Can you find the American Golden Plover?
My best photo: American Golden Plover

Size comparisons of the rare plover with other birds:

American Golden Plover with Least Sandpiper
American Golden Plover with Green-winged Teal

I continued to scope the pond to get a better handle on various sizes and behaviors of the sandpipers, stilts and ducks in constant movement. It was through this process that I located a Dunlin that, by the time I got Lois to the scope was gone due to another raptor fly over when all the birds lifted and shifted. Unable to relocate the Dunlin, we eventually moved on.

The sun flirted with the clouds but it wasn’t until we wrapped up that it decided to provide some desired warmth. We walked the trail along the north side of Pond 2 in search of the Black and White Warbler with no luck. So, I continued a bit farther for another look at Pond 3 from this perspective.  What I found delighted me — three Wilson’s Snipe blended beautifully with the weedy muddy island they occupied.

Wilson's Snipe (one with head tucked)
As we returned along the row of leafy cottonwoods, I was scanning the high visible limbs between leaves when Lois called, “I’ve got it!”  Wasn’t I surprised to find the warbler about two feet from ground level working the trunk of the tree nuthatch-style. Since we see the Black-throated Gray Warbler with some regularity, it was a no-brainer that this bird was, indeed, the Black and White Warbler - similar but still different in that it is black and white striped all over while the Black-throated Gray has a gray back and shorter bill.

Black & White Warbler above and below


We stayed on the bird as best we could as it moved to the rear of the trunk, flew a short distance to a low limb, dropped again to the trunk and back and forth until I finally managed a photo when it occupied a somewhat higher limb - at about eye level. Great fun to study its behavior and movements!


Our morning in bird land had proved wildly satisfying and something both of us greatly appreciated. Then, it was off to our respective homes and a celebration of the more traditional Thanksgiving.

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Granite Reef Recreation Area, Salt River, Mesa, Maricopa County, AZ

Wednesday, November 25th:
Lois Lorenz joined me for about three hours of birding this morning at Granite Reef. Under cloudy sky, I managed a few good - and some not so good - photos that I'm sharing here.
Best sighting of the day was a sparrow feeding coyote-style!!


This is how Long-billed Dowitchers look from where we stood across the Salt River
Cropped in on a mixed flock (10) of Greater & Lesser Yellowlegs
Find the female among the male House Finches

Lincoln's Sparrow on the right next to much larger White-crowned Sparrow. I tried hard to get a photo of it doing its vertical leap of about 3" into the air that carried it an inch or two beyond where it had been standing. Its jump that took it higher than the grasses was eye-catching. Was it a feeding technique?  Was is simply differentiating itself from the White-crowned Sparrows it was associating with?  I had never seen the jumping behavior before and was totally captivated by it.  The Lincoln's is a common migrant and winter visitor but not easily seen. Its buffy whisker, buffy wash across the chest and short pointy bill help set it apart from the Song Sparrow which it somewhat resembles but appears to be more slender and neat. We watched its vertical hopping at last ten times but I couldn't get a decent photo of the bird until a car drove past scattering the whole flock. Lois found the Lincoln's in a nearby mesquite -- photo below.

Lincoln's Sparrow flew up from the ground when a vehicle drove through the parking area


Vermilion Flycatcher

Say's Phoebe (flycatcher family)

Lois (think she'll go out with me again after I took her that route?)

Four Peaks in the distance

Didn't list this bird that looks like one of those doves released at ceremonies.
Will it survive in the wild? . . .

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Agua Fria National Monument (EZ Crossing site) and Watson Lake, Prescott, Yavapai County, AZ

Monday, November 23, 2015
Although I’m surrounded with rich birding spots close to where I live and visit them often, I’ve discovered that birding in more distant and unfamiliar locations gives an “edge” to my learning curve.

Today, I hooked up with an avid birder from the Prescott area whom I met during a recent week-long Road Scholar Hopi Village cultural visit in Northern Arizona. Judy Couch met me at Cordes Junction  (I-17 & Rt. 69) where I transferred my gear and winter jackets to her car for our birding adventures. Temperature was about twenty (20) degrees cooler than most mornings in the desert: 34° at this higher elevation of 3700 feet.

As I do with birding friends who visit me, Judy shared one of her nearby “gems” 
along the Agua Fria River at a place called EZ Crossing within the extensive national monument. A bit early with our start time of 7:20, the sun was just beginning to hit the cottonwoods, mesquite and shrubs. White-crowned Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos were vocal as we started walking the narrow trail along the river that soon turned too muddy to continue; they’ve had a lot of rain. Alternatively, we walked the dirt road where we could see a bit more bird activity as the sun continued its upward journey.

Two significant sightings for me were familiar desert birds that I don’t see every day. GRAY FLYCATCHER challenged me a bit before I named it since we were looking at its back in morning light. Most birds this morning were looking mostly gray! It’s shape was familiar and I had picked out is two light wing stripes before it proved its identity. Judy gave me a look of “How do you know that?”  “Watch its long tail”, I suggested. Sure enough, it again wagged its tail gently downward like a phoebe - a telling behavior that separates it from other empidonax flycatchers such as Dusky or Willow Flycatchers which are closer to its large size. (Gray Flycatcher It’s the largest “empid” at six inches.) Too early for photos, so I’m posting ones that I took earlier this year near the Salt River.


Gray Flycatcher - above and below
Front view that shows its bi-colored bill (dark top;yellow under)

Second good sighting had me stumped although when we finally confirmed what we were looking at, Judy reminded me that I had called it by name immediately. Second-guessing myself, it suddenly didn’t seem large enough to be a thrasher; it looked more like a sparrow. And, that bugged me because I’ve been trying to get a handle on knowing all the sparrows and their field marks. Since it was sitting up in the sunlight, I took photos that, when I zoomed in, confirmed my initial recognition of its facial characteristics. It was a SAGE THRASHER! Its long tail was hidden from sight and it was hunkered down instead of “sitting tall”. Size-wise, it’s a small thrasher.

Sage Thrasher
Strangely, I seldom see the Sage Thrasher where I live but it's common in its restricted desert habitat that doesn’t include Phoenix neighborhoods where we enjoy the ubiquitous Curve-billed Thrasher.

Next spot we visited was Watson Lake Riparian Area. This, I thought, was familiar territory but as it turned out, we didn’t walk the riparian section. Instead we took the Peavine Trail (a 5.5 mile rail trail) that led beyond the riparian area to the south side of Watson Lake. Sharing the wide dirt trail on this beautiful clear, sunny calm day were hikers and bikers. Judy and I took turns carrying her spotting scope which was helpful in viewing the waterfowl below us and across the lake. It also confirmed that all the Gulls were Ring-billed without a Year-Bird Bonaparte’s among them.

A young Northern Harrier looked very striking in its very rufous plumage as it flew over the lake perusing what might be “taken” from the water.

Even when we went off the Peavine trail to a foot path suggested to us by another birder (Steve) to observe some small coves, we were still too far away for photos. But we found the Hooded Mergansers he had seen (3 males; 3 females) and, eventually, the female Common Goldeneye. Photos from my files of these handsome birds are below.

Male Hooded Merganser
Female Hooded Merganser
Female Common Goldeneye trails the male and a juvenile male

As we returned along the lake trail, Judy called a Myrtle Warbler. I had casually chalked it up to our usual Audubon’s “Yellow-rumped Warbler” but, indeed, it had quite a white throat, so I documented it for submission to e-Bird.

Myrtle Yellow-rumped Warbler

Time disappeared quickly with our 3-mile round trip walk out along Watson Lake and back. Today, we birded over five hours and saw 41 species. I left the area early enough to avoid getting caught in commuter traffic and was able to return home by 3:30 p.m, avoiding the thickness of it. 
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Sunflower, Maricopa County, AZ

November 18, 2015
BRRRRRR!  I could see my breath!  Not my usual desert habitat but forested hills at 3,400’ elevation, twice as high as where I live and it makes a real difference to thin-blooded desert rats.

Birder friend, Jeanne Burns and I started birding along Old Highway 87 in Sunflower at 7:30 a.m. despite the 34° temperature. Bundled in so many layers, we may not have recognized one another had we not driven up together.

As usual, we parked in the pull-off area near the bridge over Sycamore Creek which carries traffic to and from Payson on the Beeline Highway. We had turned on the Old Route 87 with all of its many curves that I still remember from when I first arrived in AZ.

Western Meadowlarks were already serenading us from various perches along a fence while many others were foraging in the frosted meadow on the south side of our “trail” - the old highway. Conservative count was 40; there may easily have been 20 more. It wasn’t an exact count due to the meadowlarks lifting up from time to time before settling in another section of the meadow or, then, perching in a tree to catch some of the rising sun’s warming rays. 

Western Meadowlark
Dark-eyed Juncos (Oregon form) were chipping from the bushes and dropping to the ground to scratch around a bit. Northern Flickers were out and about, flying back and forth above us to the tall, mature Arizona Sycamores on each side of the road.  

We took our time walking, listening, spotting and listing the various bird species. It took us an hour to walk to the half-way point to the dead end and back to the car. From there, we slowly drove the second half of the distance, birding from the car or jumping out for photos of some good sightings that included Western Bluebirds, a Townsend’s Solitaire, a pair of Northern Cardinals and two Phainopepla.


Female Phainopepla - Jeanne's photo

Townsend's Solitaire - Jeanne's photo out the driver's side window

As we neared the cul de sac, I chose to walk the remainder of the short distance while Jeanne parked the car. Wouldn’t you know I’d find a “goodie” — my first Cedar Waxwing of this fall season!

Cedar Waxwing

Jeanne had never walked the distance from the cul de sac to the Ranger Station but we set off by finding some more good birds that included a Black and White Warbler (definitely not a Black-throated Gray), a Juniper Titmouse, a couple Rock Wrens, and a flock of chittering Bushtits.

What Jeanne saw and I didn't would have been an Arizona Year Bird for me. I had mentioned that an American Goldfinch had been reported at Sunflower about a month ago so I was wanting to find out if it was still present.  When I heard a group of Lesser Goldfinches deep in the forest beside the road, I called them in and Jeanne exclaimed about the very striking one! By the time I slid my phone back to its pocket and lifted my binoculars, the whole flock dropped lower toward the forest floor out of sight. After listening to her describe her sighting, I showed her the photo on my phone of a winter-plumaged male American Goldfinch -- very striking compared to the Lesser's. So, SHE got MY desired bird ...grrrrr.  [Payback for my seeing the Cedar Waxwing without her.]

As we neared the Ranger Station, we found Western Scrub Jay (one in the far distance and one within the picnic area on the station grounds), and a brilliantly feathered Townsend’s Warbler, too quick for photos, but gorgeous views as it moved hither and yon between live oaks. Pygmy Nuthatches were present as I ate my lunch.

Western Scrub Jay
Jeanne, hiding in the bushes at the Ranger Station 
On our return walk, we were able to get photos of the native Western Red-tailed Hawk, so light we could barely see its belly band. (On some, it's missing altogether.)

Western Red-tailed Hawk
Although we logged in only one-way distances for eBird, we walked about five easy miles at a very slow pace, having shed several layers of clothes along the way to enjoy temperatures in the high 50s.

While we were in the area, I shared a few other nearby birding locations with Jeanne before we headed back to the desert. It’s so easy to devote nine hours to birding, especially when surrounded by autumn leaves.

Jeanne took this photo of me during our early birding along Old Hwy 87.





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Glendale Recharge Ponds, Maricopa County, AZ

Monday, November 16th
It was raining when I picked up my morning newspaper. What? - A free day and no birding? 

By the time I finished breakfast and the word puzzle, though, the sun was out, giving me an opportune late start to head west on I-10. Had I missed out on seeing the rare Heerman’s Gull that had been seen most of yesterday after Melanie Herring’s morning post?  Had it hunkered down or taken off during last night’s storm?  Commuters should be at work making the drive to Glendale Ponds less stressful.

Turning west from 107th Avenue onto West Bethany Home dirt road, I took note of the birds as I drove to the parking spot. I also noted that several people with spotting scopes were out on the berm by Pond 5 - where the Heerman’s Gull had been reported yesterday. Leaving my scope in the car helped me move out at a good clip to see if they had spotted it. Body language gave me a clue; no Heerman’s Gull this morning! A ONE-DAY WONDER! 

The woman with a scope said she had spotted a Bonaparte’s Gull earlier but could no longer find it. Easily explained by the raptors making passes over the ponds. One of two men I recognized as being from Tucson; we’ve crossed paths on other rare-bird searches. 

After getting somewhat acquainted, we birded separately from there on. Usually, I see executive airplanes fly out of a nearby airport but today none of them were in the air. Filling the space was SOUND == thunderous roars from jet planes over at Luke AFB drowning out bird voices. Three times the ground rumbled with these fired-up booming engines. Tumultuous times internationally may mean preparedness is stepping up. 

When I don’t see my target bird(s), I generally find gratification in taking pictures.  Today, I focused on a Peregrine Falcon perched on the same berm I was walking. Having learned to take distant shots of distant birds followed by five or ten steps forward for more clicks, and then again, until I could get within my camera’s range proved helpful.

Peregrine Falcon keeping an eye on waterfowl
It was not my intent to spook the falcon, but when it flew out over Pond 5, Great Egrets lifted up from the shoreline.

Great Egrets
Later, the Peregrine settled on a different berm directly behind those same egrets and one, knowing it was safe, perched next to it.

Peregrine Falcon and Great Egret
Crossing the canal, then, to take a close look at dry bare Basin 3 on my left and weedy Basin #2 on my right, I searched for birds I hadn’t yet seen or heard in Basin #6 (Yellow-rumped Warblers, American Pipits, Horned Larks).

A Northern Harrier made a pass overhead scattering the waterfowl on more distant Pond 1. Two Osprey were communicating with call notes and would make brief forays over the occupied ponds before returning to utility pole perches. Later, I saw another Osprey while those two were perched.

Two other good sightings were a female Belted Kingfisher in deep-colored feathers and a Greater Yellowlegs, both beyond camera range. Northern Rough-winged Swallows were out in force swooping all the basins, not just the ones with water.

When I walked the berm between basins # 2 & 3, I thought I spotted a longspur fly in off the dry bare gray bottom of #3 and dive into some grasses not far from me. Phishing and waiting didn’t bring the bird into the open, so I walked farther away before deciding to “call” for the Lapland Longspur (previously spotted here). As soon as I did that, a bird popped up from the NW quadrant of weedy Pond 2, flew directly toward me then circled back from whence it came. Having barely gotten a look at it, but sensing some good color contrast, I called again. Instead of diving down into the bushes, it returned, circled my head and gave me a good look at good identification marks for Lapland Longspur: more white than grayish (Chestnut Collared), saw the white under tail split by a thin black line of feathers and noted the wings were pointed. Saw contrast on face area as it approached me but it was so quick that’s all I can say about it - contrasting facial pattern. Without my scope, I doubted I could find it again even though it had returned to the same area it had flown from.

After looking over the waterfowl in Pond 1, I was wishing I had carried my scope. I saw a couple Ring-necked Ducks and I’m sure there were scaup out there, too, but couldn’t decipher them. They’re all on my list from Gadwall and Pintail to Northern Shoveler and a couple Green-winged Teal. Most other ducks on my list were on Pond 5 when I arrived.

At 11:45, wind picked up big time and it looked like a dust storm was gathering farther west. A good time, to leave!  I finished up by snapping photos of one of the Osprey perched on the crossbar of a utility pole as I walked back toward the car.

Osprey
After another hour of driving back to the East Valley, I was home a little after noontime. So glad the sun came out and I had a chance to visit the birds over in the West Valley.

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3-Day Blog: 2 in Pinal County 11/11 & 12/15; 1 in Maricopa County, AZ 11/13/15

Wednesday, November 11th: LOST DUTCHMAN STATE PARK, PINAL COUNTY, AZ
Twenty (20) people showed up for my Bird Walk at Lost Dutchman State Park. Most of the participants had never done such a thing but liked and watched birds in their back yards. Two were bird photographers and they stayed to the rear of the group (thank you). I explained the “how” of group birding and encouraged all of them to be alert for birds in the sky, on top of saguaros and snags, in bushes and on the ground. Several participants were not new birders but didn’t know the birds of the desert southwest. 

The Phainopepla, with its crest and red eye, is always a fun bird to find first and it perched at “12:00” on a palo verde tree before we even left the parking lot. As we walked desert trails, everyone cooperated in focusing on birds and called out whenever they saw one. From my point of view, we saw nothing extraordinary but the participants were “ooooing and ahhhing” over the Black-throated Sparrow and an American Kestrel that perched up for us. The Black-throated Sparrow is my favorite because I had the same reaction when I first discovered a sparrow could be so handsome. Since I don't photograph when I lead walks, the photos below are from my files. Black-throated Sparrow's photo is already in several past blogs.


American Kestrel - female

Phainopepla - male 

Phainopepla -female

You may click on the E-bird list at end of blog if you want to see our check list.


Thursday, November 12th: BOYCE THOMPSON ARBORETUM (BTA), PINAL COUNTY, AZ
Having seen another reported sighting of the Williamson’s Sapsucker at BTA, I decided to return there after a morning commitment. Arriving at 11:20 a.m., I birded just four adjacent spots within its 323 acres: Hummingbird Garden, Demonstration Garden, Picnic Area and Eucalyptus Garden Loop Trail which includes many pine trees. The Williamson’s Sapsucker is one I enjoy seeing each year and got spoiled in the White Mountains by finding a pair each year at a certain place in Greer. The plumage of the male and female are very different unlike most other woodpeckers that have small differences in feather colors on the head or throat to signify sex. The male Williamson’s is predominantly black; the female brownish. Having not yet found them this year, I was hopeful that today would be different.

After checking the first three locations, I scanned up and down the trunk of each pine tree within the eucalyptus loop trail. Eventually, I found and viewed the bird at about 12:15 p.m. high up on one of the pines. It dropped down to eye level so I clicked off some shots. Unfortunately, the photos were blurry, but the Williamson’s was definitely present. 

Between 12:15 and 12:45 p.m., the trees in this loop were the stopping off place for many birds and other woodpeckers. Lunch time! Both the Yellow-bellied and Red-naped Sapsucker showed up as did our desert Gila Woodpecker. While the Yellow-bellied has been an annual visitor to the arboretum, it is not a common sighting in my birding ventures so I was stoked in having found it--as it had been reported seen on Sunday during their bird walk. The Red-naped shows up in a variety of places.

Two other birders walked past and I mentioned the Williamson’s. They happened to be good birders living part-time in Gold Canyon nearby and part-time in Equador. So they joined my search for a second view of the Williamson’s. I mentioned that the bird prefers conifers. Well, guess where we found it — on a eucalyptus tree! Unlike several local woodpeckers that have horizontal bars on their backs, the male Williamson's Sapsucker has a black back, large white wing patches, black head with narrow white stripes, black breast and yellow belly. The only time this sapsucker perched was on a slightly higher horizontal limb with its back toward me. A Red-breasted Sapsucker was on the end of that limb drumming loudly into the hard wood.

Williamson's Sapsucker-male



Mission accomplished with a thrill! 

You can view my eBird checklist #2, below.


Friday, November 13th: COON BLUFF RECREATION AREA, SALT RIVER, MARICOPA COUNTY, AZ.
Waking up to another beautiful day caused me to head out for some birding along the Salt River. Coon Bluff is the closest to where I live - about 25 miles distant, but I still consider it my personal "patch". Driving the back way takes me through beautiful hilly desert with little automobile traffic but lots of bicycle riders.
Good omen for this Friday, the 13th: two (2) Harris's Hawks perched on a crossbar on Bush Highway just prior to the entrance to Coon Bluff.

Harris's Hawks
Along the entrance road, I stopped again. This time for wild horses.



The place was quiet except for bird sounds when I started out. But my first sighting was making no noise whatsoever; I spotted it only because it moved. Usually, I see this raptor in flight, but here, on the ground, I had a chance for a photo - even though the morning sun threw it into the spot light.

Cooper's Hawk

From over on tribal land across the river, the yelping and howling of two packs of coyotes filled the air for quite some time. They would stop for awhile and then start up again. By the time I reached the river's edge and realized I could record their sounds on my iPhone, they stopped!!

Other bird sounds included the rattle of the Belted Kingfisher which I eventually saw - male chasing female downriver, then returning to its "territory" alone!  There was the quiet low-pitched pwurp of the Phainopepla, the short high-pitched thin plaintive tseew of the Black Phoebe, the pik of the Ladder-backed Woodpecker. I followed the sounds to the bird, including that of the Rock Wren and after a while, the sound of the Lesser Yellowlegs that landed in the middle of the river not far from my perch on the bank.

Lesser Yellowlegs in basic plumage - straighter bill than Greater (slight upturn)
Soon after, a Spotted Sandpiper arrived. They both stayed around foraging for awhile but when they flew off, they went together.

Spotted Sandpiper; basic plumage
When I turned back toward the mesquite grove, I saw three different species on one mesquite.



Phainopepla, House Finch & Gila Woodpecker

While I tell myself that other birds seemed to call out to me to be sure they got on my list - Ha! -- it's their alarm call from my invading their space.

Right before I reached the parking lot to return home, I came upon five more wild horses.


With wild horses, howling packs of coyotes and busy birds, what's not to like??!!

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