Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Superior, Pinal County, AZ plus a side trip

Sunday, December 13th:
Although it felt cold when we left Apache Junction at 7:30 a.m., it was even colder when we arrived to frost-covered grounds at Boyce Thompson Arboretum. With three birder friends from Ontario (Kathie, Lynne & Glenda), I joined the Sunday Bird Walk led by Kathe Anderson and Mark Ochs - two very good leaders who differ substantially in their approach to birding!  Thus, we had a VERY GOOD DAY with a relatively small group of 12-14.

Frost on leaves in picnic area
The beautiful still and sunny day at the Arboretum provided not only the usual desert species we expect, but the more stealthy birds not always seen: Green-tailed Towhee, Canyon Towhee (two different birds at locations distant from the other), two Pyrrhuloxia, a perched Peregrine Falcon, one American Robin and one Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. These are not everyday sightings, yet I took photos of none of them because of interfering limbs or distance.

But the trees were in delightful color.

Chinese Pistachio with berries that feed the birds all winter

Male Phainopepla
The Phainopepla, a slender whispy-crested black silky-flycatcher winters in the Sonoran Desert. The name, Phainopepla, comes from the Greek for "shiny robe"....very well named as you can see in the plumage of the bird. [pronounced: fain-o-pep-la]

As we hiked up the hill toward the mansion from the Queen Creek trail, we were able to look down upon the trees below.

Trees just now turning color below the mansion near Queen Creek
After finding 37 species of birds in 2.5 hours, we headed back to AJ to drop Kathie and Lynne before continuing on to Phon D. Sutton Recreation Area along the Salt River where a rarity had been reported yesterday. The GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW would be an AZ Year Bird for me, but I had seen it only one other time, two years ago in Sun City, AZ.


There were three other birders actively looking for the GCSP when we arrived so we quietly joined them in searching through the White-crowned Sparrows (including juveniles) in an attempt to locate our BIRD. After thirty minutes or so of serious looking at birds on the ground, I spotted Troy Corman coming up from the river. I asked quietly if he had seen it. He motioned that it was farther down than where we were searching. Interestingly, as I headed down the hill three sparrows flew up and perched. Brian Johnson started clicking off photos and discovered that one of them was, indeed, the juvenile Golden-crowned Sparrow with just a touch of yellow on its forehead. But its dark beak was in obvious contrast to yellow of the White-crowneds.  Mary Williams came along soon after that and joined Glenda and I in searching for a better look at our special bird. And, after about fifteen minutes, we came upon it moving around with the White-crowned Sparrows but giving me little chance for a definitive photo. 

I'm posting photos below taken earlier this morning that were sent to me by local birding friend, Lindsay Story, who saw them where they were originally seen out in the open.

Golden-crowned Sparrow

Golden-crowned Sparrow (left) & Juvenile White-crowned Sparrow (right)
After getting good looks at our target bird, we headed home where, as we drove along Bush Highway, we had yet another rather astonishing view of some birds:

Family of Harris's Hawks: I've sent my cards out, have you?

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