Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Superior, Pinal County, AZ

Sunday, February 28th
With over thirty birders showing up for the Bird Walk led by Troy Corman and Anne Leight, the group split into two after checking out the hummingbird garden together. 
View of Picket Post Mountain from picnic area (Photo of Chris Zehr)
On the cusp of Spring, birds were seen gathering nesting material and sitting high and visible and singing their hearts out.

Both Lesser Goldfinch and Northern Cardinals were easy to spot.

Lesser Goldfinch
Northern Cardina

Although an Arizona winter differs from much of the rest of the country, it is still February and the walkways at the arboretum were lined with flowering plants.

Mexican Redbud
Hummingbirds no longer needed to rely on the feeders provided at their special garden area but could visit numerous plants and trees.

Anna's Hummingbird (above and below)
Photos by Chris Zehr
The Arboretum is not all desert; it includes a variety of habitat including Ayer Lake where I found six species: Black Phoebe, Red-winged Blackbird (mostly females flying in and down into hiding within the marsh reeds), Marsh Wren, Pied-billed Grebe, American Coot and a Neotropic Cormorant - one of those birds that people sometimes mistake for an Anhinga, often seen in Florida or Texas.
Neotropic Cormorant

For me, the two best sightings of the day include this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (an early bird this year). Although its yellow belly doesn't show, it lacks the red-nape of a Red-naped Sapsucker that looks similar in other plumage from this angle. Difficult to photograph behind limbs, this was the best shot I got. The red cap on this bird in the lower photo indicates it is a male.

The best of the three-hour walk involved the Cooper's Hawk. At one point in the Demonstration Garden, Troy quickly suggested we look overhead. "A raptor is around," he said. Sure enough, a Cooper's Hawk slowly slid into view giving us a great look at something it does during courtship. It flares its white under-tail covert feathers out toward its flanks. As we watched, a female came toward the first bird, exhibiting the same behavior!

Ordinarily, that white along the flanks doesn't show on a Cooper's.

What a spectacular sighting to wrap up a morning of birding!

The following arboretum pictures are shared by Chris Zehr.

Needless to say, we had all worked up an appetite and a small group of us headed to Porter's in Superior where, on the shelf behind us, we noted a stack of bird books topped by Sibley Birds!

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Base and Meridian Wildlife Area, Maricopa County, AZ (plus two quick trips)

Saturday, February 27th
Having arrived a bit late, Glenda Jones and I birded our way out along the trail between ponds toward Susan Fishburn far out by the Salt River.

Catching my attention by the first small pond on the left was a distinct sharp kit call that I was trying to identify by finding the bird. Glenda found it first at the very top of a tree across that pond. As I looked up, I saw its very yellow belly just as it decided to take off from its perch and fly toward the bridge. Larger in every way from a Lesser Goldfinch, I suspected its identity. Glenda, a winter visitor from Canada, described the rest of the bird she had observed, just as another birder walked toward us. He had heard a Kingbird on the other side of the trail. Although we had never met, I recognized Louis Hoeniger's name as a consistent birder. I listed our sighting as a Western Kingbird -- a very early sighting for the season for sure...and exciting for us.

At the same pond, I quickly snapped a photo of one of the two Common Gallinule (Moorhen)  moving in and out of the reeds.

Common Gallinule 
The three of us took note of other good waterfowl as we continued walking eastward until we met up with Susan, who shared her earlier sightings with us. We were able to locate three elusive Barn Owls.

Barn Owls in the wild
Barn Owl, later that afternoon out at Lost Dutchman SP at a Liberty Wildlife Educational Presentation
Seeing swallows arrive for the season was another highlight for me. In addition to five Tree Swallows, I saw two Northern Rough-winged and the few first Cliff Swallows that showed up grew to a flock of well over fifty by the time I left, possibly a hundred.

Belted Kingfishers, sparrows and raptors kept us alert in every direction.

The long-legged herons (Great Blue, Green, Black-crowned Night), Great Egret and White-faced Ibis were easier to spot than the Cinnamon Teal floating in thick vegetation. Usually, I see four or five Cinnamon Teal together but today their numbers were in the thirties or higher.

Cinnamon Teal - above and below

Wrapping up at the B&M area around 10:30, we joined Susan in a quick trip to Glendale Ponds. Glenda had yet to explore that area and we were both interested in seeing the Semi-palmated Plover that had dropped in for a visit and has been staying. 

Only two of the six water treatment plant ponds contained water. None of us carried spotting scopes since we had limited time, but Susan found our target bird for us.

Semipalmated Plover in Pond #4  (above and below)

Returning home, then, I continued on out to Lost Dutchman State Park to see an educational presentation by Liberty Wildlife (rehabilitation center) at 2:00 p.m.  With close to one hundred people in attendance under a ramada, the presenters showed off various raptors that have been rehabilitated but would not survive in the wild and have become their educational birds. I showed the Barn Owl above; others included:

Western Screech-Owl

Burrowing Owl 
Barn Owl striking a pose
Great Horned Owl

Another full and fun day of birding.

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Prospector Park, Apache Junction, Pinal County, AZ

February 24th:
Who would have guessed that a quick trip to a local city park on a windy morning would give me good birds?! 

Find the Say's Phoebe - tiny bird in front of playground horse - two Say's were singing when I got out of the car
Vermilion Flycatcher - another early bird - saw it soon after 7 a.m. near the wash west of playground

Bendire's Thrasher (note yellow at base of slightly decurved bill)

Curve-billed Thrasher with totally black bill and more curved than Bendire's; splotchy chest marks

Another Bendire's Thrasher trying to elude me; note the more well-defined chest markings compared to CBTH
Gilded Flicker showing copper-colored head as opposed to the gray or dark brown of Northern Flicker

All in all, a great morning!

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San Carlos Lake (Apache Nation), Pinal, Gila & Graham Counties, AZ [PERMIT REQUIRED]

Sunday, February 21st
Having birded San Carlos Lake area a few times in recent years with other birding groups, I decided it was time to venture out that way on my own. My little Honda hybrid wouldn't do well on some of the sandy roads, so I was glad when Glenda Jones agreed to join me and take her bigger 4-wheel drive vehicle.

Although it would be a two-hour drive to reach our destination from Apache Junction, we stopped in Globe to pick up the required 24-HOUR RECREATION PERMIT @ $10/person to be carried with us (not left in the car).  While the permit probably gives access to all of its 1.8 million acres, we would be visiting a very teeny piece of tribal land. We got our permits at the EXPRESS STOP gas station on the north side of Route 60 just prior to the final traffic light in Globe where Route 60 goes north to the White Mountains.

Continuing to head eastward at the traffic light, the highway became Route 70 which we took to Peridot, the first community along the way. At that point, we turned left onto Coolidge Dam Road (IR3) that circled down and beneath Route 70 to then take us south toward the lake and other places I wanted to check out.

First stop was the water treatment ponds. Well, access was easier last time I visited when we parked, opened the gate and walked in the dirt road. So, how were we going to bird the place now with it surrounded with chain-link fencing with double padlocks? We continued driving long the road to where the fence stopped and parked there at a sign for the Agricultural Center. Barbed wire is much easier to negotiate so we were able to walk past and bird through the chain link fence to the first two ponds. 

With Doug Jenness on an AZFO survey a couple years ago, one team discovered additional ponds to the rear of the front two but, today, they were completely hidden from us with high berms around them in addition to being enclosed within the chain-link area. If there were ponds up there, we didn't see them,

A little after 7:30 a.m., Northern Shovelers were just beginning to swim out of the reeds in Pond 2 (2nd back from the highway). They were second highest in count after American Coots with two Lesser Scaup being the best among them all.

Desert birds were thick around the ponds with Black-throated Sparrows singing all over the place but I got visuals on only two of them.  A Lincoln's Sparrow popped up to the top of a shrub just long enough for me to "get" it and the "pik" of the Ladder-backed Woodpecker added to our list.

We walked a dirt road between the sewage ponds and the agricultural fields on the east side of IR3.  Canada Geese were just beginning to lift from the field.
Flying in two flocks of 22 each, we watched 44 Canada Geese lift off
Just as we crawled back through the barbed wire fence, a Sora whinnied from Pond #1. Yay!

Then, slowly we drove south on IR3 with ag fields on the west. Very little traffic; very quiet. Lark Buntings were abundant and Glenda spied two male Brewer's Blackbirds. It was in this area that we saw the BIRD OF THE DAY!

We did not close in on this perched FERRUGINOUS HAWK for fear of spooking it, so photos are distant and the best I could manage. I wasn't actually certain of the bird (I see this bird about once a year on group trips to Arlington Ag fields) so, when I got home, I sent a photo to raptor specialist, Claudia Kirscher, who confirmed this Ferruginous Hawk and gave me some good ID markers to always take into consideration. 

Light morph Ferruginous Hawk
Already having seen birds beyond my expectations for here, we continued on to bird San Carlos Lake from the monument area, turning at the sign not far from the ag fields.

The monument marks the location of the 'OLD SAN CARLOS" - that was submerged after Coolidge Dam was erected in 1928. Well, with no other signs to guide us, we had to make a choice when we arrived at a triple fork in the dirt road. The one to left looked less used; the other two well used, so we went forward...and forward. . .and forward... into amazing territory.

The road twisted and turned through various habitat including Joshua Trees (short and tall)
until the road narrowed and we found ourselves driving through very prickly tree limbs of reddish brown trees. They were scratching against the car. Since it was very birdy, we didn't turn back immediately but continued to find Loggerhead Shrikes, Black-throated and White Crowned Sparrows, Red-tailed Hawks, Verdin and Common Ravens.  We even had a Great Blue Heron fly over us. Eventually, I suggested a turn-around since the road should have taken us to lake's edge by this time and we may have been running beside it.  And, because I've been at this location when the lake is high and when it is low, I began thinking that even though we were on a rough road, it was really the river bottom. So, our ADVENTURE OF THE DAY, was River Bottom Road. 

Glenda's GPS was of no use in there except for retracing our path - which is always helpful when I'm giving directions.

Next choice was to drive directly to the dam and backtrack to the monument location from there. We parked on the far side of the dam and birded down into the north waters of Pinal County.

San Carlos Lake from Coolidge Dam area (Pinal County)
Cormorants appeared to be all Double-crested with juvies; gulls were all Ring-billed as far as we could scope
But while we used our spotting scopes, the birds from the canyon walls were serenading us, especially the Canyon Wren with its beautiful descending happiness. (We had 3 singing from different locations.)  

Then, I heard a strange "WHO WHO WHO" but it didn't sound owl-like at all. I listened and listened but had no retrieval stuff going on in my head. It sounded like the Canyon Wren had stuck its head in a bucket - with the same descending rhythm but with a deep and resonating call.

When Glenda spotted the bird, I laughed. We see it much more than we hear it, but I should have known it was the "COO COO COO COOOOoooo" of this bird:

Greater Roadrunner
Route IR3 as it continues toward Calva and back to Route 70.
We turned around rather than continue that direction.
When we arrived back at the store and campground, it was now open and we found a local who lived nearby who gave us specific directions for finding the monument. He drew us a map that took us right back to where we had turned the first time. Now, I know, that going forward is the wrong option. At the 3-pronged fork, bear right on a very well graded and wide road to the monument areaI

Sign at the Monument would have been helpful at the fork in the road!

From the Monument Area, we birded down into San Carlos Lake again. To the east the lake appeared to be covered with marsh growth, but directly from our cliff location, the lake was not yet drying up. [Phoenix draws it down.] Glenda spotted 140 American White Pelicans as well as a fair number of Western Grebes and a few Pied-billeds, etc.  Meanwhile, I was walking the grounds stirring up desert birds again: Brewer's, Black-throated and White-crowned Sparrows as well as Western Meadowlarks.
Glenda spotting the white pelicans, cormorants, etc. down on the lake.
Get our your magnifying glass: these are some of the Am White Pelicans we saw in the distance there.

Keep your magnifying glass handy. The two Brewer's Sparrows (one on the left; one on the right) were FOY (first of season or first of year birds for me) so I was glad to be able to catch a photo of them.

It was a day full of action and adventure; it was quiet with but one boat on the lake (a small quiet fishing one); few people and lots of wide open space. I think there's a re-run coming up during migration.

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Madera Canyon, Green Valley (Pima & Santa Cruz Counties) and Sweetwater Wetlands, Tucson (Pima County)

Saturday, February 20, 2016
Having never birded Madera Canyon in February, I was getting the itch to head south.
So, I invited Glenda Jones to join me (on her "wish list" while she's in Arizona over the winter months) and picked her up at 5:30 a.m

Somewhere between Avra Valley Road and the Marana area, darkness was fading and a great MURMURATION of blackbirds swooshing this way and that in syncopated flight contrasted beautifully with the first light of day. Far beyond the thick wide MURMURATION, a long sinuous flock of thousands more blackbirds flew from east to west. I wondered aloud if these were the flocks of 25,000 plus that Jody Williams reported earlier in January. Amazing sight to start our birding day.

Later, at about 8 a.m., we began birding along Whitehouse Canyon Road as we drove in toward Madera Canyon. Attracting desert birds was the scrub on each side of the road that produced many Phainopepla, often in pairs, with the male perching high giving its low pe-uup call in an apparent courtship display, waiting for a (the) female to appear.

Birding the Proctor Road trail for two hours proved delightful; temps in the 70s, clear sky, water running in Madera Creek, friendly birders and some really good birds. As usual, we took all the spur trails to see what might lie in those directions, too.

Among a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos along the trail, this one reminded me of an old  childhood expression:  "Step on a crack, break your mother's back."

Dark-eyed Junco looking fearful about walking across the crack in the sidewalk

Madera Creek

On the bird above, note its totally brown back, large white neck patch, dark cap, nape and ear patch plus the red cap indicating it's a male.
On the same Arizona Woodpecker, pic below, you see the white throat, dark chest spots and barred belly.

Arizona Woodpecker
For Glenda, happiness is getting another Life Bird!  Me?  I was just stoked at finding such a good bird so early in the day.

Two birders from Boston were focused on a tree beside the trail. We joined them, asking what bird they were on. They hadn't yet determined if there was one or maybe two TOWNSEND'S WARBLER in the tree. Ah, we located both the male and the female, thanks to them. These were FOY birds for me (first of this year). Seemed early for warblers, but it sure is warm enough.

Driving farther up the hill, then, we spent 45 minutes at Santa Rita Lodge watching the feeders and trees. Rewards included a BROAD-BILLED HUMMINGBIRD stopping, in direct sunlight, at a feeder in front of us. Its blue-feathered neck was catching the sun just right to blast us with its beauty - too close for photos!

Broad-billed Hummingbird photographed at BTA 3/13.
To have a MAGNIFICENT HUMMINGBIRD show up, too, was a thrill. The male appears blackish overall but it's a big hummer, over 1" bigger than our familiar Anna's Hummingbird. Sitting at a feeder, its body is way longer than any other hummer present.
It's colors are actually green and black with just a speck of white showing behind its eye; the female has a greenish/gray front and green back. She showed up, too. They favored the feeders I hadn't seen prior to my neighbors installing them -- test-tube style feeders with a tiny hole in the rubber stopper so the hummers can hover freely as they sip. They were fastened to the gift shop window with small suction cups.

With no leaves on this deciduous tree, the Pine Siskin were very visible when they flocked here between forays elsewhere.
Pine Siskin (top and bottom photo)

Generally, we can count on seeing Mexican Jays at these feeding stations frequented by many species.
Mexican Jay
Lesser Goldfinch (male) 
Lesser Goldfinch Male-top left; Female-bottom right
From Santa Rita Lodge, we drove on up to Kubo Cabins B&B where Cora sets out many feeders in the canyon, with Madera Creek running through the property.

Chalet "cabin" at Kubo B&B
There, we added to our pleasure seeing Bridled Titmouse and White-breasted Nuthatch again plus ACORN WOODPECKER and YELLOW-EYED JUNCO.

Bridled Titmice never sit still; this one is flying directly toward me
Acorn Woodpecker
Woodpeckers don't always select big fat tree limbs; look at these "twigs" the Acorn is feeding upon. 

This small Yellow-eyed Junco, below, is not yet fully developed; t's tail feathers are still growing.

Yellow-eyed Junco

Having talked about the possibility of birding Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson on the way home, we decided that Glenda had enjoyed a fine introduction to birding Madera Canyon and that we'd head that direction.

So off we went.  Began birding at Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson at 4:30 p.m. and feeling hot compared to earlier in the day.  Among the waterfowl here, we saw:

Pied-billed Grebe grabbing an "early-bird special"
Ruddy Duck whose bill turns blue during mating season
Named "Green-winged Teal", I always look for the male's green ear patch
Common Gallinule
What I didn't see and hoped to find were the ever-missing-in-action Baltimore Oriole frequently reported at Sweetwater -- and seen that morning by Chris Rohrer! -- as well as the reported Brown Thrasher. Looking into afternoon sunlight, I thought for a moment we had flushed it up to a tree but it turned out to be a Northern Mockingbird. Couldn't let that bird get in the last word of the day.

Whenever I see this Green Heron, I'm a happy birder! (got me started birding)

Wrapped up the afternoon with this Greater Roadrunner

Arrived home at 6:30 p.m.-- 340 miles round trip -- seeing 57 species of birds many of which just aren't seen in the Phoenix area.  What a great February birding day!

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