Arlington Valley (West Phoenix) Ag Fields PLUS Thrasher Corner & Avondale's Crystal Gardens Parkway, Maricopa County, AZ

Sunday, February 14th
Meeting a local Audubon field trip group at 99th Avenue & McDowell in Avondale at 7:15 a.m., six of us set out to check "Thrasher Corner" at Salome and Baseline. The area had produced a couple singing thrashers yesterday, including a rare LeConte's that has been showing up there in Spring the past several years. Just not today. The site wasn't on the original agenda, but everyone was interested in checking it out and we were thrilled with finding two singing Bendire's Thrashers.

Bendire's Thrasher singing at "Thrasher Corner" 
(Yellow eye; bill not as curved as our common desert Curve-billed Thrasher)

Starting our drive around the many agricultural fields, then, in Arlington Valley, we enjoyed finding expected birds as well as some really nice unusual ones.  

A Green Heron, Red-tailed Hawk, Belted Kingfisher, and American Kestrel fall into the "expected" category.

Green Heron perched in tree over a canal
Red-tailed Hawk circling overhead
Belted Kingfisher perched above a canal
American Kestrel with a keen eye on ag field below
Whenever I drive the Arlington ag fields (seldom on my own; it's too easy to lose my way), I stop at the Lower River Road ponds that belong to a farmer. Since there is a good pull off from Little River Road, he allows birders to enjoy whatever lands there. Today, the pond was thick with Green-winged Teal. Our count of 100 is probably conservative. It was around noontime and they were seeking shade in the mud banks and under shrubs around the pond; it was hard to get a solid count.  
Using her spotting scope, Glenda pointed out a whole flock(17) of White-faced Ibis that blended in with the dark mud walls across the pond.

White-facd Ibis - Photo by Glenda Jones
An early Tree Swallow was also a treat to see (not real common here, yet if you put yourself in its habitat, you'll see them from time to time.) Glenda also found that perched bird for us but it flew before any of us got a photo. The birds we saw here have their own entry report form on eBird (Lower River Road ponds).

Always on my wish list for Arlington farm fields are birds like Bald Eagle, Osprey (canals and small ponds have fish), Long-billed Curlew (likes irrigated alfalfa fields) and White-faced Ibis, also favoring those fields.

Bald Eagle
Osprey with fish
Long-billed Curlew - a shore bird with a very long decurved bill and warm cinnamon-colored feathers
Long-billed Curlew - 1 of at least 70 out in one field
After a while of watching the many Long-billed Curlew, a flock of White-faced Ibis flew in and joined them. The adult Ibis have a red eye but it is only in mating season (beginning next month) that white feathers border its face. Although we saw one or two with the white feathers already growing in, none seem to be in my photos below.

White-faced ibis
When I first saw this species at Gilbert Water Ranch 4 years ago, I called them Glossy Ibis, quite rare here.

White-faced Ibis (right); Long-billed Curlew (left)
What a day of good sightings!

Finally, it was time to wrap up our traveling around the farm fields. I glanced up at a utility pole and noted one more Red-tailed Hawk in my field notebook. Then our leader, Claudia, told us by walkie-talkie that we were turning around, since Barb M. thought that bird was a Ferruginous.  Wow!  Wouldn't that be a great final sighting! And, I had passed it off as just another Red-tailed without giving it a proper look.

The Ferruginous (Buteo regalia) is definitely regal in appearance. It's an uncommon western bird and winter resident but nests much farther north into the upper tier of our states and into Canada. It's larger than a Red-tailed Hawk but smaller than a Golden Eagle. It's reddish back, pale head and white chest are good ID markers. 

We kept our distance to avoid spooking the bird.  It was well aware of our presence but gave us some good photographs. 
Ferruginous Hawk; photo by Glenda Jones
Ferruginous Hawk by Babs

The Ferruginous Hawk was the final sighting of our group field trip, but Glenda and I continued on to another location close by in the West Valley for another unusual bird.

Cackling Goose - note much smaller overall size, shorter neck and bill than the Canada next to it.
Photo by Glenda
Feeling like we had just experienced another great day of birding in the field, we turned eastward, with Glenda driving the 50 miles back to AJ.

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