Exploring MT. ORD, Maricopa County, AZ

Friday, March 18th

Driving northeast on State Route 87 early on Friday morning, we watched the sun rise over Four Peaks and down through the windshield making us reach for sunglasses at an early hour.

We were driving up and away from residential areas bursting with the yellow blooms of palo verde trees, past desert meadows carpeted with yellow flowers of brittle bush and even up past the tall many-armed saguaro cactus with hints of white on top of its arms that will bear the state flower in another month or so. [Saguaros grow only on southern slopes above 4,000 feet.]

Glenda Jones, new to the area this winter, had the 4-wheel drive high-clearance vehicle for the drive, so Jeanne Burns and I were happy to show her the birds of MT. ORD. We knew more migrants would be coming through in April, but time would run out for Glenda so here we were climbing the immediate rise in the road after the turn-off onto FR636. With windows down, I could hear Black-chinned Sparrows but they weren’t perched up in view as we drove slowly upward. At the first level stretch of road, we parked near the corral and birded both sides of the road without hiking down through the chaparral and junipers.

At 7:20 a.m., one of the first birds that popped up was a JUNIPER TITMOUSE. It was not close, but I tried to get a decent photo.

Juniper Titmouse

So I walked closer. . .

And, closer.

Until the sun rose higher, the Black-chinned Sparrows stayed far down in a basin toward Highway 87 singing and sometimes perching briefly at great distances from us.  We continued birding the corral area, seeing WESTERN SCRUB JAY and some birds more familiar to us, a SAY’S PHOEBE and CHIPPING SPARROWS.

Say's Phoebe
Western Scrub Jay

Finally, a few Black-chinned Sparrows perched close enough for Glenda to get some good photos.

Black-chinned Sparrows; photo by Glenda

Ascending the narrow dirt road up to FR1688 brought little in the way of bird song, but I knew a walk into this area would put us in touch with some good ones.

With two vehicles already parked in my usual spot, we pulled up next to the "tank" where we immediately heard Spotted Towhees. Scratching on the ground, I managed to flush them unintentionally up into a tree where Glenda and Jeanne got good views, too.

Bridled Titmouse, more Acorn Woodpeckers chasing one another, a Northern Flicker calling; an Anna's Hummingbird taking off as soon as we laid eyes on it and a Painted Redstart that was just too nimble for photos. This male Western Bluebird was much more cooperative!

The switchback road beyond Rt. 1688 reaches out into Gila County which requires a separate entry into eBird so we drove directly up to the parking lot at the gate to the summit. We wanted to walk that road through ponderosa pine and oak forest to find some higher elevation birds.  

Acorn Woodpeckers were again very present; we spied a few Bushtits, Dark-eyed Juncos, and White-breasted Nuthatches.  My gait put me ahead of my birding buds so when I heard the deep “whoo …. whoo” of the BAND-TAILED PIGEON and turned to ask if they had also heard it, they didn’t even hear me!
I waited for them, but, no, they had been getting acquainted and didn’t hear the deep somewhat “owl-y” sound. 

But they were first to spot the Olive Warblers that we heard. Birds were moving quickly and while both Jeanne and Glenda got good looks, I caught only the flight movements. But I had heard its song well.

Disappointed at not getting a better look at that warbler, I turned and looked up into the sky for raptors — and found VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS! Glenda found one perched and preening; we both took photos.

The dirt road kept winding upward; at a fork closer to the summit, I took a photo of the signage.

I think we had already walked a half mile from the gate blocking vehicles so it's probably a mile walk to the Lookout Station for US Forest Service use.

Jeanne and Glenda ascending almost to the top of the mountain; hazy but wonderful views beyond us
Then, we were there! Summit of MT. ORD:  7,128 feet.

Roosevelt Lake from summit of Mt. Ord
Glenda Jones & Jeanne Burns at summit

Glenda & Babs at summit [Photo by Jeanne Burns]

Beside an Alligator Juniper (so-called for the bark that is still showing) [Photo by Jeanne Burns]
North Side of Four Peaks with snow remnants

Juniper Berries

Birds we found at the summit included Western Scrub Jay, Common Ravens and Spotted Towhee but no raptors!  

We also had maximum bars on our cell phones standing beneath a variety of communication towers.

On our return walk, we were thrilled to have another chance at a photo of a PAINTED REDSTART.  Such a beautiful bird. But, always, it seems, behind sticks!

This second photo (below) of a Painted Redstart was taken at Boyce Thompson Arboretum a few years ago.

After spending 5 1/2 hours on Mt. Ord, we left that area, crossed Highway 87 and took FR267 into an idyllic spot along Sycamore Creek, just north of the birding spot at Sunflower.

Glenda and Babs
Finding no Juniper Titmice that usually frequent the area, we were happy to find a Townsend's Solitaire and chalked that up to an additional species for the day, giving us a total of 27.

With moderate temperatures, slight breeze and a clear sunny day, we could not have chosen a better day to bird Mt. Ord, so close but yet so far in habitat from home. Simply awesome!

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