Beeline Highway, Sunflower, Maricopa County, Arizona

Wednesday, April 6th
With temperature predicted to reach 99°F in Apache Junction (AJ) today, it seemed like a good time to head to higher country for some birding. 

At 6:50 A.M., Jeanne Burns and I began birding on Old Highway 87, a secluded residential area along Sycamore Creek in high desert riparian habitat. Known as Sunflower, the area has an elevation of 3,400 feet, twice as high as AJ, making it cool enough to pull on jackets to start out.

Birds were everywhere.  Swallows overhead, song birds perched high in the still-leafless Fremont Cottonwoods and Arizona Sycamores, and Turkey Vultures lifting out from their roosts into the swirling updrafts. Excited that we could still see into the trees, we began to spot some special birds catching the morning sun.  Cassin’s Kingbirds and a Hooded Oriole were in the very top of a budding sycamore.

Cassin's Kingbird and Hooded Oriole [Photo by Jeanne Burns]

Cassin's Kingbird

Hooded Oriole

Jeanne had arrived with a “want” list of birds that we might find at that elevation, so she was elated when a Hutton’s Vireo called, a Black-throated Gray showed itself nicely and a couple Juniper Titmice were present. 

Vermilion Flycatcher always catches my eye

Lucy’s Warbler, Bewick’s Wren, Yellow Warbler, Lesser Goldfinch and House Finches were seen multiple times along our 3-4 mile round-trip walk to the research station. Walking up the road beyond the parking area at the blockade proved to be a bit challenging.  Wind gusts of at least 10 mph had me walking with my head down into the wind, with neck strap tightened on my hat, feeling my shirt blowing out behind me. Then, it would stop. We’d forget all about it until it happened again! 

Two Common Ravens put on an air show for us during our entire walk seeming to enjoy the winds. Flowers were the show along the road.

When we lunched in the shade at the research station, we were entertained by two Say’s Phoebes in constant motion from perch to fly-catch to perch.

Fragrant rose bush in bloom 
It was there that we had an Ash-throated Flycatcher. As special as that bird is to me, it was upstaged by a Canyon Wren whose call came closer and closer to us while we sat eating. And, then, it perched on an old tire not ten feet in front of us! Before I could even reach for the camera, it was gone and singing from a tree behind us. 

Don't know which is more beautiful; its SONG or its coloring  [taken 3 years ago]

In a little over five (5) hours, I saw just 36 species but sometimes it’s not how many birds I see but the experiences that make the day memorable.

Etched into my memory is not only the call of the Common Black Hawk but what followed as we took photos into the wooded areas from the Old Highway.

It was Jeanne that caught the action when this bird flew to another CBHA and began copulating. I felt like a voyeur watching them mate.

[Three photos above by Jeanne Burns]

Yet again, another good day in the field.

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