Thrasher Corner, Baseline Road and Salome Highway, Maricopa County, AZ

Sunday, May 8th:
It was a spontaneous invite and I was glad to show a local birding friend the place called "Thrasher Corner." Marsha Wiles wanted to see a Crissal Thrasher so we headed off together for the spot about 70 miles west of where we live.

Although a sighting of one had been reported on April 29th, there were few recent reports  of birders visiting that location. Consisting of wide open dry desert of salt-bush and creosote bushes with a few mesquite and palo verde trees but no shade for the birder, it can get really hot out there but on this day the temperature was mild in the morning hours that we birded. Where Baseline Road dead-ends at Salome Highway, the birder has a choice of four different extensive areas of salt-bush dry desert to explore. 

We started on the northeast corner where we spent most of our time watching for any birds running on the ground. Other birds greeted us, instead. A Verdin sang and a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher showed up with its ratchet call. In response, I imitated the gnatcatcher's call and danged if that bird didn't follow us almost all morning!  

Various thrashers can be found at Thrasher Corner EXCEPT the one that lives in and around our desert residential and valley open spaces. As a baseline for knowing the Thrashers of Thrasher Corner, let me start with the most common thrasher around us: the Curve-billed Thrasher. In the photo below, note its slightly decurved bill, orange/yellow eye, dingy gray/brown robust body and longish dark tail. If you live in the desert, this is the one that can wake you up with its, "Whit-Wheet!" call. We did not (and will not) see this bird out at Thrasher Corner; it prefers to live where you do. But I show it here to use as a "baseline" for the thrashers we did see. Our resident Curve-billed is known as the Sonoran population (T.c. palmari group).

Curve-billed Thrasher
The first thrasher that sang out at Thrasher Corner was a less common, BENDIRE'S. I know that voice from Lost Dutchman State Park, so we tracked down the bird.  Compared to the Curve-billed Thrasher above, the Bendire's is just a wee bit smaller in every way including a shorter straighter bill (i.e., the upper bill is curved, the bottom bill is straight). Its color is slightly more grayish brown but that's a hard distinction to make if the birds are not in close proximity. It's screechy song was its ID marker for me.

Bendire's Thrasher has a yellow/orange eye
Lighting on this Bendire's Thrasher shows its brown coloration in top photo (normal) but (same bird) gray in the lower where a new birder may confuse it with a Northern Mockingbird.

In contrast to the above, we were searching for the CRISSAL THRASHER that is even more of an over-stated Curve-billed Thrasher than the Bendire's is under-stated -- sometimes described as a Curve-billed on steroids.

Crissal Thrasher (we hoped to find)

Continuing on through the salt bush, we found another Bendire's Thrasher, many Mourning Doves and two White-crowned Sparrows...along with our companion, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher still calling out for unknown reasons. If it was protecting territory, we've long since left that original spot but the gnatcatcher persists. Is it warning other birds that binoculars and cameras are present so stay hidden? Does it just want to be acknowledged? Again, I imitate its ratchet call, back to it. The bird doesn't appear agitated -- although its voice does -- it just sits in the open with "cheh cheh cheh cheh cheh cheh."

Hey! -- Look!  Our desert flycatcher.

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Still, we've not yet heard or seen a hint of a Crissal Thrasher. 

But, we found one that, in my opinion, is even more difficult to find and would also be a Life Bird for Marsha. We're looking at a LeConte's Thrasher -- a very plain thrasher, smaller than the Crissal. Differing from the Crissal with its less curved bill, darker eye and buffy under-tail feathers the LeCONTE'S THRASHER looked mighty good to me.

Two photos of same bird; we saw three separate LeConte's Thrashers.

An unexpected bird was a Wilson's Warbler!  But the lack of finding the Crissal Thrasher in our first location led us to move to the southwest corner of the dead end intersection where we would spend more time searching for it in the salt bush and arroyos with short trees.

As we concluded that the Crissal Thrasher had eluded us, we headed back to the car. That's when we had the unexpected highlight ? of the day.  I almost stepped on a Diamondback Rattlesnake that - fortunately rattled and hissed loudly - sending my feet into reverse motion immediately. Marsha, behind me, was seeing her first ever Western Diamondback with its black and white tail bands and its very active rattle.

How the snake appeared to me before crawling under a dry bush; internet photo

When we had backed up several feet, the snake relaxed - and so did we (somewhat)! Everyone always asks me,"Don't you see a lot of snakes out there in the desert?" For over twenty years now, I've lived and hiked and birded out here and this is only the second (2nd)  Diamondback Rattler I've come across. Yes, it's unnerving but if you let it alone, it's probably as pleased as you are.

It was a fat Diamondback. I wanted to show the rattle but I think I see its eyes in the weeds, too. Or, maybe I'll just keep seeing those eyes for a while.

Interestingly, Marsha was happy to learn from this experience and considered it a worthy consolation for not having seen the Crissal Thrasher. 

Another Interesting day in the field.

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