White Mountains, Navajo and Apache Counties; PLUS a rare bird back home in Maricopa County

Friday, Saturday & Sunday, August 26, 27 & 28th:

Four of us desert-rat birders managed to enjoy two rainy days and one cloudy blustery day in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest this past weekend. Our major target was DUSKY GROUSE -- a Life Bird for each of us. Second most sought-after bird was the AMERICAN THREE-TOED WOODPECKER, a Life Bird for two, and a Year Bird for two of us.

To find these two species required repeated trips to their most frequent locations. Of the 18 sites we birded, three of them were to Green’s Peak (dirt road north of 260) for the Dusky Grouse; two were to Butler Canyon Nature Trail in Greer for the 3-toed woodpecker.

I was in good company with Muriel Neddermeyer, Gordon Karre and Chris Rohrer for some intense birding. Due to lighting issues and my playing with the settings on my camera before the trip, many of the photos below were shared by my friends to supplement mine. Thanks!

DAY #1 - Friday 8/26
We visited four (4) birdy spots: [approximate times]
  1. Woodland Lake Park, Pinetop = 2 hours beginning at 9:00 a.m.
  2. McNary—old mill area = 40 minutes
  3. Little Colorado River—South Fork = 4 hours 
  4. Green’s Peak = 2 hours at dusk
With Gordon driving, we arrived at Woodland Lake Park about 9 a.m. to bird while walking around the lake. We marveled at the cool damp air. From the forest trail we could see six species of swallows flying over the lake.  (Purple Martin; Tree, Violet-green, Bank, Barn & Cliff Swallows)

A fine drizzle began soon after we started, but it felt good. Despite the rain, many birds were active.
Juvenile Pied-billed Grebe
Adult and two juvie Pied-billed Grebes
Red-Shafted Northern Flicker with white rump patch showing below rain-fluffed feathers
Grace's Warbler [Photo by Chris Rohrer]
Western Bluebird  [Photo by Chris Rohrer]
Sora [Photo by Muriel Neddermeyer]
Walking in opposite directions around the lake, I said "Good Morning" to a woman pushing her dog in a stroller. When we passed each other the second time, she spoke and it was only after she walked off that I realized it was Jan Elliott with her doxie -- a resident of my desert community, many of whom spend summers in the Show Low-Pinetop area.

At McNary ponds, our best birds were not in the water. I was surpised when we saw three (3) species of hummingbirds out there in the old mill area: BROAD-TAILED, RUFOUS and CALLIOPE. Topping this off were ten (10) beautiful WESTERN BLUEBIRDS and a VIRGINIA'S WARBLER making this spontaneous adventure well worth the stop.

Virginia's Warbler [Photo by Chris Rohrer]
The South Fork of the Little Colorado River, is one of my favorite places. We covered it from one end to the other even though the rain grew heavier at times.

Grass on roof of this top-of-the line cabin in South Fork 
Gordon (in doorway), Chris and Muriel at one of the dilapidated cabins from a long-ago youth camp
Townsend's Solitaire [Photo by Chris]
Chris (Selfie); Gordon, Muriel, Babs on trail beyond him (South Fork)
Lavender Astors
Black-headed Grosbeak
Northern Flicker-Red Shafted [photo by Gordon Karre]

Cassin's Vireo [Photo by Chris Rohrer]

Willow Flycatcher  [photo by Gordon Karre]
After checking into Reed's Lodge in Springerville, we drove to Green's Peak to see if we could find the DUSKY GROUSE at dusk. We followed the trail down through the forest checking into the trees and on tree limbs to no avail. I heard what I thought sounded like human voices but there were no cars around; we were totally alone up there at a little over 10,000' elevation. We couldn't figure out what we were hearing. It was definitely not the Dusky Grouse; it was a no show.
For me, the best part of the search was finding so many Mountain Bluebirds along the road up to the peak.

DAY #2 -Saturday 8/27
We generated 10 birding reports including one Common Nighthawk along Rt. 260. Other than that, we visited:
1)  Green's Peak = 1.5 hrs.
2)  Sheep Crossing = 1.75 hrs.
3)  FS Road 87 over to Greer = 20 min.
4)  Butler Canyon Nature Trail, Greer = 25 min. drizzle and slick trail; thunder
5)  LeRendevous hummingbird feeders = 30 min. 
6)  Greer Lakes = 1.5 hours (rain)
7)  Benny Creek Campground, Greer = 30 min.
8)  Lyman Lake State Park = drove eastward out of the rain;  1 hr. 20 min.
9)  Becker Lake = 15 minutes

Up early for a return visit to Green’s Peak at dawn to search for our Life Bird, we were stunned to have two COMMON NIGHTHAWKS lift off the highway and fly right into the front of Gordon’s car. One flew off. Yikes. Not a good vibe for the upcoming morning, I thought.

However, there were so many birds in the grasslands along the dirt road up to Green's Peak, we had trouble driving past without a few photos. HORNED LARKS, MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRDS, CHIPPING and VESPER SPARROWS, WESTERN MEADOWLARK and PINE SISKEN. We tried to stay focused on our target bird at the top.

Mountain Bluebird on mullein stalk [Photo by Muriel Neddermeyer]
Horned Lark  [Photo by Chris Rohrer]
Mountain Bluebird
Pine Siskin [Photo by Chris Rohrer]

From the 10,000' top of Green's Peak, in morning light instead of dusk, we hiked down the same trail as last evening with Gordon and Chris leading the way. Last in line because I was using hiking poles that make a slight noise, I missed seeing the UNEXPECTED.  When we reached a log across the trail at a flat lower elevation, Gordon called out, “Wolf!”  Chris caught a glimpse. In that hyper moment, Gordon was able to discern that it definitely was not a coyote but a wolf.  There had been a sign marking Green’s Peak as a reintroduction area for Mexican Gray Wolf . . . and the guys had just seen one of the pack. And guess what? When they disappeared, we heard the same sounds coming from the wolves that we had heard the previous night, not knowing what they were.  (no howling)
It had begun to rain yet again, so we returned, slowly, under higher altitude air, back up to the car on top of Green's Peak.

Bummed that we still hadn't found our Life Bird grouse, we consoled ourselves with the super sighting and sounds of a small pack of gray wolves.

At Sheep's Crossing, we spotted the reliable AMERICAN DIPPER (2 of them) and enjoyed watching them at water's edge.

American Dipper [Photo by Muriel Neddermeyer]
When the Dipper blinks, its white eyelid closes..as it also does when it dives underwater

Although we saw and heard many good birds at this location, the sky was overcast and lighting was poor for photos.  GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLETS, CLARK'S NUTCRACKER and BAND-TAILED PIGEON showed themselves as we walked along the West Fork of the Little Colorado River on that lower end of the Mount Baldy Trail.

Our next major target was the AMERICAN THREE-TOED WOODPECKER found most reliably on the Butler Canyon Nature Trail in Greer. The bird favors burned Ponderosa Pine which was readily available on that loop hike. But did we work! We saw one woodpecker after the other: ACORN, WILLIAMSON'S and DOWNY WOODPECKER plus a NORTHERN FLICKER. Chris's photo of the DOWNY WOODPECKER below shows not only its shorter bill and smaller size than the Hairy but the two small black bars at the end of its white tail feathers.

Thunder and lightening became an issue so we cut short our pursuit of the American Three-toed and headed for brunch at Le Rendezvous along the road into Greer. Sitting on the outside deck (no one else out there while it rained), we spotted four species of hummingbirds: BLACK-CHINNED, BROAD-TAILED, RUFOUS and CALLIOPE. Muriel was able to take  awesome photos of the various hummingbirds including the Two Rufous and one Calliope (female)shown below.

Still raining, we drove out to Greer Lakes where, during intermittent showers, we were able to spot some new species including COMMON MERGANSER, EARED GREBE, OSPREY,  BELTED KINGFISHER and WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE.

A muddy drive into Benny Creek Campground gave us an usual sighting: an OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER beside a puddle in the road. Was it a young one?  It didn't fly off.
Had it just started its bath and wanted to finish?  Who knows? But that normally top-of-the tree bird was right in front of us and watched us as we took one photo after the other.

Looking at the sky, it appeared less cloudy with some blue to the east of us, so we drove back through Springerville and eastward to Lyman Lake where we had muddy roads instead of rain. WESTERN GREBE, a couple EGRETS, BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON and a SPOTTED SANDPIPER were at or in the water. Shrubs along the lake gave us some expected birds as well as a LAZULI BUNTING.

On our return to our lodge in Springerville, we stopped off at Becker Lake for about twenty minutes where the people we met were more interesting than the birds, but this is all about the birds, so I'll leave it at that.

DAY #3 Sunday, August 28th
Finally, we sucked up our miss of the Dusky Grouse and made another attempt for the American Three-toed Woodpecker on Butler Canyon Nature Trail, Greer.
Again, we saw many woodpeckers (WILLIAMSON'S, RED-NAPED, HAIRY) but were sure we'd find our bird in this heavily burned-out area that almost reached the center of Greer a few years back. 

Williamson's Sapsucker [Photo by Muriel Neddermeyer]

Eventually, I spotted the AMERICAN THREE-TOED WOODPECKER high up in a pine working the trunk. Photos were difficult but identified the bird that has a yellow, not red, head.

American Three-toed Woodpecker [Photo by Muriel Neddermeyer]

American Three-toed Woodpecker preening (revealing the yellow on top of its head)
Enjoying this success gave us the impetus to return for one last attempt for the Dusky Grouse at Green's Peak. Gordon had been in touch with some other birders who had found the bird at various locations up there, so while Muriel, Chris and Gordon bushwhacked down a steep hill in pursuit, I stayed at the peak enjoying the cool wind. 

When they returned without finding the bird, Gordon said he had just received a cell message that a rare bird had been located at Gilbert Water Ranch earlier today. So, we headed home a little after 11 a.m. in pursuit of a rare east-coast to Texas bird -- TRI-COLORED HERON.

After Gordon dropped me at home, they continued on to Gilbert Riparian Preserve at the Water Ranch and I soon followed. The heron was on a different pond than where it was seen this morning, but the remnant pool of Pond 6 appeared to give it plenty to eat.

TRI-COLORED HERON - three above photos

On that note we wrapped up a fantastically intense and rewarding birding trip to the White Mountains having seen a total of 133 species at the various locations we visited.

Mammals seen in the White Mountains:  Elk, Deer, Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel, Chipmunk, Abert's Squirrel, Mexican Gray Wolf.

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  1. Great report and FUN! It was a bit exhausting, but boy did we see some great birds!

  2. Didn't realize how exhausted I was until yesterday!! Great FUN!