December 15-31, 2017; Arizona Birding

December 16, 2017
When the "rare bird alert" (listserv) reported a reputable sighting of a BLACKPOLL WARBLER a little over 100 miles south at Sweetwater Wetlands, I was ready to jump in the car and go. I invited Hinde Silver to go with me. This I will do for a LIFE BIRD.

Even after a two-hour drive to this well-known birding spot in northern Tucson, the temperature was a daunting 49°F with overcast skies.  Fortunately, the bird was found in the same area as previously noted and we got good views of this "eastern" species. Range maps show that it doesn't even enter Texas, let alone Arizona, so this was a wonderful opportunity to find a new bird. Photos of this BLACKPOLL WARBLER are below:

Knowing that another rarity had been found at Santa Cruz Flats, we exited I-10 at Red Rock on the way home to enter the Flats to see if we could find the ORCHARD ORIOLE in that eastern area known as Friendly Corners (on my map). Barely out of the car with binoculars up and looking into the pecan trees, we were glad to see another birder show up. Wind was picking up and Hinde and I were getting really cold. Daniel, on the other hand, wore shorts and had a more legitimate excuse for saying he was cold, too.  He spotted our bird first and got the only photo as the first-year male ORCHARD ORIOLE foraged from one tree to the next.  After seeing the bird well, Hinde and I headed back home.  Another bird sighting within the Flats, unexpected but cherished, was a CRESTED CARACARA.

December 18, 2017
On a bird outing with birding friends from the RV resort across from where I live, nine of us spent a little over two hours at Fountain Hills Lake. Best sighting were the many HOODED MERGANSERs. Every hour on the hour, the fountain in the lake erupts with a tall rocket of water able to be viewed from miles away. It went off three times while we birded the lake in a leisurely manner.

Male with crest raised
Other birds of note at that location included an AMERICAN KESTREL that flew in toward our group and perched on a metal sculpture.

Male American Kestrel

With Red Mountain in the background, this cormorant, perched with its wings out to dry caught my attention.

December 20, 2017
No! Not again! -- A rarity all the way south to Sweetwater Wetlands! Glenda Jones rode down with me this time and I had no agenda other than to find the ORANGE BISHOP (also known as Northern Red Bishop) that would be a LIFE BIRD for each of us. Of the Weaver family of birds, it is primarily an African bird but has been released and established at a few locations in the USA, including southern California, the Phoenix, AZ, area, and Texas.  

Fortunately, I saw Rob Bowker when I entered the wetland trail and asked if he had yet seen the Bishop. It had been too dark earlier, so he returned to the reported spot while Glenda and I headed to it by walking the loop. As we came off the loop, Rob was running toward us motioning to catch up to him quickly. Without running (!), we managed to find the bird that Andrew Core had pointed out to Rob. What a gem! Really, a small buffy-colored bird, with a very short tail, it was not diffcult to find in the salt bush filled with White-crowned Sparrows (much bigger) and Mourning Doves (bigger yet). 

ORANGE BISHOP with thick pink bill and short blunt tail.

Trying to get a clear photo from our distance proved to be a bit of a problem but all that is required to prove a sighting is a photo that shows sufficient identification marks. These were good enough.
With no time constraints this time, Glenda and I birded much of the wetlands spotting 50 species altogether. A few of the other good birds:


December 22, 2017
Hinde Silver joined me to bird Base and Meridian Wildlife Area on this cold (40°F) morning. That's very cold to blood-thinned year-round residents of the desert. Our quest was to find another east-coast warbler that had found its way (or lost its way) to Arizona--a BLACK-THROATED GREEN. It moved too fast for photos between a willow and a cottonwood tree along the north stream of the Gila River, but I got quick good looks at the bird that I had gotten acquainted with in Pennsylvania in the spring.

We stayed and birded quite a while where the best action I was able to capture by photo was an OSPREY perched and eating a small prey when a GREAT BLUE HERON flew in for a piece of the action.

Not in the least intimidated, the OSPREY flew off to a single snag to finish off its snack.

December 23, 2017
The only Christmas Bird Count (CBC) I did this year was the one I've done for the past several years. Together Lois Lorenz, Hinde Silver and I collected a total of 48 species in the 4.5 hours we birded the Queen Valley community.

Our best sighting was among our first of the day: a SNOW GOOSE -- a juvenile. First noticed on the greens around the golf-course pond, the juvenile has the pink legs and pink bill with its black "grin line" along the lower mandible that the mature bird has, but it lacks all the white feathers of the adult.

SNOW GOOSE - Juvenile
A pair of REDHEADS was also a good find.

The action of the day went to an interloping SHARP-SHINNED HAWK that perched nicely on a low limb facing us. Our great view was interrupted by a diving HARRIS'S HAWK that drove the bird out of one tree to where it flew into the denser limbs of another. If you know Harris's Hawks, that is no problem for them. They work together, so this time a second Harris's Hawk helped the first, sending the Sharpie into the air again never to be seen by us again. Then the Harris's settled down commanding their territory.

This VERMILION FLYCATCHER was so bright in the sunlight, none of my frontal photos turned out. But look at this one!

December 24, 2017
For many many years, I've chosen to go birding on my birthday and today was no exception. With light traffic (no commuters), I high-tailed it over to Glendale Recharge Ponds to see if I might find a CACKLING GOOSE among the many Canada Geese.
Parking outside of Pond #6, the geese were still on the water at 7:30 a.m. With scope focused on the large loose flock, I was able to pick out a RICHARSON'S CACKLING GOOSE (I think I saw four of them, but after a while the lines blur; it's smaller than a Canada but not as small as a Cackling Goose).  Finally, I landed on the smaller one with similar marking as the Canada Goose but its breast area was dark, not as light as the Richardson's and not nearly as light as the Canada Goose. I had the CACKLING GOOSE with its rounder head, steeper forehead and stubby bill. But it was the short neck that caught my attention. 

Fortunately, I got to see this bird in the water before all the geese started lifting off to go to their daytime haunts. Although it showed small in the overhead flock, I felt much better having had the good view through my spotting scope.

Of the 43 species I saw at Glendale Ponds, the AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN, at quite a distance, grabbed my camera's attention.

December 25, 2017
Lois Lorenz and I agreed to meet at the Riparian Wetlands at Gilbert Water Ranch on Christmas morning. 
Beginning at 7:50 a.m. and birding for three hours, we spotted 59 species of birds. That place is amazing.
We also came upon Dara Vasquez, a fairly new but quite talented birder. I'll post a few photos from the day and attach the link to eBird for you to view the bounty of the place!


HOODED MERGANSER with crest lowered (Pond #5)

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After a delicious Christmas Dinner at Marcee's house in Scottsdale, Naomi, Lois and I spent about three hours visiting with Marcee before parting to go our separate ways.

Lois was game for stopping at Papago Park on the way home to check the ponds there for a reported Eurasian Wigeon but it was a no show. The COMMON GALLINULE stole the show for me.


Families celebrating Christmas sunset at Hole in the Rock, Papago Park, Tempe, AZ

December 27, 2017
Feeling rested and caught up with household chores, I headed out to Granite Reef Recreation Area along the Lower Salt River early this morning. It was another good day with 50 species in a little over two hours. Highlights below:

ROCK WREN almost at my feet. Seemed oblivous to my presence until it got to my hiking boots. 

SONG SPARROW (Southwestern species - light reddish brown)

December 30, 2017
While I thought yesterday would be my final day of birding for the year I was ready to use a Saturday (non-commuter day on I-10) to head west with Hinde Silver and Jannie Blok joining me, to "Thrasher Corner". Located  about 120 miles west, it took us two hours in fairly light traffic to reach our destination. Birders from around the country come here in search of various thrashers, most especially, LeConte's Thrasher. Having already seen that bird this year, I was much more interested in the unusual sparrows: SAGEBRUSH and BELL'S sparrows. Formerly lumped into one species, the ABA separated them into two rather well-defined species with the BELL'S being much darker than the SAGEBRUSH.

Having left home early, we arrived at the desolate salt-bush area at 8 a.m. with the temperature reading 34°F, 10 degrees cooler than when we left AJ.  With little human development around for miles, the earth was able to breathe. With little pavement and buildings, it was lacking the "heat island" of the suburbia we live in.

No bird in its right mind would be out without the sun warming things up a bit so we walked the northeast quadrant of salt bush (short, up to our knees) in search of any birds. WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS were the first to wake up and head to bare treetops for the heat of the sun and I really believe the only other birds we saw in our first hour of tromping through two fields of salt bush, were ABERT'S TOWHEEs and a BENDIRE'S THRASHER. 

For our second hour, we crossed Salome and worked the saltbush in both quadrants on the west side. There we met up with two birders from Ohio. With five of us on the lookout, it wasn't terribly long before I was able to call, "I'm looking at "my" bird!" (the one I hadn't yet seen this year). It was the BELL'S SPARROW - obviously so to my eye and after observing four ID characteristics (darker than Sagebrush Sp nearby; brown back with no stripes unlike Sagebrush with stripes; dark spot on breast and white from its throat to its under-tail-coverts with a few dark broken stripes along its flank), I lifted my camera. All three of us with cameras lifted at the same time and - ping! - the bird was gone the moment we all snapped. I'm still a birder first; photographer, second. But I do like to document my sightings with a pic. -- Not this time, as we saw no more BELL'S SPARROWS but a total of seven (7) SAGEBRUSH SPARROWS, running on the ground with tail up.

In this first photo, the Sagebrush Sparrow is hidden behind some dry weeds; in the second, taken by Jannie, you can see the stripes on its back.

After two hours, with just nine species there, we stopped by Lower River Road Ponds where we were looking into the sun for the few species that remained there. Standing out were the four SNOW GOOSE and one ROSS'S GOOSE.

December 31, 2017
With good friends, Bari and Ann in town for the holidays, I joined them for a walk in the Riparian Preserve at Gilbert Water Ranch. 

Here, we saw almost fifty (50) species in two hours, including lots of little birds flitting from leaf to leaf in the big cottonwoods in search of insects. Choice bird among them was the continuing rarity, CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER. Just a few raptors today: OSPREY, NORTHERN HARRIER (with prey in hand), and AMERICAN KESTREL.

For this winter season, I had yet to see a COMMON YELLOWTHROAT and that was resolved today with my first seasonal sighting that Ann found. 

So, now it is the final day of the year. Total bird species I've seen in Arizona this year reached 341. More data will be added to my wrap up here after I check my status among other birders. I'm thinking I probably saw about 70% of the available species; many birders work hard to see more; others just bird for the thrill.  Knowing I'd be out of state more than usual, I had set a goal of reaching 340 species and I managed the "baker's dozen". 
Below is a copy of my Arizona record of eBird reports:

In addition to my 341 species recognized for Arizona, I had 115 more at various places around the USA, mainly my Duluth trip in January; the east coast while visiting family; and my "grouse" trip plus family visit in Colorado. 
In Duluth, I had the extraordinary opportunity to see well the GREAT GRAY OWL (2-3 times, perched and hunting); the SNOWY OWL; the PINE GROSBEAK and lesser known, WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL and COMMON REDPOLL. On my "grouse" trip to Colorado, I was able to see all of the chicken-like birds that live in that state including the GREATER SAGE GROUSE, GUNNSON SAGE GROUSE plus the GREATER and LESSER PRAIRIE CHICKEN (Lesser in Kansas). The bird that stole my heart on that visit was the WHITE-TAILED PTARMIGAN still in full white feathers and a teeny black bill, keeping it very camouflaged in its snowy habitat at Loveland Pass. Total species recorded in eBird this year for USA:  456.

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Happy Birding in the New Year 2018 to all of you...whether it be in the field or on a blog!

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Rackensack Canyon & Seven Springs Recreation Area, Maricopa County, AZ

Friday, December 15, 2017
With the car's outside temperature registering 39°F with no sun yet reaching Rackensack Canyon, Jeanne Burns decided we should continue on up the dirt road to Seven Springs Recreation Area, catching the canyon on our return. This is one of my favorite locations to visit; it's beautiful. On some days, the birds are really good, too.

Road leading up to Seven Springs Recreation Area beyond Rackensack  Canyon
Staying alert for any birds perched up to catch the morning sun, we came upon small flocks of WESTERN BLUEBIRDs.

In the grasses behind the first rest area, we saw HOUSE WREN, WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWs, BLACK-THROATED SPARROWs, a LARK SPARROW and a handful of OREGON DARK-EYED JUNCOs.

As we approached our desination (Seven Springs Campground), I spotted a LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE out in the distance. Jeanne stopped and took this photo of it in a mesquite.

The chatter of JUNIPER TITMOUSE caught our immediate attention when we reached the campground. Not an easy bird to come upon for us desert dwellers! We were thrilled it gave us the chance to watch its behavior.

Jeanne caught this double-bird photo: Juniper Titmouse bottom; Ruby-crowned Kinglet above it
By far, the most numerous species at the campground was the AMERICAN ROBIN. With many in each tree, we counted a conservative number of 75 of them.

Although we were surrounded with bird song, a thrasher's song from up on the hillside reached us, too. We called it down -- a SAGE THRASHER!

PHAINOPEPLA were here, too. Perching out in the open, as flycatchers do, this female gave me a photo op before she sallied forth for a morning snack.

Scampering around the picnic tables and foraging on the ground were DARK-EYED JUNCO, WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW and SPOTTED TOWHEE.

Not on the ground was a HERMIT THRUSH, not skulking around as usual but perched in the denseness of a tree.

Finding a sycamore tree trunk full of sapsucker holes, we waited a short distance away to see who was using it. While we waited, a NORTHERN CARDINAL showed itself. Male in full view; female hidden as she works the berries.

A RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER showed up at "its" tree full of holes and continued tapping it.

When it left, a RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET flew in to check the holes for any insects that may have gotten trapped in the sap of previous holes.

Still planning to stop at Rackensack Canyon on our way out of the area, we managed to pull ourselves away from the rich experience at the campground. 

Near a residence on the way back down, we heard and spotted a couple BRIDLED TITMOUSE.

Then, we were back at Rackensack.

Here, we spotted a RED-TAILED HAWK overhead, WOODHOUSE'S SCRUB JAY moving from juniper to juniper and more familiar desert birds: BLACK-TAILED GNATCATCHER, VERDIN, RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROW and CANYON TOWHEE.

Another very good adventure in the field.

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Click on the links below to see entire list for each location:

View this checklist online at