Phoenix West Valley Agricultural Fields (Buckeye, Palo Verde, Arlington), Maricopa County, AZ

Sunday, January 8
Joining a Desert Rivers Audubon field trip to explore agricultural and other areas lying west of Phoenix, I was part of a group of eight birders, including leaders Claudia Kirscher and Barb Meding. Other birders were Terry & Linda Parkinson, Sue Moreland, Hinde Silver, Glenda Jones and myself, plus joining us for part of our day, Jeanne Burns, a birder known to all of us, who  showed up as she was pursuing two of the same unusual birds we were looking to find: White-tailed Kite and Trumpeter Swan.

One of Three Healthy-looking Coyote Walking the Agricultural Fields
Every now and again, a birding adventure elevates itself beyond words and beyond photographs that try to “capture” the actual experience.

Today’s 125-mile route around the agricultural fields in Phoenix’s West Valley ended up being one of those days.  

Everything from sparrows to falcons seemed to show up for us.

VESPER SPARROW [Photo by Glenda Jones]
PEREGRINE FALCON  [photo by Glenda Jones]

On the ground, we spotted a FERRUGINOUS HAWK (our largest buteo) perched in the middle of a field looking for an easy catch.

Note how the leg feathers of the Ferruginous Hawk go down to its feet. Also note the comparative size of the Horned Larks on the ground!   [Photo: Glenda Jones]

Ferruginous Hawk in take off mode: Note its pale tail and mostly white underparts (Light Morph)
[Photo: Glenda Jones]
We couldn't drive far without seeing one American Kestrel after the other on overhead utility lines or power poles.

Male AMERICAN KESTREL with prey [note very rufous tail]  [Photo: Glenda Jones]

Sometimes, all we needed to do was look overhead:  

SANDHILL CRANES [Photo: Glenda Jones]
Northern Harrier (male) also called the "Gray Ghost" for its beautiful view from human perspective
[Photo: Glenda Jons]

There were ponds along the way where we spotted interesting waterfowl among our common ducks.

SNOW GEESE at Lower River Road Ponds (7) [Photo: Glenda Jones}
White-faced Ibis

Look at the size of these ibis. We would see them in a very different context in another field.

Apparently, they were foraging beyond our sight at the far end of a deep alfalfa field when a hawk entered the field from one side and a farmer entered from another. What occurred was  simply awesome.

Lifting together, they became a shape-shifting cloud of birds that lifted and flew as one in various formations just above rooftops before settling down in the field again.
(some tan-colored Long-billed Curlews among them at the top)

Above photos: Glenda Jones

This "murmuration" of ibis and curlew moved all of us with its synchronous flight.

The next most stunning find of the day was in another agricultural field when I spotted a small bird "kiting" or hovering in mid-air to then drop down and grab an insect. Not a flycatcher in this wide open flat agricultural land, this was a MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD.

Not one, but many...males and females. Checking our field guides, we were assured that this is its exact behavior. Males are sky-blue; females, gray with blue tinges.

Two above photos of male Mountain Bluebirds by Glenda Jones

Although we had begun the morning looking for two unusual sightings, we had departed that area and gone on for several hours to enjoy the birds above.

As we headed back to our starting place, we spotted a CATTLE EGRET walking beside a canal.

Photo: Glenda Jones

Surprises continued. On our way to look, again, for the White-tailed Kites, we passed a flooded ag field loaded with ducks, and shorebirds but standing above them all was this single beautiful TRUMPETER SWAN.  Remember, we live in a desert.  Farmers irrigate their fields and birds arrive - even a Trumpeter Swan.

If you are more familiar with Tundra Swans, you'll notice immediately the greater girth and overall size of the above Trumpeter. No yellow lore is present on the Trumpeter as on the Tundra, and, to me, it always appears that the black of the bill runs right into the eye whereas on the Tundra, a dark line connects the bill to the eye.

While we were beside ourselves with this discovery so close to the roadway, it was soon discovered that Claudia, in her brand new car, had run over something that gave her a flat tire. She's a take-charge type of leader and dealt with the issue appropriately, eventually joining us at our final destination.

By the time she arrived, we were still taking photos of a very cooperative WHITE-TAILED KITE that decided to perch on a fence post. The second WTKI was perched farther away without a clear field of vision, so all our photos are of the closest one.

White-tailed Kite in action. Note the black shoulder patch both perched and in flight.
 [Bottom Photo: Glenda Jones]  

It was hard to believe we had birded for seven (7) hours. Time passed quickly; lunch was an afterthought as we filled ourselves with one awesome bird sighting after another. 

This day will not be quickly forgotten.  Thank you, Claudia and Barb, for such a wonderful treat.

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  1. ...and thanks to you Babs for letting me in on this great adventure. Loved every minute of it!

  2. You certainly had a great day. What an amazing collection of birds!! Congrats! The Trumpeter is always a good find for AZ. As for the Ibis......WOW!