Santa Cruz Flats, Pinal County, Arizona

Friday the 13th; January, 2017
With an early departure from home, we arrived at our first stop without having seen the usually gorgeous sunrise.  It would be an overcast sky for our entire day exploring acres and acres of farmland known as Santa Cruz Flats. 

By 8:00 a.m., we were scanning Paradise Lake in Arizona City (a small community that seems to be the gateway to the “Flats”).  Glenda Jones, Kathie Story and I commented on how the waterfowl tend to hang together with their own species. . .making it easier for us to compare the size of different flocks.
It’s a delightful day to see almost as many COMMON MERGANSERs as MALLARDs!

Common Mergansers (male & female)   [Photo: Glenda Jones]

Finding two SNOW GOOSE seemed awesome for this location.
With their pink legs and pink bill with dark "grin line" along bottom mandible, these two totally white-bodied geese were easy to pick out among domestic geese at the same location. Note its black wing tips showing at the end of its white tail.

The more common GREEN HERON (below) appeared to be checking out a boat ride.

Continuing on into Santa Cruz Flats proper, we made seven (7) stops within our 72 miles of travel on the public blacktop and dirt roads criss-crossing the Flats in a nice grid. Being a work day, a few big trucks were out on the roads and some workers in the fields, but machinery was working mostly in cotton and corn fields without disturbing us or the birds.

Getting only the rear view of this bird had us guessing for awhile but, yes, it was a LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE
HORNED LARKS could be found by the dozens in most grassy fields
 And, if we hadn't been trying to get photos of the Horned Larks, we may never have stumbled upon this secretive bird from below the border, SPRAGUE'S PIPIT.  I knew from previous years' experience that we were in its favored location, but that's meaningless unless it somehow shows itself.  It's big dark eye within a white eye ring told me it was not a Horned Lark nor a Western Meadowlark, it was a bird we were actually looking for!

Yum!  Breakfast!
Uncommon sighting in Arizona:  Sprague's Pipit (3 photos above)
Another unusual sighting in these agricultural fields was this Osprey, below.

Focusing on a small pool of water, we later saw this osprey fly over with prey

At the corner of Baumgartner & Wheeler Roads (popular birding stop in the Flats), we were hoping to find the uncommon (for AZ) Rufous-backed Robin.  Although it didn't show itself while we waited for almost an hour, eating our lunch and enjoying others birds, we stopped back later, found it and took photos.

Below, the male and female (or potentially young male with color coming into the head and belly color higher than usual for female) VERMILION FLYCATCHER were a joy to see flitting about in the trees.

Other birds at this farmland/residential stop with a front yard of pecan and other trees, included this pair of NORTHERN CARDINALs (below), RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET and YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER.  These photos were taken by Glenda Jones and captured much of the variety we saw there.

But it was on the return stop that we found the RUFOUS-BACKED ROBIN, similar to American Robin, except for its rufous back and wing coverts, as well as its very streaked throat and lack of white around the eye.

Visiting the Flats without a run out to the stinky Red Rock Cattle Feed Lot would be a loss of extraordinary sensory input.  From the sheer numbers of vocal black birds (BREWER'S, RED-WINGED,YELLOW-HEADED and BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD) to the raptors eyeing up their next feast, birds moved about in every direction!

LARK BUNTINGs  [Photo: Glenda Jones]
Red-tailed Hawk   [Photo: Glenda Jones]

Brown-headed Cowbird  [Photo: Glenda Jones]
One of my favorite sights at the feedlot were these YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS in one tree.  

Our final stop of the day was super. We stopped and got out of the car when we saw this:

BLACK VULTURES sharing a field with a flock of sheep.

What I hadn't noticed at first were the CRESTED CARACARA also present: two in the same field and two across the street on a berm.

Crested Caracara inside the fenced pasture
Crested Caracara with some kind of vegetation in its mouth  [Photo: Glenda Jones}
A nice long day of birding from the early-morning breezy chill of 50°F to the warmer afternoon of mid-60s!  We were back home by 3:00 p.m. filled with the energy that such natural spaces, bird sightings and good company provides.

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1 comment:

  1. I do like birding that location. So many good birds in one area. Congrats on the Sprague's Pipit and RBRO. After I clean the house today, I'm planning on doing a little birding but we'll see:)