White Mountains, Navajo & Apache Counties, AZ

Friday, Saturday & Sunday, March 24, 25 & 26, 2017
Having never birded the White Mountains this early in the year, I wasn't certain what I might find in the way of birds but wanted to share this fantastic location with birder friend, Glenda, before she returned to Toronto the first week in April. I planned a Big Loop by driving up Route 60 through the Salt River Canyon (which she had never seen) and returning via the Mogollon Rim through Payson.

A big plus by arriving so early in the season was the amount of water this year in all the lakes and marshes we visited. The downside was the lack of accessibility to a number of places as you'll read below.

Day #1: Friday, 3/24/17
At the Pintail Lake site by 9:15 a.m., we visited the marsh first. In dry summer months, I've walked through this area, but today it, too, was a lake. And a PEREGRINE FALCON was perched.


Pintail Lake, itself, was full of ducks including CANVASBACK, REDHEAD, BUFFLEHEAD, CINNAMON TEAL as well as the usual NORTHERN SHOVELER, RING-NECKED and RUDDY DUCKS.

REDHEAD ducks (Drake & Hen)  [Photo: Glenda Jones]

Walking out from the Lake on the concrete trail, I spotted a TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE that Glenda was able to photograph nicely.


LYMAN LAKE STATE PARK, located a bit south of St. Johns, provided not only waterfowl but passerines. With the ground quite wet, even birds on the shore were quite distant from the road we traveled. Although we ate our lunch there, as any good birder knows, that doesn't mean we stopped birding. The place held our attention for over three (3) hours.

AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN (bulb on upper bill appears during mating season only)

Among the songbirds throughout the campground area was this beautiful MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD.
MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD  [Photo: Glenda Jones]
Although it was late in the afternoon by the time we reached Wenima Wildlife Area, I was surprised to see so much bird activity very close to the parking lot. As we would discover, that's where most of the action occurred. The CURVE-BILLED THRASHER, a yard bird to us in the desert, was considered a rarity on the eBird check list!


WOODHOUSE'S SCRUB JAY (above & below)

Wrapping up our birding for the day at Becker Lake, we spotted three (3) COMMON GOLDENEYE swimming off by themselves, away from the major flotillas of AMERICAN COOT and RUDDY DUCK.

Tracking down the COMMON GOLDENEYE in a cove, I was able to snap a few good photos.  


All three COMMON GOLDENEYE on Becker Lake

A BALD EAGLE and an OSPREY had been perched in a snag across the lake from the time we arrived.  Too far for photos from our position, we then drove down Becker Lake Road where I attempted to capture these two raptors in the same tree.

OSPREY (upper left); BALD EAGLE; (lower right)

While watching the raptors, we were enjoying the sound of several WESTERN MEADOWLARKS singing.


Darkness began to creep upon us.  So, we headed to our lodging and my favorite dinner spot to wrap up the highly enjoyable day of birding.

DAY #2: Saturday, March 25, 2017
Always an interesting birding spot, we started the day at the South Fork of the Little Colorado River, accessed off of State Route 260.
Already 8:30 a.m., I was surprised we needed to work as hard as we did to get fourteen (14) species. We managed to spot three woodpeckers (RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER, LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKER and NORTHERN FLICKER). One MEXICAN JAY flew past us and BUSHTITs hid away in the junipers. AMERICAN ROBIN was the most common and available bird.

Birding adrenalin didn't kick in until we crossed the bridge over the South Fork and continued up to the campground. PINYON JAYS were foraging on the slope across the road from the campground. 


Considering that the Pinyon Jays are often fly-over flocks calling out, I felt particularly good about Glenda being able to get such good looks at a LIFE BIRD.

Another good find was this HAIRY WOODPECKER.


Visit to this area just isn't complete without a photo of one of the dilapidated cabins from another era.
That's Glenda checking it out.

Driving then to the Sunrise area, we headed directly for Sheep's Crossing to see if we could locate an American Dipper and/or Gray Jays. With a barred gate across the highway after the turn toward the ski resort, we couldn't get to our destination on this route. So, I hoped we could access it from the cut-over road from Greer.

Instead, we returned to the General Store to pick up our requisite permit to go to the Sunrise Campground to search for Gray Jays. The dirt road up still retained a heavy layer of dry untouched snow although Glenda was game for giving it a go. After wheel-spinning on our first attempt and snow all the way up the road ahead of us, I opted for turning back to use the permit to check out the lake instead. No need for stuck-in-snow drama when lots of other birds are available.

Winds at Sunrise Lake were so high, white caps were challenging even the fishermen! Glenda set her spotting scope on its low legs so it was protected by the side of the car and called into me the species she was seeing. Then, through the windshield, I could locate them in the distance across the lake or in the end closest to us. One of our best sightings at this location was another MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD flying from its perch on a fence post, out to seek food, kiting over a hunting spot, diving, then returning to its perch. That's just plain awesome!

Leaving the Sunrise area to check out Greer, signage at the cross-over road to Sheep's Crossing stated that the road was blocked at that far end. 

So, we decided to check out Benny Creek CG on the Greer road only to find that it, too, had its iron gate lowered to prevent access. Seemed like a good quiet place for lunch; little wind but few birds. Now, we had three (3) sites that were unaccessible (Sheep's Crossing, Sunrise CG, and Benny Creek CG)! But, the area is loaded with good spots...more than enough for a long weekend.

Greer Lakes proved to be a worthwhile stop with GADWALL, BUFFLEHEAD, RUDDY DUCKS, NORTHERN FLICKER, and best of all, AMERICAN CROW, a bird not seen in the Phoenix Valley.

With Glenda scheduled for knee surgery in June, our stop at Greer's Butler Canyon Nature Trail was intended to find a Williamson's Sapsucker from the parking lot area without going up the trail. Nada. 

After a drive through town to the end of the road, we headed south on 260 to Eager and on to Sipe Wildlife Area. Signage there indicated that the place was closed until May 31st, but we drove in along grasslands quite a distance before realizing that the wind was keeping the birds really low.  (#4 unaccessible)

Knowing that Nelson Reservoir was farther south along the main road we arrived there at 4:45 p.m. with some wind, lots of waves but no white caps on the water. But it had turned really cold -- cold enough that the balaclavas came out of their bags. From the north end of the lake, we spotted COMMON GOLDENEYE and BUFFLEHEAD (their white helping us locate them!). Driving to the south end at the very wet marsh proved worthwhile in that a VIRGINIA RAIL made itself known not only its kek kek kek call, but by its grunt. Rarely hearing its grunt, that alone made the trip to this location well worth it for me.  After 5 p.m. when we left there, we returned to Springerville to eat, post lists and grab some shut eye.

Day #3: Sunday, March 26, 2017 (My sister's birthday)
While Glenda packed the last of her items into the car for our trip home, I grabbed my bins and camera to be sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing without my binoculars. Yes! 
CEDAR WAXWINGs in a tree at the corner of the rear parking lot of Reed's Lodge.

CEDAR WAXWING (above and below)

Two Cedar Waxwing

Once on the road, we headed to Pinetop's Woodland Lake Park. It's rare when I arrive at this spot and don't see our target bird. Right on schedule, we picked out a LEWIS'S WOODPECKER on a snag tree off to the right prior to crossing the footbridge. Another Life Bird for Glenda.

LEWIS'S WOODPECKER (Note its colors: green back, red belly, gray collar and dark head)
Although there were no waterfowl on the Lake that we hadn't already seen on this trip, we had a spring-returning OSPREY do several loops over it. Before we left over an hour later, there was a second Osprey joining the first one.

OSPREY checking out the lake

A handful of VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS cut through the sky too high to photograph and almost too high to ID. But when one perched, it became evident that we had called it correctly.


Continuing onward through Lakeside and Show Low, we turned off for Fool Hollow Lake State Park where we were immediately treated to an aerial contest between an Osprey and two mature Bald Eagles.  The Osprey had been harassing the eagles until one of the larger birds turned and gave chase to the Osprey who moved away to circle the lake again.

When I caught sight of a RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER, Glenda was off in another section of the junipers but I managed a couple poor photos, one trying to show its nape; the other its very red throat (male) without a complete black outline (thus,not a YBSA).


In total, we spent about an hour there before getting serious about driving home. Although Glenda wanted to know just where the Mogollon Rim began, I wasn't quite sure.  Maybe at Heber-Overguard?  We certainly knew where it ended when the highway dropped, then dropped some more.

We pulled off at Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery to see if any American Dippers remained there. If so, they stayed hidden while a LINCOLN'S SPARROW behaved just like one! It slipped out from behind the thick green leaves of ground cover beside the "waterfall" and hopped from one rock to another! The Dippers must have departed for the summer...or just in time to avoid the weekend crowds. We didn't stay long either!

With no further stops, we arrived home before 5 p.m., knowing that our escape from decent weather in the Valley had been well worth our effort.  Except for high winds on Saturday afternoon, we enjoyed blue skies and white clouds for the duration. Cold mornings turned into 60°F days when we could opt for going in whichever direction we might find birds.

Four of my regular birding stops were closed or impassable on this trip so I know I'll be back in the White Mountains come summertime. 

I was glad to be able to explore the above areas this early in the season. Summer months will find me taking day or overnight trips up there every now and again as I never know what might show up!

eBird links for 14 checklists are below showing the 80 species we identified.

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Sierra Vista, Cochise County, AZ

Friday, Saturday & Sunday, March 17, 18 & 19 2017

DAY #1: Friday, March 17th
Approaching Sierra Vista, I noticed a lot of smoke rising high and blowing in the direction of the canyons where we expected to bird.

An early get-away from the Phoenix area with Glenda Jones driving, put us into Sierra Vista in good time. To avoid potential smoke in the canyons, we turned eastward to start birding at San Pedro House and Trails at 8:00 a.m.  And, what a start to our day!

Walking the trails beside the house, we immediately spied this WESTERN SCREECH-OWL sleeping in its box. Quietly, we inched closer and were able to get a more detailed photo.

Continuing on we kept our eyes close to the ground for the scratching action in the leaf litter. The "Towhee Shuffle" produced two species: GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE and ABERT’S TOWHEE.

When we came to a cross-trail, we turned left and spotted a GREATER ROAD RUNNER - running along the dirt road, of course. It quickly dodged into the brush beside the trail even though we had stopped in our tracks.

Next sighting was a pair of CASSIN’S KINGBIRDs in a snag tree but by the time our cameras were lifted the birds flew elsewhere and didn’t return. But a pair of CHIHUAHUAN RAVENs flew overhead!

Closer to the house, PYRRHULOXIA gave us some good looks. 

Turning our attention to the San Pedro River trail away from the house we had two sightings: first was a RED-TAILED HAWK flying overhead.

Delightfully, the second sighting was fellow-birders from the Phoenix area, Scott and Fonda Christopher returning from their walk at the river. We chatted briefly before continuing toward the San Pedro.

A bit late in the day for sparrows in the grasslands, we did find some out toward Kingfisher Pond. Another birding couple (from Miami, FL) came upon us so we birded a few of the trails and the pond together.

Best sighting at the pond were a SORA and a PIED-BILLED GREBE with a youngster tagging along waiting for food...food...food, that the adult provided regularly.

SORA was distant but if you know the bird, you'll recognize the shape.
Young following the adult PIED-BILLED GREBE (note the {pied} dark ring around its bill)
Having lost the trail due to heavy debris deposited by the once-flooded San Pedro, we all found our way back to the House by way of the wash. Bill and Margaret, the couple from Florida, walked with us and Bill asked me about my keeping track of the numbers of birds in the species. When I launched into a conversation I had had with Dave Pearson about the lack of numbers in a statistical program, Bill smiled. It seems he and Dr. Pearson were graduate students together at University of Washington a good many years ago!

Back out on the highway, smoke had dissipated completely confirming our guess that it was a controlled burn.

Next stop, then, was Ramsey Canyon Preserve. Known for its hummingbird variety and rare Mexican bird species, we noted three good hummingbirds: ANNA'S, gorgeous BROAD-BILLED with its blue throat flashing in the sun, and the very magnificent, MAGNIFICENT HUMMINGBIRD.

One of many sycamore trees in Ramsey Canyon
[Photo: Glenda Jones]

Knowing that the rare Tufted Flycatcher (from Mexico) had returned to its nesting spot up the Hamburg Trail, we didn't plan on pursuing it.  With birders reporting the start of the trail as almost straight up for 3/4 mile and very grueling, there was little incentive.  

On the other hand, we had the PAINTED REDSTART delighting us as it flitted from limb to limb.
PAINTED REDSTART  [Photo: Glenda Jones]

Mexican Jays flew in and out of our area several times. Coues Deer were foraging in the grasses around Bledsoe Loop but we failed to catch sight of the Coatimundi that have been seen there again this year.

HERMIT THRUSH and AMERICAN ROBIN were uncommon sightings for me and as we pulled away from the Preserve we saw two EASTERN BLUEBIRDS on an overhead utility line.

Keenly aware that weather in Phoenix was generating one of its hottest days so far this year, we were happy to be birding where it was at least 10 degrees cooler, even if 87°F seemed very warm.

In the mood to sit for awhile, we turned toward Turkey Track Road and Mary Jo's Ash Canyon B&B with its front and side yards displaying multiple feeders of every kind. Approaching the chairs facing the back yard, we were able to greet Scott and Fonda again. And, as we tallied one bird after the other, who should walk in but Lindsay and Keith Story!
(East Phx Valley birders that we often run across in the field.)  

We were able to add a BROAD-TAILED and RUFOUS (female) HUMMINGBIRD to our growing list of nectar feeders.
Later, wouldn't you know that it would be Scott that called our attention to a SCOTT'S ORIOLE in the side yard -- a valued piece of info that got us out of our chairs in no time.
Not an adult, we concluded that it was a First-year Male with a bit of white leading into the base of the lower mandible; below its gray head a drab gray throat and chest, with yellow down the belly all the way to its UTC.

SCOTT'S ORIOLE (3 photos same bird: 1st-year male)

That evening at Battiste Bed & Breakfast, Tony announced that the annual ELF OWL had made an appearance but it hadn't really settled in as yet. We went out into the yard around 7 p.m. and for about ten minutes between 7:15 & 7:30, we got some good looks at the owl who appears to have chosen a different hole than last year in its favorite utility pole.

ELF OWL  [Photo: Glenda Jones]

DAY #2: Saturday, March 18, 2017
To walk out the bedroom door to start birding at 7:00 a.m. is certainly a plus at Tony & Julie's B&B. (Not to mention the food!)

Whether birding or photographing, their creative desert habitat setting is definitely bird friendly.

ACORN WOODPECKER close enough for me to photograph easily
RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD  [Photo: Glenda Jones]
BRIDLED TITMOUSE  [Photo:  Glenda Jones]
MEXICAN JAY  [Photo: Glenda Jones]
Since we had arrived late yesterday at Ramsey Canyon, we decided to make that our first stop so we could do the Bledsoe Loop before the heat reached the canyon.

Glenda at this stand-alone fireplace that, perhaps, heated someone's cabin

That's me walking in Ramsey Canyon

Willcox Barberry
Again, we were treated to lots of good birds with this TOWNSEND'S WARBLER, below being a First-of-year bird for both of us.

TOWNSEND'S WARBLER  [Photo: Glenda Jones]

After two hours at Ramsey Canyon, we stopped by Brown Canyon Ranch on the way back to the highway just to see what might be inhabiting the grounds around the ranch house and pond.

This choice put us at the site of the morning burn project at Fort Huachuca. It was the most precisely cornered burn site I've ever seen: right-angled burn of a good swathe of grasslands.
Old windmill on the ranch
The photo I wish I had taken was the one that was too late. By the time I realized we were looking at a CASSIN'S FINCH (female), it was gone.

Carr Canyon Reef Townsite was our next destination. From 4900' at the base of the canyon,  we slowly followed the dirt-road turns until we reached the Reef Townsite at 7200'.  By now, we were ready for lunch so we carried food to a picnic table across from where the car was parked beyond the restrooms.

As we began eating, two birds visited us. They were our target birds but were not using the "chee-lick" vocalization I had heard last year but doing a zzzzzzeeeuu sound that I imitated any time I wanted them to come back. BUFF-BREASTED FLYCATCHERs!  Target birds do not usually work out all that easily!  We were thrilled and went about eating our lunch.

BUFF-BREASTED FLYCATCHER  [2 photos above: Glenda Jones]

Interestingly, on my first sighting of our target birds that landed very very high in the trees now leafing out, I commented on a tufted/crested bird that I wondered aloud if it might be a Juniper Titmouse.  

Good Grief! It was probably the bird seen the next day at that same place:  Tufted Flycatcher -- the one so tough to reach in Ramsey Canyon, not that far away. If so, I muffed that one badly but if it nests there, I'll surely return.

We finished out the afternoon at Mary Jo's Ash Canyon B&B again but saw nothing more exciting than on our previous visits. And, of course, as soon as we got home, she posted that the rare Lucifer Hummingbird had returned to her yard again this year.  Another invitation for a repeat visit to SV.

DAY #3: Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sierra Vista EOP  [Photo: Glenda Jones'
Joining the regularly scheduled Sunday morning Bird Walk at the Sierra Vista Environmental Operations Project (EOP), twenty of us, led by Bill Brown, covered both the near basins as well as the recharge ponds farther out. Erika Wilson was also present and offered lots of help with birds seen and heard.

NORTHERN SHOVELERS  [Photo: Glenda Jones]
Male and Female BUFFLEHEAD   [Photo: Glenda Jones]
Male RUDDY DUCK  [Photo: Glenda Jones]
In addition to the birds shown above, we heard two SORA and enjoyed seeing at least 150 YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS.


BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON lifted from within the reeds  [Photo: Glenda Jones]

It never ceases to amaze me at how birds spot water in otherwise dry areas. As we rounded a corner out in the recharge-basin area, a small flock of RING-BILLED GULLS flew in, landed for a while; flew out, and returned.

The walk lasted for almost three hours and both Glenda and I felt very rewarded for the experience of birding with some very top notch birders.

The two coyotes in the EOP looked very healthy!  [Photo: Glenda Jones]
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