Fan-tailed Warbler

Fan-tailed Warbler

Monday, June 4, 2012

Mt Ord, Arizona

Little did we know what awaited me and my birding friend Ellen when we decided to explore Mt Ord this last Sunday.  Mt Ord is the highest point in Maricopa County in Arizona with an elevation of about 7100 feet.  Does not compare to the highest peaks in Arizona, but compared to the urban sprawl of the Phoenix area in the same county, it is so different and a great place to escape the valley heat.  The road to the top is dirt, rocks and gravel and is passable by a passenger car, but you won't break any speed records going up and down, nor would you want to as one missed curve and it might be a bit of a distance before your car stopped moving!  One can drive most of the way to the top, but the last ½ mile is walking only and nice and steep for a bit of a good workout.  The bird life on this mountain is very different than down in the valley.  We got to see a plethora of exciting birds and this post is going to be a long one as I have many photos to share. 

The first stop we made off the main highway at the lower reaches proved to be a good omen.  The first birds we found as we got out of the car was a flock of Bushtits.  Even though they are a very small (with a very tiny beak), and drab colored bird, (mostly gray), their antics make them fun to watch.  They move as a flock from one bush to another and are as busy as they can be.  Not a great photo of this one, but it will do for now.

What we really stopped for was to try and find a Black-chinned Sparrow which are known to breed in this area.  We heard them all around us and found that very few of them would make an appearance, so had to settle for just a mediocre photo.  These are not to be confused with Black-throated Sparrows.  Some day, I plan on doing a post on sparrows only.

Black-chinned Sparrow
The next stop was a cattle watering tank which is usually a great place to see birds because it is a water source in the dry foothills.  A pair of Canyon Towhees were visiting when we first got there, but departed before any photos were taken.  The next visitor was an Ash-throated Flycatcher, and it kept coming back instead of flying away.  Then we saw a second one and discovered they had a nest nearby and were bringing back food to their babies that were well hidden.  Got some nice photos of one of the adults with insects in its beak for the babies.

Ash-throated Flycatcher
One other bird stopped in for a short visit and that was a Western Scrub Jay and was able to get one photo before it took off down the hill.

Western Scrub Jay
We continued up the mountain road stopping at few places along the way and one of the first stops produced a Hepatic Tanager.  Not the most common bird around and seen mostly in the US in the southwest.  this was the first time I got an opportunity to actually photograph one.

Hepatic Tanager
The next stop provided us with an Acorn Woodpecker and a Spotted Towhee.  The towhee find was exciting for us, but little did we know that before the day was over we were going to see and hear many of them and even found the vicinity of a nesting pair.

Acorn Woodpecker
Spotted Towhee

We also found many White-breasted Nuthatches along the way including this one below.  One pair was even bringing in food for one of their recently fledged offspring.

White-breasted Nuthatch

As we walked the final ½ mile to the summit we found some Violet-green Swallows flying around overhead as most swallows do until we stopped to look at a flycatcher and that was the time that one of these swallows decided to land on a bare branch almost directly above us and really checked us out.  Of course we lost interest in the flycatcher and got some photos of this handsome swallow.

Violet-green Swallow

And just in case anyone was wondering how this bird got its name, the photo below makes it quite obvious as to why it is called a Violet-green Swallow.

 Violet-green Swallow

Another very common bird that we found near the summit were Black-throated Gray Warblers.  They were everywhere and as typical of most warblers, they do not make an easy subject to photograph, no matter how hard I tried.  But they are insect feeders like many bird species and this one had its meal.

Black-throated Gray Warbler

Another fairly common bird near the top were the Blue-gray Gnatcatchers.  This one posed for us and I do not recall seeing one so blue, but I suppose that the breeding season brings out the best in all.

 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

As we descended from the summit we also discovered an Arizona Sister Butterfly.  In my opinion, they have to rank high up there as one of the most beautiful butterflies around.

Arizona Sister Butterfly

As we drove down the mountain, we met another vehicle that was stopped on the narrow road with people with binoculars out of the vehicle and staring up in the pine trees.  (Obviously birding is a big hobby in Arizona!)  So of course we stopped and asked what they were looking at and found out they had discovered a pair of Grace's Warblers.  What a beautiful bird and they were kind enough to point them out to us.  Typical of most warblers, they do not sit still and photos were hard to come by, but got one that shows off their beauty.

Grace's Warbler

Mt Ord is a mountain oasis in the desert.  I would have loved to write more about each bird and their photo, but I fear that might have gotten boring to some, so we will end this post with a point that this is someplace that I need to explore more thoroughly and Ellen agrees.  Looks like a bit of a cool respite from the heat of the summer desert in the Phoenix metropolis.


  1. Such a wonderful variety of birds during your exploration of Mt Ord! Very enjoyable post!

    1. Thank you Debbie! It was one of the most memorable birding trips I have been on in some time. Makes me want to go back more often. If you ever get to AZ, I highly recommend it.

  2. Awesome Gordon! I;m glad Mt. Ord isn't closed off from the fires. It looks like a really spectacular spot. I'll be hoping to explore it very soon after I get back to Phoenix!

  3. Not closed from the fires, but once you reach the summit and look west you can clearly see the charred mountains from the Sunflower Fire. Very devestating to see. Might have increased the birds on Mt Ord since there is big loss of habitat west of there in the Slate Creek Divide area. Glad you liked the post, really had some awesome birds. Not always the best place for photos, but just seeing the birds was what I was more interested in anyway. Can't wait to see what you find on your excursion up there.