Sunday, March 17, 2013
Mt Ord - 16 March 2013
All I can say about this trip 'What an awesome day of birding!' Mt Ord is in the far northeastern part of Maricopa County and rises to an elevation of about 7100' making it the highest spot in Maricopa County. I had not been to this location for some time and was wanting to go, so I was joined by Tommy DeBardeleben and Dominic Sherony and away we went. Tommy is very familiar to this area and thanks to him and his website: http://www.birderfrommaricopa.com/ this area is a bit easier to locate. We chose to hike the 1688 trail, which can be a bit strenuous if one is not in pretty good physical condition. The trail follows the west side of the mountain for about 2 miles in and then one has to return. If you discover an uncommon bird and you have to deviate from the trail, be prepared to do some bushwhacking and climbing as it will get much more strenuous. And that is exactly what happened to our party of 3.
Near the far end of the trail, we heard a Northern Pygmy-Owl and chose to locate it by climbing and bushwhacking and the prize was well worth it. These tiny, but ferocious, owls (about 6.75 inches) seem to not have much of a fear of humans and once found, this one gave us lots of great views while perched in a pine and at one point even turned around so we could capture photos of the back of its head which shows off the distinct black marks on the nape, which is a key field mark, and give the appearance of 'false eyes'.
Northern Pygmy-Owl---back view with false eyes
This owl was definitely the highlight of the day, but it was far from being the only great bird we saw. We found evidence that the spring migration has begun in earnest. Black-chinned Sparrows and Rufous-crowned Sparrows were in abundance on the first mile of the road leading to the 1688 trail. The Black-chinned has a song that reminds one of a bouncing ball and they were singing from the hillsides, but most did not want to make themselves visible, until one of them finally flew in and circled us all the while foraging and singing and giving us fantastic views.
Black-chinned Sparrow---Note the long tail
A very welcome find was the Painted Redstart, a warbler of the southwestern US and probably a bit earlier than normal for migrating into this area. We found about 5 or 6 of these birds singing and foraging high in the trees, constantly flicking their tails and wings, which is a normal behavior of these birds.
We also found 3 species of nuthatches, the Pygmy, Red-breasted, and the White-breasted. Unfortunately the only species I was able to capture with a photo was the White-breasted, which is probably the most common species found throughout the US. We also heard Spotted Towhees all along the trail and finally one of them popped up out of the dense vegetation and gave us great views and some wonderful photos.
Awesome birds, awesome scenery, and awesome company for the day. We also made a stop at Sunflower on our way back, but have decided to do a separate post on that as we got some new migrants there as well.