On Sunday March 31, I had the great pleasure of escorting a very nature loving gentleman from South Africa to some birding spots in and around Maricopa County in Arizona. First of all, I need to thank Laurence Butler for pre-arranging this adventure. He had other commitments that day and asked me if I would be interested in showing Duncan Butchart around. Obviously I said yes, and Laurence put us in contact with each other. It was a lot of fun to show Duncan around and his knowledge of of the natural world is astounding. He has had books published in South Africa and was kind enough to give me one that is going to be a favorite of mine and has me thinking that a trip to South Africa would be awesome!
One of his target birds was a Burrowing Owl and I did a scouting trip the week before to see if I could find one close to where he was staying, and I did find one, but for me it was behind a chain link fence. The first place we visited at sunrise was the Scottsdale Community College and that owl must have read my mind, because when we drove up, there it was perched on TOP of the chain link fence on one of the poles and by staying inside the vehicle we were able to approach fairly close with great photo ops.
What a great start to the day! Keep in mind, that just about every bird we saw was a new bird forDuncan and he had prepared himself well before arriving in the US, as he had a vast amount of knowledge on many of these birds. Other species we saw at this location include the Gambel's Quail, Savannah Sparrow, American Kestrel, and the Rosy-faced Lovebird. The lovebird is native to Africa, so it is not new to him, but thought it interesting that this species has established a breeding population in Arizona from escaped birds and is a recognized species in ABA for Arizona.
On the road to our next stop, Granite Reef, we found a juvenile Bald Eagle on a nest and a pair of Greater Roadrunners, that approached us from across a field and came up for great views on his side of the car. At Granite Reef, we got our first sighting of a Phainopepla, and also a few ducks on the far side of the water, a Gadwall, Ruddy Ducks and the common Mallard. Lucy's Warblers were easily found and along with a Song Sparrow, those were the only 2 that I photographed at this location.
Next destination was Coon Bluff on the Salt River and along the entrance road to Coon Bluff we were able to find Ladderback and Gila Woodpeckers, along with some brief sightings of some Gilded Flickers. I heard an Ash-throated Flycatcher, but Duncan was the first to spot it. And we also had a nice male Black-tailed Gnatcatcher fly into a tree very close by and really put on quite a show for us.
When we finally reached the campgrounds, we discovered it was full of campers, which was not a surprise to me and we were not sure what we might find, but a male and a female Vermilion Flycatcher along with Northern Rough-winged Swallows were not intimidated by the hoards of humans.
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
From there, we headed north to Mt Ord and a totally different habitat. The Black-chinned Sparrows were easily seen and observed on the lower reaches of the road. With my car, I only dared to venture as far as the 1688 trail and was not going to try my luck any further as the road is a bit more rougher on the upper stretches. But stopping at the 1688 trail entrance and heading in to the pines was a great idea. Not only did we find some amazing birds, but we ran into another expert birder, Melanie Herring who was also enjoying the fresh scent of pine and looking at birds. We did find several birds including the Painted Redstart, Juniper and Bridled Titmouse, White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatches, a Hutton's Vireo, a Cordilleran Flycatcher, Acorn Woodpeckers, Western Scrub Jays, Spotted Towhees, and one of my favorites some Bushtits. Most generally I see the Bushtits in moving flocks of several birds, but this time, they were being seen in pairs and once I took a look at my photos and realized it was a male and a female together, it makes me wonder if they are pairing up for the breeding season.
One more stop on the way back was Sunflower where we were able to find Bell's Vireo, Yellow Warbler and Zone-tailed Hawk. By that time we had really put in a full day and decided to call it a day.
It was a full but fun day of birding and I think Duncan was also having a great time. He will be spending a few more days in the wonderful state of Arizona and I am wishing him lots of luck in all his birding endeavors. (Now if I could just win the lottery, so I could afford to take a trip to his wonderful county of South Africa!)