Fan-tailed Warbler

Fan-tailed Warbler

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Willcox, Arizona - 18 May 2013

Well this was the first spot that I visited with Chris Rohrer this past weekend.  I had to post Sunday's adventure first due to the finding of the Elegant Trogon. But Saturday was also an exceptional day of birding as well.  It all started very early with a trip to Willcox, Arizona and its small lake south of town that is notorious for being a hot spot for rarities of shorebirds and this weekend was no exception. This small lake was was very well represented with a variety of shore birds.  

One of the nicest finds was the Snowy Plover.  This is a very small shorebird that is not too common in Arizona as they pass through on migration.  I had only seen one of these birds once before at a pond near Phoenix, but this day we found 2 of them which was a life bird for Chris.  The pond held several dozen phalaropes with most of them being Wilson's Phalaropes and a sprinkling of Red-necked Phalaropes.  I had seen both species before, but never in their breeding plumage.  They were decked out in their breeding plumage and these birds are a bit different than most birds.  The females are larger and are the ones all decked out in the bright and colorful plumage. Once they lay their eggs, their job is done and the males do the incubating and the raising of the young alone. 

 Snowy Plover

 Red-necked Phalarope

Red-necked Phalarope

One more photo of some sandpipers is interesting because it includes 2 different species.  In the foreground and on the left in the photo is a Western Sandpiper, which I have seen and photographed many times.  The interesting bird is the one that is a bit larger and behind it and to the right.  This is a White-rumped Sandpiper which is a rare bird in Arizona, but have been reported by several others at this location for a few days.  We also counted 14 Ring-billed Gulls at this location.

Western Sandpiper & White-rumped Sandpiper

Ring-billed Gull

All around the lake the air was filled with swallows with the majority being Barn Swallows and a few Bank Swallows.  The Barn Swallows are a very familiar bird to me as we had them every summer nesting in our barn on the farm in Nebraska.  The Bank Swallow actually was a new bird for me.  Not sure why I have never seen one before or even pursued one, but it is now on my list.  It is our smallest swallow in the United States.

 Bank Swallow

Barn Swallow

Chris knew that I had been wanted to add the Scaled Quail to my list and he did not disappoint me.  We got to view 6 of them.  While my photos are not what I consider the best, at least it is no longer one of those nemesis birds and maybe in the future I can obtain better photos.

Scaled Quail

Other birds and creatures seen at Willcox Lake were Eared Grebes, a nesting American Avocet, and a very unusual but lovely horny toad with a proper name of Texas Horned Lizard.

 Eared Grebe

 American Avocet on nest

Texas Horned Lizard

After leaving Willcox, we headed back to the Tucson area with a short stop in Benson, but the gates to the waste water treatment ponds were closed so we stopped at the Golf Course and found some Ruddy Ducks and the males were in full breeding plumage.  What a colorful little duck!

Ruddy Duck

This day was far from being over.  Our journey then took us to Madera Canyon in the late afternoon and into the evening.  The goal was to finally spot an Elf Owl.  This is our smallest owl in the United States at just under 6".  It is a migrant that nests in the southern areas of the southwest, primarily Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.  Obviously, since it is a nocturnal bird, photos can be a challenge.  I got but one photo as I did not want to disturb it any more than necessary since it was nesting and just coming out of its nest for its night time of feasting on primarily insects.

Elf Owl

While waiting on the Elf Owl to show itself, we had the pleasure of observing a flock of Wild Turkeys moving up the canyon to bed down for the night and the tom turkey was definitely in a protective mode as it stood its ground in the middle of the road until its harem of females were safely on the other side.

Wild Turkey

After the darkness settled in around us, then we had the pleasure of seeing and/or hearing a few more nocturnal birds.  Whiskered Screech Owls were calling in the distance and although it was fairly dark, we caught glimpses of a few bats, some Lesser Nighthawks, and a couple of Mexican Whip-poor-wills.  The Whip-poor-wills became very vocal as they would land in trees and do a lot of calling.  It was a long day, but a very fruitful day for both of us.



  1. Wonderful write up Gordon. Your shots of the Red-necked Phalarope and Snowy Plovers are top notch! It was really fun birding with you this past weekend. Talk to you soon.

    1. After seeing Tony's shots of Elf Owls, I think a visit there is in the future. Thanks once again for getting me all those life birds! You planned it well!

  2. Yes!!!
    I'm heading to Lake Cochise for some geriatric birding this weekend hopefully! SUPER shots.

    1. Laurence, were you referring to me as a geriatric birder? VBG! I will admit that it is not difficult birding at this location especially with the blinds they have set up. Hope you get some special birds! Thanks for the comments.

  3. Great report and awesome birds. Your photos are wonderful. Looks like you and Chris had a wonderful birding outing.