Fan-tailed Warbler

Fan-tailed Warbler

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Santa Cruz Flats

About midway between the cities of Phoenix and Tucson lies an agricultural area in the flat open desert.  The Santa Cruz River that originates in extreme southern Arizona flows south for a ways into Mexico and then turns northward and flows back into Arizona and eventually makes its ways to this flat expanse of desert.  This river is dry in most places, but water does flow when there is adequate rainfall, but by the time it reaches the 'Santa Cruz Flats', it quickly dries up.  This area is well known for the abundance of birdlife and most of this can be contributed to the agricultural development in this area.  If not for this development, this would be a very dry desert area and not very hospital to most avian life.  In the winter, many specialty migrants show up to spend their winters here. 
About a week ago another birding friend, Jason Morgan contacted me to see if I would like to travel to this area to look for some specialty birds.  I was more than happy to take him down there.  For a person to travel there on their own for the first time, it can be a bit daunting as the network of roads can be a bit confusing and knowing where to look for certain birds does take a bit of getting to know the place.  Even after several trips to this area, I still find more roads to explore.  One of the first birds we discovered was a nice Ferruginous Hawk in the early morning light.  This one seemed unbothered with us and let us take photos from the vehicle, in fact we were almost too close.  This bird was a great start for the day.
Ferruginous Hawk
We also had a Prairie Falcon in the early morning, but it definitely did not want its photo taken, but the second one we found later in the morning was a little more accommodating.  But even then, it did not allow us to get too close.  Prairie Falcons seem to be one of the most wary of all the raptors.
Prairie Falcon
By far, the most numerous of all the raptors we found was the Red-tailed Hawk.  Here is just a sampling of a few of them.
 Red-tailed Hawk
 Red-tailed Hawk
 Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Our target bird for Jason, was the Crested Caracara.  This is an area that they can be found with regularity and after driving to the places where I normally found them in the past and coming up empty, I was starting to think I had failed to find them.  I had known that it was common for them to hang out with Common Ravens and had advised Jason of that fact.  Finally we came to an intersection and got out of the vehicle to scan the fields and sure enough, Jason was quick to spot some far off in the distance.  Most of the farm land in this area is posted and this presents a bit of a problem in getting close to these awesome birds.  We traveled around to the far side that got us a bit closer and was able to at least get better views, but even then they were probably still ¼ mile away.  Photos were not meant to be this time, so I made a feeble attempt to at least try,
Crested Caracara
We then worked our way up to the sod farms where wintertime can bring Mountain Plovers to the state of Arizona.  These are birds that most people would think love to be near water and most plovers are found near water.  Quite contrary, the Mountain Plover likes to nest on short grass prairies, especially near Prairie Dog towns.  They breed on the high plains of North America from southern Alberta and Saskatchewan south to northern New Mexico and Texas.  They are not a common bird and their numbers are being monitored due to loss of habitat on their breeding grounds.  It is a bird that many birders love to find as they can be difficult to locate.  Jason and I were fortunate to find 6 of these, but they were even further away from us than the Caracara.  Once again, I still took some photos just for documentation purposes.
 3 Mountain Plovers
Mountain Plover
As we were leaving the field where the Mountain Plovers were located, Jason and his sharp eyes noticed a Burrowing Owl along the side of the road on his side of the vehicle.  We parked right there in the road and watched and photographed this character for some time.  It was probably the most cooperative of all the birds we saw on this day.  By the looks of the pellets outside his 'burrow', it appears to be finding plenty to feed on in this area.
 Burrowing Owl
Burrowing Owl
Our last stop was at Arizona City Lake just to check out the waterfowl that might be there.  Here we found some Eared Grebe and it was nice to compare them to the Horned Grebe that I had seen recently in Chandler.  Very good comparison which helps to make future identifications much easier. 
Eared Grebe
Another great day of birding and sometimes the fun is in the hunt for those special birds that you know are there and then when you find them, it is quite gratifying.

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