Costa's Hummingbird

Costa's Hummingbird

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Way Out West

On Friday November 29th, birding friend, Chris Rohrer ventured up from Tucson to the Phoenix area to spend a day of birding in the far western reaches of the 'West Valley' near Phoenix.  The area is a vast area that extends from the infamous 'Thrasher Spot' to the agricultural fields of Arlington and Buckeye.  In the winter this can be very productive for finding many migrant birds as well as some resident birds.  Our first stop was the Thrasher Spot which is famous for being probably the most reliable spot to find the fairly uncommon Le Conte's Thrasher.  We came to this spot in the hopes of finding both the 2 new sparrow species which were a result of the AOU making a split on the old 'Sage' Sparrow.  The 2 new birds from this split are the Sagebrush Sparrow and the Bell's Sparrow.  While we struck out on the Bell's Sparrow, we did find and observe several of the Sagebrush Sparrows which are most likely the most common of these 2 species to be found here.
Sagebrush Sparrow
We also dipped on the Le Conte's Thrasher this time, but will try again maybe when breeding season approaches.  As a consolation, we did see a few Bendire's Thrashers and one of 2 Crissal Thrashers put on a singing show for us and allowed us some great looks.  Most thrasher species can be quite secretive and elusive, so when one does land at the top of a tree and starts singing, it can be quite moving as most of their songs are quite melodic. 
Crissal Thrasher

Crissal Thrasher
From the Thrasher Spot, we hit the roads by first heading down towards Arlington.  Had intentions of taking Chris to the Arlington Ponds, but the road was very muddy and rutted, and we though better of that idea.  But we had many birds along the road including the American Kestrel.  We counted over 20 of these birds along the road.  This bird is our smallest and most common falcon in the United States and in the winter they can be found in high numbers in Arizona.
American Kestrel
We also had the great fortune of finding 2 Ferruginous Hawks along the roadways which is another winter visitor to our area and one that many birders love to find in Arizona.
Ferruginous Hawk
Other birds included a Greater Roadrunner, (no photos), a few Savannah Sparrows, a few Western Meadowlarks, and at one farms with a corral, a huge flock of Red-winged Blackbirds with some Brown-headed Cowbirds in the mix.
Savannah Sparrow

Western Meadowlark

Flock of Red-winged Blackbirds and Brown-headed Cowbirds
 Finally we arrived at the Lower River Ponds which Chris had never seen and we were amazed by the sheer number of American White Pelicans that were there.  We counted over 140 and a week later another person counted over 250.  This photo only shows a small portion of these magnificent birds that were located there and if one looks closely you will see 2 Snow Geese in the middle.  Looks like midgets among the giants!
American White Pelicans and Snow Geese
Snow Geese
 American White Pelican
American White Pelican
While we were astounded by the number of pelicans, we also noticed large numbers for Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons on the banks on the opposite sides and in the fields back behind and to the south of the ponds and mixed in with those Great Blue Herons was a sprinkling of Sandhill Cranes.  There is a small contingent of these magnificent birds that spend their winters in the vicinity of Maricopa County.  While they were quite a distance from us for photos, they eventually took flight and when seen flying, they do not even resemble the herons.  Very easy distinction.
Sandhill Cranes
The ponds were also visited by a juvenile Bald Eagle flying over the ponds that made many of the waterfowl take flight.  While the sun was in the wrong place for photos, it was still quite interesting to see a Great Egret and the Bald Eagle in the same frame.  No, the eagle or the Egret were chasing each other; they just happened to be in the same frame at the same time.
 Bald Eagle and Great Egret
 Bald Eagle and Great Egret
Bald Eagle and Great Egret
What a wonderful place to visit for birds in especially in the wintertime in Arizona.  With the milder weather this state has to offer, we get the opportunity to see many wonderful birds that like to make their winter homes in Arizona.   


  1. Sweet stuff Gordon, especially that Crissal Thrasher! That's always the toughest to find out there for me, and I've never come close to getting a decent photo. Great post!

    1. We were hoping for Le Conte's but really quite pleased with the Crissal. Never turn down a chance to photo this bird as it is one not seen often enough in my opinion. Thanks Laurence!

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you Max! Always trying to fine tune my writing skills, but have come to realized I will never be a great author, so got to have photos to back it all up. And it is such fun to just be there and experience the birds.