On Sunday May 18th, I had the honor to show a gentleman from Sweden some birding spots in Maricopa County in Arizona. Olle Pers, was spending a week in the Phoenix area and had a day to go birding. He had contacted me through Birdingpal.org, http://www.birdingpal.org/ and we agreed upon visiting the Sunflower and Mt Ord areas. May in Arizona usually has very pleasant nights, but days can get hot quite quick when the sun comes out in the morning. For those reasons we selected the Sunflower and Mt Ord areas simply because these areas are a bit further from the city and most generally a bit cooler, especially Mt Ord. Plus both locations offer a much different variety of birds than what is found in and around the Phoenix metropolis.
We began at Sunflower in the early morning as we knew that the cooler temps on Mt Ord would be a big relief later in the day. While we had a great variety of birds at Sunflower, oddly, I did not acquire much for photos in this spot, except for a Turkey Vulture sunning itself in the early morning hour.
After a short visit to the Sunflower area, we then headed to Mt Ord. This place is becoming one of my most favorite places to visit in Maricopa County. It's higher elevation, (7128') presents a completely different habitat than what is found the in rest of Maricopa County. It is a very interesting transition traveling the road to the top. The road is rough and rocky and a high clearance vehicle is highly recommended. At the turnoff from Highway 87, one starts out in high desert scrub which is perfect breeding habitat for Black-chinned Sparrows, Gray Vireos, Scott's Orioles, Rufous-crowned Sparrows, and many other species.
About 2 miles up, the road come to the point of where the Ponderosa pine trees have covered the slopes. There is a small place to pull over and park and on the south side of this spot is a vertical sign that indicates 1688, which is the the start of the 1688 Trail that I have come to love to hike and is totally within the boundary of Maricopa County. It is about 2½ miles to the saddle area where one can start to explore the south side of the mountain. This 2½ miles runs along the west side of Mt Ord and it covers a lot of wide open scrub oak habitat with occasional meanderings into the tall pines. It is quite a convergence zone and creates a habitat that is suitable for a variety of birds. We found Gray Vireos and Black-chinned sparrows at this elevation as well. We also had Spotted Towhees, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Western Tanagers, and Hooded Orioles.
Hooded Oriole - female
Not only we were searching for birds, but reptiles were of interest to Olle as well, and we successfully found several. One of the coolest was the Greater Short-horned Lizard. Olle found an adult in the lower elevations and near the top of Mt Ord, we found a baby one that was much smaller. Other lizards included the Desert Grasslands Whiptail and a Plateau Lizard.
Greater Short-horned Lizard - adult
Greater Short-horned Lizard - juvenile
Desert Grasslands Whiptail
Even the butterflies caught our attention and one of the most beautiful is the Arizona Sister, which is always and welcome sighting. Also had a Silver-spotted Skipper which was one that I was not familiar with, but with a bit of luck, I will remember this species the next time I run across one.
Arizona Sister Butterfly - with an unknown beetle in the background
Olle has an extensive amount of birding in his background and I believe he mentioned that it has covered 5 continents and covering a few decades. He has also done some extensive birding in the United States and Canada. Some of the birds we found on this trip he has seen in Central America and elsewhere, but seeing them in the United States on some of their breeding grounds always carries a plus factor. If I recall correctly, I think we were able to add about 13 new life birds to his list, which is remarkable considering his extensive birding history. Mt Ord is such a quiet place to escape to when one wants to get out of the urban areas in and around Phoenix. I thoroughly going to this area and most of the time, I have the 1688 trail to myself and the peace and solitude is part of my reward.