Thursday, September 18, 2014

Apache County and the White Mountains

This past weekend, good birding friend, Tommy DeBardeleben and I headed to the White Mountains in Apache County of Arizona to do some exploration of the many awesome birding spots to be found here.  This county is unique in Arizona and has some unique habitats that are hard to be found elsewhere in the state.  Our hope was to maybe discover some vagrant migrating eastern birds and at the same time, try to add to our Apache County lists.  Tommy knows the area very well so we hit up some of these spots and also explored some spots that he had not been to.  

First stop on Saturday morning was Sipe White Mountain Wilderness Area.  This is an incredible place to visit and fairly easy to get around on the trails.  The trees in the parking lot were full of warblers including Townsend's, Wilson's, Nashville, and MacGillivray's Warblers.  By the time the weekend was over we found dozens of Wilson's and MacGillivray's Warblers; both species were very common and in high numbers.  Out in the grassland area we had a surprise sparrow, the Grasshopper Sparrow; not a bird that we had expected to see.  We actually found 2 of these birds in the massive numbers of Chipping, Brewer's, and Lark Sparrows.

 Grasshopper Sparrow

Grasshopper Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

Mountain Bluebirds were quite easily seen along with many Brewer's Blackbirds.

Mountain Bluebird

Brewer's Blackbird
A nice juvenile Townsend's Solitaire is always nice to see with their spotted plumage which differs greatly from the adults.  Western Wood-Pewee is another bird that is great to find and on this trip we were able to compare and note the differences between this bird and the Willow Flycatcher.

Townsend's Solitaire - Juvenile

Western Wood-Pewee

After about 3 hours at Sipe, we then headed to Becker Lake for a short visit and added several water birds to our list and a few more warblers, including this Yellow Warbler.

Yellow Warbler

Next stop was Wenima Wildlife Area along the Lower Colorado River.  We added Willow Flycatcher along with some raptors in this location including a nice Swainson's Hawk.  Also discovered a new snake species that I had not seen before; a Striped Whipsnake.  It was long and wanted nothing to do with us, so it quickly headed into the cover of the bushes, but then it proceeded to stick its head out to observe us a bit closer with the rest of its body totally hidden.

 Swainson's Hawk

 Striped Whipsnake

Striped Whipsnake

Our next stop was Lyman Lake State Park, a place that we had passed by on the highway back in July that appeared to have a lot of potential for some great water or shore birds.  At first, we got a feeling that this place might turn out to be a bust, but once we reached the southeastern shore and the mud flats and shore lines we discovered a juvenile Sanderling foraging along the shore line with Least, Western, and Baird's Sandpipers.  Not a new bird for me, but a new bird to add to my Arizona list.  Also found huge numbers of Killdeer and Spotted Sandpipers.

 Sanderling - Juvenile

Sanderling - With a grasshopper that did not get away

Once we had covered the mud flats fairly extensively, we then head back to the main part of the lake and Tommy quickly spied something different out on the lake, a juvenile Sabine's Gull.  This ended up being my one and only life bird on the trip when I was not expecting any, so it was a great find.  Although it was far out in the lake, once it took flight, the key field marks were clearly visible on the wings.  

 Sabine's Gull - Juvenile

 Sabine's Gull - Juvenile

Sabine's Gull - Juvenile

Tommy's scope came in real handy for viewing so many birds much better than binoculars and he also picked out 6 Black Terns flying low over the lake.  We also ended the lake visit with a fly over Caspian Tern.

Black Terns

By this time of the day, the monsoon rains had settled in the White Mountains and we visited a few more lakes, but with the threat of rain in many places, we left our cameras in the car for protection and enjoyed the birds we could see with our binoculars and the scope.  

At Lyman Lake

 At Wenima Wildlife Area

 At Greer Lakes checking out a Peregrine Falcon

 Luna Lake

 Wenima Wildlife Area

Wenima Wildlife Area

Day one came to a close and we headed back to Greer for the night and plan of day 2.


  1. Very nice weekend out! That Lyman Lake was a hit for sure! I couldn't believe your finds....Sabine...okay...the Black Terns...okay but the Sanderling! That is a gem! Congrats! And that snake is kind cool as well:)

  2. Nice post Gordon! Great pictures of the birds and lakes and snakes, and me. Ha ha! I really like the last one of me at Wenima, I may have to use that as a profile picture for something!