Pacific Wren

Pacific Wren
Pacific Wren

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Another Visit to Apache County

Recently I have fallen a bit behind in my blog posts, so decided it is time to catch up on some great birding that I have been able to enjoy the past couple of weeks.  

Birding friend, Tommy DeBardeleben and I, headed back to Apache County the last couple of days in September.  A bit of information about Apache County; with a total area of 11,218 square miles, it is the 3rd largest county in the state of Arizona and the 6th largest county in the United States. In total size, this county is larger than 8 states in the United States, which helps to put its size into perspective.  It covers a vary large land area and consequently, the diversity is also quite impressive.  We knew we only had 2 days to get some birding done, so we planned our strategy hoping to get some unique birds.

In July we had made an attempt to find the Black-billed Magpie at a small Native American community on the Navajo Nation Reservation, Teec Nos Pos, in the far northeastern part of the state near the Four Corners National Monument.  At the time we were joined by Magill Weber and Chris Rohrer in that endeavor and we had seriously underestimated the distance to this far corner and we came away from that trip empty.  This time, we planned our strategy a bit different.  We wanted to try to arrive at this spot early in the morning as corvids have a tendency to be early risers and usually quite vocal.  We left the Phoenix area in the late afternoon on a Sunday and arrived in Chambers, AZ where we spent the first night.  This left us still about 2½ hours away from Teec Nos Pos and we hit the road about 4:30 am the next morning for our destination.  We did have a couple of really cool sightings in the dark from the road, a Common Poorwill was lit up by the headlights and a little bit further up the road, we had a Red Fox cross the road in front of us.  The Red Fox is not very common in Arizona and can only be found in the northeastern part of the state.  It was really awesome to see this beautiful canine with its white-tipped tail.  

We arrived at the dry wash area for Teec Nos Pos around 7:00 am, and since Tommy was driving at the time, immediately I spied a magpie in a tree on the south side of the highway. As we pulled into the pull off, it flew northward and over Highway 160 where it was joined by at least 3 more magpies.  We had come here thinking we would be lucky to find one as the last few reports had been of people seeing or only hearing one of these birds and already we had 4 of them and they were easy to follow with their loud and raucous calling.  We then hiked down the wash area to the south where we topped a ridge on the west side and once again found 4 more.  Obviously we were hearing them before we saw these next four.  Of course we were elated to see this many in a short time.  A bit later we traveled into the town itself and found at least 3 more, with one of them posing on a tree by the road for us.  What an awesome count of a really cool bird.  This is the only reliable spot in Arizona where this species can be found so it is a highly sought after bird for those wanting to add a new species on their Arizona bird list.

Town namesake in rocks on ridge above town.

 Black-billed Magpie

Black-billed Magpie

Black-billed Magpie

Black-billed Magpie

Black-billed Magpie

Finally, a sense of fulfillment and we thoroughly cherished the moment.  On the road back south we had decided to visit a couple of the lakes and ponds along the way, with a quick stop at Canyon de Chelly National Monument.  This place is breathtakingly beautiful and appears to be a spot for some awesome birding, but with time constraints on our visit (remember how big Apache County is?) we had to move on.  

Canyon de Chelly ruins

Canyon de Chelly ruins

One stop that proved to be beneficial, was Ganado, AZ.  A quick stop at the Water Treatment Ponds and we got to witness a Common Raven harassing an Osprey.  I think the raven won that one as we did not see a return of the Osprey once the raven chased it away.

Common Raven harassing an Osprey

Common Raven harassing an Osprey

Common Raven harassing an Osprey

Also at Ganado, we stopped at Ganado Lake, a place that we visited in July and it has earned high marks in our book as a great birding spot.  The lake had thousands of American Coots on it far out in the lake, but it also had its share of other waterfowl, including several Eared Grebes.  Many of them were a bit far out for photos, but at least one of them ventured close enough to shore to at least get a photo of it and its bright red/orange eye.  While Tommy was meticulously checking out all the waterfowl through his scope (binoculars cannot see out on the water as well as a scope), I started to try concentrating on anything close by and turned around to find a Sage Thrasher running in spurts down the embankment between the plants.  This was another bird we had hoped to find on this trip, so it was a very pleasant discovery for both of us.  

Eared Grebe

Sage Thrasher

Sage Thrasher

We spent the next night in Springerville, AZ and early the next morning we headed to Sipe Wildlife Area.  This has quickly become one of my favorite spots in the White Mountains and Apache County.  When we arrived in the parking area, we quickly discovered more Red-naped Sapsuckers than I have ever seen before.  The trees were full of them and they were vying for the best feeding spots. Among them was a single Yellow-bellied Sapsucker that Tommy keenly spied, but I failed to locate it which would have been an awesome bird to see in Apache County.  

Red-naped Sapsucker

Even an American Goldfinch paid us a visit and with Tommy's excellent skills of bird songs, it was quite easily found.  This bird is well known throughout the United States, but in Arizona it is a bit uncommon as it is usually only a winter visitor.

American Goldfinch

Once we hit the trails and paths, a few birds allowed for some photos along the way such as Mountain Bluebirds and Lincoln Sparrows.

Lincoln Sparrow

Mountain Bluebird

Just like the first visit, the numbers of Pinyon Jays were high and we had several flocks fly over at various different times.  One flock held 74 birds, followed very shortly with another small flock of 12 and a bit later another flock of over 20 birds.  

Pinyon Jays

Pinyon Jay

Pinyon Jay

Pinyon Jay

Knowing how great Lyman Lake was on past visits, we knew that a visit was in order on this trip as well and once again it did not disappoint.  Tommy was quick to notice some terns out on the lake and after extensive scoping views of the 6 terns, Tommy was able to identify them as 4 Forster's Terns and 2 Common Terns.  What a nice couple of species to add to our Apache County list.  Once again, this shows the importance of a scope when birding on large bodies of water, and also to have someone knowledgeable about species of terns and their winter plumage variations.

 Common Tern

 Common Tern

Common Tern

 Forster's Terns

Forster's Terns and a Common Tern

As the day slowly started to come to an end and knowing we had about a 4 hour drive back to the Phoenix vicinity, we headed out and made one last stop at some ponds near the small town of McNary.  This is another spot with potential for further exploration.  While there, one of the resident American Crows flew in for a closer look.  Can't pass up a photography shot when it presents itself so close and inquisitively.

 American Crow

American Crow

Another great birding trip with some outstanding results.  Have to thank Tommy for the suggestion and organizing of this trip that netted both of us some great birds to add to our Apache County list and I even added a couple of new birds to my Arizona state list as well.  













    





   

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