Fan-tailed Warbler

Fan-tailed Warbler

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Apache County in Late Fall

Thanksgiving weekend and where to go birding?  Well, that was decided some time ago as Tommy DeBardeleben and I invited Babs Buck and Susan Fishburn to join us for a trip to the White Mountains in Apache County.  This area is not your normal stereotypical Sonoran Desert of Arizona.  It is quite the opposite; high elevations with grasslands, lakes, and forests and a few peaks with snow and of course colder temperatures.  We definitely planned on the cold and prepared for it, and while it was cold in the mornings, it quickly warmed up when the sun arose and the whole weekend was relatively mild.

This was a true birding trip and not a big focus on photos as we knew that many of the birds we came to see were going to be on lakes and our best views were going to be with our spotting scopes.  Many of our key birds were quite a distance away.  Trying to remember the sequence of every stop gets confusing, so with this post I will post some of the OK photos along with some of the bad photos and some interesting photos as well.

Bald Eagles were quite abundant at several spots including this one flying over Lake Luna, which is a gorgeous lake and was not covered in ice, unlike several lakes that were higher in elevation.

Bald Eagle - Luna Lake

On the road to Luna Lake and just outside of Nutrioso, Tommy was quick to spot this stunning dark-morph Red-tailed Hawk perched on a log pile, but once we stopped to view it for a while it decided it had enough of us and took to the air.

 Dark-morph Red-tailed Hawk

Dark-morph Red-tailed Hawk

Luna Lake

Great Blue Heron at Luna Lake

When we stopped at Winema Wildlife area and started walking on the west bank area, it was not very birdy; but things sure changed as we approached the southern end of the trail.  We stumbled upon a rather large flocks of Mountain Bluebirds with a few Western Bluebirds among them and couple of Cassin's Finches.  The Mountain Bluebirds had claimed a small pool of water in which to get a drink back in the grasses and they were flocking in to get a drink and an occasional American Robin joined them.  One of my photos captured a minimum of 38 Mountain Bluebirds and those flashes of sky blue on the golden dry grass background was pretty amazing.

 Mountain Bluebirds - at least 38 in this photo

More Mountain Bluebirds

Mountain Blubirds with an American Robin

It was also about this time that we heard a California Quail call, and since that was a new Arizona bird for all of us we got quite excited.  Tommy was quick to climb the canyon wall to see if he get a sighting on it while the rest of stayed behind and admired the bluebirds and others.  Unfortunately the quail failed to show itself.

Another stop was at Sipe Wildlife area, which is a favorite spot of mine.  This time we did not hike the complete trails and birded mostly near the Visitor's Center.  Had a couple Red-naped Sapsuckers in the area and I got off one lucky shot when one of them moved in between a large fork in the trunk of the tree and into a bit of sunshine.

Red-naped Sapsucker

Driving along Hwy 260 we spotted herd of Elk in a dead run, probably spooked by a hunter somewhere further back.  We quickly pulled off to view and watch the herd of 30+ running, as did a few other vehicles at the same time.


Sunday arrived with some fairly strong winds which did have a negative effect on our birding and we had to change our plans a bit.  A quick stop at South Fork, produced some great birds including this Stellar's Jay.

Steller's Jay

We also made a trip to the Grasslands Wildlife Area and found the wind had a big effect on the birds, but we did have a lone Mountain Bluebird that struggled to keep its balance on a wire in the winds that were buffeting it.

Mountain Bluebird

We actually stopped here on our first day as well and we actually got out and started walking the grasslands in search of Horned Larks and any longspurs, but came up empty.  But you have to admire this wide open area and the beauty of it.


We had discovered that most of the high elevation lakes already were covered in places with ice and one of the strangest sights was an adult Bald Eagle standing on the ice on Big Lake.  Wish it could have been a bit closer for a better photo, but still an interesting sight.  

Crescent Lake with ice

We returned on Sunday with a couple stops along the way in Gila County and came home with more ideas for future trips.


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