Pacific Wren

Pacific Wren
Pacific Wren

Friday, May 30, 2014

Slate Creek Divide

On May 17th, birding buddy from Tucson, Chris Rohrer, and I decided we needed someplace new to explore that was within a decent distance.  We had not been birding together for some time and we were due for an 'epic' excursion.  I suggested Slate Creek Divide in the northeast part of Maricopa County.  I had only been there once before about 3 years prior and the road leading there was definitely not suited for a low suspension auto.  Thanks to Tommy DeBerdeleben, I would never have visited this place as I would not have know it even existed or what to find or how to get there.  So once again, I was ready to explore and Chris was equally ready to check it out.  Exploring new and under birded spots can be very rewarding.  This place is not for the meek, especially if one decides to do some bushwhacking as it is very remote (no cell phone coverage) and some areas are steep, rocky and treacherous with the possibility of rattlesnakes.  What Chris and I discovered is that we need to plan a new trip back to this spot and be a bit better prepared for proper exploration.

The road is narrow and with numerous turns and switchbacks, but all along the way we found birds including a Black-headed Grosbeak and a Gray Vireo, which just happened to be a new life bird for Chris.  This has been the year of the Gray Vireo for me as I have now seen them in 5 different locations this year.  The silver lining to this is the fact that I now have a better understanding of their habitat and especially what to listen for when they are singing.

Black-headed Grosbeak

Gray Vireo

We also had the most expected warbler in this area, the Black-throated Gray Warbler; this would be prime breeding habitat and territory for them.  Bullock's Orioles and Olive-sided Flycatchers were also seen.  All of these birds almost had this remote area to themselves as we did not encounter anyone else until we started our trek back down where we met 4 different ATV's that were looking for a mine.  Had no idea where to tell them to look, so they continued on and we continued our slow exit.

Black-throated Gray Warbler

Bullock's Oriole

Olive-sided Flycatcher

At one point we found a Zone-tailed Hawk riding the thermals and screaming at us, so it is probable they had a nest somewhere nearby.

Zone-tailed Hawk

Other critters we found include an Arizona Sister Butterfly and a couple of Desert Grasslands Whiptail Lizards where one was feasting on a nice plump insect.

Arizona Sister Butterfly

Desert Grasslands Whiptail

Desert Grasslands Whiptail - with prey

What was abundantly clear was that it was definitely wildflower season in these higher elevations as we found several species of  wildflowers.

What a trip this was with incredible views and scenery and some great birds and wildlife as well.  This place is definitely on my must visit list again.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Navajo County NAMBC 2014

Saturday morning arrived and we were up and on the road early as we had a lot of ground to cover.  This year, we were assigned some different areas; Twin Springs near Heber, Zeniff agricultural area, and then several spots in the Pintop/Lakeside area.  This is the second year for me taking part in the Navajo County NAMBC (North American Migratory Bird Count).  This is a day where the main focus is to count every bird one sees or hears at your designated spots within the county.  So photography and photos were secondary on this day.  Since we were birding in places at over 7000' elevation and there was a stiff wind out of the southwest, in spots it was quite chilly.  The winds also kept many birds low and hiding and made the counting a bit more difficult. 

At Twin Springs, a small spot off Highway 260 and FR122, we found a couple of Olive Warblers. Before this year I had only seen 3 Olive Warblers, but now this year I have seen 4 of them.  This is a bird that is not found on a regular basis in the United States outside of the states of Arizona and New Mexico.  Always a treat to find and see and I call it the warbler with a Zorro mask.

Olive Warbler

Olive Warbler

In the Zeniff area, the only photo that I able to get was one of a Horned Lark.  They were quite plentiful in the area along with both Eastern and Western Meadowlarks, a Bullock Oriole and several others.

Horned Lark

From there we headed east and south to the Pinetop/Lakeside community where we have several spots to visit.  The first was Jacques Marsh, which was a new spot for me.  Rather tricky finding the way into this area but quite the spot for birds associated with water.  On this day, the wind made the birding a little more difficult as the wind gusts were quite strong, up to 35 mph.  It is quite an extensive area with several ponds of water and lots of marshy areas.  I discovered a small flock of Canada Goose that included a leusictic one (a genetic mutation that occurs resulting in partial absence of melanin).  It occurs with some regularity in birds, but unfortunately many of the bird born with this fail to live to adulthood.  An odd colored one in a flock is an easier target for predators to focus on.  

Canada Geese - one leucistic

Canada Geese - one leucistic

We also had several Cinnamon Teal in this area and they are pretty darned close to being one of the best looking ducks around.  I have always found them a bit skittish and not always easy to capture in photos but at least one of them cooperated to some degree for me.

Cinnamon Teal

And Yellow-headed Blackbirds were in abundant numbers at this location.

Yellow-headed Blackbird

At Woodland Lake Park, we expected to see Lewis's Woodpeckers and were not disappointed. This is one of the most reliable spots to find this oddly colored woodpecker with its pinkish belly and its red facial patch.

 Lewis's Woodpecker

Lewis's Woodpecker

A Northern Rough-winged Swallow took some time out for a rest from the normal incessant flying like most swallows.  

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

At Billy Creek Trailhead we had several smaller birds including a Acorn Woodpecker and a Mountain Chickadee.  This is a spot that will need more attention in next year's count.

 Acorn Woodpecker

Mountain Chickadee

Also near the trail head and the residential area, an Abert's Squirrel attempted to hide from us by blending in with the branch of a tree.  Those ear tufts are quite an eye catching look.

Abert's Squirrel

We had a totally enjoyable day of birding and counting, even with the strong winds, so it was back to Heber for the night and a glass of wine for the evening.  The next day we were to head home, so we got up early to go to breakfast at one of the best little cafes around and found out they were not yet open, so with about 10 to 15 minutes to kill, we headed to the Navajo County Park in Overgaard and it was lucky that we did as we got to witness a fairly large flock of Pinyon Jays moving through.  Must have been 40 to 50 of them and I was finally able to get a photo of one of them to add to my photo gallery.

Pinyon Jay

Anytime one ends a birding trip with a Pinyon Jay is ending with a great bird!


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Preparing for NAMBC

In 2013, I took part in the Navajo County North American Migratory Bird Count and was assigned some designated areas in and around the Heber/Overgaard area in Navajo County which I covered by myself.  This year I got lucky and had a couple of birding friends ask to join me which is great to have when taking part in one of these exercises.  This year Barb Meding and Wayne Manske asked to come along, for which I was thankful to have the assistance.  We departed early on Friday to get in some extra birding before the big day which was Saturday.  We stopped at several places along the way including the Tonto Fish Hatchery Road, which is a beautiful drive and at one spot a House Wren was very vocal and allowed us some up close views.

House Wren

Next stop was Willow Springs Lake, which is a bit new for me as I now know how to access the main part of the lake.  At one of the parking areas we found some male 'Audobon's' Yellow-rumped Warblers.  This species is one that is so common in the winter in and around the Phoenix area and is the first warbler that I learned the single note chip call since they are so common.  But there is a big difference in what we see in winter in the Phoenix area compared to what we see on their breeding grounds.  We found males in full breeding plumage and what a stunning bird they are.  

 'Audubon's' Yellow-rumped Warbler - showing its yellow rump
'Audubon's' Yellow-rumped Warbler

From there we ventured on to Black Canyon Lake, which is a spot I always visit every time I take a trip up to the Heber Area.  The parking lot has a population of Golden-mantled Squirrels that thrive on human handouts.  I have started carrying peanuts in the shell with me and it is always fun to watch them approach hoping for a hand out and of course I obliged.  It scampered down a tunnel, but shortly returned to feed on one that it had extracted from the shell and pose for me.  Guess this was my reward.

Golden-mantled Squirrel

Of course there were birds to be seen as well.  Brewer's Blackbirds are almost a given at this location as well as American Robins and 'Red-shafted' Northern Flickers.  And on this day the water bird specialty was an Eared Grebe.

 Brewer's Blackbird

 American Robin

'Red-shafted Northern Flicker

 Eared Grebe - Now you see it

Eared Grebe - Now you don't

Other interesting creatures were a Common Buckeye Butterfly and across the lake was a small herd of horses including a mare and her foal.

 Common Buckeye

Mare and foal

We had a great time birding on our way to Heber and that night we met up with 4 more volunteers, including the leader for some fine dining in Heber on Friday night the day before the big day of counting.  Great way to start the weekend!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Opposites - Glendale Ponds and Mt Ord

After my return from Texas, birding friend, Jason Morgan and I teamed up on Saturday and Sunday to do some birding in Maricopa County.  On Saturday we met up at the Glendale Recharge Ponds early in the morning knowing that this place is rather unforgiving in the summertime as there is no shade and when the
Arizona temperatures start rising, this can be a miserable place to be.  But there were some reports of some shore birds that had been migrating through and timing has to be right to find them before they move on.  We managed to find 2 new life birds for Jason, the Marbled Godwit and an unexpected Bullock's Oriole.

Bullock's Oriole

Marbled Godwit

We also found plenty of evidence of some of the resident birds already nesting.  We found 3 nesting American Avocets and 1 nesting Black-necked Stilt and one more pair of Black-necked Stilts preparing for the nesting process.

American Avocet - nesting

American Avocet - nesting

Black-necked Stilt - nesting

Black-necked Stilt - (Aren't they acrobatic???!!!)

We had made plans in advance to visit Mt Ord on Sunday as it was a new area for Jason, so we met up at 6:00 am the next morning and headed north on the Beeline Hwy to the Mt Ord turnoff.  The target bird that day for Jason was the Black-chinned Sparrow and this spot is one of the most reliable places to locate this much sought after Emberizid.  It was not long and we quickly found them and from there on, anything we found were going to be icing on the cake.  Gray Vireos seem to also favor the same habitat as the Black-chinned Sparrow and we found these as well.

Gray Vireo

Rufous-crowned Sparrows can also be found in this location as well and at least one of those showed itself in the open instead of hiding low to the ground in the in the grasses and shrubs.  An Ash-throated Flycatcher was also found in the lower areas of Mt Ord near the sparrows and vireo.

Rufous-crowned Sparrow

Ash-throated Flycatcher

As we moved up to higher elevations, the warblers became more common along with some flycatchers and a very colorful tanager and a gnatcatcher that was found everywhere and feeding some fledglings..

 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

 Black-throated Gray Warbler

 Painted Redstart

 Olive-sided Flycatcher

Western Wood-Pewee

Western Tanager

Western Scrub-Jay

At the top, we found a mass of Ladybugs swarming a small clump of grass, which was really quite awesome.  I have never seen this many in one spot in my life.  We also discovered a baby Greater Short-horned Lizard, which are always a great find and on the 1688 road heading back to our car we found a very calm but stunning Gopher Snake crossing our path that was about 3½ feet long.


Greater Short-horned Lizard

 Gopher Snake

Gopher Snake

This was a great day to be out and enjoying nature at its finest; awesome selection of birds with a few cool insects and reptiles thrown in for good measure.  I believe Jason got 4 new life birds on this trip and coupled with the 2 from the day before it was a 6 new bird weekend for Jason.  It is always a pleasure and a lot of fun to find new birds for others and birding with Jason is always a great experience.