This past weekend, I had the honor and pleasure of heading to the White Mountains of Arizona with a couple of excellent birders and friends, Magill Weber and Chris Rohrer and once we arrived, we met up with another excellent birder and friend, Tommy DeBardeleben. Magill, Chris, and myself were camping out near Greer, AZ and Tommy was already in Greer with his family on vacation. Once we got our campsite, Tommy came to visit so we could plan our strategy for our birding on Friday. As dusk settled in, we heard the familiar call of a Common Nighthawk near the campground, which was really a nice start as I was now officially able to add this species to my Arizona bird list. About 15 minutes later, something totally unexpected happened; we were visited by an owl right in our campsite. It was getting very dark and we could see it fly from tree to tree and we finally got a flashlight and our binoculars on it for a good look. It was a Long-eared Owl and a new life bird for me! This was not on our list of target birds for this weekend and although they are not rare, they can be a bit difficult to get a visual sighting on one. Chris was quick with his camera and got a nice and very diagnostic photo of this bird. What a great omen to our weekend of birding and it is amazing that it visited our campsite instead of one of the many others. It must have known that we would appreciate it more than anyone else in that campground.
Long-eared Owl - photo courtesy of Chris Rohrer
Early the next morning the 4 of us headed to the Mt Baldy area to look for a few of our target birds. There were 2 species on my target list that I have been wanting to find for some time; the American Dipper and the Gray Jay. We parked at the trail head which is right on the Little Colorado River and Tommy suggested we check the river before heading upstream on the trail. We were early enough to beat the crowds of fly fishing people. It did not take long for Tommy to pick one out in the stream. There are 5 Dipper species throughout the world and only one of these species is found in North America. What a cool bird, as is wades and even swims underwater in cold mountain streams as it forages for food. A favorite bird by many birders and rightfully so. (My second lifer of the trip already!)
We then headed out on the trail in this beautiful area of mountains and pines. Along the way we had several Lincoln Sparrows including one recently fledged bird that perched in a small pine and created a perfect frame of pine boughs around it.
Further down the trail, we finally came upon another great bird and one that was on my target list, the Gray Jay. This bird has a very large range in the far northern reaches of North America with scattered remnants in spots of the Rocky Mountains. In Arizona, they can only be found in the White Mountains of eastern Arizona, a small population which is cut off from the others. My third lifer on this trip and we were only on the first full day of birding.
As we returned on the trail, we also got looks of one of the Gray Jay's cousins, the Clark's Nutcracker. Not a new bird for me, but one that I have never been able to obtain photos. This just added to the excitement of the day and already made this trip worthwhile.
When we returned to the the trail head parking area we had the opportunity to see some Red Crossbills up close. Most generally these birds are high in the pines where they extract seeds from pine cones with their unique crossed bills. Luckily the pine they chose to visit had its base down by the stream bed and we were on a bridge above it which brought the top of the tree to an eye level for us.
Also along the river Tommy and Chris discovered a House Wren nest with babies being heard and the parents were actively seeking insects and bringing back to feed the young. I had a opportunity to capture a photo of one of the adults as it returned with an insect.
The day was far from being over with much more ground to cover and some equally other great birds to be found. More to come on day 1 of birding in the White Mountains near Greer, Arizona.