Monday, March 9, 2015
The Olives on Mt Ord
The title of this post is a bit confusing, but makes sense once you read through the post. The details come a little later.
This weekend, I decided to visit a couple of my favorite spots off the Beeline Highway north and east of Mesa; Sunflower and Mt Ord and time permitting a stop at Bushnell Tanks. First stop was Sunflower, I figured Mt Ord would be quite chilly until the sun rose high enough to start warming the 1688 trail and Sunflower is right long the highway before reaching Mt Ord turnoff, plus it is a lower elevation and consequently a bit warmer in the wee hours of the morning. Glad I made that decision as the birds were already active.
Cassin's Finches were still being seen at this location. This is an irruptive year for this species and they have ventured further south and into lower elevations than normal. I had seen them a couple of weeks ago in this location, but at least this time, I did manage to capture a photo of a male and female getting a drink of water on the edge of the creek.
Dark-eyed Juncos were everywhere, which is normal for the winter months in Arizona. But this was the first time this winter that I was able to detect the 'Pink-sided' sub-species.
'Pink-sided' Dark-eyed Junco
Had wonderful views of Townsend's Solitaire, a seemingly drab gray bird, for most non-birder people. But for a birder, they are rather cool with that bold eye-ring and when they fly, they show off their buffy wing patches and white outer tail feathers. This day they were very vocal and singing their wonderful song instead of the normal 1 note whistle that I normally hear.
Townsend's Solitaire - Note the buff colored wing patches
After about only an hour at this location, I decided it was time to head up to Mt Ord, a short 3 miles further north on the highway. Not far up the rough and rocky road, I found another vehicle parked at the first small pull off and was surprised to find Steve and Joan Hosmer already there and searching for birds. As I pulled up and started visiting with them, I noticed a large flock of fairly good sized birds flying in the pines across a canyon and about midway up on the ridge. Very unusual sight and we quickly got our binoculars on them and I discover that they were Band-tailed Pigeons! Not a new life bird for me, but a first for me in Maricopa County. Always exciting to add a new county bird even if I was not able to get photos. It was fairly windy on the lower slopes, but Steve and Joan joined up with me and we then continued to head further up the mountain road to the 1688 trail. At least when we arrived in that area, the wind seemed to be a bit less gusty as the pine trees gave us some shelter from the wind.
The 1688 trail on Mt Ord is probably my most favorite spot to bird. It starts out in tall pines and the leads to the west and south and skirts the edges of the mountain on the west side with openings out into the scrub oak habitat. The trail meanders between these habitat zones and really creates the best of two areas and a wide variety and abundance of birds. Today the birding was a bit sparse, so when we headed back, we took off through the forest instead and it was a wise decision as we were finding many more birds than in the windy exposed areas of the trail. Among all these birds I discovered one of the great birds to be found on Mt Ord, the Olive Warbler. (Now you can finally see the connection to the title of this post and the reference to olives!) I ended up seeing 2 of this gorgeous birds. This bird is grouped with all the warblers, but is placed in a separate family because its relationships are a bit uncertain. Most field guides will show this bird as a summer resident in Arizona, but that is bound to change in the future as they are quite at home in the winter in higher elevations and I have even seen them foraging in snow covered trees. As more sightings are reported, many of the field guide range maps will have to be rewritten.
Olive Warbler (One of the olives on Mt Ord)
As we neared our parked vehicles, we also got to add Bushtit to our list for the day. Guess it did not want to show my camera it's short little bill. This is a male which can be identified by its dark eye. Females have a light yellowish colored eye.
Bushtit - Male
Yes, this was another great trip to Mt Ord and will be heading up there a few more times this spring and summer. More migrants are poised to join in on the fabulous birding to be found at this spot.