Pacific Wren

Pacific Wren
Pacific Wren

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Beauty of Mt Ord

This past Saturday, I was free to go birding by myself and decided that Mt Ord in Maricopa County was a prime spot for FOS (first of the season) migrants.  As I have mentioned in past posts, this is probably my favorite place to go birding in Maricopa County and once again it did not disappoint.
I set my sights on the top of the mountain first and headed directly to the top.  I quickly discovered that Blue-gray Gnatcatchers had returned with a vengeance and was probably the most numerous species of bird that I found over the entire mountain.  They were very vocal and singing and at one time I had 5 of them in the same area, out-dueling each other for territory rights. 
 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
The second most numerous bird was the Bewick's Wren, however they were a bit less photogenic that the gnatcatchers, but I have to include at least one photo of one for comparison with a House Wren that was also located along the way.
Bewick's Wren
House Wren
The irruption of the Cassin's Finch this year was still evident in the upper elevations including this male and female.
Cassin's Finch - Male and Female
At the top, I had a female Hairy Woodpecker pose long enough in the sunlight for a photo or two.  It is always strange to have this bird show up as a 'rare' bird in eBird when I complete my list.  But eBird has factors built in to prevent rarities being added without some kind of backup and this bird is definitely rare in the rest of the county.  This is the only area in the county where they are regularly seen. 
Hairy Woodpecker - Female
Violet-green Swallows had also returned which is always nice to see and since I had a nice blue sky background to work with, I attempted to photograph one in flight.  Not easy to do if you are aware of the erratic flight pattern of these birds.  But the photo does help to show how this species got its name with its violet rum patch and green head and back.
 Violet-green Swallow
Violet-green Swallow
The highlight at the top of the mountain was my FOS Painted Redstart.  Such a colorful bird and a regular summer breeder in Arizona and New Mexico.
 Painted Redstart
Painted Redstart
One final bird at the top as I reached my vehicle and was getting ready to head back down the mountain, was the Juniper Titmouse and this one appeared to be feasting on some tree buds.
 Juniper Titmouse
 Juniper Titmouse
I descended back down from the top to the 1688 Trailhead and headed out along this trail that runs along the west side of the Mt Ord but at an elevation that is considerably lower than the summit.  I covers quite the convergence zone of pine forests and the lower scrub oak habitat lower down.  Spotted Towhees and Black-chinned Sparrows were in abundance along this road.  One of the Black-chinned Sparrows gave me probably my best ever photos of this species.  And one can never get enough photos of the vibrant Spotted Towhee.
 Black-chinned Sparrow
 Black-chinned Sparrow
 Black-chinned Sparrow
 Spotted Towhee
Spotted Towhee
Want some scenery photos of this magnificent place?  Then here are some various photos of the surrounding areas.
 Mazatzal Mountains to the west with Beeline Hwy in the lower foreground.
 Bartlett Lake to the west.
 Roosevelt Lake to the south and east.
 Four Peaks to the south
 Mazatzal Mountains to the west.
 Mogollon Rim in the distance on the horizon to the north.
 Manzanita flower buds
 More Manzanita flower buds
 Looking west again, with the bridge and Beeline Hwy to the lower left.  The smaller yellowish road on the closest ridge is the rock and dirt road one has to traverse to get up the mountain.
Mazatzal Mountains to the north and west.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

After Work Hike

Been neglecting my blog site for way too long.  Have not been doing a lot of big trips out and about, but still have not stopped my birding, even though some have been a bit shorter than usual.  This past Friday, I decided to take a hike in Pima Canyon Wash after work.  Yes, there was a motive for this quickly planned hike.  Last fall I had discovered a Long-eared Owl in this location and on Thursday, I received an email from another birder that had went hiking out there on Thursday and also found a Long-eared Owl, so of course I wanted to at least make an attempt to see if it might still be there.  Once again I struck out on the LEOW, but it was not a wasted trip at all.  A five mile hike is always a positive thing and of course I had had a lot of the regular common birds.  Most of the time, I now observe and bypass most of the common regular birds and only lift my camera when they present themselves for great viewing or might be engaging in a special activity. 
Thus, an experience worth sharing did take place as I was returning from far up in the canyon.  I noticed a Loggerhead Shrike in a mesquite, not far from the trail and with the branches slightly swaying in the wind, I attempted to get a photo of it; evidence by the first photo.
What happened next was a bit unexpected.  The bird I was photographing took flight and headed down the wash, and a second Loggerhead Shrike flew in and landed in another, but small tree in front of the first tree.  I was amazed at how close it came in to where I was standing.  It then proceeded to capture and then dine on a moth that it had found.  All of this taking place right in front of me about 20 feet away.  Of course, my camera was not lowered after seeing the first bird, so what you get to see now is the sequence of photos of this second bird downing its late afternoon snack.

These are remarkable experiences when one gets to witness them up close and personal.
Only other photos that I even attempted were one of an Ash-throated Flycatcher and my first of the spring blooming Hedgehog Cactus.  They really add color to the desert landscape when they are in bloom.
 Ash-throated Flycatcher
Hedgehog Cactus
No such thing as a bad hike!

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.
Cassin's Finch
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
 Townsend's Solitaire
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.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Willcox and Lake Cochise

On Sunday, March 1, 2015, I headed down to the southeastern area of Arizona with Magill Weber riding along.  We were headed to Cochise Lake near Willcox, AZ to try our luck at locating a Red Phalarope that has been reported by many in the past week.  This is a bird that breeds along the Artic shores in the summer and spends its winters at sea; a rather rare bird inland.  I had seen only one of these birds once before and it was in the Pacific Ocean in 2013 about 20 miles out from Half
Moon Bay, California, so to have one show up in Arizona it is quite remarkable.  This would be a great bird to add to my Arizona list and I think Magill felt likewise.  So this was our target bird for the day an it did not take long to find it spinning around and back and forth in the water, foraging like phalaropes normally would.  At first it was a bit far out for photos, but we moved to another side of the lake and it eventually worked its way a bit closer for some identifiable photos.  Obviously this bird is not in its colorful reddish breeding plumage at this of the year, but still a remarkable bird none the less.
 Red Phalarope
Red Phalarope
One other bird dominated the landscape all around Cochise Lake; the Sandhill Crane.  Parts of Arizona is the winter home for this magnificent bird.  Arizona does not draw the biggest concentrations of them and I have seen them just about every winter in Maricopa County west of Phoenix as a small flock winters there.  A much larger concentration accumulates a bit further south from Willcox at Whitewater Draw and that place draws many birders to see them.  We were stunned by the sheer numbers in Willcox; we counted well over 1500 which brought back fond memories of Nebraska where they congregate along the Platte River in central Nebraska in the early spring every year and they number in the hundreds of thousands.  This was definitely impressive to see and hear and they actually allowed a bit of a close approach. 
 Sandhill Cranes - Need I say more?

As we work our way around the lake, I got to see my find Cinnamon Teal of the year.  (Yeah, that is kind of sad when I have them only about 6 miles from my home in Mesa at the Gilbert Riparian Water Preserve!)  I had to drive all the way to Willcox to see my first of the year.
Cinnamon Teal
We then made our way to the pond by the golf course where we found a stunning breeding plumage male Ruddy Duck.  Not a plumage we see too often and that blue bill really looks out of place, but also adds to its good looks.
Ruddy Duck
As we were driving out to head back a home, we were fortunate to have an Eastern Meadowlark sitting on a fence post and did not take off like most of them do when approached by humans.  We just stopped the car and enjoyed the view with the sunlight showing off its bright yellow chest.
 Eastern Meadowlark

We spent only about 1½ hours before we headed home, but it was a very productive day of birding in such a short time span.  Definitely worth the trip.