Sunday, January 8, 2017
Agricultural Land Birding
Between Christmas and New Year's, I had the pleasure of being a part time birding guide. What made it more pleasurable was the fact that I had gone birding with them before and it is more of a birding adventure with friends; definitely not strangers and not ax murders! (Inside joke!) Brian and Larry DeAtley Ellyson had come to visit Arizona for the holidays. They were escaping the cold of Ohio and had sent me a list of some of the life birds they were hoping for. After perusing the list, I quickly told them that a trip to the Santa Cruz Flats in Pinal County would be be a good place to start.
Early in the morning on December 27th, we departed south and met up with Judith Ellyson in Eloy. We then headed south into the area known as the Santa Cruz Flats as it is known among all the birders in Arizona. The target birds that were on the list were: Ferruginous Hawk, Prairie Falcon, Mountain Plover, Lark Bunting, and Sprague's Pipit, which had all recently been reported from there. That, plus the fact that a couple Rufous-backed Robins and a Ruddy Ground-Dove had been reported there recently as well. We spent the day traversing the many roads that link this area together and in the end we were able to check off 3 life species for them; Lark Bunting, Mountain Plover, and the best find of the day was a Sprague's Pipit. The SPPI was a bird that I had only seen once before and never photographed. They are loners and amazingly difficult to spot and get good looks most of the time. This one was foraging in some dry grassy fields and would pop up to show itself to us for great scope and binocular views. Then it would duck down in the grass and disappear and stick its head up again several feet from where we last saw it.
Obviously, I was not on the ball and taking photos of the other lifers we saw. However, I did capture a few photos of some of the other birds we were seeing on our rounds.
Red-tailed Hawk - dark morph
Since we had failed to get the Ferruginous Hawk and Prairie Falcon, Brian and Larry joined me on another trip a couple of days later, but this one to the Buckeye/Arlington areas west of Phoenix. This time we were much more successful as we found a Prairie Falcon and had good scope view of it. We also found 2 Ferruginous Hawks; one was the normal light colored hawk and one was a dark morph. According to Sibley's Guide, the dark morph make up less than 10% of the total population. The photos below were not taken on that day, but were instead taken on January 8, 2017. when I visited that area again with birding friend Muriel Neddermeyer. The photos of the dark morph is quite likely the same bird and is was found in the same general area. The light morph might not be since it is much more common and there might be several of the light morph out in that vicinity.
We also came upon a fairly large flock of Mountain Bluebirds foraging in an alfalfa field which yielded them another new life bird for them. If I remember correctly, they got about 6 new life birds on this trip to Arizona. Next visit will result in harder to find birds, whenever that might be.