Central Arizona - Just Meandering (3 Mar 2013)

by AJ 3. March 2013 14:51

The last few days have been spent just meandering around the Phoenix area exploring new places and old.  Even waiting until after rush hour was over, it was a brutal drive across the city to the thrasher place out past Buckeye.  The thrashers were no where to be found in my limited time wandering through the creosote and the recently reported Tundra Swans were also MIA.  I did manage to find a few Loggerhead Shrikes, however.

I next explored an area I'd never visited and took Old Hwy. 80 to Gila Bend where I saw a huge solar generating station, looped around back through the Sonoran Desert National Monument, through the town of Maricopa, and back to Mesa.  Since the afternoon was still far from dusk, I rode up to Canyon Lake.  It's just so pretty up there.

On Saturday I spent quite a bit of time wandering around Boyce-Thompson Arboretum, always one of my favorite places to visit.  The birding wasn't great but how can you not enjoy hearing a Canyon Wren sing from the cliff side?

I thought this guy was pretty entertaining.  When a guy's in the desert and thirsty, you just have to find water wherever you can!

Tonight I get to celebrate Kurt's birthday with him for the first time since he left for college oh so many years ago!


Birds | Travel


Central Arizona - Salt River and North (27 Feb 2013)

by AJ 27. February 2013 21:31

The first order of business today was to try for better photos of the Red-breasted Sapsucker at Blue Point RA along the Salt River north of Mesa.  Unfortunately I didn't even notice the small branch in the way until I got home and began viewing my photos, but it's not too bad.  What a beauty!

Birding was a bit slow at most areas.  A few days ago, when I first visited Saguaro Lake, there were lots of Western Grebes on the water and without my scope along I wondered what else might be out there.  Today I had my scope but there was a total turnover in birds.  With so little activity I headed further north towards Payson and first stop was the road to Mt. Ord.  After driving through a few snow patches in the lower elevations, I felt it prudent to turn around and not get too high.  Looked like it could get a little dicey up there.

The next stop was just down the road along Sycamore Creek.  Again birding was a bit slow but I did pick up a pair of Red Crossbills and a pair of Eastern Bluebirds for the trip.  The only thing that wanted to pose for a bit was this Red-tailed Hawk.

Sycamore Creek is really picturesque but just wasn't terribly birdy this afternoon.

With plans to have dinner with Uncle Ron and Aunt Betty, I spent the rest of the afternoon back along the Salt River watching such mundane birds as Bald Eagle, Vermilion Flycatcher, Phainopepla, Marsh Wren, and even Common Mergansers.  It looked like a perfect afternoon for kayaking the river.

The late afternoon lighting on Red Mountain is superb!

I pulled into Ron & Betty's drive and finally had a chance for a photo of my lifer for this trip - Rosy-faced Lovebird.  I've seen them many times before but just last summer the ABA deemed them established in the US and thus countable on my life list.


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Central Arizona - Gilbert Water Ranch (26 Feb 2013)

by AJ 26. February 2013 20:10

After a day of running around doing other fun things (OK, watching the ISU game with Kurt was excruciating), today I finally got out for a little birding.  I'm about three miles from one of my favorite places and still hadn't made it there so it was off to Gilbert Water Ranch where I found my first dragonfly of 2013 - a Variegated Meadowhawk.  It was afternoon so the sun and lighting weren't great but I got some passable photos I guess.  First up was this Snowy Egret having a bad hair day.  In reality I think his hormones were beginning to crank up since he was chasing a presumed female around the pond.


There were a few shorebirds around such as Long-billed Dowitchers, Least Sandpipers, several American Avocets changing into colorful breeding plumage, and perhaps my favorite - Black-necked Stilt.


Other water birds included Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, several dabbling ducks, both Double-crested and Neotropic Cormorants, and this Green Heron who did his level best to stay behind branches and in the shadows just to make photography nearly impossible.


Great-tailed Grackles are everywhere and this female posed nicely for a moment.


Today I finally saw my first Inca Doves of the trip.


The common winter birds of the riparian include Yellow-rumped (Audubon's) Warblers, Northern Mockingbirds, Anna's Hummingbirds, the occasional Black Phoebe, and plenty of White-crowned Sparrows.


And of course, the ubiquitous Verdins which nest in all months of the year.


Two common birds of this area that can be hard to photograph well because at least for me they tend to bury themselves in shady vegetation - Abert's Towhee


and Curve-billed Thrasher.


I even managed to see a couple of mammals - this Desert Cottontail


and what I believe is a Cotton Rat.  Someone can correct me if I'm wrong.


This was the longest walk I've taken since the last leg break so we'll see if an overnight recovery will happen so I can get back out tomorrow.  The time is going much too quickly!


Birds | Travel


Central Arizona - Desert Botanical Garden, Papago Park, Seven Springs (24 Feb 2013)

by AJ 24. February 2013 21:51

A busy day began with meeting friend Pete Moulton at the Desert Botanical Garden where the cold wind made the fleece necessary.  The wind pretty much kept the birds down but we saw a few things and it was great to catch up with Pete.  The prize was probably this Great Horned Owl, but we found a few other birds as well.  My shots of the Gambel's Quail were all worthless and the Curve-billed Thrashers insisted on staying in the shade and under the brush. The little Costa's Hummingbird just wouldn't pose for me.

Great Horned Owl


Anna's Hummingbird


Cactus Wren



Pete then took me down to the ponds in Papago Park to do a little duck shooting.  The wind was cold and I didn't stay long but it was a good place to get up close and personal with a few things.


American Coot


Female Canvasback


Young male Hooded Merganser


Ring-necked Duck

I then headed north to meet up with Angie and her friend Liz and we went for a ride north into the mountains to the Seven Springs area.  The beautiful rolling hills are such a quiet and peaceful place and only a few miles away from the bustling city.  The recent rains made the road a bit rough and washboarded but what a great afternoon.  I think Liz said it was in the 40's so we keep the top on!  Cold, windy, but still beautiful.  What a fun day!



Birds | Travel


Central Arizona - Red Mountain Park and the Superstitions (22 Feb 2013)

by AJ 22. February 2013 22:18

This was a short afternoon out with the first goal of finding the Bendire's Thrasher in a Mesa city park nearby.  Although the habitat was a little strange for this species, as I started walking around this urban fishing lake I heard it singing.  The bird was obviously used to people as it let me walk close and get some great shots.


From there it was on to Apache Junction to survey the incredible snow on the Superstitions.  I've seen a light dusting on them before but never anything to this extent and lasting so long.  While at Lost Dutchman State Park I managed to get the best photo I've taken to date of one of my favorite birds of this area - Phainopepla.





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SE Arizona - The Snow Arrives (20 Feb 2013)

by AJ 20. February 2013 21:06

At dinner the night before Bob had told me I might have trouble finding a room in north Tucson because of the Accenture Golf Tournament.  He was prophetic because I got one of the last four rooms.  The place was crawling with golf fans anticipating Tiger's return to the tournament.  It was a fairly pleasant evening and hard to believe that a snow storm was imminent.

I had hoped to maybe be just enough ahead of the front to bird Catalina State Park on the way north and the prospects were looking OK when I checked out.  The road to Mt. Lemmon had already been closed and looking up that direction to a mountain enshrouded in clouds it made sense.  But we were much lower in elevation so there was hope.  It didn't take too many miles, however, before rain drops started falling and by time I got to the entrance to Catalina the wipers were on.  Being a wimp I couldn't see any reason to get cold and wet searching for a Golden-crowned Sparrow.  Onward.

Rather than deal with Interstate traffic, I took the scenic route through Florence.  The rain went from intermittent to steady and in places the desert had standing sheet water.  Just after I reached US Hwy. 60 east of Apache Jct. the heavy snow began.  The whole thing was a bit bizarre because this is a 65 mph highway and people were driving 30.  The roadway was just wet but I wonder if the curiosity of it all slowed folks down.  The heavy wet stuff began sticking to vegetation on the roadside.

It was about 11:00 am and there was time to try to meet Kurt for lunch of he was available so the plan became a judgement call based on what was happening by time I got into Mesa.  If it was still snowing, all bets were off and it was go to plan B.  Miraculously the rain and snow stopped although streets were flooded as I made my way to a safe spot to call Kurt.  About an hour later I got to spend a little time with number one son.

Later in the afternoon, while getting lost trying to find Dick and Gerry's house where I would be staying for a couple of weeks, I did manage to bump into a pair of Rosy-faced Lovebirds, the first I've seen since the ABA ruled they are now established in this area.  Lifer!

Watching the news was almost surreal.  The golf course in Tucson was covered with snow and play was suspended.  Friends Sheri and Tom were really getting hammered down in Bisbee.  No doubt Madera Canyon had been blanketed.  Mesa was chilly but snowless.




SE Arizona - Sweetwater Wetlands (19 Feb 2013)

by AJ 19. February 2013 19:00

With plans for dinner with old friend Clarice and her husband, and the likelihood of nasty weather the following day, I decided to bird Sweetwater before backtracking for dinner.  The thousands of mostly Northern Shovelers were in constant motion.  Cinnamon Teal are always a treat.  Both Yellow-rumped and Orange-crowned Warblers bounced around in the wind.  A juvenile Harris' Hawk posed nicely for me.  After dinner, despite the nice invitation from Bob and Clarice to stay at their place, I headed to the north side of Tucson for the night in hopes of beating the weather the next day.

Here are some photos from Sweetwater:


Black Phoebe


Common Gallinule


Harris' Hawk


Lincoln's Sparrow


Northern Shoveler


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SE Arizona - Madera Canyon (18-19 Feb 2013)

by AJ 19. February 2013 17:55

Grabbed some coffee and headed west on Ruby Road to Pena Blanca Lake.  I don't know how many times I've driven Ruby Road and never stopped here because we were on to destinations further into the middle of nowhere.  This time I would forego Sycamore Canyon and California Gulch for a bit of civilized birding.

The morning was cold and it took awhile for the activity to pick up.  The lake held several waterfowl and coots but the prize was one Least Grebe.  After a successful nesting the numbers are down but maybe more will arrive later.  It was fun to have a Hammond's Flycatcher trying to stir up the bugs and a Red-naped Sapsucker was a pleasant surprise.

From there it was north on I19 and across the scrub to Montosa Canyon.  This ended up being a bird free zone, bit on the way back to the Interstate I pulled off to dump out some cold coffee.  Jumping around the scrub were both Black-throated and Rufous-winged Sparrows.  Nice!

On to Madera Canyon.  After a night in a cheap motel in Nogales with trains on one side and trucks on the other, I splurged for a night in a casita at Santa Rita Lodge.  There aren't a lot of people staying in the canyon this time of year and what a peaceful time it was.  The finch feeders were loaded with Pine Siskins and Lesser Goldfinches while juncos cleaned up the mess under the feeders.  The real vacuum cleaner, however, was this coatimundi.


A side trip to Florida Canyon found some small pools of water and a number of birds such as juncos, kinglets, and a Hermit Thrush.  I was tempted to try the hike up the trail but thought better of it.


The night was so interestingly quiet.  Other times I have been in Madera Canyon after dark we have had sensational owling.  I guess February is just too early and all was eerily quiet (except for the wind).

The next morning I spent a good deal of time just sitting on the benches at Santa Rita Lodge and snapping photos of the birds coming in to feed.  Here are a few of the shots I got.


Bridled Titmouse


Acorn Woodpecker


Arizona Woodpecker


Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon race)


Dark-eyed Junco (Red-backed race)


Hepatic Tanager

Up the road at Madera Kubo I found the female Hepatic Tanager, a pair of Magnificent Hummingbirds, and this guy.


Painted Redstart

With a weather forecast of mucho snow the next day, I headed to Tucson rather than spend another night in Madera Canyon.  Narrow, steep, slippery roads just didn't sound all that appealing.


Birds | Travel


SE Arizona - Sonoita and Patagonia (17 Feb 2013)

by AJ 17. February 2013 15:18

Starting from Willcox I drove east to Benson and then south toward Sierra Vista.  After a short internal debate about birding the Sierra Vista area, I decided to explore some new areas and went on east toward Sonoita.  Just to the northeast of Sonoita is the old Empire Ranch which has been acquired by the BLM and is now Las Cienegas Preserve.  This was an interesting ride through the grasslands although the winds held most of the birds down.  The most interesting were a small flock of Chestnut-collared Longspurs that flushed and a Sage Thrasher.

On to Sonoita Creek Sanctuary, a Nature Conservancy preserve and a place I had not visited for years.  The target species here, a Rusty Blackbird, was a no-show but it was a pleasant walk along this small perennial stream.  From there it was on to lounge at the feeding stations at the Paton property where I saw a nice selection of birds.


Audubon's (Yellow-rumped) Warbler


Bewick's Wren


Gambel's Quail


Green-tailed Towhee


White-throated Sparrow (rare winter visitor)


Ladder-backed Woodpecker

After a quick stop at Lake Patagonia State Park where a Ruddy Ground-Dove had been occasionally seen (dipped) it was on to Nogales for the night.  This is as close as I would get to Mexico this year.


Birds | Travel


SE Arizona - Sulphur Springs Valley (16 Feb 2013)

by AJ 16. February 2013 12:49

After two days of hard driving it was time to relax and have some fun.  The first push was from Las Cruces, NM to Willcox, AZ and then south to Whitewater Draw where I hooked up with friends Sheri and Tom for a brief time.  Whitewater Draw has enough water this year that it's attractive to the wintering Sandhill Cranes and before we even got our hello out Tom pointed out a circling Golden Eagle making the cranes a bit nervous.  It won't be much longer until these guys head north.  The "Draw" also had Snow Geese, various ducks, a couple species of shorebirds, and the first Great Egret of the trip.  The place was pretty busy with crane seekers and the hoped for American Bittern was no where to be found.

After lunch it was off to cruising the roads of the Sulphur Springs Valley.  I was lucky to find a couple of juvenile Ferruginous Hawks - one light morph which was pretty straightforward but the dark morph took a bit of time to figure out for sure.  As always Northern Harriers glided easily over the grasslands.

The highlight of a lap around Lake Cochise at the Willcox golf course was the group of 32 Long-billed Curlews, a bird I don't get to see often.  No more hard driving - early night in Willcox.


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