Thursday, August 15, 2019

In The Gila: You Can't Win If You Don't Play

When Arizona birders hear the other-worldly calls from the Buff-collared Nightjar right after dusk, it usually comes from canyons in the southeastern part of the state.  Aside from Arizona birders, birders from many corners travel to witness this bird as the United States' range of the Nightjar is more knowingly restricted to these few Arizona canyons.  Over the years, this bird has shown that it has a high ceiling of showing up elsewhere and further north in Arizona into ranges outside of the typical canyons near the Santa Rita Mountains and California Gulch areas.  Last year, a Buff-collared Nightjar was sound recorded and eBirded in northern Pinal County, close to it's junction with Gila County and at the base of the foothills to the Pinal Mountains on the south side of Globe.  Just as nightjars are cryptic creatures of the night who would require a maze to locate if they didn't vocalize, it seemed as if a remarkable eBird record was just as fleeting on every level.  I never heard one person talk about this record.  Not one.  To me, a species of interest like this, a regional specialty, would qualify for a louder broadcast.  I never knew about it.  Thankfully Caleb Strand is a good buddy of mine, and he brought the record to my attention.  I was blown away, and Caleb made a good point that the species has to be somewhere in Gila County during certain years.  Looking at the eBird range map of Buff-collared Nightjar also showed records of birds in Aravaipa Canyon from Pinal County.  These records showed a handful of observers, but the knowledge of the observations were ones that still eluded me until a Caleb-inspired-research.  Between the bird near the southern base of the Pinal Mountains (which was less than a mile away from Gila County) and Aravaipa Canyon, Caleb and I looked over maps at habitat that looked considerable for additional records of the bird in Gila County.  The Boy and I made it a goal that we would find a good area or two and try to pull up a remarkable record of our own for Buff-collared Nightjar. An equal thrill of finding one would be it being a first Gila County record, a county that is well under the usual radar for the bird.  We were well aware that there was a much better chance of striking out rather than succeeding when looking for a species like this, but it was a worthy goal to us.  Caleb and I had the mindset of, "You can't win if you don't play".  The thought process stays true to the hobby of birding.  For great discoveries to happen, one has to put the work in for it.  I found myself planning a trip with Caleb over the days of July 18th and 19th, where we would be trying for not only a remote Buff-collared Nightjar, but for other birds that are scarce in Gila County that one wouldn't get if they didn't put the times in for.  You can't win if you don't play!

Buff-collared Nightjars are obviously named if you see one in the field or take the more likely route of looking in a field guide or simply going to Google.  These birds are at the very northern limit of their range in Arizona, and seeking them out in new places in places where they haven't been discovered yet is always of high interest.  Even though the nighjars are found in a variety of habitats further south throughout their main Mexico distribution, they are tied into a much more limited habitat choice in southern Arizona.  Most records come from dry canyon bottoms above 3000' and up to 4500' in midst of steep surrounding slopes within deserts or along drainage areas that feature some riparian habitats that have mesquite, hackberry, and oak trees nearby.  Caleb set his eyes on a place that is called Ranch Creek.  The creek is east of Globe and is on the western edge of the San Carlos Indian Reservation.  Looking at maps, Caleb realized that the habitat and elevations were similar to the habitats where Buff-collared Nightjars are typically found in southeastern Arizona.  While I had some places in mind south of Globe along State Highway 77, this place that Caleb had located seemed like a better option.

July 18th was an odd day.  Caleb and I planned to trek over to Ranch Creek after I would get off of work in the afternoon.  It was a Thursday, and for some odd reason I thought I had to work early in the morning that day.  I went into work only to find out that I was off for the day and that I mis-read my schedule, and by the time I told Caleb I actually had the day off, he made plans for the first half of the day.  That point in time was one of my dumbest, but in the early afternoon, we made our way towards Globe and Ranch Creek.  After purchasing recreational permits for the Indian Reservation, we made our way south down a rough road that eventually paralleled Ranch Creek for most of it's entirety.  Ranch Creek Road got rougher and rougher as we continued south.  Caleb's Suburu has a lot of muscle to it and can endure a lot of rough terrain.  Whenever we would cross a dry Ranch Creek, I was concerned for the vehicle.  It got to a point where Caleb parked the car and we would decide to walk south for up to three miles to explore the creek.  In the beginning stretches of the creek and it's riparian habitat of sycamore, cottonwood, and willow, we were greeted by a Zone-tailed Hawk.

Zone-tailed Hawk

Seeing Ranch Creek in person was better than it was on Google Maps, and Caleb was absolutely right that the habitat looked great for the potential in Buff-collared Nightjar.  We thought it also looked great for Varied Bunting, a species that we would have have had a much better chance at finding in the early morning hours or in the middle of a good monsoon season.  Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet was another bird that we thought would be present as we came up upon stands of healthy mesquite bosque with surrounding hackberry and desert vegetation along the sycamore and cottonwood riparian habitat in the creek.  It didn't take long before we heard the distinctive call of the tiny flycatcher, and it was a Gila County lifer for Caleb.  Ranch Creek was a fun place to bird during the remaining hours of daylight, and we had a variety of birds that included Cooper's Hawk, Vermilion Flycatcher, Cassin's Kingbird, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Bushtit, Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay, Bridled and Juniper Titmice, Crissal Thrasher, Canyon and Rock Wrens, Canyon Towhee, Hooded Oriole, Lucy's Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Summer Tanager, Blue Grosbeak, Rufous-crowned Sparrow and most of the common Sonoran desert birds.  Caleb also flushed up a surprise in his first Barn Owl for Gila County.

Cooper's Hawk

Zone-tailed Hawk

Ranch Creek Scenes

After a good hike, we returned to the vehicle at dusk.  Caleb planned it out perfectly (so did the rough road too, I guess) that we would go through what looked to be the best habitat for any potential Buff-collared Nightjars on our return drive north and out of Ranch Creek.  Common Poorwills didn't hesitate to sound off immediately as it got dark.  From the start, Caleb played the calls of Buff-collared Nightjar out loud by placing a speaker on his vehicle.  The sound carried for distance aplenty, and we hoped it would be answered.  We made stop after stop, and we weren't able to locate any Buff-collared Nightjars in close to two hours of nocturnal birding.  Neither of us had hopes that went too high for the species, but at the same time, it was extremely awesome to try.  It was also great to explore a new area that has probably rarely ever been birded.  You can't win if you don't play, right?  On the other hand, we did detect 12 Western Screech-Owls, 2 Great Horned Owls, an Elf Owl, and 4 Common Poorwills.  The first former of those night birds had several individuals that wanted to chill with us and perhaps they had always wanted to see a Buff-collared Nightjar in Gila County too.

Western Screech-Owl

Kangaroo Rat

Elf Owls were present at our camp out along Highway 77, south of Globe and north of the small town of Winkelman.  July 19th was the day, and we planned to venture south along the Gila River north of Winkelman before looking for Gila County rarities in Mississippi Kite, Black Vulture, and Varied Bunting and we would then visit the high elevations of the Pinal Mountains in the second half of the day.   Before the temperatures in this lowland habitat would hit triple digits, we birded along the recreation sites and riparian habitat at the Gila River.  Gray Hawks were a cool highlight, as was a heard-only Willow Flycatcher and Yellow-billed Cuckoo.  We didn't detect any Varied Buntings, which I've only found once along this stretch in 2017.

Gray Hawk

Summer Tanager 

In Gila County, Black Vulture and Mississippi Kite are two "you can't win if you don't play"-kind've-birds.  There are several records of Black Vulture in Gila County, most of which are from the town limits of Winkelman or just barely north of Winkelman while birders have been traveling on Highway 77.  I had tried for the bird a handful of times, and it managed to elude me.  Mississippi Kite is one that used to be reliable in Gila County in the town of Winkelman, especially on the public golf course in town.  From what I've heard, birders in the past used to be able to see the kites pretty easily, and often at times without having to get out of their vehicles.  Since then, they have declined in the area, but have been recorded breeding just to the south along the San Pedro River adjacent to the town of Dudleyville.  Looking at eBird, the last Gila County sighting of the kite was from Ed Dunn in June of 2015.  I still think the Kites visit the area, but are a species one has to make regular visits for in order to obtain a sighting.  Our stakes were definitely higher to see a Black Vulture out of the two, and as we got to Winkelman mid-morning, Winkelman Flats Park was our first visit.  Immediately after turning onto the entrance road to the park, I saw that three vultures were perched up on a large tree.  The left was a Turkey Vulture, and the other two were shaped differently, had gray heads that had bare skin that extended further down to the neck, and longer legs.  I freaked out and knew that we had landed our Gila first Black Vultures!

Black Vultures (Gila County #312)

Most of the Turkey Vultures in the area had started to lift up and start their morning soaring, but the Black Vultures weren't in any rush to start their soaring.  As Caleb and I observed them, they did fly away from us a few times to land on nearby perches.  It's been awhile since I've been pumped up to see a Black Vulture, but a Gila County Black Vulture is a Gila County Black Vulture...

This Tropical Kingbird was also nearby.

Our next birding stop was in high and cool elevations of the Pinal Mountains.  We started off in the Pioneer Pass half of the range, and we were impressed with the area.  It was my first time visiting Pioneer Pass, and we had close to 40 different bird species in the places that we stopped at, and that included a handful of Yellow-eyed Juncos.  We tried for a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher that was found by Paul Wolterbeek while he was birding along Trail 200 a few weeks prior to our visit.  The Flycatcher eluded us, but what we were really searching for in the Pinals was Short-tailed Hawk.  Short-tailed Hawks are for sure "you can't win if you don't play-kind've-birds too, and Caleb and I climbed up Trail 196 in Pioneer Pass to get to an elevated viewpoint to scan the ridges for any raptors.  This small buteo was one that had eluded Caleb prior to our July 19th visit to Gila County.  We didn't find one at Pioneer Pass in our long shot attempt, but after Pioneer Pass we went over to the area of Pinal Peak, west of Pioneer Pass where the Short-tailed Hawk was more likely.

Juv. Yellow-eyed Juncos

Caleb and I were convinced we were searching for an active Shorty, especially since Dave Pearson and his birding group had seen an individual earlier in the season prior to our visit.  Even though the hawk was one I chased and got to see in the Pinals last year after Jeff, Dara, and Laurie had discovered two remarkable individuals, I was extremely pumped for Caleb to have the chance at seeing one.  I was rooting for Caleb, because it was a life bird to be for him.  When we got close to Pinal Peak, Caleb got excited as he saw a raptor that had a great initial impression.  But all it was was a Swainson's Hawk taunting Caleb.

Swainson's Hawk

The odds seemed to be against us after the Swainson's Hawk gave us a fool, and it's a raptor that usually sticks to lower elevations in mid-July.  Caleb laughed it off, and said that it was a perfect way to start our Short-tailed Hawk search in this upper part of the Pinals.  In the past, Caleb had looked many times in southeastern Arizona mountains and scanned ridges for Short-tailed Hawks without any success.

After we started scanning Pinal Peak for about ten minutes, Caleb spied two smaller raptors in the distance and further west of the towers of Pinal Peak.  They were harassing a Red-tailed Hawk.  Looking at their proportions, Caleb was convinced that they were a pair of Short-tailed Hawks.  We rushed over to get closer to spot where the hawks were at, and luckily, Caleb was able to get on them again and confirm that they were Short-tailed Hawks.  In all of the times that Caleb has scanned for this bird, it was freaking awesome to see him come away with not one, but the Pinal Mountain pair.  The behavior of the Short-tailed Hawks resulted in the birds coming after other raptors when they would fly over a specific part of the mountain.  It suggested nesting behavior, and there is probably a nest somewhere within that area where we observed them.  After a patient wait, one of the Short-tailed Hawks flew over at a fairly close range.

Short-tailed Hawk!

Caleb "The Boy" Strand right after getting his lifer STHA

The Pinals came through big time, and it's pretty rare to see Caleb get a life bird in Arizona these days.  Before leaving the Pinals, we made a last stop at a line of hummingbird feeders that are managed by a friendly couple who reside in a cabin near Pinal Peak.  We got to see Rivoli's and Calliope Hummingbirds during our quick visit among numbers of Rufous and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds.

Rivoli's Hummingbird

Searching for uncommon and rare birds as target birds is a fun way to bird, and it pays off when success is a conclusion.  In the future of my Gila County birding, I hope to make continued reps to search for the possibility of Buff-collared Nightjars.  There's also rare grassland birds one can expect in the winter, and those Mississippi Kites.  And I still need a Northern Goshawk for Gila...

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

In The Gila: High Country

The brutal heat of the summer is upon the state of Arizona anywhere relatively below 5,000' in elevation.  It's a given for those of us who live here, but the scouring temperatures that exceed 110 degrees are still dreaded like a feared event.  When it comes to birding in these lowlands, one may bird for the first hours of the morning before the heat becomes unbearable.  That's not a lot of birding time.  For me, I take this time of the year to retreat up into the higher elevations.  Even the higher elevations can have their share of uncomfortable times of the day.  I've been birding in elevations of over 6,000' in elevation on average, where there are coniferous and oak forests to provide plenty of cover from the impounding sun.  Finding shady areas by flowing creeks have become a common sight in the places I've been attending for my birding adventures.  Over the last month and change, I've decided to dedicate a lot of my birding times into the higher elevations of Gila County for the summer.  I'm happy with the amount of terrain I've been able to cover and new places that I've been able to see so far, and there is still a lot of terrain that I have on my agenda in the upcoming summer that I have yet to see.  A conifer forest at first light with a cool ambiance is the perfect way to start a birding day.

My progress so far has resulted in visits to the Sierra Ancha Wilderness and the Rim Country just below the Mogollon Rim to the north and east of Payson.  Both of these areas have vast amounts of exploring to do, and I am far from saying that I'm anywhere near content with my endeavors.  A bird man can wish for some crazy Mexican vagrant like an Eared Quetzal (which has occurred a few times in Gila County), a chance at finding my first Northern Goshawk for Gila County, seeing some cool mammals of the forest, birding along remote areas that have never been eBirded before, and detecting numbers of common high elevation birds that have always been "buddies" of mine.  There's always owls and Whip-poor-wills too.  As well as scenic slot canyons that harbor shade and chances of more surprises.

This summer goal of mine started on June 7th, 2019.  I went up Highway 260 and up and east from Payson.  Colcord Road is the first place I chose to bird at, at it sits just below the Mogollon Rim.  It is dominated by a surrounding habitat of pine and oak forest, and it has denser mixed coniferous forests in other sections.  Colcord Road has plenty of forest and atv roads that branch off of it, and those are the areas I usually like to explore and bird.  One road I like to climb transcends steeply up towards the Rim itself.  This road accesses stands of both live and burned trees, and it did produce American Three-toed Woodpeckers last year.  I was hoping that lighting would strike twice on the road for the scarce-in-Gila County woodpecker, but it wasn't to be said for a second straight time during the adventure.  Among a cast of birds were a few Greater Pewees singing their classic, "Jose-Maria" song.

June 7th
Colcord Road jeep roads
FR 188 to Valentine Tank
Valentine Ridge Campground
O.W. Bridge of Canyon Creek
Upper Canyon Creek and Fish Hatchery
Sinkhole Trail 179 via Two-Sixty Trailhead

The Greater Pewee is a songbird that I really enjoy observing, finding, and listening to.  They are more common in the sky island ranges of southeastern Arizona, but they do extend their range in much smaller numbers further north into central Arizona.

The Greater Pewee usually sings and forages high up in pine trees.  One would be considered lucky to get eye level views of this flycatcher.

ATV trail/road off of Colcord Road

Most of the area is dominated by pine and oak forests, but the drier sections that harbor juniper in the mix is favored by Black-throated Gray Warblers.

After Colcord Road, I went further east to rep out visits of Forest Road 188 to Valentine Tank, Valentine Ridge Campground, and the scenic Canyon Creek.  The latter included visits to both Upper and Lower sections of the creek.

Indigo Buntings, as well as Lazuli Buntings, have presented themselves to me at times during my adventures on these trips.  They all have been alongside healthy streams that have plenty of vegetation.  This Indigo Bunting was singing along Upper Canyon Creek.

Black Phoebe at Upper Camp Creek.

Osprey going over Upper Canyon Creek Fish Hatchery.

I love the Sinkhole Trail Number 179 via the Two-Sixty Trailhead.  In a short climb it enters a lush canyon full of mixed coniferous trees.  Red-faced Warblers and Western Tanagers thrive, as well as a handful of other forest species.  The timber in the canyon is thick and is a great escape from the sun.

Western Tanager is one of the commonest birds during my high elevation adventures.  As you can see, it's cool-looking.  The more of them I see, the better.

This Virginia's Warbler responded aggressively to my pishing while on the Sinkhole Trail.

This Plumbeous Vireo did too, only Douglas fir branches got in the way of a good focus.

June 14th:  Sierra Anchas

On June 14th and 15th, I took a two day camping trip up into the Sierra Anchas.  The Sierra Anchas are a scenic, mysterious, and beautiful mountain range that are highly under-birded.  It's lack of coverage and vast terrains ignite my thirst to bird the area and dig up what I can dig up.  On the 14th, I drove up Road 288 to Forest Road 410.  I took Forest Road 410 a short distance and parked, where I walked east for over four miles one way along the road.  I've driven this road before in it's entirety, but I wanted to see what birds I could come up with by walking along the entire stretch.  What's special about 410 is not much about the road itself, but about the canyon one walks through while driving or walking the road.  It also parallels the beautiful Reynolds Creek.  Pine, fir, oak, and sycamore make up the habitat along this stretch, and in my hike I encountered over 30 species of birds along FR 410.  30 species might not seem like a whole lot, but i these forested high elevations I've come to learn that 30 or more species is a solid list in the months of June and July.  

Reynolds Creek Area

This is my Sierra Ancha face.  I wish I was there right now.

Reynolds Creek along FR 410

A nearby devastating wildfire resulted in lots of smoke floating into the Anchas.  It gave the scenery an added haze.

At the end of FR 410, I like to take in the scenery.

A small "waterfall" canyon

Reynolds Creek

In the Sierra Anchas in areas with thick timber of mixed conifer trees and a variety of deciduous trees, the Red-faced Warbler is found in high numbers.  This is one of my favorite birds to watch in high elevations.  Young Red-faced Warblers were out and about, and some of them don't look so "Red-faced".  Some adult Red-faced Warblers put on some fun-to-watch "distraction displays" in front of my in attempts to deter my attention away from their nesting sites.  Some Red-faced Warbler families were further along than others in their breeding results.  More after these two pictures.

Along Forest Road 410 I encountered this Band-tailed Pigeon.  I loved the sighting, and I rarely get to see this species perched below eye level and up close.  Luckily, the pigeon liked it's perch just as much as I liked taking it's photograph.

Hairy Woodpecker

Western Tanager cooperating well in the Sierra Anchas.  Switching sides, to the right to the left...

In the Anchas, I walked up a random slot canyon off of a main canyon in pursuit of awesome scenery and a search for a pair of Spotted Owls that I like to visit.  Looking through a window of bright green gave me the result that I wanted.

Spotted Owls don't mind human presence most of the time, but they still need to be respected.  I was able to get about 50 feet away from them to snap these photographs.  I'm thankful for what powerful zooms on cameras can do.  The male Spotty is on the left and the female is on the right.  Female Spotted Owls, as in all owls, and as you can see in this picture, are bigger than males.

Although they rested their piercing black eyes most of the time, they did open their eyes to me a few times in curiosity.  I never grow tired of these incredible owls.

Back to the Red-faced Warblers.  In the canyons and paths that I walked through in the Sierra Anchas, their families were prevalent.

Here is a young, recently fledged, Red-faced Warbler.  Not so Red-faced huh...

I missed parent feeding him by a second.
Here is another young Red-faced Warbler.  It's a little more red-faced than the former.

Distraction displays along the trails put on by parent warblers was thrilling to watch.

After the area of FR 410, I went further north on Highway 288 to bird along the main road itself.  To my surprise, the birding along this road was very productive even in the afternoon.  I hiked a trail from a place called the McFadden Trailhead.  I walked down a random drainage.  I birded Rose Creek Campground.  I drove up scenic Forest Road 487 to it's ending limits after paralleling the beautiful Workman Creek.  At this point I was near the highest point in the Sierra Anchas, which is Aztec Peak.  I didn't make it up to the peak, but it was fun birding around the highest elevation in the range.  The birding continued to be pleasant up until the end of the day, and I decided to camp out in these highest elevations of the Anchas.  A Greater Pewee above Workman Creek Falls stood out among the common forest birds.

Black-throated Gray Warbler along the McFadden Trailhead

Wild Turkey female who had young with her above the random drainage I hiked.  I didn't know they were bedded down and the sprung up just feet away.

Madrean Alligator Lizard

June 15th:  Sierra Anchas 

June 15th was the second full day of my camping trip to the Sierra Anchas.  I had hiked close to twenty miles of terrain the previous day and was exhausted, but I planned to get even more exhausted in a super fun way.  It was all about Parker Creek.  Walking along it, beside it, and up into the canyon that harbors it.

Parker Creek Canyon.  Highway 288 level..

Parker Creek has a lush deciduous forest along it via Highway 288.  I enjoyed that for the first hour of the day, as well as a small Forest Road, FR 142, that is just above Parker Creek.  142 goes out into chaparral and juniper habitat and ends in less than a half mile.  It is good for birds such as Black-chinned Sparrow, Scott's Oriole, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, and Gray Vireo.  After birding these smaller sections of Parker Creek, I decided to go on a very long hike on the Parker Creek Trail number 160.  This trail was awesome, and climbed up through chaparral, mixed conifer, oak, and spectacular scenery.  Burned areas were in places along the trail also.

Looking down on Highway 288 from the Parker Creek Trail

Birds were diverse on the trail.  Some of them included Cordilleran Flycatcher, Mexican Jay, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Painted Redstart, Red-faced Warbler, Band-tailed Pigeon, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Western and Hepatic Tanagers.

Rufous-crowned Sparrow

Black-headed Grosbeak

Painted Redstart

The other "upper" side of Parker Creek Canyon

Band-tailed Pigeon

The result of forest fire.  It wasn't too bad walking through this stuff in stretches throughout the trail.  The trail was still easy to follow, surprisingly.  

The hoodoos of the Anchas 

A scary moment occurred for me when I was down in the drainage itself and walking along upper Parker Creek before the trail took back up and above the creek.  I turned a corner to see a huge Black Bear about 50 feet away and coming towards me.  I've encountered a share of Black Bears in the wild in my life, and this one was the first one that scared me.  However, this Black Bear didn't see me and before it had a chance to see me, I walked back on the trail for fifty feet.  I decided to give the bear the impression of, "oh wow, what on earth is coming down the trail, I better bail" as I clapped and shouted out loud that I was present.  I heard crashing branches to indicate a large mammal escaping.  When I went back, I slowly peeked my head around a large rock the bear was near and it was gone.  My regret was not being able to get a photograph of the impressive animal.  Perhaps what has as big of an impact in the small bird world as a huge bear does in the mammal world is the Northern Pygmy-Owl.  As I hiked along the ridges of the trail, I got lucky and encountered a family of these tiny but powerful owls.  I detected them by hearing the insect-like call of recently fledged birds, and one of the nearby adults was the one I was able to find visually.  These owls will kill birds that are much larger than themselves.

I'm sure Northern Pygmy-Owls have taken out plenty of Hepatic Tanagers in the history of time..

I've been looking for the superstar ode called the Apache Spiketail during my jaunts along creeks in Gila County's high elevation.  I haven't had any luck, but Red Rock Skimmers have been common and are kinda cool too.

After a four mile (eight miles round trip), one way hike up into the slopes of the Sierra Anchas via the Parker Creek Trail, I was exhausted as I anticipated.  I visited several stops along Workman Creek and closed the day in the Anchas out at Forest Road 489, a pleasant road through oak and mixed conifer that is lower in elevation that other forested spots in the Anchas.  It has some good potential to it, but is missing Cordilleran Flycatcher and Red-faced Warbler so far.  My camping trip concluded with about 35 miles hiked, and I was dead by the end of it.

Sierra Anchas: June 20th and 21st

It didn't take me to get back up into the Anchas again as I left from work on June 20th, camped out that night, and spent close to a full day on June 21st continuing my explorations.  On June 20th, I listened to the NBA draft before doing any birding.  I didn't have a lot of day left, and I set up camp at Rose Creek Campground, a place I have camped out at on a few other Sierra Ancha camping trips.  My goal for this trip was to take Forest Road 671 for a good hike on the morning of the 21st.  Once it got dark out on the night of the 20th, I owled and nightjared it up and detected Mexican Whip-poor-wills and Flammulated Owls.  On the 21st, I woke up and started to climb out Forest Road 671 for close to five miles one way.  It was a challenging hike, but was worth it.  The bird diversity was impressive for high elevations, and from the road's start just south of Rose Creek Campground on the west side of Highway 288 as it climbed up through mixed coniferous forest, chaparral, grassy slopes, and rocky areas I recorded about 45 species of birds.  The highlight was another detection of young Northern Pygmy-Owls.  Several Downy Woodpeckers were near the highest of elevations, where several stands of aspen came into the mix.  What I liked about this road was that it is probably the one road in the Anchas that goes up for a distance on the west side of 288, while the other roads go up on the east side of 288.  Could a vehicle handle this FR 671?  Probably not.  But people and animals can.  Plenty of deer were present.

And I encountered another Black Bear.  This one was pretty big, and I was glad to get a picture.

Grace's Warblers were one of many bird species who were present on FR 671.  I was focused on scouting the terrain and habitat that I didn't give photography much of an effort.  I hope to go back to 671 soon, I enjoyed it immensely.

A few more scenes from the Anchas.

Plumbeous Vireo

My campsite at Rose Creek Campground

After the Forest Road 671 hike, I was almost out of energy.  It seemed like I used up most of my energy for this trip up on the trip I took the previous week.  I spent the rest of the time birding the Reynold's Creek area again, and loosely scouting out terrain for my next visits.

July 4th: Whispering Pines and Washington Park

 On July 4th and 5th, I took another two day camping trip into the high elevations of Gila County.  This time I went up towards the Mogollon Rim directly north and east of Payson.  On the first day of my trip, I went north of Payson to explore the highlands in and around two very small communities called Whispering Pines and Washington Park.  This area was one I barely entered into last year, and after driving for about a mile or two of it, I never got out to bird before turning around.  The whole area was a location lifer for me, and I loved it.  Whispering Pines and Washington Parks creek is the East Verde River, and it flows throw the area and creates a beautiful recreation area.  Crowds of people were present for the Fourth of July.  I drove up towards Washington Park first, where there is a namesake trailhead.  I loved the trailhead and it's habitat of a thick mixed coniferous forest paralleling the creek.  Even though I got a late start to my day and didn't start hiking from the Washington Park Trailhead till about 11 AM, the area was still very birdy.  Here's an eBird checklist I did from the hike, as well as some pictures of the birds I encountered:

Red-faced Warbler

Western Tanager

Warbling Vireo

young Painted Redstart 

After the Washington Park area, I went south for a few miles and spent the rest of the day hiking and birding the pine and oak forests in and around Whispering Pines.  I loved all of it, and the area has a ton of exploring that needs to be done.  Common Nighthawks were a fun way to close out the day on the Fourth of July.

July 5th:  See Canyon, Christopher Creek

For July 5th, I headed east of Payson and went to Christopher Creek as my main goal, where I covered See Canyon Trail, See Springs, Christopher Creek Campground, the south end of See Canyon, Sharp Creek, and a few other spots south of Payson throughout the day.  I didn't sleep well at my Whispering Pines camp spot, and once I did sleep I slept an hour longer than I meant too.  It gave me a 5 AM start rather than a 4 AM.  I did get to see loads of Elk while driving out of Whispering Pines.  Hiking the See Canyon Trail was nothing short of awesome.  Several bird species were present in very high numbers, such as Western Tanager and Cordilleran Flycatcher.  A was glad to find a singing MacGillivray's Warbler just below the Mogollon Rim towards the end of the trail, still in Gila County.  The song of a Greater Pewee was more than welcome too, of course.  Here is a selection of photos from the See Canyon Trail, as well as a link to my eBird checklist:

Red-faced Warbler

Mountain Chickadee

Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler

Western Tanager

Red-faced Warbler action

Christopher Creek via See Canyon Trail

early morning sun in See Canyon

south See Canyon via Highway 260 (above and below)

South of Payson:  I went south of Payson to Bear Flat Recreation Area.  Not the best area for birding with limited access.  The canyon it is nestled in is awesome though.  A Common Black-Hawk was a bird highlight.

July 12th:  Camp Geronimo area and Whispering Pines

July 12th was another fun one, and I went back up into the Whispering Pines area, stopping at several recreation sites along the way at East Verde River just south of Whispering Pines before proceeding north.  Elk were abundant everywhere along the road (Houston Mesa Road) from Payson to Whispering Pines.  Once at Whispering Pines, I went west on Forest Road 64 for about 4 miles to the turnoff for Camp Geronimo.  Geronimo is a popular Boy Scout Camp below the Mogollon Rim, and a Arizona Trail trailhead is found just before camp.  I parked at the trailhead, Geronimo Trailhead, and went for another long hike up towards the Mogollon Rim in mixed conifer and oak forest.  A beautiful and flowing creek, Webber Creek, ran alongside much of the hike, which was the Geronimo Trail 240 and East Webber Trail 289.  Both of these trails produced bird great bird variety of 37 species apiece.  The scenery was beautiful and is another place that is worth my birding time.  Here are eBird checklists from the earlier hours of the day between the two trails, as well as a selection of photographs.  I closed the day out by visiting another location within Whispering Pines called Dude Creek.  True to the name, it was a creek, and I matched well with it being a dude and all.  Dude Creek was awesome, and looking it over on maps, there seems to be a bit of exploring and interesting terrain to look at as well.  

Elk are abundant in the Whispering Pines, Washington Park, and Camp Geronimo area

Mexican Jay, Geronimo Trail

Band-tailed Pigeon, Geronimo Trail

Pine vistas, Geronimo Trail

Geronimo Trail, going towards the Rim

Cordilleran Flycatcher

Geronimo Trail

Ash-throated Flycatchers

Mexican Jay

Elk at Dude Creek

East Verde River

East Verde River (above and below)

Webber Creek, Geronimo Trailhead

Geronimo Trail (Above and below)

Webber Creek, Geronimo Trail

swimming hole on East Webber Trail

upper section of East Webber Trail

More Gila birding to be coming.  Gosh it's awesome.  Before I forgot, Caleb Strand found Gila County's first Cave Swallow at San Carlos Lake.   Luckily, I was birding with him and got to see it too.  I didn't get a photo.