Saturday, April 24, 2021

Arizona County Birding: 200 in Mohave

 At the beginning of 2021, I had set a goal to explore more of Arizona's three western counties which are Yuma, La Paz, and Mohave.  The goal has been to reach 200 species or more in each of those counties, and if that 200 mark is reached, it does mean that a county has been explored pretty solidly.  Earlier in the year, I reached 200 for Yuma County, and it left Mohave and La Paz Counties as the remaining Arizona counties for me to work on getting 200 or more in.  What I've done over the last several months is take birding trips to both Mohave and La Paz Counties.  For awhile, I'd almost trade them off by birding one of them one week and another the next.  Mohave County is one with fantastic habitat diversity, and La Paz is more limited and doesn't have the coniferous forests that Mohave does.  Given this fact, it didn't take me as long to reach the 200 mark for Mohave County, and it very recently became my 14th Arizona county to get 200 species in.  It has an assortment of great birding locations, and has been exciting to bird.  

Acorn Woodpecker, Hualapai Mtns

Mohave County, like the other western Arizona counties, is one that I've had limited birding time on prior to this year.  It is a very large county, the second-largest in Arizona and the fifth-largest in the contiguous United States.  As I mentioned earlier, it has tremendous habitat diversity, which goes from desert flats to mixed conifer and aspen forest.  In my limited time of birding Mohave County, I have birded within the southern half of the county.  Most of the county's birding has come from the southern half, which is generally under-birded.  The northern half of the county is one of the most under-birded regions in Arizona.  The Virgin River and Mount Trumbull are a few locations that I really want to bird and visit someday in that northern section.  In the southern half of the county, the Lower Colorado River Valley (LCRV) harbors fantastic birding potential.  It is the best place in Arizona to find species such as Jaegers, rare gulls, loons, Barrow's Goldeneye and Greater Scaup, and more.  Locations that I've really enjoyed along the LCRV have been the Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge, Rotary Park at Lake Havasu City, Lake Havasu, Havasu National Wildlife Refuge, Rotary Park at Bullhead City, and Lake Mohave.  Away from the river are those variable habitats.  The Hualapai Mountains near Kingman is my favorite birding location in the county because of the pine/oak and mixed coniferous forests in the range.  Some species, such as Red-faced Warbler, have been found in the Hualapai's to represent their northwestern-most range.  I've also enjoyed birding the Sonoran desert at Burro Creek Campground and Signal and the cottonwood and willow riparian forests along the Big Sandy River.  Also fun has been chaparral in the foothills of the Hualapai's and some desert flats in the Mohave desert that contained a different cast of species different than Sonoran desert.  If one was able to bird this county weekly, it would result in an outstanding variety of birds very quickly.

Common Loon, Lake Mohave


 Highlights of my path to 200 in Mohave County:

 January 2nd, 2012 was the first time I birded Mohave, and it was a trip to both La Paz and Mohave.  Jim Kopitzke and I chased after an incredible vagrant in a Nutting's Flycatcher at the Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge, which was in La Paz County.  After we got the Flycatcher, we went to scan the Colorado River within the Lake Havasu area.  I got 21 species in Mohave County that day, but that was highlighted by three Arizona rarities in Red-throated Loon, Mew Gull, and the extremely rare Glaucous Gull. 

Glaucous Gull, Lake Havasu

On September 13th, 2013, I went to chase a Brown Booby with Laurence Butler and Magill Webber that was found by Lauren Harter and David Vander Pluym.  Lauren and David covered Mohave and La Paz Counties regularly for close to a decade, primarily along the LCRV, where they produced outstanding results.  They joined us on our chase and helped us find the Brown Booby, which is very rare in Arizona.  The day also yielded more Arizona rarities like Red-necked Grebe and Pacific Loon, as well as Common Tern.

Brown Booby, Lake Havasu

On December 1st, 2013, I went on a trip to the LCRV with Gordon Karre and Mark Ochs.  We birded in both La Paz and Mohave Counties.  Highlights included a Blue-footed Booby at Bill Williams NWR, White-winged and Surf Scoters at Bill Williams, and Black Scoters from Pittsburgh Point of Lake Havasu.  We also found a rare-in-Arizona hybrid of a Herring x Glaucous-winged Gull.

Herring X Glaucous-winged Gull

On February 12th, 2016, Gordon Karre and I went to Lake Mohave to successfully chase a Yellow-billed Loon, which we saw not only in Arizona, but in Nevada too.  The loon was awesome, but it was hard to enjoy due to the fierce winds that lasted the entire time.

Yellow-billed Loon, Lake Mohave

On January 28th, 2017, I went to Alamo Lake for the first time with Mark Ochs, Caleb Strand, and Felipe Guerrero.  This lake is in both La Paz and Mohave, and is a great place to get an assortment of birds.  Bald Eagle, American White Pelican, Canvasback, and Green-winged Teal were among the species observed.  

Mark, Felipe, and Caleb at Alamo Lake

On April 19th, 2017, I went with Caleb Strand and Dominic Sherony on a fun trip to the Hualapai Mountains.  It was awesome to explore this range for the first time, and it was a first time visit for all three of us.  I enjoyed seeing species like Painted Redstart, Grace's Warbler, Scott's Oriole, Black-chinned Sparrow, Olive Warbler, Pygmy Nuthatch, Steller's Jay, Zone-tailed Hawk, and Band-tailed Pigeon.  We also visited a few ponds and desert riparian areas later in the day.  That day was the time I got to solely bird in Mohave County for a day.  We had an amazing selection of species, and my list went from 97 to 156 species.  

Grace's Warbler, Hualapai Mtns


After the 2017 trip, the next time I birded Mohave was this year, on February 5th.  It came after six previous trips of going into the county from 2012-2017.  On a Mohave level, 4 of those 6 trips were brief for seriously birding the county due to the limited focus of chasing and seeking out certain rarities.  The Alamo Lake trip was more concentrated, but we were standing in a different county the entire time.  The trip to the Hualapais, which had other stops included, was a very solid day from a county standpoint.  When the birding started for 2021, it was exciting for me.

 On February 5th, I went to Burro Creek Campground, those Hualapai Mountains, and along some riparian and desert along the Big Sandy River.  Ten county lifers made things fun.  In the desert near and along Burro Creek, some of the species I added were Curve-billed Thrasher, Rock Wren, White-throated Swift, and Gilded Flicker.  Aside from the birds, the canyon that holds the creek is scenic.

Gilded Flicker, Burro Creek Campground


As expected in winter, the Hualapai Mountains were pretty slow for birds.  I used it as a chance to get a good hike in, and to really scout it out for future trips I'm planning to take later this year in spring/summer.  Mountain Chickadee and Golden-crowned Kinglet were two county lifers I added, and there were times where I ran into feeding flocks.  Pygmy and White-breasted Nuthatches were very common, and I also encountered a Hooded Skunk.

Golden-crowned Kinglet, Hualapais

Mountain Chickadee, Hualapais

Mule Deer

Hooded Skunk


On February 12th, I was taking a trip up the Lower Colorado River Valley, and was primarily birding in La Paz County.  Once I got to Parker Dam and Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge, I was reminded that the county lines of the two counties were roughly going down the middle of the river on average, with some stretches of the river being dominantly in one county or the other.  I didn't get many additions for Mohave here, but a run up to Rotary Park in Lake Havasu City gave me county lifers of these Snow Geese and Greater White-fronted Goose.  

Snow Geese and Greater White-fronted Goose, Rotary Park

For Thursday and Friday of February 18th and 19th, I decided to take a two day, overnight camping trip to Mohave County.  My itinerary was packed, and it would be my biggest birding trip ever in the county.  I was excited to attempt this trip, and I had a lot of different locations and habitats to explore.  Contradicting my plans was a Greenlee County Common Crane, but I opted to go with my first major Mohave trip.  As it turned out and according to my knowledge, the Crane wasn't seen after the 17th and I made the right call.  On the 18th, my first stop of the trip was at the foothills of the Hualapais.  I had quite a few targets, and Canyon Towhee was one of them.  The day started off slow, and I couldn't even find a Canyon Towhee despite being in great habitat.  I went up further towards the high country, where I hoped for Townsend's Solitaire, Fox Sparrow, or maybe something like a Pinyon Jay in the chaparral, juniper, and lower pines in the area.  The birding was slow for several stops, but just like that, a Fox Sparrow of the Slate-colored race answered the call.  It popped up and gave a good binocular view, but it wasn't cooperative for photos.  From there I went up to the first stand of pines in the Hualapais via Hualapai Mountain Road.  I went up a drainage, where I got my first Red-breasted Nuthatch for Mohave.  And oddly enough there was a Verdin foraging near the drainage about 100 feet away from the pine stands.

Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay, Hualapai Mtn foothills

Verdin at high elevation

Relatively adjacent and north from the Hualapais and foothills, I went north of Interstate 40 to some desert scrub along El Paso Road.  There were some farm properties in the area.  The location that I had mapped was from a location I saw that someone reported a good number of Sagebrush Sparrows on eBird.  I gave it a try and was satisfied.  The desert flats were fun to bird in, and I added Sagebrush Sparrow, Western Meadowlark, and Sage Thrasher to my Mohave list.

Sagebrush Sparrow, El Paso Road

Sage Thrasher, El Paso Road

My route continued on to Lake Mohave, where I knew was the spot that had the legendary winds back in the day that pissed me off.  As I drove up to the lake, I could see white caps from distance and I pulled a u-turn.  The surroundings were windy also, but I knew that nothing else could be as bad as Lake Mohave.  I went to Rotary Park in Bullhead City for the first time.  It was a fun spot, and there was an assortment of bird life and I enjoyed birding the park.  Lifers that I got for Mohave County were Hooded Merganser and Greater Roadrunner.

Common Goldeneye, Rotary Park, Bullhead City

Western Meadowlark, Rotary Park

Greater Roadrunner, Rotary Park

I then headed south and started going toward Lake Havasu.  My next destination was the Mohave Valley within the Fort Mohave Indian Reservation to look for birds in extensive agricultural fields.  On the way I stopped at a spot known for Bell's Sparrow, and I wasn't dissapointed.  In the agricultural lands, I drove down this road called Vanderslice Road.  I was pumped to find Mountain Bluebird for the county, and I also added Vesper Sparrow, Horned Lark, and Northern Harrier.  

Bell's Sparrow

Mountain Bluebirds, Mohave Valley

For the rest of the afternoon on the 18th and majority of the day on the 19th, I would spend the majority of the remainder of my trip at the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge.  This is a place that has many locations to bird at, and many of those locations have impressive lists and data.  I was pumped to bird here.  I drove through the area before hiking a bit of South Dike.  Clark's Grebes were common in numbers, and my county Least Bittern flew across the wetlands.  I scouted out Five Mile Landing afterword, and picked up Marsh Wren, Great Horned Owl, and Sharp-shinned Hawk.  The marshes and open water of the refuge were fun to bird and scan through.  As it was starting to get dark out, I went to Pintail Slough/North Dike, which is one of the best locations within the refuge.  I was mainly scouting it out for the morning, as I was planning to start the 19th at this spot.  During the evening time of briefly birding it, I added county lifers of Virginia Rail and Sora.  Concluding the day of the 18th, my trip was off to a good start.  18 lifers were included during the day, which brought my Mohave list from 168 to 186.


After finding a camping spot near the refuge in the desert, I slept well and started the 19th early, pre-dawn.  Walking South Dike gave me wanted county lifers of Western Screech-Owl and Black-crowned Night-Heron.  At dawn I made it back to North Dike, where I anticipated I would have good luck and a solid bird list.  My anticipation wasn't wrong.  I birded North Dike for about 5 hours.  Within this section of the Refuge was open water, tall cattail marshes, willow and cottonwood stands, a few ponds, desert, grassy areas, and some agriculture.  The location was awesome, and I recorded more than 70 species.  County lifers I landed were Merlin, Blue-winged Teal, White-faced Ibis, and the rare-in-Arizona Golden-crowned Sparrow.  I thoroughly enjoyed Pintail Slough/North Dike!

Plenty of Pintails at Pintail Slough


Golden-crowned Sparrow with White-crowned Sparrows


As the early afternoon approached and as it was getting to be that time where I'd have to head home, I made a few more stops at the Refuge.  Birds were everywhere and I managed to pull out three more county lifers: a Snowy Egret at Five Mile Landing, and a Neotropic Cormorant and Common Gallinule at Catfish Paradise.  

White-throated Swift at Five Mile Landing

Neotropic Cormorant with Double-crested Cormorants

After scouting out a few areas without really birding on the way home through Kingman, I stopped at one spot east of Kingman and east of the Hualapais where I had seen a lot of Canyon Towhee reports.  It was a minute of the I-40, and I walked around for awhile and found a few Canyon Towhees.  They were my 196th bird for Mohave, my 10th county bird of the 19th, and my 28th county bird of the trip.  The trip was a huge success for me, and I loved the locations I visited.

Canyon Towhee

On February 26th, I decided to return to Mohave to explore an area to the west of US-93, and south of the town of Wikieup.  The area is known as the Chicken Springs Loop, and it features awesome scenery in an area where both the Sonoran and Mohave deserts meet.  From Wikieup, I went southwest for 14 miles on Chicken Springs Road, and then proceeded west on Alamo Road, as well as east on Signal Road.  This area has impressive stands of the super-cool Joshua tree in midst of the much more common-sight desert surroundings.  I freaking loved it.  Signal Road went toward the ghost town of Signal.  Near this area I accessed a promising section of the Big Sandy River.  It has awesome stands of tall cottonwood and willow habitat.  There was also a spot called Signal Spring, a small spring with tall surrounding willows, mesquite, and some marsh habitat.  The spring gave me my county Red-naped Sapsucker, the river gave me my county Gray Flycatcher, and the mixed desert with the many Joshua trees in the landscape gave me my favorite county lifer of the day, the Harris's Hawk.  To see Harris's Hawks perched on Joshua trees was an exceptional sight.  This is an area on plan on re-visiting soon, and I treated this trip in February as not only a birding trip, but heavily a scouting trip too.  It will be great for an assortment of birds in the middle of spring when most of the breeders arrive on their breeding grounds.  Heading west on Alamo Road for about 10-15 miles puts one in Le Conte's Thrasher habitat, where they have been found.  The three lifers I got for Mohave County on this trip put me at 199, and I did have my eyes peeled for the 200th!

Harris's Hawks on Joshua tree

Gray Flycatcher at Big Sandy River

Big Sandy River

Ladder-backed Woodpecker on Joshua tree

As I had 199 Mohave birds, I decided to focus on La Paz County a lot more with another focus of going back to Mohave County in mid-spring when there would be a lot more bird diversity present at the end of April/beginning of May.  When I did the math, I estimated that I would get many more county birds with a trip back to the Chicken Springs area as well as the Hualapai Mountains.  However, on March 26th, I went to Alamo Lake for what was mainly a La Paz County effort.  With the lake being in both counties, I knew that by scanning I could certainly pick up birds for both.  As I panned the lake, I caught sight of a flock of Long-billed Curlews circling the lake while flying in both counties, and giving me a county first for both.  For Mohave, it was a fun bird to reach the 200 mark with!

Long-billed Curlews at Alamo Lake

I've become addicted to birding Alamo Lake during my La Paz County trips over the last month.  At the lake and at a place called Brown's Crossing at the north and upper side of the lake, I've had many cool birds and 4 more Mohave additions that have flown in and out of both counties.  With a calling Greater Yellowlegs well north of me from Brown's Crossing, a Franklin's Gull on the lake, a Prairie Falcon flying into Mohave from my Brown's Crossing stance in La Paz, and a Marbled Godwit flying completely around the lake, my Mohave list has reached 204.

Marbled Godwit at Alamo Lake

As I've gone over 200 in Mohave County, I will say that it is my favorite of the three western counties.  I love the diversity, and I have a lot more exploring to do in the near and distant future.  My next Mohave trip shall be right around the corner, and I plan to seek out a variety of species within good habitat diversity.  I think I'm really just getting started in this county.  Up next will be a summary of my La Paz County explorations as I've explored more and more of it as I have continued to try to round out my birding experiences in each Arizona county.

American White Pelican, Alamo Lake