Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Birding in Southwestern Maricopa County-A day full of Thrashers and Kites!
Dominic Sherony and I spent Tuesday, February 12th, 2013, covering the areas in the southwest part of Maricopa County. We birded the "Thrasher Spot" at the intersection of Baseline Rd./Salome Highway, various locations along the Old US 80, and also drove through the Buckeye area. It turned out to be a great day of birding.
Our first stop was at the Thrasher Spot, where we also birded with Phil Jeffrey from New Jersey (who helped us find some of our target birds!). We got out of the vehicle at 7:20 A.M. to cold conditions at 32 degrees. Our first target bird came shortly when we arrived on spot, as we observed and heard in song, numerous SAGE SPARROWS. These sparrows are one of my favorites, and are fun to watch as they run on the ground just like a thrasher will. Dominic and I then quickly found a pair of BENDIRE'S THRASHERS with open and close views, and soon after heard a third individual singing in the distance. Working our way out further into the habitat, we had no problem finding at least 4 SAGE THRASHERS. We then ran into Phil, who had been birding here for a few days. He found a location where Le Conte's Thrashers were reliably coming to, and he was able to get Dominic and I on a pair of LE CONTE'S THRASHERS. These thrashers were observed at very close range and we were quite happy with the sighting. We then went on the north side of the intersection after crossing the roads, which I find to be more reliable for CRISSAL THRASHER. Phil helped out big once again, and spied a Crissal Thasher perched up in the open before it went down to the ground. Once it went down, we were still able to observe it well. In less than two hours spent at the Thrasher Spot, Dominic and I found all five of our targets.
Next we drove and birded around the beginning stretch of the Old U.S. 80 for the following three hours (9:30-12:30). Birds were numerous around this route, as we covered Palo Verde west and east, the Arlington Valley, and Gillespie Dam. In the ponds along Lower River Road, highlights included a CANVASBACK and 5 LESSER SCAUP. In the Arlington Valley, a flock of ~200 WHITE-FACED IBIS flew directly overhead. Raptors were of course numerous! Our highlight of the day came from a pair of WHITE-TAILED KITES. Where one kite has been observed at the east side of Arlington Canal Road regularly, it has now been joined by a second kite. These graceful raptors gave us both the best observation we ever had of this species up close. They perched on powerwires roadside at close distance, as well as consistently flying over the vehicle constantly over the course of ~15 minutes. Interestingly, they would even land for short periods of time on the edge of two palm trees. There was also a large kettle of at least 40 BLACK VULTURES, a single OSPREY, numerous NORTHERN HARRIERS, a plethora of different RED-TAILED HAWKS of different morphs, two FERRUGINOUS HAWKS, plenty of AMERICAN KESTRELS, and a very nice highlight of two MERLINS up close who were both sitting on the ground in the fields. 2 BURROWING OWLS were also seen along the east side of the Old U.S. 80. SANDHILL CRANES were seen throughout this area, including two up very close. There weren't any stong places of flooded fields, so we only came up with two LONG-BILLED CURLEWS. 3 VERMILION FLYCATCHERS were also noted. WESTERN MEADOWLARKS were numerous, and we picked out an EASTERN MEADOWLARK in the midst. We weren't able to find the swans despite checking the area several times.
After the Old US 80, we decided to drive through the Buckeye area and check on the farmfield at Tuthill and Pecos Road where Kurt Radamaker found his fantastic Smith's Longspur last year. We were hoping to find a few longspurs and Lark Buntings, but the field wasn't very active as it was at this time last year. We didn't have much on the field besides numerous SAVANNAH and VESPER SPARROWS, but a pair of soaring PRAIRIE FALCONS was a pleasure to see. It was a good way to close out the day!
PICTURE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WHITE-TAILED KITES:
Tommy DeBardeleben (Glendale, Arizona)