Today on March 16th, 2013, Gordon Karre, Dominic Sherony, and I headed up to the northeastern part of Maricopa County to explore Mount Ord which was followed by a visit to Sunflower and Fountain Hills Lake on the way home. It was a fantastic day of birding with many good highlights.
Once we got to Mount Ord at 7:40 A.M., we birded there for nearly the next five hours. We spent nearly an hour birding the lower slopes of the mountain in the chaparral and juniper habitat. From the very start of driving up the road, we had BLACK-CHINNED SPARROWS singing in abundant numbers as they are arriving for spring. We were all surprised at how many of these nice-looking sparrows there were, and several of them gave us amazing views. There were probably close to twenty birds singing along this stretch of the first two miles of the dirt road. RUFOUS-CROWNED and CHIPPING SPARROWS were also present, as well as a few CANYON TOWHEES and good numbers of singing BEWICK'S WRENS. A GREATER ROADRUNNER called somewhere in the background of it all.
The lower slopes of Mount Ord
We then spent the rest of our time birding in the amazing ponderosa pine and oak covered forests of the mountain along the two mile stretch of Road 1688. This wonderful road (birding trail in our minds) can be found about three miles along the main dirt road up Mount Ord when the road comes into contact with the first stands of ponderosa pone. Most of the snow has melted other than a portion that still remains on the upper slopes of the mountain. The most active stretch along Road 1688 was right at the beginning near a water tank. Within minutes we had PYGMY (5), WHITE-BREASTED, and RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES. All were highly vocal and the trio gave us all three good views. The Pygmy Nuthatch can sometimes be very hard to find in Maricopa County, but winter has seemed to be a good spot over the last two years. PAINTED REDSTARTS have also arrived at Mount Ord in surprisingly high numbers (5-6) in this time frame which seems early for them to be here. It seems like they usually have arrived more in lower numbers at the end of March in previous years. Several flocks of BUSHTITS also filled this area, as well as two heard only OLIVE WARBLERS and a few HAIRY WOODPECKERS. JUNIPER and BRIDLED TITMICE were also present, and also a few noisy HUTTON'S VIREOS.
Dominic and Gordon
Our biggest highlight along this stretch came when we heard a NORTHERN PYGMY-OWL calling on a slope above 1688's level. Gordon, Dominic, and I climbed up after the bird and were rewarded with incredible views of this tiny but yet very fierce predator. The owl didn't care that we were under it for an extended time and sat still to entertain all of us. It's always a great bird to see, and was a lifer for Gordon.
We also had a single CRISSAL THRASHER singing above 6000' and also had a single BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER. The Blue-grays will be abundant here very soon in the higher chaparral and brushy habitats. I'm looking forward to birding Mount Ord in the upcoming months when all the breeders arrive and more migrants pass through.
Scenes from Mount Ord's Road 1688:
Sunflower was next and we were hoping to catch sight of the awesome returning raptors. Raptor wise, we got both of our targets. One was the COMMON BLACK-HAWK, which we observed a single individual for a good amount of time. A second Black-Hawk soon flew in from high above, and kept going as the first bird (who was perched in the regular haunts) seemed intimidated by it's presence. We didn't think it was the hawks returning mate. Every time we saw a vulture-like bird, we checked for ZONE-TAILED HAWK. We successfully turned two of those such birds into actual Zone-tailed Hawks, which are always great to see for the first time every year also. Gordon also spied an EASTERN PHOEBE in the farmlands, a nice surprise! We got rather poor but diagnostic photos of this rare but regular visitor in Arizona. Several male and a female VERMILION FLYCATCHERS were also in this area. Also present were a few soaring RED-TAILED HAWKS and a single AMERICAN ROBIN.
Common Black Hawk
Our stop at Fountain Hills Lake didn't produce anything too special. We saw abundant numbers of AMERICAN WIGEONS and AMERICAN COOTS, a few EARED GREBES, both DOUBLE-CRESTED and NEOTROPIC CORMORANTS, NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOWS, and a SPOTTED SANDPIPER. It was another good day to be out birding!