Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Day Up High in the White Mountains

Laurence Butler and I explored the areas of Big Lake, Mount Baldy, Sunrise, and Greens Peak today in a full day of exciting birding.  We had a lot of cool birds to look for!

We left Greer at 4:45 in the morning, to drive through the grasslands of Sunrise south to Big Lake.  There is a historical sighting of a Short-eared Owl in these grasslands by the famous Kenn Kaufman in this timeframe, and someone reported one at Big Lake last month.  We thought it would be worth it to search these grasslands for the Owl.  Well, we didn't find a Short-eared Owl, but it was worth the exploring.  With how big the area is, a local Short-eared Owl is probably pretty hard to find.  You can't find gold though unless you search for it!

The birding excitement began in the vicinity of Big Lake.  As we drove by the neighboring Crescent Lake, we saw a handful of Ospreys, one of which was being mobbed by a Bald Eagle.  The Bald Eagle was wanting to steal the Ospreys hard fought catch.  For once, the Bald Eagle didn't prevail, and the Osprey enjoyed his meal.  He even stopped roadside to eat his fish.  Had it had been a little lighter outside, Laurence and I would've had killer and clear shots of this Osprey.  It was still pretty dark out, but the pictures are still decent.

Osprey at Crescent Lake

Crescent Lake

Once quickly scanning the lakes, we headed back north towards the Sheep Crossing and Mount Baldy area.  We made a quick stop at Lee Valley Lake, which is the highest lake in elevation to be found in Arizona.  At Lee Valley Lake, we even saw a Lewis's Woodpecker flying overhead as we pulled into the parking lot.  While driving to the lake, we enjoyed grasslands birds such as Eastern Meadowlarks, Vesper Sparrows, Mountain Bluebirds, and several American Kestrels.  We enjoyed a juvenile American Kestrel perched roadside in a few aspens while his parents were busy flying over the fields.  At the lakes, there were also high numbers of Common Mergansers.

American Kestrel

 Eastern Meadowlark

Common Merganser

Lee Valley Lake

We then got to the area of Sheep's Crossing and Mount Baldy.  We were after Laurence's first-in-Arizona American Dipper.  After searching for 15 minutes, we found the Dipper.  The Dipper was more skittish today, but after following him around for awhile, we were able to get very good looks.  Laurence waded in the Little Colorado to get some amazing shots of the Dipper.  The Dip even sang for awhile while we were watching him.  One of the coolest birds for sure!

American Dipper at Sheep's Crossing/Mount Baldy Wilderness

After enjoying an hour or so of Dippering, we headed back to Sunrise to search for Gray Jays in Sunrise Campground.  Before we got to the campground, we were pleasantly interrupted by more grassland birds....

Uncooperative Eastern Meadowlarks were around too.  It was a joy to hear them sing, but it wasn't so much fun trying to get their picture.  As we were looking at the songbirds, Laurence happened to look up and see a grassland raptor perched in a pine right by our truck.  We didn't even notice it fly in!

Swainson's Hawk at Sunrise

Swainson's Hawks are scarce and local summer residents in the White Mountains.  It was a real treat to see this raptor up close!  There was also a second Swainson's Hawk in the immediate area.

We then went to the beautiful Sunrise Campground to search for the Gray Jays.  Unfortunately, we didn't find any of the Jays.  I was thinking we would find them without a problem, but they never came into the campground during our visit.  We did have some other cool birds though!  The highlights included a pair of Downy Woodpeckers.  This small woodpecker is rare and hard to find in Arizona, despite the fact it is a permanent resident here in the White Mountains.  One can search for days without finding one of them, but luckily, this pair crossed our paths.  We also enjoyed looks at a very cooperative Mountain Chickadee and a few Clark's Nutcrackers.

Downy Woodpeckers

Mountain Chickadee

Clark's Nutcracker

Sunrise Campground area

Green's Peak was our destination after Sunrise.  We drove up to the high and scenic Green's Peak in hopes of finding a Dusky Grouse, which would be a lifer for Laurence.  This bird is never easy to find, and after two hours of searching, we didn't find a Dusky Grouse.  We weren't so dusky feeling though, because this bird isn't easy, and we knew that odds are usually against us in finding one.  The views of the area atop Green's Peak are worth the trip alone, and there were some cool birds around to keep us company.  Some of those birds included a family of Red-breasted Nuthatches up close, a female American Three-toed Woodpecker, a Hermit Thrush running around on the forest floor, and even an Arizona Treefrog that Laurence spied.

Red-breasted Nuthatches

 American Three-toed Woodpecker

Hermit Thrush

Arizona Tree Frog

Green's Peak Views

After heading back to Mount Baldy from Green's Peak, we sat in the truck for over 30 minutes watching the rain.  As it still rained hard, we decided to head back to Greer for the final two hours of birding.  I had a feeling the rain wouldn't be so bad in Greer, and I was right.  To close out our day of birding in Greer, we found more cool birds.  While walking down the 373 at the end of Greer, we found a young male Williamson's Sapsucker roadside, and Laurence had his first ever look at a Band-tailed Pigeon.  We even found a consolation for missing Short-eared Owl, a Great-tailed Grackle.  Also scarce in the White Mountains.  I have never seen one in Greer until the one we had.  Score!  A sarcastic score!

Juvenile male Williamson's Sapsucker in Greer

Our final stop for the day came at the hummingbird feeders at Molly Butler Lodge and Restaurant.  We were treated to views of two Calliope Hummingbirds with crowds of Broad-tailed and Rufous Hummingbirds.  Laurence and I both got great shots of each species!

Calliope Hummingbirds-male and female

Rufous Hummingbirds-male and female

Broad-tailed Hummingbird-male

As the day came to a close at 6 P.M., Laurence and I had birded for a grand total of 13 hours and 15 minutes.  It was a great day of birding in the White Mountains, especially in the highest elevations of the area.  Thank you Laurence for an epic day of White Mountain birding!

1 comment:

  1. Cheers Tommy!

    Great photos, writing, and post!
    It was a super days, one of the best birding days I've had this year and a great way to get back into things after too much time off.
    Thanks for sharing your time and knowledge of the beautiful birds and the beautiful area. It was a real treat.