Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Birding in White Mountain Grasslands, Riparian Zones, and Forests

The fourth day of my White Mountain trip resulted in a morning finally starting outside of Greer.  I went to two of my favorite places in the White Mountains, the Grassland Wildlife Area and the South Fork of the Little Colorado River.  Birding is amazing at these two locations.

My first stop was at the Grasslands Wildlife Area.  This area features mostly open grassland as the main habitat makeup, but there is also good pinyon-juniper habitat, rocky slopes, a few ponds, and several stands of cottonwood trees.  There is also a neat old homestead in the wildlife area.  This is a great location to find and hear birds of the grasslands, and it also has potential for different songbird and shorebird migrants.  A few years ago, I had a Solitary Sandpiper in one of the ponds.  Most interestingly, this area is breeding home to the Mountain Plover and Long-billed Curlew.  Both are hard to find, but it is nice to know they breed in this area.  I birded at 2.6 mile loop trail that goes through the area.

Here are a few scenes from the Grasslands Wildlife Area.  Peaceful-looking place huh?

I didn't find any Mountain Plovers or Long-billed Curlews, but I did find a new Apache County and White Mountain bird for my personnel list, the Juniper Titmouse.  They were calling in adjacent pinyon-juniper stands from the grasslands and I wasn't able to get a photograph.  I also had a few Gray Flycatchers, who also breed in the pinyon and juniper habitat.  They are often shy and hard to follow closely on their breeding grounds.  I decided not to chase them around.  The grasslands were full of the songs of both Eastern and Western Meadowlarks and Vesper Sparrows.

Here are some of the neat birds I was able to capture on camera:

Canyon Towhee

 Townsend's Solitaires (adult and juvenile)

 Blue Grosbeak

 Red-tailed Hawk

 Say's Phoebe

After the Grasslands, I went to the South Fork area of the Little Colorado River.  This is an awesome area, with an amazing habitat variety in a very short distance.  When accessing this area from the 260, one goes through grassland to start off the drive into South Fork.  The road drops down into rocky bluffs, riparian habitat lining the Little Colorado River, pinyon-juniper habitat, high elevation riparian that has cottonwood trees in midst of the transition zone along the River, and ponderosa pine and fir forest.  This is a wonderful birding area, and I had nearly 40 species in a few hours.  It is one of the better places in Arizona to view Gray Catbird, which one crossed my path today.  South Fork has even hosted breeding American Redstart and Veery in the past, and the Arizona's only ever known vagrant Swainson's Warbler.  I didn't find anything that rare today, but the birding was beyond awesome.

The photos below show the habitats of South Fork.  Cool huh?

Down by the lower elevations along the River, the gregarious Bushtit can be found in large flocks.  If you phish once, they came flying in.  I had one of those such cases today.


When I worked by way up into the higher forested elevations, I heard the calls of a large flock of Pinyon Jays.  I immediately went up a slope hoping to see this bird.  These Jays move around constantly in family flocks, and they rarely sit still.  They are also very noisy and can't be missed if they are nearby.  As I worked my way up a steep slope, I caught a glimpse of a Pinyon Jay.

Pinyon Jay

It was calling noisily to other Pinyon Jays.  As I was taking it's picture, I was then surrounded by the huge flock of Pinyon Jays.  They really came in quick, and were louder than ever.  I almost wondered if they were gonna slaughter me.  But as I observed their behavior, they didn't seem to care that I was around.  As I was walking around observing the flock, there was only one Pinyon Jay who looked like it wanted to hurt me.

The angry Pinyon Jay

Besides the one hateful Pinyon Jay, the others were doing a variety of different things.  Feeding young, searching for food on the ground, sticking their head in holes, and constantly hopping from one branch to the next.  This bird has Attention Deficit Disorder, they are never happy unless they are moving around.  

What next?

All jokes aside, the Pinyon Jay is one I haven't gotten to observe much and really get close too in my time birding.  Today was a treat with getting to see them up close and observe their behavior and get photographs.  Here are a few of my favorite photos I got of the Pinyon Jays.

Even other birds like to enjoy the Pinyon Jay flocks.  As I was observing the flock, a Clark's Nutcracker flew in to see what was going on, and a majestic Golden Eagle even soared overhead to see the flock.  Not really about the eagle, just kidding.  I rarely get good looks at Golden Eagles, so this was another big treat.

Clark's Nutcracker

Golden Eagle

After coming down from Pinyon Jay Point, I birded with Tucson birders Peter and Betty Bengtson for awhile.  We saw several cool birds, including this young female Williamson's Sapsucker.

Williamson's Sapsucker-juvenile female

A Townsend's Solitaire was also nearby

And here's the daily installment of what's been around Acorn Lodge....

Williamson's Sapsucker-juvenile male

Band-tailed Pigeon

Later in the afternoon, my buddy Laurence Butler joined me to explore Greer.  Laurence was wanting to see Williamson's Sapsucker, Three-toed Woodpecker, and Gray Catbird at Butler Canyon and the Little Colorado River.  Well, we went three for three and found our targets.  I was busy trying to find the birds, so I didn't shoot many photos.  Tomorrow, Laurence and I will bird throughout the White Mountains for an epic day of birding.


  1. Thanks for mentioning the Grasslands Wildlife area. I had never heard of it. I checked it out on the internet and Betty and I will visit it tomorrow. We enjoyed reading your blog about it and the great photos.

    1. Thank you Pete! It was fun meeting you and Betty. I hope you are enjoying your birding up here in the White Mountains.