Sunday, July 21, 2013

White Mountain Specialties along the Little Colorado River

So Day two in Greer came rolling in this morning.  After taking an hour to decide where I wanted to go and what birds I wanted to see, I decided to bird along Greer's Little Colorado River for just over an hour, followed by a hike through the beginning stretches of the Mount Baldy Wilderness Area, also along the Little Colorado River.

From Acorn Lodge, I headed a short distance into Greer and birded along the Little Colorado River.  This is an excellent location to see a variety of birds.  If one is coming south into Greer on Highway 373, this location is found at the first Little Colorado River crossing with the highway (there are a few more crossings).  One may bird on both sides of the highway on convenient trails along the river.  The river branches out into many sections here for over a mile, and the riparian habitat is very wide.  This is also just south of River Reservoir, and has ponderosa pine forest surrounding the river at both sides.  Open meadows in places also add to the habitat diversity.  One may see 40 or more species here in an hour or two.

Little Colorado River, Greer, Arizona

Now, when I visit the White Mountains, I always like to see the "specialties" in the region.  These birds are either only limited breeders in this region of the state, or are seen in other parts of northern Arizona but are most easily seen here.  Birding wise, I usually base my trip around seeing and observing these species.  Here in the Little Colorado River, I was after a bird that is a very limited breeder in Arizona, only in the White Mountain region, in a few select locations along the Little Colorado River.  That bird is the Gray Catbird.  The Gray Catbird is generally scarce in the White Mountains, but has really increased in recent years, especially in the Greer area.  According to my knowledge, I never heard of any Greer Gray Catbird sightings in the area until I found one in 2008.  Since then, this location has been a very good one to find the Catbird, and as well as several other locations in Greer along the Little Colorado River where I have seen and heard them too.  The traditional spot has been the South Fork of the Little Colorado River, which is accessed off of Highway 260 when heading east from Greer to Springerville.  I have never seen more than two of them there in a day however.  Here in Greer though, there are a lot of Gray Catbirds!  In fact, when I got out of my truck, the 7th bird to record on my list and within a minute of birding was.....

........a Gray Catbird!

The Gray Catbird gave it's angry "meow" call and I look up and see it sitting on a fence post.  How cool!  Now the Gray Catbird is extremely shy and is a skulker at nature.  This guy didn't stay on the fence post too long.  Just feet off of the 373, I was happy with already finding a Catbird.  I wanted to find more Catbirds though than the first one, which I had the feeling there would be.  Walking along the river east of the 373 gave me a pair of two more Catbirds, and walking west of the 373 along the river gave me two more scattered along the trail.  My total ended up being 5 birds.  Most of them were very shy and when they caught any sort of movement from me, they would drop back into the dense willow riparian thickets along the river.  They sang at times on an open perch, but as soon as I would come around the corner, there they went!  What is interesting to me is that these birds were all observed from the trail I was on.  Because the riparian habitat here has many "channels" along the river and is very wide, how many Gray Catbirds are in the rest of this mess?  The mess is a good mess, but is too hard for people to go through.

Another Gray Catbird of the 5

The more common view of a Gray Catbird

There were many other good birds around at this location besides the Gray Catbirds.  I recorded about 40 species here in 1.5 hours.  The second best was a bird I have never seen in Greer before, a Yellow-breasted Chat!  I wasn't expecting to find a Chat here and am surprised because they seem to like taller trees, and along the Little Colorado River at this location there aren't many tall trees at all.  In birding Greer for 13 years, it's always cool to get a new "area bird".

Yellow-breasted Chat

When the trails came into contact with ponderosa pine forest, the common forest birds brings the species diversity list up another level!

Western Tanager

Black-headed Grosbeak

Other good birds here included Dusky Flycatcher and Lincoln's Sparrow.  Last night on the 20th, I also had a fly-over American Goldfinch giving it's three-note flight call.  I've never had the species in the White Mountains before or in Apache County.  Perhaps it is rare?

Because my family was going fishing at the next location I visited, that was where I decided to go.  In my opinion, this is the most beautiful place in all of Arizona.  It's main habitat is made up of spruce-fir forests, aspen, high elevation meadows, and the Little Colorado River running through a big portion of the area.  This place is the Mount Baldy Wilderness.  

Mount Baldy Wilderness Area

When I arrived at the Mount Baldy Trail, I parked at an area known as Sheep's Crossing.  This area has great birding before the official Mount Baldy Trail is accessed.  The river is popular for fishing along this stretch and for one of those special White Mountain birds I was hoping to see.  But before I went down to the river to look for this bird, I heard my very favorite bird, one I can never pass up for anything...the Northern Goshawk.  The Goshawk was calling up in the woods, and I went up there to look for it.  It didn't call again, and because it is a Gray Ghost, I didn't see it as usual.  But I was at least glad to hear it and know one was present in the same area as me.  I then went down to the river to look for the bird.  My sister Tiffany and brother-in-law Josh were fishing, and they said they saw the little dip I was looking for.  The bird came blazing by and scared both of them.  They said they were fishing and the bird was all-of-a-sudden just there in front of them one second and gone the next.  They pointed me in the direction it went.  I walked down river knowing this bird would be just around the bend.  As I turned the corner, there it was!

An American Dipper

The American Dipper is in a league of it's own.  Why?  Because it is the only aquatic songbird in North America.  These small birds sing a sweet song, and they are always tied to high elevation rivers.  During rough winters, the Dippers stay as residents and survive the cold.  They are most often seen flying down river, perched up on a rock or overhanging log, in which they bob up-and-down.  For food, they even dive and swim underwater for aquatic insect larvae.  On a North American songbird scale, this seems like a daunting task, but not for the hardy American Dipper of the north!  The Dipper is also very tolerant of people, and allows very close approach.  

American Dipper in the Mount Baldy Wilderness on the Little Colorado River

Dip also spent a lot of his time preening

As I left after 30 minutes, the Dipper was still in his spot

Following the Dipper, I headed into the Mount Baldy Wilderness for a few miles.  I heard and saw many neat birds.  My heart started racing again when I heard a/or another Northern Goshawk calling in the woods.  Another Goshawk then counter-called with the first bird.  One was on one side of the Little Colorado River, the other one was on the other side.  I made an attempt to follow the Gray Ghost that was closest to me.  But like before, the Goshawk eluded me for visuals, and I was at least glad to have another goshawk to the tally.  At least/probably two birds, maybe/doubtfully three.

Northern Goshawk-somewhere in those woods!

The spruce-fir and aspen forests where dripping with birds.   Another bird I look forward to seeing is the Clark's Nutcracker.  Their loud calls echo across the forests as they move around in family groups.  The loud calls can never be missed.  Sometimes seeing it can take time, but once it comes into view, dang, what a treat!

Clark's Nutcracker

Like the Clark's Nutcracker, another bird I wanted to see badly is also in the Jay (Corvid) family.  The White Mountains are the only place this species is ever found in Arizona.  They can be challenging to find at times outside of Sunrise Campground, but Mount Baldy perfect habitat for them.  This is the Gray Jay.  I have a huge respect for this bird.  They are wild and survive harsh winters, but yet come to camp spots and fly into cabins for handouts.  And they imitate the Northern Goshawk with perfection, which fooled me in Colorado.  This likable bird is a popular one for birders visiting the White Mountains.

Gray Jay (not the greatest picture, but good enough)

The riparian thickets along the river are a great place to hear the beautiful song of the Lincoln's Sparrow.  This sparrow stays hidden most of the time, but will come to strange noises, such as phishing.  Lincoln's Sparrows are pretty darn sharp looking.  This bird was awesome and cooperative.

Lincoln's Sparrow

Besides the birds that I photographed and mentioned earlier, there were other good birds on the trail.  One of the better ones where two Dusky Grouse that I heard.  A question might arise out of this:  How can one just hear a Dusky Grouse?  Well, they make this really loud noise when flying up from the ground, which they do when they are alarmed.  When I was walking through a dense stand of spruce-fir, I heard them fly up a considerable distance away.  Luckily they are that loud, and in some ways, I feel like a low-class birding idiot for putting that down on my list as a heard only.  Aahh, hopefully a visual will come of that bird during this trip.  Other enjoyables on the hike included Osprey, Steller's Jay, Red-breasted Nuthatch, MacGillivray's Warbler, Mountain Chickadee, Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Hairy Woodpecker, Band-tailed Pigeon, and two Sharp-shinned Hawks.  And because I'm obsessed with this area, here are more photos...

Another set of Mount Baldy Wilderness photos

Another hopeful but yet a GRAND SLAM of a long-shot in the White Mountains is the Pine Grosbeak.  This is the one region in Arizona where a Pine Grosbeak, who is a very rare breeder, may be found with a miracle.  The Mount Baldy and Sunrise areas have suitable habitat.  Hopefully that miracle will cross my path on this trip..somehow.

To close out this post, here are a few birds I am seeing now around Acorn Lodge.  The monsoon rains put an end to my day today after I returned from the Mount Baldy Area.

Mountain Bluebird

Pygmy Nuthatch

Rufous Hummingbird

1 comment:

  1. As usual, awesome birds and awesome photos. I need to plan a trip up to that area again. You got some really nice birds.