Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Remembering 2013-My Best Year of Birding Arizona

2013 was a year I will never forget.  It had its ups and downs, it's great times and it's bad times, but one of the coolest things that will bring back great memories about 2013 was the birding in Arizona.  2013's birding was to me about exploring more around the diverse state of Arizona than I ever have before.  That led to me seeing different birding sites in 12 out of the 15 Arizona counties during the time frame, adding new birds to my life and state list, exploring another county in-depth besides my beloved Maricopa, birding with awesome people, and even branching out of my addiction of being primarily a "Maricopa County Birder".  I'm an all out Arizona birder now after 2013, and I'm proud to say that.  The wonderful state simply has too many different counties filled with wonderful birding locations to see and explore for me to limit myself to one region.  I won't get to explore in 2014 as much as I did in 2013, but it is my goal to explore still and visit on average one new birding location a month by the end of 2014.  That is 12 new spots.  If I miss one in a month I could always do two the next month, or I can knock them out in three months.  Who knows what the outcome will be, but I'm hoping that goal is a good one for 2014.  I'm not going to ramble anymore about this years goals, the focus on this post is to recap 2013 and this will probably be my biggest post ever on my Blog to date.  There will be month-by-month summaries and recaps, top 10 countdowns, funny stories, joyful hits and sad misses, endless pictures, and many more.  It's also completely based on my opinions for some of the sections (were in trouble now!!).   Let's get started.

The above picture shows a dork in celebration over a bird he had just seen.  It's a very famous bird, one that thousands of birders show up annually for around the globe.  Can you identify it?  If you can't, well, stay tuned later in the report.  The bird is primarily red and green, it'll eventually be very obvious later in the report if you don't know what it is.  Also, as you probably have figured out, that dork in the picture is none other than myself!  That was one of many good days out in the field, and my good buddy Laurence Butler took that picture.  From the start of 2013, Laurence and I started to chase birds around Arizona, and we were among the tops of the state listers, at least according to eBird.  We had explored so much that we found ourselves near the top, and we wanted to be at the top at the end of the year.  It's not that we cared about our rankings in the state (or did we?), but if we were at the top, it most importantly meant we were going to see a load of great birds.  Ok I'll admit it, we wanted to be the Arizona birders outside of southeastern Arizona would would have higher lists than the "south-easterners" themselves.  Historically, things haven't worked out this way in Arizona, and we wanted to put a mark in history.  Laurence was way more into the list than I was at first, and then it slowly started to grow on me.  By the end of the year, I found myself driving extreme lengths in order to see more life birds and even more birds just to add to my 2013 list.  Laurence is to thank for getting me started in the Arizona-wide year list, and we rarely birded anywhere that was close to home it seemed.  Sadly, in the middle of the year, Laurence got hurt badly by a attention deprived moron in a soccer game, and he couldn't bird for a few months.  It was by far the suckiest event in 2013, because Laurence was shooting for an incredible number.  Because I was out in field every week and this was the year I didn't get hurt (I'll probably be the one to get hurt this year), something happened that I never thought would.  The picture below shows it, and I explored way too much probably...........

As you can see, the Arizona list for the year is 444 species, at least according to eBird.  That is a lot of birds for a single state in a year.  Many rarities were discovered by lucky birders, which led to chases by more lucky birders.  Lucky birders were very abundant in 2013.  Before 2013, I knew that 2013 was going to be a great year.  On December 30th, 2012, just days before 2013, visiting birder Dale Suter saw an interesting sight in the very northwestern corner of Arizona on the Colorado River.  It was a mortally injured Ivory Gull sitting on a sand-bar.  As this bird was Arizona's first and a remarkable record, I figured since it wasn't reported by Dale until a few weeks later into 2013 that it was a sign of good luck for 2013.  Whether it was a sign or not, 2013 ended up being spectacular.  If you look at the list above, something else might stick out.  I finished in first place, and had my highest year list ever of 377 species.  Great job, Tommy!  I wasn't given a ribbon or trophy or anything, but hey, I was glad to record that many species in a single year.  If Laurence didn't miss those months, I know he would've finished very close to me, probably ahead of me.  Southeastern Arizona birders Laurens Halsey and Mark Stevenson are the usual birders who have the overall most remarkable year lists for Arizona.  Mark Stevenson holds Arizona's Big Year record of 402 species, which is a very high number that would be tough to beat.  If I ever did an Arizona Big Year with the right money and time, oh gosh, it would be fun!  Besides having a high list, the abundant highlights that came from that list are far more important than any number.  The number isn't anything to brag about, anyone could do that if they took the time to do it.  It took a dork like me to drive all around the state and see these birds!

Rough-legged Hawk
The Rough-legged Hawk is a very neat raptor, one of my favorite North American hawks.  This beautiful raptor is very distinctive, especially in flight.  Rough-legged Hawks are regularly seen hovering in one location  over open grassland in spectacular display in search of prey.  Prior to 2013, I had never seen a Rough-legged Hawk in Arizona or ever in my life.  They are annual in Arizona, but haven't shown up in Maricopa County where I have primarily been birding religiously and on primary sick obsessive habit.  I figured in order to see the Rough-legged Hawk I had always been dreaming of seeing,  I would have to explore elsewhere.  In 2013, I saw a few Rough-legged Hawks, and no, none of them were in Maricopa County.  The Rough-legged Hawk represents a great symbol for my adventures of 2013, which are described in one word as "exploring"!  So my symbol bird of 2013 goes out to the Rough-legged Hawk.  It isn't my very favorite bird of the year though, stay tuned for that later in this 100 miles of text.

The Story of Tommy's Birding Expeditions-2013

Every year is long, but every year also seems so short at the same time.  When 2013 was coming to a close, the birds seen in January seemed like they were a distant memory, but yet the year flew by at the same time.  The joy of year birding!  Every month had it's great highlights, and every month had it's share of great memories in the field.  I need to relive those memories right now.  Come along for the road trip, it'll be a good one!

Month-by-Month Summary

Every birder likes to start off the New Year on a good note, one that usually involves a rare bird that has been discovered near the end of the previous year.  It was no different for me at the start of 2013.  At the end of 2012 on December 31st, I celebrated seeing a striking Red-breasted Sapsucker on the Salt River to get to my milestone number of 350 species in Maricopa County.  When 2013 hit, I was still obsessed with the Red-breasted Sapsucker and wanted it to be my first great bird to start off 2013.  At the Salt River, I found it easily on January 2nd, my first day in the field at the Pebble Beach Recreation Area.  It was a great way to peck my way into 2013.

A handful of other birds were observed on January 2nd to start my year off, including a rare Winter Wren at Gilbert Water Ranch and Northern Parula at Tres Rios Wetlands.  My first lifers from 2013 came from going on a trip to southeastern Arizona with Jim Kopitzke on January 5th.  Our first stop was at Tucson's Evergreen Cemetery, which is full of tall evergreen pine trees.  A nice adult Pine Warbler was found there and was our target.  It didn't take us long to find the bird, and it was my first lifer of 2013.  After Tucson, we headed south to Florida Canyon, in pursuit of my first ever Rufous-capped Warbler and only Jim's second.  Rufous-capped Warbler is one of Arizona's coolest birds by far, and I was thrilled when one of them popped up after a two hour search.  Having my first two lifers of 2013 be warblers was a cool thing.  The next major highlight of January came on the 9th.  Denny Green had found Maricopa County's first ever Violet-crowned Hummingbird in December 2012 in his friends backyard.  The bird stuck around, and Denny kindly invited me over along with Brendon Grice and Bryan Keil to watch the bird and take pictures.  The hummer was out of it's usual southeastern Arizona haunts considerably, and Denny named it Vinny.

The excitement of Maricopa County firsts was to the least of my knowledge far from over.  On January 19th, I got a call from Troy Corman saying that Tom Lewis discovered a Least Grebe on a pond in the Sun Lakes Area during Troy's annual Phoenix Waterbird Count.  It was another incredible find for Maricopa County.  On the 20th, I, with dozens of other birders, went to enjoy the Least Grebe.  The tiny grebe completed my North American grebes list for Maricopa County!

While these were the main highlights of January, there were many other neat birds seen in Maricopa County and southeastern Arizona that included Harris's Hawk, Osprey, Vermilion Flycatcher, Brown Creeper, American White and Brown Pelicans, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Arizona Woodpecker, Crissal Thrasher, Olive Warbler, Hooded Merganser, Ferruginous Hawk, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Eurasian Wigeon, Red-shouldered Hawk, Lawrence's Goldfinch, White-tailed Kite, Sandhill Crane, Long-billed Curlew, and many more!


February started out strong, as I found a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in my apartment complex on the 1st.  I was amazed that a rare woodpecker found a set of pine trees outside of my apartment!

The excitement continued on February 4th.  I got a call from Justin Jones saying he had an interesting bird calling at Rio Salado that sounded like one of the Winter Wren species.  When we re-found the bird, it was a Pacific Wren, and we also had an Eastern Phoebe nearby.  The wren was very fun to study and listen to in the field.

I then went from a tiny Pacific Wren to a Tundra Swan and 5 species of geese, which included the rare Cackling Goose and Greater White-fronted Goose.  The swan and geese were observed on February 10th, and it was very honkin' in the area.

On the 12th, Dominic Sherony and I headed out west of Phoenix in pursuit of it's many awesome birds.  We saw Le Conte's, Bendire's, and Sage Thrashers, Sage Sparrows, a Merlin, and as well as a pair of gorgeous White-tailed Kites.  

I then planned a long overnight trip on the 18th and 19th of February with Dominic Sherony, Jim Kopitzke, and Jay Miller.  We stayed in the awesome cabin of my good friend Carol Hippenmeyer, which is just outside of Soniota.  Our plan for the trip was to bird the San Rafael Grasslands to try for some of it's rare species.  The San Rafael Grasslands and Valley are one of the most beautiful places in all of Arizona.

You may notice a bird in the picture above.  I'll get to that in a second.  Dominic, Jim, Jay, and I had a few targets at the Grasslands.  One was a Short-eared Owl, which we saw early with good but somewhat distant views.  The Short-eared Owl was very enjoyable to watch and see, and was my 3rd lifer of 2013.  Another was a Baird's Sparrow, which eluded us (and would for most of 2013).  Finally, the other was the Rough-legged Hawk, which was my second life bird of the day and is the earlier mentioned symbol of my exploration year for 2013.  The bird photographed above is the hawk, and I love the shot of it with it's wings stretched on the fence post with the scenery in the background.  It was a very cooperative bird, and provided me with the best looks that I could possibly ask for for a lifebird.  As you can all tell by now, I really like the Rough-legged Hawk.  Who wouldn't?  The "Roughie" was also my 200th bird of 2013.

On our way back, we stopped at Tucson's Roger Road Wastewater Treatment Plant to look for a rare-in-Arizona Yellow-throated Warbler.  This was my third life bird of the day, and Dominic's eagle eye spied the bird in midst of the area's dense trees right as we were about to leave and head home.  Now, this isn't a good picture, but it does clearly show a Yellow-throated Warbler.  Cool bird, huh?

Dominic Sherony is an awesome birder, and a good friend of mine.  Being from Rochester, New York, he spends four months a year in Sun City Grand with his family.  Whenever he is here, he finds great things.  One of them included a Golden-crowned Sparrow.  I had seen this Arizona rarity once before, but this bird that Dominic found, was very obliging.  I went to see this bird on the 23rd of February at a golf course in Sun City Grand.  

As February came to a close, my Arizona year list was up to 207 species.


As March rolled in, the birding started to get very awesome.  I was out in the field a lot, watching and photographing birds of many cool varieties.  

I was hit by a sheer amount of birding excitement on March 16th, when I was joined by Dominic Sherony and Gordon Karre for a trip up to Mount Ord and Sunflower.  We had a great day of birding, and it was highlighted by a Northern Pygmy-Owl on Mount Ord.  The three of us watched the sparrow-sized owl in amazement as it let us get very close for in-depth field study and photographs.  There were also numerous and abundant numbers of Black-chinned Sparrows in full song to highlight our day, singing their unique "bouncing ball" like song.

For the last seven to eight winters, a male Orchard Oriole has wintered in a Sun City Grand neighborhood and it likes a feeder that is hosted by my friend Dave Bradford.  Dave has been kind enough on numerous occasions to let me see this oriole.  Luckily, it is a nice-looking male Orchard Oriole, which is very distinct in unmistakable within it's range.  On March 17th, after a visit to Hassayampa River Preserve and a strike-out on a male Williamson's Sapsucker that was found at the preserve the prior day, Laurence Butler and I went to Dave's house to try for the oriole.  At the Preserve, we did have Gray Hawks and I found Laurence his lifer Black-and-white Warbler.  Nearing Dave's feeder and yard, Orchard was up in a dense tree singing when we got there, but gradually worked his way down to the hummingbird feeder.  Orioles like nectar, and luckily, the nectar tasted ultra good to the Oriole when we made our way through Sun City Grand.

On March 20th, Laurence and I were back to the search again, this time on a much longer trip to southeastern Arizona.  A pair of resident Spotted Owls reside in Miller Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains, and they were being seen very reliably.  Laurence and I were strongly hoping we would find them.  In the long run, we didn't, but an adult Northern Goshawk made a quick appearance.  We went further west in southeastern Arizona to the Patagonia Area.  Gray Hawks were out and about once we entered Patagonia!

After some classic Patagonia birding, we went west to Patagonia Lake State Park.  It was a great time to be at the park, and a Common Black-Hawk was a nice surprise overhead.  We then heard a gnatcatcher calling in a grove of mesquite trees, and it turned out to be our lifer Black-capped Gnatcatcher.  And it was a milestone bird for me also, my 400th in Arizona!  Laurence and I managed very poor but identifiable pictures of the small bird.  Our real highlight came from a very popular bird in the United States that all birders dream about.  I mentioned it at the beginning of this article, and there is no other bird in Arizona quite like it.  This particular bird has wintered at Patagonia Lake State Park for years and is very reliable.  Laurence spied it low along the nearby Sonoita Creek, and said, "Tommy, here's the Elegant Trogon!!!".  Visitors and Arizona residents alike who have seen multiple Elegant Trogons always enjoy the sight of this bird.

We had the Elegant Trogon to ourselves for 15 minutes, and at times it let us get within ten feet!  After the sighting, Laurence had a lot to celebrate!  Who wouldn't celebrate a sighting like this?

On a few days of trips to the Phoenix Mountains starting on March 22nd, I was able to see a few Long-eared Owls in the washes within the Park.  The Long-eared Owl is an annual migrant to the washes, and is always a treat to see!  Seeing them however, does require a bit of luck.

March 30th was an incredible day of birding, one I'll never forget.  It actually turned out to be one of the best days I had in 2013 and immediately comes to mind when I think of the favorite birding days I had during the year.  Dominic Sherony and I went up to Flagstaff in pursuit of Dominic's state Evening Grosbeaks.  There was also a Rough-legged Hawk at Mormon Lake (my 2nd of 2013), a Golden Eagle, Lewis's Woodpecker, a flock of Franklin's Gulls, and many more.  We found the Evening Grosbeaks very easily at Mormon Lake Lodge, and boy were they cool!

Mormon Lake's surrounding grasslands and low waters made us feel that we were right on the tundra habitat way up north, which is the Rough-legged Hawk's favorite habitat.  This bird no doubt felt right at home at Mormon Lake.

Although Dominic and I were having many great highlights at Mormon Lake, we were still far from the main highlight of our trip.  As we were at the Mormon Lake Overlook, a shrike caught my eye and I remembered that a Northern Shrike had wintered here in previous years.  We quickly got a scope on the bird, and I saw that the bird was indeed a Northern Shrike!  It was a life bird for me and a state bird for Dominic, and we lost it without getting pictures.  We tried for it again later on, and it wasn't showing up after waiting for a good amount of time.  As we were leaving and driving away, luck hit us and the Northern Shrike flew across the road directly in front of our car.  We turned around and were able to get closer views of it, and...pictures too!

The day of Mormon Lake was an excellent way to close out March, which was an exceptional month of birding!


As April rolled in, a made a trip up to Sunflower and Mount Ord.  Nuthatches and forest warblers were everywhere on Mount Ord, but the real great highlight came from Sunflower, when I found this cooperative Common Black-Hawk perched right by the side of the road!

On April 7th, my sister Tiffany and brother-in-law Josh kindly invited me to join them in going to the Sedona Area to visit Oak Creek Canyon.  This area is one of Arizona's most beautiful, and Tiffany and Josh were planning to go fishing.  While they fished, I decided to walk up the Oak Creek Canyon hiking trail for a few miles.  Pacific Wrens have bred in this Canyon, and when I heard one calling which led to getting great views, I was very thrilled!

After the Oak Creek Canyon trip, I really sat back and thought of the fact I hadn't birded Coconino or Yavapai Counties much.  I was starting to work up plans on finally branching out from Maricopa and birding Yavapai County on a regular basis.  After working up a plan on places to visit, I stuck with that plan and started to bird Prescott's mile high and up region.  In similar ways to Maricopa, Yavapai is diverse in it's habitats.  I worked my way around Yavapai County for five straight birding days, and it was awesome.  During that time, I visited Prescott, Congress, Yarnell, and the northern half of Lake Pleasant.  On one trip to Prescott, I was joined by Laurence Butler and we covered Watson and Willow Lakes at Prescott.  A White-winged Scoter highlighted the morning among many species, my second White-winged Scoter ever.

These Prescott trips also included a wedding of my friend Greg in Skull Valley, which is west of Prescott.  My relatives invited to stay in a cabin with them along Walker Road.  The habitat along Walker was very beautiful, and I decided to bird it.  Aside from the wonderful scenery, were two of the awesome and familiar southwestern mountain warblers.

In my 5 trips to Yavapai County, I brought my minimal Yavapai list of under 50 all the way up to 190 with all of the birding trips there!  On the 27th of April, Laurence Butler and I then planned a huge big day of birding in Maricopa County, covering the county's various habitats and elevations.  Our plans quickly changed, as we got word of a very rare Mexican warbler being found in Miller Canyon in the Huachucas-a Crescent-chested Warbler!  We decided to ditch the Maricopa County big day and head south for the warbler.  We decided to leave the night of the 26th and camp overnight at Mount Lemmon.  In the darkness of Lemmon, we heard Flammulated Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, and Mexican Whip-poor Will.  The latter two were lifers for me.  At 3:30 A.M., we headed to Miller Canyon in hopes of seeing the rare warbler.  Whether or not we would come away successful with the warbler, we knew it was another chance to see a Spotted Owl.  When we arrived in the canyon, we found the amazing Spotted Owl rather quickly, our lifer at last!!  We spent a lot of time with the Spotted Owl, and it was awesome to see.  Many birders enjoyed the owl, and Laurence and I were joined by Mark Ochs and Nathan Williams for the remainder of the day.

As mentioned earlier in this write-up, Laurence took a picture with me with an Elegant Trogon in the background.  Well, this time he helped Mark Ochs and I out, and took one of us with the Spotted Owl in the background.  This picture sure represents a great memory.

The Crescent-chested Warbler didn't show up for the dozens of birder's present, but it wasn't for a lack of trying by any means.  I heard the right call-note that is typical for Crescent-chested Warbler, but the bird never officially resurfaced again.  A Magnificent Hummingbird stood off on the side, saying, "Hey, I'm more sexy than that warbler".  And the crowd turned to the hummingbird stations.

Laurence, Nathan, Mark, and I still had more business to take care of.  We followed Miller Canyon up with a visit to the grasslands surrounding Sierra Vista in pursuit of the Scaled Quail.  Scaled Quail aren't always the easiest to find, but we lucked out and found one, thanks to Mark's playback phone.  After encountering freaky neighborhoods replica scenes from Deliverance in Sierra Vista, we went out to the wild grassland to find our quail, and boy was he scaled.

To end April, we all said, "Forget the Crescent Chest".


To lead off May, I got a call from Lauren Harter and David Vander Pluym to invite me on a four day camping trip to the Chiricahua Mountains.  After a trip of mine got sadly cancelled, this sounded like the perfect trip to go on and be a part of.  Another birder named Bobby Willcox also joined us.  The four of us birded on the days of May 2nd through 5th, and the 4 days held epic birding.  I was excited to go to the Chiricahuas for the first time, and we also stopped at other southeastern Arizona locations such as Willcox, Tucson, Montosa Canyon, and Pena Blanca Lake.  Despite all of these stops, the major highlight for me was birding the Chiricahuas.  And it was also my first chance to see the Mexican Chickadee, a very limited resident in the mountain range that isn't found anywhere else in Arizona or reliably in the United States.  Although it took a lot of searching, we did find a few Mexican Chickadees, a lifer for me.

Our best find in the mountain range was this Short-tailed Hawk at Barfoot Park.  Short-tailed Hawk is rare in Arizona, but has bred in the Chiricahua Mountains, with Barfoot Park being the best place to see them.  I looked up and saw a hawk soaring, and it turned out to be one that we were all happy to see!

In similar ways to Miller Canyon, Cave Creek Canyon in the Chiricahuas also had a Crescent-chested Warbler.  It was seen for some time and it then vanished, only to re-emerge near the time we were looking at the Short-tailed Hawk.  Between the 8-9 hours we spent looking for the warbler in the two days we were in the Chiricahuas, we struck out.  The warbler eluded me for the second time in about a week!  There were many cool birds around though.  With the Chiricahuas really being in the heart of southeastern Arizona, there were many neat southeastern Arizona specialties present and viewable.

In Cave Creek Canyon, I also encountered my 300th bird of the year.  This Northern Waterthrush, found by David!

After birding at the Chiricahuas, we headed west towards Tucson.  While birding at Willcox and seeing two Northern Waterthrushes (we also had one in Cave Creek Canyon!), we got word of a Heerman's Gull being seen at Tucson's Kennedy Park.  Because we were already heading to Tucson and Kennedy Park being right off of the freeway, we made a stop for the gull.  Heerman's Gull is rare but annual in Arizona, but are very tough to see because they don't stick around very long once they show up.  The four of us decided to chase the bird, who was still there when we arrived.  I was pleased, and it was my second life bird of the trip!  And the trip resulted in over 190 species, and was a great one to remember.

For the remainder of May, I didn't do a lot of birding other than visits to Slate Creek Divide and Prescott.


In Arizona, June always seems to be the slowest birding month for me, and that reigned true for 2013 as well.  June was highlighted by two great birding trips, however, and they were both epic.  One of them was a trip to southeastern Arizona with my buddies Mark Ochs and Gordon Karre.  Out of all of the birders I've met and most people in general, Mark is hands down one of the funniest people on this earth.  Mark made up his own species for himself, calling himself the Phoenician Kingbird.  Mark didn't want to be the only Phoenician Kingbird, so he let Gordon and I join in too.  And the three Phoenician Kingbirds went down to southeastern Arizona in epic fashion.

The Phoenician Kingbirds are certainly a strange trio, and we would have several more epic birding trips as a trio further in 2013.  Strange looks were exchanged to us by the general public, but you have to have fun!  On the date of June 8th, we headed down to southeastern Arizona, primarily in search of a few Buff-collared Nightjars to close out the night.  The nightjars were found by young birder Justin Hopkins, and we got to see them at night in Madera Canyon.  The nightjar was also a highly wanted lifer of mine, and a good photo opportunity didn't present itself (maybe this year?).  Before Madera, we birded the San Pedro River, Huachuca Mountains, Patagonia area, and the Santa Ritas.  As usual, southeastern Arizona was highlighted by it's usual striking species.  Such as White-eared Hummingbirds and Spotted Owls...

We searched the grasslands near the entrance to Madera, and I was able to photograph a very cooperative Botteri's Sparrow.  In the vocal field guide of Mark Ochs, Botteri's Sparrow is:  "such a dorky, little, flat-headed, plain, shi*ty looking sparrow".  In some ways he's right, but I think the sparrow is pretty cool, and the song it sings makes up for the bad looks.

The next great trip took place on June 22nd, in the desert heat.  In the southern tip of Maricopa County, southeast of Gila Bend, lies the Sand Tank and Sauceda Mountains on the Barry Goldwater range.  In order to bird here, one has to have a top notch high clearance vehicle as well as a permit for entrance.  The area is  very dangerous due to drug running, but the desert here is beautiful and rarely birded.  Wildlife biologist John Arnett has found breeding Varied Buntings in some of the canyons here, and had suspected Rufous-winged Sparrows are in the area too.  Both would be new Maricopa County birds for me, and John was awesome to organize a Sonoran Audubon Society field trip to these locations.  After a morning of hiking and driving on rough roads, we came away successful.  The Varied Buntings were easy in Bender Springs Canyon, and John found several Rufous-winged Sparrows singing in a mesquite bosque in the Vekol Valley.  The Rufous-winged Sparrows were the biggest surprise, and John found them just minutes before our group of eight birders were going to leave.  It's a rare day for me to get two Maricopa County lifers, and it was an awesome experience.  Although June saw only two birding trips, they were both awesome ones!


When July came, my family and I were preparing for our wonderful and annual family vacation, and this year it was to be our usual Greer trip in the beautiful White Mountains of Arizona's Apache County.  This area is gorgeous, and is also great for birding.  I'll have to say that it is my favorite birding area in Arizona, and it is also where my love for birding really took off.  There are many "White Mountain specialties" to be found in this region, which are a handful of bird species found either only in this region or most reliably found in this region based on an Arizona scale.  Such species include Dusky Grouse, American Dipper, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Gray Catbird, the mega Arizona rare Pine Grosbeak, and more!  By the end of this trip, it was very successful.  While seeing most of the White Mountain Target species, I focused most of my time photographing one of my favorite woodpeckers, the Williamson's Sapsucker.  Willies are very diverse in plumage between male and female, and I wanted to capture it all.  I spent a chunk of everyday studying and photographing this neat bird.

While Willies stuck up high in the trees, the Dippies walked low in the streams.  The American Dipper is another bird that is a favorite.  It's North America's only aquatic songbird, and it actually swims underwater to capture it's food sources!  This spectacular bird is always enjoyable and cooperative for eager birders who pursue it.  I haven't gotten a super special underwater Dipper camera yet, but for this shot below, I put my camera down to eye level, and I snapped one of the best pictures I have ever taken of a bird.  This American Dipper was in the Mount Baldy Wilderness Area.

I've always loved birding in high elevations, at least a mile high and up.  So when I'm in the White Mountains, I'm in my favorite birding habitats everyday.  I love the awesome birds that favor these higher elevations.  And on the Greer trip, I saw plenty of them.

Before I forget one of the most important aspects of going on a trip to the White Mountains, a huge part of the enjoyment is the wonderful scenery!  With the scenery and birding combined, this was mainly what I needed for the month of July.


There are attractive women in the world, yes-o-yes!!  Well, one of them was so attractive (I won't say any names on this post), and her picture had my attention on the road.  Despite the eye candy I was looking at, my world went from heaven to hell in a half-second.  I rear ended a poor woman, busted my own radiator, and got a traffic ticket on top of it.  Between the traffic school, repair, and vehicle rental, it costed over 800 bucks.  Ouch!  For me, that meant low budget birding for most of August.  Luckily, it was shorebird and tern migration, and the Glendale Recharge Ponds are 15 minutes from home.  And I saw some neat shorebirds and terns!

In midst of the low budget, an extremely rare-in-Arizona as well as very rare-in-the-ABA area Blue-footed Booby showed up at Patagonia Lake State Park on August 15th.  Ever since I was into birding, a wanted to see a Booby species.  The Blue-footed Booby at Patagonia Lake was a young bird wasn't too far away, but was far enough to eat my money up quickly.  I sat back in my low budgets hoping the bird would stick.  With luck, the bird did stick and after I received a long and highly wanted work paycheck, I was able to chase the bird with my friends Gordon Karre and Muriel Neddermeyer.  We planned out a two-day trip to southeastern Arizona, and the Blue-footed Booby was our prized target bird.  And after a short wait and walk around the lake on August 24th, the Booby put on a great show for us.  Gordon, Muriel, and I had walked around the lake and had a distant look at the bird.  Eventually, it turned in our direction and started diving for fish right in front of us.  It then came even closer, and dove within fifteen feet of us while we were standing on one of the lake docks!!  Spoiler alert-this may be in the top three for my top 10 for the year, stay tuned!

We had to have our picture taken at the spot where all of the entertainment occurred!

We birded the rest of the day in the Patagonia area.  Out of many bird highlights, they included Thick-billed Kingbirds, Eastern Meadowlarks, and hungry Grasshopper Sparrows.

In the closing hours of a great birding day, we went to the famous Paton's Yard in Patagonia, and the awesome Larry Morgan pointed us in the direction of a Painted Bunting he saw behind the residence.  We went back there to find the male Painted Bunting, which was my second lifer of the day!  It was neat to see, and as I was looking at my pictures later, I realized there was a female Painted Bunting in the background of the picture!  The male Painted Bunting is one of the prettiest birds North America, and it is hard to notice anything else when it's around.

Day two of our Booby trip resulted in heading up to Montosa Canyon and the Santa Rita Mountain's Madera Canyon.  A very rare Yellow-green Vireo was our first target, which we missed in the long run.  But Gordon, Muriel, and I found Varied Buntings to be far more awesome than the vireo.  While we were looking at the Buntings, the Vireo came into sight for other others, and we came three minutes late.  Oh well.  Can you blame us though?

After the mixed up vireo chase, we headed to Madera Canyon, where it was a great way to close out our trip.  Among the many birds, were amazing sightings of Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher and Lucifer Hummingbird.  Both of these birds are amazing and highly sought out by birders, and the three of us were beyond happy to see both of them!  This trip made my month of August birding, fo sho!


After the Patagonia trip in August, I was still limited on the expenses.  I was still in the low budget birding mini "era".  I still made the best out of it, with visits to the close by Glendale Recharge Ponds and Tres Rios Wetlands.  It didn't stop me from seeing neat aerial birds such as raptors in flight, lower-than-usual rails, and swift swifts.

On September 7th, I joined Laurence Butler and Magill Weber for a very long chase to bird Lake Havasu.  I didn't get a minute of sleep before our early departure, but I was full of anticipation for the birding day.  As the Blue-footed Booby had shown up at Patagonia Lake State Park, a Brown Booby had shown up around the same time at Lake Havasu, "Arizona's West Coast"!  We were after the Brown Booby, which was going to hopefully be another life bird for me.  Laurence, Magill, and I met up with David Vander Pluym and Lauren Harter, the finders of the Booby and other rarities in the Havasu region.  They are two of Arizona's best birders also, it is always a pleasure to bird with them.  After they joined us, Lauren quickly found the Brown Booby, our second Booby in a short time!  And Laurence joked, "Boobies have to come in pairs".  And we all now had a pair!

While we were all enjoying ourselves, Lauren spied this awesome Western Grebelet.

On September 2nd, an Arizona and ABA Mega Rare Sinaloa Wren was found by Ron Beck in Huachuca Canyon in southeastern Arizona's Huachuca Mountains.  On the 10th, Steve Hosmer and I went to search for it.  In four hours spent looking for the wren, we heard it calling many times, sing once, and had a few good looks at it.  It was another lifer for me.  As most wrens are, this bird was very skulky and hard to see, but I managed to get somewhat of a picture off of it.  It is now a nice looking adult, where it was a dorky-looking juvenile back when Steve and I saw it.  

Getting a Sinaloa was neat, and I hope to get a better view of one that is in it's nice adult plumage this year or the next.  September's birding was another great one to remember, which resulted in two lifers, both that are very rare in Arizona.


October was one of those birding months, one that was just awesome overall.  To lead off October, a nice adult Red-shouldered Hawk crossed my path at Tres Rios Wetlands.  These beautiful raptors are rare but annual in Arizona, with some breeding in the vicinity of the Hassayampa River in Maricopa County.

I then went from red shoulders to a more ruddy ground bearer.  At Gilbert Water Ranch, Pete Moulton found a Ruddy Ground-Dove in midst of an Inca Dove flock.  I hadn't seen a Ruddy Ground-Dove in over two years, and I wanted to get a look at one.  When I arrived at Gilbert Water Ranch on October 10th, it didn't take me long to find the Ruddy with the Incas.  It was cooperative and gave me plenty of looks and photo opportunities.  These doves are rare but annual visitors from Mexico to Arizona, and they have even bred in Arizona also.

The American Ornithologists Union annually has meetings and such and decide to either split or lump species.  Interesting things occur every year, and most of the serious birders who keep life lists either gain a bird from a split or lose a bird from a lump.  In the 2013 showdown, the Union decided to split the Sage Sparrow into two species, Sagebrush Sparrow and Bell's Sparrow.  Sagebrush was no doubt the regular bird we have in our area, but Bell's was split from Sagebrush Sparrow into two of it's own subspecies, belli and canascens.  Belli is coastal and canascens is interior, with canascens being quite similar to Sagebrush Sparrow (nevadensis).  In research, range showed that the Bell's Sparrow of the canascens subspecies winters in Arizona with the western section of Maricopa County being it's eastern-most limit.  This excited me and I figured Bell's would likely be at the famous Le Conte's Thrasher spot.  I decided to head out there on October 17th, to look for both of the sparrows.  For Bell's, I was looking for a dark and thick malar stripe that contrast's with it's gray head, and also an unstreaked back.  Ironically, when I went there and started looking, I saw a Sage Sparrow species that was a Bell's Sparrow!  The very first one I looked at, a lifer!

And Sagebrush Sparrows were literally everywhere!

On October 19th, I set out with Laurence Butler and Muriel Neddermeyer to southeastern Arizona in pursuit of several lifers.  Baird's Sparrow and Louisiana Waterthrush were our main targets.  After trying super early at the San Rafael Grasslands for Baird's Sparrow, we came up empty.  It was then on to Tubac, in search for a Louisiana Waterthrush along it's riparian corridor.  This Louisiana Waterthrush was being reliable for those who coming to see it, and I felt like our stakes were high.  I've seen plenty of Northern Waterthrush in Arizona during migration, but Louisiana is one that is mainly found in Southeastern Arizona, where it is often a rare winter resident along rivers.  When Laurence, Muriel, and I arrived on spot, we heard the Waterthrush calling along the riverbed, and quickly found the bird.  Ironically, it flew up into the neighboring cottonwood trees, and stayed perched up rather high during most of our time with it.  I got a decent identification shot of the bird, because my camera focused on the leaves instead.  But at least it's still a good memory of a picture.  And also, this was a lifer for me, and for everyone else in my party!

On October 25th and 26th, I got a very kind invite from my good friends Susan Fishburn, Babs Buck, and Barb Meding to go on a birding trip to Yuma County with them.  I joined these three wonderful women and awesome birders on the trip to Yuma County, where we had a great two days with over 110 species combined.  On the second day of the trip, they hired Henry Detwiler to show us around the area.  We even all got a life bird, a few Black Rails calling from Mittry Lake.  The Black Rail is one of the hardest birds to see period, and 99% of the time, they are heard only.  It was very neat to hear them call, just to know they were somewhere in that marsh.  The rails also included a Clapper Rail calling as well.  Pictures weren't possible with these birds.  Henry is an excellent guide, and we all had a great time birding with him.

The best photo opportunities presented themselves towards the end of the Yuma trip, when Henry took the four of us to the many agricultural fields south of Yuma.  There were many raptor highlights.  Ferruginous Hawks were everywhere and regal, and we also found a nice flock of Mountain Plovers.  

After the Yuma trip, I came home to the Glendale Recharge Ponds, where Melanie Herring found me this nice Black-bellied Plover.  I've seen a few Black-bellied Plovers in Arizona, but this was my first in a very long time.

Towards the end of October, two Heerman's Gulls were found at the Glendale Recharge Ponds.  Sadly, I was working a double shift on the day that they were found, and I couldn't make it to see them.  Heerman's Gulls are notorious one day wonders, so they left by the next day.  During that span, a few other Heerman's Gulls showed up around the state.  On Halloween, I decided to drive around to ponds and lakes including the Glendale Recharge Ponds and Lake Pleasant in hopes of turning up a Heerman's Gull.  In my search, I didn't find a Heerman's, but at on the north side of Lake Pleasant in Yavapai County, I found Yavapai County's first ever Mew Gull!  It was a great consolation to missing the Heerman's Gulls.  Luckily, I did see the Heerman's Gull in Tucson earlier this year, but I really wanted it for my Maricopa County list.  The Mew Gull at Lake Pleasant was a young first-year bird.  The pictures aren't great, but do show a Mew Gull.  It was my 358th bird of 2013.


When I've done big years in Arizona and such, it seems like outstanding highlights come near the beginning of the month.  This month of November, that exact thing happened too.  On the 2nd, I decided to bird at the Hassayampa River Preserve.  The Preserve always seems to host a major highlight whenever I decide to visit, and I honestly can't remember the last time I visited Hassayampa and didn't have something good.  After missing the Glendale Heerman's Gulls in heartbreaking fashion (it's the worst when they are so close and viewable but you still can't get to them), I had an unexpected surprise that was a great addition and discovery to add to my Maricopa County list.  While on the Mesquite Meander Trail of the Hassayampa Preserve, an interesting bird hopped into a bush.  Immediately, it caught my attention, and when I saw it's colors and field marks, it looked like a Gray Catbird.  The bird then came out into the open, and it was indeed a Gray Catbird!  I was excited to have found this bird, and finding your own county lifer is such a great feeling, and it doesn't happen often for me anymore!

This Black-and-white Warbler was also found nearby at the Hassayampa River Preserve.  The strange warbler who wants to be a nuthatch.

Up next was another warbler, my first American Redstart of the year at Tres Rios Wetlands.

Tres Rios is also a pelican flyway, whether one is a White Pelican, or a Brown Pelican.  

On November 9th, Laurence Butler and I went on another one of our epic long birding trips.  Guess where?  Southeastern Arizona, of course!  A few days before, Laurens Halsey was in Madera Canyon and was hiking up the Carrie Nation Trail.  Something green and red caught his eye, and it was a trogon, but not the Elegant Trogon.  Laurens had an amazing rarity in his eyes, an Eared Quetzal.  He reported it to the listserv, and scads of birders were to go up and look for the ultra rarity in hopes of a sighting.  Despite the fact the Quetzal wasn't being seen when Laurence and I left on the 9th, we knew there were other awesome rarities around.  One was a female Green Kingfisher, a lifer for Laurence and what would only be my second ever.  There was also a Varied Thrush in Madera (a lifer for both of us), as well as Red-breasted and Williamson's Sapsucker, Rufous-capped Warbler in Florida Canyon, and Crested Caracaras and Mountain Plovers on the way home.  We had a lot of birding to do, and our first stop was to look for the little Green Kingfisher on the Santa Cruz River.  When we arrived on the spot, I heard the Kingfisher vocalizing, and shortly after, spied her hunting over the river!

The Green Kingfisher then sat in the open on a fence perch for us, it was awesome!

We then went up in search for the Quetzal.  Eared Quetzals wander a lot, and that seemed to be the case with this bird.  Laurens was the only one lucky enough to see the bird.  But we had other sightings later in the day, despite missing the Varied Thrush and getting poor observations of the Rufous-capped Warblers.  The Red-breasted Sapsucker was very cooperative.

On the way home, we stopped at the Santa Cruz Flats.  We were treated to up awesome and close views of our first Crested Caracaras of 2013, and we also got very close to a nice flock of Mountain Plovers.  These two species are tough to find elsewhere in Arizona, and they make the Santa Cruz Flats a very popular birding destination.  

On November 18th, my last great highlights of the month came from Morgan City Wash.  Troy Corman and Justin Jones found a rare Ovenbird.  I was birding at Lake Pleasant, and I had a feeling the Ovenbird was still around.  Having only seen this species once before, I wanted to see it again.  My assumptions were right, and I found the Ovenbird almost immediately in the spot were it was observed by Troy and Justin.

I found a rarity of my own during my Ovenbird search, a Winter Wren!


Going into the last month of the year, I had 362 species on my year list and I wanted to get at least 370 species.  I started December off very strong by going with the fellow Phoenician Kingbirds, Mark Ochs and Gordon Karre, to the Lake Havasu and Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge areas.  We were after many year birds, and we all had a lucky day on this trip.  We started at the Bill Williams Headquarters, and immediately had luck.  We had distant Surf and White-winged Scoters, Barrow's Goldeneye, Greater Scaup, and even our second Blue-footed Booby of the year.  This area had a few Boobies show up of it's own.  

After the Bill Williams Headquarters, we went down Planet Ranch Road on the Refuge, in search of a mega rarity, the Nutting's Flycatcher.  I saw this bird at the beginning of 2012, and it was discovered by my friends Lauren Harter and David Vander Pluym.  After discovering the Nutting's, they even found a second Nutting's, and after that, they found that the two bred and produced young.  It was a first ABA breeding record, and it was awesome they discovered that out of a code 5 bird.  After waiting, Mark, Gordon, and I heard the distinctive and high pitched "wheep" call from the Nutting's Flycatcher.  For a long time, we heard it calling but weren't able to get a visual.  When it was nearing that time for departure, Gordon turned around and saw the prize right behind us!  It gave us killer views!

After getting the phenomenal views of the Nutting's Flycatcher, we headed north to Lake Havasu to see and search for more rarities.  We quickly found two previously reported Black Scoters, which was a year bird and completed a nice task for Arizona, a three Scoter day!  Mark then knew of a parking lot were hundreds of gulls loafed on.  As we approached, we saw the massive gull flock on the concrete.  We were hoping for a Herring Gull that was hanging around in the area.  We didn't get a Herring Gull, but we got this odd-ball.

It wasn't a Herring, and we thought at first it was a Thayer's Gull.  It matches Thayer's Gull in all aspects except for the head shape and thick bill.  I then thought it was a hybrid.  After looking online, I assumed it was a Glaucous-winged and Herring Gull Hybrid.  My assumptions turned out to be right, and the experts agreed that was the case.  After leaving and going back, we did come back to find a Herring Gull in the lot.  The day of birding was great, and I added six year birds to my list.

On December 6th, I was off to Boyce Thompson Arboretum near Superior, Arizona on a chase for my first ever and rather overdue Varied Thrush.  The bird was found a few days earlier by Ed Strong, and was seeming to be cooperative for other birders.  The Varied Thrush is something special, and has one of the neatest songs in all of nature.  This song is heard on their breeding haunts of the pacific northwest.  Varied Thrush is rare but annual in Arizona, and I've only looked for one out of many that have shown up prior to this one.  When I arrived at Boyce, I luckily found the Varied Thrush, a female bird, within minutes.  It was very cooperative, and I spent a few hours watching it and enjoying my lifer throughout the day.

After the awesome Varied Thrush, I proceeded to the nearby Oak Flats, where this Canyon Wren was quite the story!

On December 12th, I hit my wanted 370 mark, with a bird I surprisingly didn't have yet, the Fox Sparrow.  This bird was photographed in Rackensack Canyon in the northern part of Maricopa County.  This was one out of thirteen Fox Sparrows that I detected!  It's safe to say the Rackensack Canyon is the best place to observe this species in Arizona.

On December 14th, 2013, the Phoenician Kingbirds were at it again, and this time, were tearing up Tucson.  Mark Ochs, Gordon Karre, and I went on blitz to see several Tucson rarities.  The birds were cooperative, and resulted in seeing a Black Scoter, Pine Warbler, and my only year bird of the day, a nice Magnolia Warbler.  The warblers were only second time evers, so it was very neat to see and observe them.

On December 15th, Joe Neely found an interesting gull at the closeby Arrowhead Lake in northern Glendale.  It was identified as a Lesser Black-backed Gull, which is very rare in Arizona and was a lifer for me.  Sadly, I was scheduled to work two double shifts and then an early morning shift on the third day.  After I had my license plate stolen, I was able to get out of work early on Wednesday.  The MVD is luckily two miles south of Arrowhead Lake, and I was able to go and see the gull!  And it stuck around for me!  The Lesser Black-backed Gull was a young bird, and was the 6th record in Arizona since the first one in 2006.  Another one has even been found since then, so it is on the increase if I didn't get to see it.  A great great lifer!

At 3:30, the Gull got up, flew up high and flew far, and never returned again.  If I didn't get out of work early, I would've missed the gull by a heartbreaking few minutes.  What a miracle!  

In Yuma, David Sussman was birding at the Yuma East Wetlands, and extensive wetland area in Yuma that is a magnet for a plethora of birds.  He spied a very rare in Arizona White Ibis in the marshes with White-faced Ibis.  It was young brown-and-white White Ibis, which is very distinctive whether the bird is young or old.  White Ibises are abundant in the southeastern states, but in Arizona, it is quite the big deal!  This is only the 8th known record of the species.  I wanted to see the White Ibis, badly.  On Christmas Eve, Magill Weber joined me and we headed down to Yuma for the ibis.  Within an hour, we got very lucky and spied the bird flying over the marsh.  Although it was a brief encounter, we had good looks at the bird.  A few hours later, we found the White Ibis again, this time flying over the marshes again.  I managed poor but identifiable photos of my lifer.

After spending about four hours at the Yuma East Wetlands, we started to head back into Phoenix.  We stopped at a Gila Bend McDonald's quickly and I read on an eBird alert that a Long-tailed Duck was reported at the Glendale Recharge Ponds earlier in the morning.  The Long-tailed Duck was another highly wanted lifer of mine, and Magill and I rushed over the the Recharge Ponds as quickly as possible.  Visiting birder Dick Porter reported the bird, and said it was a female Long-tailed Duck.  We don't know Dick, but his report seemed very accurate.  When Magill and I arrived at the Ponds, we walked up to the pond with a high amount of waterfowl on it.  Right away, I saw a bird dominated by black and white.  I looked through my scope, and it was the Long-tailed Duck!!!  I was on cloud nine, and it was a spectacular two lifer day, and was truly a birding White Christmas! 

On December 27th, Magill and I were at it again, this time going to southeastern Arizona's San Rafael Grasslands to pursue Short-eared Owls and my lifer Baird's Sparrow.  We mainly dipped on both of them, other than a very poor and quick view of my lifer Baird's Sparrow.  The Baird's Sparrow was a big jerk, and the Eastern Meadowlarks tried to make up for the ignorance of the Baird's.  But at least, I saw a Baird's, with much better looks desired next time.  We also found a Rough-legged Hawk at the Vaca Corral, that was very distant for pictures.  It was cool finding it, and it was my third Rough-legged Hawk of 2013.  On our way home, we stopped and looked at a Louisiana Waterthrush along the Santa Cruz River north of Tucson, Magill's state bird and my 2nd in 2013.  We watched it through my scope and enjoyed seeing it act like a typical waterthrush!

As I looked at my work schedule, I was very happy to see that I had December 30th and 31st off of work, my last two days of 2013!  I wanted to go all out on searching and adding more to my year list, and that is exactly what I did.  With 375 species already on my list, I was very greatful.  On the 30th, Steve Hosmer and I really went to an extreme with driving over two hours and well north of Flagstaff to the Cameron Trading Post in search of a Rufous-backed Robin.  The Rufous-backed Robin, a neat Mexican thrush that is annual but rare in Arizona, was showing up in strange places during 2013 and was well away from it's usual haunts. Steve and I both decided we wanted it for a year bird.  And we found it rather easily...

And Steve had a big thumb's up for a successful chase to the Robin!

Steve and I missed our targets while birding around Flagstaff for the remainder of the day, which included the Cassin's Finch, one of our biggest misses for likely birds in 2013.  And that would set up the final stage of birding for 2013 on December 31st.

On the 31st, I made up my mind to go to Tucson to search for a Harris's Sparrow found by Scott Olmstead the day before in Himmel Park.  I invited my friend Moe Bertrand to join me, and we left early for an awesome birding excursion.  The Harris's Sparrow was another potential lifer for me, and I was really hoping to see it.  When Moe and I got to Tucson's Himmel Park, we quickly found the Harris's Sparrow, and it was very cooperative and was quite the neat experience for a first time lifer.  Score!

After getting the Harris's Sparrow, which was my 377th bird of 2013 in Arizona, Moe and I headed south to Florida Canyon in pursuit of the Rufous-capped Warbler.  After seeing this bird in January well but briefly, I still wanted more looks.  During the search, we got very lucky and turned a corner to find the Rufous-capped Warbler right in front of our face.  I can't describe this sighting well enough to do it justice.  But look at the picture, which is worth a thousand words!

A male Elegant Trogon also showed up in the Canyon, and it was great to see these two awesome Arizona birds during the closing hours of 2013.  And Moe was enjoying it all!

On the way back to Phoenix, we stopped at the Santa Cruz Flats to look for Crested Caracara and Mountain Plover, were we successfully found both.  The Caracaras were very cooperative, and this was the last bird we saw in 2013, which was a neat bird to close out the year with the open fields and tree groves behind it.

There were many other highlights and expeditions in 2013 other than the ones I have summarized.  Arizona is one heck of state, with many diverse habitats to support a tremendous plethora of bird life.  I am truly blessed to be able to explore during a year like this, and I hope to do it again some other year.  But I know for a fact, that I will never forget the year of birding and exploring in 2013.

Stats, Additions, and Key Facts of 2013

Prior to 2013, my highest year list in Arizona was 344 species.  In 2013, I reached that old mark on September 7th on a Pacific Loon on Lake Havasu.  For me to ever beat my own 377, that will be a lot of work and a lot of traveling.  The best year in Arizona was 402 species, set by Mark Stevenson in 2002.

For 2013, I wanted to get over 400 species on my state list.  At the beginning of 2013, I had 394 birds on my Arizona list, and with the addition of 26 new state birds, my state list ended in 2013 at 420 species all time.  All of those birds were life birds, and what a neat year it was.  The 26 Arizona additions as well as life list additions in 2013 were in chronological order: Pine Warbler, Rufous-capped Warbler, Rough-legged Hawk, Short-eared Owl, Yellow-throated Warbler, Black-capped Gnatcatcher (400!), Northern Shrike, Mexican Whip-poor-Will, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Spotted Owl, Mexican Chickadee, Heerman's Gull, Buff-collared Nightjar, Blue-footed Booby, Painted Bunting, Brown Booby, Sinaloa Wren, Bell's Sparrow, Louisiana Waterthrush, Black Rail, Varied Thrush, Lesser Black-backed Gull, White Ibis, Long-tailed Duck, Baird's Sparrow, and Harris's Sparrow.

For my Maricopa County list (my favorite list), I added eight additions to.  At the start of 2013, my Maricopa list was 350 and at the end, it climbed to 358 species.  All of the additions were wonderful, some very rare and others limited county breeders.  Those eight additions were Violet-crowned Hummingbird, Least Grebe, Varied Bunting, Rufous-winged Sparrow, Bell's Sparrow, Gray Catbird, Lesser Black-backed Gull, and Long-tailed Duck.

Lastly, I birded in 12 out of the 15 different counties in Arizona in at least several different locations in each county that I birded in.  The only counties that I didn't reach in 2013 were Greenlee, Graham, and Navajo Counties.  Hopefully sometime I can bird some in those counties.

Yavapai County Adopted

In 2013, I finally branched out from Maricopa County and birded another county on a regular basis, which is Yavapai County.  Like Maricopa, Yavapai is also very diverse in it's habitats and bird life.  I decided to have this be one of my main goals of 2013, and was very fun!  In 2013, I had over 200 species in Yavapai County, while birding the extensive Prescott area, Congress, and the northern half of Lake Pleasant mainly.  While I have a lot of exploring to still do in Yavapai, it's been a fun start.

My Top 10 Birds of 2013

This write up took some careful thought, but this will summarize my favorite 10 birds from 2013, in countdown fashion.  Some might be extremely rare, while others aren't the rarest.  The experience is what is best with making a top 10 like this.

10.  Elegant Trogon at Patagonia Lake State Park:  Not a life bird or an extreme rarity, but anytime you have 15 minutes alone with this bird at 10 feet away, it would be a crime for it to not make the top 10.  Right Laurence?

9.  White Ibis at Yuma East Wetlands:  This bird was awesome, and it probably would be much higher on the rankings if it was a much closer observation.

8.  Varied Thrush at Boyce Thompson Arboretum:  This was a bird I probably should've had before 2013, but sometimes, overdue birds are the best!

7.  Spotted Owl in Miller Canyon:  Another overdue bird, but a spectacular one!

6.  Rough-legged Hawk at San Rafael Grasslands:  Not the rarest either, but what a cool raptor!

5.  Northern Shrike at the Mormon Lake Overlook:  Dominic and I were already seeing awesome birds, and things got more awesome when this unexpected surprise showed up!

4.  Brown Booby at Lake Havasu:  Laurence, Magill, and I went on this awesome roadtrip to see this bird along with David Vander Pluym and Lauren Harter.  What an awesome rarity to see!

3.  Long-tailed Duck at Glendale Recharge Ponds:  After Magill and I went to Yuma for the White Ibis, we found out there was a Long-tailed Duck at Glendale Recharge Ponds.  With this wonderful addition to my Maricopa list and because it was my second lifer in a day on Christmas Eve (my favorite day of the year), this bird was one of 2013's tops.  

2.  Rufous-capped Warblers in Florida Canyon:  This bird is always one of the coolest, and was very exciting to see one for the first time.

1.  Blue-footed Booby at Patagonia Lake State Park:  We've reached my number 1!  This is a mega rarity in Arizona, and when this bird showed up, I wanted to see it immediately.  When Muriel, Gordon, and I went for it, we saw it from 15 feet away as it dove for fish literally right in front of us.  When a mega like that behaves that way and makes it extra fun, it's bound to land at the tops.  And for me in 2013, it was my tops!

My Top 10 Favorite Pictures I took in 2013

Here is another countdown from 10 to 1, only this time it is my top 10 favorite pictures I took of 2013.

10.  Rough-legged Hawk and San Rafael Grasslands:  Not a great picture, but cool scenery, awesome memory

9.  Virginia Rail at Glendale Recharge Ponds:  What the heck?  Right out in the open?

8.  Red-faced Warbler in Bradshaw Mountains:  Freaking awesome bird.

7.  Northern Pygmy-Owl at Mount Ord:  Always great to get up close to these guys!

6.  Elegant Trogon at Patagonia Lake State Park:  Up close and personal 

5.  Long-eared Owl at Phoenix Mountains Preserve:  Take off!!!

4.  Nutting's Flycatcher at Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge:  Not a bad shot for a code 5!

3.  Varied Bunting at Montosa Canyon:  They aren't cooperative like this too often

2.  American Dipper at the Mount Baldy Wilderness:  My water level shot!

1.  Rufous-capped Warbler in Florida Canyon:  Taken on December 31st.  A great way to close out 2013 and the bird was only feet away from me!

Arizona's Top 10 Discovered Rarities in 2013-My Opinion

Birders around Arizona found many amazing rarities.  In my opinion, these are the best.  Here's another Top 10 in Countdown Fashion.  See the page, azfo.org for pictures and more information.

10.  Blue Jay
9.  Eared Quetzal
8.  American Tree Sparrow
7.  Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
6.  Blue-footed Boobies
5.  Sinaloa Wrens
4.  Slate-throated Redstarts
3.  Sharp-tailed Sandpiper
2.  Sooty Shearwater
1.  Hawaiian Petrel

Arizona's Awesome Birders

In 2013, I had many birding friends to keep me company in 2013.  Thanks all of you, you are beyond awesome!

Why the birds love Arizona so much-our spectacular diversity in habitat!

I hope, if you read this post, that you have enjoyed it.  Birding in Arizona is certainly a rewarding thing, with plenty of exploring to do!


  1. Tommy, what a great accomplishment for you and all the birders of Arizona, thanks for sharing it with us. Til we meet again, Good Birding!

  2. Wow Tommy! Adding words in a comment section seems silly, perhaps because you've said them all!
    It was a privilege and a pleasure to join you on so many birding outings in 2013, and likewise to follow the rest of your exploits on your website.

    You saw many amazing birds and recorded so many fantastic sightings. I think it's been inspirational, or certainly motivational, for many people in AZ to get out and see more, and in less explored places. There is so much out there, and 377 is a massive number, one that's set a high standard for years to come.

    Congratulations on all of your wonderful sightings and wonderful photos, and cheers to a great 2014, with your personal birding and guiding business! Best of luck, hope to see you in the field soon.

  3. WOW!!! What a post and full of some wonderful great moments. Have to agree with Laurence, adding words in comments seem a little futile. It truly was an awesome year for you and I am very happy that I got to be a part of it. You definitely increased my year numbers in the process and every adventure was thoroughly enjoyed by me as well. So glad you shared all those great memories with all of us who follow your progress. Your birding skills are second to none.

    Definitely have me motivated for future years. I would not have the knowledge or sightings that I have, had it not been for you, your website, and your willingness to share so much of your knowledge.

    Good luck in 2014 and hope we can share some more exciting finds in the coming year.