Friday, April 18, 2014

Mount Ord Does It Again!

Mount Ord does it again.  You probably sitting here and reading and thinking, why, why had Mount Ord done it again.  This title has made Mount Ord seem like it has won a championship, an M.V.P. award, or a repeat academy award, something like that.  You might think, "How can a small mountain in central Arizona have this title?"  Well, I'm a serious birder, and Mount Ord happens to be Maricopa County's premier high elevation ponderosa pine destiny for the serious Maricopa County birder, and that is what I am.  It is also a close escape from the summer hell that the Phoenicians find themselves trapped in.  But with Ord in close grasps of the dying summer Phoenicians, many see it as a remedy.  I see it as this, but Mount Ord has also had a plethora of amazing birds during the history of birding and exploration on this mountain.  Some of these birds have been incredible high elevation rarities that are very hard to find elsewhere in the county.  Many of my Maricopa County firsts have been supplied to me by Mount Ord.  And once again, after my Mount Ord trip today, I came back and could once again say, "Mount Ord has done it again".  I have many stories to tell from my outings at Mount Ord, and yet I am only one birder.  Read today's story about another great visit to this fine mountain.  When the Black-chinned Sparrow returns annually to Mount Ord for breeding season, it's plentiful habitat also has it singing, "Mount Ord has done it again!"

Today I was joined by my brother, Tyler DeBardeleben.  We left very early to arrive to Mount Ord at 6:30 A.M.  It was overcast outside and sun would breath through the cloud cover at times.  As we arrived on the mountain, we decided to hit up and bird the top first.  Misfortune hit us however as I realized I had a big problem with my steering system as we arrived at the top.  And the top was birdy, too.  Birds were everywhere and singing, including a few Olive Warblers who liked to be hidden for the most part.

I was hoping the problem wasn't as bad as it seemed as we got out of the truck and started birding.  The system acted up right as we got to the top.  It made it hard to enjoy the birding, so when we got back, we realized the problem was still alive.  I was contemplating leaving the mountain all together and heading back into town to Midas, but after a phone call to my Dad, I realized we could probably still take our time and have a good hiking and birding outing at the wonderful Mount Ord.   

At this point, we were down lower than the level of the summit, at the beginning reaches of Forest Road 1688.  Forest Road 1688 is my favorite part of Mount Ord, largely because of it's tall ponderosa pines throughout the stretch of two miles, but also because it comes into contact with the Upper Sonoran Life Zone that consists of chaparral and juniper habitat.  Unlike the rest of Mount Ord, Forest Road 1688 is entirely in Maricopa County.  Anywhere else on the mountain one is always close to Gila County, which holds most of the Mount Ord geographical makeup.  But Road 1688 is a treasure for birders in Maricopa County, as it has a lot of great pine and oak habitat for two miles and over.  This visit was a traditional Mount Ord visit, where I like to cover a lot of ground.  Such as visit includes a trek to the top and birding the Maricopa County stretch of the top, as well as the duration of Road 1688 and a shaded forested drainage that is accessed at the southern end of 1688.  Today it took is over 6 hours to complete the route.  On days that I really take my time and search thoroughly, it might take me longer.  

In similar ways to the summit area of Mount Ord, Road 1688 had active bird life from the start as Tyler and I headed north/south down the road in search of birds.  Tyler isn't a birder, for him it was a hike and an outing he claimed he needed to have before the day was said and done.  One of the first birds we encountered was a vocal Plumbeous Vireo.  He eventually came out in the open and gave us good views.  His cousin, the Gray Vireo, was also nearby, but stayed out of sight on steep slopes.  Like the Plumbeous, the Gray Vireo was also very vocal.

Black-throated Gray Warblers everywhere and numerous at Mount Ord.  However, they weren't cooperative for pictures like I was hoping they would be.  But their loud songs were never silent for a moment during the 6+ hour morning.

Along Road 1688, is a lot of brushy chaparral habitat near the pines.  This provides home to one of the most abundant birds of the mountain, the noisy Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

April is the season when all of the breeding Mount Ord birds arrive, and many migrants are passing through.  In places along the road, the buzzy calls of Lazuli Buntings were heard.  It was nice to look up and see several of them in bare branches of trees.

I then looked below my eye level and saw this Virginia's Warbler flitting around.  The song of the Virginia's Warbler was one that was commonly heard throughout the morning at Mount Ord.  They arrive here in the month of April as well to breed in this area.

Along the hike, we encountered many Empid flycatchers that were Dusky/Hammond's types.  I heard each species vocalize several times.  I got a picture of this one, which I'm going to call a Dusky.  If I'm wrong...oh well :)

Another loud and common bird of Mount Ord is the Bewick's Wren.  This bird's high pitched song and strange call note is commonly heard during Bewick's Wren breeding season here.  This bird wants to compete with the Sinaloa Wren, and it perched up to try and be better.  

We then encountered a Grace's Warbler out in the open on a bare branch.  Like the Olive Warbler in the beginning, this bird also loves to hug the pine needles and stay up high in the pines for the most part.  It's song is a common audio up on the mountain.

As we saw the Grace's Warbler, we then left Road 1688 momentarily and headed down a nice forested drainage that is productive for birds for over a half mile.  Beyond the half mile, the drainage continues for a long ways, but is too rough for hiking on.  It takes one to know that, I wonder who walked down that drainage?  Probably a good chance it was the guy writing this...

After the walk down the drainage, Tyler and I were tired and started to head back up to Forest Road 1688.  As we were nearing the road, I caught a glimpse of a woodpecker.  It was a brownish and barred woodpecker overall, and one that I was hoping for.  But I only caught a glimpse of it...before it turned around to the other side of the tree.  The lighting was bad, and I didn't think I would be able to make out the woodpecker.  Ten minutes later, I was still searching, and the bird disappeared on me!  At least that's what I thought...

From the quick glimpse I got of this woodpecker, I had a good feeling of exactly what it was.  I didn't want to get my hopes up, especially with a poor look.  But after searching, I scanned the top of a pine and there the woodpecker was, sitting motionless.  I was speechless at the sight, it was what I was hoping for.  "Its a....i'''s a''s a a......oh, my gosh.....Tyler, I have female Williamson's Sapsucker!!!!!".  

I was shocked at the sight of the female Williamson's Sapsucker!  This species has been a huge target of mine in Maricopa County over the last four years, and it was great to have one right in front of me at my favorite place.  And it also completes all four Sapsuckers in Maricopa County for my list.  It was number #360 on my Maricopa County list, so in other words, a new Maricoper!  Ironically, my 350th Maricoper was a Red-breasted Sapsucker, and ten birds later, was finally the Williamson's Sapsucker.  Any new ten on a list is fun, and now it's about the next set of 60's.  The female Willie ended up being pretty cooperative, and the bad lighting was a huge downside to getting good pictures.  This bird did face in my direction well once while standing on a horizontal branch.  She had a bright lemon yellow belly as well as a black breast.

The Sapsucker then climbed up to the top of a tall pine, and sat up high for a long time, where it sat mostly motionless.  We left the sighting at that after waiting awhile without the bird moving.  But what a neat way to get a county bird, which doesn't happen for me much anymore.

Tyler and I then had our own way of celebrating the Sapsucker and the hike!

There was still room for one more amazing sighting.  The final amazing sighting came from a nice Black-chinned Sparrow up close, who was active along the road!

It was another amazing outing at Mount Ord.  I recorded a total of 41 species, and the highlights are shown here.  Some of the highlights weren't able to be photographed, as any birding day.  But with a great hike, great birds, great company, and even a new Maricoper, I found myself thinking, "Mount Ord does it, again!"


  1. Congrats again Tommy on the Williamson's Maricoper!!

    Also, fabulous shots of so many other birds, especially the Virginia's and the debonaire Black-chinned. Awesome stuff!

    1. Thanks Laurence I got extremely lucky I even found the Maricoper Willie! The other birds were very fun too, especially the Black-chinned Sparrow! That's the closest I've ever been to one for an extended length

  2. Another great trip to a great place and I wonder how I found out about this place myself???? Congrats on #360, a great bird for Maricopa County!

    1. Thanks Gordon,

      That bird was one I feel like I've been waiting for for awhile! It was great to get it!