Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Birding and Wandering Through the White Mountains

The White Mountains have just a little too much to explore.  On some of the days that I am up there, I just cruise around and bird wherever I feel like it.  Hey, you can't lose out on that one ever.  Cool birds are everywhere.  When I usually go at the end of July/beginning of August, another plus is the before effects and after effects of monsoon rainstorms.  The sky is filled with incredible and "fake-like" cloud formations, and after each pour down, you might have the perfect rainbow.  This year, there was somewhat of a lack of pour down rain showers, but that didn't stop clouds from being everywhere and there being some nice rainbows after moderate showers.

I took this picture in Springerville, which was shortly east of my temporary cabin home in Greer.  As you can see, Springerville lacks any conifers and looks quite different.  It still has good birding, but with a different cast of birds.  At Springerville, you can bird in the grocery store parking lots.  Just ask the local Safeway what I am talking about.  The lot there may be the best place to view nesting Barn Swallows in Arizona.  As I walked around and looked up while by the Safeway, I could see that several Barn Swallows had occupied nests going on wall crevices.  One of the nest was clustered up with four nestlings.  It was quite the show to watch.

When the adult Barn Swallow would come in with food, all swallow mouths broke lose, and sibling rivalry probably took over.  

On this trip, I opted out of going to several near-Springerville locations that I usually go to, Becker Lake and Wenima Wildlife Area.  I kinda regret it now in some ways, but in other ways, ah, oh well.  The locations offer good birding, but they are away from the conifer forests.  I find it hard to leave the conifer forests, which is why I like to stick to the conifer forests.  When I'm driving west of Greer towards Sunrise, Green's Peak, and Mount Baldy, it isn't always about birds.  There are a lot of mammals to be seen too.  And cool ones.  Take a look at these large bull Elk for example.  In a month or so, three of these bulls are gonna have harems of female Elk (cows) to mate with.  Each harem may have up anywhere from 30 to 50 cows.  These bulls are going to be busy soon.  I do feel sorry for the one with a broken antler, the season is probably already over for him, and it hasn't even started yet.

A stop in the Sunrise Area usually produces good birding.  After I initially saw my state Pine Grosbeaks at the lifts, I went back quickly after (this was a few days before I found them at Baldy).  The Pine Grosbeaks didn't show themselves at the Ski Lifts again, although I did hear a bird calling way up from the spot where we had them.  As I waited and looked for the Grosbeaks with birder Dale Clark, I did get to see my one and only adult male Williamson's Sapsucker of the entire trip, which Dale spied and pointed out to me.  Gosh, why did I have such bad luck with this species on this trip, after seeing multiple birds everyday last year?  

Mr. Williamson's, what a stunning bird.  There were other cool birds around too.  This included a Clark's Nutcracker being perched on a spruce that had cones which almost matched the Nutcracker's overall color, as well as a House Wren family.

Something interesting also happened when I was at Sunrise.  While the Sunrise area is on the Ft. Apache Indian Reservation, people who aren't tribe members have to buy permits to access the area.  I've always known about this, but I had a lady tell me last year who worked at the market that Sunrise Lake is on Indian Land but that I didn't need to have a permit just to walk around the lake.  I went to the market to buy the permit, and when she told me that, I asked, "Are you, SURE?????".  And she assured me it was fine, but yet I had to still pay to walk around Sunrise Campground.  Does that make sense?  Well, having that knowledge still wrapped up in my mind, I went to Sunrise Lake without thinking.  Before I knew it, a tribal officer pulled up to be while I was scanning the waters and he asked me for my permit.  I thought, "oh crap, that stupid lady last year".  I explained to him what happened and he had a mad look on his face.  I explained my reasoning and told him I'm honest about stuff and that I innocently thought I didn't need a permit.  He asked what I was doing and if he could see my license.  When I told him I was birding, he perked up and started talking about all of the Canada Geese on the lake.  He then said, "I'll let you off the hook this time, but I would appreciate it if you would go buy a permit".  I was grateful that I was let off the hook, and I think it was probably freaking obvious that I was being honest.  Who could make a story up like that off of the top of their heads?  100 dollars versus 10 dollars is a huge difference.  I didn't necessarily need to go and buy a permit, but because I was so glad I didn't get fined, I said heck with it and I went and bought a permit.  Since I bought the permit, I went to Sunrise Campground.  And guess who I ran into an hour or so at the Campground?  The officer.  I joked and said, "Hey, I'm taking care of myself now".  He continued to ask me about the birds.  I told him about the White Mountain Big 5 that everyone loves to see in the White Mountains.  At the campground, I didn't see any Gray Jays (which is often a great spot for them), but I did have good looks at Cordilleran Flycatchers, White-breasted Nuthatches, female Western Tanagers, a Red-faced Warbler, and a Common Raven having a picnic.

One day, my family and I decided to go to a portion of the Black River for about an hour.  This is where the Thompson Trail is at.  Despite the fact we didn't stay very long, I did enjoy the scenery of the Black River, which was cool beans.

The Thompson Trail ended up being a good place to see Green-tailed Towhees up close.

We even saw this relatively fresh Mountain Lion track in the mud.  My brother said he was smelling something like cat pee before he was aware of this track I found in the mud.  Gosh, I wanna see a Mountain Lion!

On one afternoon, I was hanging out with my sister Tiffany and was watching her fish in the Little Colorado River.  After she caught five fish, we headed home and went through Sunrise.  I spied a Swainson's Hawk, which is a very local breeding species in the White Mountains.  There aren't many of them.  Seeing a Swainson's Hawk up here in mountain meadows with epic scenery behind it is pretty breathtaking.  

It started to rain as Tiffany and I headed back to the cabin.  Even more breathtaking were the amazing and scenic monsoon clouds that were forming in the sky.  This "dome-mushroom" shaped cloud was certainly very cool.

The monsoon clouds like this are a perfect way to close out a day of birding in the White Mountains, or they can be a perfect way to close out a post, like this one.  Stay tuned for four more blog posts from this trip.  They will include more monsoon clouds, a new bird that I discovered which I have called the Montanious BlueShrike, two more epic birding locations, and many more.  For now, keep in mind that if you wander around the White Mountains aimlessly to look for things, you will make many stops along your route.  


  1. Your Green-tailed Towhee shots are incredible! I sure wish I could have seen that one in Colorado. And a Red-faced Warbler too? Man.

    I don't think a person is truly a birder until they've had at least one encounter with law enforcement in the name of birding.

    1. Thanks Josh! Green-tailed Towhees and Red-faced Warblers are very neat birds, and the White Mountains are one of those fun places to see them. In winter in Arizona, Green-tailed Towhees do winter in the Phoenix area.

      I agree with you on the law enforcement thing. I've been stopped by police in Phoenix twice also. It isn't fun by any means.