Wednesday, September 24, 2014

On This Date in History on Tommy D's Birding Expeditions: A Golden Surprise

I woke up early in the morning, five years ago from today-on September 24th, 2009.  In 2009, it was my first "real" year of birding on a regular basis in Arizona.  I had many birds I was after on a regular basis, and I learned an extensive amount of information every time I went out in the field.  The path I chose for this day was at the well known Gilbert Water Ranch.  At this time of year, migration is usually in full force for the fall, and Gilbert Water Ranch is a location where one can commonly find high numbers of different species, with many of those being migrants.  I felt that Gilbert Water Ranch was a good place to find such high numbers, and I felt like it was a good location to harbor a lifer or two.  Back in 2009, I had many life birds that I got on a regular basis, especially since I was only a casual birder from 2000 to 2008.  I was hardcore when I would bird of course before 2009, but it wasn't very often that I was motivated to bird on a regular basis.  Once I got wrapped up into this epic hobby, every day got more and more exciting.  And at Gilbert Water Ranch on September 24th, 2009, I would have several amazing highlights, including a golden surprise that felt like finding actual gold.  Read along and join the fun to find out about my "Golden Surprise".

Fall migration.  You gotta love it if your a birder.  I was on my way to Gilbert Water Ranch and was pondering the possibilities of what may be present that would be notable or new for my life list.  During this time, my days off of work were spent birding and during the days that I was working, I would commonly come home and study field guides.  My work was cut out for me, but in 2009, I went from being unaware about so much to being aware of most of the birds that may be found in North America.  I've never become a hardcore expert to this day by any means, but in that year and since then, I have worked harder and harder to become a better birder.  While some birds are tough to identify, I'm happy to say that I can narrow it down quickly to a couple species to reach my conclusions much faster.  In the 2009 days in fall during study time, I commonly studied the Peterson Field Guide to the Warblers of North America along with a plethora of other birding books.  Over all of the others, the Warblers guide had more of a spine crack.  Warblers have always intrigued me, and when I bought the Peterson Book, I took getting to learn that family to heart more than a lot of the other families of birds.  To me, I always tried to plan on finding as many warblers as I could and attempting to identify them correctly.  It was fun, and I shouldn't be saying "it was", because it still is fun.  I still have a lot to learn just about this numerous North American family.  And of course I studied up on the other families too.  When I was out in the field, I found that this fun "homework" I was doing really payed off.  And when September 24th, 2009 came to a close, I was proud to say my hard studying really payed off a few times in the field and would prove to be vital.

I arrived at Gilbert very early that morning, before the sun came up.  And from the start, migrants were everywhere!  For those who haven't been to Gilbert Water Ranch in Gilbert, Arizona, it's a birds and especially a migrating birds paradise.  It suits a variety of different birds, from big to small, from huge to tiny, from long-billed to short-billed, from fat to skinny, and cool to uncool.  In other words, all birders love Gilbert Water Ranch and so do all birds!  There are 7 large basins within the vicinity that have fluctuating water levels, a fishing lake, and created riparian habitats around every basin.  With this combination of habitats, there is always a combination of birds.  To be honest, September 24th had so many birds it overwhelmed me!

It didn't take long for me to get my first life bird of the day, which came from two Stilt Sandpipers probing in one of the basins.  Warblers were everywhere, especially Orange-crowned, Yellow, Nashville, MaGillivray's, and Black-throated Gray Warblers.  I even came across a Red-breasted Nuthatch along one of the trails.  While this species is a conifer lover, they will sometimes have invasive years of going low into lowland habitats.  Seeing a Red-breasted Nuthatch forage in a mesquite tree was very odd.

The day then got very interesting quickly as my field notebook was filling up with birds rapidly.  As I was on a path that goes between Basins 1 and 2 of the Ranch, I walked into a camping area that one uses for boy and girl scout troops regularly.  This spot has great habitat, and it was filled with birds.  There are observation blinds here overlooking Pond 2, as well as benches, a fire place for camping, as well as a trashcan.  Thick brush and trees are also in this spot.  As I was searching for birds, I caught sight of a low foraging warbler that would change the rest of my day.  The warbler was concealed for most of the time, but for a few brief seconds, it made a semi-good appearance, and that semi-good appearance had me jumping out of my shoes.  The warbler was yellowish overall on it's front from it's upper breast down to it's belly, it had white undertail coverts, and then it's back and wings were a greenish-blue color.  I was jumping when I saw this combination, because I was thinking I had an eastern warbler, one that is rare in Arizona.  The bird continued to forage, but I never saw it's face, and I never saw it's standout black eye that gives the bird a standout look.  What was going through my mind came directly from the hours of time I had devoted myself to studying the Warbler field guide from the Peterson Field Guide Series that I had purchased.  I knew I had  a Prothonotary Warbler in the thick brush, and it left without giving me the decent look that I was hoping for.  I waited for twenty minutes without a resurface from the Warbler, and it was very frustrating.  With that brief of a look and even though I noted the bird's distinctive field marks, I asked myself, "Should I wait to count it as a life bird?".  I went through my mind again at the information that I learned from studying up on warblers and realized how distinctive a Prothonotary Warbler is.  Even though I had good looks at a few distinctive field marks without seeing the whole bird, I was also proud of myself for being able to reach the conclusion that I did.  And I decided to count the Prothonotary Warbler and wrote it down in my field notes.  I had gone from little boy to big boy, 6th grade to junior high, D+ to C-, all with one bird.  Gosh, I was glad that I had been doing my studying.  And gosh, I was still angry at the same time that I didn't have a killer look at the bird, my "lifer" Prothonotary Warbler.

Courtesy of the Peterson Field Guide to Warblers of North America.

There were other birds that needed to be searched for at Gilbert Water Ranch.  I looked out into one basin, and it was completely dry.  I saw a small bird out there, pumping it's tail in bogey dance fashion.  As I took a look at it through my binoculars, I realized it was my third lifer of the day, an American Pipit.  I was celebrating the look as if it was the only American Pipit I would see in my life, but I can now say: "Tommy you little dummy, your gonna see thousands of those things every year from late September through April in Arizona".  But the first bird is always the riot, and I really do enjoy seeing abundant American Pipits to this day to be honest.  I also came upon a big flock of warblers in a tree along the west side of the Ranch (Prothonotary was on the east side).  Most of them were Orange-crowned Warblers, but there was an Arizona rare Tennessee Warbler in the bunch!  I couldn't get a good picture off of the rarity, but I saw it well through my binoculars and I counted it.  Now, at Gilbert Water Ranch in March of 2009, birder Michael Moore found a Tennessee Warbler that I was able to refind and photograph.  It was actually my first rarity chase.  And to this day, I still have two Tennessee Warblers in Arizona, both from Gilbert in 2009.  With two eastern warblers under my belt for September 24th, 2009, I was safely able to say that my day was productive.  And my overall list for the morning was 81 different species, my best day list for Gilbert Water Ranch I have ever had to date.  But gosh, I needed to see that Prothonotary Warbler way better than I did!

I had it worked together in my plans to give the Warbler another shot after a patient wait and phishing-blue-in-the-face effort I gave the first time.  When I arrived at the camp spot, I didn't feel like I had the heat anymore.  The heat as in weather had become a huge factor, and it was sucking my energy away and was destroying my birding heat.  As it was getting much later in the morning, the variety of 81 different species at Ranch were starting to hunker down.  I went to the brush where I had the warbler and sat and stared and stared and stared.  The campspot had the rocks I was sitting on and brush in front of me, with the bench, trash can, and fire place behind me.  I started phishing, and the birds kept quiet.  It didn't seem like luck was on my side anymore, so I was deciding to call it quits.  My last option was the old heave-ho (basketball beyond half-court shot) and hail mary, which in birding is known as playback.  I got out my iPod and opened the birding application up, and I started to play the song of the Prothonotary Warbler for a few minutes.  As I stared and watched the brush in front of me, there was no Prothonotary Warbler.  Gosh, I was thinking the hope was done.  But then I glanced over my shoulder and looked behind me, and I caught movement from something on the trashcan.

I turned around and saw that there was a bird standing on the trashcan, and as I looked, I saw that it was the Prothonotary Warbler!  And it was right out in the open!  I was amazed and didn't believe what took place.  As I got my camera, the warbler flew off of the trashcan (darnit!), but it then flew up into an overhanging mesquite tree over the trashcan.  I managed to get video and video grabs of this rare-in-Arizona warbler, and it was a heck of a way to end my day at Gilbert Water Ranch.  This Prothonotary Warbler is a female bird.  Despite the fact that it is still striking, a male would be even more striking.  In swampy areas of the east that are surrounded by thick woodland, the Prothonotary Warbler makes it's breeding home.  It has been given the nickname, "Golden Swamp Warbler".

I left the Ranch as one happy birder that morning, which actually turned into an early afternoon.  When birders sit around the campfire or dinner table and tell crazy birding stories, this is one that often comes to mind when I share my stories.  This is certainly an all-time favorite story of mine.  And for the learning process that we all have as birders, a good lesson for this story is to study and study and study our field guides as often as we can.  We never know when reading a sentence out of a field guide can come in wonderfully handy the next day.  It helps to study a certain species or two extensively every day.  If you multiply that two by 365 days, than you can easily gain good knowledge for most of North America's fine avian life in only a year.  I have learned a lot since the Golden Surprise and I learn something new every day as a birder since then and will never stop learning.  The moral of this story shoes to study your field guides, because it may come in handy when golden surprises appear.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Patch and Local Birding

Other than the wonderful trip I recently took to Apache County's White Mountains, I have basically been keeping my birding patchy.  This has especially taken place at the Glendale Recharge Ponds and several areas southwest of Phoenix.  I learn a lot every day from visiting my Glendale Recharge Pond patch, and I'm blessed that I have it so close to home.  Since my last post regarding Glendale, I got a new bird at the ponds, which was a Burrowing Owl, my 199th bird for the location.  I haven't gotten another patch bird yet, so the list is still at 199.  Hopefully, 200 is right around the corner-what will it be?  But I managed to get a much better picture of my most recent "patcher".

My first Greater White-fronted Goose of the year made an appearance at the Glendale Recharge Ponds today.  This is a goose that I don't see very often at all, so the moment was an enjoyment.  My first ever Greater White-fronted Goose was actually at the Glendale Recharge Ponds and there was a flock of them that if I remember right, numbered over 10 birds.

The Greater White-fronted Goose is named for the white border on it's face and at the base of it's bill. 

And shorebirds.  Shorebirds.  Shorebirds!  You've gotta love shorebirds.  If you don't, well, I sure do.  I think I've gotten into shorebirds this year more than I ever had in the past.  With all of my visits to Glendale and several drives into the southwestern parts of Maricopa County to scan ponds, I learn more things about this wonderful and diverse group of birds than I ever have before.  One of my life birds and Arizona state additions this year came from a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper north of Flagstaff in the spring.  What, the spring?!  Until the discovery, Sharpies were unprecedented in Arizona and are as well in most of North America.  Birds can fly though.  Back onto the subject, birds can fly, and some can also make their own 360 waves.

This behavior is showed off by and is unique to Phalaropes.  The Red-necked Phalarope here as well as other phalarope species spin tirelessly in circles to bring insects to the waters surface.  This incredible method is what it takes for the Phalaropes to survive.  Right now, Red-necked Phalaropes are passing through Arizona in decent numbers, and the Glendale Recharge Ponds are usually a good place to observe them at this time of year.

The Red-necked Phalarope is one of three different Phalaropes.  Identification is straightforward.  Phalaropes have breeding and non-breeding plumages.  These Red-necked Phalaropes are in their non-breeding plumage.  Key features to look for are the black eyeline, white eyebrow and dark cap that gives the head a striped appearance, smaller bill than Wilson's Phalarope (which are often nearby for comparison), and a black back with white stripes on it.  In flight, Red-necked Phalaropes often give a weak call-note that is a medium-high, "kip" that is spaced out in notes.

Something I love about shorebirding is when there are multiple species together in one close view.  It gives great study and photograph opportunities.  There are four species in this frame.  From left to right, we have Long-billed Dowitcher, Stilt Sandpiper (upper left) sharing space with a Wilson's Phalarope, and the world's smallest shorebird on the right, the Least Sandpiper.

While Long-billed Dowitchers and Stilt Sandpipers are commonly seen in places like this, the Wilson's Phalarope isn't seen in spots like this very often.  Here, the Phalarope's life has been made a little easier.

In this next picture, is this just a flock of 4 Long-billed Dowitchers?  Look closely...notice anything different in one of them?

The one odd ball in flock that appears Dowitcher like is a Stilt Sandpiper.  They may appear very similar at first, but they are really two very different birds.  The Stilt Sandpiper is one of the oddest shorebirds out there.  They have combined characteristics of Yellowlegs and Dowitchers, but yet are a Calidris.

And the Stilt Sandpiper is one of my favorite shorebirds because it is very awesome despite it's oddness.

Ready for something really fun?  Lets go southwest of the Glendale Recharge Ponds to a dairy slop pond near Gila Bend.  I walk up to the elevated pond and find high numbers of shorebirds with four different species all together.  Despite the low species diversity, this group contained good numbers of Baird's and Pectoral Sandpipers, and the other two were numerous Least and several Western.  All four of the species can be seen in this photograph.  How many Pectoral and Baird's Sandpipers can you find in this picture?  Hint:  focus on leg color and size of the birds.

I love watching shorebirds fly in big flocks as they execute sharp left and right and u-turns in perfect fashion as a big group.

Most of the sandpipers are of course Least.  But in these two pictures below, the Leasts are photographed with a Baird's Sandpiper in one and with a Pectoral Sandpiper in the other.

A wastewater pond in Gila Bend has oddly held two Canvasback for the summer and now into the early fall.  Will this bird ever leave?  It's probably the only Canvasback in Arizona right now.

I went to Gila Bend in an unsuccessful chase at a rare in Arizona Reddish Egret.  Even though I've seen Reddish Egret in Maricopa twice, I thought it would be cool to see another one.  I worked the Egret into my plans of checking ponds and fields southwest of Glendale and then up to Glendale Recharge Ponds eventually on one of the days.  There was the reminder that any of these fields could be filled with White-faced Ibis!

Last and not even close to least, I ran across this Caspian Tern at the Glendale Recharge Ponds on one of my recent visits.  This tern is large and commanding, and is quite the treat to watch!

The remainder of this month shall bring more birding trips, I hope.  As for now, the patch birding has been routinely enjoyable!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Fall Birding Trip to Apache County, Arizona

Hi Everyone,

This past weekend, Gordon Karre and I explored the White Mountain region of Apache County.  We had three days worth of birding that lasted from September 13 through September 15th, 2014.  Our goal for the trip was to search for migrants in bodies of water as well as riparian areas.  We made many stops, and found a lot of birds during the trip.  Another goal was to increase our Apache County lists by exploring this expansive area.  It was a special trip for me, because I've always wanted to bird in the White Mountains in a time frame outside of July/early August, which I've done a lot of in 13 summers since 2000.  During this trip, birds were plentiful, and we had Wilson's and MacGillivray's Warblers literally everywhere.  While we wanted to explore further north into Apache County, 2.5 days wasn't enough time to cover everything, but we were able to cover a lot of ground in the White Mountains region itself.

The White Mountain Region in Apache County is epic.  This is my good friend Gordon Karre looking for birds at the Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area.  We took this trip in order to search for and find new birds for our Apache County list.  As my birding roots got started in Apache County, this was my first time ever of being able to bird it in another season outside of summer.  It was a huge deal for me!

On Saturday, September 13th, our first stop of the day was at the Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area.  This location has always proven to be dynamite for seeing a variety of different birds whenever I have given it a visit.  With fall migration in force, we were eager to see what Sipe had to offer.  And as expected, birds were everywhere and we tallied 63 species in just over three hours.  We hiked the easy difficulty three mile Rudd Creek Loop Trail, which goes out to McKay Reservoir.  The small lake was disappointingly dry, and had it had water, we probably would've had shorebirds and waterfowl to look at also.   Other than that, the birding was a blast.  The best find we had at Sipe were two GRASSHOPPER SPARROWS that were found well apart from one another.  We were surprised to find them here, as it wasn't a species that we were expecting to observe.  Abundant flocks of PINYON JAYS were also enjoyable to see and they seemed to be literally everywhere throughout Sipe.  Out of the 63 species, other highlights included NORTHERN HARRIER, 5 COOPER'S HAWKS, SORA, female WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER, 4 RED-NAPED SAPSUCKERS, a CLARK'S NUTCRACKER, 2 BANK SWALLOWS, a RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH by the visitor center in the many deciduous trees, NASHVILLE, MACGILLIVRAY'S, TOWNSEND'S, and WILSON'S WARBLERS; a big number of at least 25 GREEN-TAILED TOWHEES, BREWER'S and LARK SPARROWS, both MEADOWLARKS, and 2 YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS.  Sipe was very fun to visit, and it has a lot of awesome potential.

Grasshopper Sparrow!  We weren't expecting this one at all.  But I'm sure they are probably annual migrants through the White Mountains, especially with all of the grassy areas the region has to offer.

Pinyon Jays were everywhere at Sipe!

The Sipe Pinyon Jays seemed to come one after the other!

Male Brewer's Blackbird

Male Mountain Bluebird

Brewer's Sparrow, one of our many Apache County lifers.  An "Apacher"

Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area

We followed Sipe up with a visit to Becker Lake just north of Springerville.  A 50 minute visit produced a variety of species that included AMERICAN WIGEON, CINNAMON TEAL, NORTHERN SHOVELER, EARED GREBE, WHITE-FACED IBIS, NORTHERN HARRIER, LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE, MARSH WREN, and a flock of YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS.

Spotted Sandpiper snacking along the shore of Becker.

Loggerhead Shrike

Becker Lake

The next stop was at Wenima Wildlife Area, which is also close to Springerville and is a few miles northeast of Becker Lake.  There have been some very interesting birds here in the past (Groove-billed Ani, Thick-billed Kingbird to name a few), and we were hoping to find an interesting migrant of our own.  We didn't find any migrant surprises, but it was nice to see COOPER'S, SHARP-SHINNED, and a young SWAINSON'S HAWK.  Our best songbird migrant was a WILLOW FLYCATCHER.

Wenima Wildlife Area

Swainson's Hawk

From Wenima, we proceeded further north to Lyman Lake State Park, where we birded at for nearly four hours.  A lot of neat highlights and much needed exploring came from Lyman Lake.  The best highlight at Lyman Lake came when we found a juvenile SABINE'S GULL floating out on the lake.  We had it scoped and in view for a few minutes before a high-speed boat came down the lake and in the direction of the gull.  Luckily, this caused the gull to kick up and take flight, and we were treated to seeing it's distinctive wing pattern, which birders commonly refer to as a "flying field mark".  This was our best find of the trip and it was Gordon's life bird.  Another good highlight at Lyman Lake was finding a juvenile SANDERLING on the southeast corner of the lake., another nice surprise we weren't expecting.  The Sanderling eventually covered a lot of Lyman Lake just like we did, and popped up in other sections that we birded.  There were several other neat shorebirds around that included three SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS, AMERICAN AVOCET, 7 BAIRD'S SANDPIPERS, a flock of 9 WESTERN SANDPIPERS, and very high numbers of SPOTTED SANDPIPERS.  The highlights got better as 6-7 BLACK TERNS flew over the waters together and a single CASPIAN TERN made a visit as it flew from the west side of the lake to the east side of the lake.  The lake also held high numbers of NORTHERN SHOVELERS and NORTHERN PINTAILS, as well as 3 AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS and a single SNOWY EGRET.

To be honest, we at first started to think that Lyman Lake State Park was going to be a bust.  It seemed dead when we got there.  But at the east side of the lake, we found a very nice sized clump of birds.

The Sanderling was quite the shocker!  This is a juvenile bird, and Gordon and I both saw it at the same time.  It proved to be cooperative and we were both able to get pictures of this bird.  Sanderling is a rare but annual transient in Arizona.  I've seen them in Maricopa County probably 4-5 times, and this is obviously an Apache County first for me.  And more importantly, this was Gordon's state bird.

Sabine's Gull.  The second I saw this bird on the water I knew it was something good.  It was also Gordon's life bird.  This is a juvenile Sabine's Gull, the "brown one".

The Sabine's Gull is one of the most distinctive gulls in North America in all plumages, especially when it takes flight.  This pattern is seen in all ages and sexes on the Sabine's Gull.  Birders often refer to this gull as a "flying field mark".

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover-the mini shorebird

2 of the 6 Black Terns

Lyman Lake

After Lyman Lake, we headed south towards Alpine, where we got hit hard by rain in places during the last hour of daylight.  We decided to scan Luna Lake after Nelson Reservoir was pouring rain and wasn't showing signs of letting up.  As usual, Luna Lake had high numbers of expected waterfowl and grebes, and we spied highlights of PEREGRINE FALCON and two calling SORAS.  Luna Lake turned out to be our last stop for the first day, which resulted in 108 species between the stops.

Luna Lake

On Sunday, September 14th, we had another early start and headed from our staying place in Greer out to the Sunrise area before heading east to South Fork.  We took this route for an hour to observe the many Elk in the area, which are in the rut.  At one point, we stopped at one place in Sunrise where we had great views of the open grassland and a few herds of Elk out in them.  There were several bulls among them with huge racks.  We had great scope views and bugling from the bulls were coming in five different directions.  It was an amazing experience to watch and listen to, one I haven't enjoyed in a long time, and one of the most amazing sounds of the wilderness.  If one doesn't enjoy listening to Elk bugle and watch them at this time of year, then they really don't like nature!  As we were in the process of Elk searching, we did have a NORTHERN GOSHAWK briefly perched up in a tall tree by the Sunrise Lodge.  We didn't think it was going to be a Goshawk at first, so we opened up the car doors quickly to get out our binoculars, which spooked the bird.  Cool to see, but a perched view would've been awesome.

Elk herd.  Look at the Elk on the right, a huge bull.  The sounds of Elk bugles were coming from everywhere.

One large bull wandered in from the other direction, but no fights broke loose while we were watching.

We then headed east to the South Fork of the Little Colorado River, which is one of the best birding locations in the White Mountains.  We covered the river area by the bridge as well as the day use area up further by the trailhead and day use area.  There were very high numbers of migrants of several species such as WILSON'S and MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLERS and female WESTERN TANAGERS.  1-2 GRAY CATBIRD(S) vocalized along the river.  We had a good woodpecker fix as we had visuals of both WILLIAMSON'S and RED-NAPED SAPSUCKERS as well as a female DOWNY WOODPECKER that Gordon spied while we were driving over the river bridge.  There were also a few WHITE-THROATED SWIFTS flying over the area, HAMMOND'S and WILLOW FLYCATCHERS, and flocks of PINYON JAYS.  A CLARK'S NUTCRACKER was heard calling above the day use area.  39 species total at South Fork, a place that would be fun to bird on a regular basis!

White-tailed Deer

South Fork of the Little Colorado River

Willow Flycatcher

Our next stop was at the Grasslands Wildlife Area.  This area is another fun one to explore and bird.  For those who don't know, Long-billed Curlew and Mountain Plover have been found breeding here.  Although they are rare here at the same time, it is good to keep an eye out for them.  Grasslands Wildlife Area is of course dominated by grasslands, but a 2.6 mile loop trail through the area takes one through the area through pinyon-juniper as well as a few ponds and three different stands of cottonwoods.  Throughout the year, the cottonwoods and ponds are probably very good for migrants.  While we didn't find anything too noteworthy at the cottonwood stands and ponds themselves other than what we had observed already, finding a BURROWING OWL in it's natural habitat along one of the dirt roads in the area was very rewarding.  Grasslands Wildlife Area has a section where Burrowing Owl homes have been made, and this sighting was well away from that.  29 species were recorded here, and this is another great place to observe PINYON JAYS, as we had another big flock in this area also.

Apache County Burrowing Owl!

It's awesome to see the Burrowing Owl in it's natural habitat!

We then traced our route back over to the Sunrise Area and then south from Sunrise to explore Sunrise, Crescent, Big, and Lee Valley Lakes.  Sunrise Lake had an abundance of water birds from the central to east part of the reservoir.  We didn't have anything noteworthy here other than a leucistic CANADA GOOSE.  This lake has a lot of potential and birds come and go from previous reports I've read.  We then headed down to Crescent Lake.  Crescent Lake had a few highlights that consisted of our first AMERICAN PIPITS of the fall, PRAIRIE FALCON hunting along the shoreline, NORTHERN HARRIER, a WHITE-FACED IBIS, and a YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD.

Crescent Lake

Big Lake didn't have a lot of birds from what we were able to see on the lake other than a few COMMON MERGANSERS, but we did come up with a SWAINSON'S HAWK and a flock of 21 WHITE-FACED IBIS feeding in a marshy area.

Mountain Bluebird and Wolf facts

Mountain Bluebird at Big Lake

Big Lake

Our final stop in this area was at Lee Valley Lake.  The lake held a female BUFFLEHEAD and a short walk along the southeastern perimeter of the lake produced two GRAY JAYS.  A variety of forest birds were seen and heard in the adjacent forest.

We then spent the rest of the day in the Greer area birding for about four hours.  The Greer Lakes are always fun to bird, and a quick 45-minute jaunt gave us a good variety of birds that included NORTHERN SHOVELER, EARED GREBE, CLARK'S NUTCRACKER, and BANK SWALLOW.

Steller's Jay

Our next Greer stop was at Benny Creek, which is a very interesting birding location and it can be birded on both sides of Highway 373.  The riparian area along Benny Creek was full of common migrants, and an OLIVE WARBLER was heard in the area.  Things then got very interesting as I was looking through a dense tangle of coniferous trees and caught sight of a highly-vertical and "stick-like" perched LONG-EARED OWL.  We enjoyed the Owl for a few minutes before it flew off.  These owls are usually detected visually when they fly off, it was nice to actually spy it first for a change.

This could be passed off as a stick.  But no, look closer, it's a Long-eared Owl!

The Long-eared Owl was in it's camouflage posture when we first found it, and it was well aware of us the entire time.  One little accidental movement I made spooked the bird further into the woods.

This is now the Long-eared Owl's alert posture.  Both of the postures make this bird look like an entirely different bird.  The Long-eared Owl is awesome, and this was one of the trip's major highlights.

We then worked our way to the end of Greer and birded along the West Fork of the Little Colorado River while it was raining lightly.  Gordon noticed white Dipper wash on many of the rocks and we walked up the river a short distance and found a juvenile AMERICAN DIPPER.  Shortly after we found the Dipper, it broke out into continuous song, a song that is a very awesome one in my opinion.  Our last stop for the day came from the east side of River Reservoir which is a day use area accessed from County Road 1126.  Checking the lake from this angle gave us a PEREGRINE FALCON.  We finished our second full day on Sunday with 95 different species.

On Monday, September 15th, we had just over a half day to bird before heading back to Phoenix.  Our first stop of the day was another visit to Becker Lake.  After seeing Charlie Babbit's report of Dickcissels at the lake, we wanted to give them a shot as well as bird the lake early when activity was high.  We didn't see the Dickcissels, but we did have an abundance of birds as we birded around the parking area and walked along weedy areas for a half-mile along the lake's eastern perimeter.  Out of 38 species, highlights included 2 adult BALD EAGLES, SORA, PEREGRINE FALCON, LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE, MARSH, HOUSE, and BEWICK'S WRENS; female INDIGO BUNTING, and many YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS by the parking area.

Bald Eagles at Becker Lake

We than gave Wenima Wildlife Area another visit, and highlights there included a LEWIS'S WOODPECKER.  Our next stop was a second visit to Lyman Lake State Park.  As we had many highlights from our first visit, the second visit didn't produce very much.  We did have 4 LONG-BILLED CURLEWS at the east end of the lake, which was our best bird for this second visit.  Our first visit AMERICAN AVOCET count was 1, but this time it was 21.  The three AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS and SNOWY EGRET continued, as well as the presumably same juvenile SANDERLING and three SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS.  This visit showed how things could change by the day at water bodies like this.

American Avocets and American White Pelicans

American Avocets and Western Sandpipers

The final stop of our Apache County trip came from Concho Lake, which is another awesome body of water in this region that has a lot of potential.  Eric, Lauren, and David's recent epic Apache County trip and visit to this lake is what prompted Gordon and I to visit the location.  Other than the lake itself, there are stands of riparian trees and surrounding juniper habitat which could harbor a lot of different bird species.  We didn't see the shorebird variety that they saw, but we did have LEAST, WESTERN, and BAIRD'S SANDPIPERS all standing side-by-side for awesome comparisons.  A flock of nearly 200 COMMON RAVENS was also interesting to see.  Ducks on the water included BLUE-WINGED TEAL and a pair of REDHEAD.  Our best bird in the riparian stand was a flock of 14 CEDAR WAXWINGS.  Concho Lake was a good ending to our Apache County trip.  We detected 81 species altogether for this third day of birding in Apache.

Baird's, Western, and Least Sandpipers (left to right) feeding.

What a nice comparison between the three.

The tallest of the three can see one inch higher than the others.

Size difference is noticeable between these three "peeps".

Baird's Sandpiper

Concho Lake

Concluding, the trip was a major success for both of us as we simply wanted to bird this county at a different time of year other than summer and add species to our Apache County lists.  I got to bird at two locations I have never been before, and most of the area was new for Gordon.  As I've mentioned before, Apache is my favorite Arizona county and I hope to explore a lot more of it throughout the year in the future.  Too bad it isn't closer.  With the three days combined, Gordon and I found 143 species in the county, all from the White Mountain region.  If you haven't explored Apache yet, give it a trip, it's a real treat!!  Thanks Gordon for the awesome trip!

Baird's Sandiper and Western Sandpiper.  They were 2 out of 26 Apache County additions that I gained on this trip with 2.5 days of birding.  My Apache County list went from 172 species to 198 species.  The next trip will hopefully push me well above the 200 mark.  The 26 additions I added to my Apache County list were:  Wilson's Warbler, Townsend's Warbler, Bank Swallow, Brewer's Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Northern Harrier, White-faced Ibis, Northern Shoveler, Marsh Wren, Snowy Egret, American Avocet, Sanderling, Baird's Sandpiper, Sabine's Gull, Black Tern, Semipalmated Plover, Caspian Tern, Western Sandpiper, Hammond's Flycatcher, White-throated Swift, Burrowing Owl, American Pipit, Indigo Bunting, Bewick's Wren, Long-billed Curlew, and Cedar Waxwing.