Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Maricopa County Birding: Cacti, Rivers, Riparian, and Conifers

Hi Everyone,

Today I birded the Lower Salt River Recreation Area and then followed that up by a visit to Mount Ord.  Besides local birding and longer trips throughout the state, I haven't been to areas I love to bird that are further in Maricopa County where I usually love to go.  Because of that, today was extra fun, and there were some awesome birds to go along with it.

I started the morning off by spending over three hours of birding at an active Granite Reef Recreation Area.  As soon as I got out to bird, I heard the continuing RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH calling on the west side of the picnic area.  I was never able to see the bird during my time.  Things got interesting when I had a large mixed flock of songbirds mobbing what seemed to most likely be a small owl in a dense mesquite tree with mistletoe.  I wasn't able to see the reason for the mob, but in the mob was an adult female AMERICAN REDSTART.  It's always fun to see this bird, and she was actively fanning her tail and was moving around the area very actively.  Finding the Redstart was a good way to start my day.  Also in the mob were numerous RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS and "AUDUBON'S" YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS and also a single WARBLING VIREO and several HOUSE WRENS.  Throughout the morning, birds continued to squawk at whatever was hanging out in the dense clump.  Other highlights among 54 species of birds at Granite Reef included 12 AMERICAN WIGEON, 1 GREAT and 3 SNOWY EGRETS, 1 DOUBLE-CRESTED and 1 NEOTROPIC CORMORANT, 1 GREATER ROADRUNNER, 4 BELTED KINGFISHERS (early in the morning, three females were fighting with one another over perches, it was quite the scene to watch!), 2 VERMILION FLYCATCHERS, 1 GRAY FLYCATCHER in the parking area singing and calling, a silent "WESTERN-TYPE" FLYCATCHER, and 2 calling CRISSAL THRASHERS at different ends of the area.  Granite Reef is one of those awesome places that has bird activity that can change quickly by the hour, you never know what you may find!

American Redstart

The yellow-ish base of her secondaries indicate an adult bird.  I still have yet to see an adult male of this species.
This is a horrible photo, but this is all I really did need to document a Redstart!

The Lower Salt River.  Beautiful place and scenery.

Up next was another area along the Salt River that I like to go to, which isn't a public recreation site but is a riparian stretch along the Salt River that is between the old Foxtail and Sheep's Crossing Recreation Sites.  A wash full of tall willows is the reason for birding along this area.  The "Willow Wash" was rather quiet when I got there today, but I did detect my second RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH of the day.  This one was more cooperative than the one at Granite Reef and it was in close range for good views and photos.  Although extremely common but extremely awesome, I was treated to close views of several BLACK-THROATED SPARROWS on my way out.

1 of the lowland invasive Red-breasted Nuthatches

"Willow Wash".  A great place to look for migrants and other goodies.

The striking Black-throated Sparrow

Before exiting the Lower Salt River Recreation Area, I made a quick stop at Saguaro Lake.  A large raft of WESTERN GREBES were on the water, as were roughly 10 EARED GREBES and the usual yawners.  A signing ROCK WREN by the parking area overlooking the lake was the best sight.

Saguaro Lake

The Rock Wren lighting up the lake and it's coots and mallards

My final stop of the day came from a three hour exploration on Mount Ord on Forest Road 1688.  I thought I had something very interesting, as the call from either a Downy Woodpecker or a Ladder-backed Woodpecker was coming from the pine and oak forest above 6000'.  I've never had Downy in Maricopa County, so I was hoping for that bird.  The two species do sound almost identical, so I needed to see this bird to get a confirmation.  After I chased it for awhile, I wasn't able to locate it so I tried playback.  Within seconds, out flew a higher-than-usual LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKER from the pine forest.  It's the second time I've had a Ladder-backed Woodpecker at Mount Ord in pine habitat.  Hopefully that Downy will show up one of these falls or winters!  I did have two very awesome highlights at Mount Ord.  One of them was a NORTHERN PYGMY-OWL perched at the top of a tall pine tree, the first NPOW I've found on Mount Ord this year.  And any day where I get to see an Owl, I consider to be a great day!  The other cool highlight was a striking male OLIVE WARBLER at close range.  Mount Ord had 24 species total, not a lot species wise, but there were pretty good numbers birds throughout Road 1688.  Other highlights included ~10 ACORN WOODPECKERS, 4 HAIRY WOODPECKERS, ~15 NORTHERN FLICKERS, 1 DUSKY FLYCATCHER, 1 HUTTON'S VIREO, 15 WHITE-BREASTED and 4-5 RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES, 1 BROWN CREEPER, 2 HERMIT THRUSH, 2 RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROWS, 3 SPOTTED TOWHEES (in breeding season they are the most abundant bird on the mountain) and 13 PINE SISKINS.  A great day to be birding in Arizona!

Olive Warbler

Northern Pygmy-Owl

You've gotta love Mount Ord!

Good Birding,

Tommy DeBardeleben (Glendale, Arizona)

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This website features Birding in Maricopa County, my online guide for finding birds and birding locations in Maricopa County, Arizona.  This guide can help find birds in the Phoenix area and throughout Maricopa County.  Features of the guide include:  Over 100 birding hotspots divided by 13 birding areas in the county, hotspot links to eBird, directions, and tips of how to find over 260 of the regularly occurring birds in Maricopa County.  View this guide here-


  1. Most excellent finds with a brilliant shot of the Olive! Nice!

    1. Thanks Chris! It was a fun day out in the field with great birds and weather. I'm surprised with how the Olive Warbler pic turned out. That bird is always great anytime and anywhere!

  2. Incredible post and birds Tommy! Do you ever take it easy out in the field? The NPOW and Olive Warbler are something else, and you might be courted by field guide publishers for that shot of the Olive!

    Yawners - such a great term. I like how you guys never get tired of some of your species like the Black-throated Sparrow or Vermilion Flycatcher. Those were two of my prize birds from my trip to Phoenix last March.

    You do need to see a male American Redstart. Due to their relative abundance, they are a bit of a yawner here during migration and in the breeding season. Nevertheless, they are one of the most stunning warblers.

    1. Thanks Josh! I don't take it easy very often because I have huge fears of missing something awesome. I got very lucky on the Olive!

      Yawners are yawners (coots and mallards) but the VEFL and BTSP are always fun no matter what. Glad you got to enjoy them on your Phoenix expedition!

      I've been dreaming of seeing a male American Redstart for quite some time now. They are rarely found in Arizona, it's always females or 1st year males. But there is that first time for everything, and hopefully it's soon with that plumage!

  3. Man you didn't crush that OLWA you creamed it, threw it under a steam roller, smashed it, that last photo of the warbler is prabably the best I have seen!!! Amazing photos of the redstart as well (both eastern and western warblers crushed!), and nice find on that NPOW they are great!

    1. Thanks Caleb! I got very lucky with the Olive Warbler. He was active and was right above the trail luckily. The American Redstart was a nightmare in trying to get photos and I got very lucky with that one as well. I never get sick of seeing the Northern Pygmy-Owl!

  4. Holiest of Holy Craps dude that OLWA is amazing.

    I don't know what's going on. For some reason my blogger feed hasn't updated me on any of your posts in like 4 months, even when I delete and re-add your site to my feed. So i keep missing this stuff!

    1. Thanks Laurence! I got very lucky with the Olive Warbler shot. I was very shocked with how it turned out.

      That's weird that your blogger feed is acting that way. Sometimes mine acts up too. But I do post regularly still. For some reason I also can't figure out how to configure a setup for folks to subscribe to my Blog by email (frustrating!)