Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Searching for Plovers and Pipits

A few times every year, I like to venture south to bird at the Santa Cruz Flats in Pinal County.  The Flats are a great birding location, and are the only reliable location in Arizona to see wintering Mountain Plovers as well as Crested Caracaras year round.  Besides those two species, a handful of other birds are around and are present in the area, which harbors a variety of different habitats.  Recently, my buddy Mark Ochs found a Sprague's Pipit in the area which has caused a big stir and many birders to come and search the area in hopes of finding this bird.  I recently made a trip down to the Flats with my friend Dominic Sherony, who is back for his annual three months that he spends in Arizona.  Starting the day off with a Dominic sighting was a great kick-off!

Our two main targets were Mountain Plover and Sprague's Pipit.  We started off with looking for Mountain Plovers.  Luckily, we didn't have any problems finding them.  At first there was a smaller flock of 9 birds, and that quickly grew to 44 when more of them flew in from the south.

Seeing and studying these Mountain Plovers was a lot of fun.  I believe this is only my fourth observation I have ever had of the species.

Mountain Plovers then seemed to be everywhere.  Some were hallucinations from the mad parade, while others were clearly, Mountain Plovers.

This is a bird I haven't seen in Maricopa County yet.  Maricopa County has good habitat too, I think I'm due for a Maricopa County Mountain Plover soon...

In the area was also a pair of Burrowing Owls....

After finding Mountain Plovers, our next target and search was for the Sprague's Pipit, a small and elusive grassland bird.  This was my main target bird of the day, especially since I had only seen one Sprague's Pipit in my entire life prior to this attempt.  After Mark Ochs originally found the first Sprague's Pipit, Kurt and Cindy Radamaker and Caleb Strand decided to walk up the fields and they kicked up five more Sprague's Pipits, plus Mark's Sprague's Pipit.  Dominic and I were hoping to see these birds, well, at least one of them well.  We started to scan the grass for any movement as well as watch for any pipits that were about the be flushed up.  Once flushing a few birds, we saw where one of them landed..

It was our target, and we enjoyed looks at the Sprague's Pipit feeding, walking, and running through the dense grass.  Finding it in our camera viewfinders was an entirely different story!

The Sprague's Pipit may look like a streaked and drab big-eyed little bird to anyone, but for the birder, it is one of those birds that make this hobby fun.

As we continued to walk through the fields, we had at least six Sprague's Pipits as well.  We even had five of them flush in the same area as Kurt, Cindy, and Caleb all had a similar number together.  It was great to study the Pipits behavior, flight, and calls.  

Walking through the grass and fields with sneaky Sprague's Pipits was a fun thing to partake in.

We searched for other birds also, including the eastern warblers in the American Redstart and Black-throated Blue Warbler spilling over from last year.  We had the redstart but didn't have any luck with the Black-throated Blue Warbler.  A Summer Tanager that was found last year was also still around.  These birds are wintering, yes!  The only photograph I was able to get of anything was of a nice Vermilion Flycatcher.

After exploring throughout the Santa Cruz Flats area, we stopped at Arizona City Lake on the way home.  We found two drake Wood Ducks as well as this Greater White-fronted Goose.  Dominic said that this was the closest he has ever been to this goose species.

It was a great day of Pinal County birding at the Santa Cruz Flats.  Thanks to Dominic for an awesome day!


  1. That is a heck of a lot of MOPLs! Never seen that many at once and they did not appear to be so distant as you got some great photos. Awesome photos of the SPPI as well. My viewing experience was less than stellar on this species. Great post!

  2. Great birds, Tommy, and in good numbers too! You need to stop posting about such awesomeness, especially in Pinal County, because you are making me want to go in all kinds of different directions when I come down!

  3. Wow, you guys got great looks at the MOPLs! I still need to see that bird, but hopefully I will find one soon. Great job on finding all of the Sprague's too!