Thursday, February 5, 2015

The First Hardcore Day of 2015

Hi Everyone,

Yesterday on February 4th, 2015, Caleb Strand and I explored the eastern side of Maricopa County and visited Sunflower and Mount Ord on the north and we then followed that to visits to Coon Bluff Recreaton Area on the Salt River and Gilbert Water Ranch further south.  It was a very pleasant day of birding by the day's end with awesome weather and of course, awesome birds!

We arrived at our first stop at Sunflower at 7:40 A.M., where we spent nearly two hours actually north of Sunflower by walking up the Old Beeline Highway.  From the start we had an abundance of birds throughout the entire area, with several surprises.  Upon getting out of the vehicle, we were shocked to have a flock of roughly 30 EVENING GROSBEAKS flying overhead.  The grosbeaks were flying south of the area we parked at (dead end at the end of the road through Sunflower, which is accessed on the west side of the Beeline Highway/Highway 87 at mile marker 218) and they kept going until they landed further south and out of sight.  With the Evening Grosbeaks giving their loud call notes in flight and seeing the white secondaries on the wings and the male's bright yellow coloration in this flock, it really caught our attention.  About a minute later, another flock of about 20 Evening Grosbeaks flew past us and headed south before turning around and circling a few times close to our location before dropping down out of sight.  I managed to get a photograph showing 17 of the Evening Grosbeaks in one frame.

After having these sightings take place, we found 15-20 more Evening Grosbeaks throughout the 1.5 miles we hiked up the Old Beeline Highway.  It was an amazing thing to see, and I believe 20 is the most I have seen of this species in a day in Flagstaff last year.  Caleb and I were shocked at the numbers of these birds, and we were hoping to locate the two that were found by Troy Corman last week and we weren't expecting to find any beyond that.  For a total number of Evening Grosbeaks, I would estimate at least 60 birds in the area as a safe count, most likely more.  Besides the Grosbeaks, we had several other highlights.  CASSIN'S FINCHES were also in the area in good numbers, and Caleb and I estimated 40-50 birds.  It seemed as if these two finch species were everywhere.  Caleb and I would regularly look up on bare tree branches near the tops of trees and kept finding more and more.

Another interesting highlight was hearing a BLACK-CHINNED SPARROW singing on a slope right above our location.  Other highlights we had at this A.B.A. (Abundant Bird Area) among 43 species were SHARP-SHINNED HAWK, RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER, HUTTON'S VIREO, BRIDLED and JUNIPER TITMOUSE, CANYON WREN, TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE, abundant AMERICAN ROBINS (I'm sure a Varied Thrush is there somewhere), WESTERN BLUEBIRDS, CEDAR WAXWINGS, and more.

One of the coolest sights from the morning was finding a drinking spot where many birds were coming down to drink.  At one point several female Evening Grosbeaks drank in front of us and they were joined by American Robins, Cassin's Finches, and Cedar Waxwings.

The non-avian highlight was a Coues White-tail!

From Sunflower, we ventured shortly to the northeast and up to Mount Ord.  We spent over three hours and most of our time at Mount Ord by hiking down Forest Road 1688.  This pleasant forest road travels south for about two miles, and it is accessed when one reaches the first stand of pine trees when coming up the main dirt road up to Mount Ord.  As usual, Mount Ord was a pleasant place to bird at.  Caleb and I were expecting to get Evening Grosbeaks and Cassin's Finches at Mount Ord after the Sunflower numbers, but shockingly, we didn't have one of either species.  We did get two other finches, with 15-20 RED CROSSBILLS and 4-5 PINE SISKINS.  Our main highlight at Mount Ord was finding a GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET, which was a life bird for Caleb and a location first for me.  Near the Golden-crowned Kinglet was also a nice male OLIVE WARBLER.  Other highlights we had at Mount Ord among 26 species recorded were 3 ACORN WOODPECKER, 2 male RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER, 4 HAIRY WOODPECKER, 4 HUTTON'S VIREO, BRIDLED and JUNIPER TITMOUSE, 8 WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH, ~12 PYGMY NUTHATCH, 2 BROWN CREEPER, WESTERN and MOUNTAIN (3) BLUEBIRDS, and a Tarantula.

After Mount Ord, we went to bird the Lower Salt Recreation Area at Coon Bluff to search for the recently and seen-by-many Harris's Sparrow.  Despite a good effort and two hour search, we came up empty on locating the large sparrow.  Many species were present at the site though, and our best highlight came from finding a flock of CEDAR WAXWINGS up very close and perched rather low in a few mesquite trees.

From the Salt River, we spent our last two hours of the full birding day at Gilbert Water Ranch.  Gilbert Water Ranch was an A.B.A. (Abundant Bird Area) as usual, and we recorded 57 species in the time span from 4:30 to 6:30.  Our best highlight here was the continuing BROWN THRASHER at the southern side of the path that goes between ponds 3 and 4.  It frequented the east side of this path most of the time that we observed it and it crossed over to the west side after being chased by an aggressive Northern Mockingbird.  As expected, the Thrasher was a skulker and was hard to observe in the open for any consecutive amounts of time.  Luckily, we had a few good looks during the time before it lurked back into the dense vegetation.  This was Caleb's first ever look at a Brown Thrasher and it gave him a two lifer day.  Other highlights at Gilbert Water Ranch included the continuing GREEN-WINGED X CINNAMON TEAL hybrid in Pond 4, HOODED MERGANSER drake in pond 2, COOPER'S and HARRIS'S HAWKS, 2 SORA, AMERICAN AVOCET, WILSON'S SNIPE, PEREGRINE FALCON, etc.

It was a great day to be out birding and it's been awhile since I've put in a full day of birding.  Our final tally was 110 species between the four awesome places we visited that really give incredible avian diversity.  Thank you Caleb for an awesome day of birding.


  1. What an awesome day!

    I've got a friend coming into town next weeks wanting mountain birds and we were looking at a trip to Flagstaff, but most of his coveted birds are showing up in bigger numbers down here right now! What is a birder to do??

  2. Thanks Laurence!

    I would see if these birds in Sunflower stick around and if they do I would try there. It was amazing, I've never seen this many Evening Grosbeaks. They seemed to really like the food off of the junipers. We were shocked that we didn't find any on Mount Ord.

  3. Great gobs of Grosbeaks! Awesome!

    Keep those Ord/Sunflower/Coon Bluff posts coming! I'm reading them with a keen interest...

    1. Thanks Josh! It was incredible, I never expected it to happen in numbers like that..

      I'm sure posts will keep coming, three of my favorite areas to bird. A guarantee!

  4. The thanks goes to you Mr. Tommy, that's gotta be one of the best days of birding i've ever had! You got some amazing photos, deffinetely beat mine.

  5. Very nice gentlemen. Lots of great birds around these areas right now. Love the sightings of the 3 drinking from the puddle. That is awesome! Hope you are having a good week.