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.
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.
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.
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.