Monday, January 23, 2017

2017's Early Going

Heidy Ho, Birding Neighbors!  After completing two Big Years in 2016 I have been doing great.  I'm relaxing!  I'm still out birding but it's at a much more relaxed pace without any crazy goals in mind.  Yet anyways.  Crazy goals will be coming soon I think...

I'm still thinking about my major birding goals for this year.  Sometimes it takes me awhile to figure such out.  I am brainstorming some ideas.  In the meantime, here are a few cool birds I have seen to start off 2017.

Remember the Long-tailed Duck from the Glendale Recharge Ponds in 2016?  Well, he's still present!  I'm very impressed that this duck has hung around my patch for as long as he has.

Jim Ripley found an impressive adult Trumpeter Swan in Buckeye.  This thing is huge, but it's hard to get close to because it is on private property.  I've seen the thing twice this year already.  It's been the most reliable Trumpeter Swan in Maricopa County's history and is the County's third record.  I got to see the first record in 2015 but the bird's were hit and miss for many people.  The second record was discovered on private property.  And this record, well, this record resulted in this huge bird staying put in one field for a few weeks.  Almost everyone who got to see it went away glad.  Too bad this bird didn't show up a few weeks earlier, and then it could've been a part of my Maricopa County Big Year of 2016!

Black Vulture, Dean and Beloat Riparian Area.  For some reason this Vulture is always cool to me.

One of the best highlights for me this year was watching a pair of White-tailed Kites.  Caleb Strand and I enjoyed this bird up close, and the two of us also found these birds in 2016.  These White-tailed Kites have hung around in a field in the Buckeye area reliably and many other birders have made trips to go and see them.  The White-tailed Kite is one of my favorite raptors, and they can entertain!

Caleb Strand relocated this Rusty Blackbird at Coon Bluff Recreation Site along the Lower Salt River.  This is an awesome bird in it's basic plumage.

One day I decided to do a hardcore Pinal County birding day, and I went to the Santa Cruz Flats looking for Pinal County lifers.  I got 6 of those birds out of about 12 that I was hoping for, and it was a neat day despite the fact that it was raining a lot of the time.  Along the Santa Cruz River there is a Louisiana Waterthrush that has returned for a second straight winter.  As I got to see it last winter, why not see it again this winter.  This bird has treated me well lately.  I got to enjoy this one up close, and we can't forget about the one I got to see in Maricopa County last year!

That's pretty much it for now.  And, before I head off, here are a few things I want to accomplish this year for my birding in 2017:

I want to explore more, more, and more.  Maricopa County a ton, other counties a lot (but not a ton), and other states some.

I want to gain five more Maricopers this year.  A Maricoper is a Maricopa County life bird.  If Yellow-rumped Warbler is split into two like anticipated, I could take some extra time off for searching ;)  Anyways, 390 would be exciting to hit this year.  My Downy Woodpecker search that I want to do may have to wait a few weeks due to snow and mud everywhere after recent storms of rain and snow.  Maybe this is the year I'll finally get that dumb Mexican Whip-poor-will in Maricopa County.

I want to see more Owls.  Owls outside of Arizona especially...

I want to hit over 100 species in La Paz County, Mohave County, and Greenlee County.  Then, I'll have 100 species in every Arizona County.

I want to gain get over 200 species in two other counties this year in Arizona.  I have 183 for Pinal for one of them, and the next highest is Coconino at 138 and Gila at 137.  I think Gila can be doable.  Then I'd have 8 Counties in Arizona with 200 species or more.

I wanna see a Jaeger.  It doesn't matter which kind, I want to see a Jaeger.  They are some of the coolest birds.  I wanna see a Jaeger.

I wanna pioneer bird and find my own epic hotspot, find a good bird at that hotspot, and get other birders to start birding that hotspot.

I don't want to do any sort of Big Year.

And last but not least:  There's been Rose-throated Becards reported the last two years in Arizona.  A pair of them are being seen NOW.  It's about time I should chase one of them....

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Maricopa County Big Year 2016

I love birding in Maricopa County, Arizona.  It is my obsession, and my birding life.  Everything about birding in this County is epic to me.  Maricopa County has the most diverse of habitats, and to go along with it, it has an amazing selection of birds.  During a day of birding in the County, one could be in the hottest and driest of deserts to begin a day and then by the end of the day, one could find themselves sitting in a forest full of Douglas fir and ponderosa pine.  There are many habitats between these two mentioned, and there are a plethora of epic locations to bird at in Maricopa County.  Some are birded daily, some are birded some, and some are birded very rarely.  And I know that there are still some that haven't been birded at all.  I love to bird all of them, and I am proud of my birding home of Maricopa County, the region I am obsessed with.

Back in 2000, I became a birder for the first time.  I didn't know the difference between a warbler and a sparrow when I first started, but that's why we all start.  My birding life began in the White Mountains in Apache County, Arizona, due to the spark of a fishing Osprey.  From 2000-2008 I birded every year during family vacations to the White Mountains and at times throughout the year in Maricopa County.  I didn't understand much about status and distribution about birds back then, but in 2009 that all changed when I subscribed to the Birding Listserv.  During 2009, I became a student of birding.  I was in the field constantly, I studied my field guide under my desk at work when I should have been working, I studied at home, I listened to bird songs on my CD player instead of rock songs a lot of times.  I became obsessed with birding.  And that obsession went statewide during 2009 when my lifelist of my first eight years of birding suddenly went from 220 species to over 300 species in an 80 lifer year during 2009.

Wood Stork.  My first good discovery for Arizona birding.  This was at Gilbert Water Ranch in August 2009.

Back in 2000, I checked out a book by my house in Glendale, Arizona at the Glendale Public Library.  It was a book called, The Birds of Phoenix and Maricopa County, Arizona.  I looked through the book to mainly find birding locations to bird at, but I was also impressed with the bar graphs, the number of species seen in Maricopa County, and the pictures in the back of the book at all of the rarities that have been seen in Maricopa County.  While I wasn't a Maricopa County birder at that time, that book got me interested in many of the Phoenix locations.  As we all know, that book is written by the epic Janet Witzeman, the founder of Maricopa County birding.  Because I was a teenager at the time, I didn't really pay much attention to the authors of the book because I didn't think I'd ever meet any of them.  I didn't think I'd ever see many of the birds listed in the book, especially the rarer ones.  Little did I know, but I was completely wrong on both of those thoughts.  When I got serious about birding in 2009, I met many many birders including Janet Witzeman herself, and I got to see many many birds, including some of those rare ones featured in the back of the Maricopa County book.

After 2009's rookie year of hardcore birding and after establishing myself as a serious hardcore birder and student of birding, I needed a location to define my birding efforts when 2010 came around.  It didn't take me long to become intrigued and to become most interested in focusing my primary birding efforts on Maricopa County.  Reading Janet's book really got me more interested in birding the County, and I wanted to take on the challenges of it.  From 2010 on, I've birded Maricopa County constantly.

At the beginning of 2010, I had spent the first two months mainly birding in Maricopa County.  When a County record and my life Green Kingfisher showed up at Hassayampa River Preserve in an incredible vagrancy route in March 2010, I really got hooked on Maricopa County birding at that point.  I even decided to do a Maricopa County Big Year right after that.

By reading through Janet Witzeman's book, her writings inspired me to do such.  In 1974, eight birders, including Janet, decided to work on a Maricopa County Big Year, also called a Maricopa County Year list.  This was when County birding was till very new, and when technology wasn't very strong as it is today.  The eight birders worked together to bring fourth knowledge to the region about status and distribution of birds, as well as see how many birds each individual could get.  The eight birders, Janet Witzeman, Scott Terrill, Bix Demaree, Helen Longstreth, Bob Norton, Bob Bradley, Zona Brighton, and Gene Bauer accomplished incredible things in their heavy pursuit of birds around the county, and Scott Terrill finished the year with the most birds in the county that year with 284 species, 315 were combined among everyone.  This number impressed me, especially since internet wasn’t an option back in 1974.  They had to communicate by phone, and I was blown away by this year list I was reading about that Janet wrote.  So I decided to attempt a Maricopa County Big Year in 2010.  The year was epic, and I chased and discovered many neat birds.  While I didn't know if I would surpass 284 at first or not was a big mystery, but I loved every second of my Big Year.  It was surprising throughout the year how much the Birding Listserv and technology can play into things.  When 2010 was all said and done, I finished my Maricopa County Big Year with 305 species.  It was that fun, that I decided to do another Maricopa County Big Year in 2011.  At the end of that Big Year, I had finished with 313 species.  During that year, I learned more and more about Maricopa County's diverse nature.  The next four years, 2012-2015, I didn't do any Big Years in Maricopa County, but I birded the county relentlessly in search of new Maricopa County life birds.  At the end of 2011, my life list for the County numbered 345 birds.  In 2012, I added 5 birds to that total, in 2013 I added 8 birds to the total, in 2014, 9 birds, and in 2015, 8 more birds.  Before 2016 started, my Maricopa County Life list had reached 375 species.  After I did Big Years in the County in 2010 and 2011, there were a few others who started to do Big Years but never really finished them.  But then Caleb Strand came along, and he did a Maricopa County Big Year in 2015, and he reached an impressive 303 species.  All of this came from a 16 year old kid who didn't have his own vehicle!

Two rarities I discovered at the Glendale Recharge Ponds during my second Maricopa County Big Year in 2011.  Mew Gull (left) and Glaucous-winged Gull (right).  The Glaucous-winged Gull showed up before the Mew Gull, and when I found the Mew Gull, both birds were sitting side-by-side.  I can remember thinking that I was seeing things when I noticed the gull looked a little Mew...

Eastern Bluebird in 2011.  One of my best discoveries in Maricopa County, because it was a first county record.  It was also during my 2011 Big Year.

During those four years, I birded Maricopa County more and more to the extent that I understood more about the County every year and I was learning new things constantly.  One of those aspects were how to find the owls in the County's higher elevations.  Another was how to hit many ponds in day successfully during peak shorebird migration.  Timing of certain migrants was another.  New hotspots came about.  I was generously given a great scope and a great camera.  We had an array of great birders who were new to Maricopa County start birding in the region.  Once 2016 came around, I entertained the idea of another Big Year at the beginning of the year and I eventually went for another Maricopa County Big Year.  My interest in the attempt went back-and-fourth at first due to another Big Year I was doing, a North American Owl Big Year.  After I saw and photographed all of North America's Owls by mid-August, I had the rest of 2016 to work on a Maricopa County Big Year.  I started off 2016 strong for Maricopa County listing, lost interest, and then got back into it strongly again at the end of April.  My 17th owl out of the 19 owls in North America crossed paths with me, and it wouldn't be until the end of May until I would try for more owls.  That month helped me take off again, as well as the first two weeks of 2016, when I chased a plethora of rarities around Maricopa County.  Most of these early rarities were wintering and lingering birds from 2015.  After mid-August when Boreal Owls completed my Owl Big Year, the rest of the year focused on doing a Maricopa County Big Year, which would be the third one I have done since 2010.

Doing a Big Year in Maricopa County, just like a Big Year in any other geographical region, requires planning and strategy.  It involves studying when and where different species are going to show up.  Searching for rare species are most often found be scanning mixed flocks of birds or by birding slowly in good habitats.  As I mentioned before, these years of birding the County since my last Big Year in 2011 really aided in my knowledge base of where and when to find specific birds.  It makes it easier to knock out multiple species on one trip rather than having to make a lot of repeat trips in a lot of circumstances.  Maricopa County has it's plethora of habitats.  A variety of lowland desert habitats result in seeing species like Le Conte's Thrasher, Bendire's Thrasher, wintering Sage Sparrows, all of the common desert birds such as Gambel's Quail, Verdin, Curve-billed Thrasher, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Gilded Flicker, and more.  Remote corners of the county harbor limited habitat sequences.  The Vekol Valley in an extreme corner of southern Maricopa County has mesquite desert with tall grass, which supports a local population of Rufous-winged Sparrows.  Maricopa County supports many ponds that range from smelly dairy sludge ponds to the massive basins at the Glendale Recharge Ponds.  These water holding basins attract a variety of waterbirds that include geese, ducks, gulls, terns, and a variety of shorebirds.  Checking the many ponds during shorebird migration is vital for doing a Big Year.  Maricopa County hosts 4 big reservoirs, including Lake Pleasant, that are vital for finding loons, grebes, ducks, gulls, and more.  There are many urban lakes and ponds in housing developments and parks within Maricopa County that also attract a variety of waterbirds.  Agricultural fields in the County support a variety of raptors, Sandhill Cranes, shorebirds such as Long-billed Curlew, White-faced Ibis, and sparrows.  The County hosts a significant amount of riparian habitats at the lowest elevations in the County all the way up to the highest elevations in the County.  The Hassayampa River Preserve is a good example of lowland riparian habitat, as it attracts breeding populations of Gray and Red-shouldered Hawks, Tropical Kingbird, Willow Flycatcher, and more.  Typical breeders of lowland riparian habitats in Maricopa County include Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Yellow Warbler, Summer Tanager, Blue Grosbeak, and more.  Man-made demonstration wetlands have been created at several places and parks within the County, such as Tres Rios Wetlands and Gilbert Water Ranch.  These are perhaps two of the best places to bird in the County.  Above the Lower Sonoran desert is the Upper Sonoran zone, where the vegetation changes to chaparral, juniper, and more above 3000'.  Riparian trees consist more of willow, cottonwood, ash, and sycamore at these elevations.  Common Black Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, Cassin's Kingbird, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Black-chinned Sparrow, and Gray Vireo are some examples of birds found in these habitats.  Sunflower and Seven Springs are two good examples.  The County also has a fair amount of Transition Zone habitats within it's reaches, which include the ponderosa pine and oak forests of Mount Ord, Four Peaks, and the Reavis Ranch area of the Superstition Mountains.  Slate Creek Divide is a great exception to these high elevations for Maricopa County, as it is dominated by Douglas fir and also has plenty of pine, oak, and sycamore down it's remote drainages.  Typical birds found in these areas include all three Nuthatches, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Hairy and Acorn Woodpeckers, Plumbeous and Hutton's Vireos, Painted Redstart, Olive, Grace's, Virginia's, and Black-throated Gray Warblers, and Hepatic Tanager.  Local species in the areas include Spotted, Flammulated, and Northern Saw-whet Owls; Dusky-capped Flycatcher, and Mexican Jay.  With the plethora of habitats Maricopa County has to offer throughout it's huge range, there is great potential in each habitat for a variety of birds that range from very common to extremely rare.  That is what I love about Maricopa County and that is what makes attempting a Big Year epic.

The Summary

Every Big Year has a lot.  This summary will explain and show what I saw and recorded each month during my Big Year.  


When doing a Big Year, January is a great month for such because of the rarities that linger from the previous year into your current year.  And 2015 had plenty of great rarities discovered at the end of that year.  It helped me get off to a great jump start!

On January 1st, I decided the first bird I was going to go after was going to be a pair of Rusty Blackbirds at Coon Bluff Recreation Area on the Lower Salt River.  However, I knew that the Rusty Blackbirds wouldn't be the very first bird that I would see in 2016 in Maricopa County.  When I made a stop for gas at a Tempe QuickTrip, the first bird of the year was none other than the Great-tailed Grackle.  Rock Pigeons came quickly in at 2 and a surprise 3 for the location were several Rosy-faced Lovebirds.  Once at Coon Bluff I started to make my way downstream from the camping area where the Rusty Blackbirds had been frequenting.  I ran into Jeremy Medina from Tucson and we teamed up for the Blackbird search.  Many other birders had the same idea as we had too for starting the year off on a good note with a rarity.  44 species were present at Coon Bluff in the 1.5 hours spent there, including both Rusty Blackbirds.   The Rusty Blackbirds were cooperative for the many birders present.  One Rusty Blackbird was originally discovered at Coon Bluff in November 2015 and towards the end of 2015, Tom Lewis found a second Rusty Blackbird with the original bird.

As I watched the Blackbirds, I photographed a funny scenario.  I caught a Great-tailed Grackle and Rusty Blackbird flying together, which showed the first bird I saw in 2016 and the first bird I chased in 2016, both in the same picture together.

Other birds at Coon Bluff among the 44 included Northern Pintail, Ring-necked Duck, Green-winged Teal, Cooper's Hawk, Bald Eagles, Sora, Wilson's Snipe, Greater Roadrunner, Belted Kingfisher, Gilded Flicker, Crissal Thrasher, Cedar Waxwing, abundant Phainopepla, and Northern Cardinal.

After the Salt River I made my way over to Scottsdale Ranch Park where Lake Serena is to check on a wintering Red-breasted Sapsucker that arrived at the many pines and mesquites within that park in fall of 2015.  My first Osprey of the year was hunting over Tempe Town Lake as I made my way over to Scottsdale.  Once I arrived at Scottsdale Ranch Park, I lucked into seeing the Red-breasted Sapsucker quickly as another birder was already on the source.  The birder left as I was coming almost, and I got to enjoy up close views of the RBSA for quite awhile.

My last stop of the day came at Tres Rios Overbank Wetlands where I was in pursuit of a Yellow-throated Warbler that spent most of December in a row of cottonwoods on the site.  It would be a great bird to add to 2016, but unfortunetely it had moved on and wasn't seen again after 2015.  Tres Rios had it's usual variety of birds which included a variety of ducks, Least Bittern, American White Pelican, Virginia Rail, Loggerhead Shrike, and Yellow Warbler.  I ended that day of January 1st with 82 species.

On January 2nd, I woke up and headed to Tempe's Kiwanis Park.  I was in pursuit of a wintering male Williamson's Sapsucker that frequented a line of pine trees in the park.  It didn't take me long to find the neat woodpecker, and 2 days into 2016 I already had 2 rare sapsuckers and I didn't even have a Red-naped Sapsucker to go along with them yet.  Male Williamson's Sapsuckers are showy and always capture attention from observers.  Rosy-faced Lovebirds also gave quite the show during my visit at Kiwanis also.

From Tempe I went to the southwestern part of Maricopa County with White-tailed Kite as my main target, which I didn't get.  Driving through the Arlington area and throughout the Old US 80 I found White-faced Ibis, Ferruginous Hawk, Sandhill Crane, Long-billed Curlew, Prairie Falcon, Mountain Bluebird, Yellow-headed Blackbird and Eastern Meadowlark to get my agriculture field birding underway for 2016.

A stop at the Thrasher Spot gave me Bendire's Thrashers and great looks at both Bell's and Sagebrush Sparrows.  I couldn't find any Le Conte's Thrashers during this first visit to this area.

My last stop on January 2nd were at fields at the northeast corner of 107th Avenue and McDowell.  Hundreds of geese were present in the fields, mainly Canada Geese.  I was able to pick out 2 continuing "Aleutian" Cackling Geese from 2015 as well as 3 "Richardson's" Cackling Geese as well as a single Greater White-fronted Goose in midst of the Canada Goose mass.  The count of 5 Cackling Geese really surprised me, and it was fun to study up on them.  At the end of January 2nd, I had reached 106 species.

On January 4th I chased a few uncommon birds at the Glendale Recharge Ponds, which is the best hotspot that is close to my house.  A variety of ducks and other waterbirds are always there in January, and this day was no different.  Highlights included Western and Clark's Grebes, two Dunlin, and a rarity and my main target in the form of a Herring Gull.

A report came into eBird on the night of January 4th about a male Varied Thrush being found at Skunk Creek, another location close to home.  I along with several others chased it on the 5th, and luckily, this stunning bird was still present in the morning in dense riparian habitat along the creek.  It was rainy and cloudy out, which was perfect Varied Thrush weather.  This was only my second ever VATH for Maricopa County and third overall period and this bird gave me better looks than the other previous two combined did.

Things got even better when I was looking at the VATH when I looked up to discover my own rarity in the shape of a female Purple Finch!  Many birders came over the next few days to see both the Varied Thrush and my personal discovery in the Purple Finch.  The winter of 2015/2016 was very good for Purple Finch in Arizona, and the bird at Skunk Creek was probably there for quite awhile before it was found by me.

On January 6th, the chase for another rarity very close to me came when I went to see a known Eurasian Wigeon at Dos Lagos Park in Peoria.  This bird wintered at this park for several consecutive years, and was one that I was able to count on being there.  Along with the EUWI, waterfowl in the area included Hooded Mergansers and a stunning flock of over a thousand Common Mergansers.

On January 8th, I made my way out to Gilbert to bird at Gilbert Water Ranch with Sean Fitzgerald, Ryan O'Donnell, and Tyler Loomis.  We were targeting several rarities such as American Redstart, a few Black-and-white Warblers, and a Ruddy Ground-Dove.  The two warblers ended up showing well, but our party missed the Ruddy Ground-Dove after a long search.   At this point in my interest of doing another Maricopa County Big Year, I grew tired.  I had forgotten how striking out can really make you feel burned out.  After successfully chasing a lot of rarities to start the year off, I had forgotten what it had felt like to strike out after waiting for hours.  I kinda lost interest in the run pretty quickly, but I was still planning to bird a lot!

Later that day, I birded with Melissa Okimoto at Veterans Oasis Park.  We saw a male Greater Scaup that had continued from 2015, and we also saw another American Redstart as well as a year first Great Horned Owl.

A trek up to Hassayampa River Preserve on January 15th produced both Red-shouldered Hawk and a White-throated Sparrow.  The latter was foraging in the picnic area while the hawks are residents in the area.

A Northern Waterthrush at Veterans Oasis Park was a big surprise on January 19th.  I went along with Sean Fitzgerald to make sure it wasn't a Louisiana Waterthrush, which would be much rarer than NOWA in Maricopa County but actually more likely than NOWA in the winter.  It turned out to be a Northern.  A Swamp Sparrow made a close appearance for the birders during that morning also.

My first Le Conte's Thrasher of the year came from the Thrasher Spot on January 22nd.

The day was productive for not only Le Conte's, but for Crissal and Bendire's Thrashers too.

On January 23rd, I saw two scarce shorebirds in the winter for Maricopa County, a Semipalmated Plover and Western Sandpiper.  Later that night I had a Barn Owl calling and flying over my apartment complex.

On January 25th, I found a Lark Bunting in a field in my neighborhood, a species I didn't think I'd find by my house.

For January, I recorded 158 species of birds in Maricopa County.  The month started strong as I chased many rarities around the County, which would prove to be big by the end of 2016.


At the end of January, I went to Minnesota for a birding trip to primarily focus on owls.  I got very wrapped up into owls that a plan came about that I would attempt a North American Owl Big Year.  My Maricopa County birding really got put on hold as I started to travel around looking for different owls.  

A Barrow's Goldeneye showed up at Surprise Community Park while I was in Minnesota.  I chased it when I found out about it on February 2nd.  Even though I was exhausted from Minnesota and didn't want to leave the house, I forced myself to chase the BAGO.  Once at the park, I found Steve Hosmer there to say it was gone.  After saying some bad words, I saw my first year bird for February in a Canvasback and stormed out of the park.

There were only 2 more birds I added to my Maricopa County list in February, a White-tailed Kite hovering over Gila Bend fields on February 13th and many Western Screech-Owls on February 24th.  The list at the end of February was 161 species for Maricopa County.


March can be an interesting month for birding in Arizona.  Many of the wintering birds are starting to leave, but some of the breeders are starting to arrive.  Migration can start to get interesting in many habitats during March also..

March's first bird addition was a flock of 6 Snow Geese with some dark morph birds in the flock.  This came on the 2nd of March near Lower River Road Ponds near Buckeye.

Dominic Sherony and I made a trip up to the ponderosa pine and oak forests at Mount Ord along Forest Road 1688 on March 5th.  This would be my first high elevation birding in Maricopa County for the year.  The trip was a success as we found highlights of Northern Pygmy-Owl, Acorn and Hairy Woodpeckers, White-breasted and Pygmy Nuthatches, Western Bluebird, Olive Warbler, Painted Redstart, and Black-chinned Sparrows.

On March 12th, Melissa Okimoto and I joined forces and went west to the Thrasher Spot as well as Baseline and Meridian Wildlife Area.  We found good numbers of Sage Thrashers at the Thrasher Spot, which was our biggest target of the day.

On March 24th, I owled Forest Road 1688 at Mount Ord with Gordon Karre, Susan Fishburn, and Melissa Okimoto.  We didn't find the Northern Saw-whet Owls that we were hoping for, but we did have our year's first Common Poorwill land in the road in front of us.

Tyler Loomis and I enjoyed several Swainson's Hawks in fields near Buckeye on March 28th.  We were looking for a Whimbrel in a Long-billed Curlew flock without any luck.

On March 31st, I went out to Coon Bluff at night to owl.  My first Elf Owls of the year made a good appearance, and several other owls and nightjars were also present.

At the end of March, my 2016 Maricopa County list stood at 183 species.


Spring migration really starts to spring up in April.  It is a fun month to bird, as more migrants continue to push their way north and more breeders continue to arrive.

April's birding in Maricopa County started off slow for me too, due to my owl pursuits.  But I got out into the field when I was able to.  

The first notable highlights for April came on the 23rd, when I went to the Glendale Recharge Ponds.  Wilson's Phalaropes and a Solitary Sandpiper made things interesting.  At that point, I had already had 17 out of North America's 19 owls seen and photographed for my Owl Big Year.  My Maricopa County birding was slow, but someone said something to me to fire me up and see more Maricopa County birds.  I know they didn't want me to get fired up, but good thing it happened.  I didn't look back.

On the 28th of April, the Glendale Recharge Ponds held some awesome birds as I birded with Sean Fitzgerald and Tyler Loomis.  Rarities included Caspian Terns and a Sanderling and there were also some other good birds such as the uncommon Vaux's Swifts, Bonaparte's Gull, and American Goldfinch.  During this outing, I had finally reached 200 species for Maricopa County.

On the same afternoon/evening on the 28th of April, Joshua Smith, Gordon Karre, and I, all headed up to Slate Creek Divide to search it's pine, fir, and oak forests and camp out there for the night to also bird on the 29th.  It was getting dark soon after we got there and we owled in both Maricopa and Gila Counties.  Gila County held Flammulated and Northern Saw-whet Owls, which we both had views of.  Luckily, a second Northern Saw-whet Owl was calling up near the county line on one of the stops we made, giving us a good year bird for Maricopa County.  A Common Poorwill also gave us incredible views.

The 29th of April was epic.  The three of us walked down a drainage into Maricopa County, which the habitat consists of an impressive selection of Douglas fir, ponderosa pine, oak, and sycamore.  Highlighting the route in an epic way was a Spotted Owl on a day roost.  It was great to get SPOW in this drainage for a second consecutive year.  We also had a Northern Pygmy-Owl.  It was also good to bump our County year list up with birds such as Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Steller's Jay, Mexican Jay, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Virginia's, Grace's, and Townsend's Warblers; Hepatic Tanager, Scott's Oriole, and Cassin's Finch.  In 2010, I found a breeding population of Dusky-capped Flycatchers along the drainages.  We were thrilled to find them while the three of us continued to hike through the drainage and to know that they continue to thrive at Slate Creek Divide.  On the way down from Slate Creek on that day, Josh and I found a Gray Vireo in Slate Creek's lower elevation reaches.

At the Glendale Recharge Ponds on April 30th, a Forster's Tern and a flyover Lawrence's Goldfinch provided some entertainment.  After the 23rd of April, I added 36 species to the Maricopa County year list, and because of that, I brought the grand total up to 231 species at the end of April.  


May is a great month to be birding anywhere in Arizona, as spring migration reaches it's peak.  A variety of migrants pass through and most breeders arrive on their breeding grounds.  

On May 6th, Caleb Strand and I were going on a Arizona Field Ornithologists (AZFO) Expedition to the Superstition Mountains to the Reavis Ranch area.  This is a high elevation area in Maricopa County that hadn't been birded since 1974!  We were anxious about the trip and curious about what high elevation birds could be up there.  We were hoping for things like Magnificent Hummingbird, Yellow-eyed Junco, and Mexican Whip-poor-will.  The latter two were found on trips to the area in the 70's.  Because this place hadn't been birded in over 40 years, it is a place I had always wanted to go to.  Access is difficult and people have to have important backpacking gear with them at all times.  Thanks to Laura Ellis, Caleb and I had backpacking equipment in abundance.  For the AZFO trip, we joined up with Felipe Guerrero, Ryan O'Donnell, Troy Corman, and Tom Lewis as Troy and Felipe organized and led the trip.  The high elevation Superstition Mountains were bound to be exciting!

After Caleb Strand and I added a handful of common arriving breeders and migrants both at Box Bar Recreation Site on May 6th, we met up with Troy Corman and Tom Lewis to carpool with them to the rugged section of the Superstition Wilderness.  We camped out at Rogers Trough Trailhead before hiking into the high elevations of Pinal and Maricopa Counties.  Once crossing into Maricopa, we had impressive stands of pine and oak forest, and there was also an impressive stand of of riparian trees along a lush perennial stream.  The area was incredible, and we had a variety of birds on May 7th and 8th that included Calliope Hummingbird, many Dusky-capped Flycatchers, Red Crossbill, a pair of Spotted Owls, a Flammulated Owl, and a huge surprise in a group of three Wild Turkey.  The Wild Turkey was the rarest bird of the trip and was a new Maricopa County life bird for me and everyone else in the party.  We were shocked to not get any of the birds that we thought might be up there such as MAHU, YEJU, and MWWP.  It was an incredible area that needs more exploring!

I went to see an adult male Painted Bunting at Tres Rios Overbank Wetlands on May 10th.  This bird was found by Caleb Strand and Walker Noe during the previous year, and it was relocated again in 2016.  You can't beat a bird this colorful I don't think!

A trip to Hassayampa River Preserve on the 13th gave me a handful of good birds including year birds for the County such as Gray Hawk, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Willow Flycatcher, and Tropical Kingbird.  With the exception of the BBHU, the other three are local breeders in the area, and who knows, the BBHU may be too.

May 14th was an exceptional day of birding for me.  It was the North American Migration Count, and I decided to cover the Bushnell Tanks section of Sycamore Creek for the morning.  I had a great time, and birds were everywhere for me to count.  Common Black-Hawk, Cassin's Kingbird, and a singing male Indigo Bunting became additions on my year list.  A big surprise though turned out to be a small buteo soaring high.  A small buteo in Maricopa County away from the Hassayampa River is a good bird so the best thing I could do in this situation was to simply snap away.  And the hawk turned out to be what I thought it was live, a rare-in-Arizona Broad-winged Hawk!

Later on the 14th, a Thick-billed Kingbird was discovered at the Hassayampa River Preserve.  I had to work a daytime shift at work on the 15th, and because TBKI would be a Maricopa County life bird for me, I went for a few hours after work.  All I could find were Tropical Kingbirds in the two hours I searched in vain.  Missing the Thick-billed was frustrating, and I was hoping it was only down and would stick around.  On my way out of the Preserve, I did get lucky to find a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, only my second ever for the County.

Sean Fitzgerald and I teamed up on May 18th and went to the northwestern tip of Maricopa County to Aguila where there is interesting desert and agricultural habitats.  We found five of our target bird, which was a Pyrrhuloxia, a limited number breeder in Maricopa County.  One of the males put on a show for us.  Later in the day a Willet at Lake Pleasant with Sean and a Ridgway's Rail and Common Ground-Dove at Tres Rios with Caleb Strand and Walker Noe were other big highlights.

On May 21st I went back to Hassayampa River Preserve with Gordon Karre and Joshua Smith as well as with a handful of other birders who joined us to look for the Thick-billed Kingbird.  Me missing the Kingbird on the 15th turned out to be a blessing in disguise.  Josh spied the Kingbird where it was usually being seen, and it became my 2nd Maricopa County life bird of the year.  This is a species I've always enjoyed seeing and don't see often.  On top of that, our party got lucky and we got to see a female Purple Martin flying overhead with great comparison views with many other smaller swallows in the air.

Several awesome Bronzed Cowbirds along the Lower Salt River Recreation Area concluded May's birding for me in Maricopa County on the 25th.

After I got a Flammulated Owl for my Owl Big Year at the end of April, I had the whole month of May to bird Maricopa County hardcore before I would try for Boreal Owls at the end of May and Short-eared Owl in June.  My list at the end of May for Maricopa stood at 265 species, and in comparison, my 2011 Big Year in Maricopa County at 260 at this point.  Even though I hadn't birded the County nearly as hard in 2016, knowledge built up over the years helped me to time things out much better when birds would be passing through.


When doing Big Years in Maricopa County, June can be the worst month for adding birds on average.  And it proved to be the case this time.  The only bird I added during the month after spending much of the month out of Arizona was a Yellow-billed Cuckoo pair along the Gila River.  This came from Base and Meridian Wildlife Area on June 23rd and brought my County Year List up to 266 species.


July can be a fun month in Maricopa County birding.  Shorebirds are starting to migrate through in good numbers, and the fall migration starts to get underway, especially in the higher elevations.  

On July 15th, a huge explosion came into Maricopa County as Dwayne Morse found two Black Skimmers at Lower River Road Ponds.  As I was walking out of my house to buy food, I saw the report come in and within a minute I was on the road to chase the Black Skimmers.  I picked up Caleb Strand on the way and these two Skimmers were very fun to watch.  They were a County life bird I had always wanted to see.  Many birders came throughout the day to see these Skimmers, who would fly off during the night and would be absent on the following day.

Even though the Skimmers left, there ended up being an even rarer bird in the area.  My buddy Kurt Radamaker is notorious for finding crazy birds under crazy circumstances.  After he saw the Black Skimmers on the evening of the 15th, he went to a dairy pond and found a mega rare Hudsonian Godwit!  Several lucky birders got to see both megas that night, but on the following day, I picked up Caleb Strand again on the 16th.  This was after I pulled an all-nighter even!  We got to the dairy pond on Old US 80 and scanned it from the road.  Luckily the Hudsonian Godwit was present for us and the big crowd that showed up.  The HudWit was an unexpected life bird for me and it gave me two Maricopa County life birds in less than 24 hours.  The Godwit stuck around for many to see for about two weeks.

Caleb Strand, Joshua Smith, and I had a camping trip planned up to Slate Creek Divide on July 21st and 22nd, as it was a good time to get interesting migrants in the County.  Before the trek to the high country, Caleb and I found a Black Tern at Glendale Recharge Ponds on the morning of the 21st.

Night birding at Slate Creek on the 21st yielded several Spotted Owls, a Flammulated Owl, and many Common Poorwills.  We were really trying hard to find what has become a nemesis for me in Maricopa County, the Mexican Whip-poor-will.  On the following day on the 22nd of July, we found Spotted Owls on day roosts.  We also added several year birds to our Maricopa 2016's:  Golden Eagle, Cordilleran Flycatcher, and Rufous Hummingbird.  I love birding Maricopa County's high country, it's untouchable.

Later on the 22nd we enjoyed the Hudsonian Godwit again as it was near Caleb's house and we also had our first Stilt Sandpiper of the year.

Shorebirds started to show up more and more.  A Semipalmated Sandpiper made it's way onto my year list on July 29th at the Glendale Recharge Ponds.  I ended July with 275 species for Maricopa County.


Maricopa County birding in August is about searching for a variety of migrants that show up in all elevations and in all habitats.  It is a very fun time of the year.  And many of those treks result in runs to various ponds in the southwestern section of Maricopa County to look for shorebirds.  Sometimes it is possible to get more than 20 shorebird species in a day!

On August 1st, I added two year birds thanks to Charlie Babbit.  One was an overdue bird in Black-bellied Whistling-Duck at the Hunter's Ponds.  This observation resulted in seeing a family of these cool ducks, who are seemingly decreasing in Maricopa County and are becoming difficult to find.  The other bird was a Marbled Godwit.

On a shorebird run to Gila Bend on August 6th with Caleb Strand, Gordon Karre, Susan Fishburn, and Brian Johnson, three year birds were added:  Pectoral Sandpiper, Baird's Sandpiper, and Red-necked Phalarope.

After completing my Owl Big Year August 12-15 with Boreal Owls in Washington, I quickly refocused my birding efforts for the remainder of the year within Maricopa County.  I became passionate about doing a Maricopa County Big Year officially, and the funny thing is, it was a secondary objective.

On August 17th, I chased an eclipse plumaged male Wood Duck at Steele Indian School Park in Phoenix that was reported by Marcus Watson and Melanie Herring.

A nice addition at Glendale Recharge Ponds on August 19th was a juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher, who gave good views of it's tertials that are diagnostically plumaged as well as letting us hear it's distinctive tu-tu-tu call.

Caleb Strand found a rare in Arizona Ruddy Turnstone later on the 19th at Paloma Ranch.  As it would be a County lifer for me, Susan Fishburn, Gordon Karre, and I sadly missed it on the following day on August 20th.  We did have a variety of shorebirds the next day, which included a nice consolation in this Snowy Plover at a different pond than the Turnstone at Paloma Ranch.

Baird's Sandpiper and Snowy Plover at Paloma Ranch

On August 29th, I got to see a young Tricolored Heron well at Gilbert Water Ranch.  It had been discovered the day before.  This Tricolored Heron put on a show for many birders over the 28th and 29th and it would eventually stick around for about two months.  Many "continuing's" were put down on eBird lists after awhile because this bird was always accommodating.

The TRHE was my last addition to my Maricopa County Big Year in the month of August, which bumped my list up to 285 species.  In 2011, I had 280 at the end of August.  The fun thing about 2016 was that I realized I had many easier birds left to get in the winter that I didn't get in January and February.  


September birding in Maricopa County is similar to August, a lot of migrants are passing through in all habitats and elevations.  It makes choosing birding destinations a challenge.

On September 2nd, Caleb Strand, Susan Fishburn and I made a huge shorebird run south to Gila Bend.  Shorebirds were everywhere that day, and we had more than 20 species.  A huge surprise and highlight was when Caleb discovered a very rare Red Knot at a pond close to Gila Bend.  It was the first Red Knot in Maricopa County since 2009, which was at Glendale Recharge Ponds.  I got to see that one too.

The Bird of the Year found Maricopa County on September 8th, and was one of those "once-in-a-lifetime" birds we might not ever see in Maricopa County again.  On September 7th, the effects of Hurricane Newton hit Mexico and southeastern Arizona drastically.  It blew in many seabirds, or in other words, pelagic birds.  Least and Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrels showed up in SEAZ in multiple locations, with the latter being an Arizona first and it's also a very rare bird for the ABA area.  In Tucson, an ABA first Juan Fernandez Petrel was found, and Arizona's first Wedge-tailed Shearwater was also found near Green Valley.  The Arizona Birding Community had turned into a frenzy that afternoon.  Gordon Karre and I were hoping to see some of the birds on September 8th, but at Amado, Patagonia Lake State Park, and at Benson Ponds, we missed the many Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrels that were showing up, which was the likely bird we were going to get if anything.  As many of these birds were perishing, some of them probably flew back south.  A live bird found at Benson didn't stick around long and Gordon and I felt like we were going to miss them completely.  We had gone all over SEAZ hoping for one.  While in Benson we got word that a Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel was resting and flying around a small lake at Riverview Park in MESA!  WHAT!!!  As we were driving around in SEAZ, James McKay checked this lake in Mesa that he hadn't birded at for a long time and he discovered this epic bird.  It was his 700th ABA bird, a milestone that he was working hard at to reach during 2016.  Gordon and I were both frustrated, and we headed straight north to Mesa.  I will say, we were speeding much of the time.  It was a chase full of anxiety.  Turns out, there was no rush because the Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel stayed put for us and a huge crowd of other birders until it got dark out in Mesa.  I enjoyed the bird, arguably the rarest bird that has shown up in Maricopa County, for over five hours.  It was a discovery that will go down for the ages thanks to James McKay.  I was beyond grateful that I got to see this not only Maricopa first, but a very rare bird in the ABA area, a Code 4.  It was also my 380th bird all time for Maricopa Couny!

Here's a few pictures to show how much birders enjoyed seeing this bird.  The Storm-Petrel often came within feet of shore.

Compared to the Storm-Petrel, birds after seemed like bubblegum for awhile.  Remember when I said I had many easier birds left to find in my Big Year?!  A perfect example was a Vesper Sparrow I found at Lake Pleasant on September 9th!

On September 13th, Sean Fitzgerald and I teamed up at Morgan City Wash to look for a Gray Catbird that Troy Corman found as well as any other notable migrants.  Not only did we hear the Catbird several times where it had been discovered, but Sean spied a rare Red-eyed Vireo working a dense willow line in Morgan City Wash.  The Vireo was elusive to the camera, but it was awesome to be a part of the discovery.  It was my second consecutive year of seeing a REVI in Maricopa after finding one of my own last year on the Verde River.

Caleb Strand's birthday was on September 15th, and I celebrated with him by taking him birding.  We went to Morgan City Wash to look for migrants and we quickly had the Gray Catbird.  However, word came into the birding listserv from Dale Clark that he had found a Blackpoll Warbler in Chandler at the edge of a pond at Chandler Heights and and Gilbert Roads.  The Warbler was foraging in cottonwoods when Dale found it, and luckily it was still in those cottonwoods when Caleb and I got there and were also joined by Sean Fitzgerald and Chris McCreedy.  The Blackpoll Warbler was a new County lifer for me and was an overall life bird for Caleb on his birthday.  We were fortunate, because the Warbler didn't stick around much longer after we left.  It was my sixth Maricopa County lifer for 2016.

On September 22nd, I went back to Morgan City Wash after visiting Hassayampa River Preserve and Lake Pleasant.  It was hot out, and after I cooled off in an outstanding pool of water, a Magnolia Warbler found me.  This is one I've seen in Maricopa County twice on chases, and it was awesome to find my own of this neat eastern warbler and rarity to Arizona.  

On September 28th, I went to Lake Pleasant in the evening after a dentist appointment.  I had visited the lake several times during the month in hopes of finding Sabine's Gulls or other rarities.  This time proved to be a charm as I found a young Sabine's Gull working the lake.  It was rather distant, and it proved why I am thankful this bird is a flying fieldmark!  Things got even better with a complete surprise.  An adult breeding plumaged Pacific Loon showed up in my scope as I was scanning the waters.  The bird threw me off at first because it was the first PALO I had ever seen in breeding plumage.  I was blown away!  

I chased Clay-colored Sparrows at Gilbert Water Ranch on September 29th, which I got to see at least three of.  During September, these sparrows were showing up in numbers.  Things got even better when I relocated a Dickcissel that was previously found by Tyler Loomis and Sean Fitzgerald.

On September 30th, Gordon Karre and I teamed up and we struck out on several year birds.  One was a Chestnut-sided Warbler in Scottsdale and we also missed hopeful Varied Bunting and Northern Beardless Tyrannulet at Hassayampa River Preserve.  A good consolation were two Horned Grebes on Lake Pleasant which remained distant through my spotting scope.  

I ended September with 297 species for Maricopa County.  At this stage in 2011, I had 286 species.  I was well on my way to breaking my record and things were getting very fun for this Big Year!


When October came around, I became overly obsessed with my Big Year.  I was out constantly, chasing birds constantly, etc.  I would bird before work on work days and would bird after work on work days.  My work hours helped out big time in this pursuit.  My diet consisted of a $7 daily purchase at Walmart:  a six inch sub sandwich, a pack of hard-boiled eggs, and 4 bananas.  Talk about a killer deal!  A variety of habitats would need to be searched out in October too...

The Big Year's most common meal.

October started off strong on the 1st when I found a female Tennessee Warbler in a mixed warbler, kinglet, and vireo flock at Morgan City Wash.  The TEWA didn't cooperate for photos, but thankfully, I saw it's key field marks well.

On October 2nd, my brother Tyler joined me for a trek to look for Long-eared Owls at a wash in the Phoenix area.  It didn't take us long to find one, and this was the best photo I have ever obtained of a Long-eared Owl!  This ended up being one of five LEOWs in the wash that day.

I hit the 300 mark on October 6th with several Townsend's Solitaires at Sunflower.  A Wild Turkey was also present, my second ever WITU in Maricopa County.  During 2011, I didn't hit 300 until November 11th, so this Big Year was really getting fun.

Two Longspurs found my year list on October 9th and October 11th, Chestnut-collared Longspur found by Anne Leight and the rare Lapland Longspur found by James McKay at Rousseau Sod Farms near Scottsdale.

While looking for the Lapland Longspur on October 11th, Caleb Strand found a Black-bellied Plover by his house.  I heard the Lapland Longspur well several times and once I found out about the Plover, I drove across Maricopa County to meet up with Caleb to get this rare Plover for Maricopa County.

A day of birding with Caleb on October 13th resulted in our first Swainson's Thrush of the year at Lower Camp Creek.

Tyler Loomis found a lot of rarities during 2016.  One was a Palm Warbler at Tempe Town Lake on October 15th.  I couldn't chase it that night due to work constraints but when Gordon Karre and I chased it the next day, the Palm Warbler put on a good show for us.  It constantly pumped it's tail up and down and gave me the best looks I have had of this species, only the third Palm Warbler I had ever seen.

An overdue year bird in a Merlin showed up for me on October 17th at Base and Meridian Wildlife Area.

October 21st was huge at Lake Pleasant.  After work, I chased a Red-necked Grebe that was found by Reba and Allen Dupilka.  Luckily, it didn't take me long to relocate the rare Grebe off of the Lake's 10 lane boat ramp.  The bird gave me killer views.  This grebe is one that is seemingly increasing in Arizona as a rare migrant.

The Red-necked Grebe wasn't the only highlight that night.  Susan Fishburn joined me after the Grebe sighting and I added two more year birds, an expected Common Loon and three rare Surf Scoters!  The Scoters were a huge surprise and were a little earlier than I thought they would show up.

On October 22nd, I chased a McCown's Longspur successfully that Robert Bowker had found at the Rousseau Sod Farms.  This Longspur put on a show for several birders who chased it with me, including Janine McCabe and Darrel Wilder.

On October 24th, I found another year bird that was expected for me at Lake Pleasant, a flock of six Red-breasted Mergansers.

A juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker would be the last year bird I would land for October, as I found one at Mesquite Wash on October 27th.

I ended October with 312 birds for my Big Year.  As my record was 313 species set in 2011, I needed only two more birds to break that record!  And there was still a ton of potential for the remaining two months of my Maricopa County Big Year.  


The weather had finally cooled down for a bit.  November and December are often the best months in Arizona for rarities.  My eyes were peeled constantly and I was out in the field constantly.

On November 2nd, I tied my record when I found a Winter Wren at Hassayampa River Preserve, my 313th bird of the year.

When it came to be the time to go for the record breaker, I struck out on year birds for five consecutive days which included American Bittern and Eastern Phoebe.  It was quite annoying.  On November 9th, I decided to go for a record breaker that was more likely to land.  And that was a Fox Sparrow at Rackensack Canyon.  It didn't take long for me to find that sparrow for my 314th bird of the year, but up to five of them showed well for me.  Fox Sparrow has been one that I have always enjoyed seeing, and this bird was a fun one to break my record with.

On November 10th, I chased a Golden-crowned Sparrow at Phon D. Sutton Recreation Site on the Lower Salt River that was found by Lindsay Story on the 9th.  I met up with Barb Meding and after a careful search away from where the bird was usually located, Barb and I landed the sparrow.

While birding along the Verde River on November 16th, I crossed paths with a Northern Parula at the Needle Rock Recreation Area, another year bird I figured I would get before the end of the year!

On the night of the 16th, word came through that a remarkable rarity, a Groove-billed Ani had been found at Veterans Oasis Park in Chandler.  This would be a life bird for me, but sadly, I had to work in the morning of the 17th.  Many birders went out in the morning of the 17th, where they found the Ani to be continuing.  After work, I rushed out to Veterans Oasis Park to search for the Ani with a group of birders.  After 1.5 hours of searching, Tyler Loomis came up clutch and spied the bird.  The Groove-billed Ani put on a show for us and was an outstanding life bird for me to land.  I enjoyed the Ani to the extent that I went back again the following day on the 18th of November to enjoy it even more.  Thanks to Jim Burns, he got the word out about this bird that one of his friends had found.

Gordon Karre and I made a trek up to Slate Creek Divide on November 23rd.  Gordon was doing a Maricopa County Big Year too, and on that day, he became the 3rd birder ever to reach 300 species in Maricopa County for a year.  I was impressed.  Gordon added 4 species to his year list that day, and I got an important addition when we detected a small flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets!

On Thanksgiving Day, November 24th, I chased a Ruddy Ground-Dove at Celaya Park in Tempe that had shown up on the previous day.  Dave Hawksworth from New Mexico found this bird, and Gordon was kind enough to refind it and point it out to me when I got there.  What a cool looking little dove the Ruddy Groud-Dove is!

Jack Sheldon found an adult Harris's Sparrow in his Mesa backyard on November 26th.  Luckily for me a several other birders, Jack invited us to his house on the 27th.  As I made this chase right before work, I had about 30 minutes to hope the Sparrow would show up for me.  With 10 minutes on the clock, the Harris's Sparrow put in an awesome appearance as Jack let Gordon, Barb, and I peek over his wall and into his yard while looking for the sparrow.

The Harris's Sparrow was the last addition to my Big Year that I would get for November, and my list had now reached 320 species.


I remember taking with Caleb Strand earlier in the year and I told him that I thought 325-330 species would be possible for Maricopa County in a year.  And with the final month of December remaining, I realized I had a decent chance of getting my goal that I set out to get of 325 and maybe even more.  I didn't waste any time and I searched almost every day in December.  There were many trips without additions, as well as plenty of strikeouts on my way too...

On December 2nd, I went after two birds after work for my first additions of the month.  One of them was an overdue and easy Ross's Goose, which was with a few Snow Geese at Lower River Road Ponds in Paloverde.  This bird was found my Melanie Herring.  The next bird I went after was a Tundra Swan that has wintered in Sun City West for several years now.  We think it is a wild bird and it's pattern of arriving in winter and leaving in spring supports such, but gosh, it sure isn't afraid of people.  And it hangs out with a lame Mute Swan!

December 4th was a huge day in my Big Year.  Troy Corman found a Hooded Warbler in Seven Springs Wash on the 3rd, which I decided to chase on the 4th.  I walked down the hard-to-navigate wash in hopes of finding the warbler.  Before I could find the target I was after, I discovered my own rarity in a Pacific Wren!  This tiny wren made my day already.  Things got epic on my way back when I detected the Hooded Warbler, who I observed on and off for about an hour.  It was only the second Hooded Warbler of my life, and I was stoked that I started off December well!

On December 11th, Louis Hoeniger found a Long-tailed Duck at Glendale Recharge Ponds.  This was a day after Caleb Stand found one at Lake Pleasant on the 10th.  I was also at Lake Pleasant on the 10th, and it was windy when I was there.  Luckily, I worked a day shift on the 11th and got out in plenty of time to chase the Long-tailed Duck at Glendale.  As I sped to the spot, I got there to run into Kurt and Cindy Radamaker.  Cindy decided to mess with me and say the duck flew off right before I got there, but it didn't take too long for me to realize she was kidding.  I went and saw the duck as my 325th bird for my Big Year.  And ironically, the only other Long-tailed Duck I've seen in Maricopa County came from Glendale near the same time frame in 2013, in the same Basin 5 as this bird was in!

An incredible Louisiana Waterthrush showed up on the Salt and Verde River Christmas Bird Count on December 14th at Coon Bluff Recreation Site along the Salt River.  This was the first record of this species in Maricopa County in years, and all of the previous records came from Seven Springs.  In other words, it's a mega rarity for Maricopa County!  Gordon Karre, Ryan O'Donnell, Sean Fitzgerald and I were all there early the next morning.  It didn't take long for the Waterthrush to spring up into action and it was yet another incredible addition to not only my Big Year, but more importantly, my overall Maricopa County birding.  Louisiana Waterthush was always one I had dreamed of seeing in the County....

Anne Leight located an Eastern Phoebe on the 18th of December, which I chased on the 19th and got it as a heard only.  Truth be told, Eastern Phoebe was one of the biggest pains in the butt during the Big Year.

On December 21st, Gordon Karre and I made a big trip to the remote Vekol Valley in one of the extreme southern tips of Maricopa County, southeast of Gila Bend, to try for Rufous-winged Sparrows.  This is a species that was found in this remote corner of the county in 1994 by David Griffin.  John Arnett took me to this location in 2013 where we had two Rufous-winged Sparrows.  The Vekol Valley holds perfect habitat for them in several places.  After an hour of looking, Gordon and I were pleased to find 6 Rufous-winged Sparrows.  We didn't stick around for too long, the Vekol Valley is also known to be dangerous because of drug running.

On December 23rd, I made a run out to Lake Pleasant during the evening after I got off of work.  It was pretty dead there.  Towards the end of my search and at my last stop at Two Cow Cove, I saw a large raft of Common Goldeneye swimming into a cove where they would be out of my sight quickly.  I had a feeling to scan them, and I was shocked and thrilled to find my first ever Maricopa County Barrow's Goldeneye in midst of them.  The noted the key field marks for an adult Barrow's before trying to get a photo.  As the flock went into the cove I eventually worked my way over to the other cove only to have the flock take off right as I was about to get in photo range.  I hope the bird reappears sometime during this winter, because it is probably still on the huge Lake Pleasant!  

A very rare Black-throated Green Warbler made an appearance on Christmas Eve at the Hassayampa River Roadside Rest Area off of the US 60 when it was discovered by Carl Lundblad.  I couldn't chase it on the 24th as I was actually celebrating Christmas that night with my family.  The warbler was cooperative for all who chased it that day.  But I chased it early on Christmas day, where I was joined by Steve Ganley (who has more Maricopa County life birds than I do) and Janine McCabe.  Luckily, Steve and Janine detected the warbler while I was looking at another section of the area for it.  I came running to see it and luckily, the bird gave the three of us great views of it's plumage and key yellow vent characteristic.  It was a great life bird for me to land, my 385th overall for Maricopa County and a highly wanted 330 for my Big Year.  The warbler gave us looks for awhile and then went back into the mesquite woodland.  It never appeared again after the three of us saw it, I was very blessed.

The Black-throated Green Warbler provided my final number for my Maricopa County Big Year-330.  I spent the last days traveling and birding hard in the field.  The final day on the 31st of December resulted in me getting poured by rain on at Lower Camp Creek while searching for a Rufous-backed Robin.  It was a good way to go out, and it was also the 5th time I missed Rufous-backed Robin during the Big Year.  Despite the success I had with chasing rarities, I still missed many others.  This year was one I'll never forget.  Thanks to everyone mentioned on here for helping me find birds on my 3rd Maricopa County Big Year I attempted, which was by far my best year of birding in the County.

The Facts of the 2016 Maricopa County Big Year

This Big Year was one that I will never forget.  It was very fun, exciting, obsessive, as well as annoying, tiring, and pesky.  Big Yearitus took over me at the end of the year.  At times I was glad the year was coming to an end so I could get some needed rest, but at the same time I was trying to find as many notable birds as possible. 

I was one of five birders who did Maricopa County Year Lists during 2016, which the combined list for all Maricopa County birders in 2016 was about 362 species.  While I focused strongly on my year, the following birders also put up very impressive numbers for the County in 2016:

Gordon Karre:  312 species

Caleb Strand:  306 species

Barbara Meding:  302 species

Susan Fishburn 300 species

The Not So Fun Part of the Big Year:  Even though I recorded a record for myself with 330 species, there were many birds that I chased and missed.  Some of them I chased and missed a lot more than others.  Two species alone represented 11 chases and 11 misses.  Crazy huh?  I missed American Bittern 6 times:  Four times at the Hassayampa River Preserve (this jerk of a bird would show up the day before I'd bird and the day after I'd bird), one at the Salt River, and one at Morgan City Wash that I really thought I had a good shot at!  It just wasn't meant to be.  I also had 5 trips and misses while trying to land Rufous-backed Robin.  This was 4 times at Hassayampa River Preserve and one on the last day of 2016 during a rainy morning at Lower Camp Creek.  These freaking birds accounted for 11 trips and if you think about it, those are 11 freaking trips I could have made elsewhere.  

Strikeouts and other awesome birds seen in the County this year that didn't cross my path:

Trumpeter Swan in Arlington, possibly at Tres Rios later in year
White-winged Scoter at Lake Pleasant (1 strikeout)
American Bittern everywhere (6 freaking strikeouts)
Roseate Spoonbill at Gilbert Water Ranch, a one hour wonder
Rough-legged Hawk at Rackensack Canyon and Buckeye (1 strikeout)
Mountain Plover at Rousseau Sod Farms (4 strikeouts)
Whimbrels in 2 places (1 strikeout)
Ruddy Turnstone at Paloma Ranch (1 strikeout)
Black-legged Kittiwake at Lake Pleasant (1 strikeout)
Franklin's Gull (my dumbest miss of the year, I wasn't out trying for them much during peak migration)
Lesser Black-backed Gull at Glendale Recharge Ponds
Band-tailed Pigeon
Short-eared Owl
Allen's Hummingbird in a private yard
Downy Woodpecker (1 strikeout and 1 probable heard only)
Crested Caracara in several places (2 strikeouts)
Greater Pewee in Buckeye (1 strikeout)
Northern Beardless Tyrannulet at Hassayampa (1 strikeout)
American Crows on Ft. McDowell Indian Reservation (2 strikeouts)
Cave Swallow in Buckeye
Rufous-backed Robin in 2 locations (5 strikeouts)
Brown Thrasher near Wickenburg
Sprague's Pipit (2 strikeouts)
Ovenbird at Hassayampa
Chestnut-sided Warbler in two locations (2 strikeouts, a surprising miss)
Yellow-throated Warbler at Tres Rios from winter 2015 (strikeout on January 1st, it may have left by then)
Red-faced Warbler in 2 locations
Grasshopper Sparrow in several locations (1 strikeout)
Cassin's Sparrow in two locations (2 strikeouts)
Varied Bunting at Hassayampa (1 strikeout)
Bobolink in Buckeye
Orchard Oriole in Scottsdale

Caleb Strand and Anne Leight had the most of these birds...they are both awesome.

Strikeouts before victory (these birds took strikeouts before I landed them):

Barrow's Goldeneye:  1 strikeout
Ruddy Ground-Dove:  2 strikeouts
Eastern Phoebe:  1 strikeout
Thick-billed Kingbird:  1 strikeout

Total Strikeouts during the year (not including many empty searches for Short-eared Owls and Mexican Whip-poor-wills):  41

Everyone certainly has their strikeouts, I know I have mine.  My most hated birds of this Big Year Reward goes to American Bittern and Rufous-backed Robin.

Maricopa County Big Year 2016 Total List for Tommy DeBardeleben (Rarities in italics)

Ducks, Geese, and Swans:  Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Greater White-fronted Goose, Snow Goose, Ross's Goose, Cackling Goose, Canada Goose, Tundra Swan, Wood Duck, Gadwall, Eurasian Wigeon, American Wigeon, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, Green-winged Teal, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup, Surf Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Barrow's Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Ruddy Duck

Gamebirds:  Gambel's Quail, Wild Turkey

Loons and Grebes:  Pacific Loon, Common Loon, Pied-billed Grebe, Horned Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Eared Grebe, Western Grebe, Clark's Grebe

Pelagic Birds:  Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel

Cormorants, Pelicans, Herons, and Ibis:  Double-crested Cormorant, Neotropic Cormorant, American White Pelican, Brown Pelican, Least Bittern, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Tricolored Heron, Cattle Egret, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, White-faced Ibis

Diurnal Raptors:  Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Golden Eagle, White-tailed Kite, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, Bald Eagle, Common Black-Hawk, Harris's Hawk, Gray Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Swainson's Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Ferruginous Hawk

Rails, Gallinules, and Cranes:  Ridgway's Rail, Virginia Rail, Sora, Common Gallinule, American Coot, Sandhill Crane

Shorebirds:  Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Black-bellied Plover, Snowy Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Long-billed Curlew, Hudsonian Godwit, Marbled Godwit, Red Knot, Stilt Sandpiper, Sanderling, Dunlin, Baird's Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Long-billed Dowitcher, Wilson's Snipe, Wilson's Phalarope, Red-necked Phalarope, Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Lesser Yellowlegs

Gulls and Terns:  Sabine's Gull, Bonaparte's Gull, Ring-billed Gull, California Gull, Herring Gull, Caspian Tern, Black Tern, Forester's Tern, Black Skimmer

Pigeons and Doves:  Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Inca Dove, Common Ground-Dove, Ruddy Ground-Dove, White-winged Dove, Mourning Dove

Cuckoos:  Groove-billed Ani, Greater Roadrunner, Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Owls:  Barn Owl, Flammulated Owl, Western Screech-Owl, Great Horned Owl, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Elf Owl, Burrowing Owl, Spotted Owl, Long-eared Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl

Nightjars:  Lesser Nighthawk, Common Poorwill

Swifts:  White-throated Swift, Vaux's Swift

Hummingbirds:  Black-chinned Hummingbird, Costa's Hummingbird, Anna's Hummingbird, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Rufous Hummingbird, Calliope Hummingbird, Broad-billed Hummingbird

Kingfishers:  Belted Kingfisher

Woodpeckers:  Acorn Woodpecker, Gila Woodpecker, Williamson's Sapsucker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Red-naped Sapsucker, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Gilded Flicker

Falcons:  American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Prairie Falcon 

Parrots and Parakeets:  Rosy-faced Lovebird

Tyrant Flycatchers:  Olive-sided Flycatcher, Western Wood-Pewee, Willow Flycatcher, Hammond's Flycatcher, Gray Flycatcher, Dusky Flycatcher, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Black Phoebe, Eastern Phoebe, Say's Phoebe, Vermilion Flycatcher, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Cassin's Kingbird, Thick-billed Kingbird, Western Kingbird

Shrikes:  Loggerhead Shrike

Vireos:  Bell's Vireo, Gray Vireo, Hutton's Vireo, Plumbeous Vireo, Cassin's Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo

Corvids:  Stellar's Jay, Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay, Mexican Jay, Common Raven

Larks:  Horned Lark

Swallows:  Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Purple Martin, Tree Swallow, Violet-green Swallow, Bank Swallow, Barn Swallow, Cliff Swallow

Chickadees, Titmice, Verdin, and Bushtit:  Mountain Chickadee, Bridled Titmouse, Juniper Titmouse, Verdin, Bushtit

Nuthatches and Creepers:  Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Pygmy Nuthatch, Brown Creeper

Wrens:  Rock Wren, Canyon Wren, House Wren, Pacific Wren, Winter Wren, Marsh Wren, Bewick's Wren, Cactus Wren

Gnatcatchers and Kinglets:  Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Golden-crowned Kinglet

Thrushes:  Mountain Bluebird, Western Bluebird, Townsend's Solitaire, Swainson's Thrush, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Varied Thrush

Thrashers and Mockingbirds:  Gray Catbird, Curve-billed Thrasher, Bendire's Thrasher, Le Conte's Thrasher, Crissal Thrasher, Sage Thrasher, Northern Mockingbird

Starlings:  European Starling

Pipits and Waxwings:  American Pipit, Cedar Waxwing

Silky Flycatchers:  Phainopepla

Olive Warbler:  Olive Warbler

Longspurs:  Lapland Longspur, McCown's Longspur, Chestnut-collared Longspur

Wood Warblers:  Louisiana Waterthrush, Northern Waterthrush, Black-and-white Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Lucy's Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Virginia's Warbler, MacGillivray's Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded Warbler, American Redstart, Northern Parula, Magnolia Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Palm Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler (both Audubon's and Myrtle species seen), Grace's Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Townsend's Warbler, Hermit Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Painted Redstart, Yellow-breasted Chat

Sparrows:  Rufous-winged Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Clay-colored Sparrow, Black-chinned Sparrow, Brewer's Sparrow, Black-throated Sparrow, Lark Sparrow, Lark Bunting, Fox Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, White-crowned Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Harris's Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Sagebrush Sparrow, Bell's Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Lincoln's Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Canyon Towhee, Abert's Towhee, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Green-tailed Towhee, Spotted Towhee

Tanagers, Cardinals, Buntings, and Allies:  Hepatic Tanager, Summer Tanager, Western Tanager, Northern Cardinal, Pyrrhuloxia, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Black-headed Grosbeak, Blue Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, Indigo Bunting, Painted Bunting, Dickcissel

Icterids:  Red-winged Blackbird, Western Meadowlark, Eastern Meadowlark, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Rusty Blackbird, Brewer's Blackbird, Great-tailed Grackle, Bronzed Cowbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, Hooded Oriole, Scott's Oriole, Bullock's Oriole

Finches:  House Finch, Purple Finch, Cassin's Finch, Red Crossbill, Pine Siskin, Lesser Goldfinch, Lawrence's Goldfinch, American Goldfinch

Old World Weaver Finches:  House Sparrow

Total:  330 Species for this Maricopa County Big Year 2016 checklist.

NOTE:  The Yellow-rumped Warbler is probably going to be split into at least two species next year.  The talks of it came heavily about this year.  Splitting these birds would give us at least two of them in Maricopa County:  the abundant Audubon's Warbler and the uncommon Myrtle Warbler.  I saw both very well a lot and then sometimes, and if that split does occur like it should, I will raise this total list to 331 species.

There were also 5 freaking exotics in Maricopa County that were constantly reported by others during the year.  These are complete trash birds and are less of birds than Rock Pigeons.  But yet some people still decide to count them and treat them on the same level as something like a Yellow-billed Cuckoo.  These crap birds will never make it onto my list unless they become established as an acceptable established exotic (like the Rosy-faced Lovebird).  Those birds were:  Mute Swan, Mandarin Duck, Yellow-collared Lovebird, Nanday Parkakeet, and Monk Parakeet.  They aren't established in the County by ABA listing standards (which everyone doing a Big Year should go by), so they should be flushed down the toilet.

The Fun Stats

Maricopers:  During the year, I got 10 new life birds for Maricopa County to bring my total from the end of 2015 of 375 up to 385.  Those birds were:  Wild Turkey, Thick-billed Kingbird, Black Skimmer, Hudsonian Godwit, Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel, Blackpoll Warbler, Groove-billed Ani, Louisiana Waterthrush, Barrow's Goldeneye, and Black-throated Green Warbler.  A huge thanks goes out to Troy Corman, Melanie Herring, Duane Morse, Kurt Radamaker, James McKay, Dale Clark, Jim Burn's friend, Brian Curtice, and Carl Lundblad for finding these birds.  Only one bird, the Barrow's Goldeneye on this list of ten, was one I discovered myself.  Finding Maricopa County lifers is getting harder and harder to do on my own!

Bird of the Year:  The Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel wins this race by a million.  

Favorite Place to Bird in Maricopa County in 2016:  I have to say Lake Pleasant.  I discovered Barrow's Goldeneye, Sabine's Gull, Pacific Loon, and Surf Scoter there all from fall through winter in 2016.  

The Best Places to Get Year Birds:  The following locations were freaking vital in getting year birds.  This stat will show single tallies only per species, meaning that species were seen only at this specific location in the County and not elsewhere.

Slate Creek Divide:  7

Morgan City Wash:  4

Lake Pleasant:  6

Hassayampa River:  7

Glendale Recharge Ponds:  only 3!

Thrasher Spot:  4

Best Trip of the Year:  Exploring the eastern side of the Superstition Mountains on the backpacking trip near Reavis Ranch.  The first time the area had been birded hardcore since 1974!

Best Non-avian highlight:  Helping rescue two Raccoons I found stuck in a dumpster.  

Best birds that I personally found:  Barrow's Goldeneye, Pacific Loon, Sabine's Gull, Surf Scoter, Purple Finch, Magnolia Warbler, Wild Turkey, Broad-winged Hawk, Pacific Wren, Tennessee Warbler, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

Dumbest miss:  Franklin's Gull

One thing I'd change about the Big Year:  To bird it more.  I spent over three months not trying in Maricopa County this year.  I could have fit more in for sure, even around the Owl Big Year!

Goal for 2017's birding in Maricopa County:  I want to explore new areas I haven't been to yet as well as find more and more County life birds!


The Maricopa County Big Year of 2016 was my best year in Maricopa County by a thousand miles.  It wasn't just because of the numbers that I reached for the Big Year total, but the County lifers are what really stole the show.  What amazes me is that I tried to find birds in so many habitats this year in Maricopa County.  With an array of habitats the County has, I knew I would be going to remote areas with limited habitat in some of those places.  The urge to explore was constant.  And the funny thing was, I had four other birders in the County trying for a Maricopa County Big Year too.  All of us were exploring.

The point of this blog post is to try and get others fired up for doing County Big Years in Arizona.  There are many underbirded counties in Arizona, such as Apache, Gila, Navajo, Graham, and Greenlee Counties.  If people participate in a Big Year of a County of their choice, it's going to lead to amazing things.  For an example, Maricopa County has a lot of scarce habitat within it's reaches.  Going to remote spots gives one the chance to find unexpected species.  I think that every county has something along those lines, which is why more folks should do a Big Year.  What that does is put birders out in the field, and focusing on one county.  It forces them to check areas more regularly than they should, and it can lead to amazing discoveries.  In 2010, I found a breeding population of Dusky-capped Flycatchers in Slate Creek Divide.  Hadn't I explored a dense canyon, they may have never been found out about.  What I'm trying to say is that if more birders in Arizona do County Big Years, it's going to add new state records to Arizona and of course a variety of first county records as well as breeding records.  What a County Big Year does differently from a North American (ABA) Big Year is that the County Big Year adds a tremendous amount of knowledge for each region due to those birding their local scene with lots of effort.  Because of efforts like this, more and more great birds will be discovered.  If birders were doing Big Years in all 15 of Arizona's counties, the thought of what would be discovered would be amazing.  The ABA Big Year, on the other hand, isn't as fun to me.  Most of it is someone chasing everything around that shows up, there aren't many personal finds.  That is what makes County Birding so much funner to me.  If your reading this somewhere rather it being on your phone or computer, I challenge you to become a serious county birder!  Pick a county you are in or nearby and make a Big Year out of it.