Sunday, April 30, 2017

Patch Phalaropes

At this time of year in Arizona, it is a very good time to see shorebirds in migration.  It's fun because many of these shorebirds will be in breeding plumage.  If lucky, birders will sometimes find striking birds such as Stilt Sandpiper, Dunlin, or Black-bellied Plovers in breeding plumage.  Although quite rare to find these birds at this time of year, they can be found more regularly (well, not Black-bellied Plovers) later in the year when they are in more of a dull or drab plumage.  Phalaropes are another example.  While Wilson's Phalaropes are common in both spring and fall migrations in places in Arizona, Red-necked Phalaropes are much fewer.  While Red-necked is uncommon to pretty rare in spring, they can become fairly common in fall migration.  Phalaropes, like other shorebirds, are striking at this time of year.  In fall, they lose their bragging rights too and they become much more drab.  But at this time of year, when in this stunning breeding plumage, Phalaropes are at the tops of my shorebird list.  And recently, I had the chance to observe both Wilson's and Red-necked Phalaropes up close at the Glendale Recharge Ponds.  The Glendale Recharge Ponds are my birding "patch", as they are the location I visit more than anywhere else.  I'm quite lucky that I only live 15 minutes away from the location.  In this post, I'm not going to say much, but I'm going to post a selection of pictures of each Phalarope species with some fun pictures in the mix also.  Before I get to that, I'll also mention that Phalaropes are different from other shorebirds and quite oddly, all other birds in a strange but awesome way.  This way is more true to life in our society.  In Phalaropes, females are far more striking and brighter than males.  Males are dull and boring.  And that is awesome.

I went out to Glendale Recharge Ponds this past Friday, April 28th.  Lets start with a group of Wilson's Phalaropes that I found at close range.  These birds were very tolerant of me, despite the fact that I was very close to shore.  I focused mainly on the female, of course...

Here's a male...

Back to the real deal...

Fun fact:  Phalaropes are often described when foraging for food as "constant circular dancers".  This hokey pokey thing of theirs would make any human dizzy if they attempted it.  But it brings aquatic insects, the primary prey of phalaropes, right up to the water surface.  Food is served on a plate of water.  Cool huh?

In the below picture, can you name the shorebirds?  One should be a no brainer, I just showed it to you ;)

The real fun of the day came when I got to spend time up close with a flock of Red-necked Phalaropes.  These Phals are pretty rare in the spring in Maricopa County.  I rarely get to see them in epic breeding plumage, so I was sure to take advantage of it.  Here are some of those such highlights.

I spent over an hour with the Red-necked Phalaropes, a species that has a radical look to them.  They are even cool in non-breeding plumage.  The flock of Red-necked Phalaropes numbered seven birds, can you see something different in this flock?  Look closely.

Hopefully a breeding plumaged Red Phalarope will show up at Glendale soon too.  And at close range at that, too!  What epic birds these are.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Return to Owling

The end of March through all of April is one of my favorite times of year for birding.  Breeders arrive on territories and it's a great time to see a variety of migrants.  It's also a great time for owling.  Elf and Flammulated Owls return during this time frame, and the time frame is also good for locating Spotted, Northern Saw-whet, Northern Pygmy, and Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls.  Throw Western Screech-Owl in there too!  Owling is one of my favorite aspects of birding, especially night owling.  It's challenging, adventurous, freaky, and fun.  Any night owling is a good one.  For the past two years, including this year, I have made March 31st a night where I go out and look for returning Elf Owls in Maricopa County's Lower Salt River Recreation Area.  It's always cool to look for these returning owls, the smallest owl in the world.

This March 31st, I was joined by my friend Emma, and the two of us teamed up to search for Elf Owls.  We arrived at the Salt River right at dusk, where we started searching for Elf Owls.  It wasn't long before a few Elf Owls were heard barking, or in other words "yipping" in similar sounds to what a puppy sounds like.  I took Emma to a classic spot where I know where Elf Owls are, and she was excited because she had never seen one.  Within minutes I spied a pair of Elf Owls together, and they gave Emma and me great views.  I couldn't get my camera adjusted in time to get the clearest of shots, but hey, this is the first time I've seen a pair of Elf Owls sitting together in all of the times I have been Elf Owling.

Elf Owls feed on insects as their main food source.  As you can see, the Elf on the left has a moth of some sort.  It's probably the male waiting to feed it to the female.

The Elf Owl on the right flew off first and we enjoyed the left owl with the moth for another minute before it took off.  And then one of the Elf Owls started calling above us.  I could tell that it was in it's saguaro cactus cavity.  In all of my nights of owling prior to this night, I had never seen an Elf Owl peeking out of it's cavity, and it was something I had always wanted to see.  Well, there's a first time for everything...

The Elf Owl commonly called from it's cavity and stared down at us in the few minutes that we spent observing it.

It was awesome that within minutes I photographed two sequences with this bird (pair together, cavity peeker) that I had yet to see before with Elf Owls.  Perhaps Emma was good luck..

The Elf Owls left us satisfied to the fact that we immediately moved on to searching for Western Screech-Owls, another new one for Emma.  It didn't take us long to find several Western Screech-Owls along the Salt River between a few of it's recreation sites.  

Western Screech-Owls are one of my favorite owls to listen to when they get going.  As we were walking through the desert, we heard several Western Screech-Owls singing back and fourth.  This bouncing ball song is peaceful and can put anyone to sleep.  There are plenty of times these owls will calmly sit close to humans and the presence of man won't alter anything they do.  The song will keep coming and coming.  Western Screech-Owls hunt by perching calmly and almost motionless on an overhanging branch, such as the ones that are photographed above.  

Time flies fast when owling, it really does.  Before I knew it, Emma and I were both exhausted and we headed back.  We were interrupted by one more Screech-Owl on the way back to my truck.  It sang from a thicket, and Emma went in the ticket to find the owl.  What a cool way to end the night..

The upcoming weeks of birding are going to be great.  Mountain warblers will be back, shorebirds and gulls will be migrating through, migrants are everywhere in general, and perhaps the most fun, all of the owls will be back.  Flammulated Owls, how about that.

Monday, April 10, 2017

And Then There Was A White Wagtail

The fun thing about birding is that you never know what may show up at any given time.  Even somewhere that looks really crappy, such as a set of sewage ponds chained up between bordered fences.  Doug Blacklund is the one who knows how to relate.  While visiting Arizona from South Dakota and birding in Ajo, Arizona, Doug decided to bird at a few places around Ajo.  One of those places he was birding at were the Ajo Sewage Ponds.  These sewage ponds don't look like much and they aren't a pretty sight, but they do attract birds, such as migrating waterfowl, terns, and gulls.  But Doug found something much different, unexpected, and much more rare to Arizona.  On March 29th, 2017, a report came into the Arizona/New Mexico Birding Listserv from Doug, and he was reporting a White Wagtail!

A White Wagtail!  What?  Prior to this report, I had always seen Wagtails in my field guides and skim over them without paying too much attention to them.  As a hardcore birder, of course I'd look at them and look over their fieldmarks just "in case" I were to get extremely lucky in Arizona or elsewhere.  I just didn't think I'd have the chance to see one anytime soon, but then in a sudden 180 swing, I had this mega-rare bird to Arizona and code 3 ABA bird in less then two hours away from my house.  That day on March 29th, 2017, I clocked out of work at 2:30 P.M. and I was able to get to the Ajo Sewage Ponds in Pima County right at 4:46 P.M. after a quick swing home to get my birding equipment.  And I was only one of many birders present...

The only other White Wagtail in Arizona was back in 1985, at a similar pond at the Grand Canyon in October.  This first state record was present for 5 days.  And here this report came in some 31.5 years later.  There was no doubt that hundreds of birders were going to pile up and chase this 2017 White Wagtail, given the chance if the bird was going to continue being present or not.  As I pulled up to the Ajo Sewage Ponds in the town of Ajo, I could already see many birders.  Life was made somewhat easy for me when I pulled up, because most of the birders had their scopes and cameras on the bird.  The bird was distant on a pipe going over the pond, but that didn't stop birders from enjoying it.  As I walked up, Laurens Halsey let me look through his scope immediately where I got my first ever look at a White Wagtail.

At times, the White Wagtail was hard to see due to distance.  What helped see the bird better came when birders decided to park their trucks and use tailgates for others to stand on for more elevated views.  Not long after I arrived, my truck was used for the same purpose.

The White Wagtail falls under the family, Motacillidae, which includes both Wagtails and Pipits.  Wagtails fall under the genus, Motacilla.  4 Wagtail species have been found in North America, with all of them being overall vagrants to North America with the exception of the White Wagtail.  The White Wagtail isn't a common bird in North America at all, and it is an ABA Area Code 3.  It is a rare but regular breeder in small numbers in Alaska and Greenland.  It is common in Siberia and elsewhere overseas.

Wagtails are very well named and true to that name, their tail-wagging completely supports their identity.  They bob their heads up and down while walking, and they are highly adaptable in their habitat choices.  White Wagtails may be found in their range in wetlands, lake shores, ponds, rivers, agricultural areas, and of course, sewage ponds.  This Ajo, Arizona White Wagtail put on a show for birders through their scopes.  It walked on pipes over the ponds, it walked on berms a few times, it sat on a wire over the pipe, it flew up and down in pursuit of insects some, and of course, it was constantly wagging it's tail.  I, along with many other birders, enjoyed the heck out of this mega-Arizona rarity that afternoon.  Over two hours later, I finally headed home after it got dark out.  Due to the distance of the bird, I had to take digiscoped pictures through my phone.  The White Wagtail stayed three more full days after the original day when I was lucky enough to see it.  And then, it moved on.  Seeing this bird was truly spectacular for those who got to see it.  It was my first lifer of 2017, and I now have 533 species on my life list to be exact.  It was my 444th species in Arizona.  What will my next lifer be?  And when will another White Wagtail find it's place in Arizona's birding history?  Who knows...

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Arizona County Birding

In Arizona, there are 15 different counties.  I love county birding.  It's a great way to explore the state of Arizona, and it drives birders to explore underbirded areas within each county.  At the beginning of this year of 2017, I had a goal to finally get at least 100 birds in every Arizona County.  After trips to both Greenlee and La Paz Counties this year, I reached over 100 in both of those counties.  I now have 100 birds in at least 14 out of 15 of Arizona's counties, and the final county for me to reach 100 birds in is a very exciting one...Mohave County.  Mohave is one I've always wanted to bird more of, and I currently have 90 birds in that county.  Maricopa is always my home and favorite county, but hey, birds are getting tougher and tougher to find in it, county lifers that is.  My thoughts lately have been, "why not take some time and explore places I haven't ever been to?".

Me pulling into San Carlos Lake

Another goal I came up with this year was to gain 200 species or more in two Arizona counties, and the two I chose were Pinal County and Gila County.  At the start of this year, I was already close to 200 in Pinal with about 180 species.  Gila is one of Arizona's most under-birded counties as a whole, and I only had 137 species in Gila going into 2017.  Well, as a few months have passed and I've birded and explored a lot of Pinal and Gila Counties, I have passed 200 in both.  What's next?  Well, I think I'm going to bird Gila extensively and explore the heck out of it.  This blog post will highlight my birding highlights in several Arizona counties that have taken place so far this year.  Besides Gila and Pinal, I've also had some key birds in Pima and Santa Cruz Counties also.

Back in January when I started doing some of Pinal, I went to the Santa Cruz Flats trying for a variety of birds.  I got to see a Louisiana Waterthrush that day, and a small flock of Snow Geese.

Remember when I had the goal of going for a few Rose-throated Becards in southeastern Arizona this year?  Well, I attempted that goal and struck out on the birds after a six hour search.  Andrew Core got on a bird and called me, and I was ten minutes too late.  During that day, I was birding along the Santa Cruz River in Santa Cruz County.  Although I missed the Becard, I did get a few awesome consolations.  One was this Brown Thrasher along Santa Gertrudis Lane, a solid bird for Santa Cruz County.

After losing hope with Rose-throated Becards, I decided to venture up on the east side of Green Valley to a park, which was in Pima County.  The park had a lot of open fields and weedy areas, and I quickly added a handful of birds onto my Pima County list that I hadn't landed in Pima County before.  The star of the show was another great Becard consolation-this Palm Warbler.

A trip out to La Paz County was a fun one.  I teamed up with Caleb Strand, Felipe Guerrero, and the one and only Mark Ochs.  The four of us birded Alamo Lake and had fun seeing a load of waterbirds.  Alamo Lake boosted my La Paz County list over 100 very quickly, and it was also my first time visiting the location.  We worked our way back to a town called Wendon after Alamo Lake, where we searched for Le Conte's Thrashers without any luck.

Alamo Lake

Our funnest time of the La Paz birding day came from these extensive agricultural fields in the town of Wendon.  Birds were everywhere, but the biggest thrill of the day came from several groups of Mountain Plovers, which numbered 45 together total!

At the end of January and beginning of February, my expeditions took me to many places in Pinal County.  The funnest trip during this time was a trip to San Carlos Lake on the San Carlos Indian Reservation.  The funnest aspect of San Carlos Lake is that the waters are in Pinal, Gila, and Graham Counties.  While most of the waters are in Gila County, there are so many birds on the lake that one can have a good list in all three counties.  This was the trip that really jump-started my Gila County list.  In one day, February 3rd, my Gila County list went from 137 to 173 species.  My Pinal list went from 184 to 192.  My Graham list went from 118 to 138.  It was a great day, but the most birding was done in Gila County.  On the way into the lake, I stopped by the San Carlos Sewage Ponds, which held many good birds due to pond and marsh habitat as well as agricultural fields.  One of them was a scarce bird for Gila County, which were a few Ferruginous Hawks.

San Carlos Lake was filled with an abundance of waterbirds to an overwhelming degree.  It was a nightmare counting things, and keeping track for two counties or more at a time.  The craziest section of the lake came where Gila and Graham Counties meet at the eastern side of the lake.  There were thousands of ducks everywhere at this point.  I estimated at least 500 each of both Canvasback and Redhead to name a few.  There was no possible way I had time to accurately count the thousands of ducks that were present.

The western edge of the lake didn't hold nearly as many ducks as the eastern edge did, but Western and Clark's Grebes were abundant everywhere one could look on the lake.

There was a small island that held as many as six Brown Pelicans.  This island was well into Gila County, but at one point, one of the Pelicans flew into Pinal County.  Their White Pelican counterparts were very common throughout San Carlos Lake.

The people in the photograph were really paying attention to the Brown Pelicans!

From February 17-19th, I was exploring Greenlee County with Caleb Strand and Joshua Smith, see my previous blog post for that trip, it sure was a fun one!

Once back from Greenlee County, it was all about getting my Pinal County list above 200 with some awesome expeditions.  Visits to the Santa Cruz Flats and Casa Grande regions got me close to 200, and then an expedition Peppersauce Canyon, Nugget Canyon, Dudleyville, and Kearny put me over 200 in Pinal, 204 to be exact.  Exploring Peppersauce Canyon was epic.  Juniper forest surrounds this area, and the canyon itself is full of sycamore riparian habitat.  My main target at Peppersauce Canyon was the Arizona Woodpecker, which has a northerly population of the species.  This is a solid bird for Pinal County, and after hearing one way up a mountain slope for about 20 minutes, a steep and exhausting climb up proved to be rewarding.  Arizona Woodpecker is one that I don't get to see very often, so any time I get to see one there's usually a cool story behind it.

Peppersauce also provided these two Black-chinned Sparrows among many others.

Peppersauce Canyon

Following Peppersauce, I went south a few miles to Nugget Canyon, which is home to the Peppersauce Caves, a popular spelunking area.  Birds were quiet here, with the exception of a few Canyon Wrens.

From Nugget Canyon, I birded the lush San Pedro River in Dudleyville.  Birds weren't so active due to the time it was in the day there, but the habitat is epic and I look forward to exploring it again in the near future.

San Pedro River at Dudleyville

Before that, I stopped at a few ponds in the town of Mammoth where I got my 200th bird for Pinal County, a Tree Swallow.  The Tree Swallow was immediately followed by bird 201, a Rufous-winged Sparrow.  From there I went to Kearny Lake, where I landed Bufflehead and Common Gallinule.

As I reached 203 for Pinal County and getting over 200 on February 23rd, I remembered an addition I never officially added to eBird, a Western Kingbird in Gold Canyon in 2014.  I didn't like Pinal County very much in the past, but after birding more and more of it, it's actually a County I now enjoy birding in.  I still have more epic locations in Pinal that I need to visit, and some of those spots include Picacho Reservoir and Aravaipa Canyon.

That same day on February 23rd after Kearny Lake, I decided to do some Gila County birding also.  After doing some birding and getting Gila lifers of Tree Swallow, Starling, and Lark Sparrow in the small town of Winkleman, I ventured north to the base of the Pinal Mountains to search it's endless chaparral habitat for Fox Sparrows.  Gusty winds made things very challenging, but with some patience in midst of getting blown around, the Fox Sparrow became my 181st bird for Gila County.  Fox Sparrows are abundant in Gila County's Pinal Mountains in the chaparral habitat.  Sometimes Dave Pearson has counts of close to 60 birds!

After reaching my goal for this year in Pinal County, it was time to concentrate on Gila County.  As I'm writing now, I will say that Gila County is extremely exciting to me.  It's very under-birded and along with Greenlee and Navajo Counties, it's in the bottom 3 for birding efforts in Arizona.  Gila County undoubtedly has an abundance of birds throughout it's lines, but with the exception of one person, it isn't birded much.  I feel like I can bird it a lot this year and discover some notable things.  I like Gila a lot better than Pinal County, and as I write now, I've reached 208 species in Gila and I want to continue exploring it.  One place in Gila that I have fallen in love with is Roosevelt Lake, and I've now made four trips out there in the past six weeks.  It's huge, and the birds there are abundant too.  There is potential for a lot on Roosevelt Lake, and it has become one of my favorite places to bird in Arizona.

On March 2nd and 3rd, I took a two day trip to Gila County.  Day one involved birding Payson and some of the areas northeast and northwest of Payson.  Day one would end with me camping out at Roosevelt Lake, and Day two would be a thorough expedition and exploration of Roosevelt Lake.  My first stop of the trip was at Payson's Green Valley Park, where a female Greater Scaup was spending the winter.  In a small lake near the main lake, it didn't take me very long to find her.

The Greater Scaup was one of six Gila County lifers I landed at Green Valley Park to start my day off.  My next stop was the most important stop of the trip, and that was at the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery off of Highway 260 about 30 miles northeast of Payson.  The habitat is mixed conifer forest at the hatchery.  Upon my arrival, there were howling winds in the high country.  It was freezing as I stepped out of my truck.  I looked around to see snow everywhere, making it hazardous at the Hatchery.  They closed down the hatchery, but I walked to a few ponds at the base of the hatchery, searching for my main target in the American Dipper.  Prior to this search, I had only seen American Dipper in Apache County in Arizona, so a Gila County American Dipper was bound to be welcoming.  The weather was freezing out with the combination of the added wind.  Luckily, right when I got to one of the ponds that was at the base of the hatchery, I immediately found an American Dipper!  It was actively foraging in the creek, and it was quickly joined by another Dipper.  The birds were nest building, which I made sure to document.  I later found out from Troy Corman that these birds have been observed nest building, but never stayed long into spring and furthermore due to the probability that the prey of the Dipper gets taken by crayfish.  Nevertheless, it was awesome to see this bird in an area much closer to Phoenix than the White Mountains in Apache County!

American Dipper is North America's only aquatic songbird.  It swims underwater to catch it's invertebrate prey, and it is truly a remarkable bird.  I'll never pass up a chance to see a Dipper if one's around.  The American Dipper wasn't the only awesome bird at the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery that day.  It was joined by two other Gila County life birds for me that day.  One of them was the Golden-crowned Kinglet, which came in small flocks.  The other was the Pacific Wren, who allowed me to get a few excellent visuals of itself.  Pacific Wren has been found breeding in Gila County before, and during my visit, it became my 190th Gila County bird.

Road to Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery

After birding within the vicinity of Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery, I went further north on Highway 260 to Colcord Road.  It's pine and oak habitat have attracted American Three-toed Woodpecker in the past, probably one of the furthest south the species has been recorded in central Arizona.  It's one I'd love to get in Gila County, and a one hour plus search came up empty.  There were plenty of birds to be found, including this Steller's Jay.

Colcord Road

After birding Highway 260 northeast of Payson, I then returned to Payson and birded Highway 87 northwest of Payson.  I went to the town of Pine, where I birded Pine Creek Canyon.  Bird life wasn't overly active, but it was a gorgeous place to explore, one of mixed conifer and oak with a flowing creek through the middle.  Brian Ison has found Montezuma Quail here as well as Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher.  It's an epic spot, one that I need to visit and bird in May or June.  A bird that was common in this area as well as the area of the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery was the Mexican Jay.  This is certainly a nice northern population of the species.  Birds were tough to photograph in Pine Creek Canyon, and I couldn't get much beyond the jay and a Brown Creeper.  However, I did discover a second Pacific Wren for the day.  The Pine Creek Trail had mammal highlights of White-tailed Deer and an Elk.

Pine Creek

After Pine Creek, I headed to Roosevelt Lake where I would camp out in my newly bought tent cot and spend the next day birding.  I camped out at Cholla Campground, where in almost an hour of owling I was finally able to land a Western Screech-Owl.

WSOW in Cholla CG

The following day Roosevelt Lake and it's surroundings was filled with 88 species of birds.  The rarest I found was an Eastern Meadowlark.  Hundreds of Western and Clark's Grebes dotted the lake, and 253 American White Pelicans were also cool.  A pond I stopped at on my way home north of the Lake on Highway 188 gave me a new Gila County bird, a few Cinnamon Teal.

Black-throated Sparrow

American White Pelican

Clark's Grebe

On March 9th, I made another visit to the Roosevelt Lake area, this time with my buddy Dominic Sherony.  Before we went to Roosevelt Lake, we stopped at a riparian area north of the lake along Tonto Creek.  Tonto Creek flows south into Roosevelt Lake, btw.  The riparian area we accessed was in the town of Tonto Basin and we accessed it via Bar X Crossing Road.  Willow and cottonwoods make up this area in thick density, and the location has great potential for a lot.  Highlighting the stop was this Belted Kingfisher.

It was Dominic's first time birding Roosevelt Lake after we birded Tonto Creek riparian.  As usual the lake was full of birds, and I added Common Yellowthroat and Black-crowned Night-Heron to the Gila County list.  Here are a few pictures of American White Pelicans flying into the lake.  These Pelicans are obviously huge birds, but the massive Roosevelt Lake somehow makes them seem to be not as big as they really are..

On the way back to Phoenix, Dominic and I stopped at the pond I mentioned along Highway 188, and I got to see five of my Gila first Common Goldeneye, which got me to 197 Gila County birds.

On March 10th, I went straight back to Gila County again because I had that feeling that I was bound to hit 200.  I birded the Pinal Mountains area to start off the day.  Following the Pinals came a trip down Highway 77 to bird the Gila River and Winkleman area, and the day would then conclude further north up Highway 77.  The day starting off on an interesting note.  In the Russel Gulch area of the Pinal Mountains, there is a landfill that attracts many ravens that include numbers of Chihuahuan Ravens, which is a very significant population for a central Arizona location such as Gila County.  Thanks to Dave Pearson, such knowledge has been brought about regarding these Ravens.  When I went to the dump, the workers know who Dave is and are friends with him, so they let me in because I know Dave.  I scanned the Common Ravens carefully visually and I listened for the different call of the Chihuahuan.  It didn't take me too long to land a Chihuahuan Raven, and I spent over an hour trying to learn the differences between the two species better.  The Chihuahuan Raven is smaller than Common, has a different voice, and has much longer nasal bristles over the upper mandible.  I did manage to get a comparison shot.  A Common Raven is the upper bird and a Chihuahuan Raven is the lower bird.

After some exploring up into the Pinals for a little over an hour, I headed down to Globe, got lunch, and went south on Highway 77 to Winkleman, where I would bird along the Gila River for a good chunk of the day.  The Christmas and The Shores Recreation Areas were fun to bird along the Gila River, which is a centerpoint for the Gila and Pinal County lines.  Things got very fun when I got a new Pinal and Gila County bird in just seconds, as a Common Black-Hawk flew over the river.  During the day, I ended up having 5 Common Black-Hawks along the Gila River, three to four in Gila County and all 5 in Pinal County at one point.

The Common Black-Hawk left me at 199 for Gila County, and I had a lot of fun exploring the Gila River via Highway 77.  Highway 77 is also quite the scenic drive.  My day ended at a place called Dripping Springs Road, a dirt road off of Highway 77 north of Winkleman probably by about 15 miles.  Most of the road is desert, but birders have found Rufous-winged Sparrow and Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet here in the past.  The road eventually goes to a small community called the Windspirit Community, which looks to be a classic migrant trap.  While it's early for migrants, I wouldn't doubt that there were some notable wintering birds that I didn't detect.  The community has plantations of many different trees.  Most is inaccessable due to it being private property, but some of it can be birded by the road.  This community didn't give me that rarity, but it gave me my 200th Gila County bird, an Inca Dove!

After taking a week off of Gila County birding, I was back at it again on March 24th.  On the 24th, I spent a long day birding Roosevelt Lake after stopping at Bar X.  It was a great day in the County, and I added 6 more County lifers.  But the most exciting aspect was counting waterbird numbers carefully at Roosevelt Lake.  Heck, I didn't leave the Lake until after dark!  Here is a report that I wrote:

Hi Everyone,

Yesterday on March 24th, 2017, I ventured northeast out to Gila County's Highway 188 area where I started my day off birding along a few spots on 188 before spending the majority of the day covering as much of the massive Roosevelt Lake as I could.

I went up Highway 87 from Fountain Hills north before proceeding onto Highway 188 and working my way south well into the Roosevelt Lake Recreation Area.  After going south on Highway 188 for awhile and reaching mile marker 269, there is a pond on the east side of 188 and a convenient pull off right at mile marker 269.  This pond is private property and is on a farm, but it is easily viewable from the highway.  I made visits to this pond on March 9th and March 3rd to find it covered with various ducks that included a Greater Scaup, and ducks in numbers such as Common Goldeneye, Canvasback, Cinnamon Teal, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, and plenty more.  My visit to it yesterday showed a major decrease in any waterfowl, but this pond is certainly worth a stop and a look if in the area.  It has lots of potential for a variety of waterbirds.

My next stop was a little further south in the town Tonto Basin, where I took Bar X Crossing Road to Tonto Creek.  There is riparian habitat here that is epic.  Thick and dense cottonwood and willow riparian forests make up this area and they are surrounded my mesquite and desert habitats.  There is a lot of exploring that can be done here on both sides of the road.  While I didn't have anything off the charts, I was glad to see a COMMON BLACK-HAWK, my FOS PACIFIC-SLOPE FLYCATCHER, my FOS BELL'S VIREOS, as well as numerous LUCY'S and YELLOW WARBLERS singing their heads off.

After leaving Tonto Basin, I headed down to Roosevelt Lake starting at 9:21 A.M., where I would bird the lake by stopping at nine of it's recreation sites until nearly 7 P.M.  Roosevelt Lake has become one of my favorite birding spots in Arizona, I love the abundance and diversity of birds that it brings, and the challenges it takes to find and count that abundance and diversity.  The locations I visited at Roosevelt Lake were the Orange Peel Recreation Site, Bermuda Flat, Cholla Campground, Vineyard Canyon Picnic Area, the Visitor's Center, Cottonwood Cove Picnic Area, Windy Hill Recreation Site, Grapevine Group Site, and Schoolhouse Point.  Each spot has surrounding habitat that can be good for birding, and of course, a lot of water to scan.  My personal favorite is Orange Peel Recreation Site, which is closed to vehicles (I just simply walk in).

The biggest thrill I got out of the day was counting the numbers of Aechmophorus (Western/Clark's) Grebes out on the lake, which took a big chunk of my time.  Counting large numbers of birds on a lake as big as Roosevelt is challenging.  One of the challenging aspects was that some of the recreation sites are close to each other, which creates chances of easily counting the same birds twice from different hotspots.  What I did was keep an eye on landmarks to make sure I didn't overlap counts.  I was more interested in counting Aechmophorus grebes as a whole rather than scrutinize for species, because that wouldn't have given me as much time to complete my other tasks for the day.  Between the 9 spots I visited, I counted 3,034 Western/Clark's Grebes, as well as additionally 255 definite WESTERN GREBES and 71 definite CLARK'S GREBES.  Roosevelt Lake is also a great spot to see these awesome birds do their incredible running mating displays.

Besides Western and Clark's Grebes, I recorded a total of 81 species at Roosevelt Lake in my 9.5 hour search.  Other highlights included 10 LESSER SCAUP, 12 RUDDY DUCK (Duck numbers have decreased probably by 95% since my previous visit a few weeks ago), a striking COMMON LOON in full breeding plumage off of Vineyard Canyon Picnic Area, 20 EARED GREBE, 3 NEOTROPIC CORMORANTS, at least 400 DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS, 144 AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN, 9 GREAT EGRET, 2 SNOWY EGRET, a rather surprising CATTLE EGRET, OSPREY, 4 BALD EAGLE, 94 RING-BILLED GULL, a single CALIFORNIA GULL, close to 40 more distant gulls that were too far for ID (likely RBGU), 3 BLACK-CHINNED and 5 COSTA'S HUMMINGBIRDS, 5 ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER, 28 BELL'S VIREO, plenty of VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS, CRISSAL THRASHER, 44 LUCY'S WARBLER, YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD, and my first HOODED ORIOLE of the year.

Cattle and Snowy Egrets at Orange Peel Recreation Site.  Cattle Egret is quite the rarity for Gila County.

I highly recommend birding this area, it's one that is fun to spend an entire day at.  I didn't get back to Glendale until after 10 P.M.!

Lucy's Warbler

Vermilion Flycatcher

March 30th saw me make yet another Tonto Creek and Roosevelt Lake.  Cassin's Vireo and Greater Yellowlegs provided me with my most recent Gila County total-208 species with those two being the most recent additions as they were along Tonto Creek.  Birding in Gila County in the months of April and May will get interesting.  There are many migrants who will be passing through on both land and water, breeders will begin to arrive in all elevations, and I've got to see some of it!

Hooded Oriole

Black-throated Sparrow

The place I want to explore the most in Gila County now is the stretch along the 50 mile Highway 288.  This highway starts at the south at the base of Roosevelt Lake and continues north into the town of Young.  The highway is also known as, Desert to Pines Highway due to it's habitat diversity and due to that, I want to explore the heck out of it!  It's very under-birded, and it's also home to the Sierra Ancha Mountains.

Arizona's 15 Counties At A Glance Through My Birding

While Arizona County Birding is something that I love, I'm far from being the best at it.  Some birders have 400 or more in one county, and some birders have 300 in 4 counties or more.  With my goal of eventually having a minimum of 200 in every county, it gets me out and exploring throughout my state.  What makes it fun is that every trip and every rare bird chase can have potential additions in each county.  I'm gonna do a brief overview of each county, what I think about it, and the best birds I've seen in that county.

1.  Maricopa County:  Maricopa County is my home county and favorite county.  I've birded it extensively and have done three Big Years in the County.  My total is 385 species for Maricopa County.  What I like about Maricopa County is the fact that it has everything from the lowest deserts to pine and fir forests.  Although it'll still take some time, I have a decent path for reaching 400 species in my home county.  I have one county record to my name in Maricopa with an Eastern Bluebird.  Some of the best birds I have seen in the county have been Wedge-rumped Storm Petrel, White-eared Hummingbird, Violet-crowned Hummingbird, Smith's Longspur, Western Gull, Green Kingfisher, Hudsonian Godwit, Black Skimmer, Louisiana Waterthrush, and the list can go on and on and on...

Wedge-rumped Storm Petrel

2.  Yavapai County:  Like Maricopa County, Yavapai has an array of habitats from desert to forests.  I birded Yavapai County a lot in 2013, especially in the Prescott region.  My total is 239 species for Yavapai County.  My best find for Yavapai was the County's first Mew Gull at the northern side of Lake Pleasant.  One time I found a Harris's Hawk in Prescott, where they are accidental.  My favorite birding task in Yavapai is night owling, especially in the Bradshaw Mountains.  Flammulated, Saw-whet, and Spotted Owls may be found on any given night.  Rarities I've been lucky to see have also included Tundra Swan, White-winged Scoter, Red-necked Grebe, Horned Grebe, Brown Pelican, White-tailed Kite, Gray Hawk, Herring Gull, Eastern Phoebe,Winter and Pacific Wrens, and Brown Thrasher.  I have a lot more birding to do in this County, and I have many many easy birds left in it's reaches that I need to get.

White-tailed Kite at Willow Lake in 2013

3.  Pima County:  Pima County is a diverse county in habitats, from lowland deserts to pine and fir forests that exceed 9000' in the Santa Catalina Mountains on Mount Lemmon.  My total is 228 species for Pima County, with the most recent addition being a lifebird and a mega rarity for Arizona.  Stay tuned on my next blog post for that story.  My favorite spot to bird in Pima is Mount Lemmon due to it's route of passing through nearly every elevation and natural habitat that can be found in Arizona.  Pima County has the second highest total of birds found in any county in Arizona, and by eBird checklists, it's by far the most birded.  Among the epic rarities that I've been lucky enough to see in Pima have been Black Scoter, Tricolored Heron, Short-tailed Hawk, Heerman's Gull, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Buff-collared Nightjar, Red-breasted Sapsucker, the ABA's first ever Pine Flycatcher, Black-capped Gnatcatcher, Louisiana Waterthrush, Magnolia, Blackpoll, Pine, Palm, and Rufous-capped Warblers; Harris's Sparrow, and Baltimore Oriole.

Pine Flycatcher at Aliso Spring

4.  Apache County:  Apache County is one of Arizona's highest counties in elevation overall, I don't think it gets below 5000' anywhere.  This county is my second favorite county in Arizona, due to that high elevation aspect and the fact that I started birding here when I was a kid.  Watching Ospreys fish in Greer sparked my birding interest.  Apache County is filled with forests in the White Mountains, but it also has a ton of desolate lands in the northern half of the County on the Navajo Reservation.  There is a lot to be explored here, and the little known Chuska and Carrizo Mountains may hold species that would be very rare to Arizona.  My total is 226 species for Apache County, and it is not an easy county to get high lists in.  The Rocky Mountain reminiscent White Mountains have taken most of my birding attention here, where I have been lucky to see Dusky Grouse, Gray Jay, American Dipper, American Three-toed Woodpecker, and breeding Pine Grosbeaks.  Gray Catbirds also breed in good numbers.  I have one Apache County record to my name, Blue-throated Hummingbird.  Other rarities I have seen in this county have been Greater Scaup, California Quail (local population), Neotropic Cormorant, Sanderling, Sabine's Gull, Caspian and Common Terns, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Black-billed Magpie (Teec Nos Pos Wash), Grasshopper Sparrow, and Dickcissel.

Black-billed Magpie at Teec Nos Pos

5.  Santa Cruz County:  Santa Cruz County is Arizona's smallest county, but it's one of Arizona's top counties for bird diversity and almost every habitat can be found.  Some of my favorite spots within this county include Madera Canyon, Patagonia Lake State Park, and San Rafael Grasslands.  My total is 224 species for Santa Cruz County.  Some of the best birds I have seen in Santa Cruz County have been Least Grebe, Blue-footed Booby, American Bittern, Rough-legged Hawk, Common Tern, Short-eared Owl, Plain-capped Starthroat, Lucifer Hummingbird, Berryline Hummingbird, Green Kingfisher, Black-capped Gnatcatcher, Brown Thrasher, Louisiana Waterthrush, Yellow-throated Warbler, Five-striped Sparrow and Flame-colored Tanager.  Besides rarities, I always love to go to Madera Canyon to see birds such as Elegant Trogon, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Arizona Woodpecker, and more.

Blue-footed Bobby at Patagonia Lake SP

6.  Cochise County:  Cochise County is one that I only have 217 species in.  That's it.  Cochise County is Arizona's most diverse county when it comes to habitats and bird life. More birds have been documented in Cochise County than any other county in Arizona.  Cochise is home to both the Chiricahua and Huachuca Mountain ranges.  Both of these ranges get attention from an array of birds from both common to rare.  Another favorite in Cochise County is Willcox, which is the best shorebirding hotspot in Arizona.  Cochise has a lot of other great spots, and it's a county I need to bird more of.  Rarities I have personally found in Cochise have been Red Knot and Short-tailed Hawk.  Some of the best birds I have seen in Cochise have included Black-bellied Plover, Miller Canyon's Spotted Owls, Lucifier, Beryline, and White-eared Hummingbirds; Tufted Flycatcher, Mexican Chickadee, Sinaloa Wren, Slate-throated Redstart, Flame-colored Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Northern Waterthrush and Northern Parula.

Red Knot at Willcox

7.  Gila County:  This post highlighted my time's in Gila County.  I don't need to say anymore about it!  I haven't seen many rare birds in Gila County yet, but hopefully, some of those will come.  I have 208 species in Gila County, and it is Arizona's 3rd most under-birded county.  Gila is home to two spectacular lakes, some incredible mountain ranges, and plenty of lowland riparian habitats in places.  This will likely be my most birded county in 2017 outside of Maricopa County.

Greater Pewee in Gila County's Pinal Mountains

8.  Pinal County:  Pinal County has been talked a lot about in this post too.  I have 205 species for this county now.  Pinal has many lowland desert areas, but it's also full of medium elevation ranges.  It's very limited in conifer forest habitat, and I was actually fortunate enough to access that habitat in a trip to the Superstition Wilderness area this year.  Pinal is full of good birding locations such as the Santa Cruz Flats, Boyce Thompson Arboretum, the San Pedro River at Dudleyville and elsewhere, Peppersauce Canyon, Araviapa Canyon Wilderness, etc.  Notables I have seen in Pinal County have been Crested Caracara and Mountain Plover at Santa Cruz Flats, White-rumped Sandpiper, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Arizona Woodpecker, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Rufous-backed Robin, Varied Thrush, Louisiana Waterthrush, American Redstart, and Black-throated Blue Warbler.

Varied Thrush at Boyce Thompson Arboretum

9.  Graham County:  Graham County features the Pinaleno Mountains, where Mount Graham is located.  This is one of Arizona's most beautiful locations.  And it has birds too!  The road to Mount Graham starts off around 3000' in elevation and quickly traverses to over 10,000'.  One could build an epic list by staying on that one road.  Graham County has good diversity in it's habitats too, and it's very under-birded.  It's also home to Roper Lake State Park and Cluff Ranch WA in the lowlands, two epic locations.  I haven't birded Graham a lot, but in the few two trips I've made I have 139 species in those trips.  A Rose-throated Becard was found at Cluff Ranch last year, one I wish I would've chased.  In my times of birding Graham County, highlights I had at San Carlos Lake and the Pinalenos and their surroundings have included Spotted Owl, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Red-faced Warbler, and 136 others...

Me with a Spotted Owl at Mt. Graham.  I looked above me and there it was....

10.  Coconino County:  Coconino County is huge.  It is Arizona's largest county, and the 2nd largest county in the United States.  I only have 138 species for this County, and it's one that I've always wanted to explore more for myself.  It isn't under-birded, but it doesn't have heavy birder coverage either.  Coconino is filled with high elevation mountains and forests, grasslands, some big lakes, some awesome riparian corridors, and Arizona's main attraction, the Grand Canyon.  I still have yet to get my eyes on a countable California Condor, but that's a trip I hope to make in one of these upcoming years.  My favorite area to bird in Coconino is the Flagstaff area, but because I haven't birded the County much, I guess Flag is my favorite area for now.  I have seen two incredible rarities in Coconino in the form of two shorebirds, both found by Jason Wilder.  One was Arizona's first spring record of the Arizona mega rare Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and the other was the first state record of Lesser Sand Plover.  Both were found on small ponds within desolate and isolated lands.  Other great birds I have seen in Coconino have been Rough-legged Hawk, Common Tern, Northern Shrike, Pacific Wren, and Rufous-backed Robin.

Lesser Sand Plover at Round Cedar Lake

11.  Greenlee County:  Greenlee is by far Arizona's most under-birded county.  It's the second smallest county in Arizona size-wise, and it's Arizona's least populated county in terms of people living there.  Greenlee County is a birding gem waiting to be explored.  Despite the county's small size, good habitat is found literally everywhere in the county.  The Gila River, Blue River, San Francisco River, and Eagle Creek form some impressive riparian corridors in the county that have mile upon miles of area to explore.  Chihuahuan desert above 3000' make up the southern part of the county.  North of the main towns of Duncan and Clifton, Greenlee County climbs up into the mountains.  The Big Lue Mountains are present with their pine and oak forests, and further up Highway 191 more forest is quickly accessed and eventually the route traverses into the White Mountains.  The White Mountains section of Greenlee County nears 10,000', and has plenty of spruce-fir forest.  Gray Jays and Dusky Grouse call it their home.  With this array of habitats that range from 3000' to close to 10,000', Greenlee has loads of potential.  I've birded the White Mountains section of Greenlee County twice and got close to the Blue River on one occasion, and the other trip was published in my previous blog post.  I have 132 birds for Greenlee County in these three combined trips.  The best bird was the County's first and very notable Yellow-eyed Junco, found by Caleb Strand at Drainage Deez Nuts.  Other highlights that have found me in my young times of birding this county have been Wood Duck, Northern Goshawk, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Greater Pewee, Clark's Nutcracker, and Sagebrush Sparrow.  Birders rarely bird this county, and I hope to bird it again very soon...because to is the most exciting county to bird in right now because of it's limited coverage.

Northern Goshawk at Seep Spring Canyon

12.  Yuma County:  I'll say that Yuma County is my least favorite county to bird in Arizona by a mile.  Why? It has the least amount of habitat diversity by a mile.  Most of it is barren desert and there aren't any high elevation habitats anywhere in the county.  But Yuma does have some birds, and I have seen 130 birds in three trips to the county.  I've lifered three times in Yuma County, with Black Rail, White Ibis, and Streak-backed Oriole.  The latter two are big rarities in Arizona, and the very latter is a sought after rarity on an ABA scale.  Yuma County's hotspot highlights for me include the riparian habitats at Yuma East and West Wetlands, Mittry Lake, and a section of agricultural fields south of Yuma.  More wetland and lake habitats can be found at other lakes north of town, still in the county.  The ag fields south of town contain large numbers of raptors such as Ferruginous Hawks.  Mountain Plovers are also found in numbers.  Other good birds I have seen in Yuma have been Red-shouldered Hawk, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and White-throated Sparrow.  The County has had remarkable rarities such as Sooty Shearwater, Hawaiian Petrel, and California Scrub-Jay.  Maybe someday I'll learn to like this County...

Streak-backed Oriole at Yuma East Wetlands

13.  La Paz County:  La Paz County is another county, like Yuma, that doesn't have as much habitat diversity.  It does contain some mountains that contain chaparral habitats that have wintering Fox Sparrows to give it a bigger boost than it's southern cousin.  But La Paz is epic.....somehow.  It is home to the Bill Williams Wildlife Refuge along the Lower Colorado River, more locations along the Lower Colorado River, Alamo Lake, Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, and plenty more.  In the several times that I have birded La Paz County, I have gathered 125 species.  Some of those 125 species have been incredible.  The best was a Lauren Harter and David Vander Pluym discovered Nutting's Flycatcher, a spectacular Mexican vagrant along the Planet Ranch Road arm of Bill Williams Wildlife Refuge.  This Nutting's Flycatcher was the start to what became a small population of the vagrant, in which a pair successfully bred.  Other great birds I have seen in La Paz and most of the rest coming from Bill Williams have been Surf and White-winged Scoters, Barrow's Goldeneye, Red-throated and Pacific Loons, Blue-footed Boobies, Mountain Plovers in Wendon, and Mew Gull.

Barrow's and Common Goldeneye side-by-side at Bill Williams is a regular sight.

14.  Navajo County:  Navajo County is one of the three most under-birded counties in Arizona.  For a quick brush up, the other two are Gila and Greenlee Counties, but Graham, Apache, and Yuma Counties can fall into the under-birded category too.  Navajo County is another higher elevation county, which features forests in the White Moutains in the southern half of the county, where the northern half of the county is full of mostly barren country on the Navajo and Hopi Reservations.  It is a very large county.  It's one that I've been too plenty of times in the summer months, but with visiting relatively few locations, my list here is a minimal 101 species.  Fool Hollow Lake is an epic place to bird in Navajo County, and this area is part of the White Mountains in the Show Low and Pinetop/Lakeside region.  Highlights I have had in birding around Showlow and Pinetop so far have included Hooded Merganser, Common Loon, Northern Goshawk, my first ever wild owl in a Great Horned Owl, Lewis's Woodpecker, Williamson's Sapsucker, my first Peregrine Falcon in the wild, Pinyon Jay, and Red-faced Warbler.  My list is tiny for this awesome county, which I probably know the least about in any Arizona County.  I look forward to the day I shoot for 200 in Navajo County.

Navajo County may be the Lewis's Woodpecker capitol..

15.  Mohave County:  Surprisingly, this is the county in Arizona I have birded the least in, and thus, have the least amount of birds in.  My Mohave list currently stands at 90 species.  Mohave is another Arizona county that has tremendous habitat diversity, from lowland deserts to high forested mountains.  When I have gone to Mohave County, I have mainly birded around Lake Havasu.  Lake Havasu is the County's seat for birding, and it has many good birding locations to be birded at.  Other great aquatic birding areas include Davis Dam, Lake Mead, and Alamo Lake.  Two high elevation forested mountain areas in Mohave intrigue me:  the Hualapai Mountains and Mount Trumbull.  The Hualapai Mountains are a place I plan to visit this year in May or June, and Mount Trumbull is an area I want to go to even more.  Trumbull is a much more distant location, but some of the birds that have been found there have me itching to explore it.  Although I have only seen 90 species in Mohave County, some of those 90 species have been epic.  Those highlights have been Black Scoter, Pacific and Yellow-billed Loons, Red-necked Grebe, Brown Booby, Glaucous Gull, and Common Tern.  I look forward to getting over 100 very soon in this county.

Brown Booby at Lake Havasu

Epic birds have been found in all of Arizona's 15 counties.  For more reference, go to eBird or to learn more about them.  I am one person, and my descriptions can't do these areas justice.  County birding certainly makes birding a lot more fun in my opinion!