Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Mohave County's Hualapai Mountains

Prior to April 19th, 2017, I had been intrigued by the Hualapai Mountains in Mohave County.  This is a high elevation mountain range located just to the southeast of Kingman, Arizona.  The range shoots up in elevation well above 7000' and it's upper elevations are filled with mainly pine and oak forest but the higher reaches also contain fir and aspen.  Birding wise, it always seemed like an interesting place to me.  It is the northwestern reach for some of our species such as Greater Pewee and Red-faced Warbler.  Although the two species are scarce within the mountain range, it's awesome to know they have been recorded there.  Shockingly, as I've been exploring Arizona Counties more and more this year in 2017, Mohave became the last county I would gain 100 in.  I gained 100 species in Greenlee County, Arizona's most under-birded county, before I would gain 100 species in Mohave County, which is a County full of diversity like Maricopa County.  100 species per county in Arizona is really a piece of cake, but it's still cool to reach that number in each county.  I went with my birding buddies Dominic Sherony and Caleb Strand to the Hualapai Mountains on April 19th, and for the first time for the three of us, we got to bird this scenic mountain range.

My Mohave County list stood at 90 birds before we entered the region on this day.  Within minutes of stopping at Hualapai Mountain Park, that list went over 100 for me.  As we birded stands of pine and oak, we were also by chaparral habitat.  It was cool listening to Black-chinned Sparrows singing, and having early highlights of Black-throated Gray Warbler and flocks of Band-tailed Pigeons flying by.

While we planned to cover a lot of the Hualapai Mountains in the time that we had, the Hualapai Mountain Park area was one section of the mountain range.  It was a well spent ten dollars to enter the park.  The three of us birded the park for a good 2.5 hours, and we recorded over 40 species.  Many interesting birds were present.  More so, it was cool to be in a mountain range we had never been in before.  I relatively under-birded mountain range at that.  Acorn Woodpeckers were abundant in Hualapai Mountain Park.

Some birds were cooperative and gave good views, and others gave quick views.  The latter resulted in examples such as this Plumbeous Vireo and this very vocal but obstructed Cassin's Finch.

We commonly scanned the slopes above us for raptors such as Zone-tailed Hawks and Golden Eagles.

We couldn't find any Golden Eagles during our search for the day, but a pair of Zone-tailed Hawks put on a show for us.  Zonies are noisy raptors, and a lot of times, that is how they are first detected.  The Hualapai Zone-tailed Hawks were no different.  As we heard them, Caleb, Dominic, and I hustled out of the forest and into a clearing to look up and get good views of the two raptors as they soared overhead.

Warblers are always a big highlight when in mountain ranges like this.  Although we couldn't find a highly desired Red-faced Warbler for Mohave County that day, we had plenty of Painted Redstarts.  Painted Redstarts are one of my favorite Arizona birds.  Even if they are a dime a dozen in spots, I can't grow tired of them.

After hearing an Olive Warbler several times, we eventually saw a male as it came into view.

It came and foraged close to us, causing all of us to grin.  Actually, it made Dominic's entire day.  He hasn't gotten to see and photograph much of Olive Warblers at all.  This is really a neat bird, another one that never gets old.

Other birds in the park included Hairy Woodpecker, Dusky and Ash-throated Flycatchers, Cassin's Vireo, Stellar's and Woodhouse's Scrub-Jays, Juniper Titmouse, Bushtit, Pygmy and White-breasted Nuthatches, Western Bluebird, Hermit Thrush, abundant House Wrens, Virginia's, Townsend's, Yellow-rumped, and Grace's Warblers; Lazuli Bunting, Scott's Oriole, and Pine Siskin.

From Hualapai Mountain Park itself, we then went further southeast into the Hualapais along a dirt road for several miles called Flag Mine Road.  After suggestions from David Vander Pluym and Lauren Harter (King and Queen of Mohave County Birding), we birded along that road.  It was another pleasant 1.5 hours, and we added more birds to the day, as well as another stretch of birding territory onto our location life lists.  Flag Mine Road had a lot of pine and oak forest as well as a lot of open chaparral slopes.  Black-chinned Sparrows felt right at home along this road.

While Caleb and Dominic were a ways ahead of me, I pished in this cooperative Grace's Warbler.  Grace's was sure curious!

And Flag Mine had plenty of Painted Redstarts too!

Other birds at Flag Mine Road included Cooper's Hawk, Dusky Flycatchers, Canyon Wren, another Olive Warbler, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Scott's Oriole, and another Cassin's Finch.

After exploring the Hualapais, the three of us explored a few wastewater treatment plant areas west of Kingman to add a few waterbirds such as Eared Grebe, Ruddy Duck, Spotted Sandpiper, and Western Sandpiper.  After heading back home and going south of Kingman, we made a few stops along the Big Sandy River outside of Wikieup.  The habitat here was lowland riparian and desert.  We had many species here, including first-of-year Yellow-breasted Chats and a migrant MacGillivray's Warbler.  It really brought our day list up.  After birding along the Big Sandy River, we had to head home.  It was a great day of birding Mohave County, and thanks to Caleb and Dominic for the good day of birding.

After the trip concluded, I went through the lists and counted that my Mohave County list went from 90 species to 149 species.  I got 59 Mohave County additions that day!  What was fun about the day was that it was really my first concentrated day of focusing on Mohave County.  In the past prior to this trip, my birding in Mohave County was always based around chasing a mega state rarity, such as a Glaucous Gull or Brown Booby.  This County has a lot to it, and I hope to bird more of it in the future!

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