Wednesday, December 12, 2018


Sunset at Roosevelt Lake..

Cool, huh.  I think so.  This post has a name that's a little weird, and it's a good weird.  It means I've lifered in both Gila and Maricopa Counties as of late.  Recently, I've still been doing quite a bit of birding throughout Gila County.  I'm over 300 in Gila now, and every addition keeps on adding more fun to the fun.  And I didn't expect to get a Maricopa County lifer in these last months of 2018, but unexpected things can happen anytime.  This post will summarize some of my recent adventures and additions to the counties in which I have birded the most.

Gisela is a small town in Gila County.  Tonto Creek runs along the east side of town, and the adjacent habitats and riparian where Gisela is is a great spot for birding.  Since last year when I've explored this area via Gisela, it has treated me respectfully.  One of my recent visits produced an overdue Gila County bird, the Winter Wren.  I've birded riparian areas quite often within Gila County that hold suitable habitat for Winter Wrens over the last year.  That habitat consists of clumps of fallen trees, logs, sticks, and wood in general.  Bar X has a ton of the called habitat, and that was where I had my money laid down for Winter Wren.  Hearing one calling at Gisela was a good way to start my day off in the first week of November.  The call is usually heard before the bird is seen, a double-noted, "kimp-kimp".  Each note of the double sounds similar to the single call note of a Song Sparrow or in my opinion, a Western Kingbird.  Pacific Wren, a recent split-off from Winter Wren, also gives a double-noted call, but it's a "jip-jip" like a Wilson's Warbler.  One time a bird, one of the two was calling in the field, and I thought Winter Wren.  Another said, "No, it's a Pacific Wren, I heard a 'jip-jip'".  While it was an argument I knew I wouldn't win, I still regret not saying, "No, I heard a kimp-kimp".  Here's the "kimp-kimp" from Gisela, and a neat micro bird at that!

This is Bar-X Riparian Area, my favorite riparian in Gila County.  This is also Tonto Creek, and this riparian stretch runs adjacent to the town of Tonto Basin.

Back in Maricopa County, Melanie Herring found and photograph a statewide-Arizona-rare Iceland Gull of the Thayer's subspecies at Lake Pleasant, November 13th.  As I was thinking about doing a big Gila County round for two days, I decided to go for the Iceland Gull on the following day.  I teamed up with Dara, Jeff, and Laura, and it was a fun day from the start.  We scanned from the south side of Lake Pleasant where Melanie detected the bird on the previous day.  It took awhile, and we passed time by by looking at Horned Grebes and skipping rocks on the lake.

After an amount of time, we decided to go to a different side of the lake, still along the southern perimeter but a distance away from the boat ramp where we were at and where Melanie had found the bird.  Bird life seemed dismal, and then Jeff stopped and said he had it.  It was amazing, the bird was barely peaking it's head up over this rocky shoreline near some campers.  Jeff freaking Ritz man!  I spy....

The picture above doesn't do Jeff's detection justice.  Before the picture, I had to elevate myself and get closer.  Looking through Jeff's scope revealed the bird's head.  The four of us went down and got much closer to our Maricopa County lifebird.  Actually, I think it was an official lifer for Dara, Jeff, and Laura.  My first Iceland Gull was in Minnesota, back when there was Iceland Gull and Thayer's Gull.  If the split didn't happen with the two now subspecies, than this bird would still be called Thayer's Gull.

While we watched the Iceland Gull walking around along the shoreline for some time, we wanted to see it in flight some too.  Dara contributed to these pictures in an awesome way.  With young gulls like this, getting flight shots is very important to to see key identification features.  I don't feel like describing all of the ID features right now, just know that it is a young-first-year-first-cycle Iceland Gull...

The gull flew right towards a boat, and a lady on the boat started taking some great flight shots of the Iceland Gull.  She couldn't have been more happy that the bird she wanted to see flew past their boat with eye level views.  Turned out it was Mary and Chris McSparen driving the boat, two birders who work at Lake Pleasant and take boats out on the lake often.  Mary finds interesting birds quite often.  We were immediately invited by Mary to come aboard her boat and she took us on a tour of the entire lake and to lunch at Scorpion Bay.  It was the quickest yes I've heard a group of four people say upon her asking us.  Seeing Lake Pleasant for the first time from that view of things was incredible.  Thanks Mary, your awesome!  The boat ride also provided more neat looks at the Iceland Gull, my 391st bird for Maricopa County.

The awesome day was concluded as I showed Dara, Jeff, and Laura around Morgan City Wash for their very first visit to the location.  Birdlife was a little slow for it being later in the day, but it seemed like they all enjoyed Morgan and it's perennial stream.  Also turns out that Mary is gonna coordinate the Lake Pleasant CBC this year, after it has gone off the radar for a CBC for 30 years.  It will be interesting to see what it produces after a 30 year absence.  Cool, huh!

Two more trips to Gila County were rather slow for birds and targets that I was hoping for.  But one bird prevailed me, my latest Gila County lifer in a White-throated Sparrow.  On two trips to Roosevelt Lake via the boat launch area at Windy Hill Recreation Site, this bird was present both times.  I was pleased to find it, and this bird is a first-year individual.

The good ol' Reddish Egret relocated to the southern side of Roosevelt Lake, as of November 29th.

The White-throated Sparrow was my 305th Gila County bird overall.  What a fun August through November it was for birding Gila County.  I might not be able to do any more birding until 2019 (hopefully that's not the complete case), as things have gotten complex after Thanksgiving.  But so far, a solid 2018.  If I can make another Gila trip or two, stay tuned...

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Gila County: The 300 and..

Once I hit 298 species in Gila County (see last post), things started to get more and more interesting in my head.  With an array of different bird possibilities that I could get to reach 300 made the climb seem easier over time, but at the same time, finding those two birds could take some time.  For me, reaching 300 species in Gila was exciting.

I wanted to hustle.  I wanted to reach that personal milestone.  I wanted to have 300 species in a county outside of Maricopa County.  I wanted to accomplish that personal milestone in Gila County, which is one of Arizona's most under-birded counties.  I wanted to bird on the morning of September 23rd, 2018 before work.  And I did.

September 23rd was a decision that I look back on now and think of as dumb.  The dumb isn't dumb in a bad way.  All I did was drive for over two hours to Gisela, bird for about four hours at Tonto Creek via Gisela, and then drive back to Phoenix for over two hours to be able to get to work on time.  In the meantime, I brought a pair of crappy shoes, old clothes, and a fresh change of work clothes along.  I waded in Tonto Creek on-and-off for most of the time while birding Gisela that morning.  At times the water was over two feet deep, which resulted in me being soaked knees down.  After all, I was birding at a vital time of the year for eastern vagrants, and I was pleased with the effort I was putting in.  Tonto Creek via Gisela is situated at about 4000' in elevation and has a variety of habitats.  I got an odd #299 that day as I heard a Pinyon Jay calling from a hillside on the east side of Tonto Creek.  There were junipers on the hillside and in the rather close distance is some good habitat for the species, but it was a weird occurrence.  While I didn't like such for a heard only, I couldn't doubt what I heard, and it is a sound I've memorized.  I managed to convince myself to be pumped up about my observation.  After time and time again convincing myself to be pumped up, I think I was possibly "pumped up".  Whatever, 299.  I couldn't find an eastern warbler that I was hoping to find, but I did have 3 Northern Beardless-Tyrannulets.  It was cool to find more of them at this location, which is pretty far north for the species.

Gisela had over 60 species of birds show up for me that day, the place is always good for diversity.  Other than birds, many species of odes can be seen there.  Filagree Skimmer was one of them, and is one of the neatest dragonflies overall.

After I went to Gisela, I planned for my Wednesday and Thursday "weekend" that still holds true as I write.  I can't remember the last time I didn't have a Wednesday or Thursday off, and it has gone on for a long time.  I think it's quite awesome.  Most people aren't out on weekends, I have a lot of the places completely to myself, and that's the way I like it.  Over the actual weekend, birders were venturing out to San Carlos Lake and were reporting the Parasitic Jaeger as continuing.  I was pumped because I wanted to see it again, as I would be venturing out to the San Carlos Reservation once again to start my weekend off.  The thrill set in that this could be the trip that I reached 300 species in Gila County.  My plan was to go to Tufa Stone Tank and then San Carlos Lake.  I invited Dara and Jeff to come with me, and they said yes.  The Jaeger would be our biggest target of the day.  Even though I had killer looks the previous week (see previous post), I wanted to see it all over again.

Wednesday, September 26th came around.  Dara, Jeff, and I met in Globe early, got our San Carlos Reservation permits, and headed for Tufa Stone Tank.  Once we got there, we were busy from the start, as birds were everywhere and showed up in diversity to represent the Tufa Stone Tank I had been describing to them.  It's pretty rare I have others join my party in Gila, but I was glad to have Jeff and Dara with me.  The rarer birds cooperated too.  Dara really wanted to see the Grasshopper Sparrow I had seen in my previous visits here.  The Grasshopper Sparrow popped up as we got to it's haunts.  A few Dickcissels were present.  Another Clay-colored Sparrow appeared in midst of a large flock of Brewer's Sparrows.  Vaux's Swifts had a short window where they came in in numbers.  65 species at Tufa Stone Tank in nearly 4 hours was a solid effort.

Besides birds, we had another major highlight.  While walking through a thick stand of mesquite trees, we stirred up a Mojave Rattlesnake lifer for the three of us.  This snake was irritated by us at all times until we left.  Even when we got hundreds of feet away, I swear, I could still hear him rattling.  Even now, I think I might hear him.  He's still mad at us.  Lame jokes aside, this snake was cool to see, and is the 5th rattlesnake species I have seen personally.  Mojave Rattlesnakes are very dangerous due to more toxic venom than most rattlesnakes, and high yields of venom when striking on top of that.  Don't mess with this snake, I sure didn't mess with this snake at all during our time with it, not even a little.

This Twelve-spotted Skimmer was also cool to see.  Jeff in particular enjoyed seeing this dragon!

After Tufa Stone Tank, we made our way south towards San Carlos Lake for our Parasitic Jaeger search.  En route to the lake, I wanted to stop at the San Carlos Sewage Ponds for a few minutes to see if the Pyrrhuloxia would pop up for "us", I mean, me.  I wanted this Gila lifer a lot!  While the importance of the Jaeger was dominant, things quickly went downhill from that aspect.  A car pulled up to us and it was Chris Benish and Deb Finch.  I knew that they had to have been coming back from seeing the Jaeger.  Benish said, "we saw it, and then I think we saw it leave".  I thought he was joking at first because Benish does joke.  "Am I being punked", I asked.  But he wasn't joking.  He said it lifted up very high and flew to the west and well over the dam, continuing into the mountains and desert to the west.  It was a bummer to hear, and all we could hope for was to wait at the lake and have it fly back in.  After talking with Benish, we heard a cardinal species calling from the sewage ponds.  Dara spied it at the top of a tree, and right when we lifted our binoculars up, it flew back down.  It came back up again to another tree.  The lighting was bad, and before we could get any more looks, it flew off again.  I managed to snap some distant photographs of the bird in a desperate attempt for an identification as it flew off.  The looks I had gave me a Northern Cardinal vibe at first, but then, the lighting was bad.

We arrived at San Carlos Lake to find some other birders there looking for the missing-in-action Parasitic Jaeger.  And the Jaeger wouldn't return.  It didn't stop Dara, Jeff, and I from having fun.  We enjoyed lunch and waterbird scanning from a high peak overlooking the lake.  I got out my camera to check on my pictures of the Cardinal species.  As I zoomed up, Dara and I realized right away that the bird was indeed a Pyrrhuloxia!  I was shocked, and I didn't think the photographs would result in being awesome.  I was stoked because it meant it was my 300th species for Gila County, one that is quite scarce in the region and one that I've tried for and missed before.

As it was time to head out of the lake, I backed up and got stuck again, in lose freaking sand.  Two weeks after the previous incident, the same thing happened again.  I really blew up this time.  Luckily, Jeff and Dara were there.  Jeff had lots of great pointers in getting me out of the deadly San Carlos sand.  After 20 minutes of trying to figure things out, the teamwork managed to drive me out.  Good grief.  After that, we said till next time.  I continued on further to explore some tanks and grasslands further north into the San Carlos Reservation for the remainder of the day.

These grasslands and tanks have some good potential.  They are located on the east side of Highway 60 if going north towards Show Low, shortly before the descend down into the Salt River Canyon.  Tanks are numerous here, but the ones I covered were Tanks Canyon Tank, Upper Highway Tank, and Sycamore Tank.  While I didn't find anything good in the tanks (Upper Highway Tank was the only tank with water), it was good to scout the area out.  On a funny note, this area is great for Pinyon Jays.  I heard a ton of them while hiking back from Tanks Canyon Tank.  Fun birds to detect!  It made the Gisela one seem lame.  The grasslands surrounding the tanks and pinyon-juniper forest impressed me.

After the tanks and grasslands, I explored Seneca Lake Recreation Area for an hour and I camped out at Jones Water Campground after checking habitat worthy for Long-eared Owls.  The next day, September 27th, was spent going down to Winkleman, birding the Gila River, and then visiting Roosevelt Lake to close out the day and the trip.  I didn't have many bird highlights worth shouting about on this second day.  A Javelina family was neat, and Roosevelt Lake held Semipalmated Plovers and a few Common Terns.

October 3rd and 4th resulted in me going to Roosevelt Lake on the 3rd, camping out, and then going to Senecca Lake early on the 4th and exploring different spots while heading back south down AZ 60/77.  I didn't have any major highlights, but the explorations were fun.  This Coues' White-tailed Deer was cool to see.

Riparian forests are one of the funnest places to bird in the fall.  I love searching for eastern warblers and vireos in these woodlands.  Pictured here is one of my favorite Gila County locations, which is the section of Tonto Creek via Bar X Crossing Road located in the town of Tonto Basin.  This place is incredible, and the possibilities of what can show up are sky high.  Here is one of the favorite spots to walk through when I bird at Bar X.  A Great Horned Owl often greets me as I make my way through this stretch..

October 11th was the date of this adventure.  Birds were everywhere at Bar X, just not an eastern vagrant I was hoping for.  I tallied 62 different species that day, and many species showed in high numbers.  The time was a blast, no doubt!  I did have an epic highlight when I found what is only my 2nd Broad-billed Hummingbird for Gila County, and the first was at this location too.  I finished the latter hours of the day at Roosevelt Lake.  That good ol' Reddish Egret still continued.

On October 18th, I did the same thing.  Call it Bar X and Roosevelt Lake.  This day I was determined to find an eastern warbler, let me tell you all, I was determined!  The first half of the search at Bar X was filled with birds, but no eastern warbler.  Lawrence's Goldfinches highlighted this portion.  And then I entered my favorite stretch, where it was time to be greeted by Great Horned Owl.

While walking along this dense riparian jungle scanning carefully, it finally happened.  I crossed paths with an eastern warbler at Bar X after many visits.  It was an American Redstart.  This was an overdue Gila County lifer on top of it being my first eastern warbler for Bar X.  I saw this bird just in the nick of time, as it disappeared just as quickly as it appeared.

I finished this day at Roosevelt Lake.  Bermuda Flat held Forster's Terns, a Franklin's Gull, and that good ol' continuing Reddish Egret.  Scanning from Cholla Recreation Site gave me my second Gila County lifer of the day and one that I'd also consider a little overdue, a Horned Grebe.  Yes!!

On November 1st, I went back out to the San Carlos Reservation, and for the second time, I went out to explore the tanks and grasslands surrounded by pinyon-pine, juniper, and ponderosa pine forest.  It was suggested to me to start here first by Mr. Caleb, and he was right.  The grassland birds are likely to fly around a lot more first thing in the morning.  Those grassland birds, such as longspurs, are what I was after.  The Tanks I explored were Tanks Canyon Tank, Brushy Basin Tank, and Upper Highway Tank.  The first two tanks mentioned were passed along a hike I took that went for about two miles.  It was pleasant, and a large mixed flock of Pinyon and Mexican Jays moved gregariously through the area.  A Prairie Falcon was also present.  It took awhile, but once I got close to Brushy Basin Tank, I heard my first Gila county longspur in a Chestnut-collared Longspur calling as it flew overhead.  It was great to hear the bird, my 303rd bird for Gila County.  Hearing the Longspur also confirmed that the place has potential.  Other grassland birds such as McCown's and Lapland Longspurs, Short-eared Owl, Sprague's Pipit, and Rough-legged Hawk weren't detected, but it doesn't they can't be found another time.  Time will tell.  Here are a few pictures of the grassland and tanks.

After the tanks and grasslands, I went to Tufa Stone Tank.  Even though it was afternoon, Tufa was still pretty impressive.  The water levels are considerably lower, but they did hold diving ducks in Red-breasted Merganser and Bufflehead.  Late day circumstances prevented good songbird activity, but Lawrence's Goldfinches were nice.

After Tufa, I went to my usual Roosevelt Lake to scan a few of my favorite spots.  The lake was fun as always, and that good ol' Reddish Egret continued...

I'm excited to find out what November and December will hold for me in Gila County, and I have a lot of ground to cover...