Friday, October 18, 2013

A Day of Roadrunners and Two Interesting Sparrows

Hi everyone,

Sorry for this belated report, but I visited birding hotspots southwest of Phoenix yesterday on October 17th, 2013.  It was a good day to be out birding with beautiful weather on top of it.  I visited the Thrasher Spot west of Buckeye, the Arlington Wildlife Area, Gillespie Dam, and Tres Rios Overbank Wetlands.  The Greater Roadrunner was also everywhere during the day, surely a good day whenever that takes place.

My first stop was a two hour search through the Thrasher Spot, primarily to search for Sagebrush and in my hopes Bell's Sparrows.  If one is wondering what these birds are, they were recently split from Sage Sparrow into two species.  Shortly after I started birding, I found a Sage Sparrow species and the first one ironically was a nice BELL'S SPARROW.  It was an extreme individual, and had a thick, dark malar that contrasted with it's gray head.  It's back wasn't streaked either.  The more expected SAGEBRUSH SPARROW was very abundant and seemed to be everywhere.  I'll estimate 25-30 birds.  In the mix of the Sagebrush Sparrows, I managed to find one more Bell's Sparrow.  Although Sagebrush Sparrow was the dominant force of the two birds, it was great to find both of them.  I got photos of both birds, visit my blog at the link at the bottom of my report if interested in seeing them.  In learning about these two species, I read David Vander Pluym's excellent article on these two species and what identification factors to look for when in the field.  David explains it better any time and anywhere than I ever could.  Check out his article at the link below:

Bell's Sparrow # 1

This shot is poor, but the thick dark malar that contrasts with the head is very evident.

When the bird turned, it's back is shown.  The back that has little streaking is another field mark on Bell's, although it is more of a supporting field mark (Some Sagebrush Sparrows don't have much streaking on back)

This shot shows the malar darkness and thickness well, but the lighting isn't so great.

Bell's Sparrow # 2

Sagebrush Sparrows

Other than searching for the two Sage Sparrow species, I found 2 LE CONTE'S THRASHERS and 1 BENDIRE'S THRASHER.  I located the Le Conte's by it's rather loud call note, which really helps to know when looking for the bird.

Le Conte's Thrasher

Who was patrolling the Thrasher Spot?

A Bendire's Thrasher!

The Thrasher Spot

Up next was the Arlington Wildlife Area and adjacent fields and roads near the location that is managed by Arizona Game and Fish.  As I mentioned earlier, GREATER ROADRUNNERS where everywhere, and I had incredible and up close views of one along one of the roads.

The awesome Greater Roadrunner!

At the wildlife area, the best highlight actually came from a mammal.  I had two large RACCOONS walking on a pile up of logs.  Before I could take a picture, they took off.  Ahh...I wish I had a picture of them!  Bird highlights came from 2 LEAST BITTERNS, a flock of WHITE-FACED IBIS, OSPREY, NORTHERN HARRIERS, VIRGINIA RAILS and SORAS, BELTED KINGFISHER, LOGGERHEAD SHRIKES, and LINCOLN'S SPARROWS to name some out of 43 species in that area.

Loggerhead Shrike

Gillespie Dam held a nice and up close look at a WESTERN GREBE, as well as hearing another LEAST BITTERN.

This Western Grebe at Gillespie put on quite the show!

I got to Tres Rios Wetlands at 1 P.M., and still had a pleasant walk with 66 species recorded even at a later time in the day.  Highlights included the 3 BROWN PELICANS perched together on a structure, calling LEAST BITTERNS, a kettle of BLACK VULTURES, numerous OSPREYS, PEREGRINE FALCON, SORAS and VIRGINIA RAILS, 5 GREATER ROADRUNNERS, 2 BELTED KINGFISHERS, and 2 CASSIN'S KINGBIRDS.  Another good day to be out in the field.

Black Vulture

Belted Kingfisher-female

Peregrine Falcon

Cassin's Kingbird (only my second for Tres Rios)

Northern Harrier

Big Birds:  Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, and Neotropic Cormorant

And....How about a few more for the road?


  1. Tommy, I enjoyed reading the blog.


    1. Thank you Pete!! Hope you are seeing good birds down in Tucson and the surrounding area!

  2. Wow, what a great day of birding! It's great to know Bell's are up there too, something many of us have been wondering about. I missed the Le Conte's the only time I've been to the thrasher spot, so I'll definitely be checking it out soon. Congrats on the find Tommy!

    1. Thank you Jeremy! It was a great day of birding, one I really enjoyed! I hope you find your wanted targets on your next visit to the thrasher spot! I'm very glad I was able to find the Bell's this close to home.

  3. Dang Tommy! Great write up and really super photos! You know the area and the birds so well!

    You should go pro at this ; )

    1. Thanks Laurence!

      You know, that sounds like a great idea :)

      It was one of the best days I've had awhile in the field, you gotta love species splits!