Thursday, May 28, 2015

Sunflower and Mt. Ord--The Trek for #300 Begins!!!

After adding the Bronzed Cowbird as my 299th bird for Maricopa County I have been dying to see #300, and it just so happened that I had a trip planned to the Sunflower area and Mt. Ord just two day after finding #299. Mt. Ord holds a few birds that I still need for the county including: Steller's Jay, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl (which would also be a lifer), and Calliope Hummingbird. So in hopes of finding at least one of those birds Mr. Ford, Mr. Paul, my Mom, Alexia, and I drove to Sunflower and Mt. Ord.  The Sunflower area is best known for its Zone-tailed and Common Black-Hawks that nest there every Summer. We arrived at Sunflower off of Old Beeline Highway at 7:00AM and birded the area for about two hours before driving up to Mt. Ord. As soon as I stepped out of the car I could hear many birds calling. The Blue Grosbeak is one of the many colorful birds that can be seen at this beautiful creek.

Blue Grosbeak

I didn't take as many photos as I should have, I was more focused on getting everyone else the best views and photos of as many birds as possible. Lesser Goldfinches had to be the most numerous species of the day.

Lesser Goldfinch

Before long we finally saw our first flyover hawk, and it was a Zone-tailed!

Zone-tailed Hawk

Later on during our hike we found a female ZTHA on her nest.

Zone-tailed Hawk

A Gray Vireo spiced things up a little as it sang from the hillside.

Gray Vireo

Everyone was shocked at the amazing views we had of this drab-songster but the GRVI seemed to be very showy throughout the day. After watching some of the very colorful birds that can be seen in Sunflower we made our way over to Mt. Ord. Our first stop was on the Lower Slopes which offers excellent chaparral habitat for breeding Black-chinned and Rufous-crowned Sparrows, Spotted and Canyon Towhees and more Gray Vireos. One of the first birds I heard when I stepped out of the truck was a Black-chinned Sparrow giving its bouncing-ball song.

Black-chinned Sparrow

The Black-chinned Sparrow is not a bird I get to observe often enough, but when I do it's definitely a treat. After observing and photographing the BCSP we then walked a little ways down the trail to where I could hear a couple of Rufous-crowned Sparrows singing, and before long one of the birds were in view.

Rufous-crowned Sparrow

The views were distant so Alexia and I decided to hike up and around the sparrows so we could get better looks and photos, and it worked!

Rufous-crowned Sparrow

We also had awesome looks of a Gray Vireo singing nearby.

Gray Vireo

We left the Lower Slopes of Mt. Ord more than satisfied, and drove up to the where the first stand of ponderosa pines begin, at the 1688 Trail. The 1688 Trail is my favorite stretch of Mt. Ord to cover, because the whole three miles of this trail are in Maricopa County. It covers just about all of the habitat zones that can be seen on the mountain and offers abundant bird life throughout the day and year. Alexia and I did some hiking up one of the drainage's while Mr. Ford,  Mr. Paul, and my Mom stayed along the trail. As soon as we started birding I spied a Painted Redstart hopping all over the place!

Painted Redstart

The Painted Redstart can be one of the most entertaining birds to watch, as it flicks its tail and wings along the bark of trees in search of insects. This bird that I saw would even hang upside-down while it was gleaning!

After watching the redstart we spied another warbler, the Grace's. The Grace's Warbler is a treetop lover and can be challenging to photograph at times. But after many attempts I finally snapped a few decent shots.

Grace's Warbler

As we hiked up the drainage, I found a few Pygmy Nuthatches hanging in the treetops. In past years the Pygmy Nuthatch was a hard bird to find in Maricopa County. About two or three years ago, these tiny tree-hugger's have started to breed at a few spots in the county, thus expanding their range. After exploring the drainage we decided to head back to the car to where we would then drive towards the top of Mt. Ord to the Higher Slopes. Most of this area is in Gila County but after observing many maps on the county lines I have become familiar with where the trail crosses the county lines. Once we arrived at our final destination I quickly found a pair of Spotted Towhees with a fledgling.

Spotted Towhee

The Hepatic Tanager seemed to be everyone's target bird for this area and they didn't leave us hang'in!

Hepatic Tanager--male

Hepatic Tanager--female

Once we reached the top of Mt. Ord where the towers are, we enjoyed scenic views of Maricopa and Gila Counties. On our way back down from the top we saw a few more birds including an Olive-sided Flycatcher and an Olive Warbler.

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Olive Warbler

No, I didn't end up finding #300 for Maricopa County on 5/23/15, but I did see some awesome birds and made some memories, so I would call it yet another awesome day of birding!!! But wait, my search for #300 isn't over yet, I still have one more spot to go before the week ends. Will I find #300? Or will I have to wait even longer for that milestone? Stay tuned to find out!


  1. Hey Caleb, my name's Walker Noe, I'm 19 years old, and was homeschooled as well. You might have seen via email that I'm your roommate at the upcoming Young Birder's Camp in the Chiricahuas. It's nice to find out about another skilled young birder in Maricopa. My 12-year old brother and I would like to bird with you sometime (Mt. Ord, B&M WMA, etc.) if you're up for it.

    Nice blog, your birding exploits are pretty impressive.

    1. Hi Walker, it would be awesome to bird with you guys but I am not sure if we can make a birding trip before the camp. Could you leave an email at and we could talk about it over email. Thanks for stopping by! Can't wait for the camp!