Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Maricopa Birding

     Recently, I have been working hard on my Maricopa County "Big Year", and I have, thus, been a bit busy and haven't been able to do much blogging. But I have finally built up the strength to write a post. Doing a big year in Maricopa County isn't exactly the easiest thing. Because, 1. it is the 15th largest county in the country, 2. we don't have any ocean, and 3. not being able to drive doesn't help at all! My #1 goal for this year is to break 300 species of bird in Maricopa County IN ONE YEAR. Only one human being on this planet has ever done this before and that is, to no surprise, Mr. Tommy DeBardeleben. Luckily, I have been very blessed with people who take me birding and I have had the opportunity to bird quite a bit lately. The beginning of my late-fall birding started with a chase along the Lower Salt River at a spot called Blue Point, for a Surf Scoter and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (which is now my nemesis). I have seen a couple SUSCs in CA but not in AZ and more importantly to me, Maricopa. Mr. John Kafel was to thank for this chase. After an hour or so drive from my house to the scoter spot we arrived at around mid-afternoon. It didn't take me long to find the Surf Scoter feeding along the narrow river.

Surf Scoter--#289 for my Maricopa County big year

After watching the scoter for a while I then moved on to the area where the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker had recently been seen. Unfortunately, I dipped on (failed to locate) the bird but I enjoyed getting to observe a few Gray Flycatchers.

Gray Flycatcher
Tip to identifying empids; Gray Flycatcher is the only empidonax that dips its tail downward, the rest flick their tales up.

My next "big" birding moment was when I lead a birdwalk for the Sonoran Audubon Society to the Arlington Valley. While we were driving to our first location, the Arlington Wildlife Area, we pulled over to the side of the road to see some Sandhill Cranes when I spotted a Common Grackle!!!! I jumped out of the car and yelled "COMMON GRACKLE!!!" and everyone kinda gave me a weird look because they are one of the most common birds in the east. I quickly opened the back of the car to get my camera and aimed and shot!

Common Grackle--#290
Note the bluish head, golden back, yellow eyes, medium sized bill, and fairly long tail.

The Common Grackle was actually my 400th life bird! I had a little confusion with my list and it turned out that the California Gnatcatcher was my 399th life bird and not my 400th. After watching the cranes for a while we then headed over to the Arlington Wildlife Area where we spent a good portion of the day. Shortly after arriving at the wildlife area I spotted my FOY (first of year) White-tailed Kite flying out in the distance.

White-tailed Kite--#291

The kite was a nice highlight for many of the people in my group, but this Great Horned Owl was another highlight.

Great Horned Owl

Another visit to the Arlington Wildlife Area proved productive. This Savannah Sparrow greeted us early in the morning.

Savannah Sparrow

Somewhere around seven or so years ago Melanie Herring found a light-morphed Harlan's Red-tailed Hawk in the Arlington Area and it has now spent the winter here ever since! Harlan's Red-tails are rare in AZ and the light-morph portion of this subspecies makes up less than one percent of all Harlan's, so having a light-morphed Harlans in AZ is CRAZY!!! On our way to the wildlife area we spotted the Harlan's sitting its perch.

Harlan's Red-tailed Hawk

At the wildlife area a flyover from a Sprague's Pipit was quite a surprise as well as three Mountain Bluebirds that were working the fields just adjacent to the Wildlife Area. After finishing our IBA (Important Bird Area) count we drove over to the Lower River Road Ponds where I scanned though around 70 Ring-billed Gulls without anything interesting. A strange juvenile Zone-tailed Hawk decided to fly over us though.

Zone-tailed Hawk

 The next day I did another IBA count only at the Baseline and Meridian Wildlife Area. Although I didn't see anything interesting, other than seeing a couple of Red Crossbills and American Goldfinches, I did, however, get perhaps my best photos of a Common Yellowthroat and watched the long staying pair of Barn Owls.

Common Yellowthroat

Barn Owl (female left, male right)

On November 19th I had just returned from an afternoon trip to the Glendale Recharge Ponds where I found my FOY Greater Scaup (#292), when I was looking through some ebird checklists and saw that my friend Joshua Smith had just been to Dos Lagos Park. Curious at whether or not he had seen the Eurasian Wigeon that has been spending the last few winters at this park, I looked over his list to see that he had not just seen the wigeon but had found a Pacific Loon! Now Dos Lagos Park has two ponds and they are both fairly small and not nearly large enough for a loon to hang out at but Josh knew what he was talking about and I found myself in the car with Mr. John on our way to Dos Lagos that night! We didn't arrive at the park until just after the sun had set but I spotted the loon before I had even gotten out of the car!

A loon looking at a loon!

The loon was diving an awful lot but I managed a few photos before it got too dark.

Pacific Loon--#293

Loons are awesome! A big thanks to Joshua Smith for finding this bird and reporting it on ebird! After observing the loon for a while I decided to make a really quick stop to see the Eurasian Wigeon before heading back home.

Eurasian Wigeon

A week or two later I was making a regular biking trip along the main stretch of my patch (the Buckeye Canal) and I found my Maricoper (first for Maricopa), Clay-colored Sparrow!

Clay-colored Sparrow--#294

I continued searching my patch after the sparrow left. Once I started heading back I noticed a bright yellow bird fly into a palm tree! Once I threw my binocs onto it I noticed that it was a Tropical Kingbird!!! I continued observing this bird for about 15 minutes before I had to go.

Tropical Kingbird--My first for my Patch

Although the Tropical Kingbird wasn't even a yearbird it was still my best bird of the day, it was also the first time I've seen one in the winter. The day after my patch madness I started my day normally until I saw that someone had relocated a few Purple Finches at Gilbert Water Ranch that Tyler Loomis had found the day before. I then gave Mr. John Kafel a call and before long I found myself in Gilbert! We arrived at the Water Ranch at around 1:00 P.M. and searched the area where the finches had recently been seen without success. Mr. John and I decided to go out to lunch for a while and return a couple hours later. After having some delicious burgers Mr. John dropped me off at Gilbert and gave me an hour to find these birds. It didn't help much that these birds were on the opposite side of the preserve but I'm young and I can run! Atter running for about a half mile I got a stomach-cramp and the thought of walking crossed my mind but it's not like I just say "BIRD HARD!!!" for no reason, I had to keep on! Once I approached the Tiger Moth (3/4) trail I started to slow down and keep my eyes out. Before getting far I spotted all three of the Purple Finches near the top of a mesquite tree! #295 for the year and #318 for Maricopa County all-time!!!!!!!

Purple Finch--#295!

I now have only five more year birds to get in less than one month to complete my goal! I'm not sure if I'll reach this goal but it means a lot to me to reach 300 species of bird in one year in Maricopa County! I'd like to thank everyone who has helped me out and encouraged me in my goal for this year!

God Bless and BIRD HARD!!!



  1. 295 is completely insane! I had no idea that you were going for a Maricopa Big Year! You are really pushing the limits of birding this year. The birds you found on your patch the other day were epic! I admit that I wept over that Clay-colored Sparrow and Tropical Kingbird slightly. I can't help but wonder what crazy birds will get you to 300. Maybe that Baikal Teal will come back?

    Godspeed and good birding!

    1. Thanks Josh!!! I still need Snow Goose and Dunlin which should be easy. If that teal came back I would hitch-hike to get to it! Again, awesome job on finding that loon, it is one of my favorite birds I have on my county list. Don't worry man, we all cry over birds a little, that Northern Shrike is a tear-jerker!

      God Bless and BIRD HARD!!!

    2. Thanks Caleb! We should go looking for Pyrrhuloxia this December sometime also! Seems that you and I share a target bird. Until next time!

    3. Sounds good man! Butcher Jones (where the PYRRs hang out at) is also an awesome birding spot. They have Clark's Grebes (which I need for my big year) right now and they usually get some other good waterbirds.

    4. Nice, that's kind of close to where I live. I can't guarantee that I can go birding with you, but it would be a blast!