Tuesday, March 1, 2016

2015--My Maricopa County Big Year!

First and foremost
First and foremost, before I start summing up my 2015 big year, I'd like to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who came down upon this earth to die for not just my sins but for each and every human's on this planet, now how awesome is that!

     By far 2015 has been my best year for birding so far! In 2014 I made my all-time yearlist just above 300 species of bird and my state and county year lists were far bellow 300. As a matter of fact my all-time Maricopa County list wasn't even at 300! Now for those who know me know that I like to set hard-to-reach goals, not just in birding but in life too. My goal for 2014 was to reach 300 species of birds in one year, and I just barely ended the year with just over 300. In 2015 I stepped my level up quite a bit in trying to not just see 300 species of birds in one year but to see those 300+ birds in my home county, Maricopa. Now, only one other person has complete that goal and that is, to no surprise, Mr. Tommy DeBardeleben (AKA "The King Of Maricopa"). I talked to a few of Maricopa's birders and asked them if they thought I could get 300 species in one year and they said that it was doable but very unlikely. And to add to the difficulty not being able to drive and having lots of school and chores didn't help me out much. They, rather, told me that I should shoot for getting my all-time Maricopa County list up to 300 or try to get 200 species in one year by bike. Now the latter suggestion was not easy either but I was more focused on doing a Maricopa County Big Year!!! However, balancing family, friends, school, birding, chores, and a handful of other things turned out to be challenging at times. Would I get 300 species in Maricopa County in just one year? Read bellow to find out!

     January 1st, one of my favorite days of the year! With no special plans for New Years Day I headed out to Lake Pleasant to start my big year off with a good start. This winter a Red-necked Grebe, two Black Scoters, a White-winged Scoter, and several Horned Grebes and Common Loons decided to make Lake Pleasant their winter home. At our first stop along this large lake I spotted a Herring Gull and two Brown Pelicans flying out in the distance! Finding my own rarities when out on a rarity chase is always fun. After giving the lake a good scan we continued to our next stop, Two Cow Cove. It didn't take me long to find my lifer Common Loon in the distance! As I continued scanning I quickly found the two Black Scoters and White-winged Scoter swimming together as well as a Red-breasted Merganser! We then drove over to where the birds were and were lucky to see them fairly close to shore.

Black Scoters (left) White-winged Scoter (right)

After Lake Pleasant I birded a bit on My Patch in Buckeye where I added Ross's Goose (first for my patch) and McCown's Longspur (found a couple months ago).

The following day (Jan. 2) I went to the Tres Rios Overbank Wetlands with my birding mentor Joe Ford (or as I call him "Mr. Ford") and my awesome friend, Alexia. Highlights among the 85 species we observed included a rare for winter Hammond's Flycatcher, two California Gulls, a Brown Pelican, some American Goldfinches, and my lifer Pacific Wren!

Hammond's Flycatcher

On January 4th I birded my patch and the Arlington Valley with "The King Of Maricopa", Mr. Tommy DeBardeleben. Our main goal was to get Mr. Tommy his first photos of Lapland Longspur. Our mission was a success and we got some cool birds around the surrounding area too!

Lapland Longspur

McCown's Longspur

Ferruginous Hawk (dark morph)

On the 8th I found an American Redstart at the Dean and Beloat Riparian Area, one of the best spots on my patch. This American Redstart was the first adult male that I had ever seen!

American Redstart

On the14th While I was birding around Rainbow Valley I spotted nine Lesser Nighthawks, which is rare for the winter.

Lesser Nighthawk

On the 17th I got all of my common waterbirds for Maricopa County after I helped out in a Greater Phoenix Water Bird Census. However, finding my nemesis Black-and-white Warbler two days later was an amazing experience!

Black-and-white Warbler!!!

After chasing the Black-and-white Warbler nearly ten times in three years and my mom seeing the bird in CA and not me, I was pumped to have finally gotten this striking songbird!

As you can see, I birded a lot in January! And the birding continued when I birded the Arlington Valley and The Thrasher Spot on the 21st, again with Mr. Tommy! We pretty much cleaned house!

LeConte's Thrasher

Bendire's Thrasher

Sage Thrasher

Crissal Thrasher

Bell's Sparrow

Sagebrush Sparrow

On the 24th I did some hardcore patch birding and found a couple of rare for winter Bank Swallows along with the continuing Black-and-white Warbler and American Redstart.

Another patch day on the 26th provided my first for Maricopa, Greater Pewee! Other birds of noted included 3 Lapland Longspurs, and 3 McCown's Longspurs!

Greater Pewee

On the 28th I did an IBA (Important Bird Area) Count at the Baseline and Meridian Area where I found a Yellow Warbler, American Redstart, and two early Cliff Swallows!

American Redstart

After the count I showed Mr. Tommy the Greater Pewee on my patch. The pewee took a while to find but it was a first for Maricopa for Mr. Tommy so we tried hard, even though he was really sick, and we were rewarded with great views of the continuing Greater Pewee! We also found a female Broad-billed Hummingbird (my first for Maricoper)!

Greater Pewee

My last day of birding in January was on the 31st when I lead a birdwalk to the Arlington and Buckeye Areas. However, due to rain most of my group chickened out on me, however, four hardcore birders were still up for it! We started our morning off at The Thrasher Spot where I got all of the target birds (LeConte's, Bendire's, and Crissal Thrashers, and Bell's and Sagebrush Sparrows). The rest of the day was fairly quiet but things livened up when I showed them the Greater Pewee on my patch and it was a first for Maricopa County for everyone!

Greater Pewee

I ended January with 164 species, a great start to my Maricopa County Big Year! Only 136 species to go!

It wasn't until the 4th when I first birded in February, but when that day came I birded hard! Mr. Tommy gave me a call the night before asking me if I wanted to join him on hardcore day of birding on Mt. Ord, Sunflower, and the Gilbert Water Ranch. Of course I said yes! I had never been to the higher elevations of Maricopa in the winter, so I knew it was gonna be a great experience! We started the morning off in Sunflower off of Old Beeline Highway. As soon as we got out of the car we were shocked to have a flock of around 20 Evening Grosbeaks fly over us! The all-time high count for Evening Grosbeaks in Maricopa was somewhere around two or three and we just destroyed that! It turns out that the whole day was great for finches, with around 60 Evening Grosbeaks and 40 Cassin's Finches (both high counts for our county!) at Sunflower, a few Red Crossbills at Mt. Ord and of course the regular common House Finches and Lesser Golfinches. At Mt. Ord I got my lifer Golden-crowned Kinglet and at the Gilbert Water Ranch I got another lifer, a Brown Thrasher! Here are some of the photos that highlighted the day.

Evening Grosbeak

Cassin's Finch

Olive Warbler

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Cinnamon X Green-winged Teal hybrid 

Brown Thrasher

More birding on my patch on the 5th and 6th produced a Harlan's Red-tailed Hawk, a Western Screech- Owl, the Broad-billed Hummingbird, the Greater Pewee, and the American Redstart.

I birding trip across the East Valley with Mr. Gordon Karre, on the 7th, provided two more lifers along with some nice yearbirds! Our first target was a Harris's Sparrow at Coon Bluff along the Lower Salt River. It took us about an hour to find this bird but it was well worth the time!

Harris's Sparrow

Our next stop was near ASU where we quickly found my FOY (first of year) Chestnut-sided Warbler feeding in a single tree!

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Our last chase of the day was to see a Eurasian Wigeon at Dos Lagos Park. I had never seen a Eurasian Wigeon and it was about time for me to! It literally took us ten seconds to find the bird hanging out with his cousins, the American Wigeons.

Lenard The Eurasian Wigeon

We finished our successful day of birding at the Rios Salado sight in Phoenix, we didn't see much but we did, however, enjoyed ourselves.

On the 12th and 13th I birded on my patch where I relocated at least 3 Lapland Longspurs and 3 McCown's Longspurs along finding my FOY Lark Bunting.

Lark Bunting

My next day of birding was at the Hassayampa River Preserve on the 18th. I hadn't been to this rarity magnet for a while and it was about time for me to return! Highlights included the continuing Varied Thrush that I found last year, a heard-only Pacific Wren, a Wood Duck, two Red-shouldered Hawks, and a flyover Red Crossbill.

Varied Thrush--One of my many bad photos of this bird

Canyon Wren

My next day of birding was on the 21st when I birded at the Dean and Beloat Riparian Area, near my house. I arrived at the spot early and was rewarded with my FOY Winter Wren, a new Black-and-white Warbler, and two American Redstarts (one of which was continuing).

A return to the Hassayampa River Preserve on the 22nd proved successful yet again. My goal was to get Mr. Laurence Butler his nemesis Varied Thrush. Not only did we get the thrush but we also had nice views of a Pacific-slope Flycatcher (identified by call), and close flybys by a couple of Red-shouldered Hawks.

Red-shouldered Hawk

After a successful morning at Hassayampa, we continued onto a spot in Sun City where a Lewis's Woodpecker had recently been found. However, we could never relocate the bird.

On the 25th I birded at the Glendale Recharge Ponds where I heard a Golden-crowned Kinglet calling from a riparian stand and we returned to Sun City where I relocated the Lewis's Woodpecker.

Lewis's Woodpecker

On February 26th I had my FOY Black-chinned Hummingbird at my house which marked the last yearbird of February leaving me at 202 species for my big year!

March marks the month where migration begins in AZ! Although not many migrants come through on this month they are still existent. My first day of birding for March started on the 4th when I did and IBA count at the Baseline and Meridian Wildlife Area. Migration had begun as I found my FOY Wilson's Warbler. Another trip to the B and M three days later provided a nice Black-chinned Hummingbird and my FOY White-throated Sparrow that I found on a Christmas Bird Count last year!

White-throated Sparrow

On the 9th I birded along my patch where I had a Western Screech-Owl, a continuing American Redstart, an Eastern Meadowlark, and my FOY Greater White-fronted Goose! The next day while my dad and I were driving around I spotted a Crested Caracara perched out in the distance (FOY)!

The following day I spent the morning at the Tres Rios Overbank Wetlands where my highlight was a Swamp Sparrow calling from a small patch of reeds.

On the 14th I helped lead a birdwalk at Estralla with Mr. Ford. Among the 63 species we observed my main highlight was watching people getting life birds and watching them getting started into birding!

An IBA count to the Arlington Wildlife Area provided two Swamp Sparrows, many Virginia Rails, and quite a few waterbirds.

On the 20th I went out to the desert southeast of Wickenburg with my friends and family where we had a great time hanging out. Once night came Alexia and I did some owling for a while. Nocturnal species included five Western Screech-Owls, four Great Horned Owls, a Barn Owl, and my FOY Common Poorwill.

A quick stop by Liberty on my patch in mid-March provided me with the continuing Greater Pewee.

My next birding adventure was to the Gilbert Water Ranch  on the 24th where I had amazing views of the Brown Thrasher! I also got what are perhaps my best photos of Blue-winged Teal.

Brown Thrasher

Blue-winged Teal

The next day I did some birding by Dean and Beloat. While I was inside of the riparian jungle it was very quiet but all the sudden I got pooped on by a bird! I couldn't see any movement above me but after scanning the canopy for a good five or ten minutes I found my first for my patch Plumbeous Vireo! I also observed some nice Tree Swallows on the bike ride on my way to D and B.

Plumbeous Vireo

Tree Swallow

March 29th marked the day when the Swainson's Hawks started arriving. I had three on my patch that day. Then the next day I had a Rufous Hummingbird come to my hummingbird feeder in my yard! A first for my patch!

Rufous Hummingbird

I ended March with 217 species for my big year, bringing me that much closer to my goal!

April, one of the better months for birds! Which started proving itself when an American Golden-Plover was found by Louis Hoeniger near Tres Rios. I wasn't able to go to this slop pond where the bird had been seen until the 4th but at least I could chase it! After scanning the area for about a half hour Mr. Gordon Karre, who was also searching for this bird, spotted the bird! Right when I saw where he was looking the bird flushed up and flew off never to come back again, while I was there! A huge thanks to Mr. Gordon for showing me this bird before it left!

American Golden-Plover

I also got my FOY Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks and a nice Cinnamon X Blue-winged Teal hybrid!

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Cinnamon X Blue-winged Teal hybrid

After a successful chase on the plover we stopped by a huge migrating flock of Swainson's Hawks a few miles south of my house. I think that day the count was around 800 for the time I was there!

Swainson's Hawk

For the next few days I spent my time in Southeastern AZ where I camped out with Mr. John Kafel and his family. To read up on how that trip went here are my two posts on it.


After I returned from my trip I had a birdwalk to help lead at Estrella Mountain Park on the 11th. The best highlight for me was helping teach Mr. John's step Grandson, Ren, how to bird. The best bird of the morning was an adult Brown Pelican flying over the large gravel pit/lake. A close flyby from a Red-tailed Hawk was also nice.

Brown Pelican

Red-tailed Hawk

An IBA count at the Arlington Wildlife Area on the 13th got me my FOY Ridgway's Rails, one of my favorite birds!

Ridgway's Rail--What could've been an amazing photo...

A day trip to the Hassayampa River on the 17th was productive. Among the many birds that I saw some Gray Hawks, a Common Black Hawk, and a rare for Maricopa Broad-billed Hummingbird were the highlights of the day.

On the 19th I road my bike east from my house along the Gila River, between Cotton Lane and Estrella Parkway bridges. The river still had some water from last year's 100 year flood and I was shocked at how many birds I found in the small ponds throughout the river! Unfortunately this stretch of the river is about a mile outside of my patch so I couldn't count these birds for my patch. Among the many shorebirds I spotted year birds such as Baird's Sandpiper (rare for the spring), Stilt Sandpiper (early), Solitary Sandpiper, and this Western Sandpiper made my trip worth while.

Western Sandpiper

Here's a Least Sandpiper I photographed in the same area so you can compare the two.

Least Sandpiper

Throughout the end of April I made many visits to the Glendale Recharge Ponds. There were many cool birds to be seen at the ponds during this time frame. Many of the species which were seen in this time frame I was able to photograph.

Red-breasted Merganser

Black-bellied Plover

Great Horned Owl

Neotropic Cormorant

Snowy Egret

Willet (foreground) and Marbled Godwit (background)

To end April I made a trip out to the Baseline and Meridian Wildlife Area to watch the Ridgway's Rails for a while. After waiting for about five minutes they gave off quite a show!

Ridgway's Rail

April was a great month as I ended the month with 239 species for my big year! However, May is coming and is one of the best months of the year so read on to find how it went!

In Maricopa County, May has got to be one of the best months for bird diversity! Nearly every body of water has shorebirds on it and about every stand of trees has a good array of migrant songbirds such as warblers!

The 2nd marked the day I got first Warbling Vireo for the year!

Warbling Vireo

On the 3rd my mom took me birding to the Baseline and Meridian Wildlife Area and the Glendale Recharge Ponds. I spent all of my time looking for Ridgway's Rails at the B and M and ended up with five! After I was done waiting to see the rails we zoomed over to Glendale and started scanning the ponds! On this day I met the awesome and nice, Dale Clark and I had the privileged of birding with him throughout the time I was there. Mr. Dale pointed out a Wood Duck mixed in with the many waterfowl in one of the ponds, a great bird for Glendale! While Mr. Dale and I shared our birding stories we watched an elegant Forster's Tern fishing throughout the area.

Forster's Tern

While we continued scanning the ponds my mom spotted some Black-necked Stilt babies which she found adorable! While I was looking for more baby stilts I all the sudden spotted my lifer Snowy Plover!!!

Snowy Plover

The Snowy Plover was a overdue life bird, however, but they are not common in Maricopa or even uncommon for that matter! Mr. Dale was more surprised on the plover than I was! We watched it for quite a while before I had to leave. Unexpected lifers are the best!

On the 6th while I was helping my family pack our RV for camping I heard a Ridgway's Rail call twice at nearly 9:00P.M.! However, this isn't a strange time of day to hear these rails call because this bird was likely migrating and I just happened to be at the right place at the right time (yard bird!).

The monthly birdwalk at Estrella provided another Forster's Tern, a nice Cassin's Vireo, and a cooperative Virginia Rail.

Virginia Rail

Cassin's Vireo

On the 11th I birded in Glendale and Mesa with Mr. John Kafel, his wife Ms. Janet, and my great friend Alexia! Our plan was to stop by the Glendale Recharge Ponds and the Agua Fria River Bed in hopes of getting terns and then to do some owling at Coon Bluff. We ended up not seeing a thing at the ponds but at the Agua Fria Riverbed I got my first for Maricopa, Bonaparte's Gull! Unfortunately the gull was way too far for photos. Before we started owling at Coon Bluff we stopped by Granite Reef where we unsuccessfully searched for Bronzed Cowbirds. However, a pair of Brown-crested Flycatchers were quite entertaining.

Brown-crested Flycatcher

Once the sun was setting we went to Coon Bluff to owl a little. Once the sun had fallen and the moon had risen Western Screech-Owls, Common Poorwills, and my lifer Elf Owls were calling. Only the Western Screech-Owls were cooperative though.

Western Screech-Owl

On the 16th I was surprised to find my Maricoper Olive-sided Flycatcher on my patch, along with a nice Western Wood-Pewee.

Olive-sided Flycatcher 

Western Wood-Pewee

On the 16th I rode my bike to bird along the Gila River between Rainbow and Dean Roads. This portion of the river is on private property, as far as I know, but I have special permission from the land owner to bird there. This section also has some amazing riparian habitat which holds some amazing bird life! This was the first time I had birded along this stretch of the Gila River in spring/summer. I found awesome birds including two families of Common Ground-Dove, a pair of Summer Tanagers, many Yellow-breasted Chats, and my Maricoper Cordileran Flycatcher (identified by sound, of course).

Common Ground-Dove

Summer Tanager

Yellow-breasted Chat (doing its flight song with a bee)

Cordileran Flycatcher

On the 21st I birded across the West Valley with Mr. John, yet again. We started off at the B and M where we nearly got mugged by a group of gangsters but it was worth it, because, I saw a Ridgways Rail! We then went to Estrella and I did a little birding around the mesquite bosque. I was surprised to find both Olive-sided and Cordileran Flycatchers fairly close together! While I watched these flycatcher a bulky blackbird flew up into a tree, it was my lifer Bronzed Cowbird!

Bronzed Cowbird--#299 for my all-time Maricopa list!!!

We then drove over to the Glendale Recharge Ponds to see what was around. I was shocked to find a large flock of Red-necked Phalaropes swimming in the middle of one of the basins!

Red-necked Phalarope 

I also got to meet Darrel Wilder for the first time and I enjoyed talking with him for a while. He even spotted my first of year, Caspian Tern (thanks Mr. Darrel!).

Caspian Tern

After Mr. John and I refreshed ourselves at Culver's we went to the Agua Fria Riverbed in hopes of finding a Least Tern. After scanning for a few minutes I spotted a Least Tern perched on a large tire (finally!).

Least Tern

I also spotted the Bonaparte's Gull being chase by an American Avocet.

Bonaparte's Gull (bottom)

On the 23rd I had big plans to bird northeastern Maricopa County with Mr. Ford, Mr. Paul Doucett, my mom, and Alexia. We made our first stop at the Old Beeline Highway. One of the first birds we saw was a beautiful adult male Blue Grosbeak!

Blue Grosbeak

A pair of Zone-tailed Hawks were watching us almost the whole time we were there.

Zone-tailed Hawk

The area was full of bird life and year birds but I wasn't very focused on photos. After a nice morning in Sunflower we drove over to Mt.Ord where we spent the rest of the day. We first stopped on the lower slopes where we successfully searched for Black-chinned and Rufous-crowned Sparrows and Gray Vireos.

Black-chinned Sparrow

Rufous-crowned Sparrow

Gray Vireo

After cleaning house on the lower slopes we drove up the mountain to Forest Road 1688. From here we got nearly all of our forest specialties. It was fairly quiet in the higher elevations but I managed to get a few yearbirds.

Painted Redstart

Olive Warbler

Hepatic Tanager

Spotted Towhee

On the 25th I explored the Slate Creek Divide for the very first time with Mr. Troy Corman! This is a desolate area in the northeast corner of Maricopa County (kinda near Mt. Ord). The terrain in this area is very rough and there are many snakes and bears in the area, so very few people explore this area and exploring it by one's self is foolish. Mr. Troy and I were pumped to explore this area! I was even more excited, because, I had good chances on getting my 300th all-time species for Maricopa County! The birds found in this area are similar to those found at Mt. Ord but with several additional species. When we first got out of the car we could hear both chaparral and forest species singing!

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Pygmy Nuhatch


Grace's Warbler

House Wren

While Mr. Troy and I continued searching the area thoroughly we worried that we might miss one of my potential Maricopers, the Mexican Jay! Continuing with our owl-whistle-imitations and pishing, I then said "Hey look at that jay up in the tree!"

Mexican Jay--Maricopa County bird #300!!!

Mr. Troy and I then continued exploring the Slate Creek area. While we were hiking at the base of a hill I randomly looked up on the hillside and spied a fat blob in a tree! "What the heck is a trash bag doing sitting on a tree in the middle of the forest???" is what half of me was thinking, while the other half was saying "NO!!! NO WAY!!!! IT CAN'T BE????!!!!!!!!" I knew exactly what it was before I even put my binocs on the bird. It wasn't a trash bag it was a Spotted Owl!!!!

A Spotted Owl in Maricopa County!!!

I was shocked that I had just found the first potential breeding Spotted Owl day roost in Maricopa County! Mr. Troy was also excited to witness his first Spotted Owl in Maricopa too!

Spotted Owl

Spotted Owls were found for the first time in many years in Maricopa County in 2014 by Mr. Tommy DeBardeleben. Since then he and a couple other birders have searched for the Maricopa Spotty's day roost without success. I had thoughts that a Spotted Owl was at Slate Creek but I never imagined I'd find it on its day-roost!!!

I enjoyed every second with the Spotty, but before long Mr. Troy and I knew we had to continue birding, for we had more ground to cover. Here's one last photo.

Mr. Troy and I started hiking throughout the areas drainages. Red-breasted Nuthatches were fairly numerous in the Douglas-firs.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Shockingly, we found a Lucy's Warbler singing its head off in a forest! What a strange bird.

Lucy's Warbler in 6'000' elevation!

Eventually we reached the end of where we were birding and it didn't take us long to find my third Maricoper of the day, some Dusky-capped Flycatchers!

Dusky-Capped Flycatcher

Having a triple Maricoper day was awesome, especially since my 300th MC bird was in there as well as a Spotted Owl!

My next birding expedition was on the 29th. I left my house before the sun was up to start biking to the Gila River to do the same bird count that I had done the week before. This outing was highlighted by my FOY Willow Flycatcher and two very interesting orioles. While I was birding along Dean and Beloat two orioles flew out from the thick riparian jungle and landed on the back side of a willow. One oriole, which was on the backside of the tree, appeared to be a bright male while the other one, which I could clearly see, appeared to be a female but it didn't look quite right. Since the female was so different I tried to get a look at the male. I could barely see the male but I could see a lot of bright colors, especially towards the face. The male bird then hopped to a stick out in the open with his back facing me. However, what I saw was shocking! A bright orange back with bold black streaks! My jaw dropped as the birds flew down into the riparian forest never be seen again (sounds like a horror story, huh? I kinda was!). I searched for these birds several times after this day but never found them again. Once I got back to my house a quick study on female orioles provided a perfect match for my female type bird, a 1st year female Streak-backed Oriole. My observation of these birds happened in a whole five seven seconds! To this day I'm sure that these were Streak-backed Orioles but with them being so rare it wouldn't be wise to count them unless one got great views or diagnostic photos. This was probably the biggest punch-in-the-face in 2015.

May proved to be an amazing month. I got a hand full of yearbirds, got my 300th bird for Maricopa County, and on top of all of that I got a Spotted Owl in my home county! What might June hold for me???

June is the year when my family starts camping in Happy Jack Lodge near Flagstaff, AZ. On June 6th I made a trip to the Hassayampa River Preserve with Mr. John Kafel. My target for here was the Tropical Kingbirds which breed here. It didn't take us long to hear one calling from high up in the canopy.

Tropical Kingbird

After I got the kingbird for the year I did some chill birding before the blazing hot sun became too much.

Bell's Vireo

Gray Hawk

A short stop by the Glendale Recharge Ponds provided me with a rather young California Gull.

California Gull

After a rather amazing trip the the Chiricahua Mountains I met a couple of my best friends, Walker Noe and Dalton. To read about that fantastic camp here are the two links to my two posts on the trip.

After a rather exhausting camp I took a week long brake from birding. On the 23rd, however, I met back up with Walker Noe and we cleaned house and then some, at the Baseline and Meridian Wildlife area and Tres Rios! We had two targets Barn Owl and Yellow-billed Cuckoo and on top of that we wanted to find at least one decent find (BIRD HARDNESS=all targets+at least one self found highlight) It didn't take us long to hear, and then see, a cuckoo flying throughout the area.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

We then searched for Barn Owls and it wasn't hard to spot them at all!

Barn Owl

Woohoo! We got our two targets first thing in the morning! We then hiked over to Tres Rios in hopes of finding something cool. We walked through much good habitat and at one point there was this one basin full of green growth, perfect habitat for an eastern vagrant. Jokingly, I said to Walker "What if there was a Painted Bunting in here?" we both laughed at that thought, because, Painted Buntings are very rare in Maricopa County. However, both Walker and I had found our own PABUs in the last six months so nothing is impossible. While we were hiking east towards Tres Rios we flushed up what seemed to be an endless amount of Lesser Nighthawks!

Lesser Nighthawk

Eventually I spotted a nighthawk on its nest!

Lesser Nighthawk

It was about seven in the morning and it was already hitting 90 degrees! Anxiously, we reached the west end of Tres Rios and birded hard there for a few minutes. More Yellow-billed Cuckoos called from all around us, I even got Walker his lifer Yellow-breasted Chat! Continuing to the east, we heard a strange song. We walked around a corner and spotted a small songbird out in the distance.

I yelled Painted Bunting and Walker said "NO WAY!!! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!" but he too was starring at the bird, we were both shocked! Mr. Pabu just sat there singing his head off in the 100 degree heat, and Walker and I jumped up and down like to teenage girls getting there first iPhones! The bunting disappeared after a while so Walker and I continued hiking east. Our bird hard mission was done. We got all our targets plus found a rarity! Now everything else was icing on the cake. Before long we turned around and took a different route back. A Least Bittern was quite cooperative along with a fly over by a few Caspian Terns.

Least Bittern

Caspian Tern

Once we started approaching on Mr. Pabu's territory we could hear him singing, yet again! This time he allowed face melting views.

Painted Bunting

Walker and I continued to bird hard and we were rewarded with a Ridgway's Rail, more Yellow-billed Cuckoos, more Caspian Terns, and a strange Bonaparte's Gull. Let me tell you, I was not planning on getting a Painted Bunting in Maricopa in 2015!

I returned to show some friends Mr. Pabu on the 30th. I also got great looks at a beautiful Great Horned Owl!

Painted Bunting

Great Horned Owl

June was a great month! Getting to meet Walker and Dalton was great, they are two awesome guys! I ended June with 275 species bringing me just 25 species away from my goal! Sounds easy now, huh? Well unless I barely get to bird in fall, which might, or might not have happened.

July 2nd marked my first day of birding in the hottest month of the year. On July 3rd Walker and I had plans to bird hard in the higher elevations of northeastern Maricopa County. But I was spending the night at Walker's house the day before, so before night came we took a look at Dean and Beloat in hopes of finding those orioles. Despite not have any interesting orioles we heard my lifer Gray Catbird calling from deep within the riparian jungle and I also heard my first for my patch, Yellow-billed Cuckoo! Here's a Burrowing Owl we had on our way back from D and B.

Burrowing Owl

The whole night I had a great time with the Noe family and Walker and I  planned for our upcoming day of birding. 

We woke up at 2:00 A.M. and started driving out to Bushnell Tanks where we were gonna bird at for a good portion of the morning. On our way, we spotted the first bird of the day, a Lesser Nighthawk. We arrived at the tanks by 4:30 A.M and it was still dark. Northern Mockingbirds were calling like crazy but in the distance we could hear an Elf Owl, a Great Horned Owl, and a Common Poorwill. We made our way down the road and once the sun was getting ready to rise we started heading back to meet up with Mr. Gordon Karre, who decided to bird with us at Bushnell. On our way back we heard our target Indigo Bunting singing back in the riparian jungle! We then met up with Mr. Gordon and started hiking further down the trail. The further we hiked along the road the more strange Indigo Buntings we were finding!

Indigo Bunting

Songbirds learn their songs by listening to the loudest song being sung near them, which is almost always their parents. However, this young Indigo Bunting was singing a strange version of a Blue Grosbeaks song, weird!

Indigo Bunting

And then you can't forget about the occasional hybrid!

Indigo X Lazuli Bunting hybrid

A pair of Zone-tailed Hawk monitored us quite well.

Zone-tailed Hawk

After getting Walker his lifer Gray Vireo we made our way back to the car where we continued birding, and Mr. Gordon packed for a trip to Mexico. Walker and I had been birding for four hours and our day was only a sixth of the way over! We then drove through Sunflower in search of Common Black-Hawks but we dipped. Now we were on our way to Mt. Ord, where we'd spend the next 12 hours birding at (12 hours!!!!). A quick stop on the lower slopes provided us with Black-chinned Sparrows (a lifer for Walker), Rufous-crowned Sparrows, Scott's Orioles, Gray Vireos, and more!  We then went to our next and last stop on Mt. Ord, Forest Road 1688. Walker and I had good hopes for here. Walker wanted one lifer here which was the Olive Warbler. Everything else would be icing on the cake. We started hiking along the 1688 and before long we had reached the end of the good forest habitat (two and a half miles away from our car). Now we hadn't encountered any of the really active mixed feeding flocks so we decided to sit in one area for about an hour. Here we had Black-chinned, Anna's, Costa's, and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds entertaining us along with a few Hutton's Vireos.

Costa's Hummingbird

Hutton's Vireo

After eating lunch we decided to do something crazy! Near the end of FR 1688 there is a nice drainage that runs almost all the way down the mountain. Now Walker and I, being the young kids we are, decided it would be a great idea to hike down the drainage at least a mile! Now it wasn't a dumb idea by any means, but I'll tell you we were beat once we got down the drainage! Walker was tired too. With only getting an hour or two of sleep the night before Mr. Fly was loosing gas. I heard an Olive Warbler call and pointed it out to Walker and after he got a glimpse his lifer in flight he decided to hit the hay, or in this case, fall asleep on a log that was narrower than the width of his body! While Walker was down for the count I hiked a little ways down the drainage. All of the sudden the forest got really thick and shady and I nearly stepped on a Spotted Towhee before it burst into a loud flight! At the time I was a bit paranoid, and the freaky forests were getting to me. I continued searching the area in hopes of finding an owl on its day-roost or something else neat. I started getting less paranoid and more comfortable with forest when all the sudden a Black Bear jumped out of a bush right in front of me and ran the opposite direction from me! After the Black Bear incident I thought I heard Walker call my name but I wasn't sure. I hiked back up the drainage and sure enough Walker was awake. He asked me "Man, how long have I been asleep, an hour or two?" I told him that it had to have been less than a half hour that he was asleep. Okay, it was time to head back up to the car, we needed a break! The mile hike up and out of the drainage was a killer and it seemed never-ending! However, we were about ready for a break I spotted the 1688 and our eyes glowed! Tired and sore, Walker and I made our way back to the car and rested in it for a good ten minutes. We then decided to drive down to the hot Sunflower area and bird there for a good hour. At this point of the day we were both really tired and were almost ready to be done!

Walker (left) Me (right)--Photo courtesy of Walker Noe AKA Mr. Fly!

After I was done talking to a Zone-tailed Hawk in Sunflower we gave Mr. Tommy DeBardeleben a call. Walker and I call him our motivational speaker, because, he always gets us pumped on the birding possibilities! So after getting our motivational speech for the day Walker and I drove back up to Mt. Ord to do some owling. When we arrived, once again, at the 1688 the scenery was amazing!

We then arrived at the end of the 1688 and waited for darkness to fall. A calling Northern Pygmy-Owl got both Walker and I pumped! We hoped that the pygmy-owl was only the start of our owls but once darkness fell we only had enough time to hear a few Common Poorwills before it started raining! Walker and I walked and even ran the two and a half miles back to the car where wen then drove down to our last birding spot for the night, Coon Bluff! I didn't take us long to locate a family of Western Screech-Owl

Western Screech-Owl--adult

Western Screech-Owl-juvenile

After watching the owls for a while I learned that they can give you some strange looks!

Western Screech-Owl--adult

Western Screech-Owl--juvenile

The owling was fairly good other then missing Elf Owl and getting attacked by a feral horse! While Walker and I were having the Western Screech photo shoot a psycho horse ran by us at full speed which seemed strange, but then a came back and was running strait towards Walker who was only a few feet away from me! Fortunately, the horse veered away from Walker before it would've made him toast. It was about mid-night by then so we decided it was time to call it a trip! We ended the day with nearly 100 species (pretty good for the summer in only a couple habitat zones), hiking about 16 miles, birding for 22 hours, coming close to death a couple times, and getting one Maricoper while Walker got a few lifers! What a day of bird hardness!!!

My next, and last birding expedition in Maricopa County in July was to Tres Rios on the 7th to show Mr. John Kafel the Painted Bunting. The bunting was showy as normal but it was about the only thing of note out there.

Although I didn't hardly bird at all in July, that 22 hour day of birding was enough! Thanks Walker for the bird hard day!

On the 4th I did some local birding on my patch. the migrants had just started to come in and among the many birds I observed, I got my FOY Nashville Warbler

Nashville Warbler

On the 13th I woke up early in the morning to bird at the Dean and Beloat Riparian Area. Migrants were hitting this spot in good number and along with the  9+ species of warblers an American Redstart and an American Redstart X Parula sp. hybrid highlighted the morning.

American Redstart

American Redstart X Parula sp. hybrid

I also had great views of a couple of Yellow-billed Cuckoos and a Barn Owl.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Barn Owl

On the 17th I birded at the Glendale Recharge Ponds and found my lifer Semipalmated Sandpiper among the many other peeps. Unfortunately it was too far for photos.

 On the 19th, I believe it was, I chased a Sabine's Gull and Sanderling at the Glendale Recharge Ponds. With the small time-frame I had to bird, I wasn't able to locate the Sanderling but I did get the Sabine's Gull!

Sabine's Gull

I also had a rather long-billed Semipalmated Sandpiper.

Semipalmated Sandpiper (foreground) Least Sandpiper (background)

 A return visit to the Glendale Recharge Ponds on the 29th proved to be very productive! Among the many birds, I had the continuing Sabine's Gull, my Maricoper Sanderling, two Semipalmated Sandpipers, my FOY Pectoral Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, FOY Short-billed Dowitcher, and FOY Semipalmated Plovers!


Semipalmated Sandpipers

On the 30th I made another trip to the Dean and Beloat Riparian Area to see what I could find. This turned out to be a very eventful morning! After already checking the area once I was on the way back from my second check through the area when all the sudden I spotted my lifer Vauxe's Swifts flying over me! I just happened to look up at the perfect time! I was ready to call it a day when I convinced myself to check one more area before heading back. I spotted a warbler, and like I always do, I put my binocs on the bird to find that it was my lifer Prothonotary Warbler!!! A double lifer day! My jaw dropped and the bird gave me great five second looks before it flew down the riparian area. I looked for the bird for about an hour before I called it quits. I came back the following day in search of it but the water level had dropped all the way down and I didn't see much of anything.

August ended the month with 286 species for the year. My pace dropped but it was time to turn that around and start birding hard again, however, it's much easier said than done.

On September 2nd I birded both the Arlington and Gila Bend Areas. The day wasn't too good but I managed to find a few cool birds. A Short-billed Dowitcher at the Gila Bend Sewage Ponds was nice. The best bird of the day had to be a super cooperative pair of Great Horned Owls at Paloma Ranch!

Great Horned Owl

A Western Kingbird X Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was a strange bird to see in the Arlington Area so I snapped a couple photos to document this rarity before a couple dogs chased me off.

Western Kingbird X Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

On the 11th I showed Mr. Ford the Dean and Beloat Area for the first time and he loved it! Many warblers showed off for Mr. Ford and I even spotted a Vauxe's Swift flying in the distance.

On September 16th I had a Crested Caracara fly over my house which was a nice surprise! Also, sometime during mid-September I explored the Gila River with Alexia and we flushed a Great Horned Owl who was quite friendly!

Alexia with Great Horned Owl

September was a fairly good month of birding. I cleared house on my shorebirds and got quite a few rarities. I ended the month with () species for my big year. Only () more to go!

On October 3rd I birded across the West Valley with my bro, Dalton! We started off at Dean and Beloat, where I showed him around and he even got his lifers Green-tailed Towhee and Virginia Rail! While we were exploring this awesome area I even found my first for my patch, Canyon Wren! We then drove over to the the B and M where we walked to the west end of Tres Rios in search of rarities. At the B and M we were surprised to find some Cassin's Kingbirds which are a good find for the lowlands. At Tres Rios we were unable to find any of our own rarities but we did relocate a Horned Grebe previously found by Mr. Robet Bowker.

On the 7th I birded, yet again, at Dean and Beloat. Finding my FOS (first of season) Black-and-white Warbler and Evening Grosbeak was really nice! I actually had a rather late juvenile Swainson's Hawk which I believe to have been one of the offspring from a pair of Swainson's that spent the summer at Dean and Beloat! Things got crazy though when I spotted a rather small buteo hawk flying in and identified it as my lifer Broad-winged Hawk!!!

Broad-winged Hawk

On the 17th I found a Lapland Longspur and McCown's Longspur in the same field which I had them in earlier in the year. And on the 24th I had a few Lawrence's Goldfinches fly over me on my patch while I was fishing with my friends.

On the 31st I was attempting to relocate the longspurs on my patch for Mr. Gordon Karre, Ms. Susan Fishburn, and my sister Barbara Meding (inside joke) but we had no luck with the McCown's or Lapland. However, I found 2 Sprague's Pipits and a Chestnut-collared Longspur!!! The pipits were rarer than both of the longspurs combined, and the Chestnut-collared was an overdue Maricoper. Unfortunately neither of these species allowed for pics that day. I then showed them around Dean and Beloat and we found a pair of Wood Ducks and my first for my patch Dusky Flycatcher! A late Townsend's Warbler was also cool.

I ended October with 289 species for my big year! This is getting close! 11 birds left!

On the 1st I decided to try to photographing the Sprague's Pipits on my patch but failed, even though I found three! Photographing these pipits was a challenge! I'd search for them for an hour continuously riding my bike around the many fields in the area, and all of the sudden one, two, or maybe even three would burst into flight and fly out into the distance until I couldn't see them any longer and they would then dive strait down into a distant field! These fields were thick too! SPPIs are 6.5" tall and these alfalfa fields had to be about eight inches tall! I was losing hope on photographing these birds but I couldn't give up! So I tried again on the 2nd. This time it took me a couple hours until I, all the sudden, heard one of the birds giving its "squeet squeet" flight calls. I noticed that the bird was getting closer so I kept my eyes to the skies. Then all the sudden two birds flew over me and landed about 300 yards away from me. Now I couldn't see them at the time so keeping track of where they were was key! However once I got to where I thought they were, I couldn't see anything, and at the same time they weren't flushing. I walked back and forth down that field a couple times before I caught sight of a bird that popped out into a small bare patch in the field! "Please don't be a Savannah Sparrow" I begged, and as soon as I lifted my binocs onto the bird my jaw dropped.

Sprague's Pipit--Finally!!!

The bird then ducked back down and started walking around the field and I lost it. But then all the sudden four Sprague's Pipits burst into flight in front of me! One of which I got a crumby flight shot of.

Sprague's Pipit

On the 6th I road my bike down to Dean and Beloat to bird there for a while. Like when I found the Prothonotary Warbler, things were very quiet at first. But later on I found a Black-and-white Warbler and a very interesting Blackburnian/Townsend's Warbler which I couldn't ID in the field and the photos that I got aren't diagnostic.

Black-and-white Warbler

Blackburnian/Townsend's Warbler

This warbler sure did leave its burn marks on me, as I am leaning towards Blackburnian, but it wouldn't be wise to count it with me not being 100% sure. A couple of flyover Evening Grosbeaks also added a little spice to the morning.

On the 8th a casual stroll around the patch produced a returning Gray Flycatcher (2nd winter in a row at this spot) and a very late and strange Western Kingbird.

Western Kingbird

A quick trip to Blue Point along the Salt River proved productive. We chased my Maricoper Surf Scoter and got it within a few minutes of arriving!

Surf Scoter

The scoter was entertaining to watch but Mr. Troy Corman had just had a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in the area so I spent the last hour or so searching for the sapsucker. Although I couldn't relocate it, a few Gray Flycatchers were fun to watch.
Gray Flycatcher

On the 11th I lead a birdwalk for the Sonoran Audubon Society to the Arlington Area. This day was great! The birds were cooperative and the birders were excited (the two best things for a leader of a bird walk). On our way to the Arlington Wildlife Area we stopped on the side of Arlington Canal Road to check out some Sandhill Cranes. Once we pulled over I noticed a Common Grackle about three feet from the car!!! But my camera was in the trunk! So I ran as fast as I could to get the camera and was able to take one diagnostic photo of the grackle before it flew off.

Common Grackle--#290 for my big year!

At the wildlife area I got my FOY White-tailed Kite hunting throughout the area.

White-tailed Kite--#291!

A Great Horned Owl also put on a show.

Great Horned Owl

I flyover Red Crossbill was also quite interesting. After I was done with the birdwalk, I continued on with Ms. Susan and Ms. Barbara to the Glendale Recharge Ponds where we looked for a Lapland Longspur for Ms. Susan's AZ big year. Unfortunately, the longspur was a no-show which ended our day.

On the 14th I attended one of Mr. Ford's monthly birdwalks at Estrella and then later on birded with fellow young bird, Joshua Smith. Estrella didn't have much of note so I continued onto my patch where I guided Josh around Dean and Beloat. The highlight here was a Lawrence's Goldfinch which flew over calling. We then continued onto Tres Rios. A calling Yellow Warbler was the highlight for here.

On the 17th I returned to Arlington to do an IBA count. The Wildlife Area was highlights by a flyover Sprague's Pipit (!!!), a few Mountain Bluebirds, and some Sandhill Cranes. In the Arlington Valley the continuing light morph Harlan's Red-tailed Hawk put on a show.

Harlan's Red-tailed Hawk

On our way back we stopped by the Lower River Road Ponds and I was quite surprised to spot a Zone-tailed Hawk flying low overhead!

Zone-tailed Hawk

Some local birding on my patch provided me with some cool Burrowing Owl shots!

Burrowing Owl

On the 18th an IBA count at the Baseline and Meridian Wildlife Area was fun. I didn't take many photos but among the 60+ species seen highlights included a couple Barn Owls, some American Goldfinches, some Red Crossbills, a Hooded Merganser, a Cedar Waxwing, and a Yellow Warbler.

The following day I birded at the Glendale Recharge Ponds for about an hour and a half. After scanning the area once, I decided to look through the many waterfowl more carefully, and sure enough I picked out a Greater Scaup hanging out by itself (#292!). Once I returned to my house I saw that Joshua Smith had just found a Pacific Loon at Dos Lagos Park in Glendale! I gave Mr. John Kafel a call and before I knew it, he picked my up and we were on our way! By the time we arrived, the sun had just set so I knew that photos were gonna be hard but sure enough I spotted the loon actively diving in the fairly small pond (NICE FIND JOSH!!!)

Pacific Loon--#293!!!

Out of the many photos I took of the loon this has to be my favorite though!

An Inland Loon looking at a Pacific Loon!

Before we left the spot, we took a quick look at Lenard the Eurasian Wigeon to see how he was doing.

Eurasian Wigeon

My last birding expedition in November was on my patch. I wasn't really expecting to get much in the quick search but I was surprised! It first started off with my Maricoper Clay-colored Sparrow mixed in with a sparrow flock!

Clay-colored Sparrow--294!!!

However, this was not the best bird I had on my short survey on my patch. While I was scanning a local mesquite bosque I all the sudden spotted a kingbird fly over and land in front of me! I observed the bird for a good ten minutes, and I could clearly see that this was a clean-cut Tropical Kingbird (a first for my patch!)

Tropical Kingbird

It takes much caution in identifying Tropical/Couch's Kingbirds. As a matter of fact, most of these birds aren't identifiable by looks alone. Tropical Kingbird has a fairly long skinny bill while Couch's had a thick shorter bill but this isn't usually a good field mark, as there is much overlap. However, my bird was one of the more extreme Tropical Kingbirds with a clearly longish skinny bill.

I ended November with 294 species! At this point I was starting to worry that I wouldn't get those six birds and I really just wanted to get them and be done with it! To be honest, I really didn't know how this was gonna pan out! SIX BIRDS TO GO!!!!!

This was it, the last month of the year! However, I had plans to go up to Idaho/Washington on the 29th to visit Walker and his family who had just moved there. It was time to go big or go home!

On the 1st I called Mr. John up and we headed out to the Gilbert Water Ranch to chase some Purple Finches that Tyler Loomis had just found.When Mr. John and I arrived it was very quiet. There wasn't much bird activity and we had walked back and forth along the Tiger Moth (3/4) Trail a couple times now. So we decided to get a quick bite at Culver's and then return and search for a little longer. Mr. John gave me an hour to search for these birds before we would head back. So I ran all the way to the other side of the preserve and started scanning. Once I reached the area where they had been reported I quickly picked them out!

Purple Finch--#295!!!

The following day a quick survey of my patch turned up the returning Greater Pewee (2nd winter in a row!).

Greater Pewee

On the 3rd a quick stop by the Glendale Recharge Ponds got me two yearbirds, Snow Goose and Clark's Grebe!

Snow Goose (left) and Ross's Goose (right)--#296!!!

Clark's Grebe--#297!!!

An amazing phone call came from Mr. Tommy the day before! In order to hit 300 I knew I was gonna have to go to the East Valley, but I had no rides! I was really troubled and was doubting that I'd get 300. I was almost becoming depressed! But on the 1st Mr. Tommy gave me a call telling me that he'd like to drive me around and help me get 300! I was so pumped, you wouldn't believe it! I now only had three birds that we needed to get on the 3rd! Will we get them or not. Read bellow to find out!

Early on the 3rd Mr. Tommy and I headed out to the East Valley in search of yearbirds. Our first stop was at the Scottsdale Ranch Park where we searched for a Red-breasted Sapsucker. Mr. Tommy and I arrived at the spot before most of the birds were awake so we just hung around until bird activity picked up. We found a tree that looked good for sapsuckers and before we got under the tree the Red-breasted Sapsucker flew in from across the street and landed right in front of us!

Red-breasted Sapsucker--#298!!!

Mr. Tommy even decided to snap a few shots with his iPod!

Even though observing this lifer was awesome we knew that we had to move on! I was going rock climbing with Alexia in the afternoon and I wanted to be back on time, so we had to be pretty speedy! Our next spot was Coon Bluff where we searched for a Reddish Egret that had been seen off and on. We spent quite a bit of time searching for this bird without success so now we were getting a little nervous that we might not get #300 that day. We then made a beeline to Higley and Ocotillo Roads Ponds. Here we had two possible yearbirds, Eastern Phoebe and Dunlin. I scanned the riparian habitat for the phoebe while Mr. Tommy scanned the mudflats for the Dunlin.

The King of Maricopa birding hard!

Before long Mr. Tommy called me over so I ran full speed knowing what I was gonna see next!


ONE MORE BIRD LEFT!!!!!!! Mr. Tommy and I teamed up and started scanning the whole area. Mr. Tommy mentioned that we should head back but I wanted to bird further on, because, the habitat only appeared to be getting better. Mr. Tommy had just turned back to start walking back to the truck when I said "Hey I have a Harris's Sparrow!"

Harris's Sparrow

Mr. Tommy jumped when he heard me say that I had a Harris's Sparrow. He quickly came over and we both enjoyed great looks at this fine rarity. After documenting this rarity for a while Mr. Tommy agreed on the idea on heading further along the road in search of any other interesting birds. However, it got very quiet very fast and the songbirds were no longer active, so we decided to call it quits. BUT WAIT! Since Mr. Tommy and I didn't hit any traffic on our way back we decided to make a quick drive by Crystal Gardens in hopes of finding a Cackling Goose which would be a Maricoper and more importantly, at the time, #300! Once we arrived at Crystal Gardens we noticed that all of the geese were starting to take off, but we continued working our way down the ponds. All of the sudden we located a Cackling Goose!!! Our views were fairly good but the bird took off before I could snap any photos. CACKLING GOOSE--#300!!!!!!!!!!!! We were both pumped that we got my 300th bird for Maricopa County in 2015! Boy I really enjoyed the rest of that day. Mr. Tommy and I then drove over to the rock climbing gym and I spent the rest of the day climbing and hanging out with my best friend, Alexia. What a day!

On the 6th I had a small interview type thing from PBS at Rio Salado. Of course I birded before the interview and had quite an active morning. At one spot I sat down and heard a Winter Wren and Red-shouldered Hawk calling at the same time! After the PBS thing we went to the B and M and Tres Rios. Not much of note here except for a Slate-colored Fox Sparrow. We then went to our last stop of the day, Dean and Beloat. Here I heard a Western Screech-Owl call briefly but that was it.

On the 9th I had plans to bird at the Tres Rios Overbank Wetlands with Mr. Ford. We started out with scanning the wetlands from the fairly tall bank. While I was scanning the wetlands I heard a strange warbler call, so I checked it out. It was in the same area that I had the Yellow Warbler in a while back with Josh, so I wasn't expecting this bird to be anything but I turned out to be very wrong. I starred at the cottonwood trees from across the marsh, which was about 100-150 feet away, for about five minutes before I located the bird, it was a Yellow-throated Warbler!!!

Yellow-throated Warbler--#301!!!

I was absolutely shocked when I saw that the "mystery warbler", which was more than liklye just another Yellow Warble,r was actually a Maricopa 2nd ever (as far as I can find) Yellow-throated Warbler! Eventually the warbler flew across the marsh and closer to us.

Yellow-throated Warbler

Mr. Ford and I enjoyed great views of the rare warbler for about a half hour before we decided to move on. I gave Mr. Tommy a call too, as this would be a Maricoper for him, but he didn't answer his phone so I left a message. As we continued birding I found an American Redstart, awesome!

American Redstart

I got a hold of Mr. Tommy and he said he was on his way, so Mr. Ford and I started walking back to where the Yellow-throated Warbler was. While we were waiting for The King of Maricopa to arrive I spotted what appeared to be a T-Rex X Bald Eagle hybrid flying in!

Crested Caracara!!!

Soon after the caracara flew over, Mr. Tommy arrived and I got him his Maricoper Yellow-throated Warbler, which is now his rarest warbler for his Maricopa list!

On the 12th I attended Mr. Ford's birdwalk at Estrella. The highlight of the morning were two Bonaparte's Gulls!

On the 18th I had plans to bird at Dean and Beloat for a few hours. I had two targets, Northern Parula and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Now both of these birds have become nemesis birds. On my way to D and B I found a first for my patch Mountain Bluebird!

Mountain Bluebird

 I started strong when I noticed a woodpecker up in a willow and found that it was my lifer Yellow-bellied Sapsucker!

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker--#302!!!

I was pumped to get the sapsucker, now it was time to get the Northern Parula! Well four hours later I knew it was time to give up...oh well.

On the 19th, after an awesome morning of rock climbing with Alexia, I returned to my house to find that Ms. Melanie Herring had found a few swans that she couldn't identify. Either Tundra (which was likely what they were) or Trumpeter (which would be a first county record) would be a yearbird for me so I chased them later in the day with my mom. We arrived at the spot in Palo Verde to find that we were just a mere two minutes late of the birds being flushed, and to add salt to the wound they said that they were leaning towards Trumpeter! I stuck around at the spot for about a half hour, and from the pictures Ms. Melanie showed me I had good thoughts that these birds were Trumpeter, but no one really took my word for it. Unfortunately, I had to leave and didn't see the birds. BUT WAIT!!! When I got back to my house and was laying around in my failure I got a call from Mr. Tommy telling me that he was on his way to my house! WHAT?!?!?! I met up with Mr. Tommy and Ms. Susan and we drove up to the birds (second time that day for me) and sure enough there they were!

Trumpeter Swan--#303!!!

These Trumpeter Swans were my last Maricopa yearbird for 2015 leaving me at 303 birds!!! However, this wasn't the last time I birded Maricopa in 2015! Here are a couple victory photos from that night!

Ms. Susan and Mr. Tommy

Mr. Tommy and I

On the 24th I birded with Walker Noe, Mr. David Noe (Walker's dad), and Mr. Tommy. We did some local birding around in the morning but then hit Crystal Gardens where we got great views of Greater Whit-fronted and Cackling Geese!

Cackling Goose

Greater White-fronted Goose

We then continued onto Tres Rios where we easily found the continuing Yellow-throated Warbler and some Yellow Warblers.

The last little bit of birding I did was on the 26th. I got Walker his lifer Sandhill Cranes and we birded hard around Maricopa but couldn't find anything of note. This day marked the last day of my Maricopa big year!!

2015 was my best year of birding in Maricopa County, by far! I saw 303 species in only 2015, out of those 303 species 14 of them were chased by the Arizona birding Community's reports. I did the math and that means that I got around 4% of the birds in Maricopa in 2015 from other people (14 our of 303)! And out of those 303 species I saw about 205 of them were seen from biking from my house!

Top 10 Birds From My Maricopa Big Year

10. Trumpeter Swans
On the 19th after an awesome morning of rock climbing with Alexia I returned to my house to find that Ms. Melanie Herring had found a few swans that she couldn't identify. Either Tundra (which was likely what they were) or Trumpeter (which would be a first county record) would be a yearbird for me so I chased them later in the day with my mom. We arrived at the spot in Palo Verde to find that we were just a mere two minutes late of the birds being flushed, and to add salt to the wound they said that they were leaning towards Trumpeter! I stuck around at the spot for about a half hour and from the pictures Ms. Melanie showed me I had good thoughts that these birds were Trumpeter but no one really took my word for it. Unfortunately I had to leave and didn't see the birds. BUT WAIT!!! When I got back to my house and was laying around in my failure I got a call from Mr. Tommy telling me that he was on his way to my house! WHAT?!?!?! I met up with Mr. Tommy and Ms. Susan and we drove up to the birds (second time that day for me) and sure enough there they were!

Trumpeter Swan

9. American Restart
Okay, okay. I know that a lot of you might be saying "American Redstarts are so common!". With this species being uncommon in AZ it's a pretty good bird! But that's not why I chose that species for #9! This year I saw my first adult male American Redstart. It almost looked like a mini Red-winged Blackbird from a distance! They are so beautiful and have such distinct feeding habits, so that's why American Redstart made #9. 

American Redstart

8. Pacific Loon
On November 19th, after returning from a school class and a short birding trip to the Glendale Recharge Ponds, I browsed through eBird to find that my friend, Joshua Smith, had found a Pacific Loon in a small pond at Dos Lagos Park in Glendale! Afraid that the loon might leave at night, I made a last second trip out there with Mr. John Kafel. We arrived at the spot just after the sun was setting so photos weren't great but I was pumped to simply see the bird! Loons are one of my favorite family of birds, and I've always wanted to see a Pacific Loon in Maricopa County, so that's what made Josh's Pacific Loon #8. Great find Josh!

Pacific Loon

7. Western Screech-Owls
Prior to 2015 I had only seen one Western Screech-Owl ever, and that was briefly on a CBC with Mr. Troy. I never imagined I would be within three feet of a wild owl but that was the case with the Coon Bluff Western Screech-Owls! As many of you know, owls are my favorite family of birds and it would be hard to leave such an experience, like I had with these screech-owls, out of the top ten! And both times I went to Coon Bluff I had great company (first time was with Alexia, Mr. John, and Mrs. Janet and the second time was with Walker). So with me pretty much being within petting distance of a wild owl these Western Screech-Owls had to be #7 in my top ten!

Western Screech-Owl

6. Ridgway's Rail
The Ridgway's Rail is one of my favorite birds. Ever since I first heard my first Ridgway's I've always wanted to see one, and that happened for the first time last year! Since then I've had outstanding luck with Ridgway's Rails. This year I got my best pictures yet of a Ridgway's Rail from about eight feet away! WHat made it even better was that the bird came out in the open, which is very rare for rails. With this being one of my favorite birds, and getting such amazing views the Ridagway's Rail has to be bird #6!

Ridgway's Rail

5. Sprague's Pipits
On November 31st while I was attempting to show Mr. Gordon, Ms. Susan, and Ms. Barbara some longspurs that had been staying on my patch I found two Sprague's Pipits! Now Sprague's Pipits are rare in Maricopa and It's always been a bird that I've wanted to find on my patch. Now I really wanted to photograph these birds and they proved to be very challenging! On the November 1st I decided to try hard at photographing the Sprague's Pipits but failed, even though I found three! Photographing these pipits was a challenge! I'd search for them for an hour continuously riding my baike around the many fields in the area and all of the sudden one, two, or maybe even three would burst into flight and fly out into the distance until I couldn't see them any longer and they would then dive strait down into a distant field! These fields were thick too! SPPIs are () tall and these alfalfa fields had to be about eight inches tall! I was losing hope on photographing these birds but I couldn't give up! So I tried again the next day. This time it took me a couple hours until I all the sudden heard one of the birds giving its "squeet squeet" flight calls. I noticed that the bird was getting closer so I kept my eyes to the skies. Then all the sudden two birds fly over me and land about 300 yards away from me. Now I couldn't see them at the time so making sure I knew where they were was key. However once I got to where I thought they were I couldn't see anything and at the same time they weren't flushing. I walked back and forth down that field a couple times before I caught sight of a bird that popped out into a small bare patch in the field! "Please don't be a Savannah Sparrow" I begged and as soon as I lifted my binocs onto the bird my jaw dropped.

Sprague's Pipit!

With me always wanting to find a Sprague's Pipit on my patch, finding not one but four Sprague's Pipits, and later on finding one in Arlington, this bird had to be my 5th best bird in Maricopa County in 2015!

Sprague's Pipit

4. Black-and-white Warbler
Now the Black-and-white Warbler had been a nemesis bird for about three years by the beginning of 2015, and I hadn't missed it by lack of chasing! As a matter of fact, my mom had seen a Black-and-white Warbler while I was birding with her and I just missed it by a minute! It was getting pretty ridiculous! Black-and-white Warblers are uncommon to rare in AZ and I should have had one by then! On January 17th, while I was birding at Dean and Beloat, I heard a Black-throated Gray Warbler calling so I attempted to track it down to make sure it wasn't anything rare. A black and white songbird then flew into a willow and once I got a glimpse of it climbing up the trunk of the tree I had good hopes! All of the sudden, I got a clear view of the bird and saw that it was my lifer Black-and-white Warbler!!! FINALLY!!!!!

Black-and-white Warbler

Since seeing this Black-and-white Warbler I have seen at least three other Black-and-white Warblers! I guess that's how it goes with nemesis birds! With the Black-and-white being one of the coolest warblers I've seen and it being the biggest nemesis bird for me so far, it had be #4.

3. Yellow-throated Warbler
Here we go! The top three birds of Maricopa County in 2015! On December 9th I birded at the Tres Rios Overbank Wetlands with Mr. Ford. Now I didn't exactly expect much but I was sure wrong! While we were up on the tall bank scanning the wetlands I heard a Yellow Warbler-like call, but I checked it out just to be sure it wasn't one of those eastern warblers. The warbler was about 100-150 feet away, across a marsh, so it took me nearly five minutes of scanning the trees it was in with my binocs before I found that it was something much rarer than a wintering Yellow Warbler, it was a Yellow-throated Warbler!!! Here's what the bird looked like through my binocs, can you see it?

Yellow-throated Warbler

After losing the bird, we continued scanning the trees when I looked at a bush near us and saw that the bird had flown across the marsh to investigate us!

Yellow-throated Warbler

This Yellow-throated Warbler is what I believe to be the second ever record for Maricopa County! I was also able to show Mr. Tommy the bird that same day. Mr. Ford and I were pumped with how our day went at Tres Rios! With this being such a rarity and an awesome bird too, this was to no doubt #3 for Maricopa in 2015!

2. Painted Bunting
On June 23rd Walker Noe and I birded hard at the Baseline and Meridian Wildlife Area and Tres Rios! Walker and I had recently met at a Young Birder's camp in the Chiricahua Mountains. We had such a blast at that camp, as a matter of fact, on the three day camp we got just over four hours of sleep, because, we birded so hard! After this camp we knew that we had to continue with our one two punch of awesomeness! We picked the B and M and Tres Rios, because, we knew that this would be a great spot to show off our skills. **BIRD HARDNESS=All targets+a self-found highlight** So after Walker and I got our two targets (Barn Owl and Yellow-billed Cuckoo) we knew we had to find something. While we were on our way to Tres Rios I pointed out some great habitat, and I jokingly said "I bet there's a Painted Bunting in there" we both laughed because of how rare PABUs are in Maricopa but we knew it wouldn't be impossible because Walker and I both found our own PABUs in Maricopa in just last winter. Once we reached the west end of Tres Rios we took a short break, but soon after continued hiking east. We heard a strange song and after clearing a corner we put our binocs on it and both of us melted right there(not by the 100 degree heat but by the pure handsomeness of this bird!)! 

Painted Bunting!!!

Both of the birds Walker and I found last winter were females, so finding this male kinda completed our Painted Bunted status in Maricopa County! After the bird dove into the thick mesquite bosque so we moved on, but later, on our way we found Mr. Pabu in the same spot!

Painted Bunting

Mr. Pabu made spot #2 not just because of Walker and I's luck with that species, but because how beautiful this bird was, how rare it was for Maricopa, how many birders got to see it (somewhere around 100 birders), and the circumstances we were in when we found this bird!

1. Spotted Owl!!!
On May 25th I explored the Slate Creek Divide area for the first time with Mr. Troy Corman. After checking out a few spots and getting me my 300th bird for Maricopa (Mexican Jay) we continued birding the area. Now a Spotted Owl had been seen at Slate Creek the year before by Mr. Tommy, but he had only seen the bird(s) at night. He had spent so many times searching the Slate Creek area for Spotted Owl day-roosts but he couldn't find one. For that reason I just threw away the thought of finding a Spotted Owl on my Slate Creek expedition. "If the King Of Maricopa can't find a Spotted Owl day-roost why would I be able to find one" is what I thought to myself as I scanned the through the forest. While Mr. Troy and I were hiking throughout the area I happened to look up a hill out in the distance and as soon as I spotted what appeared to be a fat blob in a tree I knew exactly what it was, a Spotted Owl!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Spotted Owl!!!!!!!!!!

I quietly screamed (in other words, yelled) "Spotted Owl!!!" And Mr. Troy quickly turned around and calmly said "Really?! Where?" I pointed out the bird to him and we both had fantastic views of our Maricoper Spotted Owl! With Mr. Troy and I knowing the behavior of the Spotted Owl we approached the bird closer, only at a safe distance, and enjoyed amazing views of this threatened species.

Spotted Owl

While we observed the Spotty for a few minutes it probably only opened its eyes a couple times but when it did you could clearly see its amazing black eyes starring into my soul! Here are a couple photos of Mr. Spotty in his habitat.

Mr. Troy even snapped a photo of me and Mr. Spotty together! You're #1 Spotty, smile!

Now I have a lot of people to thank for my big year! I must thank my parents first of all! Without them it wouldn't have happened, and they pretty much controlled how my year went. Thanks for being awesome, Mom and Dad!

I also want to thank my awesome friend, Alexia, for encouraging me not just on birding but on everything. Thank you for going birding with me so much, to put how much of an awesome friend you are into words is impossible (YOU'RE AWESOME AL!!!)

I then want to thank my three main birding mentors, Mr. Joe Ford, Mr. John Kafel, and Mr. Tommy DeBardeleben for teaching me everything!

Mr. Ford, you taught me pretty much how to bird, ever since I was a 12 year-old boy, and without you I'd be limited on my birding skills, you're an awesome teacher Mr. Ford, perhaps the best I know!

 Mr. John, you have been encouraging to me in my birding carrier for a long time now and have taken me on chasing trips so many times, 300+ species in Maricopa County in one year wouldn't have been possible without you, thanks Mr. John!

 Mr. Tommy, to be honest you are, no doubt, the best birder I know! You have taken me on many very important birding trips to get me many awesome birds for Maricopa and you have helped me a lot on birding-by-ear. Every time I go birding with you I learn knew things, you will always be The King Of Maricopa! You're an awesome friend, Mr. Tommy!

I also want to give a special thanks to my friends the Noe family!

Thanks Walker for being my BIRD HARD (!!!) partner in 2015! We tore up Maricopa County while you were here! And we will continue to tear up wherever we go!

Thanks My Bro (you know who you are) for also birding hard with me! You're awesome and you'll be a crazy good birder when you get older!

Also, thanks Caden for the encouragement on this post. You're awesome!

Other people to thank for my big year include: Mr. Troy, Joshua Smith, Mr. Paul, Ms. Haylie, Mr. Kurt, Ms. Susan, Ms. Barb, Mr. Gordon, and the whole Arizona Birding Community!


God Bless and BIRD HARD!!!



  1. Epic post! I can see the great amount of effort and time you put into writing this. You left nothing out. You and I have got to explore some underbirded areas and bag some Maricopers this year! Steller's Jay is one that you still need right?

    1. Thanks Josh! Yes we need to bird those higher elevations of Maricopa this year! Who knows what we might find? An Elegant Trogon would be a nice start ;) Yeah, Steller's Jay isn't on my Maricopa list yet so hopefully we'll get that.

  2. Congrats again Caleb on your impressive Maricopa County Big Year! I'm proud of you and it was a pleasure being a part of the fun. Hopefully the County birding will be good to you again this year. I enjoyed this post, it is epic. There are many great stories and photos to go along with them. Well done, and I'm sure you'll have more awesome birds and stories to tell this year!

    1. Thanks Dr. Tommy! You're the best! Thanks for being a big part in my birding life, it means a lot. I can't wait to see what I might find next in this fantastic county! You never know what might be around the next corner.

  3. very nice job of documenting and a great effort, it was fun to read

    1. Thanks Mr. Matt! I'm glad you enjoyed it, for that was my purpose in making this post. Bird on!