3 February 2019
We woke to a beautiful sunrise at Whitewater Draw and the departure of waves and waves of thousands and thousands of Sandhill Cranes. They filled the sky –what a sight. This time Pat and I walked down to the viewing areas to see the cranes depart, while Jack and Bob stayed back at the campsite.
We left Whitewater Draw around 10:00 a.m. and made our way to Madera Canyon. We decided to come here rather than try Gilbert Ray campground. We stopped for lunch at the Horseshoe Café in Benson, which I would rate a 4.5 out of 5.0 stars. Good food. Apparently others agree as the place was very busy.
We arrived at Madera Canyon around 2:00 p.m. greeted by an overcast sky, rain, and wind. One positive note, we did find a campsite in Bog Springs Campground. We parked and hung out until around 3:00 p.m. and then proceeded to the Santa Rita Lodge to check out the bird feeders. The lousy weather resulted in not as many birds at the feeders, although the Blue-throated Hummingbird was present. The Coatimundi also came several times. Since our last visit a little over a week ago, the Lodge owners placed a hummingbird feeder for the Coatimundi below the seating/viewing area. I think this was so people didn’t try and feed the animal as it came up to feeder adjacent to the parking area. However, the new hummingbird feeder was empty so the Coatimundi would still go back to the parking lot feeder where he was used to getting sugar water. Only problem is, that feeder had been removed. Poor guy, he looked so bewildered.
Afterwards we drove to where the Elegant Trogon has been repeatedly seen. Alas, no Trogon. We heard reports the White-throated Thrush had been seen here too, but no Thrush either. We continued on down the trail and did get a few birds, but not much moving in the rain soaked forest.
4 February 2019
We woke to windy, overcast conditions – not always ideal for birding. We left the campground around 9:00 a.m. and stopped at the parking lot where the Trogon has been seen. No Trogon. We then drove down to the Proctor parking lot and parked our vehicles. Bob, Pat, Jack, and I then walked up the trail in search of the White-throated Thrush. Bob and Pat had not seen it yet at Madera Canyon. Some campers from yesterday told us where they had seen it today and gave us directions. So off we went taking the right fork of the trail. We didn’t get too far when we saw a group of birders and photographers pointing and looking up into a tree. In great anticipation, we approached quickly, and we all got great views of the bird – with binoculars. I say that because although it was close it was backlit and all you could see was a black bird. This bird is so not black, but a shift in our position and with the help of foliage behind the bird we soon saw its splendid markings.
The bird then dropped to the ground to feed and we got even better views. Depending on where you were standing, the bird was either in open view or almost obscured by branches and leaves. I had an open view and told a photographer to stand in front of me and then I got him on the bird. He got some great shots. Me. None. Oh well. The bird then flew back up into some brush. Luckily I was able to follow the bird so I knew where it was sitting. However, it wasn’t easy to always get everyone on the bird because the bird was partially obscured by branches and vegetation. But it would occasionally move and at one point I got some decent shots. A lot better than the first time I saw the bird over a week ago. I wonder how many people have seen this bird – it seems to attract a crowd.
More birders were arriving, so we retreated to the parking lot. However, just before we got there Pat and I heard several gnatcatchers. Two Black-capped Gnatcatchers have been spotted in this vicinity in recent days. Despite our best efforts we could not positively ID the birds as Black-capped Gnatcatchers. So then what were they? We think they were Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers. These two birds look very similar during the non-breeding season. To me the differences are very subtle. I took my photo and checked it against Merlin ID, but this app wasn’t any help since Merlin listed all four gnatcatchers and a vireo as possibilities. Was my photo that bad?
Our next stop was the Juan Batista de Anza greenway trail in the community of Tubac. An immature Rose-throated Becard had been seen here yesterday. We looked but didn’t see much in the way of birds. That may be due to the wind – strong. I know the White-throated Thrush was mostly hunkered down in the trees while we spent about 30 minutes watching the bird.
We had an 80+ mile drive ahead of us – and through Tucson – so we ended our birding for the day around 1:30 p.m. and headed north. We are staying the night at Picacho Peak State Park. Bob and Pat give me a hard time because I had difficulty with the pronunciation, at first, so I simply called it either Pistachio or Pinocchio State Park. We were lucky to get a camp spot here. It is a popular place – always full. Lots of really big RV rigs all wanting electric sites. I think our “tin tent” van was the smallest rig there – no tents. As I mentioned before, it is getting harder and harder to get into certain state park campgrounds in Arizona. Good for Arizona State Parks, no so good for us campers. I guess there are more baby boomers who are becoming Snowbirds. But the state park campgrounds aren’t cheap. We also find that many people stay in these campgrounds for a week or more, whereas the longest we’ve stayed at a campground this trip is four days. We picked this campground because it is close to Santa Cruz Flats, an area that is supposed to be good for winter birds – particularly grassland birds like the Mountain Plover. We will let you know if that is true or not.
5 February 2019
Today we went birding an area known as Santa Cruz Flats. It is an agricultural area northwest of Picacho Peaks Campground. The goal was to find several birds: Mountain Plover (found 33 of them in one field), Horned Lark (saw several dozen), and Crested Caracara (luckily we saw one). And, finding a Ferruginous Hawk and a Prairie Falcon were pleasant surprises.
Before we headed out birding we had a frantic half hour thinking Jack had lost his wallet. We called the grocery store we stopped at yesterday for groceries. No luck there. We checked the campsite we had just vacated. Nothing there. We stopped at the visitor center/administration office to see if it had been turned in. No luck there. Then I searched the bedding, because I had tossed Jack’s pants onto the bed this morning. Sure enough the wallet had slipped out of his pocket and got hidden in the comforter. Whew!!! We weren’t looking forward to cancelling credit cards and a getting Jack a new driver’s license (or me having to drive).
We also got reservations for the next two nights at Picacho Peaks State Park, albeit in different campsites each night. Tonight we are in the overflow area. We have a picnic table, fire ring, and access to a vault toilet but no electricity – perfect for us. Water is at the dump station regardless of where you camp. I imagine many of the big rigs would prefer having a water hookup at their site. The overflow site cost is only $15.00 per night. Tomorrow night we are in site B-23. Not an ideal site, but we will have electricity as the nighttime temperatures are supposed to dip to 31 degrees F. Brrrrrrr. Plus, I want to recharge my electronics before we have several nights without electricity at our next destination.
After birding we returned to our campsite for the night (Overflow Site #2) and got caught up on emails and such. Tomorrow we might revisit the Santa Cruz Flats and do some hiking in the park.
6 February 2019
Rained last night so we didn’t think the dirt roads in Santa Cruz Flats would be conducive to driving in our van. Instead we drove into Oro Valley (Tucson suburb) and went to Trader Joe’s (oh how I miss this store – our Portland, Oregon days), the bank (need money for our Guyana trip), and to get gas for the van. We ended the trip into town with a movie (A Dog’s Way Home).
We returned to the campground and just hung out. A cold wind is blowing so not conducive to sitting outside and enjoying the scenery or going for a walk. There is a hard frost warning for tonight. We are at an electrical site, but we don’t leave the heater running all night long. So it will be a cold morning.
Tomorrow we head north to Buckeye, which is west of Phoenix. – a two hour drive. Our goal is to visit a Thrasher hotspot and find the LeConte’s, Bendire’s, and Sage Thrashers, plus the Sagebrush Sparrow.
7 February 2019
It was cold last night and thankfully we had our heater. It’s not fun sitting in the van wearing your winter clothes, before going to bed. And this morning — ice on the pumpkin so to speak. We always leave our camp stove and fuel tank out at night and the stove was coated in frost this morning. Surprisingly the water in their containers, which we also left outside, did not freeze. They have in the past.
We broke camp and headed towards the “Thrasher Hotspot” near Buckeye, Arizona. We were almost there when I saw a number of birds in a semi-flooded farm field so we stopped. I spotted the distinctive shape of Long-billed Curlew, which I was hoping to see in Arizona. There were over 50 of these shorebirds in the field, along with about 40 Greater Yellowlegs, and at least 20 Killdeer. In addition to these shorebirds there were 35 Great Egrets. The field flooding must have revealed something good to eat for these birds as they were busily feeding. And the area also attracted hundreds of blackbirds (yellow-headed and red-winged) and grackles (great-tailed). Of course there was a cattle feedlot across the road so that might be an attraction for the birds.
We finally got to the “Thrasher Hotspot” around 10:30 a.m. There were two other cars at the parking lot. For some reason I was thinking this area would be out in the middle of nowhere. Nope. There is a huge chicken facility (think eggs) nearby, and some houses in the distance. The land is Arizona State Trust lands. You simply walk the area and hope you find some thrashers on the top of vegetation singing away. We did. We saw the LeConte’s and the Bendire’s Thrashers, plus the Sagebrush Sparrow. I was happy to see all three of these species. I’m not sure if the other birders saw the birds or not. We had to use our spotting scope to get decent views and neither birder was carrying a spotting scope.
Afterwards we headed to our campground for the night – Skyline Regional Park (managed by the City of Buckeye). There are seven campsites (A-G). We are in campsite E. There currently is only one other camper. I suspect that will change tomorrow night (Friday). The cost is $20.00 per night for a site with a picnic table and fire ring, and a communal toilet (they’re metal toilets). There is no water source or electrical hookups at the campground. A little expensive, in my view given the lack of water and electrical hookups, but it is located near the “Thrasher Hotspot” so good enough. We didn’t know if we were going to see the birds in our first try so we booked this place for two nights. You can just show up and book a site for the night, if available, although we didn’t know that when we booked our site online. If we had known, we would have just shown up. To register online you have to fill out a form then wait for the City to contact you by phone to let you know whether they have anything available, and if so, then they take your credit card number. We’re not sure how reliable the reservation system is since when we arrived our site there was no indication the site was reserved for the next two nights. Hmmmm nothing like confronting someone who takes your site thinking it is open – luckily not our case.
8 February 2019
This morning was cold, but not as cold as yesterday. No frost on the camp stove. I woke up at 6:00 a.m. when someone proceeded to park a trailer in the site next to ours – they were here for an Eagle Scout project. Technically they aren’t supposed to put their camping equipment in that spot until 1:00 p.m. So much for the rules. Also, quiet hour is from 10:00 p.m. to sunrise. The sun hadn’t risen when they came in with the trailer, and the person who brought in the trailer kept slamming a lot of doors – not so quiet. So much for campground rules.
The park does have a “no glass in the park” policy. I think they don’t want beverage containers broken in the day use area or on the trails. Campers need a beer permit (at $25.00 per permit) if they want beer at their campsite (no mention of other alcohol). Does that mean they have to have canned beer? Personally I like those parks that prohibit alcohol.
The day-use area for this park is located immediately adjacent to the camping area making for an interesting morning when there were people parking and heading out on the trail before it was even light. By the time we left for the Thrasher Hotspot (around 8:45 a.m.) there were already 24 cars in the parking lot and ten cars passed us as we were leaving the park. This area has a great trail system so is very popular. We were surprised they don’t charge a day-use fee – slam the campers instead.
The reason for going back to the “Thrasher Hotspot” was to try and see a Sage Thrasher, but no luck. We did see the LeConte’s and Bendire’s Thrashers again. Also several Sagebrush Sparrow’s. The Bell’s Sparrow (a look-alike to the Sagebrush Sparrow), has also been spotted here, although we don’t think we saw it. But who knows??? The differences between the two birds are so subtle I doubt I would be able to tell the difference without a good photo with both birds in the same frame. Even then I’m not so sure I could tell the difference.
We were the first ones at the site, but we were later joined by six other people. Several of those individuals were looking solely for the Bell’s Sparrow so it must have been spotted here recently.
The plan was to go hiking at the park in the afternoon, but instead we ended up spending most of our time looking for the thrashers and sparrows. We got back to the park around 3:45 p.m. and found one additional camper set up. I wonder if they had a reservation or not. The sign for camping says the sites are available after 1:00 p.m. if there is no one assigned to the site. However, we paid for our site and still there is nothing formal indicating we have this site reserved for two nights. The reservation system for this park definitely needs improvement.
Tomorrow we head to Apache Junction where we will stay with friends before heading to Guyana, South America, on 12 February for a two-week bird tour. Guyana has over 800 bird species so should be a full-meal-deal.
9 February 2019
We left the campground early today – 7:30 a.m. so we could get to Riparian Preserve at Gilbert Water Ranch near Phoenix. We always like this place for birding and we weren’t disappointed today either. We had a total of 52 different species. There were Anna’s Hummingbirds everywhere we went in this area. Must be breeding time because they seemed to be either chasing each other or chasing off the competition. And if you ever want to see an Abert’s Towhee – this is the place — we saw at least 27 of them today, including five at one time. And, too many rabbits to keep track.
The Gilbert Water Ranch is a series of reclaimed water treatment ponds. The water levels are managed so a lot of great habitat resulting in a diversity of birds – desert species, riparian species, water birds, and shorebirds. The area is very popular – utilized by birders and non-birders alike. I think the birds have adjusted to all the people as we often had great, close up views.
We went to a pizzeria for lunch called Pieology. Cute. A custom-made pizza — you go along a buffet-like line and tell them what kind of crust, sauce, cheese, and toppings you want on your pizza and ta-da, it’s made to your specifications, cooked, and brought to your table. Delicious.
From there we went to our friends Carla and Wayne’s where we will spend the next several days before heading to Guyana.
10 February 2019
Today was a lazy day spent getting ready for our upcoming bird tour to Guyana. We did take a foray out to Prospector Park to bird and walk Carla and Wayne’s two dogs – Willow and Mossy. At the park, as Jack and Wayne went off to an off-leash area with the dogs while Carla and I birded the park. As we were walking near a Saguaro cactus I happened to look at one of the many holes and saw something that could either be a bird (owl) or a deformity. Turns out it was an owl roosting in the sunshine. Carla and I looked at the bird and tried to identify it without the benefit of knowing what color eyes the owl possessed. I took many photographs and we checked eBird for the area. Possibilities included the Whiskered Screech Owl, Flammulated Owl, and Western Screech Owl. The first two birds would be considered “rare” for this time of year and the Western Screech Owl had never been reported for the park. Well there is always a first time. When I compared my photo against the bird id app “Merlin” the bird came back identified as a Western Screech Owl. Darn. I was so hoping it would be either the Flammulated or Whiskered Screech Owl because those two birds would be life birds for me. But I was happy to see a Western Screech Owl.
We had dinner with Carla, Wayne, and friends of theirs who live here during the cold winter months. Dan and Diane are from Wisconsin and we enjoyed getting to know them. Dan likes to go to the Dollar Store and get $1 cowboy hats so I am now an Arizona cowgirl!
11 February 2019
Another lazy day with time spent at Prospector Park (us walking the dogs without Carla and Wayne) and getting ready for our upcoming Guyana bird tour. The Western Screech Owl was still at the park sitting/roosting in the same hole in the Saguaro cactus. I don’t blame the owl, the sun really does feel great – so nice and warm.
Next stop – Guyana, South America. Until then…
IT’S ALWAYS A GREAT DAY TO BIRD