It's a Great Day to Bird

Birding Southeastern Arizona

January 16, 2017

We left Sierra Vista after spending at a hotel.  Was nice to have a queen size bed to stretch out in and  a warm room.  Got four blogs posted too.  Woohoo!!!  Our first stop of the day, other than to purchase groceries, was the San Pedro River National Conservation Area, managed by the Bureau of Land Management.  When we first got there I heard a gentleman say to another man, who was photographing birds at the feeders, that there was an owl in the big cottonwood tree just behind the visitor center.  Listening in like I did, I followed the photographer.  There in a small hollowed out portion of the large cottonwood tree was a Western Screech Owl.  And boy did that owl blend in with its environment.

After watching and photographing the owl, we took a walk on the trails in the conservation area.  A portion of the trail runs along the San Pedro River and is a very pleasant walk.  We observed a total of 30 birds in the two hours we were there.  I also visited the visitor center and gift store, coming away having helped support the Conservation Area with my purchases.


Western Screech Owl – in a tree near the visitor center




Black Phoebe


San Pedro River


Trail adjacent to the river


Lots of large cottonwood trees


Bird Species Seen or Heard at San Pedro River National Conservation Area

  • Gila Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • House Finch
  • Lesser Goldfinch
  • White-winged Dove
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Vesper Sparrow
  • Pyrrhuloxia
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Bewick’s Wren
  • Song Sparrow
  • Lark Bunting
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Western Screech Owl
  • Black Phoebe
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Great Egret
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • American Coot
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Mourning Dove
  • Lazuli Bunting
  • Abert’s Towhee
  • Green-tailed Towhee
  • Lincoln’s Sparrow
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Inca Dove

Next stop – White Water Draw and the Sandhill Cranes.

We met up with friends Bob and Pat from Washington state.  We first met them during our bird year in 2013-14 and have  kept in touch every since; always a joy to bird with them.  And speaking of birds I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many Sandhill Cranes in one place.  We estimate at least 10,000 Sandhill Cranes were at the White Water Draw wetlands (near Wilcox AZ) when we arrived.  We’ve been to this area 5-6 times in the past, and have never seen this many cranes.

There is a short loop trail that we took in search of other birds, and in total came away with 24 different species, three of which are First of Year (FOY) birds – Great Horned Owl, Greater Yellowlegs, and American Pipit.

It is 6:45 pm as I am typing up this blog posting.  I can hear the cranes chorus of calls, and what a cacophony it is.  Thousands and thousands of Sandhill Cranes flying in and out of the wetlands at White Water Draw.  Too bad it is dark out and we can’t see a thing.  We can only hear their activity.  Still thrilling because you can picture them rising up and coming down into the wetlands.  In the dark I wonder how they avoid each other – nothing short of amazing.  Tomorrow morning, we will get a repeat performance as they leave to feed, but hopefully in the daylight if I can muster out of a warm bed (early bird).

As we were preparing dinner earlier (we eat early so I can cook and we can clean up while there is daylight), we heard the resident Great Horned Owl. Then looking around, we spotted the owl sitting on a post near our campsite.  This was one big mother owl.  In the past the owl has roosted, at times, in the metal pavilion structure near the ponds.  The Arizona Department of Game and Fish has since installed roost/nest boxes for the owls.  I’m sure it cuts down on harassment of the owls by the curious birders and their paraphernalia of scopes, cameras, etc..


Wet area favored by Sandhill Cranes


Here is a photo of a few (and I do mean a few compared to all we saw in the immediate area)



Great Horned Owl nest box



This sign is in an area that anyone parking at White Water Draw would not see. Guess the sign is for the locals.

January 17, 2017

Heard the Great Horned Owls this morning – two of them.  Didn’t see them though.  Someone mentioned seeing them in a copse of trees near the ponds, but when we went to look for it  there was no owl visible.  Maybe it went into its nest box.

I got up early – 6:30 a.m. and headed out to check the crane fly-out.  A couple from Tucson had come to see the cranes and watch them fly off to their feeding grounds.  We were the only three people to watch the spectacle.  When I got to the ponds I couldn’t believe my eyes.  I think there were more cranes this morning than what we saw yesterday, which Jack estimated to be over 10,000.  I told the Tucson couple the number of cranes was mind-boggling.  I’ve never seen so many cranes before.  Of course I’ve yet to go to the Platt River in Nebraska during Sandhill Crane migration.  I watched the cranes take off for over a half an hour and breakfast called so I left before even half the cranes had departed.  Later when I walked the trail near the ponds with Jack, Bob, and Pat, there were only about 50 cranes left.  Later in the day we saw huge flocks in the sky as they made their way to feeding areas or back to roost at White Water Draw.

Bird Species Seen or Heard at White Water Draw

  • Sandhill Crane
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Black Phoebe
  • Say’s Phoebe
  • Vermillion Flycatcher
  • American Kestrel
  • Great Horned Owl
  • White-winged Dove
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Canyon Towhee
  • Killdeer
  • Pyrrhuloxia
  • American Coot
  • American Pipit
  • Greater Yellowleg
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Northern Harrier
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Northern Pintai
  • Gadwall
  • Snow Goose
  • Mallard
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Lazuli Bunting
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Lincoln’s Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • Vesper Sparrow

After leaving White Water Draw we slowly birded our way to Cochise Stronghold Campground near Willcox.  This is a small Forest Service campground with a nice trail.  The only drawback during the winter is that the campground is shady, and as it is surrounded by mountains on three sides, it can be cold and gets dark early.  We only plan to stay here one night before heading to Cave Creek Canyon near Portal, Arizona.

We did stop at a pond along Kansas Settlement Road.  This pond is next to a large cattle feed lot so a little smelly, but some nice waterfowl, including Canvasback and Redhead ducks.  Sweet !!!

Bird Species Seen or Heard in the Sulphur Springs Valley (other than at White Water Draw)

  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Northern Harrier
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Vesper Sparrow
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Lark Bunting
  • Brewer’s Sparrow
  • Greater Roadrunner
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Western Bluebird
  • Tree Swallow
  • American Wigeon
  • Canvasback
  • Mallard
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Redhead
  • Eurasian Collared Dove
  • Mourning Dove
  • Brewer’s Blackbird
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Chihuahuan Raven
  • Canyon Towhee

We got to Cochise Stronghold Campground around 4:00 pm, so the birds were just getting ready to call it a day.  We took a short nature trail hike and then returned to camp to get ready for the evening.


Morning has broken … with the Sandhill Cranes getting ready for lift off at White Water Draw


Sunrise at White Water Draw



Not only is White Water Draw an ‘Important Bird Area’, but also a ‘Globally Important Bird Area’. Most definitely.


Great Blue Heron


One of the ponds at White Water Draw


Lark Bunting


Cooper’s Hawk



Dark-morph Red-tailed Hawk


Cochise Stronghold – Dragoon Mountains


Rainbow seen from the Cochise Stronghold Campground nature tail

January 18, 2017

Woke to clear skies, which didn’t last long, but at least no rain.  After breakfast we hiked about a mile (one-way) up the Cochise Stronghold Trail in search of birds.  This trail connects to a nature trail that begins at the campground where we spent the night.

We didn’t get many birds until the last 1/8 mile of the trail (on the way back) and that was around 11:00 am.  Birds sleeping in late, I guess.  But in one area we had about seven different species flitting about in search of food: Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed and Oregon), Lincoln Sparrow, Bewick’s Wren, Black-chinned Sparrow (single female), Green-tailed Towhee, Spotted Towhee, and Hermit’s Thrush.  Sweeeeeeet.

After finishing lunch, we drove into Willcox to gas up (our friends) and send an email (me), then drove to Cave Creek Canyon near Portal, Arizona.  We found a good campsite in the Sunny Flats Campground. The weather tomorrow is supposed to be nice, but Friday promises around 0.50 inches of rain.  If 1.5 inches of rain is predicted they close the campground down due to flash flood potential.  We will probably leave on Friday (don’t want to sit all day in our van while it rains) and head into New Mexico.  There are several state park campgrounds we want to check out that are supposed to have good birding.  So far I’ve seen 134 different species since the first of the year.

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Cochise Stronghold

  • Canyon Towhee
  • Acorn Woodpecker
  • Bridled Titmouse
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Hermit’s Thrush
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Bewick’s Wren
  • Townsend’s Warbler
  • Spotted Towhee
  • Green-tailed Towhee
  • Lincoln’s Sparrow
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Black-chinned Sparrow
  • Mexican Jay
  • Northern Flicker

Acorn Woodpecker – look at that beak




View of the Cave Creek Canyon mountains from our campground – at sunset


 January 19, 2017

Along with our friends Bob and Pat, we walked the road to the South Fork trailhead (about 1-mile) and then hiked the trail for another mile.  This trail requires several stream crossings, but luckily the water level wasn’t too high and there were plenty of rocks in the stream for use in getting across the stream with dry feet.  Didn’t see as many birds this year as we saw last year.  Weather was cool (40s), with partly cloudy skies.  Of course being in a canyon we didn’t get much direct sun until around 10:30 or so and then the cloud cover increased.

After we got back to the campsite we had lunch, and then later took the nature trail to the visitor center, about a mile away.  This is the first time in our 4-5 visits that the visitor center has been open.  The volunteer, a nice fellow from Florida, let us know a big winter storm is headed our way with strong winds and snow.  We knew it is supposed to rain tomorrow and we didn’t want to sit in the van all day long without heat, so we decided to continue eastward into New Mexico the next day where the state park campgrounds have sites with electricity for the low price of $14.00 per night.  Since we brought a little heater along we can plug that sucker in and be warm in the rainy, windy weather.  Or who knows maybe it’s time again for a hotel, although we were in a hotel five nights ago.  Will play it by ear.



I think they should update this “recording equipment” sign.



Red-naped Sapsucker


Was fun to watch these clouds move through the against the bright blue sky


Yellow-eyed Junco


Cave Creek – or at least one of the channels



South Fork Trail


Our good friends Pat and Bob Brandt


Hermit Thrush



Dried fruits of this yucca plant


Mountains around sunset



A view of Cave Creek from the “nature trail”

January 20, 2017

This morning was warmer than the previous morning – at least to start with.  The wind picked up around 10:00 am, but we left before any major storm.  Later I heard the storm warning was downgraded somewhat – the snow was only supposed to get to 6,000 feet, rather than 5,500.  The campground we stayed at – Sunny Flats – is at 5,300 feet.

We said goodbye to our friends Bob and Pat.  They are staying in Arizona to bird and hang out, before heading back to Washington state in early March.  We really enjoyed birding with them.

We ate breakfast at the Portal Café/Lodge/General Store, then headed to Rodrigues’ Place where a Streaked-backed Oriole has been coming to the feeders.  This property is owned by a gentleman formerly from Anchorage Alaska.  He retired in 2011 and moved down to Portal.  He isn’t sorry.  Says he doesn’t miss the long winters (and 105 summer temps in Portal are okay?).  I know what he means about the long winters though.  He has created quite the habitat for birds, plus putting out bird seed and oranges.  The Streaked-backed Oriole (rare bird for the area) – which we did see – loves the oranges.  This is where we saw a family of Javelinas including a baby.  I’ve never seen the babies before.  So cute.


Javelina family




Streak-backed Oriole


Back view


Verdins do love oranges


Male Northern Cardinal


Gambell’s Quail – male and female


This is the feeding area where we saw the Streak-backed Oriole

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Cave Creek Canyon/Portal Area

  • Canyon Wren
  • Bridled Titmouse
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Yellow-eyed Junco
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Acorn Woodpecker
  • Red-naped Sapsucker
  • Mexican Jay
  • Brown Creeper
  • Hermit’s Thrush
  • Hammond’s Flycatcher
  • Streaked-backed Oriole
  • Northern Cardinal
  • House Sparrow
  • Black-throated Sparrow
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Lesser Goldfinch
  • House Finch
  • Green-tailed Towhee
  • Pyrrhuloxia
  • Verdin
  • Montezuma’s Quail (highly probable, but seen flying away)
  • Gambell’s Quail

As for mammals we had Javelina, Coyote, and a Kit Fox (rusty colored with black-tipped Tail)

Now onto New Mexico, so get out into nature and enjoy our great outdoors, and remember …



1 Comment

  1. Nina Faust

    Ok, now I know where you have been! Nina


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