It's a Great Day to Bird

Month: January 2019

Arizona Sonoran Desert Country

14 January 2019

We left Sedona today and headed southwest to Kofa National Wildlife Refuge (NWR).  We really love this refuge, in part because they allow free camping on the Refuge.  Kofa NWR is located near Quartzsite, Arizona.  And if you’ve never been to Quartzsite in the winter try to image a desert with over 70,000 motor homes spread out across the landscape.  I think there were even more this year.  Most of the motorhomes are on Bureau of Land Management managed lands.  Camper pay $180 for seven months (Sept 15- Apr 15).  By April the hot temperature drives the ‘snowbirds’ north and only a few hard souls remain – a ghost town .  So if there is a government shutdown and campers aren’t making their payments, the federal government is losing out on a lot of money.

We head to the Refuge and find more people camped along the Palm Canyon Road than ever we’ve seen before.  I would say at least 8-10 times as many people.  We’ve been here when you would be lucky to find two or three other campers.  We always felt lucky not to see anyone.  We did notice that the refuge host (volunteer) is still here.  Not sure if they are doing anything during the shutdown as we never saw them, but the Refuge kiosk brochure rack was stocked.

We drove the Palm Canyon Road to the end, parked in the parking lot, and then walked to the where you can see the ‘ancient’ palm tree.  Bird-wise, we only saw a single Rock Wren and two Common Ravens, although I did hear a Canyon Wren.  As the canyon area is quite large, it would be difficult to see the Canyon Wren.  Their song and call echoed off the canyon walls.  The trail to the palms is steep and rocky in places, but a very scenic hike.  On our way down the people right in front of us spotted a tarantula on the trail.  The woman was quite nervous about it and probably freaked out when I leaned down to get my phone within a couple of inches of the spider to take its photo.  The tarantula did rear up and challenge me, but tarantulas don’t bother me, nor do most other spiders.  Now large bugs that fly – I hate those.

After our hike we found a scenic pull out where we decided to camp (nice to have a ‘tin tent’ and just park it).  We aren’t too far from the canyon trailhead, maybe a mile or two.  I went to check out the surrounding area and see if I could find any birds.  It was pretty quiet out.  I did hear and then see two Costa’s Hummingbirds, and with my binoculars scanning the cactus and trees I was able to spot a Loggerhead Shrike.  Other than that, I only had about three small birds that darted from one very dense shrub to another so quickly all I could tell you was that they were small, light colored birds.  Walking in the desert is a real experience with such variety of thorny vegetation and lots of evidence of torrential rain conditions with ditches, washes, and wide gravel beds.

We did get a little rain this afternoon, and yes the area really does need it.  Although I must admit, it does seem greener than I’ve seen of the area in the past.  And the Ocotillos are heavily leaved and those that aren’t are in bloom.  Pretty.

Kofa National Wildlife Refuge sign

Our campsite

Palm Canyon

Trail marker


Yes, this is the trail too

Jack looking for birds

And more rocky trail

Looking down the trail

Yes there are palms up there

Look closer

And closer

Ta da – palms

View from the trail up Palm Canyon


In defensive mode

Close up view.  I really like these hairy spiders

Cholla cactus – I love these.  They look so soft against the landscape.

Hillside near our camp site

Costa’s Hummingbird

Up close

But they don’t look soft up close

Ocotillo – fully leaved out

Thorns on an Octollo

Ocotillo Flowers

The insides of a Saguaro Cactus

Globe Mallow

“Harris’s Antelope Squirrel

A new “Life” mammal for me

15 January 2019

We went to bed with it raining and woke to rain.  In fact, it rained most of the day.  We even had a little stream near our van.  And you could see several waterfalls cascading off the canyon walls.   There were some periods of time without rain and I took advantage of those to walk around the area.  Near our campsite there is an open area and I checked that out for birds.  I saw or heard a total of 13 species today, which was an improvement over yesterday.  At one point I had found two Cactus Wrens and an Ash-throated Flycatcher (First of Year bird).  The birds were singing away.  All of a sudden total silence.  I looked around and sure enough there on a tree displaying prominently was a Loggerhead Shrike.  Loggerhead Shrikes feed on birds, so these other birds sure don’t want to expose themselves by singing of flying.  The stealthy birds moved away from their immediate area to avoid the shrike.

I was happy to see some birds after spending most of the day in the van reading and playing Suduko on my iPad – and us with no heat.  Luckily the weather isn’t too cool, although I am wearing my Smartwool underclothes and pile pants; especially need them for the desert night.

Tomorrow is supposed to be nicer, with less chance of rain.  We are going to head over to Cibola National Wildlife Refuge and see if we can get on the refuge.  They have a really nice auto tour route we enjoy driving.  If there is a gate prohibiting entrance, we may just park nearby and walk the refuge auto tour route.

Wet, dreary day

The water coming down a small wash near our campsite

Rain puddles outside our camper van

Yay, the sun is coming out

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Cactus Wren


shaking out those feathers

Cactus Wren

Loggerhead Shrike


16 January 2016

YAY!!!  Cibola National Wildlife Refuge’s auto tour route (Canada Goose Loop) was open today.  I was so happy.  We did arrive in the fog, but that soon lifted and we had partly sunny skies and warm temperatures (60s), no wind.  A perfect day (of course, every day is a great day to bird).  In total we had 48 different species, including three Tundra Swans, which are rare for this part of the country – they generally don’t get this far south.

We also had a several impressive large flocks of: (consider my estimates low)

  • Sandhill Crane (1000)
  • Snow Goose (1000)
  • Mallard (800)
  • American Wigeon (500)
  • Northern Pintail (300)
  • Yellow-headed Blackbird (1000)
  • Red-winged Blackbird (2000)
  • Canada Goose (1000)
  • Great-tailed Grackle (500)

When the Snow Geese took flight is was a cloud of white and such noise!

Of the 48 species observed, 17 were First of Year (FOY) species.  We always come to Cibola NWR to see the Burrowing Owls and finally we saw a single Burrowing Owl.  Unfortunately, I had to get my scope out to see it, so not photograph worthy.  The Refuge has artificial nesting Burrowing Owl mounds and the owls like to roost outside their burrows – but not to be this time, maybe the weather was too cool?  There was a juvenile Bald Eagle perched along the owl route so that may have something to do with it.

After taking the auto tour route, we drove south to another part of the refuge.  There are a several roads along the Colorado River.  We took the ones that were passable.  With the rains of yesterday some of the roads looked pretty muddy and rutted and no bird is worth getting the van stuck. Did I really just say that?

We did find several species not observed during the auto tour route, including an Osprey, Clark’s Grebe, Common Goldeneye, Redhead, and a White-faced Ibis (almost missed it because it was down in a ditch and is such a dark bird).  All of these birds except the Redhead were FOYs.

We had an enjoyable day – Thanks USFWS for being open.  We decided to go for pizza at Silly Al’s in Quartzsite.  Mistake.  I think everyone else was there already.  No parking to be found and they have a large parking lot.  So we decided to try another restaurant and that one was full also. There were at least eight names on the waiting list ahead of us.  And it was only 5:00 p.m.  Oh well.  Guess when you have over 125,000+ snowbirds in the area, they all don’t want to cook in their RVs on a given night.  I wonder what these people do all winter long.  One answer is in the amazing number of flea market booths and funky specialty booths (gems, etc.) and RV showcases.  I think I would go crazy.  I would have to volunteer at the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge.

Cibola National Wildlife Refuge sign

Refuge map

This is the first pond you come to along the auto tour route. The ducks love it as you can see.

Mallards, Pintails, Wigeons

Green-winged Teal (Male)

Ruddy Duck (stiff tail)

American Wigeon

Tundra Swan

Tundra Swan

They do have a trail that takes you out to a viewing platform overlooking another pond

The habitat along the trail is open in places and dense in other places

Trail leading to the viewing platform

Viewing Platform

What you see from the viewing platform. Although it doesn’t look like there are any ducks on the water, there were hundreds of them – mostly Mallards.

Lots of open fields for the birds

In this field there were a lot of Sandhill Cranes and ducks (primarily Mallard)

But also lots of Yellow-headed Blackbirds and Red-winged Blackbirds – thousands of them

This is a coyote.  He was pretty brave and did not run off when he spotted us.  Just continued eating.

Some of the many Snow Geese. How many do you think are there here?

Sandhill Cranes

Tree full of blackbirds and grackles

These are the Burrowing Owl artificial nest mounds

Lots of corn cobs in front of these nest holes

Colorado River

Love the big Fremont Cottonwoods

Northern Harrier

American Kestrel

Not many birds on this wetland. This area is open to waterfowl hunting so the waterfowl hangout along the auto tour route, which is closed to hunting.

Colorado River

This Common Goldeneye was swimming in the Colorado River

17 January 2019

We decided to stay another day/night at Kofa National Wildlife Refuge.  We went to a new area for us – Crystal Hills.  This is a very scenic area where you can collect rocks (for non-commercial purposes) – mainly quartz crystals you find on the ground.  There are limitations however.  In a 12-month period, you can only collect ten ‘specimens’ or ten pounds of crystals, whichever you obtain first.  So one really big rock or up to ten smaller ones.  I wonder how someone knows if a rock weighs ten pounds or not.  I sure don’t.  Oh, and you can only collect rocks on the surface (no digging or using a metal detector).  The Refuge has a lot of old mines so I guess it was once popular for finding gems.

We walked/climbed the area and soon found our quota of rocks to take back with us.  The rocks that caught our eye never quite look the same when we get back to the campsite and then we ponder what will we do with them.  We did end up keeping a few.

We also birded the area, of course.  We had nine species, of which two were hummingbirds:  Anna’s Hummingbird and Costa’s Hummingbird.  Fun to see the hummers.  It was pretty quiet bird-wise.  There were a few people out and about.  You can camp in this area too, but we decided to go back to our favorite pull-off site along Palm Canyon Road.  When we got to the road I started counting the number of campers – 26 before even reaching the refuge entrance.  The land before the Refuge is under BLM management.

We did go into Quartzsite  first to get some ice and visit the Dairy Queen.  The town was hopping with grey-haired people.  I still can’t get over how many people come to this community each winter.  And with more baby boomers, there seem to be even more RVs.  And we aren’t talking about the small RVS, rather those monster 65-foot plus RVs and trailers you see on the road – often pulling a vehicle or trailer or boat.  I call them mobile homes on wheels.  The are rather “mobile” aren’t they?

Tomorrow we will leave this area and head down to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  Don’t know what we will find, but decided to check it out.  We have reservations in a couple of days for Patagonia Lake State Park.  I really like the birding at Patagonia.

Some type of moth – pretty

Phainopepla – Male in flight

Cyrstal Hill

Lots of shale on the hillside

Oh, but lots of quartz too

The best birding was along this wash near the foothills


Our new campsite just down the road from our previous campsite

18 January 2019

Today was essentially a travel day.  We left the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge around 9:00 a.m.  On the road out I counted 30 campers.  We’ve NEVER seen this many people camped along Palm Canyon Road.  We liked it so much better when there were only a couple of other campers.

Our destination for the night – Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  Since this National Monument is affected by the government shutdown, we didn’t know what to expect when we got here.  The worst – the campground would be closed with no access.  The best – full operations (okay pipe dream, no pun intended).  The Monument had an ‘Area Closed’ sign but the campground was open with a disclaimer that any reservations could not be guaranteed – fight it out I guess.  So in we went.

We got to the campground around 2:00 p.m. to find it less than 1/3 full, if that.  We quickly found a campsite (#173) and pulled in just as several birds crossed the road in front of us (yes, always about the birds) – two Cactus Wrens, a Curve-billed Thrasher (First of Year), and a male House Finch.  Not a bad way to start our experience at the campground.

After setting up at our campsite, we walked the perimeter campground trail.  We didn’t see much bird-wise other than a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher.  This bird had been banded, sporting a blue (Jack thought green) band and a silver band (USFWS) on its right leg, and red band on its left leg.  I couldn’t quite tell if there was a second band on its left leg because the bird kept favoring this leg, rarely put any weight on it for long.  Maybe the band was pinching its leg.  If so, that is one of the reasons I don’t care for bird banding.  I know scientists get valuable information from capture/recapture of birds, but do you need to band them to get the information?  How many banded migratory birds are re-seen or recaptured, especially songbirds.  If someone can give me these statistics that show a benefit, I might think its valuable to put bands on the birds.

So, what actually is available at the campground?  We do have running water.  Two of the restrooms are open and they are clean, have toilet paper, each has a shower.   However, Jack said the water was cool (not even warm) – solar powered.  Jack was going to pay for our stay, but there weren’t any fee envelopes available.  I guess we could just stick the money in the iron ranger.  The cost to stay here is $20.00 per night, or for people with a senior pass (Jack) $10.00 per night.  Since our last four nights were free (USFWS doesn’t charge to camp on the refuge), I think we should spend $20.00 for two nights.  Yes, we are planning to stay two nights.  Oh and as I was typing this blog post a hummingbird flew into the van then quickly flew back out, scaring me.  We have a red towel hanging by the door so it must have been fooled into thinking it was food.

The road we took to the National Monument is Highway 85.  We exited Interstate 8 onto Highway 85 and I think the traffic quadrupled from what we had on the interstate.  And since we were driving the speed limit, everyone was passing us.  This is the road people take to Rocky Point in Mexico.  This is an area we hope to visit someday.  Just not this trip.

Our campsite – #173

Me in front of an Organ Pipe Cactus.  Gee I wonder how this cactus got its name?

Jack hiding in an Organ Pipe Cactus

The area just outside the campground – pretty bleak

Baby pipes

A nest – possibly Cactus Wren


 19 January 2019

Today we hiked and birded the trail from the campground to the Victoria Mine (abandoned).  The trip out and back is 4.2 miles.  The trail was a little rocky in places so you had to be careful of your steps, especially if you are also trying to watch for birds.  There wasn’t much at the mine, other than some mine tailings, old shaft openings covered with secure, open grids (habitat protection for bats – Arizona has a very impressive diversity of bats), and remnants of an old building that was once the mine’s store.

Once again most of the birds we saw were in the campground.  The hummingbirds stay around the campground because people bring hummingbird feeders with them, despite the park rule against it.  We had a pair of Curve-billed Thrashers in the campground, and I think they may have been building a nest in a Palo Verde tree as I saw one carrying nest material to that tree.

In total, the number of birds we saw today was 14, of which one was a First of Year bird:  Gilded Flicker.  Not a bad number for the desert.  And today was sunny, calm winds, and short-sleeved weather.  Sweet!!!

Tomorrow we head to Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge for one night.

Interesting trailer – called a “Cricket”

Curve-billed Thrasher

Could this be the thrasher’s nest?

Curve-billed Thrasher (mate) on a cactus

Cactus Wren – looking left

– then right

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

House Finch (Male)

Northern Mockingbird

Black-throated Sparrow

This cactus is loaded with lots of fruit

The trail to Victoria Mine

Last time we were here ( January 2016) they had a trail crew working on the stairs

Several benches along the route

Saw this nest

This is the entrance to the nest (backside, or is it the front side?)

Being so close to the border …

Victoria Mine Site

Bats use the mines, which are protected with a grate

This building was the store

More Cactus Wrens – Yay!

We think this fire is in Mexico. The border isn’t too far from the campground.

20 January 2019

We woke as the sun was rising.  What a beautiful site in the desert.  We left the campground and headed north to the town of Why, stopping at the Why Not Travel Center for coffee.  I love the murals on the buildings here and they have an old rustic truck they turned into a fountain with water flowing out of its absent front windshield and side windows, and with music playing.  Around the truck was a pool of water with landscaping and a sign – “do not feed the coyotes”.

We headed to Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge to bird and camp.  Camping here is primitive in that they have designated places for you to park and a rock fire ring.  No picnic tables, no toilets, no garbage cans, but a peaceful and scenic area.  We first drove to the visitor center – closed because of the shutdown – to check out the birds and then drove the “Pronghorn Drive” (about ten miles in length) to bird.  We didn’t see a lot of birds along the drive, mostly Vesper Sparrows and Mourning Doves.  On the road to the visitor center when we first came in we did have a large flock of meadowlarks, which included the Eastern Meadowlark (Lillian’s subspecies).  We also saw nine Pronghorn Antelope (just not along Pronghorn Drive- maybe they didn’t read the sign?).

After the driving the “Pronghorn Drive”, we were coming out to the main road and had just turned north when a U.S. Border Patrol vehicle came barreling down a dirt road going hell bent for leather (i.e., fast).  He passed us and we thought that was it.  When we turned down the road to Arivaca, as this is the route to most of the primitive campsites, I spotted a helicopter.  As we neared our turnoff for the primitive campsites, we  saw several border patrol vehicles parked along the side of the road and a border patrol agent clasping the back of an illegal immigrant.  The immigrant could not have been more than 10-12 years old.  He was dressed fully in camouflage, as was his backpack.  The agent actually was holding three such backpacks so it must have been a family group?  I couldn’t see whether there were any people in the vehicles – tinted windows.  We turned down the road to the primitive camping area and that was it – at least for us.

I told Jack there must be an underground railroad system of sorts or Arivaca is a sanctuary community.  The immigrants must have some contacts in the U.S. in order to find refuge once they get here.  The border is at least 8 miles away, so that is a long walk in the hot sun (temperatures in the 70s) or cold nights.  What drives these people to come here?  Their lives in their home countries must be so intolerable to make them come knowing the risks they could be caught – like this kid – and held in  a detention center, only to be sent back.  We wonder if the young boy is now separated from his family?  Why don’t we work with the countries of these people to try and make their countries safer, if safety is an issue?  Unfortunately, Americans and their drug problems are fueling the crisis in these countries.  If these illegal immigants fear for their lives because they don’t want to be forced to join gangs and sell or deliver drugs, let’s do something to alleviate that problem.   That is the humanitarian crisis.  Spend the $6.0 billion dollars on that effort.  We need to show more compassion.

We have seen a lot more border patrol agents along the Arizona border, than we did in Texas.  I understand this area (Buenos Aires NWR) is a favorite spot for illegal immigrants to come into the U.S.  I do want to thank all the border patrol agents who are working without pay.  That is a lot to ask of someone.

We are at the same camp spot we stayed at in 2016 – site #16.  I just heard several coyotes yipping and two Great Horned Owls calling.  We actually had a long look at a coyote on the road this morning as we were leaving Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument – such adaptable animals.

Tomorrow we leave the “desert” and head towards the mountains – Patagonia Lake and Madera Canyon.

Fountain at the “Why Not Truck Stop”

Beautiful work

Love this wall

Musical truck fountain

Don’t Feed the Coyotes sign

Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge sign

Pronghorn Antelope

This Red-tailed Hawk caught a mouse and was eating it – fur and all

American Kestrel

Mourning Dove

Vesper Sparrow – there were lots of these sparrows

Gray Flycatcher

Not sure what created this hole, but it was big

Vesper Sparrow


Campsite Number #16 – Primitive Camping at its best

View from our campsite


Remember …

It’s Always A Great Day to Bird


Arizona – the early days or Part 1

31 December 2018

We woke to ‘frost on the pumpkin’ frigid temperatures; 30 degrees Fahrenheit.  Brrrrrrrrrrr.  I didn’t sleep well last night.  I was in the fetal position trying to stay warm.  We don’t run our heater at night.  I kept thinking I should get up and plug in the electric blanket, but I didn’t.   However, today it is sunny and nice out, which always helps.

Yesterday we were told if we wanted to hike the park (Hueco Tanks State Park), we should come to the office at 7:30 a.m. and get a permit.  We decided not to hike the park (to cold for me), so we exited the park.  However, during our video presentation it was suggested that we notify the park staff of our departure.  So I decided to be a good park user and notify the office we were leaving.  When I arrived there were probably about 15 people in the small office waiting to get their permits.  All of these people were campers, and many of them rock climbers.  Yes, you can climb certain areas of the park, with a permit, but without any equipment – only free hold.  So everyone has what they call “crash pads” so if they fall, their fall is cushioned – they hope.  I quickly cut to the front of the line and dropped off the receipt we were given to place on our windshield and told the park ranger we were checking out.  Oh and the park requires everyone to sign a form acknowledging the rules.  And “everyone” must sign the form – well adults that is.

I’m not sure how many people they allow into the park at one time, but as we were driving out we saw six cars drive in.  And when we got to the entrance, there were an additional 25 cars waiting to enter the park.  The purpose of limiting the number of people who can go into the park is to protect the cultural (pictographs) and natural resources.  The park was so popular people were adding their own drawings to the rock walls (or vain signatures) and they were trampling the vegetation, so the park decided to restrict access to only a certain number of people at a time and, in some areas, people are restricted to guided hikes only.

This Loggerhead Shrike was all puffed out – trying to stay warm in the cold morning

We spent much of the remainder of the day driving from the park to our campground for the next two nights – Catalina State Park, just outside of Tucson.  There is a winter storm warning for here as well, with the possibility of snow.  Great way to start the New Year –NOT!!!  We were actually pretty lucky to get a spot at all.  When I went online they showed no openings in the loops that have electricity but when we called the timing was right as they just had a cancellation – we’re in!  And with temperatures dropping into the low 30s, we want to be able to run our heater before bed and first thing in the morning.

We got to the park around 3:00 p.m., set up, and decided to check out the trails and see what birds might be out-and-about on a blustery cold day.  Luckily here you don’t need a permit to use the trails.  So what birds did we see?  By the time we went out and back, we saw a total of 13 different species.  Going out, the birding was slow, but coming back we had one area with at least six different species – almost half of what we saw.  The surprise was finding a Lawrence’s Goldfinch.  I wish the bird would have cooperated and let me take a photograph.  I’ve only seen this species of goldfinch in Arizona four times.  You might think that is a lot, but I’ve been to Arizona many times birding and failed to see it (birders are never satisfied).  The first time I saw this species was on a Christmas Bird Count in Sedona.  A beautiful little bird.  Look it up and see for yourself.

Our campsite at Catalina State Park (Site #38)

This is a path that leads to the restrooms so we get a lot of traffic near our site

Snow threatening

Trail between campground and main trailhead

White-crowned Sparrow

Pyrrhuloxia (aka pyrex – our shorthand name for this species )

Lots of Saguaro cactus – many with multiple arms and it takes 50 years to have an arm appear

The river bed has always head water in it when we’ve been here in the past, although not much water.  Now dry.

I like this – sunscreen dispensers. I didn’t check to see if there was anything in them.

I was able to add five First of Year species to my final 2018 North American Bird list:  Lawrence’s Goldfinch, Gambell’s Quail, Rufous-winged Sparrow, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher (thank you Jack for spotting this bird), and the ever popular Green-tailed Towhee.  The towhee likewise was not very cooperative when it came time for getting a photo of the bird.  Although it was close, there was always too much vegetation in the way.

We had to leave this birdy spot as it had started to rain.  Earlier Jack has seen a snowflake or two.  Plus, it was coming on 5:00 p.m., with the sun setting about a half hour after that.  And we still had dinner to cook and flannel sheets to put on the bed.

1 January 2019

Happy New Years Everyone

Woke to another cold morning: 35 degrees, so slightly warmer.   All relative I guess.  The skies were overcast and we had rain last night.  Jack thinks about ¾ – 1 inch based on the amount in a pan we left out.  There was a lot of snow on the nearby mountains.  A beautiful scene and luckily none in the campground.

After a slow morning getting started, we headed off to bird the campground and nearby trails.  This is a new year and so for me another yearly list of birds observed.  Everything today is a “First of Year”  (FOY) species for 2019.  I have 27 species for my list.  My favorite???  Hard to name just one or two.  We got to see the Cactus Wren, and well you should know by now how I feel about wrens (love them, my favorites).  We also got to see the Green-tailed Towhee again.  This isn’t a bird we see regularly so always happy to see the bird.  And the Lawrence’s Goldfinch were back, this time six of them rather than the two we saw yesterday.  I got a decent photo of the male.  And for the first bird of the year – a Cooper’s Hawk that was in the tree right outside our van calling to another Cooper’s Hawk nearby.  What a great bird to start the year.

Cooper’s Hawk

Our campsite

A “California” van – nicely painted with an albatross

This Gila Woodpecker …

… was busy drumming on the metal post  and making lots of racket

Snow on the Catalina Mountains

Cactus Wren

Green-tailed Towhee – more cooperative today photowise


Western Bluebird

Female Phainopepla

Abert’s Towhee


Lawrence’s Goldfinch (male)

The Birding Trail (what goes up, must go down)


We went for another walk shortly near the campground before dusk, and observed two additional First of Year birds: Lark’s Sparrow and Ruby-crowned Kinglet, bringing the day’s total to 29 species.  Not too shabby.

Lark Sparrow

Phainopepla – male

Gila Woodpecker – the have an easy call “he, he, he, he, he, he, he”

Lawrence’s Goldfinch

I hope this year promises to be a continuation of “Year of the Bird” – every year should be a year for birds.  Yay Birds!!!

2 January 2019

Another cold morning.  I’m so glad we brought our portable heater and we are staying in a campground with electricity.

We decided to check out the Sweetwater Wetlands (part of the Tucson Waste Water Treatment Plant).  We were surprised at how many cars we saw in the parking lot, although not many people on the trails.  We ventured out, but wished we had dressed a little more warmly.  I think my toes were ready to break off, and if I took my gloves off to better use my camera – well let’s just say I didn’t take many photos.

We were surprised we didn’t see a lot of birds braving the cold, other than waterfowl, although we had 21 different species.  The real treat for us was to have two Sora rails near the trail.  Both stayed out in the open (well enough so we could watch them, but always behind some reeds so couldn’t get a decent photo) for longer than is typical for rails.  Rails are skulkers.  I usually hear them more than I see them.  Of the 21 birds we did see, 15 of them were First of Year (FOY) birds.

American Coot

Northern Shoveler (male)

Ruddy Duck

Ruddy Ducks

Hummingbird nest box

Anna’s Hummingbird

We did a little shopping afterwards stopping at Costco (a typical madhouse), Trader’s Joe’s (I had to remember we were traveling and didn’t have a lot of room in the van otherwise I would have bought more), and Target (we love their blue chips).  We then returned to the campground.

Once we got back to the campground we stored our stash, then headed out on the trails to look for more birds.  The most productive birding area for us is and around the campground and the trail between the campground and the main trailhead.  We took a nature trail near the main trailhead and didn’t see or hear a single bird.  Depressing.  But on our walk back to the campground, once we were off the nature trail, we did see 16 different species, so that was nice.  New birds (FOY) for the park were: Hutton’s Vireo and Vermillion Flycatcher.

Rufous-winged Sparrow

Most likely an old Cactus Wren nest

3 January 2019

Today was essentially a travel day.  We did spend two hours waiting to have the oil changed in the van (we didn’t have an appointment but worth the wait as the oil change was free – dealership where we bought the van).

We stopped in Apache Junction to have lunch with good friends Carla and Wayne.  They are Homerites who spend the winter in Arizona.  We had the best ham and bean soap I’ve ever tasted.  They have several bird feeders so we sat and watched the feeders, enjoying the Gambel’s Quail and the Anna’s Hummingbird.  Of course there were plenty of House Sparrows, Rock Pigeons, and Eurasian Collared-Doves too.  We even had a Bald Eagle fly over, which is unusual for this area (the eagle, not the fly-overs).  And yes, I did get five First of Year bird’s here.

We left Apache Junction around 2:30 p.m., and proceeded to drive to Sedona, making our way through the megatropolis of the Phoenix metro area.  That alone took almost an hour on the freeways.  Yikes!!!  Glad I don’t live here.  We got to Sedona a little after 5:00 p.m., with the sun just getting ready to set so the glow on the red rocks was beautiful.

4 January 2019

The morning was spent on mindless busywork around my dad’s house.  We will be here through January 12th, for sure and maybe longer if my eye glasses don’t come back.  I’m having new lens put in because the ones I have now always seemed to be smeared.  When I clean them it is almost like I am smearing the smudges, not really cleaning the lens.  I guess that is what you get when you only pay $100 for both the lens and the frames.

In the afternoon we headed over to the Page Springs Fish Hatchery/Bubbling Ponds to check out the birds.  I was able to add another 13 birds to my 2019 Bird List (i.e., First of Year).  I was surprised at how few songbirds we have observed on this trip.  What is happening to our songbirds, especially our sparrows?

The fish hatchery has a number of open-air ponds that are frequented by ducks – the “Bubbling Ponds”.  The winner in shear numbers was the Ring-necked Duck, which I estimated  at over 300 between the various ponds.  Near the end, we finally saw the bird I had been searching for – Bridled Titmouse.  We saw five of these little birds working furiously in the trees feeding on seeds or bugs.  All of sudden, all the birds in the trees and on the ground (titmouse, bluebird, towhee, sparrow) scattered in a mad flurry.  That can only mean one thing – RAPTOR!!!  Sure enough in the tree we spotted a Merlin, which at first I mistook for a Sharp-shinned Hawk.  Thanks Jason for setting me straight.  I thought it was a Sharp-shinned Hawk due to the color of its leg feathers.  They are a reddish color – the same color as the breast of the sharpie.   After Jason said it looked like a Merlin, I took my photo and uploaded it to Merlin ID app (an amazing app) and it came back as “Merlin” or “Eurasian Kestrel”.  Well it wasn’t a kestrel.

We really enjoyed the crisp air, sun, and walk watching all the birds.  In total we had 33 different species.

Lots of Black Phoebes at Page Springs, including this one

Can you find the Great Blue Heron in this photo?

Maybe this will help?

Ring-necked Duck

Redhead (and Ring-necked Duck)


Canvasback (male)

American Wigeon

One of the “bubbling ponds”

Say’s Phoebe

American Pipit

Black Hawk Trail

Snow on the shaded portion of the trail

Western Bluebird

Bridled Titmouse


5 January 2019

The morning was spent working on my blog – Texas Part 2 and other miscellaneous tasks.  In the afternoon we went for a 4-mile hike (out-and-back) on the Turkey Creek Trail (#92) in the Coconino National Forest near the Village of Oak Creek.  We like this scenic and gentle hike, although we usually don’t see a lot of birds.  Today we had a total of 5 different species, and only 8 total birds.  Pretty quiet.  The hike started out with partly sunny skies, temperatures in the low 50s, and no wind.  However, by the end of the hike the clouds had come with the threat of snow late tonight/early tomorrow.  We did hear gunshots off in the distance.  Sounded like someone was firing a semi-automatic weapon.

6 January 2019

Today was a lazy day.  It was raining most of the day, so other than a short walk around the neighborhood, we only went out for  breakfast and dinner.  I did get a number of tasks accomplished, like working on my blog.  Surprisingly I did see a First of Year bird today – a Mountain Chickadee came to the feeder.

7 January 2019

Finally got my blog done (Texas Part 2) and posted – woohoo!!!  Nice to have that done.

In the afternoon, we went for a hike on Bell Trail #13 near the Village of Oak Creek.  We try to do this trail every time we are in the area.  One of our favorite hikes.  We hiked for about 6 miles out and back, seeing 15 different species, of which five were First of Year.  This is usually a good place to see the Townsend’s Solitaire and we weren’t disappointed.  We had at least two.  We also had a sighting of two Rock Wrens and a Canyon Wren in the same area.  I so love my wrens.  The surprise bird was the Rufous-crowned Sparrow.  We’ve seen this bird in southern Arizona, but this is the first time we’ve seen this sparrow in the Sedona area.

The weather was good for the hike – partly cloudy, no wind (until then end, and then only light), and temperatures in the low 50s.  We encountered at least 10 other people and four dogs on the trail.  We did find a dead deer (buck) off the trail.  It looks as though it died within the last day or two (yet to be discovered by the ravens).  Its head was somewhat twisted in the brush. so maybe in a territorial battle?

White-crowned Sparrow – this bird was just off the trail at the trailhead

Start of the trail

Rocky in places

Townsend’s Solitaire

Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay

Juniper Titmouse

A portion of the trail is in the Wet Beaver Wilderness – Wet Beaver Creek runs through the area.  Yes, there is also a Dry Beaver Creek.

Have to be careful where you walk. It would be easy to twist an ankle or fall and break a bone or two.

On the trail looking down at Wet Beaver Creek

Yes, this is the trail

Here too is the trail

A truly beautiful part of the trail.   Very scenic.  That’s Jack ahead of me.

Looked like a wreath someone would put on their door

Yours truly on the trail

Northern Flicker

Rock Wren

Looking both ways

8 January 2019

We are still in Sedona.  Today we went for a hike nearby – Courthouse Loop Trail (which includes the Bell Rock Trail).  We went just before 1:00 p.m., and there were a lot of people out enjoying the trails in the beautiful, warm sunshine (mid 50s).  Portions of the trail on the shaded north side of Courthouse Butte were muddy from melting snow, but not too bad.  There were some crazy people climbing Bell Rock.  Well I think they are crazy, but then again I am afraid of heights.

There wasn’t much bird activity at this time of day – only 5 species, and only seven total birds, although I did hear some off in the distance I could not identify.  I hope the lack of bird activity is because of the time of day and not because there are so many fewer birds.  We always hike this trail when we visit, and there have definitely been more birds in previous years.  We were last here in March 2017.

There are a LOT of trails in the Sedona area. A hiker’s paradise.

Courthouse Butte


Bell Rock

Yes, the trail traverses this area

Courthouse Butte – east side

Rabbit Ears – on the right

You can easily climb onto this rock

The trail can be quite rocky in places

And with the recent snow and rain, quite muddy too

North side of Courthouse Butte

Bell Rock – North side

Bell Rock

9 January 2019

I went on a guided bird walk in the morning at Red Rock State Park.  We began at the feeding stations near the visitor center and then walked the Kisva Traili (along Oak Creek), out and back.  We only saw one species – a Ruby-crowned Kinglet – along the the trail, although I did hear a Canyon Wren.

At the feeding stations, however, we had a lot of different species – plenty to eat at the feeders so why go out and search for food elsewhere.  There is a big field before you cross over Oak Creek and begin the Kisva Trail.  One the way back to the feeding stations, we did have a nice flock of Western Bluebirds and several Say’s Phoebe.  There were two young birders (I suspect in their 20s) and it was fun to watch them get excited about the birds.  They were from the Washington D.C. area.  The other two birders (there were only five of us, plus the leader), an older couple were from Pennsylvania.  They were only in Arizona for a couple of days and the guy wanted to see three specific birds: Common Black Hawk, Pinyon Jay, and Juniper Titmouse.  As soon as they left the park, and the young couple and I went back to the feeding station, in comes a Juniper Titmouse.  I felt bad that the Pennsylvania couple weren’t around to see the bird.  We got really good looks at the titmouse as it kept coming back to the feeder for food – cracked corn primarily.

Feeding stations at the Visitor Center. You can actually look down onto the feeding stations.

White-crowned Sparrow – one of many

Oregon Dark-eyed Junco

Abert’s Towhee

Northern Cardinal contemplating whether to go to the feeder or not.  He went.

Female Northern Cardinal

Spotted Towhee

Juniper Titmouse

Trying to get the seed from its shell

Dark-eyed Junco and House Finch

Juniper Titmouse

Our group

Oak Creek


Kisva Trail


Western Bluebird (male)

Say’s Phoebe

Smoke Trail

Oak Creek adjacent to Smoke Trail

I continued birding at the park after leaving the feeding station, and in all saw 24 different species, of which five are First of Year birds:  Red-naped Sapsucker, White-breasted Nuthatch, Spotted Towhee, Bewick’s Wren (my favorite), and White-throated Sparrow.  The White-throated Sparrow is considered an “accidental” – meaning no seen in the area often.  I wonder if it is the same bird I saw two years ago when I was here doing the Christmas Bird Count?

Afterwards I went to Sedona to get my second Shingles shot.  The CVS store that had the shot had just lost their internet coverage so I was out of luck.  I ended up driving to the Safeway in Cottonwood, about 20 miles away, to get the shot, which I did after waiting about 40 minutes.  I guess they were busy filling prescriptions.

10 January 2019

Today was a day to hang around the house.  Remember the Shingles shot I mentioned?  Well around 8:00 p.m. last night I started feeling achy.  And when I went to bed my arms hurt down to and including my hands.  And today I woke up feeling like a Mack truck hit me.  I guess this feeling is better than getting Shingles.  So today was an easy day.

11 January 2019

Another lazy day.  For some reason I just couldn’t gather the energy to get outside and enjoy the sunshine and look for birds.  I had thought about going back to Page Springs to search for the Common Black Hawk that had been seen there lately (we missed it earlier), but ended out just staying home.

12 January 2019

Went to visit family (Jack’s son, daughter-in-law, and grandkids) in Flagstaff today.  Had a great visit and enjoyed catching up on their lives.  Kevin (son) has done an enormous amount of hard work fixing up their backyard and it looks great.  Amazing what he has accomplished in the two years since I last visited.

My granddaughter Molly made a Steller’s Jay and entered it into the Cococino County Fair where she won first prize.  I was lucky enough to be given this creative work of art as a Christmas present.  Thank you so much Molly.  Right now it is sitting in our van and will accompany us north.  Once we are home, it will hold a special place in our home.

Steller’s Jay

13 January 2019

Today is our final full day in Sedona.  We’ve had a great visit and had a chance to just sit back and relax a little.  I’ve been doing a little housecleaning today, helping out my 89 year-old father.   It will be sad to leave as I’ve enjoyed my visit with him.  Thanks Dad for everything.  Love you.

We haven’t gone birding in three days so it will be nice to get back on the ‘bird trail’ again.

Tomorrow we leave Sedona and head to Kofa National Wildlife Refuge where we hope to primitive camp for the next several nights.  We also hope to visit the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge nearby.  We don’t know what to expect since the partial government shutdown is still going on.  I really feel bad for those furloughed government workers.  It is unfortunate we have a president who is willing to use them as leverage to get something he should have been able to get his first two years in office – when his party was in control of Congress.  This isn’t right.  There are so many people who suffer because of his actions – government employees, businesses that support these employees, the public who depend upon these employees for so many things (managing our public lands, keeping our transportation system moving (TSA), keeping our waters safe (Coast Guard), and protecting our borders (Border Patrol)).  While some of these people are still working, asking them to work without pay is just wrong.  It doesn’t matter if they will be reimbursed once the impasse ends.  These people need their paychecks now.  And yes, personally I put full responsibility for this crisis on the president.  If you don’t agree with me that is your right.  I’m just so happy we live in a society where we can all freely express our opinions.  We can’t let anything or anyone change that freedom.

And we need to protect our environment and our wildlife, now and in the future, so it is always …

A Great Day to Bird


Don’t Mess With Texas – Part Two

19 December 2018

We were surprised to wake up to fog.  Not sure why we were surprised since we are on the coast of Texas.  We broke camp and headed to Port Aransas to bird one of my favorite spots:  Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center.  I had forgotten the name of this place, but knew the general area.  Texas some years ago produced a series of Texas Bird Trail Maps – really great maps for different Texas regions.  So I looked on the birding map I had for this region, read several descriptions, and selected Site #57. Well it turns out this is Paradise Ponds Nature Center (a site, not a facility) and a new birding spot for us.  Not that there were many birds at this location – it had been hit hard by Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

Oil platforms getting ready to go out???

Waiting for the “free” ferry to take us to Port Aransas

Paradise Ponds boardwalk

Boardwalk at Paradise Ponds – nothing too “paradise” about the ponds however

Paradise Ponds

We finally found the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center (site #59 on the birding map), parked our car, and walked the paved path only to find a barrier fence.  I guess last year’s hurricane did a number to this birding location and demolished its boardwalks and viewing platforms.  We could still bird the area from the parking lot and from behind the barrier fence with a view of the wetland complex, but we couldn’t get up close and personal with the birds (well as close and personal as birds allow one to get).  We did have 27 species at this location, including 32 Black-crowned Night Herons.   And those were the ones we could see and count.  There was also a large flock of dowitchers, most likely Long-billed Dowitcher.  The birds were too far away for me to try and identify to species.

Construction work going on to replace the boardwalk and viewing platforms lost to Hurricane Harvey

A lot of vegetation was lost too – but most cattails

This site was actually just down the road (across the water treatment plant). There were a lot of shorebirds feeding and roosting here.

While we were there an older gentleman walking with a cane and displaying a press pass approached us.  He introduced himself and flashed his press card.  He told us he works as a photographer for the local newspaper.  He was pretty persuasive, and to get a better photograph, he tore down the barrier to get closer to the contractors doing the restoration work.  He said he was sent out to get a photo and he had to have it.  I surmise the paper is a weekly.  He wanted to take our picture with me looking through our scope and Jack looking through his binoculars at the birds.  We obliged.  We then gave him our name and where we were from (at his request).  We should have asked to have him send us a copy of the paper or give us the date of when the photo might be published.  Guess we can always go online and see if we can find it there.  He was a rather talkative gentleman. He saw my Leica binoculars and Swarovski spotting scope and said, “you must be rich.”  I told him these two things bring me happiness  – the ability to see birds up close and personal.

The Port Aransas area does look much different from when we were last there in early 2017.  We had thought about spending the night at Mustang Island State Park, but decided to move on.  Good thing because when we drove by the park, the campground was empty – thus closed.  The park was undergoing restoration work at the campground.

We slowly made our way to South Padre Island, our destination for the night.  We camped out on the beach.  The cost -$10.00.  The county has a sign that says day-use is $10.00, plus they give you a trash bag and charge you $2.00.  If you bring back the bag full of garbage on the same day you enter the beach they give you back the $2.00.  Since we are staying overnight they didn’t give us a bag.  I glad the tide is going out (although there is much of a tidal difference here), and won’t be coming in again until tomorrow morning about the time we leave.   I get nervous camping on the beach.  I think we could very easily get stuck in the sand.  A friend said to walk on the area we want to camp/park to make sure the sand is firm before parking.  Great idea.  Of course he told this to us after we camped here.

Before arriving at South Padre Island we did make one birding stop: Zapata Memorial Bridge/San Martin Lake, located on Highway 48E.  The lake is a popular fishing/boating site, but has a great tidal area (think mud flats).  This is one of my favorite birding spots for shorebirds in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.  We had 28 species here, including 11 species of shorebirds: Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, American Oystercatcher, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Dunlin, Least Sandpiper, Dowitcher sp (most likely Short-billed dowitcher), Spotted Sandpiper, Willet, and Greater Yellowlegs.  We also had at least 28 Black Skimmers.  Before we left I picked up a lot of discarded fishing line, and I did not see a monofilament line receptacle.  Dang.

Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull

Black-necked Stilt

Beach area near parking lot.  There is fence to keep people from driving on this area.

Ruddy Turnstone

American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher trying to find food

Great-tailed Grackles are a nuisance at the parking area. Of course it doesn’t help that people toss food to them. They then become aggressive.

This one was wanting us to give him food

We saw this Harris’s Hawk nearby

Tomorrow we are going to try for the Aplomado Falcon, our nemesis bird for this area.  The bird recently has been spotted at the Aplomado Falcon viewing station so that is where we are going to go and hang out – timing is everything.  However, tomorrow is supposed to be very windy (windy in excess of 20 mph), so if we don’t see the bird we will have to come back and try for it again.  Starting tomorrow we will be staying in a rented small cottage-style trailer/modular home for the next six nights.  We are looking forward to some stability during the Christmas holidays, although I do have a list of birding hotspots to check out for each of the next five days – except Christmas.  That day we will stay at the rental and take it easy.  Will seem odd to be out of our ‘tin tent’ for awhile.

Our camp spot on the beach. Just pull over anywhere above the high tide line.  You can even find large RVs on the beach.

20 December 2018

We woke up to a van still in the dry sand – yay!  The wind and waves hadn’t picked up much yet.  However, it was windy enough that we decided to go out to breakfast – any excuse.  We had planned to bird at the South Padre Island Birding Center so we decided breakfast before birding.  However, there weren’t a lot of breakfast diner choices – if you didn’t want fast food that is. We stopped at “Ted’s Restaurant.  My advice, pick another restaurant for breakfast.

We spent two hours birding the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center.  This is a non-profit organization created by South Padre Island’s (the town) Economic Development Corporation to provide residents and visitors with interpretive programs and tours, and environmental education pertaining to birds of the area.  It is one of “nine” World Birding Centers located in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas.  The other eight birding centers are:

The South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center provides over 3,300 feet of boardwalk (you experience a fresh and salt marsh with alligators no less), 5 birding blinds, and a five story observation tower.  Oh and I can’t forget – a gift store.  A very well-managed facility.

Despite the windy day (winds over 15 mph here), there were a number of people visiting the center.  We got there around 8:30 a.m., (they open at 7:00 a.m), paid our entrance fee, and began birding.  We met a man who with his wife spend their life traveling in a RV.  They said they were heading west and learned we are from Alaska.  They had several Alaska stories – they love Hyder and Homer, Alaska.

Our goal here today was to see Sora Rails.  The last time we were here we had at least 5 of them just off the boardwalk.  Today none.  We did get to see a Clapper Rail as it walked in the water right below the boardwalk.  Got great views, but the lighting wasn’t so great for photos.  We also had an Anhinga that must have stabbed at something and came away with a piece of plastic wrapped tight around its bill so it was unable to eat or drink.  I guess it has been that way for at least two days.  When we saw it the poor bird was trying to rid itself of the plastic.  When it shook it beak, I noticed the plastic loosened, but it didn’t do this enough to dislodge the plastic.  And if it tries rubbing it off by moving its beak against the side of an object (like a sign), that merely pushes the plastic further up its bill.  Center staff were notified of the bird’s problem and have been trying to capture the bird, but that is proving to be difficult.  The bird needs immediate attention so hopefully they will capture it and take it to a bird rehab facility.

South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center

Headquarters building

Like their mail box

Texas Hummingbird Feeder

Some of that 3,000 feet of boardwalk

Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron

Looking down on a Clapper Rail

Roseate Spoonbill and Black-necked Stilt

Reddish Egret

Feral Pigeon (Rock Pigeon)

Mottled Duck

Tricolored Heron

Spotted Sandpiper

Blue-winged Teal – male

So I’ve told you my views regarding plastic waste – when we walk the beach we are disgusted by the waste and people’s lack of stewardship.  Please, please, please dispose of plastic in the trash or better yet – recycle or avoid plastic altogether.  If you can’t stop using it altogether (difficult in this day and age), then just stop using plastic bags, straws,  and products with excess packaging.

On the sightings board (list of birds seen at the center) was a Black-headed Grosbeak.  This is a rarity for this area.  One of the photographers on the boardwalk mentioned where it was seen earlier that morning (at the center pond in the parking lot), so when we had completed our visit on the boardwalk, we went to the parking lot to look for the bird.  Another photographer (the guy who loves Hyder and Homer), told us where he had photographed it earlier that morning.  So we walked slowly around the parking area looking for the bird.  Jack and Ty (the photographer) were talking about Hyder when I saw the bird fly past us towards the center pond.  So off I went.  The bird – a beautiful male – landed in a yucca plant and proceeded to eat the bright purple fruits of a vine.  We stayed and watched the bird for about 10 minutes.  Its beak became quite reddish-purple at times from the juice of the fruits.