Sunday, February 22, 2015

Birding Arizona Top to Bottom (Day 1 of 4)

Whiskered Screech-Owl in Madera Canyon, Arizona
My friend, Eric Peterson, and I left northern Utah about 3:30 in the morning on Friday the thirteenth. We were embarking on a trip that would take us within miles of the Mexican border in southeastern Arizona. By the time we returned to our homes in Utah County, Utah the following Monday evening we'd covered nearly 2000 miles, observed and identified nearly 130 species of birds, and added thirteen species to my personal bird species life list. We missed only four of the seventeen species I had on my target list for life birds.

Our first official stop for a bird was shortly after sunrise in the northern Arizona town of Fredonia. We had spotted a Prairie Merlin perched in a tree on the southern edge of town. I'm a sucker for raptors so I did a u-turn and captured a few images, despite the falcon being so high in the tree.

Prairie Merlin in Fredonia, Arizona
A Golden Eagle perched on a juniper caused us to make our second impromptu stop. I parked our rented SUV on the side of the road so we could approach the eagle while using a juniper tree as a blind. Well, the eagle must have seen our long shadows and took flight before we were ready to shoot.

Golden Eagle in Flight in Northern Arizona
Our first planned stop was along Highway 89A at Navajo Bridge above Marble Canyon. California Condors are known to perch on the support structures of the bridge and on the 400' cliffs that rise above the Colorado River below the bridge. When our first bird was a small falcon and our second was a large eagle we had hopes that the California Condor would be next. I'd never seen a California Condor before so I was hopeful to pick up my first life bird of the trip. The view from the foot bridge was spectacular. The image is a little deceiving because those cliffs really are hundreds of feet tall.

The Colorado River and Marble Canyon Seen From Navajo Bridge in Marble Canyon, Arizona
The view below the bridge was also spectacular because it contained my first sighting of a California Condor. The Condor, known as K6, was preening on a rock right below us. I did a search of the Peregrine Fund website and discovered that K6 (aka 586) hatched May 24, 2010 and was released into the Arizona wild March 21, 2012. He's considered a teenager of sorts for Condors. The skin on his face will turn pink when he reaches adulthood.

California Condor in Marble Canyon, Arizona

California Condor in Marble Canyon, Arizona
With a little patience we were  able to see the bird do some pre-flight stretching and then glide from its perch to pass below the foot bridge and land on the auto bridge support structure. The wing span of a Condor is about 109 inches or about 9 feet.

California Condor in Marble Canyon, Arizona
California Condor in Marble Canyon, Arizona
The pose on the auto bridge reminded me of a scene from the movie Castaway. When Tom Hanks stretched out his arms and declared to no one (since he was on a deserted island), "I have created fire!"

California Condor in Marble Canyon, Arizona
We saw about five Condors at the bridge, including this juvenile which was perched on the foot bridge below us. The juveniles have black skin on their heads. This one was tagged with "O9". I unable to find an exact match for this on on the Peregrine Fund website.

California Condor in Marble Canyon, Arizona
After enjoying the scenery and condors from Navajo Bridge we continued our journey. Our next stop was Montezuma Well Picnic Area just off of I-17 in Yavapai County, Arizona. This is where Eric helped me locate another life bird, Bridled Titmouse. I didn't get photos of the Titmice that I liked, but I did get one or two at other stops later in our trip. I did capture a unique pose of a pair of Mourning Doves at the picnic area. I noticed both were showing their gold iridescent feathers on the sides of their necks so I attempted to capture an image with both showing those golden feathers at the same time.

Mourning Doves at Montezuma Castle National Monument, Arizona
We observed over 20 species, including a flycatcher we were unable to positively identify, during our short stop at the picnic area. We saw an adult Bald Eagle flying high above us and flushed a Sharp-shinned Hawk on our way out of the picnic area to continue our fortune with raptors for the trip.

Our next planned stop would be the Riparian Preserve at the Gilbert Water Ranch before spending the night at my daughter's home in Gilbert. We spent about 90 minutes just before sunset birding the Preserve. It's a must-visit for birders who visit central Arizona and I visit it nearly every time I go visit my daughter's family. A Green Heron seen as the sun was setting was a highlight of the visit to the Preserve for me. I like the soft golden-orange light on the bird. I first noticed it facing one way and then watched as it slowly turned and moved into a more heavily wooded perch about 15 feet away.

Green Heron in Gilbert, Arizona
Green Heron in Gilbert, Arizona
We saw about 40 bird species before we left the Preserve to enjoy dinner with my daughter's family. Among the 40 was a Roadrunner. It was the first time I'd seen a Roadrunner at the Preserve despite having made numerous visits over the past few years. It was the Gilas at the Saguaros that gave us our final photo ops for Day 1 of our trip. A female was captured atop a cactus and a male, showing his red crown, was seen watching the world from its hole.

Female Gila Woodpecker in Gilbert, Arizona
Male Gila Woodpecker in Gilbert, Arizona
Our trip was starting off swell. After a few hours of sleep we were hitting the road before 5 Saturday morning so we could make our way down beyond Tucson for my inaugural southeast Arizona birding experience. Eric had been there before so I was grateful to have him navigating as he usually does on our outdoor adventures. We were on our way to bird Florida and Madera Canyons for Day 2 of our 4-day trip.

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