On Wednesday 5th Molly Pollock and I chased a report of a Red-headed Woodpecker at the west end of Aravaipa Canyon. We arrived at the trailhead at about 8am and within several minutes determined what the situation was based on the relatively large number of woodpeckers working some nearby pecan trees & perching high in nearby dead snags. At about 08:35 I got a brief inflight view of the Red-headed Woodpecker as it disappeared behind a tamarisk. The woodpecker shape & flight style, contrasting white secondaries & rump against otherwise black-looking upper parts satisfied me of its identity. Unfortunately I was the only one who saw it. About thirty minutes later four of us hear the Red-headed Woodpecker call, understandably that was that was not very satisfying for the others. We waited for another four hours without any further sight or sound of this woodpecker. A stop at the Mammoth Sewage Ponds on the way home was rather productive. A late Pectoral Sandpiper and brilliant plumaged male Wood Duck brighten the afternoon.
11/9 Sunday: This morning I headed out to Willcox. Again I was feeling the call of something unusual and new for the year. I thought the calling was from a Common Grackle that Lynn & Max Jarrett found in their yard a few days ago. Or maybe it was from some migrating scoters, perhaps Surf Scoters. I turned out that a Black-bellied Plover was doing the calling. I was scanning the opposite shoreline when I found the plover. Initially I couldn’t identify it being that it was too far and I was looking into the sun. A few minutes later I’m on the other side, perhaps a little closer with the sun at my back. I now identify this plover as a Black-bellied and take several documentation photos. Dave Pearson pulls up and asks if I’ve seen the same plover, he said he heard it calling. Later I too hear it calling while watching it in flight. In flight I am able to see the black axillaries, the whitish tail, and the white wing-stripes – any lingering doubt gone, this is a Black-bellied Plover and #404 for the year. While scanning again for shorebirds, a small flock of passerines fly through the scope view. At least two of the birds show mostly white tails with a black ‘T’. These are McCown’s Longspurs, well at least two of them. The others are recorded at “longspur sp.”. McCown’s Longspur is #405 for the year. Though neither species should be considered “unexpected”, I wasn’t expecting either. Some of the other birds seen around Lake Cochise include: several hundred Sandhill Cranes, seasonally large number of Greater Yellowlegs, one Lesser Yellowlegs, five late Wilson’s Phalaropes, and numerous ducks that I did a poor job of counting. There were no scoters on the lake while I was there. Before leaving the area, I stopped by the golf course pond. I was pishing at some Marsh Wrens as I walking up the viewing platform when two Bendire’s Thrashers flew up & landed on the railing next to me for a few seconds. I was shocked; I’ve never had such accommodating Bendire’s Thrasher s before and probably will never again. I town I spent about an hour looking for any sign of a Common Grackle to no avail though I did have a nice talk with Max.
11/11 Tuesday: There had been reports of a very cooperative female Surf Scoter at Saguaro Lake for the past several days and yesterday Tommy D. reported this female as well as a flock of Surf Scoters (including adult males) and a Winter Wren. Now I have two species to chase, making the trip a worthwhile gamble. Saguaro Lake is northeast of the Phoenix metro area just outside of Mesa and 2 ½ hours away. I have never been there so even if I don’t see any new birds for the year I am satisfying one of my intentions for the year – birding at new locations across the state. I arrive just before 10am. Within a minute of parking I find the female Surf Scoter swimming just where she is supposed to be. I take many photographs, many of which will be deleted because of lighting. While at this portion of the lake (Saguaro del Norte), I scan as much of the lake as I can see for Tommy’s flock. After awhile and many more photos of the cooperating scoter, I proceed to Butcher Jones Recreation Site where Tommy reported the Winter Wren and relocated his scoter flock. I find neither but do find four Greater Scaup, probably a family unit. All four were in female or immature plumages – in other words brown. At around noon and after several passes along the trail where the wren had been reported from, I decided to head for home.
In route I detour through the Santa Cruz Flats. I make a stop at the lake in Arizona City, again hoping for more scoters. I found a Bonapart’s Gull and a Western Grebe. Turning east on Pretzer Road from Sunland Gin Road I checked out a large number of Common Ravens and find a Crested Caracara sitting in the field. All of the pipits at the turf farm appeared to be American Pipits based on calls & poor visuals. Had there been another species of pipit present, I probably wouldn’t have been able to identify it because of the distance & heat distortion. There were two more Caracaras near where E. Baumgartner makes a jog around some wet fields. A few miles to the east I find a light-intermediate morph Harlan’s Hawk. It was a very interesting looking bird.