My Winter Trip to Arizona 2012-2013

Links will take you to the species I was able to photograph, hit the back function to go back to the main page.

I left Pierre on Dec. 29, heading south on Highway 83 to my first stop at Scott Lake State Park in Kansas. Roads were good all the way, I arrived there at dark and spent the night, leaving early the next morning.

Dec. 30. Weather forecasts were predicting a snow/ice storm for Sunday night. Drove all day into strong SW winds to Santa Rosa in New Mexico. Here I found Santa Rosa Lake State Park. This is a nice park, $14 a night for electricity and a heated comfort station with showers. I paid for two nights, waiting out the approaching storm. That night it snowed about 4 inches.

Dec. 31. Today I found Juniper Titmouse, Western Scrub-jays, Western Bluebirds, Townsend's Solitaire, Common Ravens, Bushtits, and Bewick's Wren. Habitat here is mostly pinyon  pine/rocky mountain juniper. Of course, I saw lots of other birds, mostly things that we see all the time in SD, so I won't mention them unless I get some really great shots. It was great to see the species that I haven't seen in a couple of years or more.

Jan. 1, 2013 One more night at Santa Rosa SP and I headed out early in the morning. I drove south on Highway 54 to Carrizozo then west on Hwy. 380 to San Antonio. This is a nice road to drive, light traffic and great scenery, I wish had more time to explore this area but I'm headed for Bosque Del Apache NWR and want to be there before dark. I arrive at the Bosque Bird Watchers RV Park and pay for a week. The weather is really nice here today, but it's about to change. Cold and windy weather moves in that night, feels like SD! As long as I've got electricity I'm fine. Bosque Del Apache NWR has lots of Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese, some Ross's Geese, and waterfowl. I'm hoping to find a Crissal Thrasher too. We've seen them here before but I haven't been able to get any nice shots of this extremely wary species.

Jan 2. The morning dawns bright and clear but very cold and windy. I drive down the road a couple of miles to where the cranes and geese are roosting. As the sun rises, the birds begin taking off and flying back into the refuge to feed. It is excellent light for photography, if I can keep my fingers from freezing up. Here are links to some photos I took that morning and some other birds later in the day: 

Sandhill Cranes

Snow Geese and Ross's Geese

Bewick's Wren  later in the day, they are very common here.

Jan 3. Cloudy, cold and windy. Not enough light for any kind of flight shots. I do some hiking and birding, not expecting much for photography. I did find a small flock of Lesser Goldfinches and got a few photos. I hope the weather is better tomorrow. This is a good day for reading.

Jan 4-5. Late afternoon on the 4th, the skies finally cleared, the wind quit blowing and it warmed up. I couldn't find much to photograph except more Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes. On the 5th, the early morning was foggy but it soon lifted. The refuge had opened a new road, called the intermittent loop, so drove down it and found a large flock of feeding cranes and geese. I was scoping them over when I noticed a strange looking small goose. I thought it had to be the rare blue morph of the Ross's Goose. It was too far out to photograph very well, then it flew off. I thought I'd never see it again, but a couple of hours later I did relocate it again, this time it was closer to the road. I had to shoot toward the sun, so the images aren't the best. I took a lot of photos before it flew off again. Check this link for more of the story.

Jan 6.   Clear and cold, no wind. This morning I saw a Crissal Thrasher digging under a bush by the visitor center. It was visible from inside the visitor center, near the bird feeder. I pointed it out to some nearby people and soon everyone was there. It is quite a treat to see one, wish I could have got some photos though. They are one of the wariest birds around, very hard to get close to. Gambel's Quail came in too. I took a hike up into the hills and saw some more Bewick's Wrens and a Verdin.

Jan 7.  Returned to the Snow Goose fields to look for more blue morph Ross's Geese. Amazingly enough, I found another one. This one is different, it has a white belly and the bill is an exact match for a Ross's Goose. I'm convinced now that they really do exist and that the bird I saw before was a hybrid. Check this link for the photos. I thought that made my day, but it was just getting started. I drove down the road a mile or so, and found this Great Blue Heron trying to swallow a large bullhead. I wasn't sure if it would succeed, but it did. After this, I was ready for a hike, to I took off into the desert scrub. About 1/2 mile in, I saw a bird fly by and land on a creosote bush. Through the binos I could see it was a sparrow with a clear breast except for a central breast spot. Either a Lark Sparrow or a Sage Sparrow. I hoped for Sage Sparrow as I got out the Ipod and pulled up the Sage Sparrow menu. Two songs into the recording and the bird flew in and landed not far away. Sage Sparrow! 

Jan. 8-9.  Left Bosque RV Park early on the 8th. Drove pretty much all day with a good tailwind. I only go about 60 mph when towing, so I don't cover long distances in a day. I made it to Benson AZ and drove south a few miles off I-10 to Kartchner Caverns State Park. I paid for one night. There weren't many birds to be seen, but a few Black-throated Sparrows did catch my attention. The next morning, I took a long hike on the parks trails, and again saw few birds. Curve-billed Thrasher was the only new bird for the trip. I hitched up the Scamp and headed west again, arriving in Ajo in mid-afternoon. I had researched RV parks online and decided I would stay at the Belly Acres RV Park until I figure out where I'll stay for a few more weeks. I want to camp out on the desert, not in town, but it will require some exploring to find a place I can drive the trailer to. Le Conte's Thrasher is the bird I came out here for. A wary dweller of the harshest, driest deserts, it will be a challenge to find one. I stop at the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge office to get a permit to enter the refuge and hopefully some information on Le Conte's Thrasher. The biologist won't be in until tomorrow. But, I did get some maps and a permit. I try out a road going into the refuge from Ajo. Roads are rough and rocky as expected. High clearance is required and 4x4 is nice to have.  I see Gila Woodpeckers, Phainopeplas, Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, and Border Patrol. There is not enough time left in the day to get back into the NWR refuge where the Le Conte's Thrasher habitat is.

Jan. 10.  I met the biologist at the refuge office, she points out a few places on the map where they find Le Conte's Thrasher during their surveys. Weather forecast is for very windy conditions today. I'll put off my excursion into the refuge until tomorrow. It takes several hours just to get back into the refuge on the rough roads. I might as well do it on a day with good weather. I go south of town to look around but the wind is picking up and blowing lots of sand and dust, so I just call it a day.

Jan. 11. Got up at 5 AM and headed out. I drove out on the Bates Well Road through the NE corner of Organ Pipe National Monument, getting into the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge shortly after sunrise. If anyone is looking for a fantastic place to visit this is it. Well worth the rough roads and permits. For a few hours I searched for Le Conte's Thrashers. Finally, I spotted one perched on a creosote bush. I ended up seeing two at this site. They would run between clusters of creosote bushes like nothing I've ever seen, with their tails cocked up. Later, I found another pair just across the boundary in Organ Pipe National Monument. I saw a few Border Patrol on the way in, and on the way out, a truck was pulling a trailer with a Border Patrol truck on it. The driver said they hit a rock and punched a hole in their oil pan. He had a long slow pull with that trailer. Fifteen miles later, I was flagged down by some people in a Toyota Sienna. They wanted to know how to get to Lukeville. Well, I've been to Lukeville before. I sure don't know how they thought this road would get them there! I told them they needed to turn around and drive east until they came to the highway and then go south. The only other photos I took today were of a Phainopepla. Click the LINK for the Le Conte's Thrasher photos. There are a couple of hyperlinks in the thrasher webpage with more info and a map. Other species seen: Harris's Hawk, Sage Sparrows, American Pipits, Loggerhead Shrikes, Gila Woodpeckers, Gambel's Quail, Black-throated Sparrow, and Cactus Wren.

Jan. 12. My best bird today was a Gray Vireo. I was hiking up a dry wash when I came upon a group of Verdin, Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, and an Ash-throated Flycatcher. As I was watching these birds, I noticed another bird that at first glance was just another gnatcatcher, but when it came out in the open I could see it was not. It was a Gray Vireo, a species that I have no photos of. It was a good find and a cooperative bird.

Jan. 13.  Temp dropped down to around 25 F. last night. I don't think it gets much colder than that around here. I drove out of town a few miles and took a walk along a dry wash. Good desert birding, I put some photos from this morning at this LINK.

Jan. 14-15. Monday the 14th wasn't very productive. It was cold and windy, the birds weren't very active, but they were skittish. Couldn't get close to much of anything, so just went hiking. The 15th was much better, a good day for woodpeckers. I found some Gilded Flickers, and got some really nice photos. At the same time, I found a pair of Gila Woodpeckers working on a cavity in a saguaro. It was located in a dry wash, so I could climb up to the top of the wash and be nearly eye level with them. Also got some Ash-throated Flycatcher photos and my best yet of Black-tailed Gnatcatcher and Verdin. It really pays off to put in more time on these birds, always trying for better shots. Today's photos are at this LINK. Tomorrow I have to move somewhere else, I'm not sure if I'll go to Organ Pipe NM campground or just camp out on the BLM land somewhere. Either way, I'll be without internet for a while so this is likely my last update for several days.

Jan. 24. Currently I'm at the Mountain Valley RV Park in Rodeo, New Mexico. I arrived here yesterday. Since my last entry, I've been staying at the Organ Pipe National Monument's Twin Peaks Campground (5days), back to Kartchner Caverns State Park for two days (birded the San Pedro Riparian area!), and now here. I think I hiked every hiking trail at Organ Pipe during my stay there. Weather was really nice. There were lots of birds but I did not find my Ferruginous Pygmy Owl. At the San Pedro Riparian Area I got my long needed photos of Abert's Towhee. Since arriving in the Portal/Rodeo area, I've got some nice photos of species that I already have but needed better. I saw a Hutton's Vireo this morning but failed to get a decent shot, I'll try again tomorrow. I have no photos of Hutton's Vireo yet. There are a couple of Crissal Thrashers that occasionally show up in the open at the Dave Jasper feeders (not owned by Dave Jasper anymore but still open to the public). I'll be spending some time there for the Crissals. Rain is in the forecast for Saturday, so that will probably be the day I drive to Animas or San Simon to get gas and check phone messages. There is no longer a gas station in Rodeo. Check this LINK for some photos from the last week. It never seems worth the effort to photograph sunsets, but I had to try at Organ Pipe. Here are a couple of photos take at Alamo Canyon  Link 1   Link 2.

Jan. 25. Started the day out trying for the Hutton's Vireo again. This bird is frustrating, first I get it with a stick in front of it then with a big shadow over it. Link 1  Link 2  Guess I'll keep trying. Rain tonight and tomorrow, so I thought I'd take a big hike today. I may have overdone it, choosing the Silver Peak Trail. Over nine miles and it is all uphill or downhill. My feet hurt.

Jan 26-29. Four days of rain, wind, now snow. Cold air is moving in for tonight, down into the 20's. These two photos show what the Chiricahuas looked like this morning. Link 1   Link 2  I've been doing some hiking in the canyons looking for Spotted Owls but the wet rocks and ground makes for treacherous footing, so I don't get too far off the roads and trails. No sign of any owls yet. Birding is pretty slow most of the time until I run into a flock. Here's a female and male Gambel's Quail, and a Song Sparrow, probably Melospiza melodia montana or fallax although I'm not sure of the exact subspecies status. Definitely redder and paler than our northern Song Sparrows. Also, another subspecies of the Dark-eyed Junco, the Gray-headed Junco. There are lots of these in the area, along with the Yellow-eyed Juncos. Tomorrow, the wind is supposed to quit and it should warm up.

Jan 30-31. This morning I finally caught up to a Crissal Thrasher. I put some photos from today and yesterday at this link. Yesterday, when I got back to Rodeo there was a Casita parked next to me. A couple from Washington state, birders. They are only here for two days, then they are headed for Texas. Jeff and Cara should be here tomorrow. I drove down to Douglas yesterday afternoon to get gas and groceries. Tomorrow I'm going to look for a Varied Thrush that was reported on the South Fork.

Feb 1-3. Friday morning I was back at the Dave Jasper feeders. More Crissal Thrasher photos and a big herd of Javelina came in too. Some of the females had young, they were so close I could only fit the little ones in the frame. Jeff and Cara got here late in the day. The following day, I drove over to Paradise and up the Forest Service road to the Trans Mountain road, where I found it was closed. The snow is still pretty deep up there, so drove back to Portal, stopping to look for the Varied Thrush but I didn't see it. The I went out to meet Jeff and Cara at their property on West Sanford Road. We walked around and located the corners. It's a nice place, very quiet. The view of the mountains to the west is spectacular. The rancher/home owner who lives another mile up the road came by and we wound up talking to him for several hours, he even invited us up to his house, which is quite an amazing place. He has a huge house and is off the electric grid, using over 8000 watts of solar panels, a huge bank of Trojan 6 volt batteries, and two huge inverters to supply all his power needs. He has a backup generator too. He had lots of stories about illegal immigrants/smugglers too. Sunday morning Jeff and I went to the Dave Jasper feeders again, more Crissal Thrasher photos but no Javelina came in. We went back to the South Fork to look for the Varied Thrush. Some other birders found it after we got there and I did get a few photos, so far the best photo I have of this species. I put some photos from the three days at this LINK.

Feb. 4-8. Still here in Rodeo/Portal area. Jeff and Cara left this morning (Friday the 8th). We've been doing a lot of hiking, yesterday we explored Horseshoe Canyon. Wednesday we hiked 3-4 miles up the South Fork. They left me a lot of food! Photography has been kind of slow. On the 4th, I did get a photo of a Scaled Quail, a species for which I had no photos before. I found a very cooperative Loggerhead Shrike too, which is unusual, this species is normally wary and flies off when I get close. I got a nice photo of a Pyrrhuloxia at the Jasper feeders. Today it is windy and the forecast for tomorrow is more wind. At least it is not the blizzard that is forecast for SD. I put some photos at the LINK.

Feb. 9. Very windy with some light snow in the afternoon. I went up the South Fork and hiked up some canyons looking for Spotted Owls but didn't see much of anything. On the way back to Rodeo, I drove some back roads through the desert. I came on a flock of Brewer's Sparrows and was glassing them over looking for something different, when a Bendire's Thrasher appeared on the ground below the sparrows. Finally! I took some photos when it hopped onto a bush, they would have been really nice if the sun wasn't on the opposite side of the bird. Still, the best photos I have of a Bendire's Thrasher and now I know where one lives. This species has been harder to find than Crissal.

Feb. 10-14. Nice weather but no new birds. Birding is slow, so I just go hiking and see what I can find. I hope some spring migration will be starting up soon. Some photos taken over the last few days at the LINK. I have had no luck finding another Bendire's Thrasher.

Feb. 15. Had a pretty good morning. I realized yesterday that many of the meadowlarks around here are Eastern Meadowlarks, and wanted to get some photos. Got really close to one on a wire, I'll be trying for one on a natural perch now. These are the southwestern subspecies of Eastern Meadowlark, Sturnella magna lilianae. Then I found a male Arizona Woodpecker right next to the road, I spotted it while watching a large flock of American Robins and Hermit Thrush. It posed for some nice photos, up close. Later I went to the Cave Creek Ranch. I'd been waiting for a cloudy day to go there, because the light there is terrible on bright sunshine days. The clouds diffuse the light and reduce the shadows. I found two subspecies of the Fox Sparrow there, and got my best shots ever of a Painted Redstart. Acorn Woodpeckers are always entertaining too. I put some photos at the LINK.

Feb. 16. Drove down Stateline Road and found a nice flock of Scaled Quail. Got my Eastern Meadowlark photos on a natural perch. Photos at LINK.

Feb. 17-21. Stormy weather and not much new for birds. My month here will be over soon and I'll be heading back to South Dakota. A big blizzard is blocking my path right now. I plan to spend about another week at Bosque del Apache NWR and give the roads and weather some time to improve.

March 2. Back in Pierre, SD. I put some more photos from Bosque del Apache NWR at this LINK.