Thursday, March 12, 2009

Birding Arizona Part 2

Posted by Kirk

On Thursday of our trip my wife and I took a day trip to the superstition mountains. We didn't really know exactly where we were going but we were looking for the petroglyph trail somewhere in the town of gold canyon. Rather than stop and get directions, we simply turned down a random street and followed it toward the mountain. We soon saw small signs with a hiker on them that indicated a trail head was down the road. Perfect. When we arrived at the trail head we saw it was for the Lost Goldmine Trail and not the Petroglyph Trail. Oh well. As I examined the map at the trail head however, I noticed that the Petroglyph trail was a spur off this trail. We had arrived at the correct location in spite of ourselves. Of all the roads to choose, we happened to choose the right one. I'm not sure why the sign said Hieroglyphics trail. Someone must not have known the difference. I think the canyon is called Heiroglyphics Canyon as well. So much for our educational system.

A review we had read described the walk as a "short hike." Short is, of course, a relative term. It took us about an hour and a half to walk up a hard scrabble trail to the petroglyph site. At first it seemed like there were very few birds but I eventually began to locate them in the desert landscape. Pretty soon I was picking out cactus wrens and black-throated sparrows. As we got close to the site I stepped off to the side of the trail on a little ten foot spur to get a better look at the desert. I immediately noticed a bump on the top of a scrubby tree. I got out my binoculars and a few thoughts went through my head. The conversation with myself went something like this, "Shrike, that's a shrike. No wait, maybe it is a mockingbird, we don't have those at home and I'm not as familiar with their field markings. But that mask. I didn't think mockingbirds had masks. Look at the beak, hmm, not that big, a shrike has a bigger beak. No wait, the mask makes it a shrike, there is more than one species of shrike. Consult a higher power." I pulled David Sibley from my shoulder bag and he reassured me that yes, this is a shrike, it is the Loggerhead Shrike.

Woo hoo, another lifer! What with the 9 new lifer species on Tuesday I was pretty satisfied to have 10 new lifer species for the trip.

We made it up to the petroglyphs and they were very impressive.
The site is where water runs down the mountain and you can see why it was chosen. It is a very special place. Most of the petroglyphs were on the wall on the right hand side of the photo above. You can see a direct shot of just part of the wall in the photo below. It is completley covered in rock art.

While photographing the petroglyphs, a little bird landed and posed for me on a large rock. I snapped somephotos in case he flew off and then brought my binoculars up.
Bingo, Canyon Wren, another lifer species, number 11 for the trip. These little guys are gorgeous. Click on the photo for the larger version to see some of the details. I wish I could have gotten closer for a better shot.

On the way down we were trying to make better time as we were hungry but again a bit of movement caught my eye. I brough up my binos and there was a towhee, it looked like maybe an Abert's Towhee but something was amiss.

There was a vague central breast spot and the throat had this vague yellowish wash. I had just studied the towhee page in Sibley the night before. A quick flip to the page verified my suspicion. Canyon Towhee! Another lifer! I never thought I would add three new lifers on this hike.

On the way down we saw more Curve-billed Thrashers and I picked up a very distant Golden Eagle for my year list.

We packed up the car and headed out. We got maybe a quarter mile before I slammed on the brakes and pulled off the road. I had spotted a large raptor flying in our direction. I rolled down the window and it landed in a saguaro cactus maybe fifty feet from our car.

We could see it had landed on a nest. A second hawk soon flew in. I began snapping photos and trying to take in details. Both birds flew off one after another. There was an obvious white band at the base of the tail like a Harrier and Chelsey noticed a white band at the tip of the tail that I had missed as I was busy snapping photos. You can see both white tail bands in the above photo. The bird was dark with rusty red wash at the shoulders. Click to enlarge the above photo to really see the red. It was a pair of Harris Hawks. What a treat. That's another lifer and a perfect way to end our hike. That ended up being the last lifer bird I saw on the trip but what a way to end. Since this was not my first time to Arizona I was pretty happy to be able to add 13 new species to my life list.



MarkN said...

Ain't AZ wonderful?