Central AZ to Southern CA
15-18 Nov 2010
by Henry Detwiler

A great trip starting out in the Tonto National Forest, moving through the Sonoran Desert and the Gila River Valley, enjoying the bird-filled Imperial Valley and the Salton Sea, and ending up in the San Jacinto Mts.

155 species seen  Click here for bird checklist
Click on thumbnail pictures for full-sized photos. border  

I met Jan, Kerry, and their friend Ron early on Monday morning, and headed to Granite Reef and several other Tonto National Forest spots along the Salt River. We had an early adult Bald Eagle in the distance, but birds were a bit sparse until the sun started warming things up and we stopped in a nice stand of Saguaro cacti.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Jan and Kerry

Here we got Black-throat Sparrow, Phainopepla, Gilded Flicker, Northern Cardinal, and Verdin. I was surprised to see this Ladder-backed Woodpecker working on several chollas.

White-crowned Sparrow

From the Salt River we moved up to Sycamore Creek, with Harris's Hawk en route. A nice sighting was several Ruby-crowned Kinglets with their ruby crowns nicely displayed. Next stop was Mt. Ord, where we found this javelina and several nice montane birds. A huge flock of kinglets, nuthatches, and chickadees was joined by Red Crossbills to make for a memorable birding experience.


Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ferruginous Hawk

Burrowing Owl


On Tuesday Kerry, Jan, and I slipped through most of the rush hour as we headed west out of town. Close to Gila Bend we found this handsome Ferruginous Hawk along Watermelon Road. At Paloma Ranch we had gorgeous looks at several charismatic Burrowing Owls and a pair of White-tailed Kites. The owls were in the drainage ditches not 20 feet away from my SUV.

White-tailed Hawk

Farther west we detoured north on Spot Road to Sears Point and the wealth of petroglyphs on the cliffs there. These rock "peckings" are from three pre-Columbian eras, and range from coyotes and chuckwallas to hunters and astrological signs. It's a fascinating site, and we also scored with Sage Sparrow and several Rock Wren.

Sear's Point Coyotes

Sear's Point Deer

In a number of spots, from Phoenix to the Imperial Valley, we saw the ever-present Red-tailed Hawks.

Inca Dove

Red-tailed Hawk

At Wellton we looked for the Ruddy Ground-Doves which have been common there during the past several winters--but unfortunately not this year! We did see a nice Cooper's Hawk and this photogenic Inca Dove.

The next morning we got up before dawn to be at the Taiga-Bean Goose location in Unit 1 at sun-up. Numerous Ross's Geese put on a grand spectacle, flying overhead by the hundreds.

Snow Geese


Soon we saw the three White-fronted Geese and their Russian compatriot fly by, and we soon had the "Taiga/Tundra" Bean-Goose in the scope. We watched the quartet for a good while, and before long they flew into one of the ponds for even better views.

The majority of the white geese visible this morning were Ross's Geese, but there was at least one flock of Snow Geese that flew out of the closed area south of the observation tower.

Ross's Goose

Scattered among the numerous Ross's Geese were Sandhill Cranes, trumpeting and landing in the huge alfalfa fields.

Sandhill Cranes and geese

Ross's Geese

The Imperial Valley is filled with raptors in the winter, and we were treated to several Peregrine and Prairie Falcons. This one was feeding off of Bannister Road.

American White Pelican

prairie falcon
Prairie Falcon

At Obsidian Butte and Red Hill Marina we spotted more cormorants, waterfowl, pelicans, shorebirds, terns, gulls, waders, and finally, at the pier south of the Alamo River, we spotted one of our targets, a Yellow-footed Gull in the distance. This might have even have been the last one of the season!

Thursday morning we headed up into the San Jacinto Mts. to try for some of the California specialties. We heard and got glimpses of Wrentit, saw California Quail, and heard several California Thrashers. Acorn Woodpeckers, Western Bluebirds, Mountain Chickadees, Pine Siskins, and Chipping Sparrows were common.

Nuttall's Woodpecker

California Quail

At Hemet Lake a surprise was Lewis's Woodpecker, and then we got good looks at Nuttall's Woodpecker at Fulmor Lake. A cooperative Townsend's Warbler put on a good show here, too. We said our goodbyes after lunch--it had been a grand introduction to the birds of the southwest.

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