Tommy J. DeBardeleben

Maricopa County 2011 Big Year Summary

 "Birding is hunting without killing, preying without punishing, and collecting without clogging your home.  Take a field guide into the woods and you're more than a hiker.  Your a detective on a backcountry beat, tracking the latest suspect from Mexico, Antarctica, or even the Bronx.  Spend enough time sloshing through swamps or scaling summits or shuffling through beach sand and you inevitably face a tough question:  Am I a grown up birder or just another kid on a treasure hunt?"  -Mark Obmascik (author of The Big Year)

Hi everyone,
A year ago today, on December 31st, 2010, I sat down while eating dinner with countless memories of a very memorable birding year that I’ll never forget.  In all of 2010, I did a “Birding Big Year” in Maricopa County, Arizona.  I finished with 304 different species inside the Maricopa County borders, something I didn’t think was possible.  The will to explore can change our lives however, and it certainly changed mine.  It was such an amazing year for me that I couldn’t resist that urge for more.  A few days into 2011, when Kurt Radamaker refound a Chestnut-sided Warbler at Rio Salado in Central Phoenix that I originally found towards the end of 2010, I thought to myself, “I think I want to do another Maricopa County Big Year!”  I had said I wouldn’t do a big year again after 2010, but once 2011 hit, my interest quickly came back to life.  Could I break last year’s record of 304 species?  Every big year is a story and a long journey, and so is this HUGE post.  I invite you to please come on this long journey too, of my Maricopa County Big Year in 2011!

JANUARY:  As January 1st, 2011 came in, I did my first birding of the year in the afternoon after work.  With it being the first of the year and a fresh start, every first glance at the different birds was an exciting thing.  I wasn’t thinking “Big Year” right off the bat on the 1st, as I was still recovering from last year’s tiring effort.  I wanted to do something simple, so the close to home Glendale Recharge Ponds was my first birding effort of 2011.  Before going to the ponds, I noted my first few species of the year around my apartment complex that included DARK-EYED JUNCO, INCA DOVE, and VERDIN.  Once at the Glendale Recharge Ponds, enjoyable birds filled the basins.  Diving BUFFLEHEADS and COMMON GOLDENEYES were present, as well as a flock of COMMON MERGANSERS.  The wet basins also contained GREEN-WINGED TEALS, NORTHERN SHOVELERS, GADWALL, and RUDDY DUCKS.  An OSPREY fished overhead, and a BELTED KINGFISHER sat on a power line that overlooks a canal which borders one of the basins.  A LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKER called in a nearby mesquite.  These birds among 44 species brought my notebook to life to start the year.  My interest in doing another Maricopa County Big Year quickly hit me hard on the 2nd.  As I read the listserv from work, I saw that Kurt Radamaker had reported the Chestnut-sided Warbler at Rio Salado that I originally found on December 13th, 2010!  I didn’t think twice about going for it, when I saw Kurt’s report my mind was made up immediately to re-chase this nice eastern warbler.  Once at Rio Salado, it took me an hour to relocate the CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER.  It ended up being very obliging, often feeding on the ground in front of me.  Two days into 2011 and a nice rarity was already on my list!  A BLUE-WINGED TEAL and GREEN HERON were in a pond close to the Chestnut-sided Warbler, other enjoyable year firsts.  The Chestnut-sided Warbler and a few other rarities were discovered at the end of 2010 and stuck around into January, which led me off to a very strong start to 2011 and an excellent January.  Along the Salt River at the Granite Reef Recreation Site on the 3rd, a heard-only WINTER WREN was another example.  I heard this wren on December 30th, 2010 in the exact spot.  The tiny bird remained hidden from my eyes, but I was still glad to confirm it’s presence.  Granite Reef contained other goodies that day, with my year firsts of BALD EAGLE, WILSON’S SNIPE, SNOW GOOSE, GRAY FLYCATCHER, and CANVASBACK.  Driving north up the Bush Highway a GREATER ROADRUNNER crossed my path and at Butcher Jones Recreation Site/Beach area I was pleased to see WESTERN GREBES, a BROWN CREEPER, and a CANYON WREN.  Later that day I made my way over to Gilbert Water Ranch, where a few other rarities from winter 2010 were cooperative with me.  One was a BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER which spent the winter, as well as a few RUDDY GROUND-DOVES that were first found by Pete Moulton.  Other birds at the water ranch included a rare in winter YELLOW WARBLER, as well as a PEREGRINE FALCON and CINNAMON TEAL.  On January 8th, I tried for another rarity found in 2010, a BROWN THRASHER at the Desert Botanical Gardens originally found by Frank Insana.  I spent a well used fifteen dollars to see this bird, which was one of the first birds I saw, and it was cooperative the entire half-hour I spent with it.  Moving on to Tempe Town Lake gave me my first BROWN PELICAN of the year, and also a rarity in the “COMMON TEAL”, the Eurasian subspecies of our familiar GREEN-WINGED TEAL.  Hopefully these are two species the ABA might split someday.  It was a third state record for Arizona, and provided amazing looks for many seeking birders.  Later throughout that day on the 8th between the Salt River and Gilbert Water Ranch, I got year firsts in CRISSAL THRASHER, DUNLIN, and LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE.  Birding in West Phoenix in the Tres Rios area gave me my first WOOD DUCKS and BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCKS on the 9th, as well as large YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD flocks.  Good raptors were in the area too, with a FERRUGINOUS HAWK and BURROWING OWLS being of note.  A pair of CACKLING GEESE at Crystal Gardens Parkway in West Phoenix on January 10th made a nice showing for me, after being discovered by Stig Tjotta in December 2010.  Another interesting sighting came of a male WILSON’S WARBLER at Rio Salado on January 11th, which the species is rare in Arizona during the winter months.  January 22nd was an amazing day, as I spent the day once again in the Lower Salt River Recreation Area.  While doing aquatic bird surveys on a boat at Saguaro Lake, Troy Corman discovered a BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE on the 21st.  It turned out to be my first lifer of 2011, as I hiked a long distance on a trail that borders this awesome looking lake.  It was a young Kittiwake, who’s plumage easily stood out among the RING-BILLED GULLS that were also present.  The hike along Saguaro Lake gave me looks at two other Arizona rarities, a HORNED GREBE and a female GREATER SCAUP.  Other year birds of note around the lake included a CLARK’S GREBE, SORA, and an early TREE SWALLOW.  Pleasing year firsts continued to appear that day, as HARRIS’S HAWKS and a VERMILION FLYCATCHER showed themselves at the Goldfield Recreation Site.  Closing the day out at Granite Reef gave me my second lifer of the day, a rare in Maricopa County TUNDRA SWAN.  This swan had been reported by other birders and I had tried for it several times before this day.  This time, it was there and cooperative, giving me perfect views.  A two lifer day was a great memory!  On January 26th, Jim Kopitzke and I explored the Sunflower and Mount Ord areas.  Sunflower had great numbers of wintering birds typical of the 3-4000’ of elevation of sycamore-riparian canyon habitat.  These birds included amazing numbers of CEDAR WAXWINGS, WESTERN BLUEBIRDS, and AMERICAN ROBINS (we estimated about 500 individuals), as well as a few TOWNSEND’S SOLITAIRES.  WESTERN SCRUB-JAYS, BRIDLED and JUNIPER TITMOUSE were also great to see.  In the midst of all these birds, we managed to find a nice rarity-a juvenile YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER.  Later in the morning, the pines and oaks of Mount Ord gave us an amazing look at a stunning male OLIVE WARBLER visiting a water tank just feet in front of our eyes.  Breeding RED CROSSBILLS were everywhere throughout Ord, as well as both RED and WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCHES and HAIRY WOODPECKERS.  The following day on the 27th, the new ponds at Tres Rios west of 91st Avenue gave me looks at my years first stunning male HOODED MERGANSER, as well as large numbers of AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS.  I ventured to the area of the southwest part of the county on the 31st, covering the “Thrasher Spot”, Arlington, and Palo Verde, where good birds are always aboud in the winter months.  Plenty of good birds were plentiful in the area’s suitable habitats.  WHITE-TAILED KITES, SANDHILL CRANES, and LONG-BILLED CURLEWS were present in the agricultural fields.  In the marshes of the Arlington Wildlife Area, I was rewarded with a LEAST BITTERN, VIRGINIA RAILS, and a continuing SWAMP SPARROW found by Dave Powell a few days before.  The creosote desert flats of the well known “Thrasher Spot” gave me spectacular looks at a pair of LE CONTE’S THRASHERS up close, as well as CRISSAL and BENDIRE’S THRASHERS.  The Thrasher Spot is also an excellent place to observe SAGE SPARROWS, which were also entertaining during my visit.  As January 2011 came to a close, I had 163 species for the month in Maricopa County.   The bird of the month for me was the Black-legged Kittiwake.  In 2010, I had 137 species in Maricopa County during the month of January.

FEBRUARY:  My first birding highlights for February came on the 5th, where I chose to bird at Gilbert Water Ranch.  I saw a few very good highlights, including a ROSS’S GOOSE with a small group of GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE.  A rare in winter WESTERN SANDPIPER was noticable in a scan of a couple hundred LEAST SANDPIPERS also at the Water Ranch.  After seeing a report that a RUFOUS-BACKED ROBIN was seen at the Hassayampa River Preserve by Dominic Sherony (who found last year’s Green Kingfisher), I made that bird and Hassyampa my priority on the 11th.  This robin was first seen by Christina Smith in winter of 2010.  I searched for the robin on and off for nine hours before finally lucking out with amazing looks for several minutes as the preserve was about to close.  During this search, I had other amazing highlights that included two different WINTER WRENS, which I found by hearing their distinctive double-call notes.  It was the first time I got to see a Winter Wren visually, so it was pretty cool!  A distant RED-SHOULDERED HAWK could be heard calling throughout the entire day, another nice Arizona rarity which has a small and local population in this area.  Jim Koptizke and I came back to try for these birds on the 17th, which we were rewarded with all three.  The Red-shouldered Hawk was the first bird we saw that day, as it flew over the parking lot and over our heads as we started our morning.  The Rufous-backed Robin put on a show in the picnic site, and we managed to relocate the Winter Wren.  On the 21st, I headed out to the Arlington and Paloverde Area southwest of Phoenix.  I was after a ROSEATE SPOONBILL, another rarity that was found in 2010 by Ken Bielek at the Glendale Recharge Ponds.  It continued to move south and eventually spent much of this year along the east end of the Old US 80.  Melanie Herring and Dave Powell refound this awesome bird, and after a day long of checking the spot where it was seen, the bird finally made an appearance after I checked the spot three previous times.   On this day I was treated also to a light-morph HARLAN’S RED-TAILED HAWK, which had been observed by Melanie Herring for five straight winters.  Light-morph Harlan’s are rare anytime, anywhere.  By the Harlan’s Hawk were large flocks of LONG-BILLED CURLEWS roadside, which were breathtaking to observe up so close.  To close out February, I birded the Salt River once again.  The elusive WINTER WREN made an appearance for me finally at Granite Reef, who was cooperative with my camera.  This was my original “lifer”, and was awesome to finally see it.  Owling at night at Coon Bluff gave me my first GREAT HORNED OWL of the year, who flew right past me.  At February’s end, I had 138 species recorded in Maricopa County for the month, and I was up to 178 species for the year’s total.  I recorded 137 species for February in 2010, where at the end February 2010 I had 159 species for the year’s total.  The bird of the month was the Rufous-backed Robin.

MARCH:  The Seven Springs Recreation Area led off March of 2011’s birding for me on the 4th of the month.  This is a beautiful area I love to explore with scenery similiar to that of Sunflower (sycamore-filled canyons).  Similar birds were present too, with highlights being my first RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROW of the year and also yet another WINTER WREN!  This area has great Winter Wren habitat, and it was the third individual of this species I found and photographed in less than three weeks.  Driving to work early the next morning on the 5th, I had two slightly early LESSER NIGHTHAWKS for the year.  The nighthawks could be seen well with the bright streetlights.  On March 10th, I decided to hit the higher elevations of Mount Ord and Sunflower.  Mount Ord had a lot of snow, limiting me to Forest Road 1688 rather than the route to the summit.  The walk down this road gave me my first ACORN WOODPECKER of the year, and the many RED CROSSBILLS, who provided an excellent show by feeding in the snow along the path in front of me.  Coming down from Mount Ord, I stopped at Sunflower.  I had a nice surprise at Sunflower, as I got my first ever looks at a nice FOX SPARROW.  The Fox Sparrow was the Slate-colored form of this variable sparrow, the most common form in Arizona.  This bird was perfect and cooperative for a lifer.  From there I went to the Granite Reef Recreation Site of the Salt River, and I found my first LUCY’S WARBLERS of the year.  Ironically, I had my first Lucy’s Warblers at the exact spot I stood the previous year on March 4th, 2010.  After the long drive and day on the 10th, I decided to take a shorter route to the Hassayampa River Preserve on the 11th.  I spent most of the day here, which included an amazing highlight in my first ever Maricopa County PYRRHULOXIA.  When I went inside the visitor center at the preserve, I saw that they had been seen.  Christina Smith told me of the location, and sure enough I found two Pyrrhuloxia’s, a male and a female.  It was an an amazing sight, especially when the male perched above me on a powerline.  Another good highlight at the preserve produced my first LAWRENCE’S GOLDFINCH of the year, as I counted about ten of them along the Mesquite Meander Trail.  They nested at this location the year before, which is often a good spot to look for them at the right time of year.  On the 14th, I ventured out again to the southwest part of the county, visiting the Thrasher Spot, Arlington, and various roads around M-C 85.  Driving by fields and canals gave me year firsts in CLIFF SWALLOWS flying over the canals and the awesome MERLIN perched on a pole wire.  Once at the Thrasher Spot, my main target was to find my year’s first SAGE THRASHER, which I still needed for the location.  The Sage Thrashers ended up being everywhere and it was incredible to see so many, as I counted a minimum of 15 birds foraging on the ground and perching on low bushes.  Other thrashers provided excellent looks as well, as I found a bush that held three Sage Thrashers, two LE CONTE’S THRASHERS, and one BENDIRE’S THRASHER-all in one bush!  Another nice surprise came when an EASTERN MEADOWLARK called in midst of a WESTERN MEADOWLARK flock that were near the abundant Sage Thrashers.  Other year birds during the day included a WESTERN KINGBIRD at Arlington Wildlife Area and a BLACK VULTURE soaring off the M-C 85 near Perryville Road.  On the 23rd, a female RED-BREASTED MERGANSER made an appearance at the Thunderbird Viewing Blinds Park in the northern part of Glendale.  This is a small park is located in the Arrowhead Lakes area and is often productive for waterbirds.  My first BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRDS of the year were present at Gilbert Water Ranch on the 25th, along with a BARN SWALLOW.  A visit to the nearby Veteran’s Oasis Park gave me my first three SWAINSON’S HAWKS of the year.  On the evening of March 27th, a visit to the Glendale Recharge Ponds gave me two good gull highlights in my first and only FRANKIN’S GULL of the year (which was an adult bird), as well as a third-year CALIFORNIA GULL.  Franklin’s Gulls aren’t always easy to come across, so I was glad I was able to see this one.  The Franklin’s Gull was also my 200th bird of the year in Maricopa County.  My last day of birding in March came on the 28th, where I decided to take another trek to the Sunflower and Mount Ord areas.  Sunflower was very productive, as I got many enjoyable year firsts.  The COMMON BLACK-HAWKS and ZONE-TAILED HAWKS were both returning to prepare for the upcoming summer.  The Black-Hawks provided the best show throughout the morning at close range, as I even observed the pair copulating.  There were two pairs of Black-Hawks in the area that day, always a great sight!  A WHITE-WINGED DOVE was present, which is always good to get before April.  My first BLACK-CHINNED SPARROWS sang from the hillsides, and three EMPIDS species were represented by PACIFIC-SLOPE, DUSKY, and HAMMOND’S FLYCATCHERS.  Moving up to Mount Ord gave me my highlight of the day and a new Maricopa County bird…a CASSIN’S FINCH.  This was a female bird near the summit of Mount Ord (where most of the snow had melted), on a bare branch of an oak tree.  A problem arose as I realized the bird was on the Gila County side.  My best solution was to stand behind the bird and clap, as an attempt to scare the bird west into Maricopa County.  After clapping a few times, I finally scared the finch into Maricopa County, which felt like a cheap shot in most ways.  It really felt cheap as I was completely in Maricopa County down on Ord’s road 1688, when a male Cassin’s Finch landed beside me while I was listening to a calling GOLDEN EAGLE in the slope above my location.  If only I had been more patient!  Slightly early mountain warblers in PAINTED REDSTART and GRACE’S WARBLER sang along this road high up in the pines.  Then, a few CASSIN’S KINGBIRDS closed my day and month off at one last visit to Sunflower in the late afternoon.  The 28th was an amazing day, highlighted by 14 year birds to bring my Maricopa County year list to 214 before the end of March, which the list was 180 at this point at the end of March 2010.  March 2011’s month list in the county was a total of 185 species for me, where in 2010 it was 155.  The bird of the month went three ways for a tie, Fox Sparrow, Pyrrhuloxia, and Cassin’s Finch.

APRIL:  As April rolled in, my first productive birding came on the 2nd.  I headed up to the Hassayampa River area, where I started my day at the U.S. 60 Roadside Rest Stop.  I was happy to get a pair of GRAY HAWKS at this spot, who usually arrive in Arizona in the later stages of March.  A species that is scarce outside of southeastern Arizona has expanded it’s range in this area of the Hassayampa River Preserve, where multiple pairs have been encountered the last few years.  Certainly a species we are lucky to have as a local breeder in Maricopa County!  Year firsts in BULLOCK’S ORIOLES  and a BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER also made appearances at the Roadside Rest.  Later in the day at the Hassayampa River Preserve, I had another GRAY HAWK.  The following day on March 3rd, I headed for the migrant treasure spot… Morgan City Wash.  Good things always show up in this desert riparian heaven.  This time, it turned out to be my lifer BROAD-WINGED HAWK.  I was shocked as I saw this small buteo perched in a big willow next to an irritated COOPER’S HAWK.  The Broad-winged left before I good get a picture, and after I relocated it briefly one other time, I still wasn’t able to get a shot.  But I saw it’s key field marks, so I was content with the sighting.  Later in the day, I headed out to the Buckeye area to enjoy a couple hundred SWAINSON’S HAWKS with Melanie Herring.  These amazing raptors of three different color morphs surrounded the fields, and were often in kettles of fifty or more birds.  It was the first time I really had the oppurtunity to see Swainson’s Hawk migration, and I won’t ever forget it!  I was then after another raptor on the 4th, the elusive and cryptic LONG-EARED OWL.  Prior to the 4th, I tried for the Long-eared Owl seven times before between Salt River locations and the Phoenix Mountains.  This time, my friend Norman Dong spied a bird in a wash at the Phoenix Mountains where I had luck last year.  As I walked down the wash this time, the owl flew out as a got closer and closer.  Time and time again he would fly, until at last….I spied the bird perched.   The owl was relaxed and I had good open looks, where I didn’t have to go any closer.  What a rewarding thing the Long-eared is to see when it is perched!  The Glendale Recharge Ponds on the 8th gave me year firsts in LESSER YELLOWLEGS, a LAZULI BUNTING, and a few BANK SWALLOWS.  A visit to Morgan City Wash once again on the 11th gave me my first WESTERN SCREECH-OWLS of the year, which were heard only birds.  I then got to see another WINTER WREN, which was found earlier in the year by Troy Corman.  My first SEMIPALMATED PLOVER, which was found by Kurt Radamaker, was then at the Glendale Recharge Ponds later in the day on the 11th.  On the 16th, I did another one of my Mount Ord and Sunflower routes.  Mount Ord was highlighted by the return of some of the county’s high elevation favorites.  PAINTED REDSTARTS and BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLERS were everywhere, followed by good but lesser numbers of OLIVE and GRACE’S WARBLERS and my year’s first VIRGINIA’S WARBLERS.  My first GRAY VIREOS were singing away, and several CASSIN’S FINCHES continued.  Down at Sunflower I had a few year first’s I was shocked I didn’t get at Ord first ironcially: PINE SISKIN and BROAD-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD.  Many HOODED ORIOLES were present as well as a nice male SUMMER TANAGER, always great year birds especially at that very first glance.  A short stay after dark gave me several calling COMMON POORWILLS.  On April 22nd, I headed southwest to the Gila Bend and Arlington Areas.  A few days earlier, Paul Lehman, Barbara Carlson, and Gary Rosenberg had found a Glossy Ibis in midst of hundreds of White-faced Ibis.  I knew I had a challenge in front of me, but the challenge was what I liked about the search.  I found the huge ibis flock just west of Paloma Ranch were they gave directions to, probably close to 800 birds.  After starting early and three hours later, I finally found that GLOSSY IBIS needle in the White-faced Ibis haystack.  The bird gave me perfect views and was certainly a rewarding sight after searching so hard.  Heading back north on my way home gave me other highlights in my only FORSTER’S TERN of the year at the Gila Bend Power Plant and then the elusive CLAPPER RAIL sitting out in the open at the Arlington Wildlife Area.  The Salt River was my destination on the 25th, as I enjoyed courting BRONZED COWBIRDS and four awesome warblers for the first time in 2011: TOWNSEND’S, MACGILLIVRAY’S, and HERMIT WARBLERS, and YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT.  Following the Salt River, a single WILLET was a nice addition at Gilbert Water Ranch.  Jim Kopitzke and I then made plans to take overnight camping trips to Maricopa County forests of Slate Creek Divide and Four Peaks to close out April and start May.  On the 30th, Jim and I were joined at Slate Creek by Jay Miller, Troy Corman, and Tom Lewis.  Jim and I showed our guests the drainage we explored a lot of last year, which requires very careful hiking in a hazardous area with a lot of bushwhacking.  The Dusky-capped Flycatchers I found last year didn’t show up on this day, but we had some other good highlights.  My only NORTHERN  PYGMY-OWL of the year responded to Troy’s whistling, which consistently brought in good songbird numbers.  Slate Creek also has good numbers of MEXICAN JAYS, which are scarce in central Arizona.  These noisy jays can almost be expected at Slate Creek, as they made their racket during our hike.  Other enjoyable year firsts included a male INDIGO BUNTING, HEPATIC TANAGER, and BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK.  Jim, Jay, and I tried forest owling as we camped overnight in freezing, windy temperatures without success.  The cold Slate Creek night ended April, which I recorded 186 species for the month, and I was up to 245 species for the year.  2010’s April gave me 181 species during that month, and at that point in 2010, I had 229 species for the year.  Because of the effort I put into the search, the Glossy Ibis was April’s bird of the month.

MAY:  I was wide awake at midnight as May rolled in.  Jim, Jay, and I were freezing in the Slate Creek mountain forest.  High winds had blown in with 30-40 mph gusts, which gave Slate Creek freezing temperatures in the low 30’s.  Jim and I were somewhat sheltered in a tent, while Jay was brave enough to bear the cold in a sleeping bag!  When the sun started to come up and the wind was briefly quiet, I was happy to hear my first STELLER’S JAY of the year in the county in the Maricopa side of the forest.  As we stayed half the morning before we left, I also got my first WESTERN TANAGER and RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD of the year.  Jim and I went with the easier to access Pinal Mountains in Gila County instead of the rough roaded Four Peaks area, which we plan to cover Four Peaks sometime in 2012 (with a much better vehicle!)  On the 6th, a long trip starting at the Hassayampa River gave me my first BLUE GROSBEAKS and BROWN-CRESTED FLYCATCHERS of the year.  Going southwest in the county my trip continued to the Gila Bend Power Plant for the first WILSON’S PHALAROPES of many during the year.  A stop at the Baseline and Meridian Wildlife Area rewarded me with a BARN OWL to close out the day.  After a “break” from birding, I made it back out into the field again on the 20th, chosing the Hassayampa River Preserve.  Christina Smith and I explored the area together, and had a nice surprise when we heard a closeby EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE along the Mesquite Meander Trail.  The bird called three times, and as I walked in the direction, the bird flew out and landed in front of us.  As we got our cameras ready, it never vocalized again and we quickly lost the bird.  I was happy to hear it for myself, but unfortunetely it never called again to give me the chance to officially document it’s presence.  It would’ve been a first Maricopa County record had I been able to get a recording.  The preserve was a flycatcher show that day, as I also got abundant WESTERN WOOD-PEWEES, a few OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHERS, and a rare and local breeder in Maricopa County, a TROPICAL KINGBIRD.  The Tropical Kingbird is another southeastern Arizona bird who is expanding it’s range, like the Gray Hawk.  These two species certainly favor the area of the Hassayampa River Preserve.  On the 22-23rd, I took my friend Norman Dong who is avidly into herps on a camping trip to Slate Creek Divide.  It was actually a trip to show Norman the higher elevation rattlesnakes, but the snakes stayed hidden while the birds presented themselves perfectly.  I woke up to singing HERMIT THRUSHES that morning, which is just as good as any morning cup of coffee.  HEPATIC TANAGERS and PAINTED REDSTARTS showed perfectly, as well as PLUMBEOUS VIREOS and a BROWN CREEPER.  Heading down the rocky and dense drainage turned up three nuthatches, RED and WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH, and the hard to find in Maricopa PYGMY NUTHATCH.  Further into the drainage I was glad to hear the mournful call of the DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER, which I found last year here as the first Maricopa County breeding record.  There ended up being at least seven individuals this time.  This seems to be a local population in this spot that is most likely annual, changing the birds status in the county from accidental to a rare and local breeder.  After another Slate Creek camping trip, my next birding was once again at Hassayampa on the 27th.  It was a great outing, as I got my first ever SWAINSON’S THRUSH for the county along Palm Lake, as well as my year’s first WILLOW FLYCATCHER.  Lack of birding time gave me a lower count in May with 147 species recorded, but I did add 15 birds during the month to bring my total to 260 species in Maricopa for 2011.  In 2010 at the end of May, I had 179 species recorded, and 248 species for the year’s total.  The bird of the month for me was the Eastern Wood-Pewee.

JUNE:  To lead off the month of June, Gary Nunn reported a pair of CASPIAN TERNS at the Glendale Recharge ponds on the 1st.  After work I went down to the ponds, where I got to observe the pair.  What a sight it was!  These two terns were very vocal and aggressive to the other birds around, almost behaving like breeders and often chasing off the other birds that were present.  As I was enjoying the Caspian’s, I looked up and saw two beautiful BLACK TERNS flying over the basin.  Glendale had become a Tern Show!  The Caspian Terns stayed one more day before leaving.  June was a rather slow month for adding birds, as my next good highlight for the month came on the 20th, this time in Jay Miller’s backyard.  Jay’s yard, also known as, the Miller House of Mesa, is a rarity trap that is the best birding backyard in Arizona after the Paton’s house.  Jay has had an incredible list of unexpected species show up in his yard, and this time, it was a male BROAD-BILLED HUMMINGBIRD!  Jim Kopitzke and I joined Jay after he found the bird in his yard, and minutes into our watch the hummer appeared directly in front of us.  Broad-billed Hummingbird is another bird that seems to be expanding it’s range, as there have been a good number of reports in Maricopa County in recent years.  On the 30th, Norman Dong showed me a WESTERN SCREECH-OWL in the Phoenix Mountains, my first ever look at this species after hearing them only.  In the month of June in 2011, I recorded 109 species, where in 2010, I did a little better with 121 species.  Three year birds brought my list 263 species, and in 2010 at June’s end I had 255 species.  My favorite bird during June was the Western Screech-Owl.

JULY:  The month of July consisted of birding in the higher elevations of the county, as well as early mornings in desert riparian habitats before the miserable heat set in.  On July 4th, I celebrated my birthday with birding during the morning in the Mesquite Wash and Sunflower areas.  I got to Sunflower just before light to enjoy a dawn bird chorus.  I was also just in time to hear my year first ELF OWL before the sun came up.  Just like June, July was very slow for adding year birds.  The next came on the 20th at the Box Bar Recreation Site along the Verde River.  I found my only YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO at the top of a big willow, who started calling right as I got my lenses on the bird.  One of my very favorite birds, this was the only one I found during 2011 in Maricopa County.  Also present at Box Bar was a young male BROAD-BILLED HUMMINGBIRD, my second in the county in about a month.  That night I got an email from the famous Richard Crossley, asking me for help in finding Black-chinned Sparrows and Common Black-Hawks, as well as Lucy’s, Virginia’s, and Olive Warblers.  I decided to take Richard out to the Sunflower and Mount Ord areas, where these species were a good bet.  Richard is from Britain, an amazing birder, and the author and photographer to the Crossley ID Guide-Eastern Birds, well done and newer birding guide.  This guide is very amazing (highly recommended!), which in my opinion really brings birding to life.  But Richard was in Arizona, already working on a western guide!  On the 21st, I was Richard Crossley’s “guide” and it was something I’ll never forget.  Richard was quite the guy with a great sense of humor and a very hard worker, and it was great to listen to his ideas about how he wrote and illustrated his book.  Each of us took turns throughout the morning talking about our birding passions, which was awesome.  I found him BLACK-CHINNED SPARROWS very easily, but after that, our other targets were tough.  We didn’t see any normal COMMON BLACK-HAWKS, but were surprised at the sight of a first-summer bird, which Richard informed me that it’s rarely seen in the U.S.  A ZONE-TAILED HAWK family soared above us in circles, while Richard ran under them in circles trying to get as many photos as possible.  We couldn’t find any of the warblers, particularly the Lucy’s Warblers that Richard was dying to see as well.  As we pulled into Sunflower during one of our breaks, Richard luckily had the window rolled down.  We passed by an open area with scattered grass and mesquites, where I heard the song of my first in Maricopa County CASSIN’S SPARROW!  I screamed, “Cassin’s Sparrow!!!  That’s rare in Maricopa!  Stop the car!”  I got out and heard more of the sparrow and eventually got to see it singing on top of a bush with obliging views.  As I started celebrating and pumping my fist, Richard said, “Are you freaking kidding me, this doesn’t mean crap to me, you and your freaking rare in Maricopa Cassin’s Sparrows, you can’t even find me a Lucy’s Warbler!”  I had a good laugh from Richard’s humor.  The day was even better as there was something good in the mix for Tommy.  Later, as Richard was in a rush to get down from the summit of Mount Ord to head for southeast Arizona, he almost drove over a steep north facing slope.  All Richard could say was, “Oh crap Tommy, I almost killed both of us!”  Luckily despite Richard’s speed race down the narrow one-lane mountain road, we made it out alive.  It was a great day to learn a lot from a famous birder, one I’ll never forget.  I spent the rest of July in Apache County’s White Mountains, where birding was amazing.  During the month of July 2011, I recorded 117 species in the county, where three year birds brought my year list up to 266 species.  In July last year in 2010, I recorded 97 species, and I had 255 species for the year’s total.  The bird of the month for July was the Cassin’s Sparrow and Richard Crossley. 

AUGUST:  August of 2011 was one of my better months of the Big Year.  On the 10th, it all began at Slate Creek Divide.  Jim Kopitzke and I felt destined to find a good bird that would become an addition to our Maricopa County lists, and Red-faced Warbler was one of our most hopeful targets.  We bushwhacked down into the wilderness of our favorite drainage in search of something good.  It was a quiet morning, and it got even more quiet as we realized the Dusky-capped Flycatchers had left, meaning we weren’t able to confirm breeding for 2011 like we did the previous year.  As we were in trying to call in birds using Jim’s Audubon bird call, I spotted a warbler at the top of a sycamore.  I told Jim, “Hey, I’m gonna make sure this is something crappy.”  As I looked up at the movement, it wasn’t crappy at all.  It was none other than our first Maricopa RED-FACED WARBLER!  This bird was amazing and cooperative for over twenty minutes, and we had walk away looks.  One of our most wanted birds for the county seemed to have found us!  Other county year birds at Slate Creek were a handful of CORDILLERAN FLYCATCHERS (which one gave perfect Cordilleran calls), and on our way down, a BAND-TAILED PIGEON flying past my vehicle into the forest was also a good bird to get.  On the 15th during a huge day of birding that went from desert up to Mount Ord, I had good success.  Mount Ord gave me my first NASHVILLE WARBLER of the year, where a flock of PYGMY NUTHATCHES was very nice also.  As I was walking near the Maricopa and Gila County lines near Ord’s summit, I found a small hummingbird that reminded me of a female CALLIOPE HUMMINGBIRD.  It was in Gila County at first, but I managed to follow it west into Maricopa. I didn’t think Calliope after I looked at a picture in the field, but once I got home, I reviewed the pictures to realize I had a strong Calliope candidate and asked for Mark Stevenson’s help.  The bird was indeed a female Calliope Hummingbird, excellent to get in Maricopa County, and a county first for me.  Good thing I was able to get photographs, in which the bird was very cooperative.  Also on the 15th, I stopped at the Higley Ponds in Gilbert, where I found my first SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER of the year, as well as a STILT SANDPIPER.  August 19-21st then produced three amazing heat filled days at the Glendale Recharge Ponds, where during the weekend, an amazing 21 species of shorebirds were seen by multiple birders in one basin.  Shorebirds filled this one basin (Basin 5), and what an exciting thing it was.  I quickly found five year birds in the mix on the evening of the 19th.  A rather rare SANDERLING as well as a SNOWY PLOVER were two of the first birds I saw to start the night, which are good birds to get in Arizona.  A BAIRD’S SANDPIPER, a RED-NECKED PHALAROPE, and several SOLITARY SANDPIPERS were three of the other year birds who appeared for me.  I got home to see Kurt Radamaker was out there the same day, but in the morning.  He found a juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher, which would be a lifer for me.  I visited the Hassayampa River Preserve on morning of the 20th, and got lucky as my first ever in Maricopa County PURPLE MARTINS flew overhead, which was a great surprise.  The rest of the weekend was hopeful for the Dowitcher, and I ended up lucking out with the SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER were Kurt had been seeing it while I was birding with Charlie Babbitt and Dave Pearson on the 21st.  The Basin also produced WILLETS, LONG-BILLED CURLEWS, and the uncommon SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER, which was also found by Kurt Radamaker.  Short-billed Dowitchers had a good year in Arizona, as multiple birds turned up at the Glendale Recharge Ponds during the season after my original lifer.  Ending August 2011, I had 162 species for the month, and 280 for the year’s total.  Last year when ending August 2010, I had 143 species recorded for the month, and 266 species for the year’s total.  August’s bird of the month by far was the magnificent Red-faced Warbler!

SEPTEMBER:  September began with more visits to the Glendale Recharge Ponds, particularly during the evening and searches for eastern passerine vagrants in desert riparian habitats.  My year’s first PECTORAL SANDPIPER added to the shorebird mix on the 4th, at the Glendale Recharge Ponds.  On the 5th, I paid Morgan City Wash a visit.  I was starting to search for the Northern Waterthrush as it was prime time for that species, as well as any other warblers rare in Arizona from the east.  I didn’t get the waterthrush that day, but I did hear a bird farting as it would take flight.  The “fart” sounds were the distinctive callnotes of a DICKCISSEL, which was just as good of a bird as a waterthrush.  These calls do sound exactly like a person farting, so perhaps letting some gas loose by the weed patch will bring in a Dickcissel!  On the 10th, I made another trip to Morgan City Wash, where I joined Troy Corman.  Troy is a rarity magnet, so I felt like my chances were much higher with him being there!  Shortly into our birdwatch while bushwhacking through the Agua Fria River side of the area, a warbler called loudly and Troy said, “wow, that sounded just like a Waterthrush”.  Sure enough the bird popped up in front of me, and it was indeed…a NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH!  It perched on a branch, constantly pumping it’s tail.  We then observed it on the ground foraging alongside running water.  I then headed out to the Mesa area on the 11th to bird the Salt River.  On my way there, I decided to give Jay Miller a call.  The Miller House of Mesa is always good for birding, but it’s probably one of the easiest places to see Vaux’s Swifts in the county.  I missed Vaux’s Swift completely in 2010, and I didn’t want to repeat that sequence.  Jay invited me over when he got my call, and right as I joined him in his backyard, my first VAUX’S SWIFT in over two years flew overhead.  What an amazing sight it was!  After I got the Swift at Jay’s, I went to the Salt River, started at Granite Reef.  This place was amazingly birdy, as I recorded 71 species in under three hours.  My highlight was a bright CLAY-COLORED SPARROW in midst of a big sparrow flock.  These sparrows are rare but annual in Arizona, and 2011 turned up great numbers of them throughout the state.  I also got to see one of a few TROPICAL KINGBIRDS at Granite Reef that were found by Jack Holloway, another great find of this expanding species in Maricopa County.  After Granite Reef, a trip to the Foxtail/Sheeps Crossing stretch along the Salt gave me my second NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH in two days.  It was an amazingly cooperative bird, who I watched for thirty minutes up nice and close.  When the 16th came along, I went to Seven Springs to start my day.  Seven Springs was birdy without any year birds, with a nice highlight being a lowland PAINTED REDSTART at Seven Springs Wash.  I continued later in the day to the willow and cottonwood filled Box Bar Recreation Site along the Verde River.  I was immediately successful at Box Bar, stumbling across my year’s first AMERICAN REDSTART just five minutes into the bird search.  It was a female bird, constantly showing off her tail.  It was also my first double-Redstart day in Arizona, a nice accomplishment.  My luck still continued at Box Bar as I got a second year bird in less than an hour, a LARK BUNTING out on open and shrubby ground!  After the 16th, I failed to locate any additional year birds in the month of September.  I searched and searched multiple habitats.  Migration was still great, and I made regular checks at ponds and lakes for different rarer shorebirds and Sabine’s Gulls without success.  2011 in September gave me 173 species for the month, and 7 additional year birds to bring my county year list to 287 species.  At the end of September 2010, I recorded 170 species for that month, where I was at 276 species for my year’s total.  The bird of the month for September was the extra cooperative Northern Waterthrush at the Salt River.

OCTOBER:  On October 1st, 2011, I was trying to decide between Morgan City Wash and the Hassayampa River Preserve.  I knew deep down that something good in the eastern warbler department was going to show up at one of those two locales.  I chose Morgan City, which shockingly turned out to be very quiet.  When I got home later in the day, I saw on the listserv that John Arnett had found two Magnolia Warblers at Hassayampa.  It was living proof about being in the right place at the right time, and I hoped at least one of the Magnolia Warblers would stay through the 2nd.  As I woke up on the 2nd and was getting ready to head for Hassayampa, I checked the listserv before I left.  A report had came in from Brian Ison, he had found an Ovenbird in Scottsdale’s Northsight Park!  I decided to try for the Ovenbird first, which I felt I had a better shot at.  As I got to the spot where Brian found the bird, I heard a loud chip.  It was the OVENBIRD, and it came down from high in a mesquite to the ground, where it walked around, showing off it’s character perfectly.  I observed it for thirty enjoyable minutes.  After a perfect start to the day, I then went to Hassayampa to search for the Magnolia.  Minutes into my birdwatch as I was walking along Palm Lake looking at every warbler, the MAGNOLIA WARBLER turned up right above me.  The couple walking behind me must have gotten the impression of a little kid’s reaction after he got his first Hotwheel’s toy car.  These rare eastern warblers were lifers for me, two in one day was a perfect reason to celebrate.  The Magnolia ended up being the easiest rare warbler to observe that I had ever seen, as it foraged close to me at all times as I checked on it throughout the day.  After such an amazing start to October, I didn’t find any new year birds until the 17th.  The 17th did turn out to be good and erased the two week “slump”.  Troy Corman found a Northern Parula at Morgan City Wash early in the month.  I searched for it and missed it, only to have Troy go back again and find the bird was still present.  On the 17th, I headed for Morgan City to try for the Parula and also a White-throated Sparrow that Troy also found.  Before I birded, I found Chris McCreedy near the parking lot.  McCreedy was after the same birds too, especially the Parula.  After Troy gave me perfect directions to the bird’s location, I looked up and spied the NORTHERN PARULA up high in a willow, where McCreedy was able to see it right after I spied it.  It was a beautiful male, one of my favorite warblers.  McCreedy and I couldn’t find the sparrow.  After Morgan City, I went to Scottsdale’s Rousseau Sod Farms where I got three year birds.  The first were a few PRAIRIE FALCONS, who highly favor the sod farms, and a species I don’t see often enough.  I was also on the lookout for Longspurs, in which James McKay had spied a few McCOWN’S LONGSPURS a few days earlier.  I quickly lucked out with one of the McCown’s.  The looks were distant, but the birds field marks thankfully stood out.  Those looks where followed by a close-up CHESTNUT-COLLARED LONGSPUR, which are the most regular Longspur in Arizona.  Two longspurs in the bag was perfect pre-November!  The 27th was the day when my big year luck went to a high level.  The excitement and anxiety of chasing rarities became overwhelming.  Birding miracles began to happen, and it was almost freaky.  As I sat at my desk at work on the day of October 27th, a report came to the list from Bill Grossi.  Bill had found an EASTERN PHOEBE at the Tolleson Wastewater Treatment Plant, which the surrounding habitat were fields lined by pecan trees.  I went after work immediately, where Barb Meding also pulled up in search of the phoebe.  Barb and I looked and looked, and were constantly seeing Say’s Phoebe’s.   I then heard and saw what was likely a first-fall Black-throated Blue Warbler.  The bird was a teaser and gave me too brief of a look.  As the day was getting old and the sun was going down, Barb and I finally lucked out as the Eastern Phoebe crossed our paths.  It constantly pumped it’s tail in that circular motion, where we observed it up close.  The 28th was no different, another rare bird had found Maricopa County.  Once again I was at work, and this time I got a text from Melanie Herring.  Melanie was looking at a HERRING GULL along Lower River Road in Paloverde, which this road has good ponds that annually attract gull numbers.  Once work finally was over, I made a long trek over to Lower River Road.  It was a stressful drive filled with anxiety, I wanted to get there fast.  Things were much better as I pulled up to the pond and had Melanie kindly waiting there for me, with a big smile on her face.  She still had the Herring Gull! We both enjoyed it for a long time, studying it and taking pictures.  It was a second year bird.  On the way back from the Herring Gull, I stopped again at the Tolleson Wastewater Treatment Plant, where I found a nice “YELLOW-SHAFTED” NORTHERN FLICKER.  On the 29th, the craziness continued for a third straight day.  I started the day out by exploring a nice riparian area in the middle of Fountain Hills.  My phone went off, and it was once again another great text from Melanie:  “Kurt found a Surf Scoter at the Glendale Recharge Ponds!”  Surf Scoter was a lifer for me, and I was practically running the two miles back to where I parked my truck.  I had to get to Glendale fast, but I didn’t like the fact I had another long and anxious drive ahead of me on another hot pursuit bird chase.  It was in my mind that I had Fountain Hills Lake, which attracts large waterfowl numbers annually, right next to me.  Before I tried for the Glendale Surf Scoter, I decided to check Fountain Hills Lake just “incase”.  I quickly spied a duck which shape looked good for a scoter.  After I set my scope up, the bird had it’s head down, but it looked perfect for a scoter species.  It then lifted it’s head up, and it was ironically, a SURF SCOTER!!  I was shocked that I found a bird that I was on my way to see for a chase.  This Surf Scoter was almost tame, and swam along the shoreline, where it actively fed on food sources that were more numerous close to shore.  Brendon Grice soon joined me, where we saw that this first Surf Scoter had flown in with a second Surf Scoter!  Both birds then swam and fed together, just feet away from Brendon and me.  Brendon even got a picture of me with the Surf Scoter!  After the ironic luck, I still decided to head over to Glendale on the 30th, to see that Surf Scoter also, which was found by Kurt and Cindy Radamaker.  October 2011 was a birdy month, as I recorded 177 species for the month.  Nine of those were year birds, bringing my county list for 2011 up to 296 species.  2010’s month of October gave me 166 species for that month, where my progress for the year was up to 285 species.  With it’s ironic appearance, the bird of the month had to go out to the Surf Scoter.

NOVEMBER: The start of November continued right away with the crazy sightings, beginning with the Glendale Recharge Ponds on the 1st.  Michael Lester was visiting the basins and he came up with a nice surprise, a very late in Arizona COMMON TERN.  As work got out, I went straight over to the ponds.  The Common Tern was still there, and John Saba and I were treated to amazing looks.  It was a life bird for me, and a bird I certainly didn’t expect to show up in November.  As November comes in, so do storms.  High elevations are harder to reach in the county because the rains affect the dirt roads.  Jim Kopitzke and I decided to take advantage of the weather before the storms hit, and headed up to Mount Ord on the 4th.  High elevations are a gamble in the winter months, and can be very quiet.  Mount Ord was cold and quiet as we arrived, and I thought I probably made a bad decision for the outing.  But when I was about to tell Jim about my poor decision making, a bird interrupted me, saying, “Chik-a-dee-dee-dee”.  It was our first ever MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE in Maricopa County, an awesome bird to land!  The Chickadee was one of a small flock of four after Jim and I have had our eyes peeled for this species over the last few years.  The chickadee was one of eight species at Mount Ord that day.  I spent the rest of the 4th after we got back from Ord, looking for a White-throated Sparrow at Gilbert Water Ranch without success that had been found by Chris McCreedy.  During a drive in the Arlington area on the 7th, I saw that Melanie Herring’s light phase HARLAN’S HAWK had returned once again for another winter.  Then following that, I then found the black race of a MERLIN, which is also rare in Arizona.  On the 9th, I got a text from Chris McCreedy while I was at work, saying he found a Pacific Loon at Granite Reef along the Salt River.  McCreedy was everywhere!  I was about to go for it, but change my mind when Chris checked for the bird a few hours later without success and said it was likely gone.  I decided to just go to the Glendale Recharge Ponds, where a large and interesting young GULL caught my eye as I was starting my birdwatch.  It sat in front of me in plain view and offered perfect looks, and I shot video and pictures.  It reminded me of a Glaucous-winged Gull at a first glance, but after consulting my handheld Sibley in the field, I thought the bird seemed dark for the Glaucous-winged Gulls that were illustrated and I thought it was the more likely Herring Gull.  I even reported Herring Gull to the listserve before I dug in my big gull reference book at home.  Looking carefully in the reference book, I saw this bird looked much more like a Glaucous-winged.  I sent pictures that I took to several gull experts, and when David Vander Pluym was calling me just minutes later, I knew it was something good.  David said it was strongly Glaucous-winged, but my pictures couldn’t rule out a hybrid.  Kurt Radamaker thought the same thing too.  Glaucous-winged Gulls hybridize extensively with other gulls, giving vagrant birds a lot more caution.  The photos were sent the next day on the 10th to many gull experts, where it was crazy.  Some said pure Glaucous-winged, others said hybrid.  It went back and forth, back and forth, a crazy and mind confusing day.  Meanwhile, Dave Powell was looking at the bird live, thinking it looked fine for Glaucous-winged in the field.  Kurt Radamaker joined Dave and thought so too.  I was happy with the news as Kurt called me and told me about it, but the gull still had one more test to pass…Paul Lehman’s expert eye.  Paul was on his way down from San Diego for a birding trip, and he wanted to look at the gull to be sure.  Early morning on the 11th, Kurt Radamaker, Dave Powell, Paul Lehman, and Barbara Carlson looked at the bird and all agreed it was fine for a pure GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL!!  I got the good news from Kurt right away, and he explained how they laughed and said they wouldn’t have taken a second look at this bird, had they been in California!  The word went out and many came to see this rarity (7th state record), who ended up being very cooperative.  On the 11th, I also got more good news.  It was another great text message from Melanie Herring.  Melanie was at Granite Reef, looking at McCreedy’s Pacific Loon, and she also had found a White-throated Sparrow.  The loon was a lifer, while the White-throated Sparrow was a long overdue county bird who eluded me last year on several occasions, as well as this year.  After enjoying my Glaucous-winged Gull once more on the 11th, I headed for the Salt River to search Granite Reef in the early morning on the 12th.  I was anxious, and after an hour of walking up and down the river at Granite Reef, the PACIFIC LOON appeared right in front of me, with the best looks I could ask for.  I studied it’s field marks as it swam slowly in front of me.  Besides the fact it was my life bird, it was also my 300th Maricopa County bird for 2011.  After enjoying the loon, I couldn’t find the White-throated Sparrow.  Landbirds were quiet, so I decided to go elsewhere and return later.  As I came back to Granite Reef a little later, it was much more active.  As I got out of my truck, I saw a sparrow hopping around by the parking lot in the open.  When I looked through my binoculars, it was the WHITE-THROATED SPARROW!  It amazed me how the time of day can make such a huge difference.  On the 17th, I went to Sun City Grand for my second attempt at a male ORCHARD ORIOLE that has wintered for several years in the backyard of my friend Dave Bradford.  As I pulled up, I had good looks at the distinctive oriole, a lifer for me.  I decided to go to the Glendale Recharge Ponds after the oriole chase.  The Glaucous-winged Gull was still present and I could see it from a distance as I was approaching.  Glaucous-winged had a smaller gull standing with it on a stone structure, and when I got closer, the gull looked different.  I thought the common Ring-billed Gull at first, but this bird had a cute expression, a small thin bill, and a rounded head……..which would have to be the MEW GULL!!  The Mew Gull is another rarity in Arizona, and had only one previous Maricopa County record.  With those two rarities sitting together, it was very hard for me to believe.  I thought I was definetely seeing things, so I took a walk after filming the bird.  But when I came back, the bird was still there, and after studying it, I knew it was a Mew Gull, which was a first year bird.  Because gulls cause so many identification problems, I called David Vander Pluym to be sure before I reported.  David said yes!  On the 18th, I joined many birders at the Glendale Recharge Ponds for a fun day of rarities.  The Glaucous-winged and Mew Gulls highlighted the show from the start.  After Steve Hosmer and I looked at the gulls, we decided to head over to one of the dry basins to look for longspurs, since I had seen a Chestnut-collared Longspur in the dry basin a week earlier.  HORNED LARK flocks filled the basin as Steve and I scanned.  Luck soon found us as Steve said, “Hey Tommy, what is this I in my scope!?”  I took a look to see that Steve had a bright LAPLAND LONGSPUR in his scope, one of the rare longspurs in Arizona!  Steve shot a few digiscoped photos of the “spur”.  It was cooperative, and after the birding crowds had looked at the gull, they then enjoyed the Lapland Longspur as well.  Three rare birds pleased the many birders on that memorable day.   On the 21st, I headed north to the Seven Springs Recreation Area.  I was in search of a MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD for the year at Seven Springs, which I got lucky with two calling birds while walking up the road to Mount Humboldt. The Bluebirds were a special bird, as they were bird number 305 for my big year, breaking last year’s record of 304.  As I went south a few miles to Lower Camp Creek, my day got even luckier as a PACIFIC WREN popped out of the dense wooded habitat.  I heard it give it’s Wilson’s Warbler-like call note, and looked down to see the tiny bird below me.  It called a few more times and more importantly gave me excellent looks on and off for twenty minutes, as it hopped around in wood piles.  The bird was a lifer for me visually, after only hearing one last year.  November ended on a perfect note, as the month was one of the best my birding eyes has seen.  I recorded 164 species for November 2011, which 10 of those were new for the year, bringing my Maricopa year list up to 306 species, already breaking all of last year’s total of 304.  At the end of November in 2010, I had 154 species for that month, where my year total was 294 species.  The bird of the month had to end in a tie:  Glaucous-winged Gull, Mew Gull. 

Other than the species I was able to see in Maricopa County in 2011, there were a lot of other rarities seen that I feel like mentioning.  Some of them I even chased unsuccessfully.  These birds included:  American Bittern (seen by several different people during the year), Little Blue Heron at Tres Rios (Melanie Herring), Reddish Egret at Paloma Ranch (Bill Grossi), 2 Black Scoters in the Salt River/Saguaro Lake areas (Troy Corman, Jay Miller), 2 Crested Caracaras-one in SW Maricopa, one at Hassayampa (Melanie Herring, Dominic Sherony), Purple Gallinule at Palo Verde Nuclear Plant (Mark Shobe), Black-bellied Plover (seen by several different people during the year), a Golden-Plover species at the Glendale Recharge Ponds that I chased and missed (Melanie Herring), several Whimbrels that I chased and missed at Glendale Ponds and the Arlington/Gila Bend area (Melanie Herring, Stig Jotta, Kurt Radamaker), two migratory Flammulated Owl pairs in the Phoenix Mountains (Joel Pearson), an Eastern Kingbird west of Palo Verde that I chased and missed (Melanie Herring), a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in Arlington that I chased and missed (Donna Smith), American Crow on Kurt Radamaker’s Salt/Verde River CBC, several Golden-crowned Kinglets throughout the year, a Gray Catbird in a Scottsdale backyard (Mark Larson), a Tennessee Warbler at Tempe Town Lake (David Vander Pluym), a Palm Warbler at Tolleson Wastewater Plant (Bill Grossi), a Blackpoll Warbler at Gilbert Water Ranch (Bernie Howe), Hooded Warbler west of Bullard Avenue and Gila River (Troy Corman), several Rose-breasted Grosbeaks throughout the year, a local population of Varied Buntings southeast of Gila Bend (John Arnett), a Grasshopper Sparrow in Mesa (Jay Miller), a Harris’s Sparrow in a Scottsdale yard (David Malia).

Birding in Maricopa County

An online guide to the birds and birding locations of Maricopa County


Birding in Greenlee County

An online guide to Greenlee County Birding


Birding in Arizona's White Mountains

An online guide to Birding in Arizona's White Mountains