The Pinal Mountains (A peace of heaven)
Jim Kopitzke and I birded in Gila County on Sunday, May 1st, making a quick stop at Roosevelt Lake and then arriving at the Pinal Mountains on Sunday night, and then spending the night in the Pinals and birding there the majority of Monday, May 2nd.
A quick one hour run through the Roosevelt Lake area produced several good birds. Most notable were three immature NEOTROPIC CORMORANTS on the lake, which were just north of the Cholla Campground turnoff. Jim noted a single adult bird here last year, in which this species is scarce in this part of Arizona. Also filling the lake were the amazing sounds of WESTERN GREBES. Most of the birds were very distant, although one was fairly close for us to see well. Other highlights around the lake was a single GADWALL, a flyover ZONE-TAILED HAWK, VIOLET-GREEN and CLIFF SWALLOWS, great looks at an adult male HOODED ORIOLE, and a calling BULLOCK'S ORIOLE.
From the lake, we went straight for the Pinals, and arrived at the Lower Slope/Kellner Canyon Picnic Area. It was about 2:30 in the afternoon when we started birding, which was very productive with 33 species in about an hour's time. Birds were everywhere, with the main highlights being a singing GRAY VIREO that I was able to get a look at, CACTUS, ROCK and BEWICK'S WRENS; VIRGINIAS, LUCY'S, BLACK-THROATED GRAY, MAcGILLIVRAY'S (3), and WILSON'S WARBLERS; two BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAKS, LAZULI BUNTINGS, and a HOODED ORIOLE.
From the lower slopes we hit the pines and started birding along the road almost up to the Sulfide Del Rey Campground, where we spent the night. Birding here during the afternoon, the main highlight was a DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER that Jim found just north of the campground. This bird called continuously for a very long time, and we were able to find it in the pines, getting decent looks. As we were setting up camp, a nice YELLOW-EYED JUNCO came in and hopped around the campsite right by the tent and picnic table. Walking down the road, I was able to pick up several more of the Yellow-eyed Juncos. Other highlights in the area included BROAD-TAILED HUMMINGBIRDS, ACORN WOODPECKERS, HAMMOND'S FLYCATCHER, numerous RED and WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCHES, HERMIT THRUSH, OLIVE, GRACE'S, and AUDUBON'S WARBLERS, PAINTED REDSTARTS, one HEPATIC TANAGER, many RED CROSSBILLS, and a few PINE SISKINS.
We then continued to the summit area of Pinal Peak were we spent the rest of the daylight. The main highlight here was a calling STELLER'S JAY who seemed to be mobbing an Owl with an AMERICAN ROBIN. Once it got dark, we tried owling without success.
The winds picked up at night and were bad most of the day on Monday, May 2nd. It was very cold and windy most of the A.M. Despite the wind, however, the birding was fantastic and birdlife was abundant. Walking down the road a good distance after we started at Sulfide Del Rey Campground was the most productive. It was a warbler heaven, and we were treated to eight different species, some showing very well and in good numbers. Our year's first RED-FACED WARBLERS were present throughout this stretch, as they sang throughout, probably close to ten in total. Two male HERMIT WARBLERS were also a treat. We also got to see two OLIVE WARBLERS, and more numerous were VIRGINIA'S, YELLOW-RUMPED "AUDUBONS'S, BLACK-THROATED GRAY, and GRACE'S WARBLERS, as well as many PAINTED REDSTARTS. The best highlight of the day and the entire two days at the Pinals came from a very vocal and cooperative GREATER PEWEE. This bird sang in front of us from anywhere to 15 to 30 feet away, below eye level. I haven't seen many Greater Pewees and Jim hasn't seen enough either, this was a nice treat for both of us. We ended up walking away from the Greater Pewee, who was still singing after about ten minutes! Another interesting sighting was an out of place LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKER in the pine/sycamore mix. It called for a few minutes, which was the wrong habitat for this species completely. The DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER was still present in the same area as we found it the previous night. Another notable sighting was a high abundance of RED CROSSBILLS, in which large flocks flew over the pines throughout the entire hike. Other highlights from the morning in this area were ZONE-TAILED HAWK, BROAD-TAILED HUMMINGBIRDS, ACORN and HAIRY WOODPECKERS, PLUMBEOUS, HUTTON'S, and WARBLING VIREOS; WHITE and RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES everywhere, one BROWN CREEPER, singing HERMIT THRUSHES (one of my favorite sounds), more and more YELLOW-EYED JUNCOS, BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAKS, and one LAZULI BUNTING.
Continuing up to the area of Pinal Peak, we added some good birds to our year and trip lists. Several small flocks of MOUNTAIN CHICKADEES were in the Douglass firs, which were great to see. A single male TOWNSEND'S WARBLER was present near the chickadees, making him the ninth warbler species of the day. Jim heard a CORDILLERAN FLYCATCHER below us briefly. RED-FACED WARBLERS were singing in this area near the top too, as well as GRACE'S WARBLERS and PAINTED REDSTARTS. A WESTERN TANAGER sang as we were in an Aspen grove.
After the great time birding the pines, we made one last stop at the lower slope area and walking to the Kellner Canyon Picnic Area, which was our last stop before heading home Birding was great here again as well. Several nice male SCOTT'S ORIOLES were singing along the way, and one gave us a great showing near the immediate picnic area. Down here, we noted three empids in GRAY, DUSKY, and HAMMOND'S FLYCATCHERS. A CASSIN'S KINGBIRD was also present. Three vireos, PLUMBEOUS, HUTTON'S and WARBLING all were vocal. A calling MAcGILLIVRAY'S WARBLER gave us ten warblers for the day. BLACK-CHINNED SPARROWS were singing on the hillsides, and one of them gave us a great and close look. Our trip came to a good end, as an OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER perched on a snag in the open.
My first ever trip to the Pinals was a great one, and a place I look forward to coming back too, hopefully in the near future! Our total list from the Pinals numbered 79 species.
Tommy DeBardeleben (Glendale, Arizona)
THE BEAUTIFUL PINALS:
THE GREATER PEWEE