Tonto National Forest, Salton Sea, & Southeast Arizona
27 Apr - 10 May 2008
 by Henry Detwiler

Two fantastic weeks of traveling from the Salton Sea to Southeast Arizona with 14 sharp Swedish birders turned up an awesome assortment of birds!  Over the next four pages, take a look at some of the trip images and read a summary of our adventures.

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

SUNDAY, Apr 27, 2008

Teet, Anders, and Ingegerd

Mt. Ord proved far too windy for the Gray Vireos that morning, but we were successful in finding them the following day! Along Tonto Creek we did well with the forest birds and got most of the Western warblers: Virginia's, Yellow-rumped, Grace's, Red-faced, Black-throated Gray, Townsend's, and Painted Redstart.  A pair of soaring Common Black-Hawks were icing on the cake, and In Payson we picked up Purple Martin and Bank Swallow flycatching over the park lakes.

Our first good bird was an adult Bald Eagle from the bridge over the Verde River!  The first stop was at Sunflower, where we saw a Zone-tailed Hawk soaring overhead and eventually got the Common Black Hawk sitting on a nest--and a herd of cattle being driven down the road. 

Common Black-Hawk

MONDAY, Apr 28, 2008

Burrowing Owl

Sludge ponds north of Gila Bend provided our first waders of the trip, a flock of Willets and Black-necked Stilts. At Paloma Ranch we found a number of obliging Burrowing Owls along the ditch bank, each more worthy of photographs than the previous one.  Western Meadowlarks and a lingering American Pipit were in the fields.  The final stop before rolling into Yuma was to see the cormorants and Black-crowned Night Herons along Painted Rock Road. After a buffet dinner of Chinese food, we drove west to check out the nightlife at the Imperial Dunes.  An hour of walking about with flashlights yielded this Sidewinder, Desert Kangaroo Rat, several desert scorpions lit by shortwave light, and a whiptail scorpion.

Desert Kangaroo Rat


TUESDAY, Apr 29, 2008

On Tuesday morning we got an early start to go railing at West Pond.  After considerably more effort than I expected, a single Black Rail responded, then a Virginia Rail, and finally a Clapper Rail.  Unfortunately the Clapper called just as a state trooper rolled by, so only Ingegaard and I heard it!

From there we hightailed it to the Imperial Valley, to search for gulls and other water-loving birds. Along Davis Road we toured the bubbling mud pots, evidence of the extreme geothermal activity in the area.

Bubbling Mud Pots  

Gull-billed Terns at Obsidian Butte (digiscoped)

Garst Road harbored an incredible mass of waterfowl, shorebirds, gull, and terns. Black Terns, Dunlin, Red Knots, Wilson's and Red-necked Phalaropes, and hundreds of Western Sandpipers provided a sight the Swedes weren't going to soon forget.

At Obsidian Butte we got excellent looks at Black Skimmers, Caspian & Gull-billed Terns, California & Ring-billed Gulls, and Double-crested Cormorants.  Teet spotted this Lesser Nighthawk perched on a rock.

Lesser Nighthawk
Digiscoped at Obsidian Butte

WEDNESDAY, Apr 30, 2008

The next morning we started early and drove directly to Tacna, where we set off over the saltbush flats in search of LeConte's Thrasher.  We had some false starts in the form of Western Meadowlarks and Brewer's Sparrows, and then Kjetil found a likely candidate in his scope--and it was the thrasher!  We moved closer and found a second one, too.  Once we'd all had good looks we left the pair to themselves and headed onward to our next stop--Dateland.  At Dateland some our party tried out the date and cactus shakes, while others found Lincoln's and White-crowned Sparrows in the date grove, and MacGillivray's Warbler and Swainson's Thrush in some mesquites.


White-faced Ibis 

White-faced Ibis

At the Aztec feedlot just up the road the flooded hay fields provided beautiful photo opportunities to capture the iridescence on these handsome White-faced Ibis.  In the sludge ponds we located a Semipalmated Plover and many Western Sandpipers.

Black-necked Stilts also posed nicely in the flooded fields.  The best birds here were a pair of Solitary Sandpipers which posed well for the second vehicle (not ours!). A lingering Savannah Sparrow was one of only two we saw during the entire trip.

Northern Harrier

Black-necked Stilt

This Northern Harrier made several passes over the ibis and stilts, causing some consternation.  It never caught anything to eat while we were watching.  From here we drove east to Gila Bend, south to Ajo and Why, and then east through the Tohono O'odham Reservation to Sells. 


Northern Harrier - Aztec Feedlot

In Sells and at Big Pond we were treated to good looks of three Crested Caracaras, a single Harris's Hawk, and our first Chihuahan Ravens. In the mesquites surrounding the lake we tallied our first Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Northern Cardinal, and migrant Green-tailed Towhee.  Farther up the road we stopped at the base of Kitt Peak for Rufous-winged Sparrow, which happily responded to some audio prompting.  Other birds in these desert grasslands were Cactus Wren, Canyon Towhee, and a family of Black-tailed Gnatcatchers.  From here we drove on to Tucson for the night.
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