Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Big Day Continues at the Santa Cruz Flats!

1. red rock-kab Red Rocks Feedlot and Picacho Peak

We went in search of Mountain Plovers and we found so much more. As soon as we exited I-10 we saw a large flock of Chihuahuan Ravens flying alongside the road. We followed Red Rock road through the suburban development of Red Rock until we came to the Red Rock Feedlot. Here the roads turn to dirt and you quickly realize why this area is called “The Flats!”  In and around the feedlots we saw all kinds of blackbirds and starlings.

2. crested caracara-kab Nearby the Crested Caracaras flew!


3. ag fields-kab Much of the Santa Cruz Flats are agricultural fields. As we drove along we watched the rows whip by us in an ever changing pinwheel with the same vanishing point on the horizon. Usually when Chris Rohrer and I go out birding I am the person who keeps the checklist and we both spot and photograph birds. but today, since I was driving and we had such a long way to go, Chris took over list keeping while I drove and he and Rich Hoyer spotted birds. If you know me at all, then you know it was hard for me to give up control of the list! but Chris did a great job and then Rich was able to enter all the data into eBird through Bird Log, an eBird app on his smart phone as we were driving home!

4. Chris n Rich-kab Chris and Rich searching for birds along one of the many dirt roads.


5. mountains-kab The Silverbell Mountains

Although these are called the Santa Cruz Flats, they are not in Santa Cruz County. they are located in Pinal County, which is separated from Santa Cruz County by Pima county. So, why are they called the Santa Cruz flats? Because the Santa Cruz River flows through them towards Mexico. And, although  the land is flat in this vast open space, they are still surrounded by mountains which cut the sky in jagged edges. One of the prettiest mountain ranges is called the Silverbells and Rich told us they are the most photographed mountains in Arizona!

6. FEHA-kab We found Ferruginous Hawks in several locations!


7. Horned lark-kab As well as Horned Larks!


8. pipit-kab American Pipits dotted the landscape and virtually disappeared against the mud.


9. flat-kab These are the roads that we were driving on. In the background is Picacho Peak.


10. bendires-kab Bendire’s Thrasher 1-19-2013

It was along these dry, barren roads that we found Bendire’s Thrasher, a Life Bird* for both Chris and I! While it looks superficially like a Curve-billed thrasher, it lives in a totally different habitat, and has a different song and a different beak! Notice how much straighter the bill is, with the pale area at the base of the beak. I thought I would never see this species of bird because I thought I would never be able to tell the difference from a Curve-billed thrasher, but Rich told me once I saw one I would never get them confused again and I can honestly say now that I can see the difference, as long as I can get a good look at that bill! When Rich played the song on his phone to draw them out, the song sounded similar to a House Finch’s song to me, only bigger and more complicated. The funny thing was that though the Curve-billed Thrasher and the Bendire’s Thrasher are supposedly NEVER seen in the same habitat, we found a Curve-billed thrasher right across the road from where we spotted the Bendire’s!  Later on in the afternoon we found yet another pair of Bendire’s Thrashers in the middle of the road as we were driving along!

11. ducks-kab We hunted all over for Mountain Plovers, but all we found was a field of ducks!


12. burrowing owl-kab On the same dirt road as the ducks we spotted a Burrowing Owl!


13. sage bush flats-kab Rich directed us to some sage bush flats where we finally found a Sage Sparrow, my first for Arizona and the only other one I have ever seen. I found my first and only Sage Sparrow on Antelope Island years ago when I lived in Utah!


14. Bendire's song-kab We ended the day in a little dirt town called Arizona city where there is a manmade lake surrounded by stucco houses. In a few areas one can still get near the lake to count birds and it is an eBird Hotspot. Here we found a black-necked stilt and many more ducks and coots. there were dozens of doves and sparrows as well but I was so tired by now that I stopped taking pictures until we heard an unusual song. Rich said it was a Bendire’s Thrasher while I thought it was yet another House Finch until this plain looking bird emerged from the mesquite tree and we could see and hear it as it sang! What a way to end our Big Day of Big January Birding! In the end we counted 68 species of birds in Pinal County and we added 3 Life Birds counting the Pacific Loon we had seen earlier in the day! Now we had at least a 50 mile drive back home! Oh, and we never did spot any Mountain Plovers! It looks like Chris and I will just have to take a drive back out here again soon!

15. good-bye-kab Good-bye!


Birds seen in the Santa Cruz Flats-40 miles in 4 hours:

  1. Mallard
  2. Mexican Mallard
  3. Northern Pintail Duck
  4. Red-tailed Hawk
  5. Northern Harrier
  6. Ferruginous Hawk
  7. Crested Caracara
  8. Great Blue Heron
  9. Killdeer
  10. Least Sandpiper
  11. Rock Pigeon
  12. Eurasian Collared Dove
  13. White-winged Dove
  14. Mourning Dove
  15. Common Ground Dove
  16. Greater Roadrunner
  17. Burrowing Owl
  18. White-throated Swift
  19. Anna's Hummingbird
  20. Gila Woodpecker
  21. Northern Flicker
  22. American Kestrel
  23. Prairie Falcon
  24. Northern Shrike
  25. Common Raven
  26. Chihuahuan Raven
  27. Black Phoebe
  28. Say’s Phoebe
  29. Verdin
  30. Cactus Wren
  31. Curve-billed Thrasher
  32. Bendire’s Thrasher*
  33. American Pipit
  34. Painopepla
  35. Chestnut-collared Longspur*
  36. Horned Lark
  37. European Starling
  38. Orange-crowned Warbler
  39. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  40. Common Yellowthroat
  41. Lark Sparrow
  42. Vesper Sparrow
  43. Song Sparrow
  44. Lincoln’s Sparrow
  45. Savannah Sparrow
  46. Sage Sparrow
  47. White-crowned Sparrow
  48. Abert’s Towhee
  49. Pyrrhuloxia
  50. Red-winged Blackbird
  51. Brewer’s Blackbird
  52. Brown-headed Cowbird
  53. Yellow-headed Blackbird
  54. Great-tailed Grackle
  55. Western Meadowlark
  56. House Finch
  57. House Sparrow
  58. American Widgeon-Arizona City Lake (species below added at this location)
  59. Common Merganser
  60. Ruddy Duck
  61. Gambel’s Quail
  62. Pied-billed Grebe
  63. Eared grebe
  64. American Coot
  65. Black-necked Stilt
  66. Inca Dove
  67. Great-horned Owl
  68. Northern Mockingbird

*Life Birds (first time I have ever seen this species of bird)

Happy Valentine’s Day! 

Please read my poem, How Love Should Be


  1. Hi Kathie, as always I enjoy looking at all the birds and I learn the nanmes of birds I've seen but didn't know what they were. About a month ago I took pics of a bird that I had never seen or heard of that I thinj now is a curved beilled Thrasher thanks to your blog. Happy Valentines day and happy birding.

  2. Oh, wow! I have got to get down by our agricultural fields sometime...we have egrets for sure and I don't know what else. This would be down by the Salton Sea...There was a burrowing owl who would sit on top of one of the big white water outlets last season, but I no longer see it there...

  3. Wow! Congrats on the lifers! Great post. I loved the Crested Caaracara shot!

  4. Fantastic finds here Kathie, loved all your photos as always. Thanks for visiting my beaver dam post. I learned something new today, never heard of Cackling Geese before. Thanks for that. I'm going to go on a search to find out more about them. Happy Valentine's Day :)


Welcome to my nest! I hope you will enjoy spending time here with me and the birds. Thank you for your comments. I will try to get back to you as soon as I get back from counting more birds.