Date: 7/24/17 8:21 am
From: Eric Hough <thebirdwhisperer22...>
Subject: [AZNMbirds] E/CEAZ: Whiteriver GRASSHOPPER SPARROWS, Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Yesterday (July 23, 2017) I was shocked to find two singing GRASSHOPPER SPARROWS about 0.5 mile apart along BIA Rt. 71 on Bonito Prairie about 13 miles south of Whiteriver in Apache County, each just ~0.24 miles and ~0.13 miles, respectively east of the Navajo County line based on the county lines and my plotted coordinates shown on Google Earth. For reference, this is along the eastern edge of the thin southern bootheel of Navajo County. Outside of the resident population of the ammolegus subspecies of Grasshopper Sparrow in southeastern Arizona, breeding has only been found at a no longer extant grassland in Chino Valley during the summers of 1976 and during breeding bird atlas surveys in 1993. The Chino Valley birds were identified as the more northern, widespread western subspecies perpallidus. Judging by photos I was able to get of the first bird I encountered, I think it appears to be of the perpallidus subspecies, but would appreciate any other comments on this. Given that this location has had almost no bird sightings reported between the 1890s and October/November of 2015 (that I know of based on a previous literature review), this could be an isolated population or irregularly occupied breeding location. It has been theorized that the irruption of Cassin’s Sparrows this year and back in 2011 into northern Arizona was driven by birds abandoning drought-stricken breeding grounds in Texas and the southern Great Plains, so perhaps similar occurrences force small numbers of perpallidus Grasshopper Sparrows to seek out other suitable habitat during the breeding season locally in Arizona too (?). Photos and audio recordings can be seen in these two checklists on eBird:

I’m not sure if the subspecies can be reliably separated via sonogram comparison, so thoughts on this are also appreciated. In the comments for each sighting in the above checklist I have also included coordinates of each sighting. The grassland on Bonito Prairie is heavily grazed, with limited taller grass cover in the area that these two birds were found. I only birded along the main road (BIA Rt. 70/71) down to the crossing of Rt. 71 of Big Bonito Creek and west a few miles to just past East Bonito Prairie Tank. There is more grassland habitat east of the Rt. 71 Big Bonito Creek crossing that I did not check. Note that the main road switches to being called Rt. 71 north of these sparrow sightings where a side road goes off to the east as a continuation of the name Rt. 70.

Besides the Grasshopper Sparrows, there were very few sparrows around in general on Bonito Prairie, with just a couple of singing VESPER SPARROWS and small numbers of LARK and CHIPPING SPARROWS. EASTERN MEADOWLARKS, however, were abundant (interestingly, no Western Meadowlarks heard). Several AMERICAN KESTRELS, WESTERN and CASSIN’S KINGBIRDS, including fledged young of the year, were wandering throughout the prairie too. Several AMERICAN CROWS, COMMON RAVENS, and at least a small flock of distant heard-only PINYON JAYS were also detected on the prairie. In the woodlands between Sevenmile Rim and the northern part of the grasslands, and down along Big Bonito Creek at the Rt. 71 crossing, I had a few flocks of MEXICAN JAYS with several birds feeding young. WOODHOUSE’S SCRUB-JAYS and STELLER’S JAYS were also heard (a great area to find corvids!).

Earlier in the morning while slowly birding Rt. 70 up Sevenmile Rim between Whiteriver and the Bonito Prairie (Navajo Co.), highlights included a singing GREATER ROADRUNNER, a male DOWNY WOODPECKER, a GRAY FLYCATCHER, singing GRAY (1) and HUTTON’S (3) VIREOS, a PURPLE MARTIN, four JUNIPER TITMICE, a pair of calling CRISSAL THRASHERS, and five RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROWS. SPOTTED TOWHEES, WOODHOUSE’S SCRUB-JAYS, and BUSHTITS were abundant. On my way driving back down Sevenmile Rim I heard a small flock of BRIDLED TITMICE.

Near sunrise while birding near the Rt. 45 (Stago Rd.) crossing of the East Fork of the White River in the community of East Fork (essentially an eastern extension of the town of Whiteriver) in Navajo Co. I heard and saw one YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, likely the first sighting for this area. BRIDLED TITMICE, several family groups of YELLOW WARBLERS feeding young, a few YELLOW-BREASTED CHATS incorporating what sounded like mimicry of Brown-crested Flycatcher vocalizations into their songs, a family group of SUMMER TANAGERS feeding young, and a few singing LAZULI BUNTINGS were also detected. Before sunrise I checked the bridge over the North Fork of the White River at East Fork Rd. (Navajo Co.) and had a couple of BRIDLED TITMICE, several YELLOW WARBLERS feeding young, several AMERICAN CROWS, YELLOW-BREASTED CHATS, and BLUE GROSBEAKS.

Attempted owling/nightjaring at a couple spots around the confluence of the North Fork of the White River and Diamond Creek off Alchesay Hatchery Rd. (Navajo Co.) were unsuccessful, but lots of SPOTTED TOWHEES were singing in the dawn chorus.

Full checklists are in eBird and utilize several hotspots (including Sevenmile Rim and both county sections of Bonito Prairie).

**Note that a general recreation permit is required to go birding or hiking on the White Mountain Apache tribal lands and can be purchased in Whiteriver, Hon-dah, Carrizo(?), and a couple places in Pinetop (see online for details). Unfortunately, their online permit purchase system is currently down.

Good birding,

Eric Hough
Wickenburg, AZ
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