Date: 11/12/17 10:18 pm From: David Vander Pluym <scre...> Subject: [AZNMbirds] NAZ: Coconino Red Phalarope, longspurs, 1st county record of Sprague's Pipit++
This weekend Lauren Harter, Felipe Guerrero, Mara Trushell and I birded around a small fraction of the Coconino Plateau. Our plan for the weekend was very different but Felipe had a hunch we should bird this area this weekend and we were glad we made the change in plans!
Saturday 11 Nov we started at Valle by birding the Grand Canyon Inn courtyard which though we did not have anything amazing, looks like a fantastic vagrant trap and should be birded more often. We had large numbers of birds including good numbers of bluebirds. Of interest was a small flock of Gambel's Quail, 9 Ring-billed Gulls flying over, slightly out of habitat were 30 Pinyon Jays, 2 Sage Thrashers, "Myrtle" Warbler, a pair of Brown-headed Cowbirds, and perhaps most curious was 3 American Goldfinches investigating and adding/moving material from a nest. Checking it today 12 Nov was a lot slower with overcast and slightly windy conditions versus the sun of the day before.
We next checked a few tanks without much luck before hitting the 3 Little Rodgers Tanks (35.6811131,-112.481484) in with the large numbers of Horned Larks coming in to the tank we had 1 LAPLAND (which we only had in flight), 24 CHESTNUT-COLLARED, and a McCOWN's LONGSPUR, plus a female Ring-necked Duck and 2 Prairie Falcons and a Sharp-shinned Hawk making life difficult for the larks, longspurs, and us. Of interest the majority of the longspurs we saw were adults. We had more CHESTNUT-COLLARED and 1 McCOWN's LONGSPURS at this tank (35.669953, -112.566206).
In the evening scanning the valley from roughly here (35.691672, -112.495618) we had our second Ferruginous Hawk of the day and Felipe had a likely Short-eared Owl in the dimming light.
Today 12 Nov after slow birding we hit "Farm Dam" Tank (35.7178447,-112.6108962) where the highlight was a tame RED PHALAROPE, also present were 5 Ruddy Ducks, a Pied-billed Grebe, 2 Greater Yellowlegs, 3 Ring-billed Gulls and a Northern Harrier that caught a lark mid-air!
We decided to walk the grasslands near Little Rodgers Tanks in the hopes of flushing a Short-eared Owl and perhaps finding Sprague's Pipits as the habitat looked great for the species. We were successful on both counts! We started roughly here 35.7178447,-112.6108962 and walked south and east headed toward Little Rodgers Tanks, covering +3km in one direction. Near the start of our walk in a denser patch of Apache Plume, we flushed a SHORT-EARED OWL. In a shallow draw that had dried herbs (some sort of Asteraceae) rather than grass and mixed with bare ground, we flushed a flock of 17 McCOWN's LONGSPURS was flushed. In the taller grass that dominated the area, we flushed a minimum of 37 CHESTNUT-COLLARED LONGSPURS, which were a mix of singles/2-3 and small groups up to 15 birds. We also flushed 3-4 SPRAGUE's PIPITS a 1st county record! One we possible flushed twice, once on the way out and then again on the way back. Only 1 bird gave decent looks.
Couple notes on finding birds, understanding habitat/behavior of these species is very helpful and knowing the calls is necessary as good views even at tanks are rare. Checking at tanks birds are rather skittish as raptors prey upon them regularly, we saw both Northern Harrier and a Prairie Falcon capture Horned Larks, while we a Merlin, Prairie Falcon, and Sharp-shinned Hawk making passes at the Horned Larks. Though most of the tanks we checked had Horned Larks coming into them, only those tanks near the best grassland areas produced longspurs. Sprague's Pipits do not come into tanks, so you need to walk to find them. In walking grasslands, Short-eared Owls roost in areas of denser vegetation within grasslands. Chestnut-collared Longspurs and Sprague's Pipits prefer areas of moderate grass height, lacking a lot of shrubs, while McCown's Longspurs prefer areas of higher bare ground and less grass. In waking a grassland more people are better, a single individual trying to cover all that ground is unlikely to produce that much.
In closing the main roads while dirt is passable by a passenger car, wanting to explore further or off the main roads will require moderate to higher clearance vehicle. We also covered very little of the tanks and potential habitat out there so exploring will likely produce something of interest. Good birding.