Date: 7/8/18 9:37 pm From: Tommy DeBardeleben <debardelebentommy...> Subject: [AZNMbirds] EAZ: Greenlee County Birding (3-8 July 2018)
I spent six days from July 3rd through July 8th, birding and covering Greenlee County from it's northern limit to it's easiest southern access point in Duncan. The six days were spent trying to learn more about the county, find more birding locations, and of course, to try and get more birds for this under-birded region. In the six days, I managed to accomplish some of each! Even though six days birding in a small county like Greenlee may seem like a long time, it really isn't. There is a ton to explore within the limits of the county, and most of it lies in wilderness areas where things are challenging to access. Each day had a detailed plan. Some plans worked, and others were attempts. Greenlee is pretty challenging too for complete bird diversity due to it's lack of open aquatic habitats I'm writing this long post because Greenlee doesn't get birded often. Here is a day-by-day summary of my trip:
After leaving home the afternoon of July 2nd, I camped out near Greer that night and woke up early on the 3rd and got to the northern part of Greenlee County just before dawn. This northern part of Greenlee falls within the White Mountains. I would spend three days in the White Mountain region, where there is a ton of exploring to do. In the White Mountains, I put in strong efforts for Dusky Grouse, and Canada Jay without luck. I wasn't expecting to get them, but it's always worth a try. Sadly, a lot of the forest in the Greenlee portion of the White Mountains burned due to people who started the Wallow Fire in 2011. It's made such species a lot harder to find, but it's also made the Hannagan Meadow the best Arizona spot in my opinion to find American Three-toed Woodpecker. At the end of the White Mountains write-up, I'll put a list of the common birds seen at most sites and I'll include highlight birds to keep things more brief in the general description.
July 3rd, 2018: I decided to make Hannagan Meadow my base camp for the first three days after I arrived there at dawn. Luckily, Hannagan Meadow Campground had an open spot! My first stop was Hannagan Meadow Lodge where I would check hummingbird feeders and the surrounding meadow and mixed coniferous forest. I was shocked to have an adult male green-backed RUFOUS/ALLEN'S HUMMINGBIRD frequenting the feeders. Looking over a lucky but pretty blurry photograph I got of it's tail spread, it appears to be a Rufous Hummingbird. Hearing the offset drumming of a WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER would be the only detection of the species I would have for the trip.
After setting up camp, I went barely north of Hannagan Meadow Lodge to Forest Road 576. This road is awesome, and most of the first two miles of it are burn free. After 0.8 miles of driving on 576, there is a dirt road that branches off and heads north from 576. It is 1.3 miles long, circles a place and historic homestead known as Baike Spring, and loops back around to Road 576 at it's western limit. If parking at one of the branches of this road, it makes a pleasant 2.1 mile loop hike. This is a perfect spot to look for birds of spruce, fir, pine, and aspen forest at an elevation of over 9,000' and holds good potential for Dusky Grouse and the much less likely Canada Jay. By the first branch-off road is another awesome trail through the same habitat on the south side of the road, only this trail goes into a valley. A family of WILD TURKEY, AMERICAN-THREE-TOED WOODPECKER, and DOWNY WOODPECKER were enjoyable.
After exploring FR 576 in it's full duration heading northwest of Hannagan Meadow, I merged onto Forest Road 24, a long road that starts off about 5 miles south of Hannagan Meadow and traverses northward to the very northwestern tip of Greenlee County until it crosses the Black River and further north into Apache County. My main goal of getting onto FR 24 was to explore FR 83, a seven mile loop road with south and north branches off of FR 24. Fish Creek Canyon lies in this area, which was one of the main places I wanted to visit during my trip, and it's trailhead has it's own branch-off road from FR 83. Fish Creek lies in a narrow heavily forested canyon, is home to an epic bird I wanted to search for in Greenlee, and the creek eventually runs into the Black River. The Fish Creek Trail is 5.5 miles long. However, neither branch of the road was marked with any sort of sign, and I missed my chance to go, and it gives me another reason to go back. FR 24 is pretty rough in spots, but is passable for most vehicles. My detailed trip plan didn't give me enough time to try Fish Creek again. I did take FR 24 to it's ending reach in Greenlee at the Black River. This area along the river was gorgeous, and Buffalo Crossing Campground is right there as well. I walked the along the Blue River in both directions looking unsuccessfully for American Dipper, but notable sightings included singing MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLER, and a STELLER'S JAY imitating the calls in near perfection of Red Crossbill! From this northern Greenlee reach of FR 24, I would head back south and take FR 26 back to Highway 191, which runs for 10 miles before reaching Highway 191, and 8 miles north of Hannagan Meadow at that junction.
I would explore south along Highway 191 towards Hannagan Meadow. I stopped at the narrow Forest Road 573, which is on the west side of 191, 5.4 miles north of Hannagan Meadow. This road, which would be tough to drive on for a lot of vehicles, was awesome to hike on for it's duration of about 2 miles. It started off paralleling Hannagan Creek, and then would wrap around into some heavily forested ridges and and drainages. A variety of forest birds were here, including AMERICAN THREE-TOED WOODPECKER, DOWNY WOODPECKER, OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER, and MACGILLIVRAY'S and RED-FACED WARBLERS. Before dinner, I made a stop at Hannagan Meadow Lodge. Among the hordes of Broad-tailed Hummingbirds and some Rufous Hummingbirds, I was thrilled to find adult males of a magnificent RIVOLI'S HUMMINGBIRD as well as a CALLIOPE HUMMINGBIRD. The adult male green-backed RUFOUS/ALLEN'S HUMMINGBIRD continued.
The remainder of the late afternoon/evening was spent in the higher elevations south of Hannagan Meadow over 9000'. I made a quick stop at the tiny Aker Lake, which is a good spot to observe PURPLE MARTIN up close. This species is extremely common around Hannagan Meadow. I then spent over two hours until dark at KP Cienega Campground. Highlights there included a young NORTHERN PYGMY-OWL (which I detected by it's insect-like call, one that may be easy to overlook), a DUSKY FLYCATCHER in a lush area with deciduous vegetation nearby, and two LINCOLN'S SPARROWS (who seem to have very limited breeding habitat in Greenlee County), singing in riparian thickets. GREEN-TAILED TOWHEES were pretty common here. I started owling at KP Cienega, and the only nightbird I could land here and for the rest of the night was a COMMON NIGHTHAWK. Elk and Mule Deer were everywhere throughout the day in Hannagan Meadow. The Elk were especially spectacular and were in numbers right along the roads. I saw one herd of 5 large Bull Elk in KP Cienega.
July 4th, 2018: Drumming American Three-toed Woodpecker and Purple Martins were awesome to wake up and listen to in Hannagan Meadow Campground.
I started of the day heading north up Highway 191, where I found a narrow dirt road branching off of the east side of Highway 191, 2.3 miles north of Hannagan Meadow. This road parallels what I think is Foote Creek, and makes for a beautiful hike through conifer and aspen forest over 9000'. It was here I detected two OLIVE WARBLERS, the highest in elevation I have had them in Arizona, which isn't unusual from what I just looked up in the Breeding Bird Atlas. After Foote Creek and exploring another trail, I went to a trailhead on the east side of Highway 191 across from Hannagan Meadow Campground. I took a trail called Foote Creek Trail, which led me right to the spot where I had previously explored. I found what I believe to be a Dusky Grouse feather. Breeding birds were in good quantity over the two plus miles that I hiked one way, and that included a count of HOUSE WRENS at 76. Parents were feeding young everywhere with House Wrens and a variety of other birds. After breakfast, I hiked Aker Lake Trail for over 2 miles from Hannagan Campground. Highlights here included 4 AMERICAN THREE-TOED WOODPECKERS, 2 MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLERS, and a variety of forest birds in good numbers.
The next adventure I did was take Forest Road 25, which is 4.7 miles south of Hannagan Meadow and accessed on the west side of Highway 191, for 14 miles to the Black River. This road starts at 9200' and drops down to 6900' in pine and oak woodland where it meets the Black River. Riparian habitat along the river here has great potential, and there are stands of cottonwoods in places The Apache and Greenlee County line goes right up and down the Black River as the border of Greenlee County to the west here, south, and all the way north up to the Buffalo Crossing area. Birding the river here is challenging with thick vegetation, the best way to do so would be to come with water boots to walk up the river. Birdwise, a singing LAZULI BUNTING was most notable. All along FR 25 are branch off roads that are worth exploring for the 14 miles en route to the Black River.
There was a wildfire burning nearby in New Mexico, called the Owl Fire I believe, and lots of smoke drifted into the White Mountain region where I was. I went to Alpine and the Blue River to check it out, and I had some intense views of the fire as well as small planes flying over dropping suppressant fuels. During that time, I was rewarded with views of a GOLDEN EAGLE soaring over the Blue River, as well as stunning views of a roadside female MONTEZUMA QUAIL.
July 5th, 2018: The first half of this day, my final and 3rd day in the White Mountain region, was spent exploring the Blue River. When I came a foot away from hitting a Mule Deer to start the day off, I had a feeling it would be a memorable day.
I took FR 567 (Red Hill Road), which is 8.7 miles north of Hannagan Meadow, for 12 miles as it drops down into the Blue River canyons and valleys. Once down at the Blue River( which water levels were very dry and low overall), the habitat variety is awesome: cottonwood and riparian stands, rocky bluffs, juniper and oak woodland, pine and oak woodland, etc. I took FR 281 (Blue River Road) to the north from it's junction with FR 567. Key places to bird are Blue Crossing Campground (off of 567 just before intersection with 281), Blue School area, and Upper Blue Campground. I stopped in many places along the road within short distance of each other for over 8 miles once going north on FR 281. A variety of birds can be seen here. My main highlight was finding two recently fledged NORTHERN PYGMY-OWLS, which were detected by their insect-like call. Other birds included Montezuma Quail, Common Black-Hawk, Western Wood-Pewee, Greater Pewee, Purple Martin, Mexican Jay, Bridled Titmouse, Painted Redstart, Yellow-breasted Chat, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Blue Grosbeak, and Hepatic and Summer Tanagers. Once crossing the Blue River after briefly going into New Mexico and going back into Arizona again, I continued on FR 281 towards Alpine. Before that, I took Luce Ranch Road to the west from FR 281 for a few miles. This road parallels Campbell Blue Creek, which was flowing nicely. Luce Ranch Road/Campbell Blue Creek has great mountain riparian habitat, and might be worth checking for Gray Catbird in the future.
After lunch and a break in Alpine, I went back to the Black River via FR 26 and FR 24 to Buffalo Crossing. The highlight there was an OSPREY flying over the river, one I didn't think I would get on the trip.
I headed back to Hannagan Meadow, where I planned to spend the last few hours of the day searching for the higher elevation species I was wanting most. Driving past Foote Creek, I looked down into the valley and found two MEXICAN GRAY WOLVES in it. The sighting was epic and hard to put into words. One wolf had a radio collar on. I enjoyed the wolves more than anything else on the trip and had great views of them for about a minute before they ran up into a heavily timbered ridge. The Grouse and Canada Jays didn't matter so much after that....
Once dusk and night came, I tried heading north of Hannagan Meadow on 191 for owling after trying the two previous nights without anything. I stuck to trying at over 9,000' at a few stops. I was rewarded with hearing a SPOTTED OWL, 2 NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWLS, and 7-8 MEXICAN WHIP-POOR-WILLS. The latter species I heard five at one stop.
WHITE MOUNTAIN REGION: Here's a few facts to summarize the White Mountains higher elevation spots that I birded around Hannagan Meadow:
-I detected 17 American Three-toed Woodpeckers in 11 different locations near Hannagan Meadow. Because of the mix of live and burned trees everywhere, Three-toed Woodpeckers thrive!
-Typical common birds seen and heard in the elevations of over 9000' at Hannagan Meadow are: Wild Turkey, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, Steller's Jay, Purple Martin, Violet-green Swallow, Mountain Chickadee, White-breasted, Red-breasted, and Pygmy Nuthatches; Brown Creeper, House Wren, Golden and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Western and Mountain Bluebirds, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Western Tanager, and Pine Siskin.
July 6th, 2018: The goal of this day was to explore as many spots along Highway 191 between Hannagan Meadow and Clifton as I could.
One of my first stops was at Strayhorse Campground, which is 10.3 miles south of Hannagan Meadow and is situated in pine, oak, and juniper woodland. This was a very fun stop and place to bird. Most notable were 3 GREATER PEWEE.
Many stops were made, habitat was mostly pine and oak woodland for a long time. 18 miles south of Hannagan Meadow and 52 miles north of Clifton on 191 is Sheep Saddle and Sheep Saddle Trailhead. This was another fantastic spot to bird. I hiked the road up towards Sheep Saddle for over a mile through pine and oak woodland, as well as some burned area that has re-emerging vegetation. This was the furthest north that I found BLACK-CHINNED SPARROW. The place was birdy with close to 30 species typical of such habitat.
Continuing south I accessed the northern slope of Rose Peak from two different paths, a road going up to Rose Peak at 8200' that I hiked up to, and then a trail for about two miles that goes along the northern side of the mountain probably 8-900 below the summit. This is an awesome place, and it's made up of mostly pine and oak on the northern side of the mountain. Bird activity was lower due to time of day, but potential here is probably interesting. I flushed a MEXICAN WHIP-POOR-WILL near the trail and I also encountered a young BLACK BEAR. The road to the top was closed to vehicles while I was there, but there is a lookout tower at the top, as well as forest service employees. Rose Peak Trailhead is 47.5 miles north of Clifton.
Closing in on Clifton after going through significant habitat change along Highway 191, the next notable stop came at Juan Miller Campgrounds and Granville Campground in pine, oak, juniper, and sycamore woodlands. I encountered 3 DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHERS at both, as well as another young BLACK BEAR at Granville Campground.
Going through Clifton gave me a herd of 4 young Bighorn Sheep. South of Clifton, I visited the Gila Box Riparian Area. Although there was nothing unexpected, this spot is always awesome for birding in willow and cottonwood forest at 3,500 along the Gila River. I stayed in Duncan for the night, and visited a private pond which can be viewed from Highway 70 (east side) just south of Duncan and barely into Franklin. A Pied-billed Grebe and Black-crowned Night Heron actually gave me some water birds for the trip!
July 7th, 2018: I started this day off by going up to Lower Eagle Creek from Duncan, which Lower Eagle Creek is past Clifton and Morenci. This spot is epic, and is situated below 4000' in a canyon with willow and cottonwood forest among towering cliffs. YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO started the time off on a good note, and on the "rarer" side was a singing NORTHERN BEARDLESS-TYRANNULET. Lower Eagle Creek was much lower in water levels than my previous visits. Typical riparian canyon breeders were in abundance such as Common Black-Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Cassin's Kingbird, Canyon Wren, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Summer Tanager, Hooded Oriole, etc. A WHITE-NOSED COATI was a mammal surprise.
I followed Lower Eagle Creek with a visit to the San Francisco River in Clifton. By the RV park there is a nice birding trail that puts the viewer about 15 feet above river level to give one a fun experience. Common Black-Hawk and Yellow-billed Cuckoo highlighted the birds along the trail. The San Francisco River can be explored for a six mile stretch along San Franciso River Road, by continuing past the RV Park and turning right and over the bridge from Frisco Avenue. Non bird highlights included a Harkness' Dancer damselfly along the river and also my third Black Bear of the trip, and the lowest I've ever seen a Black Bear in elevation at 3500'.
Later in the day I ventured up to the Big Lue Mountains on Highway 78 northeast of Duncan and east of Clifton. I love the Big Lues. The foothills produced two singing CASSIN'S SPARROWS. Getting up into higher elevations I stopped at a noticeable and scenic overlook overlooking Blackjack Canyon. I heard a DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER calling in the canyon well below me.
I then made stops in Blackjack Campground and further up the road at Coal Creek Campground. At Blackjack 3 BAND-TAILED PIGEONS zipped through the woods. Typical pine/oak species were present. At Coal Creek Campground it was very active and a great experience, as I had about 30 species in 40 minutes. Highlights included up to 10 COMMON NIGHTHAWKS as the evening grew older and 9 GRAY FLYCATCHER (young birds involved) among the many usual pine and oak species. Seep Spring Canyon was one of my last stops of the day. Once it got dark, two ELF OWLS barked away. At 6000', this is high in elevation for Elf Owls, in which Eric Hough detected this population several years ago. On the way back down from the Big Lues after deciding not to hardcore look for Flammulated Owls, I encountered an Arizona Black Rattlesnake along the road. It narrowly avoided getting killed from oncoming traffic.
July 8th, 2018: I spent a good portion of the morning birding the Duncan and Franklin area. The first stop I made was at a grassland area south of Duncan off of Fourth Street/Airport Road. I heard a distant SCALED QUAIL, several CASSIN'S SPARROWS, EASTERN MEADOWLARK, and a CRISSAL THRASHER seemingly trying to imitate a Scaled quail at times.
The last major stop of the trip was at the epic Duncan Birding Trail. With the combination of willow/cottonwood along the river, ag fields, and more, it makes for a great birding location. The Gila River is almost completely dry along this stretch right now. It didn't seem to effect any of the bird diversity. I encountered 50 or so species here, which included highlights of 2 MISSISSIPPI KITE, 2 COMMON BLACK-HAWKS who at one point of the morning sat on fence lines in the fields that were being plowed (waiting for prey to be kicked up!), 3 GRAY HAWK, 7 SWAINSON'S HAWK (including a dark morph; one I thought was a Zone-tailed Hawk at first), YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, GREAT HORNED OWL, 2 WILLOW FLYCATCHER, and CASSIN'S SPARROW. The Duncan Birding Trail was a good way to end the trip.
Greenlee County is a great place to bird in my opinion. From the spruce/fir/pine/aspen forests up at Hannagan Meadow to the Chihuahuan desert to the south, I detected 155 species during the trip. I highly recommend birding in this county, where any data given to it is awesome because it is really under-birded. I'll supply a few links. If anyone is interested in seeing my checklists on eBird with numbers and full species lists per location, here is the link via eBird for that, I submitted many checklists:
I also put a write-up of Greenlee County birding on my website, for those who are interested. It gives directions to the birding locations in Greenlee County, which I separated by area. It also includes a list of what I compiled as to what birds have been found in Greenlee County. Since I published it, Canvasback was found and a Red-eyed Vireo report from the past is now on eBird with accurate details. Link to Birding in Greenlee County: