Date: 7/8/18 9:37 pm
From: Tommy DeBardeleben <debardelebentommy...>
Subject: [AZNMbirds] EAZ: Greenlee County Birding (3-8 July 2018)
Hi Everyone,

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:

https://ebird.org/region/US-AZ-011/activity



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:

http://birderfrommaricopa.com/birding-in-greenlee-county.htm



Good Birding,

Tommy DeBardeleben (Glendale, Arizona)

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