Sunday, April 24, 2016

Day 4 - Up to the Top of the Mountain

Ponderosa Pines
For our last day of the Verde Valley Birding Festival, we chose a trip up Mingus Mountain, to contrast with the riparian and desert trips. The change in habitat usually matches the change in elevation. I don't enjoy driving on the steep mountain roads, with hairpin S-curves, and no place to get off the road if someone crowds you. And that's just the paved highways! After driving through the old mining town of Jerome, it really got steep. Up, around, Oh, don't look over the edge! Then we got onto the gravel roads and added bouncing violently in the back seat of the van to all the other driving issues. No, we will not be going back to Jerome on our own. Our driver didn't seem to be affected by all this at all. Sigh.
Red Breasted Nuthatch
"Where is that bird?" "In the pine tree." But they are all pine trees! Which one! Just watch for the movement. Birding in a Ponderosa pine forest can be as much, if not more, challenging than any deciduous forest. All the little birds were flitting about happily eating caterpillars and bugs, with no interest at all in those strange looking things below them.
Acorn Woodpecker
The oak trees haven't leafed out yet, so the dead looking areas were not dead pine trees, I was relieved to learn. You can usually count on the clown-like Acorn Woodpecker to give you a chance for a good photo.
Later in the year, they will stuff acorns into the cracks of the pine trees for winter storage.
Cassin's Vireo
Once again, the plain gray or brown birds are often beyond my identification skills, but our leader made the call on this Cassin's Vireo. He also saw or heard a Black-headed Grosbeak, Virginia's Warbler, and Hermit Warbler. Maybe I'll have better luck next time we come. After all, I want to leave some birds to add to my life list then.
Painted Redstart
After bouncing up the gravel road, the van stopped and everyone climbed out again, heading up a narrow dry canyon. We balanced on rocks, trying not to fall backward while looking straight above our heads into the pines, and it paid off. We found a Painted Redstart, followed by...
Red-faced Warbler
...the "uncommon in shaded canyouns along streams within montane pine-oak and fir forests" Red-faced Warbler!!!! I didn't even know this one existed before we came on this trip! After much maneuvering, I managed to get an almost clear photo of it behind some pine needles, and was I ever excited. In a few minutes however, took pity on us and came out into the open to sit on some twigs for a while. Have you ever seen anything more beautiful! The only thing that could have made my day better would be to have nailed the Bridled Titmouse. Well, we will be on our own for the next two days, so there is still a chance.
Western Bluebird Male
Western Bluebird Female
Western Bluebird Male
I've seen the Western Bluebird before, but never noticed how the rust in his breast goes clear around to his back. And when the sun shines on him, it's like he turns to bright blue neon.
Red Tailed Hawk
The tour leader really wanted to find an Olive Warbler, which he says isn't really a warbler at all. He heard one or two and off we climbed into the forest. Finally had to give it up however. Apparently it's too early in the season for Arizona State Parks to open the restroom facilities yet - each one we tried was locked.
Overlook into Verde Valley
From about 7,800 feet we had a fine view of the valley below. We checked out all the Turkey Vultures, hoping to find a Zone Tailed Hawk, but no luck today, then headed back down the road to town. And, yes, it was just as scary going down and it had been going up.

Alcantara Winery
Now that the Festival is over, we are trying to decide what to squeeze into the next two days before we go back to Phoenix - some birding, some hiking, and some wine tasting are in order. Strange as it sounds, there are lots of wineries in the Verde Valley.
Mama Says Phoebe and chicks
And you can even continue to bird while wine tasting. We had to tell the folks at the winery that this was NOT some endangered flycatcher, as they thought, but a Says Phoebe which is very common and loves to nest on buildings. The temperature is supposed to drop and the wind to rise tomorrow, so we'll see what the changing conditions do to the birding.

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