Sunday, April 6, 2014

Birding Arizona for the First Time

My last Snowy Owl of the invasion (at least for now as they are still here!)

Without the Snowy Owl invasion, this past winter would have been unbearable in Minnesota.  It has been the coldest winter in 30 years with no shortage of snow and blizzards. So my family welcomed the chance to go visit my snow bird parents in Maricopa, Arizona a couple weeks ago.  While I was looking forward to seeing my parents, I was really excited to go birding in Arizona for the first time.  Though I have visited the state numerous times in my life, this was the first time since I became a birder.

The top target for me was the Burrowing Owl.  I just had to see one.  Fellow Birding is Fun! contributor, Laurence Butler, guaranteed me I'd see one when I visited the Phoenix area.  I couldn't wait.  Though Arizona literally has over a hundred birds I have never seen, I also really wanted to see a Cinnamon Teal and a Vermilion Flycatcher among others.

Our flight got into Phoenix before 7:00 AM, and as we were driving to my parents' subdivision in Maricopa, we found one of my top targets on man-made pond - the Cinnamon Teal.

Cinnamon Teal
As we viewed the teal, I also picked up two other lifers: the Great-tailed Grackle and the Neotropic Cormorant.  When we finally got to my parents' house, I couldn't stand to be inside.  One, because the warmth felt amazing and two, because there were life birds to be found everywhere!  While standing in my parents' backyard and walking around their neighborhood I picked up Black-chinned Hummingbird, Say's Phoebe, Verdin, Gila Woodpecker, Northern Mockingbird, and Rufous Hummingbird.  It was phenomenal. Still, the one I was dying to go after was that Burrowing Owl.

About an hour before dusk on that first day we finally went for a drive to see if we could find one.  And find one we did.  My wife was the first one to spot a Burrower.  It was an exciting moment for the entire family to see this cool, little owl.

Burrowing Owl
And my wife kept finding more! Three more to be exact.

I could not believe our luck - 4 Burrowing Owls!  But it got better because then I spotted two more on another road, and my mom found a couple as well.  8 Burrowing Owls in all. It was absolutely crazy.

To top off such a successful night, I picked up my Black-necked Stilt and Swainson's Hawk lifers as well.

Black-necked Stilt
The Burrowing Owl fun didn't end on that drive either.  We ended up finding two pairs of them in the city of Maricopa, bringing our total to 12 Burrowing Owls for the trip - 11 more than I was looking for!  This one pair was pretty special as it was a short bike ride from my parents' house allowing us to visit it often.

A fellow I bumped into in the neighborhood had told me this pair of Burrowing Owls was always on this wall and that their burrow was right under the sidewalk by the stop sign.

Burrowing Owl burrow underneath the sidewalk

On one of the days we were checking out our Burrowing buddies, we bumped into another major target bird - the Vermilion Flycatcher!

Vermilion Flycatcher

Now all major targets had been achieved without looking too hard for them.  I did some serious birding when I teamed up with Laurence Butler to explore the Sonoran Desert in the Phoenix Mountains Preserve. It was a pleasure to meet Laurence in person and have this experienced birder show us his local birds.  I picked up numerous lifers with Laurence, such as this Black-throated Sparrow.

Black-throated Sparrow
It was also a treat to see the state bird, the Cactus Wren.

Cactus Wren
And this Phainopepla.

But the best, and most memorable life bird of the desert excursion with Laurence was this Long-eared Owl.  Laurence had a plan to go after one that afternoon, and the plan was wildly successful.  It was a heart-thumping, high-fiving experience when we found this guy.

Long-eared Owl
We encountered many other lifers on that outing - Gilded Flicker, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Abert's Towhee, Curve-billed Thrasher, Costa's Hummingbird, and Anna's Hummingbird.  It was an unbelievably good time.

After hitting all three major targets and going birding with Laurence, the rest of the trip was anticlimatic.  I did pick up some additional lifers, including Inca Dove, Common Gallinule, and Snowy Egret.  All told, I had 28 lifers (I'm sure I'm forgetting to mention some in this post) for the trip!  

But then it was back to Minnesota and back to reality with an early April blizzard.

American Tree Sparrow

For more pictures and more stories about Arizona, head over to my blog A Boy Who Cried Heron.  Also, check out the blog for the story of the really rare bird I just found in Minnesota that has been submitted as a county first record to the Minnesota Ornithologists' Union.


  1. Wow -- you hit the jackpot! After reading your post, I'm reminded how fortunate I am to live in Florida this time of year -- a birder's paradise. (I just discovered a family of barred owls in the area, and I'm having a great time observing them.) I really like your shots of the burrowing owls peeking out of their burrow. Good stuff!

  2. Congrats on all the life birds - especially the owls! I may be headed down to Arizona later this year, I can almost taste the birds through your post. So exciting!

  3. Josh, I am so glad that you had such a good time! How amazing to see all those birds species that I know so well from my time living there. I can hear the excitement in your words. I am glad you got a break from this relentless winter! How nice to meet Laurence as well. Sadly I never had the opportunity while I lived there.

  4. very nice blog...

  5. Fantastic! A terrific post, Josh! Burrowing Owls galore and so much more. I think I really need to take a trip to Arizona to see all of these AMAZING birds. Wonderful photographs, too!