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October 22nd, 2011
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Sweetwater, Pinal Air Park & Santa Cruz Flats

I spent a great day birding with Peter and Marianne Hosford from Massachusetts.

We started at Sweetwater Wetlands, which gave us PRAIRIE FALCON, PLUMBEOUS VIREO, BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON, GREEN HERON, SNOWY EGRET, BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER, nine duck species and plenty more.

Prairie-Falcon-Seetwater-Wetlands-11-1022-01

Prairie Falcon

Red-naped-Sapsucker-Seetwater-Wetlands-11-1022-02

Red-naped Sapsucker

Pied-billed-Grebe-Seetwater-Wetlands-11-1022-05

Pied-billed Grebe

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Pied-billed Grebe

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Pied-billed Grebe

Our next stop was Pinal Air Park Pecan Grove in the northern Avra Valley. We struck out on a Yellow-Green Vireo found the previous day by Melody Kehl. We weren’t helped by a patrolling SHARP-SHINNED HAWK. A ROCK WREN was calling – I’ve found them here in three winters out of the last four. Peter and Marianne were keen to see a BURROWING OWL, and we eventually found one on the opposite side of Trico Road.

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Burrowing Owl

We headed north and began to explore the Santa Cruz Flats south of Eloy. At 2:25 p.m. we noticed a lot of birds in a small pecan grove to the west of Curry Road, just north of the intersection with Ellis Road. We pulled over to look and found CHIPPING SPARROWS, YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS and a couple of NORTHERN FLICKERS feeding in the pecan trees and in the weeds and long grass.

After a few minutes I was amazed to find a RUFOUS-BACKED ROBIN, a rare visitor to the U.S.A. from Mexico. It was alternately probing in the long grass and perching in the pecan trees. I was lucky enough to find one in the Santa Cruz Flats earlier this year. That was surprising – I was utterly incredulous on discovering this one in an even more unlikely location. I’ve given the robin its own blog post.

Unlike last winter’s site, there doesn’t appear to be a fruiting tree at this location, so the pecan grove may not hold it for long. It was still present when we left at 3:00 p.m.

Considering the early date, the Santa Cruz Flats were awesome! As well as the robin we found a handsome FERRUGINOUS HAWK along Picacho Highway. As we watched it disappear over the fields to the east, a WHITE-TAILED KITE crossed our line of sight. Two CRESTED CARACARAS were perched up distantly in the hedgerow behind the corral on Baumgartner Rd, just west of Wheeler. Elsewhere we found a PRAIRIE FALCON, several BARN and a single CLIFF SWALLOW and a couple of BENDIRE’S THRASHERS.

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Lark Sparrow

A quick note about the habitat in the Santa Cruz Flats. Last winter there was an increase in cotton fields, as in the Sulphur Springs Valley, with a corresponding reduction in raptors, sparrows, etc. This winter almost every available field is cotton. While the quality of birds we saw was fabulous, the quantity was low.

On the way back to Tucson we were surprised to find around 15 LESSER NIGHTHAWKS at dusk, hawking in a tight flock over I-10 a few miles south of Red Rock. It was a good way to round off a truly exceptional day. We totaled 85 species in all.

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