A Big January requires strange trips to dusty areas like the Santa Cruz Flats near Picacho Peak. Here in this desolate part of the world, sandy dirt roads wrap around farming fields. When Laurence suggested we go, I had to really plan and map this one out. For such an isolated and dry area of the world, it was surprising the amount of NEW birds we saw. On this epic outing, bird guru Rich Hoyer, Kathie Brown and myself would go where no one in their right mind had gone before. And the day would shock and surprise us all. In short it rocked! And it was well worth all the dirt and grime:) It also helped that Rich had birded this area before and maximized our time out in the field. Thank you Rich!
Throughout the day, we found abandoned buildings and ancient artifacts from former human communities. Some farms were still active, but there were stretches of "the nothing". So it was shocking (as we were searching for Mountain Plovers at the Evergreen Sod Farm) to find a Crested Caracara flying over our heads. During our day, we would encounter many birders searching for new life around the flats. Many were from out of town while others were surveying raptors. On this day they would count around 35 of these tropical Crested Caracaras! Wowsa!
But we went on our merry ways. Rich was searching for a Longspur. Kathie was counting birds. And I was trying to get better shots of Pipits and Horned Larks. Spectacular birds!
And then it would happen. The Burrowing Owls. I smiled and smiled and smiled some more. I LOVE owls!!! And I finally was able to get nice shots of these beautiful birds. Like statues along the dirt roads, they appeared as rock figures or dead branches.
My big lesson for the day came from Rich on thrashers. For both Kathie and myself, this Bendire's Thrasher would be a life bird. But like so many birders ask, "How do you tell the difference between a Curve-billed and Bendire's?" Habitat and bill structure. Notice how the Bendire's upper bill curves and the bottom part of the bill isn't as curvy(straighter) than that of the Curve-billed? I put up a Curve-billed pic below to compare the differences.
I was able to photograph the Pipits and Horned Larks. Kathie found her Bendire's Thrasher several times that day. And Rich used his magic powers to call out the Chestnut-collared Longspur. I heard it but didn't have enough observation time with this bird. By the time I finally got my eyes on it, it had landed in the fields. Did I see it? Yes. Rich and Kathie had really nice observations of the bird in flight. So I hope that one day, I will be able to get really nice pics of this bird.
The trip is well worth the effort. It's really not for non-birders as the views are...um....rather flat. But for birders, this is an exciting place because it has birds that cannot be found elsewhere in our state or country!
Bring an atlas as the roads can be tricky. Have a good vehicle as most of the roads are dirt. Wear pants and if you have a scope, bring it.
The Santa Cruz Flats can be found between Phoenix and Tucson near Picacho Peak and Casa Grande. There are a lot of good birds in this area.
The day was exciting. The birding team was most excellent. It was a real treat working with Rich and Kathie as it made for a very productive day. 3 sets of eyes are better than one.
The Santa Cruz Flats can be intimidating for many as there isn't really a set point like in the National Parks, etc. But start with the Evergreen Sod Farm and move back. Bring snacks and drinks. Wear adult diapers. No bathrooms. If you don't like diapers, you might consider going behind a bush;) I chose option two instead:) Hopefully these tips help you out. Mountain Plovers, Caracaras, Thrashers, oh my! Just think about what you could discover:)