Saturday, 25 April 2015

ARIZONA 2015: Flagstaff (24-25 April)

We stayed at the Days Inn in East Flagstaff for three nights.  It was a handy staging post between the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley but also had a few attractions nearby. One of the birds I most wanted to see was Mountain Bluebird which I was in range for and an online search revealed the website which enables one to search for sightings. Several recent records of Mountain Bluebird came up in the Flagstaff area including a couple from Picture Canyon which was only about 10 minutes drive down the old Route 66 from where we were staying.  I left soon after it was light and spent two hours birding in pleasant open woodland before heading back to join the family for breakfast. I had seen a Merlin, Mountain Chickadee, lots of Steller's Jays, 3 Evening Grosbeaks and 4 Cassin's Finches but no bluebirds. I felt I had probably taken a wrong turn early on as I left the only stream on what appeared to be the main trail and found no sign of a canyon. The main drawback of the ebird site was it not being very specific about directions or where birds were seen once there. Returning to the car I encountered some other birders but unfortunately they were not locals but first time visitors from Florida and knew the area no better than I did.
Elk near Picture Canyon
After breakfast we drove west about 40 miles to Meteor Crater, an impact site almost a mile across dating back 22,000 years.  It was private and expensive - entrance was almost as much as the Interagency Annual Pass which covered all National Parks and Monuments. It was impressive to see though, and would have been more so had one had been allowed into it.
approaching Meteor Crater, not much of a dent in the earth is apparent from a distance although it becomes more so as one gets closer
on the rim of the crater

it is thought that most of the meteor vaporised on impact
the crater was used as a substitute moon for Apollo astronaut training, commemorated by this life-sized cut-out.  The cover of a mine shaft is also visible inside the fenced off area. 
 Attempts to find parts of the meteor bellow the surface have largely been unsuccessful
looking back in the direction of Flagstaff, some snow just visible on the right-hand San Francisco peaks   
picture window, what a view!
We returned to Flagstaff and I was dropped at Picture Canyon at 13:00 while the rest of the family went into town.  Megan came back to collect me at 17:00 giving me four hours to further explore the area.  This time after covering some of the same ground I switched my attention to smaller trails and eventually found one that rejoined the stream which I followed to the edge of the woodland.
Raven and Red-tailed Hawk having a disagreement
Red-tailed Hawk, Southwestern birds are generally very pale below
Steller's Jay
A new bird for me at Picture Canyon
female Cassin's Finch, a big influx into Arizona seemed to be taking place and having seen four on my first visit I saw at least 15 and probably 60 on my second
Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker
with the weather deteriorating I was approaching some open farmland at the end of Picture Canyon and had just about given up on Mountain Bluebird when I remembered reading that they sometimes were seen in more open areas.  It was enough to get me to continue to the edge of it and there around some buildings was a flash of bright blue as something about the right size dropped off a fence.  After a few minutes I relocated it in a are tree, brilliant.
the lowest, flattest rainbow I've ever seen, the bluebird hadn't been far from its foot
looking back to the far end of Picture Canyon, the rainbow had risen by now
American Robin
one of the commoner (and most photogenic) birds at Picture Canyon
Say's Phoebe
in the rain
I returned along the stream but ran out of time before finding a way along the canyon proper, or any petroglyphs.  It had been a very enjoyable afternoon despite heavy showers with male Mountain Bluebird the obvious highlight but also 9 Western Bluebirds, Loggerhead Shrike and 12 Pinyon Jays.

The next morning I returned to Picture Canyon for another two hours before breakfast.  This time I concentrated on the canyon and stream area, finding my first Black-headed Grosbeak and, amongst others,Steller's and Pinyon Jays and a Yellow-rumped Warbler.
Red-winged Blackbird

Spotted Towee

Black-headed Grosbeak
Acorn Woodpecker.  Note the holes for their acorn store in the vertical trunk
Western Bluebird
another very smart bird
the Mountain Bluebird hadn't moved very far from where I had see it the previous afternoon
but gave closer views, allowing me to get better images
it really was an amazing colour and probably bird of the trip
male Cassin's Finch, note large the pointed bill.  I saw several small flocks of 2-8 and one of 20 probably involving 40-50 birds 
I returned for breakfast and afterwards we visited Sunset Crater National Monument and its lava flows 15 miles north of Flagstaff.  It is the youngest of the San Francisco volcanos but hasn't erupted for nearly 1000 years.  Few birds were seen but included another Yellow-rumped Warbler and 7 Cassin's Finches.
Sunset Crater
lava flows
on one of the lava trails

Sunset Crater
We left Sunset Crater and continued on to much more open country and the ancient ruins at Wupatki National Monument.
view across to the Painted Desert
Say's Phoebe
the amphitheatre at Wupatki
the 100 room pueblo block at Wupatki

the surrounding scrub was good for sparrows with several Brewers, as here, along with Black-throated and White-crowned
two Willets near the Visitor Centre at Wupatki seemed out of place in the desert miles from any fresh water
another pueblan building in Wupatki National Monument
We returned to Flagstaff and in deteriorating weather Megan and I made a final attempt to find the petroglyphs in Picture Canyon.  Megan soon found some, on rocks I had walked past more than once!  We also saw the Mountain Bluebird in its usual area (Megan agreed that she had never seen a bird such a stunning blue), Belted Kingfisher, Cassins Vireo, Western Bluebird and 30 Cassin's Finches.
petroglyphs in Picture Canyon
crazy dancers?
it's behind you
recognisable deer or elk
the real thing
caught in a shower at Picture Canyon
a very enjoyable area to visit

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