January-February 2016
December 2015 - January 2016

By Troy Corman
Periods of colder than normal temperatures in late November and December sent many less-hardy insectivores that sometimes linger into the end of December, such as Empidonax flycatchers, vireos and warblers, south. As is typical, there were some surprises though, including a handsome YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER at Tres Rios Wetlands (Maricopa County); another returned to Patagonia (Santa Cruz) for its second winter there. Devastating and widespread wildfires in California and the Northwest this past summer may have influenced the highest influx of PURPLE FINCHES into the state in nearly two decades, with multiple reports of individuals and small flocks in six central and southeastern counties. This included a high of 20 in the Bradshaw Mountains (Yavapai). Similarly, at least eight RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKERS were reported in five counties. Possibly a record high of eight different RED-SHOULDERED HAWKS were also reported during the period in five counties.
Other highlights getting much attention included a fairly cooperative male STREAK-BACKED ORIOLE that continues to brighten Riverside Park in Yuma (Yuma). A fourth state record and the first in nearly a decade, a CAROLINA WREN was a surprising find at Overgaard, providing a first for Navajo County.
Waterfowl and other waterbirds often attract much attention during the winter months, with this being an exceptional year for some. One notable highlight included six juvenile TRUMPETER SWANS near Palo Verde for a first confirmed Maricopa Co. record. The rarer loons and grebes made a great early winter showing. This included a minimum of four RED-THROATED LOONS, with individuals at Bill Williams River delta (La Paz), near Lake Havasu City and Davis Dam (both Mohave), and a second Gila County record at Roosevelt Lake. With only seven prior records in Arizona, unexpected were two YELLOW-BILLED LOONS on Lake Mohave (Mohave), with one near Davis Dam and the other at Katherine Landing. Possibly unprecedented, at least six different RED-NECKED GREBES were discovered in the state, with individuals at Lake Havasu and Davis Dam (both Mohave), Lake Pleasant (Yavapai), Saguaro Lake (Maricopa) and two on Apache Lake (Maricopa).
For more details about these and other noteworthy photo-documented observations, please visit:
By Lauren Harter
AZFO has maintained its sightings database since 2007. The database allowed birders to report notable sightings in a public, searchable archive. All sightings were vetted by regional editors, who would often add context and information about the significance of the record, status and distribution. This was also a simple system for sightings to be reported for inclusion in seasonal reports (
In recent years, AZFO volunteers including Marceline VandeWater, Tom Lewis, Bea Cooley, Barb Meding, Walter Thurber, Melanie Herring, and Eric Hough worked many hours to archive observations included in seasonal reports that were not already included in the database. This effort added a wealth of information to the existing database, again including important information on the significance of each sighting and allowing for public searchability of available sightings.
By spring 2015, the role of the database had changed, largely due to the growing popularity of eBird ( eBird had become a simple way of reporting all bird sightings, and an important resource for regional editors to compile sightings for seasonal reports. New submissions to the AZFO database had sharply declined. Consequently, AZFO closed new reports to the database and instead encouraged submission to eBird.
As part of this project, AZFO also began uploading suitable database sightings directly into eBird, where they will be archived and contribute to that dataset. This formidable process is still underway, but with over 1,600 checklists entered including 355 species, mostly from Maricopa, Coconino, and Yavapai counties. Local eBird editors have been helpful throughout the process, especially in vetting the data, and Molly Pollock and Mark Stevenson have been especially diligent in maintaining the quality of these reports. Once the process is completed and sightings have been vetted by eBird editors, all of these sightings will be part of eBird data output, refining bar charts, adding more information on notable records, and improving distribution maps. These sightings can be recognized by the user name “AZFO Database Historic Data”. Another benefit of these additions is that the details include the status and distributional information that was a highlight of the original database. See an example eBird record of the Northern Jacana in Patagonia at
The original AZFO database is now available as a permanent, searchable archive at This database, along with Steve Ganley’s database of historical bird records at, will continue to be an important resource on Arizona bird status and distribution made available through AZFO, while the data submitted to eBird will be available for broader usage by birders and scientists.
AZFO has an opportunity for an experienced volunteer to design and lay out its online journal, Arizona Birds Online. The journal has articles going back to 2005, when it was first published, on a wide variety of topics, including the status and distribution of Black Vulture, Neotropic Cormorant, Tropical Kingbird, Cassin's and Botteri's sparrows, Rosy-faced Lovebird and others. There are also short articles with photos on identification challenges, and details on several interesting birding locations. Arizona Birds Online is not a publication with a regular schedule; articles are laid out as the designer receives the edited copy from the editor and are then posted. The current design template is in Adobe InDesign, but if a new design editor prefers using a different program for designing the journal, it would be fine. If you are interested in volunteering for this opportunity or know somebody who is qualified and might be interested, please contact Doug Jenness, acting editor at
Ferruginous Hawk -- January 2016, Pinal Co. Drawing/Ryan P. O'Donnell

By Doug Jenness
AZFO has launched a special effort to promote the Gale Monson Research Grants. An attractive four-color flier is being sent to scores of university science departments throughout the state, and steps are being taken to inform nonacademic researchers and high school students about the grants. The goal is to increase the number of applicants for the grants. A total of $2,000 has been allocated for grants in 2016, and applications can be for any amount up to $1,000. The deadline for applications is 1 October 2016. The grants are offered for field research that enhances knowledge of the status, distribution, identification, and other aspects of Arizona birdlife. Since 2011, AZFO has awarded 10 grants totaling $13,980. The field projects have included studies of Red-faced Warbler, Yellow-eyed Junco, Gray Hawk, Sagebrush and Bell's sparrows, Gray Vireo, and Song Sparrow. 
If you know anyone or any location that should be added to the list of grant information recipients, contact Anne Pellegrini ( You can also receive copies of the flier to get into the hands of potential applicants from Doug Jenness ( The grant program is funded by an annual contribution from AZFO, as well as hundreds of dollars from donors and sales of Counting Birds with Gale Monson, edited by Bill Broyles and Richard L. Glinski ($34.95 including shipping). In 2015, more than $900 was received from donations and book sales. Tax-deductible contributions can be sent to Doug Jenness, 4375 E. Rollins Rd., Tucson, AZ 85739.
16 January 2016
By Doug Jenness
On 16 January 2016, 20 volunteers counted more species and number of raptors than in any other year of the 11-year annual Santa Cruz Flats Raptor Survey. A total of 752 raptors of 16 species was much higher than the previous high of 448 of 15 species in 2012. The totals for nine species were the highest, some much higher: Black Vulture (148), Northern Harrier (55), Red-tailed Hawk, including two "Harlan's" (312), Great Horned Owl (17), Burrowing Owl (9), Crested Caracara (52), American Kestrel (98), Peregrine Falcon (7), and Prairie Falcon (16). In addition, three species tied with the previous highs: Cooper's Hawk (7), Harris's Hawk (6), and Ferruginous Hawk (11).
The most notable report was a well-documented sighting of the tundra subspecies of Peregrine Falcon, very rare in the state and the first for our raptor survey. A dark Ferruginous Hawk was reported for the second year in a row, and a Barn Owl for the first time in four years. No White-tailed Kites have been observed in the last seven years, although one was reported a week after the count. Also, a Rough-legged Hawk was reported the day after the survey, and a Zone-tailed Hawk two weeks before. A total of 20 raptor species have been reported in the past 11 years. Although the same area was covered as in previous years, it was divided into five rather than four sections. This change may have, at least in part, contributed to the higher numbers. A total of 59 volunteers have participated in this AZFO-sponsored survey since 2006. The final tallies for all years are on the AZFO
website. The next count will be held on 21 January 2017.
17 January 2016
By Carl Tomoff and Micah Riegner

Birders seldom visit the grassland-covered mesas of the Agua Fria National Monument in Yavapai County. On 17 January 2016, Micah Riegner, Duane Morse, and Carl Tomoff surveyed along Bloody Basin Road, which goes through some spectacular grasslands on basaltic mesas and granitic hills. We formed two teams. Carl took a stretch of Bloody Basin Road between the Agua Fria River and Interstate 17, while Micah and Duane continued up onto the mesas. We covered three habitats: open grassland with scattered mesquites and junipers on the mesas, riparian vegetation along the river, and grassy desert shrublands on the granitic hills west of the river. Elevation ranged from 3,250 to 3,660 feet. Despite spending long periods of time walking through extensive habitats without seeing or hearing any birds, we discovered 43 species and 435 individuals.
During six hours of survey on the mesas, we detected 29 species. Highlights included a Prairie Falcon perched on an agave, a Sage Thrasher, and an elusive Grasshopper Sparrow. Several Rufous-crowned Sparrows appeared along the rocky hillsides. We had clear views of a flock of 13 Eastern (Lilian’s) Meadowlarks as they foraged in the grass. Later, Micah and Duane stopped at the Agua Fria River near the Horseshoe Ranch and found a Dusky Flycatcher with a flock of Bridled Titmice. Carl had observed in the same area earlier for an hour. Together we found a total of 16 species. During four hours of survey in the grassy shrublands, Carl observed 19 species. Northern Mockingbirds and Phainopeplas at berry-laden desert mistletoe, Sage Thrashers at fruiting one-seed junipers, and Black-tailed Gnatcatchers at three locations were noteworthy. White-crowned and Black-throated sparrows were the most common granivores.
By Matt VanWallene
I first photographed an odd looking male American Wigeon with white cheeks on 28 December 2015 on an Ocotillo Golf Club pond along SW Jacaranda Parkway, Chandler. I submitted the photos to two bird forums that I frequent, and I was surprised to find that the responses were speculation and there was no available documentation on this coloration in the standard resource websites. Internet searches revealed that the most common reference is by hunters that call this variant a Storm Wigeon which is much sought after. Someone posited that Storm derived from a taxidermist’s name.
Three options were noted in commentary—leucism, morph, and age. I don’t think that leucism can explain this coloration as I have only seen that trait displayed asymmetrically. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, found through searching “white-cheeked wigeon”, labels this form a variant. AZFO had a posting in 2011 and named it a rare morph. Based on reading duck hunter websites, I think the plumage is due to age. A hunter shot a banded individual, reported it to the bander, and learned that the bird was 13 years old. This would explain the bird I photographed on 28 January 2016 at the Riggs/Price roads ponds, Sun Lakes, which looks like it is transitioning to full white cheeks. What I think we have here is a reverse of what we see with young gulls. Estimates for the number of these rare American Wigeons in the population range from 1 in 100 to 1 in 1000. I could not find any references to this trait in females.
[Ed. Note: Single white-cheeked American Wigeons were seen at the Kokopelli Golf Club, Gilbert and at McCormick Ranch, Scottsdale during the Greater Phoenix Area Waterbird Survey on 16 January 2016.]
American Wigeon (white-cheeked variant) -- December 2015, Maricopa Co.
Photo/Matt VanWallene
American Wigeon (white cheeks vs. typical speckled gray cheeks) -- December
2015, Maricopa Co.
Photo/Matt VanWallene

22-24 April 2016
The Petrified Forest National Park, now 140,000 acres in size, lies within Apache and Navajo counties. The park contains one of the largest short grass prairie habitats in the state, 13 miles of riparian habitat along the Puerco River, extensive badlands, and one of the largest deposits of petrified wood in the world. After Congress approved a boundary expansion in 2004 that more than doubled the authorized boundaries of the park, the park has been slowly acquiring the land from government transfers and willing private sellers. These newly acquired areas have never been systematically surveyed for avifauna (or most other biota). Baseline bird data for the original park was obtained in 1990, and grassland bird surveys are conducted there each spring. This weekend, AZFO teams will survey the newer riparian areas, grasslands, and cattle tanks, where we will gather important spring species and distribution information. The surveys will be in the back country, an area currently not open to the general public. We will camp inside the park. Leader: Andy Bridges, National Park Service, at
Riparian habitat we'll survey during the 22-24 April AZFO Expedition to the Petrified Forest National Park.  Photo/Andy Bridges
29 April – 1 May 2016

Although Bendire's Thrasher populations are thriving in Arizona, declines are occurring in neighboring states. Further study is needed to better understand this species of concern. This is your chance as a citizen scientist to assist in point count surveys and nest searching. The goal of this expedition is to locate Bendire's Thrashers, band them where possible, and collect valuable data. We will be surveying in the Butler Valley north of the Harcuvar Mountains near Wenden, La Paz County, and in the Joshua Tree Important Bird Area near Wikieup, Mohave County. Training will be provided for point counts and nest detection. We will be dry camping near the survey sites. You and a friend are welcome to join us for all or part of the weekend. If you are interested in helping with point count surveys for Bendire's Thrashers but are unable to attend this expedition, there are opportunities to do point count surveys in other parts of the state from February through May. Leader: Chrissy Kondrat-Smith, Arizona Game & Fish Department, at

June 2016

For the first time ever, Elegant Trogon surveys will be undertaken in the Galiuro Mountains, Graham County. This expedition will involve backpacking and be physically demanding. The expedition is tentatively scheduled for the first weekend in June. Contact: Jennie MacFarland, Tucson Audubon Society, at
21-23 October 2016

AZFO is beginning preparations for our 10th annual state meeting. This year the meeting will be held in Yuma, the largest municipality along Arizona’s “West Coast”. Please join us to learn about ongoing research on the status, distribution and behavior of Arizona birds. While you’re at it, test your skills on photo and audio quizzes. Browse the used books on sale for that classic bird or natural history book you’ve always wanted; new books will be available too.
Birdlife is both abundant and diverse in and around Yuma. Some birding hotspots are the Yuma East Wetlands, Betty’s Kitchen near Mittry Lake, and Martinez Lake near Imperial National Wildlife Refuge. Several mini-field expeditions will be organized to explore these areas as well as a few under-birded locations. Details, as they become available, can be found here:

22-24 Apr 2016—
(new dates) AZFO Field Expedition
Petrified Forest National Park
Leader: Andy Bridges
29 Apr–1 May 2016—
AZFO Field Expedition
Bendire’s Thrasher surveys,
Wenden and Wikieup areas
Leader: Chrissy Kondrat-Smith

14 May 2016—
Elegant Trogon count,
Atascosa Mountains
Contact: Jennie MacFarland
21-22 May 2016—
Elegant Trogon counts,
Santa Rita and Patagonia Mountains
Contact: Jennie MacFarland
28-29 May 2016—
Elegant Trogon counts,
Huachuca and Chiricahua Mountains
Contact: Jennie MacFarland
21-23 Oct 2016—
AZFO Annual Meeting, Yuma
(see website for details)

Yellow-billed Loon -- January 2016, Mohave County.  
Photo/David Vander Pluym
Red-necked Grebe -- December 2015, Mohave Co.
Photo/Michael Woodruff
Red-throated Loon -- December 2015, Mohave Co.
Photo/Michael Woodruff
Carolina Wren -- December 2015, Navajo Co.  Photo/Eric Hough
Purple Finch (male) -- December 2015, Yavapai Co.
Photo/Bryan Patrick
Purple Finches (females or immatures) -- December 2015, Yavapai Co.
Photo/Bryan Patrick
Peregrine Falcon (Tundra form) -- January 2016, Pinal Co.  Photo/Nathan Williams
Streak-backed Oriole -- January 2016, Yuma Co.
Photo/Matt VanWallene
     Kurt Radamaker
     Cave Creek AZ
Vice President
     Jennifer MacFarland
     Tucson AZ
Membership Secretary
     Kurt Licence
     Phoenix AZ
Recording Secretary
      Carol Beardmore
      Phoenix AZ
     Doug Jenness
     Catalina AZ
Board Members
     Andy Bridges
     Petrified Forest NP AZ

     Eric Hough
     Heber AZ

     Anne Pellegrini
     Flagstaff AZ

     Walter Thurber
     Scottsdale AZ
Appointed Board Member
Editor, Arizona Birds Online
     Pierre Deviche
     Phoenix AZ
     Walter Thurber-Editor
     Scottsdale AZ

     Andy Bridges-Design
     Petrified Forest NP AZ
Field Expeditions
     Eric Hough
     Heber AZ
Photo Documentation Editors
     Lauren Harter
     Lake Havasu City AZ

     David Vander Pluym
     Lake Havasu City AZ
     Kurt Radamaker-
     Cave Creek AZ

     Edwin Juarez-Support
     Phoenix AZ
Copyright © 2016 Arizona Field Ornithologists, All rights reserved.

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