Wednesday, September 14, 2011

White Mountains, AZ 2009

In July of 2009, I was lucky enough to go on a 3-day solo birding trip to the White Mountains in eastern Arizona.  The weather was spectacular and I enjoyed lots of gorgeous birds.  I also had a once-in-a-lifetime experience on Green’s Peak near Greer, AZ.  I wrote about it four days later.  Luckily it was still on my computer:

July 20, 2009

At the bottom of the peak, I slowed my truck to a crawl and jammed it into first gear.  If there was any way I was going to make it up this narrow road, I better do it slowly, I told myself.  The path cut into the side of the mountain was not much wider than my truck, at least not wide enough for my liking.  No guard rails here.  I took a deep breath.  Let’s do this!  After all, there could be Dusky Grouse up there waiting for me.  I made my way slowly up the nerve-wracking road while my engine growled at me to be put into second gear.  There was no birding and driving on this trek.  This is as close a road to el camino de los muertos I ever want to come.   

view of the peak from the road 7/20/09

I finally made it to the top of the peak and parked my truck under the fire lookout tower.  A cool breeze greeted me as I opened the door and stepped out.  I zipped up my wind-breaker and strapped on my binoculars.  While gathering my camera gear I recalled Stuart Healy’s birding journal where he said it had taken ten visits to the peak before finally getting a glimpse of the grouse.  This was my number one target bird and I was feeling good.  

view from the road on the peak 7/20/09

This was my first trip to the White Mountains.  I had already seen some great birds and wildlife.  Pronghorn at Sipe Wildlife Area.  An American Crow and elk along the highway near Nutrioso.  Mountain Chickadees, Gray Jays, and a Northern Goshawk at Sunrise Campground.  Rufous, Calliope, and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds at feeders in Greer.  And who could forget the American Dipper at the west fork of the Little Colorado River?

pronghorn, Sipe Wildlife Area 7/18/09
American Crow near Nutrioso 7/20/09
elk, horses, and a donkey near Nutrioso 7/18/09

Mountain Chickadee, Sunrise Campground 7/19/09
Gray Jay, Sunrise Campground 7/19/09

Rufous Hummingbird, Greer 7/19/09
Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Greer 7/19/09

American Dipper, west fork of the Little Colorado River 7/19/09

I walked back down the road on the southeast side of the peak where the power lines were.  I had read to follow the power line cut north for the best chance of finding them.  As I maneuvered through the clumps of grass and wildflowers on the hillside, I reminded myself to move slowly and look carefully in the aspen grove to the east.  The leaves shimmered in the cool morning breeze.  My eyes slowly scanned up in the trees for any perched birds.  As I looked down, I detected some slight movement on the ground at the edge of the grove.  And there it was, a Dusky Grouse!  I could hardly believe my eyes.  I was close enough to see it blink, and I had been searching for less than five minutes!  Was it beginner’s luck?  I raised my binoculars to get a better look.  There was another nearby, wait, three more!  I snapped off a few photos in case they flushed. 

Dusky Grouse, Green's Peak 7/20/09

They worked their way through the grass into the shade of the aspens.  I kept my eyes on them and followed behind very slowly.  They kept an eye on me too, but surprisingly they didn’t seem to be too bothered.  Their behavior was much different compared to the unapproachable Sooty Grouse I had encountered in Yosemite National Park the previous summer.  I had made it to the edge of the grove.  The morning sun pierced through the leaves, creating good lighting that unveiled the grouse’s beautifully camouflaged plumage.  To get a better look on this steep slope, I had to balance myself against the cold, white trunk of a large aspen.  I stood silent and in awe.  This was one of those special moments that birders dream about.  

I continued to watch and photograph the grouse for almost an hour as they moved in and out of the sunlight among the bright green foliage and fallen branches.  Every now and then they would poke their heads above the grass and leaves to check on me.  Then without warning, with loud wing flaps, they took to the trees.  Startled, I was able to relocate the closest one peeking at me from above.

I stayed a while longer to enjoy the tranquility of this special place.  And also because I thought I had heard the drumming of an American Three-toed Woodpecker.  After all, I had other birds to chase!  But this unique encounter will not soon be forgotten.

West Fork of the Little Colorado River 7/19/09

Check out Stuart Healy's site containing fantastic information on the White Mountains of Arizona.   


  1. Jeremy,

    This sounds like you had a magical time that July. What an amazing experience with the grouse!

  2. These are great photos and what an adventure! I would love to go birding with you!

  3. @Mia- Magical is a perfect word!

    @Robert- Thanks!

    @Kathie- Thanks! Anytime... let's go birding!