Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Mount Lemmon: Grace's and Olive Warblers

Mount Lemmon is an exceptional birding area. There are over 14 different birding sites each affording good birding with a variety of species. As you go up the mountain you start with Molino Canyon Vista, then Molino Basin Campground, Cypress/Middle Bear Picnic area, General Hitchcock Campground, Rose Canyon Lake, Incinerator Ridge, the hill to the south of Mt. Bigelow Trailhead (across from Palisades Visitor Center), Bear Wallow/Sunset Trail, Sykes Knob Road, Inspiration Rock Picnic area, Alder Picnic area, Loma Linda Picnic area, Summerhaven to Marshall Gulch Trail, and Ski Valley to Sky Center Road. 

As you ascend, the eco zones change offers incredible scenery. You start with the Lower Sonoran Desert filled with Saguaro Cacti. Then at 4,000 feet the Saguaros end abruptly. From here it is the Upper Sonoran Scrub Desert and Grasslands. Then Oak Woodland and Chaparral. Rocky cliffs are next with (balancing rock) hoodoos, always worthy of photos. Then the Oak-Pine Woodland leading to Ponderosa Pine Forests and finally Pine-Aspen Forests.

I will often start with Inspiration Rock, Alder, and Loma Linda Picnic sites up on the ridge at 8,000 feet. The reason is that this is the first place the sun hits in the morning. Experience has shown it to have high birding activity early in the morning.

Yesterday was no different. In fact, I ended up spending so much time at Inspiration Rock that I barely had time for anything else before needing to get back down the mountain. (Though I did make a quick stop at Incinerator Ridge).

The Western Bluebirds were there in great numbers, as were the Gilded Flickers. Throw in a bunch of Yellow Rumped Warblers, Pygmy and White Breasted Nuthatches, Plumbeous Vireos, Yellow Eyed Juncos, Robins, Stellar Jays, Ravens, Turkey Vultures, and my favorite Warblers: Grace's and Olives.

The Olive Warbler is found only in Southeast Arizona and Southwest New Mexico. Grace's extends a little farther north into Southern Utah. Both, though, only at or above 7,000 feet. And both spend their lives in the tops of Ponderosa Pines foraging for small insects among the pine needles.

Needless to say, they aren't as often seen given their preferred habitat. And even when seen, photographs aren't always possible -- or don't always turn out. 

Here are a few photos that I took yesterday of the Grace's and Olives:

Grace's out on a branch

Grace's peeking out from a pine cluster

Grace's nestled among the pine cluster

Olive buried in a pine cluster

Olive a bit more in the open

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