Arizona Field Ornithologist ID Challenges




Arizona Field Ornithologists
Ninth Annual State Meeting Summary

Show Low—18-20 September 2015


For Field Mini-Expedition Highlights click here

For AZFO Youth Fellowship recipients click here


By Eric Hough


© Artwork of Dusky Grouse by Narca Moore-Craig (2015)

AZFO brought this year’s state meeting to a new area of the state, celebrating our 10th anniversary as an organization in eastern Arizona’s White Mountains. We had another great meeting turnout this year, with 81 people in attendance at the Hampton Inn Conference Center in Show Low on Saturday, 19 September. In reflecting on this year’s theme, “10 Years & Counting”, the meeting offered an insightful overview of past and present trends in both bird populations in the state, avian research, and new technologies changing the field of birding, which all culminated in Chris Benesh’s keynote presentation on Saturday night to cap off the meeting. Following AZFO President Kurt Radamaker’s welcome address, Eric Hough and Troy Corman split emcee duties as they guided us through the day’s presentations and activities.


Kurt Radamaker introduced this year’s two Gale Monson Research Grant recipients, Ariana LaPorte and Richard Simpson. Past grant recipients started off the program, first Ariana LaPorte presenting an update on her Gray Hawk research along the San Pedro River followed by Zach Smith discussing raptor migration patterns around Prescott. Lauren Harter then introduced this year’s AZFO Youth Scholarship recipients, Karina Cocks and Caleb Strand Maricopa Audubon Society generously supported this program, in its second year, which helps defray the cost of travel and hotels for high school and undergraduate age students to attend the meeting and get engaged with the organization. A good sign of its potential and success was having one of last year’s recipients, Jacob Plant, and his family in attendance again at this year’s meeting.


Micah Riegner leading attendees through the audio quiz (© Bill Herron).


Founding AZFO member and coauthor of the Arizona Breeding Bird Atlas, Troy Corman described how AZFO expeditions and censuses had contributed to Arizona’s Coordinated Bird Monitoring Program, along with increasing knowledge of the status and distribution of the state’s avifauna. AZFO Vice President and Tucson Audubon IBA Coordinator Jennie MacFarland then discussed the unexpected findings from this summer’s surveys for Yellow-billed Cuckoos in the Coronado National Forest, including a potential competitive relationship between this cuckoo species and Elegant Trogons. Larry Norris talked about his observations of the first nesting occurrence of Crested Caracara in Saguaro National Park and Ryan O’Donnell reported on the different call types of Red Crossbills and Evening Grosbeaks, and how to tell them apart. This discussion of vocalization differences made for the perfect segue to the audio quiz, led by Micah Riegner.


Looking at a Virginia Rail on the Becker Lake expedition (© Doug Jenness)

After lunch, Rick Taylor discussed recent population dynamics of Elegant Trogons in southeastern Arizona and Lauren Harter gave a tutorial on how birders can use the global database eBird to reap the benefits from their collective contributions to citizen science. AZFO Treasurer Doug Jenness brought forth the business part of the meeting and summarized the state of our organization’s current budget and memberships. Chrissy Kondrat-Smith reported on the nominations for the election of open officer and board positions, with Recording Secretary Erika Wilson, Membership Secretary Muriel Neddemeyer, and Board Member Eric Hough rotating out of their positions. The membership then reelected Kurt Radamaker for another term as President, Carol Beardmore as Recording Secretary, Kurt Licence as Membership Secretary, and Andy Bridges as a new Board Member. . Continuing on in their positions are Jenny MacFarland as Vice President, Doug Jenness as Treasurer, and Walter Thurber and Anne Pellegrini as Board Members.. The meeting participants then welcomed in our new board members and thanked the past ones for their service.


Meeting attendees checking out the photo ID quiz (© Doug Jenness)


During the scheduled poster session, meeting participants got to learn about trends of the last 10 years of the Santa Cruz Flats Raptor Count from Doug Jenness. Mélanie Banville then discussed her research on changes within the bird community in urban riparian habitat around Phoenix over the last decade. Chrissy Kondrat-Smith introduced the topic of wildlife research permits that ornithologists or birders might be interested in and explained how to obtain a scientific collecting permit in Arizona. AZFO Field Expeditions Coordinator Eric Hough highlighted this past year’s expeditions to Lake Mead, Muleshoe Ranch Preserve, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Black Canyon City, and the Galiuro Mountains, and gave a sneak peek at a planned gull identification workshop at the Salton Sea this fall and expeditions, counts, and censuses that are being planned for spring of 2016.


Long-eared Owl spotted at Grasslands Wildlife Area (© Ryan O’Donnell)
Chris Benesh giving his keynote presentation (© Ryan O’Donnell)

Throughout the meeting, attendees got to try their identification skills on the photo ID quiz that Lauren Harter and David Vander Pluym created for us again this year. There was also the opportunity to peruse the AZFO merchandise and used book sale, including this year’s meeting t-shirt with artwork of a Dusky Grouse which Narca Moore-Craig graciously created and donated. Show Low’s local White Mountain Audubon Society also had a table for attendees to learn more about their organization. This year’s raffle items, contributed by both AZFO members, and Maricopa and Tucson Audubon Societies, were very popular and helped raise proceeds for our organization. Before adjourning the meeting, David Vander Pluym and Micah Riegner announced the answers to the photo and audio quizzes, with this year’s winners being Eric Hough (photo quiz) and Tommy DeBardeleben (audio quiz). Attendees then had the opportunity to go over to El Rancho Mexican Restaurant in Pinetop, which served as our location for social hours on both Friday and Saturday evenings.

After a delicious catered dinner by Chowhound Catering back at the Hampton Inn’s Conference Center, Field Guides Bird Tour leader and past Arizona Bird Committee member Chris Benesh gave his keynote presentation, “Birding at the speed of light: a look at how birding has evolved in the past 20 years and how that has affected our understanding of bird identification and distribution in Arizona and beyond.” Chris’s descriptions of how birding has evolved with new technologies, infused with personal anecdotes of his birding experiences over the decades, were as informative as they were entertaining. His presentation masterfully tied the day’s topics together and engaged the audience in a fitting ending to this year’s meeting.

As with all our meetings, this year’s helped contribute to the economy of the town hosting the event, introduced several attendees to a new region of the state, and helped gather knowledge of bird distribution and status at underbirded locations during the meeting’s field expeditions. Our presentations and activities made clear the contributions to Arizona’s ornithology that AZFO members continue to support, and will hopefully entice more people to become involved with our organization. The first decade of AZFO showed how much can be accomplished through volunteer effort and we are excited to see where we’ll go next as an organization over the next 10 years. We hope you’ll join us!



By Eric Hough


Nine mini-field expeditions were organized as part of the 2015 AZFO State Meeting in Show Low, with four expeditions the Friday before the meeting and five expeditions Sunday morning after the meeting to underbirded locations in the region. Altogether, participants on these expeditions found a total of 154 species, with a few additional species found before and after the meeting. Brief summaries follow:

Friday 18 September Mini-Expeditions

At the South Fork of the Little Colorado River and nearby Grasslands Wildlife Area, Chris Benesh led 12 participants through varied forest, riparian, and grassland habitats, with highlights of 41 species including a Golden Eagle, a Long-eared Owl, Clark’s Nutcrackers, Pinyon Jays, a Canyon Towhee, Townsend’s Warblers, and a prairie rattlesnake.

In the St. Johns area, Charles Babbitt’s expedition of eight participants had such notable finds as Greater White-fronted Geese, a Neotropic Cormorant, Red-necked Phalaropes, and two Common Terns at Lyman Lake State Park and a Green Heron, a Phainopepla, and Cedar Waxwings in the riparian and pinyon-juniper woodlands at Concho Lake. Altogether they logged 51 species.

Mary Williams led eight participants on her expedition just north of Show Low where highlights of 49 species included an Osprey, two Soras, a Long-billed Dowitcher, and four pronghorn antelope at Pintail Lake and a Neotropic Cormorant, 60 White-faced Ibises, four Soras, and a Greater Roadrunner at Telephone Lake.

Eric Hough led nine participants on an expedition to the North Fork of the White River and Alchesay Fish Hatchery where the best discovery of the meeting weekend was found: a hatch-year BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER, which provided a first record for Navajo County for this casual vagrant to Arizona. Other highlights of their 29 species included Common Mergansers, Belted Kingfishers, Townsend’s Solitaires, a Red-breasted Nuthatch, and a Painted Redstart.


Scanning Crescent and Big Lakes on the Sunday expedition (© Ryan O’Donnell)


Sunday 20 September Mini-Expeditions

Troy Corman’s expedition of 10 participants hiked a few miles up the West Fork-Mt. Baldy Trail through spruce-fir-aspen forest and subalpine meadows, with highlights of 32 species including Band-tailed Pigeons, an American Three-toed Woodpecker, high numbers of Mountain Chickadees and Golden-crowned Kinglets, one Nashville and six Townsend’s Warblers.

In the Springerville area, Kurt Radamaker’s expedition yielded 69 species for his 12 participants, with notable finds including Crissal Thrasher, a Rufous-crowned Sparrow, and a Dickcissel along the Little Colorado River at Wenima Wildlife Area, and a Neotropic Cormorant, a Virginia Rail, two Long-billed Curlews, and over 200 Yellow-rumped Warblers foraging in the cattails at Becker Lake Wildlife Area. After this trip, Kurt Radamaker and five of his participants stopped by Sunrise Lake on the way back to Show Low, where they encountered 28 species including a few Buffleheads among 15 other waterfowl species, two Bald Eagles, 30 White-faced Ibises, and a Greater Yellowlegs.

Lauren Harter and David Vander Pluym led nine participants on an expedition to Big and Crescent Lakes, with highlights of 65 species including ‘Mexican’ Mallards and 14 other waterfowl species, two Bald Eagles, a Northern Saw-whet Owl, Downy Woodpeckers, a Willow Flycatcher, Eastern ‘Lilian’s’ Meadowlarks, and a juvenile greater short horned lizard.

At the high-elevation creeks and reservoirs of the Greer area, Anne Pellegrini’s expedition of seven participants encountered 50 species including a Bald Eagle, Clark’s Nutcrackers, Green-tailed Towhees, Western Tanagers, and Red Crossbills.

The 10 participants on Eric Hough’s expedition to the East Fork of the White River on the White Mountain Apache Reservation found 65 species, with highlights including Wild Turkeys, seven woodpecker species including a Lewis’s Woodpecker and a few Downy Woodpeckers, Cedar Waxwings, an Olive Warbler, a few Summer Tanagers, and a Lazuli Bunting.


Willow Flycatcher observed on Big Lake expedition (© Ryan O’Donnell)   Blackburnian Warbler found on expedition to the N. Fork of the White River (© Eric Hough)


Meeting participants birding around the region before and after the expeditions also found Montezuma Quail at Wenima W.A., a Common Black-Hawk near Alchesay Hatchery, and high numbers of Lewis’s Woodpeckers at Woodland Lake Park in Pinetop. Altogether everyone got a taste of what AZFO’s field expeditions are like and helped explore under-birded areas of the Whtie Mountains region. All of these expeditions also contributed their sightings lists to the global eBird database. We hope to see you on our upcoming expeditions, counts, censuses, and workshops over the coming year!


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