2019-10-16 The Arboretum At Flagstaff

As I write this blog, I’m staying with a good friend in Thatcher Arizona.

Dark-Eyed Junco - Junco hyemalis dorsalis
Birds I met in the parking area of The Arboretum at Flagstaff in northern Arizona included a Dark-Eyed Junco variety I’d not seen before; the Red-Backed. Note the bi-colored bill which differentiates it from the Gray-Headed subspecies.
Steller's Jay - Cyanocitta stelleri macrolopha
Some of the birds I met in the parking area of The Arboretum at Flagstaff in northern Arizona, were these Rocky-Mountain type Steller’s Jays. These birds have white facial decorations not seen in the Steller’s Jay I meet on the west coast.

Having spent Sunday through Tuesday enjoying the company of my friend in Bullhead City Arizona, I left there and headed east over the mountains along Highway 68 to Kingman Arizona. Then I followed the I-40 to Flagstaff. There is a lot of climbing from the Colorado River at 500 feet elevation to over 7200 feet between Williams and Flagstaff. These are not ideal conditions for optimum fuel economy, but I’ve always enjoyed the scenery here.

I’ve never birded in Flagstaff before. A little search on the web brought the “Arboretum at Flagstaff” to my attention. Botanical gardens and arboretums have proven themselves in the past to be good places to meet birds, and I thought it might be fun to test this place out. The arboretum required me to drive several miles over dirt roads to reach it. I’m sure it would be well-worth the $10 admission fee to explore the many trails on this property, but my energy level was compromised by the morning’s drive and much of the day was behind me. The parking area was enclosed by large conifers and I started probing the canopy with my binoculars.

I’m used to Dark-Eyed Juncos of the “Oregon” variety. They are the most abundant in Southern California and the rest of the west coast. I saw one of these while scouting the parking area, but most of the juncos here looked like the “Gray-Headed” variety. Steller’s Jays are always fun to photograph, but the ones I saw here had faces decorated with bright white streaks that caught my eye. These were very much different from those I’ve met on the west coast. Now I had good reason to go back to the van and grab my camera gear.

When the afternoon’s photoshoot was over, I’d met the Gray-Headed Juncos (which turned out to be “Red-Backed”, with a bi-colored bill), the Jays, a Northern Flicker, and a mob of Pygmy Nuthatches. I also saw or heard Western Bluebirds, chickadees (unknown species) and Yellow-Rumped Warblers.

At this point I was tuckered out, so I bought gas and groceries and found a pullout near Mary’s Lake south of town to settle for the night. With fresh memories of the arboretum, I believe I would like to return one day and do the full tour.

I’ve since learned one needs a scorecard to keep track of all the members of the “Dark-Eyed” Junco complex. “Slate-Colored” juncos have as many as three varieties. There is a “White-Winged” variant. The “Oregon” Dark-Eyed Junco has seven different subspecies. Add in the “Pink-Sided”, “Gray-Headed”, “Red-Backed”, and a possible “Guadalupe” subspecies, and you have fifteen different players. There is distinctly different look to most members of this clan, yet their songs, calls and other utterances are so similar, I cannot hear any distinctive differences.

Another item I learned was that the Steller’s Jays I met this day (Cyanocitta stelleri macrolopha) were typical of those found in the interior west. Those I met in the far west are a different subspecies (Cyanocitta stelleri stelleri).

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