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Pine Grosbeaks on Humphreys Peak Trail - Printable Version

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Pine Grosbeaks on Humphreys Peak Trail - jawilder - 3 Jan 2018

Today I embarked on my second high-country excursion in the SF Peaks of the week, this time covering the western side of the Peaks. I went up the Humphrey's Peak Trail for about 2.5 miles and then headed cross-country to the B-24 wreckage site and continued from there north to Philomena Spring and then looped back via a lower route. On the outbound uphill walk I found a few flocks of Chickadees, Brown Creepers, Golden-crowned Kinglets and Red-breasted Nuthatches. At treeline I found two flocks of Red Crossbills (none sounded like our lower-elevation Ponderosa-type...my efforts to record them was an utter failure) totaling ~40 birds. 

On the way down, just as I was going on auto-pilot on the bottom stretch of the Humphrey's Peak trail, I heard a loud squeaky call that I recognized immediately as something not normal. It was a flock of ~15 Pine Grosbeaks, including both males and females, feeding and calling in the mixed aspen-fir-spruce forest. I've been hoping to see this species in AZ basically since I moved here. The winter of 2004-2005 was the last big year for Pine Grosbeaks in Coconino County, though there were also a couple singleton observations from the South Rim in 2014.

The birds are easy to get to, about half a mile up the Humphrey's Peak Trail. Parking is in Lot #1 at Snowbowl, and the trail starts out by crossing an active ski run (ignore the sign saying that you need a ski pass to enter, this applies to snow-players not hikers), but is then easy-going and downright dusty. I did not hear the birds on the way up, so they may wander a bit.

Exact location is 35.3370130342, -111.7058444304, and marked on this map:
[attachment=19338]

Some bird pics:
[attachment=19339]

[attachment=19340]

[attachment=19343]

[attachment=19342]

Jason
Flagstaff, AZ


RE: Pine Grosbeaks on Humphreys Peak Trail - gbotello - 4 Jan 2018

(3 Jan 2018, 2:46 PM)jawilder Wrote: On the way down, just as I was going on auto-pilot on the bottom stretch of the Humphrey's Peak trail, I heard a loud squeaky call that I recognized immediately as something not normal. It was a flock of ~15 Pine Grosbeaks, including both males and females, feeding and calling in the mixed aspen-fir-spruce forest. I've been hoping to see this species in AZ basically since I moved here. The winter of 2004-2005 was the last big year for Pine Grosbeaks in Coconino County, though there were also a couple singleton observations from the South Rim in 2014.

The birds are easy to get to, about half a mile up the Humphrey's Peak Trail. Parking is in Lot #1 at Snowbowl, and the trail starts out by crossing an active ski run (ignore the sign saying that you need a ski pass to enter, this applies to snow-players not hikers), but is then easy-going and downright dusty. I did not hear the birds on the way up, so they may wander a bit.

Jason
Flagstaff, AZ

WOW, Jason! Pine Grosbeak is one of my nemesis birds! 

I have been looking throughout Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona (White Mountains) for about 10 years without success. 

I have gone many times, the day after a specific report, but I have never been able to find even one. 

It has been my experience (though, granted, limited) that seeing them in one place one day is, in particular for this species, not any kind of guarantee that they will be there the next day, as they seem to move around a lot.  

Do you think there is any chance that if I try for this flock this weekend that I may have even a slim chance of finding them in the area that you reported them in? 

I also realize that not trying for them guarantees 100% that I will not find them...

I would sure love to cross this one off my list!

Either way, A GREAT FIND, Jason!

Gary


RE: Pine Grosbeaks on Humphreys Peak Trail - jawilder - 4 Jan 2018

Gary,
I'm not sure if the interior-west subspecies behaves similarly, but my experience with this species during irruption years on the east coast is that flocks will stay in the same general area for extended periods of time as long as they can find food. One commonality to the three AZ reports of Pine Grosbeaks this winter (Chuska Mts, Carrizo Mts, and the ones here in the SF Peaks) is that they've all been seen at roughly the same elevation (circa 9,000 feet) in mixed aspen-conifer forest. Obviously there is a huge band of this type of habitat that encircles all of the Peaks and much of it is hard to get to. That said, I suspect the area they were in yesterday is the best bet, but also the Kachina Trail, Wilson Meadow and AZ Trail from Aspen Corner could be worth a shot.
I'll also pass on that on 12/21 someone reported hearing an unfamiliar bird in exactly the area of the PIGRs, so maybe they've been in that vicinity for some time.
Looks like next week might finally bring snow (I hate to jinx it by even saying the words) and if so birding conditions will become a lot more difficult!

Jason


RE: Pine Grosbeaks on Humphreys Peak Trail - gbotello - 4 Jan 2018

(4 Jan 2018, 9:39 AM)jawilder Wrote: Gary,
 I'm not sure if the interior-west subspecies behaves similarly, but my experience with this species during irruption years on the east coast is that flocks will stay in the same general area for extended periods of time as long as they can find food. One commonality to the three AZ reports of Pine Grosbeaks this winter (Chuska Mts, Carrizo Mts, and the ones here in the SF Peaks) is that they've all been seen at roughly the same elevation (circa 9,000 feet) in mixed aspen-conifer forest. Obviously there is a huge band of this type of habitat that encircles all of the Peaks and much of it is hard to get to. That said, I suspect the area they were in yesterday is the best bet, but also the Kachina Trail, Wilson Meadow and AZ Trail from Aspen Corner could be worth a shot.
 I'll also pass on that on 12/21 someone reported hearing an unfamiliar bird in exactly the area of the PIGRs, so maybe they've been in that vicinity for some time.
 Looks like next week might finally bring snow (I hate to jinx it by even saying the words) and if so birding conditions will become a lot more difficult!

Jason

Ok, thanks, Jason. I may give it a try before snow finally comes.

Gary


RE: Pine Grosbeaks on Humphreys Peak Trail - Tom Linda - 4 Jan 2018

Five of us found the PIGR barely 100 yards into the woods this morning. Thank heavens that Vic Nelson was on them when Chuck and I walked up. They were completely silent the entire time we were there and we would have easily missed them.. They were high in the canopy at first, but then the entire flock of 10-15 birds landed at eye level for great looks.

This wasn't a county lifer for me, but only the 2nd time I've seen them here in Coco in 25 years.

Excellent work Jason!
Tom


RE: Pine Grosbeaks on Humphreys Peak Trail - jocrouse - 5 Jan 2018

At around 2:00 this afternoon, I located seven PIGR at the exact spot that Jason has shown above. They were silent and were initially high in the trees but did eventually come down much lower for some nice looks. 

I'm not familiar with this species so I don't know if the veg type they are now in is the type that they will generally be found in. If so, then there aren't too many other spots on the Peaks, at that elevation, were they might be found. That area on the west side has a lot of dead/dying true fir and aspen so that whole side potentially looks good for them. I've worked extensively from Snow Bowl all the way around the south side to Weatherford Canyon. The very beginning of the Kachina Trail, roughly to the Wilderness boundary, is somewhat similar to the area where they have been found but there isn't as much tree mortality. This may not be an issue as I saw them in both dead and live aspen and Corkbark fir and spruce. The south side along the Kachina Trail becomes very dry and warm and is dominated by ponderosa, Douglas-fir and limber pine with patches of aspen and occasional bristlecone pine. I went in about .5 miles on the Kachina Trail on Tuesday and it was really quiet.  It would be interesting to know if they are higher up the mountain on the south side in the spruce/fir zone. Weatherford Canyon has some habitat that looks suitable.

I'm not really familiar with the north side of the mountain so that may be full of potential habitat. I've done a fair bit of elk hunting on the east/northeast side and that is mostly ponderosa, Douglas-fir and aspen.  The Inner Basin should be good for them. I'm thinking that Little Spring, particularly the north aspect that is just south of the spring looks good. I was there Tuesday and had a flock of 20+ Red Crossbill.

Again, I really don't know what their ideal habitat is. If it is anywhere that aspen is found, then they could potentially be found most anywhere up there. 

The birds were absolutely beautiful. Great find Jason.
[attachment=19346]


RE: Pine Grosbeaks on Humphreys Peak Trail - gbotello - 5 Jan 2018

jocrouse


BINGO! I CAN'T THANK YOU ENOUGH, JASON! THE END OF A 10 YEAR SEARCH! 

I never would have thought I would see my first Pine Grosbeak 20 minutes from my house!

I first saw a flock of 14 only about 200 feet from where the Humphrey’s Trail enters the woods at about 10:30AM. They remained in that area for about 45 minutes then began to move up the trail to the first switchback. I followed the flock up the trail until 12:30PM. When I left, they were still feeding high in a large spruce tree. They were active all morning.

 I wonder if after the first snowstorm that these birds might wander into town and be seen at feeders? It would make a great yard bird!

Gary


RE: Pine Grosbeaks on Humphreys Peak Trail - jawilder - 6 Jan 2018

Congrats, Gary! I'm glad they've been so cooperative...it sounds like they've hardly moved. That's a great bird to get as a lifer in Flagstaff, and your pics are fantastic.

Jason


RE: Pine Grosbeaks on Humphreys Peak Trail - bhealyphoto - 7 Jan 2018

No luck this morning- hoping the other birders I saw were able to find them.


RE: Pine Grosbeaks on Humphreys Peak Trail - jawilder - 7 Jan 2018

No eBird reports today...

Jason


RE: Pine Grosbeaks on Humphreys Peak Trail - jawilder - 24 Jan 2018

I thought I'd pass along a little digging I did about Pine Grosbeaks in the San Francisco Peaks. The first record of their occurrence there was in the winter of 1966-1967 (perhaps this is the only other record from the Peaks?, though they were at Slate Mountain in 2004). The circumstances were quite similar to this year: "a flock of 10 to 15 Pine Grosbeaks on the south slope of the San Francisco Peaks, at about 8,500 feet on the Snow Bowl Road."

A very interesting fact about the San Francisco Peaks that winter is that it also was home to rosy-finches, including at least two mixed flocks of Gray-crowned and Black Rosy-finches totaling ~100 birds (ratio of Gray-crowned to Black estimated at 4:1). These were observed in early February along Snow Bowl Road and at the ski area lodge.

I guess I won't give up on finding rosy-finches just yet...

All the above information comes from an article published in Plateau (MNA) in 1967.

Jason
Flagstaff, AZ


RE: Pine Grosbeaks on Humphreys Peak Trail - tblows - 24 Jan 2018

There are two records of Pine Grosbeak on the Flagstaff: Mt Elden CBC. 

24 birds on December 28th, 1968
13 birds on December 16th, 1979

Data is data and that is all I know. The circle is centered on Mount Elden's radio towers and as far as I know 'in the old days' the coverage  was only on the east side of town. Of course special trips may have been made to get this species. It is possible that Russ Balda or Dr. John Hildebrand might remember something.


RE: Pine Grosbeaks on Humphreys Peak Trail - jawilder - 24 Jan 2018

Once I got home I checked Monson and Phillips, and they also mention Pine Grosbeaks in the SF Peaks in the winters of 68-69 and 79-80, which matches your CBC data, Terry.

On another note, I went up to the bird collection at NAU and checked out some of the rosy-finches that were taken back in '67 at Snowbowl. Neat to see what might have been AZ's first Gray-crowned rosy-finch in the collection! Distinguishing the rosy-finches from one another is trickier than I'd appreciated...

[attachment=19368]

Jason


RE: Pine Grosbeaks on Humphreys Peak Trail - NorthernAZbirds - 25 Jan 2018

Just as a fan theory here, but is there any possible connection between wildfires in other parts of these birds ranges and their appearance here? I had an interesting thought that perhaps these grosbeaks were displaced birds from the Brian Head fire in southern Utah, a place that I'd seen this species before.