Brrr! There was frost on the ground and ice on edges of the ponds this morning. I again saw the Dippers in the stream right behind the lodge. They're building a nest under the footbridge over the stream.
I wandered around town a little bit to start the day, adding red morph Northern Flicker and Pine Siskin. I got a better look at one of the juncos. It had an all-pink bill, meaning it is the migrant Gray-headed race (caniceps). I also saw an apparent Abert's Squirrel (the coloration was right, although I didn't notice the ears!).
I then headed down FR-1126 to view the River Reservoir (one of the Greer Lakes). New birds included Double-crested Cormorant, Canada Goose, and Spotted Sandpiper. The Cormornants appear to be nesting, as is a pair of Osprey, and possibly Great Blue Heron. Finally, there was a Beaver in the vegetation on the other side.
I drove a little farther down the road to do some forest birding. As I got out of the car a large bird came off the ground and landed in a tree, mostly out of sight. I was immediately thinking “owl”. Indeed, it was a Great Horned Owl. I was temporarily distracted by the call of a Red-breasted Nuthatch, then turned my attention back to the owl.
While I was standing looking at the owl, I heard a flutter of wings and some chatter behind me. The chatter came from some Pygmy Nuthatches (the first of many today), but I didn't immediately see the source of the flutter, which passed extremely close. Then I noticed a Western Bluebird. I continued to bird the area, spotting a Red-naped Sapsucker. Pretty soon, I heard a couple of them, and watched two take turns drumming on the same stick. (Unlike the notorious Red-breasted Sapsucker, the Red-naped has never been a nemesis bird for me.) I also found a Golden-mantled Ground-Squirrel in the same area.
Still farther down the road there was a concentration of Violet-green Swallows around some dead trees. I noticed a couple of the go into holes in the trees. They're either nesting there or thinking about it. A Gray-collared Chipmunk was a bit farther down the road. It's a life chipmunk!
I returned to 373 and drove a short distance to the Squirrel Spring Recreation Area (Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest). I walked the trail along Rosey Creek in hopes of more resident birds. I saw more of the same birds, although I couldn't complain about the gorgeous Audubon's Warbler that foraged on the ground 15 feet in front of me, especially when he started singing. I then followed a trail up the slope and headed back toward the highway, cutting through a campground. On the way I noticed a bird flush that didn't look quite right for Robin. It wasn't. It was a Hermit Thrush.
I continued along 373 out to SR-260, then turned east. After a few miles, I reached the turnoff for South Fork (of the Little Colorado). I birded along the river in hopes of returning residents. Many were absent, as has been the case generally (judging from the vegetation, I think I'm just a week or two early to get all the residents). I did get a glimpse of a Virginia's Warbler, and found a pair of Spotted Towhees. There were supposed to be Pinyon Jays, but all I found were Western (Woodhouse's) Scrub-Jays. Apparently Montezuma Quail is also resident here, but you have to be very lucky to see them. I wasn't.
I returned to the Greer area and checked the rest of the Greer Lakes. This added Common Merganser, Western Grebe, and Common Goldeneye to the list.
A little closer to the village is the Butler Canyon Nature Trail. It's a mile long, with 21 interpretative stops. Ruby-crowned Kinglet was the only new bird. By now it was time for lunch, so I stopped at the Rendezvous Diner, which seems to be the only breakfast and lunch spot in Greer.
After lunch, I headed through the village to the East Fork trailhead. On the way I noticed a bluebird on the wire that looked different—Mountain Bluebird. There was a junco at the East Fork trailhead. I got pretty close looks at him, and he had the bicolored bill of the resident Red-backed race (dorsalis). This was my only missing junco form. I think I saw one 11 years ago at the AMNH Research Station in Cave Creek, but I was never 100% sure it wasn't a Yellow-eyed Junco. This time I'm sure! I also spotted a Red Squirrel in the area, having heard a couple earlier today.
I had planned to travel some forest roads in the afternoon, but noticed that it would be a good idea to fill the gas tank first. There's no gas station in Greer, so I drove the 10 miles to Eager for gas (too bad I didn't think of it when I was at South Fork). Just outside Eager, I saw a Great Egret.
My first try was to use SR-273 to access the forest roads south of SR-260. There was just one problem. The road was closed. Worse, I didn't see any sign on 260, so the first I realized it was a sign telling me the road was closed in 2 miles. So much for plan A.
Plan B was to take FR-117 to Green's Peak. The road passes through habitat for grouse and other interesting species. Except for the absence of grouse, that work fine until I got to the road up Green's Peak. It is rare that I balk on a road. But this very wavy two-track was beyond my limit. Well, I might try it in a high-clearance vehicle, but mine is back in Miami, and the rental car is low-clearance only. On the way back to the main road I ran into a couple of bird flocks, including a flock of Vesper Sparrows.
I called it a day at this point. Dinner was again at Neon Moon, the only restaurant in Greer open for dinner (but not open for breakfast and lunch). This serial monopoly is an odd system. There might be more open on the weekend.
Late in the day I got a good look at one of the juncos at the lodge. So was it Gray-headed or Red-backed? I don't know. It had mostly pink bill, but with dark trim. Do some Red-backed Juncos have less dark on the upper mandible? Is it an intergrade? I don't know.
So far, I have 96 species of bird for the trip, and 9 mammal species.
Greer Lodge Resort, Greer, AZ