Saturday, February 11, 2012

Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, AZ

The road leading into Las Cienegas NCA, AZ, shows the diversity of this area and its importance as a bird preserve, Sonoita, AZ; 12/20/2012.
On 12/20/2011, I had the opportunity to visit two very large and reputable National Conservation Areas near the Sierra Vista area of southeastern Arizona: the San Pedro Riparian NCA (which I talked about in my past two weekends of posts), and the Las Cienegas NCA (Above). Unfortunately, due to commitments later in the day, I had to cut my visit to the Las Cienegas short. Because my target bird at this area was to try to find a Baird's Sparrow (Below?), and because of the time constraints, we only stayed in the grassland area which is dotted with scrub oak; however, there is more to the Las Cienegas than the grasslands.  It consists of more than 45,000 acres of rolling grasslands and woodlands combined, that connect several mountain ranges; plus the lush riparian corridors following Cienega Creek has water year round and attracts and supports all forms diverse plant and animal life. There are 60 mammals, 230 birds, 43 reptiles and amphibians and three native fish making this region their home. Included in this list are 33 species which are listed as threatened or endangered. See the link below for more specific information: . 

A blurry photo of a sparrow, which looks to be a baird's Sparrow, but I am not completely certain. The ochre coloring of its face looked right, but the shape of the head and bill was obscured by a branch, so it is hard to really be sure. This pic was not taken in the Las Cienegas, but actually taken in the San Pedro Riparian NCA, AZ; 12/20/2011. 
Throughout the hour or so I spent walking along the dirt road cutting through the golden grass of this area, I witnessed hundreds of sparrows (at least I suspected them to be sparrows) flushed out of the grass and taking refuge in nearby brush and small oaks.  However, for the most part, the majority of these birds hid pretty well and kept at a good distance, and didn't afford me much opportunity to get good pics, much less even identify them.  According to the Bird List (Link Below) of the Las Cienegas, there are between 25-30 species of birds that are either sparrows or similar (Longspurs, Buntings, and Towhees) that inhabit these grasslands, and definitely challenged my identification skills. Later in the day, while looking at my photos (which were not of high quality in the first place) I became more and more unconfident in my abilty to identify the birds in most of my images.

Link to Las Cienegas bird list:

A light breast and more washed out facial features tells me this is a Brewer's Sparrow, Las Cienegas NCA, AZ; 12/20/2011.
I'll include some of my better quality photos (which isn't saying much, in this post) with my attempt at identification. I always welcome input from any readers of this blog who would like to correct any of my identifications. (Above) I believe is a Brewer's Sparrow, while (Below) is a Clay-colored Sparrow.
More defined facial features than a Brewer's showed this probably to be a Clay-colored Sparrow, Las Cienegas NCA, AZ; 12/20/2011.
The yellow lores on this sparrow points it to be a Savannah Sparrow; however, its bill might be a bit large for a Savannah, but nothing else about this Sparrow led me to believe it was another species. Las Cienegas NCA, AZ; 12/20/2011.
The two pics (Above) look to be Vesper Sparrows, which seemed to dominate most of my images from the area,  Las Cienegas NCA, AZ; 12/20/2011.

The only bird (other than a Crow) that I believe was not a sparrow is this Longspur which I have identified as a McCown's Longspur. I hope I am correct, Las Cienegas NCA, AZ; 12/20/2011.
Another look at the beautiful habitat of the Las Cienegas NCA, AZ; 12/20/2011.
I will definitely put the Las Cienegas (Above) as a must to visit again - and hopefully soon - so I can do a better job covering this wonderful National Conservation Area, not only getting a second chance to identify the hundreds of grassland birds, but also get to the Cienega Creek and the woodlands to check out the bird species that take up residence there. I am hoping that during my Spring Break in April might afford me this second chance.
Tomorrow and next weekend, I'll feature birds that I found at the Botanical Gardens in Phoenix.

1 comment:

Sue said...

I've thoroughly enjoyed this series from Arizona as hubby and I are heading there in 2 weeks to see the grandson. We've heard so much about the birding areas of SE Arizona and it's nice to find posts about it too. Thanks for sharing!