I also had a lot of anticipation for this trip because it would provide a great opportunity for safari birding--spotting and photographing from the comfort and concealment from a vehicle--which is pretty great. Of course, this limits one's access to roads, but birds tolerate automobiles much better than pedestrians (in non-urban settings), plus it's cold at 7:00 am these days. Driving slowly along the dusty agricultural roads west of Picacho Peak, lots of curious birds would pop up to see who else was awake at this hour.
When I am 114 years old, lying on my deathbed ready ti impart some last nugget of wisdom to my progeny it will be this: "Never pass up the opportunity to gawk at a Lark Sparrow."
Of course, with winter happening now, the Phoenix area is crawling with White-crowned Sparrow juveniles and adults. I've no idea what the science is on this, but why does it seems like there are more immature White-crowns around than any other bird? Sure, their young are more visible and recognizable, but you don't see many other immature birds in winter, including other Sparrows, while the precocious White-crowns are everywhere.
One of the larger attractions to farm-field car birding, in addition to the high occurrence of raptors, is the opportunity to photograph Larks. There aren't many grassy fields in the Phoenix area, so if you want Meadowlarks you've got to head to the farms, where you'll find them in relative abundance.
I often frustrated with my photographic attempts at Meadowlarks. I feel like everyone and their grandmother has sweet close-up shots of a Meadowlark singing its heart out from atop a fencepost. In my experiences, they're very shy and often spook if I slow the car down.
Horned Larks are more cooperative, but which species is the more handsome? That is a tough call...
It's also tricky to photograph the Larks when party-pooping Sharp-shinned Hawks keep dive-bombing everyone. This guy didn't even have the courtesy to stop and pose so that he wasn't back-lit.
These birds were all just seen en route to the smaller birding hotspots in the Santa Cruz flats, and there'll be more to come on that front later this week. In the mean time, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all.