The Search for the Bendire’s at the Thrasher Spot

The Trasher Spot in Arizona is famous in the birding world as the location to see four thrashers: sage, crissal, Bendire’s, and Le Conte’s. It is also known as one of the best spots in it’s range to see the notoriously sulky and ghost-like Le Conte’s thrasher.

I had seen the Le Conte’s thrasher, after many, many attempts, just west of the dump in Borrego Springs, California in January of 2019 so this illusive thrasher was not my target bird for this visit, but the Bendire’s thrasher was.

Spring flowers and a tire at the Trasher Spot.

I wandered around the spot and I found no thrasher. A few horned larks and western meadowlarks lifted away as a red-tail circled above. In the taller trees I spotted a bird perched up but as I got a better look it was just a mockingbird. Well that was looking and sounding like a good omen.

Off to my left a bird was perched up on some sagebrush. Could this be the Bendire’s? I needed to get closer to get a positive identification. As I got closer, the bird flew farther away to another sagebrush perch. I circled round to get the bird in some better light. This was a thrasher alright, not a Bendire’s but a sage thrasher.

After searching for just over an hour and only seeing one thrasher species, the sage thrasher, I decided to pack it in for the day and return again in the morning, my last full day in Phoenix, to add Bendire’s to my life list and I hoped it was not going to be as hard and laborious as the Le Conte’s thrasher.

I headed west on West Salome Highway, making my way back to Highway 10. When I slowed near the intersection of the impossibly named 339th Avenue, I saw a mimid-type bird perched on the roadside announcing the intersection of 339th Avenue.

I immediately pulled over and cursed myself for packing my bins and camera in the trunk. As I stepped out of the car, the bird dropped down and disappeared from sight before I could identify it. I was not going to give up now!

Now I was armed with the instruments of a birder. The mystery mimid flew across the highway and landed in a tree of sticks. The hunt was on!

I managed to scuttle across the highway without becoming a grill ornament on a pick up truck (the state vehicle of Arizona) and bushwhacked ( they were short bushes) and made my siege on the tree-bush.

All I needed was a brief glimpse. Give me the shorter beak with a pale base, the yellow eye, or the arrow shaped markings on the breast. Then I would close out all the North American thrashers! Oh and a photo would be nice.

In typical thrasher fashion the bird put a load of branches between itself and myself. But I did get enough pieces of the puzzle that added up to Bendire’s Thrasher. Lifer and the final thrasher on my list! We played a game of hide and seek as I tried to get a photo, the Bendire’s not giving a fig about me and my selfish wants.

This Bendire’s looked a bit odd. It was something about it’s bill. When I put bins on the bird, I noticed it was carrying a butterfly. Was this a snack or a gift?


In Pursuit of Phantoms

Just west of the Salton Sea, the road begins to rise, just out of Salton City. Slowly you climb up to above sea level and you keep climbing through the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. My target bird for this little desert detour was the elusive Le Conte’s thrasher. This bird have eluded me all over Joshua Tree National Park and I hoping to add this bird to my life list at the known thrasher hotspot at Old Springs Road Open Space Preserve.

I walked the sand in ever widening circles, hoping to catch the bird that looked like a mouse darting from bush to bush, but the the only evidence of the thrasher were it’s footprints in the desert sands.

With one last day in Joshua Tree I decided to try one last place for Le Conte’s, a location I had tried before, Queen Valley Road. I walked the road, stopping every once in awhile to listen for the thrasher’s song. I was about 300 yards down the road, when I heard the warble of of a far of thrasher off to the left. I maddening ran through the desert brush, like Tuco the Ugly, in the famous “Ecstasy Of Gold” scene in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The song seemed to come from the rock outcrop. I scanned the area for any sign of the thrasher.

I finally spotted the thrasher in the upper branches of a tree, signing it’s heart out and mimicking a scrub-jay, which perched in the tree next to the singing thrasher. I was able to get great looks at the very light, sandy thrasher. Le Conte’s thrasher! I watched the thrasher as it moved around, singing from the highest perches around it’s territory.


The singing thrasher on top of a boulder.

I then walked off to the Wall Street Mine. On the way out to the mine, doubt started to set in. There was something about the bird that didn’t fit. Would a Le Conte’s sing in the top of the tallest tree around? Is the Le Conte’s know for it’s mimicry in it’s songs? Everything I had read about the bird was that it was elusive and sang a quiet, hushed song. This was not the thrasher I had just seen. In my desire to see a Le Conte’s, I had convinced myself that this thrasher fit the part.


The abandoned Wall Street Mine, Joshua Tree National Park.

On my return from the mine, I refound the thrasher and this time I confirmed that it was not a Le Conte’s but a California thrasher. And I so I left Joshua Tree without finding the elusive silent-sulker of a thrasher.


Foot steps in the sand are the closest I came to “seeing” the mysterious, Le Conte’s thrasher.