Salt River: Butcher Jones Recreation Area of Saguaro Lake, Maricopa County, AZ

Monday, January 15, 2018
With seven other birders, we began birding at the western cove of Saguaro Lake known as Butcher Jones (for an old-timer doctor who owned land around there) at 9:15 a.m. 

Many waterfowl were paddling around on the water from the beach to the point. With my spotting scope we were able to get good looks at many of them including this female CANVASBACK.

A few BUFFLEHEAD and numerous LESSER SCAUP were also present among many AMERICAN COOT and a few MALLARDs.

LESSER SCAUP [note small black "nail" on tip of blueish bill]

Out on a buoy was a gull. What kind? The scope view provided the answer:  RING-BILLED.

Normally, I might see one or two NORTHERN CARDINAL there, but today it looked like a conference had been called! I counted at least ten at the edge of the marsh reeds coming to the water and another large group in the picnic area.


Among the NORTHERN CARDINALs feeding on the ground at the west end of the picnic area was a PYRRHULOXIA.  Note the differences between the female NORTHERN CARDINAL (above) and the male PYRRHULOXIA below:

Note gray color, very short curved yellow bill, bright red crest, face and wings that contrast with the brown NOCA 
This photo (Pyrrhuloxia) above is from my file last month; the one on the ground today in the midst of the female NORTHERN CARDINALs didn't show the contrast between the two birds very well.

When we walked the trail toward Peregrine Point, I got ahead of the group. Soon, I heard Sharon calling, "Come here!"  -- meaning she was looking at a bird that needed identification. On a flattened part of the reeds in the marsh, stood a juvenile BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON. I was a bit short to take a photo over the nearby reeds into the flattened area but am inserting below a recent photo of another immature BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON.  Excellent find on Sharon's part.

We came upon a SONG SPARROW so dark that the best birders in the group looked at me askance. Our southwestern SOSP is a light reddish rufous color on white; this one was a highly contrasting very dark on white bird. Possibly a migrating bird, but certainly sharp looking and a thrill for me to see. Eventually, each birder saw the distinctive same pattern as on our southwestern species = a quite handsome bird at the base of the reeds! [After checking Sibley's field guide when I returned home, it may have been an Adult California Coast subspecies.]

In the picnic area we combed through the bushes following the sounds of various birds including gnatcatchers, most of which were the desert species of BLACK-TAILED GNATCATCHERS.

Marsha was intent on find a CRISSAL THRASHER so we walked way back following the horse trails beyond the picnic area. There in the trees, we came upon RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET, GRAY FLYCATCHER and ABERT'S TOWHEEs.  

Checking out a bush talking "gnatcatcher", I was startled when out from a dense tree above me a big bird flew out. Quickly, I was on it. Not hawk - OWL!  Marsha called, "big yellow eyes-orange face!"  By then, a second owl flew out. Notably smaller than a Great-Horned Owl, I noted the wings, too, appeared broader and shorter than GHO. Unbelieveably, a third owl flew out. WHAT??? By, then, I sort of knew what we had just witnessed. In years past, I used to look for LONG-EARED OWL there, but never found any. Today, the three flew out of the tree one after the other within 30 seconds, separating from one another into different directions as they headed southwest. In awe, we followed slowly. Half our group were photographers and not a one of us had lifted a lens!  We checked our field guides and concluded that our very good fortune was having seen a winter group of LONG-EARED OWLs. Each of us just sort of wandered off in separate directions wondering if we would come upon the bird(s) again. Yes! Rosemarie found one perched on an open limb (but backlit) with beautiful silhouette of LONG-EARED OWL. As I stepped closer for a photo, it took off again.

Photo below - from the internet - provides the closest representation to what we saw:


Some of the group hung back hoping to get a photo; the rest of us moved on to more birding. But the pull of the owls was no match for more CACTUS WREN or WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW.  One more sighting of the three LEOW brought us all into a final distant view of the three together. They immediately flew off separately. 

We relinquished our desire for photos to let the owls regroup and rest up for their night's adventures. 

Beyond awesome. 

* * *

View this checklist online at

Saguaro Lake El Norte, Maricopa County, AZ

Sunday, January 14, 2018
This morning I got out of bed reminding myself that a PRAIRIE WARBLER had eluded me at Saguaro Lake on Friday. So, off I went for another try, much earlier this time, starting at 7:40 a.m. Because the trail up the hill is quite rocky and fairly steep for my slightly ailing back, I stuck to the roadway near the posted sign for the trail but other birders headed up the hill.

Not known for my patience, I stayed focused for a very long time without finding the bird. 

On Friday, I had birded the portions of the Lake close to where I birded. Some birds out on the Lake:

LESSER SCAUP (above and below)

Not all birds had been on the water. A pair of Southwestern RED-TAILED HAWK (fuertesi) appeared to be gathering material for nest building. Photos below are of the same very pale bird in different lighting.

My patience today was running thin looking at the same 10-12 ironwood trees over and over to no avail. After taking a break in the restroom, I gave the ironwood trees near there one more go-over. I also started doing a "chip" sound, which I mention only because the bird suddenly showed up in a palo verde tree. Wow! Its yellow was unmistakeable but it didn't stay still. The bird headed into the dense center of an ironwood tree directly in front of me.

Trying to find the bird, I had just located a VERDIN, when Steve Boyack and Jaylyn arrived. They had done the high trail and returned. I told them I had seen the PRAIRIE WARBLER fly into the tree in front of us but it hadn't shown well yet. We followed movement, we caught glimpses of bright yellow. The bird is a small gem with a grayish spectacle.

Finally, it showed in the ironwood directly up the hill from the large restrooms.

PRAIRIE WARBLER at Saguaro Lake-North.
PRAIRIE WARBLER taking a short flight to the other side of the same ironwood tree

Then, it flew across the street, closer to the bathrooms.
Then, it took off again lower down and closer to the rest rooms.
Feeling grateful that my patience had lasted long enough to see the bird, I felt incredibly fortunate to get photos of this PRAIRIE WARBLER, most often found east of the Mississippi. Getting outside in any aspect of the natural world tends to rejuvenate me. When I see and photograph and rare bird like this, ecstatic!

Until next time.

* * * 

Lower Salt River Recreation Area, Maricopa County, AZ

Friday, January 12, 2018
Not one of my usual stops, I drove into the Goldfield Recreation Area this morning to see what birds might be lurking there. The sun was rising on the hillsides so it felt chlly to me at 46°F at 7:45 a.m.  

Birds were quiet, but some were perched up on distant saguaro (HARRIS'S HAWK) and on bare limbs of tall cottonwoods closer to the river. LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKER was drilling into the limb and a solitary WESTERN BLUEBIRD was soaking up some sun.

For me, the main draw of the less-accessible Goldfield is lack of human traffic and always some surprising bird or two. In two hours of birding, I saw a total of four people. 

Some birds were expected. 

A common resident of the southwest, it winters in the Sonoran Desert extending to several of our neighboring states.  It's believed the PHAINOPEPLA have two breeding seasons (early spring in the Sonoran Desert; late spring at higher elevations). With usual fly-catcher behavior, it can often be found perching on top of trees, occasionally without limbs hiding it.
If you're ever in a mesquite bosque and see a lot of mistletoe clumps, looks for this bird. It's my understanding that it is one of the few birds than can digest mistletoe berries. Finding an open nest of PHAINOPEPLA is rare since nesting often occurs in or close to these dense clumps of mistletoe making a nest diffcult to find.

While we might shrug off these very common southwestern and Great Plains' birds, not everyone in the country has the opportunity to see them. Our big-voiced and social GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE can be celebrated for cleaning up food remnants in picnic areas, parking lots, and dumsters. Its habitat extends to agricultural lands, pastures, scrub prairies, citrus groves, golf courses and in reeds along fresh-water marshes. It is one of three grackles in the USA. In Arizona, it's rare to find either Common Grackle or a Boat-tailed Grackle.
Common Grackle is abundant east of the Rockies and is often called the "purple grackle" due to its sun-reflected radiance. Boat-tailed Grackle is a coastal bird and can be found along some inland waterways as well.

Depending on where you live, you're likely to come in contact with one of these grackles.

 In the distance, I spotted a BALD EAGLE far across the river, preening.

By camera, I was able to pull it in enough to identify it as a 4-year bird.
Note the white remaining on its tail and wings. Not quite a fully mature BALD EAGLE, but much
farther along than most three-year BAEAs I've seen. Actually, this if my first "four-year" Bald Eagle.
As expected along the river, I found a KILLDEER.

Several pleasant surprises awaited me as I walked back - not along the river, but through the mesquite trees.  A TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE was perched up looking totally brown/gray on a bare limb. Perfect for photos, I took many but my body wasn't fully balanced on the rocky desert floor and all the shots were blurry. Bummer.

Had better luck with the WESTERN BLUEBIRDS.

Foraging on the ground. When I came upon the flock, they lifted over my head and dropped down again.

My visit to the Goldfield site had been all I wanted and more (also spotted a HAMMOND'S FLYCATCHER). 

Until next time!

* * *

View this checklist online at

A Bit of Birding in Santa Cruz and Pima Counties, SEAZ.

Saturday, January 6, 2018
When a  BROWN PELICAN flew over and in front of Glenda Jones's car as she and Hinde Silver joined me to see what we might find "down south" - we definitely did not expect that bird to cross our path in that manner. On our way to Santa Gertrudis Lane in Tumacacori, we had planned to stop at Amado Ponds to see the BROWN PELICAN on our return but if time becomes a factor, we've seen the target bird so we will be able to skip that spot on our agenda.

Since I hadn't pursued the RUFOUS-BACKED ROBINs in 2017 when they were reported at Santa Gertrudis Lane, I figured I'd better take advantage of recent reports of their continued presence.
We were not disappointed. It still felt cold when we arrived at 8 a.m. and my gloves were keeping me warm as I held my binoculars...making me unprepared for the RUFOUS-BACKED ROBIN that perched up on a clear branch facing a small group of us birders - showing off the dark streaks on its white neck running down into its orange-ish chest. It sat high and proud. So I stayed still. Thus, no clear photos of any of the three (3) of them in that tree being chased by a NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD. Mostly, twigs and leaves appear just where you might want to look at some aspect of the bird.


Thanks to Glenda Jones who took this photo, you can see what the bird looks like.
RUFOUS-BACKED ROBIN is a rare (but seemingly an annual casual visitor in the past few years) from Mexico. Its very yellow bill looks just the right shape for picking hackberries off the limb. It's name tells you that its rufous color extends to its back, between its gray nape and rump. Its front has less extensive color than our American Robin and also lacks the white above the eye that helps identfy our more common robin.

A female NORTHERN CARDINAL also enjoyed some berries.
Walking only a short distance south on the deAnza Trail, we came upon a HOUSE WREN (but no Sinaloa), a CASSIN'S VIREO, a few NORTHERN FLICKERS plus a handful of RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS.

Although we drove into Montosa Canyon for a look around, it was extremely quiet bird-wise.

One of the trails we walked in Montosa Cyn.
When the birds are quiet, we enjoy the scenery - taken from within Montosa Canyon.
Proctor Road trail provided some good walking after having been in the car for so long (3 hour drive down) but, again, birds, while not plentiful, were "quality" birds -- not ones I see every day.

When looking into the trees and you see this bird - it stops you in your tracks. It's checking out sapsucker holes looking for insects that may have gotten trapped in the sap.

Catching its profile is not nearly as colorful as seeing its bright red belly.
Glenda's camera got caught up in the action, too; her photos of the PAINTED REDSTART are below.

Glenda & Hinde (L-R) slightly off trail at the top of the loop.
When we had retraced our steps to the dirt Proctor Road, we turned right to see if we could find the special gnatcatcher that I knew had nested and raised at least one young in that area last year. I had searched the woods of that area on our way out with no luck.

A gnatcatcher was calling, but it wasn't the BLACK-CAPPED GNATCATCHER we were hoping to see. Two women from Dallas were also hoping to see it so five of us were now looking for this rarity. When we landed on it, we did a quick evaluation since we all knew either the Blue-Gray or Black-tailed Gnatcatchers. The bill on this one was definitely longer than on the local species of gnatcatchers (also present by the way) and my observation gave me my best ever view of its graduated under-tail white feathers. By the time those seconds (a minute maybe) had gone by, the bird took off with no photo proof - but a solid sighting that was worth more than a photo to me this time.

A RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER returned to its tree at the corner of Proctor Road and the paved trail.

With time left for a visit to Santa Rita Lodge, we drove up the road to see what birds might be visiting the multiple feeders at that location.

The "clownish" ACORN WOODPECKER (several of them entertained us with their antics)

WILD TURKEY forage on the ground below the feeders (only 2 there during our visit)

Although numerous hummingbird feeders were available, the number of hummingbirds was slim. ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRD was the most frequent visitor and the only one I identified as I watched the action all over the birding site: MEXICAN JAY, PINE SISKIN, LESSER GOLDFINCH, DARK-EYED and YELLOW-EYED JUNCO, WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH and BRIDLED TITMOUSE.

It was a grand day!

* * *

View this checklist online at

View this checklist online at

View this checklist online at

New Year's Day Birding at the Salt River (Maricopa County) plus a week of birding to kick off the New Year!

January 1, 2018
Unexpectedly, I awoke early to the sound of two GREAT HORNED OWLS calling to one another. The male, with deep hoots, was probably on my street light standard as it often perches there. This time, however, its hoots were being answered with a higher pitched hooting from a female. Back and forth it went. I chose not to go back to sleep at 3:30 a.m. but stayed in bed just to listen to them for the next half hour. A very HAPPY NEW YEAR's DAY for me!  
GREAT HORNED owls start nesting in January so breeding season was getting underway. Although these birds raise their young in the dead of winter, in Phoenix their nests are often found in the open areas of Lowe's and Home Depot, high up on stacked material in the gardening areas. Once breeding occurs, the female will incubate up to five eggs while the male brings her food. Within a month, the owlets will be visible - whether in a saguaro nest, tree, or in your back yard. Both parents guard the young and teach them how to hunt.

Photos below taken in a Mesa Home Depot a few years ago show how adaptive the owls are: 


My all-time favorite photo of a young GREAT HORNED OWL is the one below that surprised me by cooling its feet during the hot summer in the swimming pool where I live.

With Lois Lorenz joining me again for another New Year's Day exploration of two Salt River Recreation areas, (Granite Reef & Coon Bluff) we found lots of good birds, including three (3) BALD EAGLEs; two (2) HARRIS'S HAWKs; an ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER;  and in the river: COMMON GOLDENEYE, BUFFLEHEAD, NORTHERN PINTAIL, RUDDY DUCKs, GADWALL, CANVASBACK and PIED-BILLED GREBEs.



Each year is a new year of birding. At one minute past midnight on New Year's Eve, the clock starts ticking on the number of birds a person enters into eBird or any other database. I managed to see a total of 456 species of birds in 2017, with 341 of them in Arizona, ranking me among other e-bird users in Arizona at #11 for the year. 

So, again, we set out now in 2018 in our own defined manner to catch up with rare birds or just go out and enjoy various places around our very birdy state. eBird works the statistics; we know at the end of the year just about anything we want to know about our birding numbers during the past year: what counties we birded in any state in the USA and around the World. 

All the birds being posted here are as of January 1st, so beginning with the GREAT HORNED OWL as my first bird of 2018, all the birds you see here are also new to this year's list.


We didn't cover a great deal of territory at Granite Reef and Coon Bluff Recreation Areas but enjoyed our first-day-of-the-year birding together.

January 3, 2018
When I arrived at Gilbert Water Ranch this morning, the sun was just rising.

Later, it changed:

Also took note of the setting Wolf Super Moon:

Today, I reversed my usual trek, beginning at Pond 6 so that by the time I reached the 1/7 trail, the sun might have warmed suffciently to have insects available on the leaves of the Tree of Awesomeness. Several rarities continue in a large spreading cottonwood there and it would be nice to include them on my 2018 Arizona Bird List.

Beginning with 95 CANADA GOOSE, the ponds with water held a great variety of wintering waterfowl including large numbers of NORTHERN SHOVELER.

In addition to being eye-catching and colorful, the long-legged shorebirds including numerous SNOWY EGRET, a few GREAT EGRET, flocks of BLACK-NECKED STILT and AMERICAN AVOCET were spread around on several of the ponds.

BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERONS, a couple GREAT BLUE HERON and my spark bird, GREEN HERON were also present in various ponds or perches.


NORTHERN CARDINAL in a mesquite tree along one of the trails

A bird that often eludes me showed itself in Honeybee Cove (camping area): a shy SPOTTED TOWHEE that, upon seeing me, decided it didn't want to come out from under the shrubs after all.

When I reached the large cottonwood on the 1/7 trail by the Mason Bly bench, several birders from Tucson were present and could not believe the number of warblers foraging on insects on the big leaves. Although I wanted to start the New Year with photos of the continuing rarities, the BLACK & WHITE WARBLER was quick when it flew in and worked a limb like a nuthatch. No sooner did I call it than it flew off completely and was replaced by yet another YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER. One of the Tucson birders spotted the Black and White with me.

The warblers flit around so quickly, I ended up holding my camera at the action spots with the hope of capturing their likeness sufficiently to ID what my binoculars were telling me. The only photo that came close was the one of the continuing NORTHERN PARULA, with a beautiful blue-gray back and head, two white wing bars, yellow throat, reddish and black bands across the chest of this adult male. My photo shows a blob at that spot.  

Same bird as above from internet  

Although I thought I had one of the other rarities, it did not give me sufficiently good enough looks to correctly identify it, so I passed. (Chestnut-sided Warbler that the others had already seen).  

January 4, 2018
In late morning, I stopped by Red Mountain Park where I walked around the lake and then out into the desert. There were many expected birds and I didn't take very many photos, but I've posted a few below.  This first one, a MUSCOVY DUCK is a domestic duck and does not count on our list but I find it fascinating to gaze upon. Only in the wild is it countable.

In addition to many AMERICAN COOT, these AMERICAN WIGEON seemed to like the pond.

CANADA GOOSE need no introduction
Has all the markings of a SNOW GOOSE but is sitting really high in the water.

After circling the Pond, I walked out into the desert where my best sighting was a Black-tailed Jackrabbit but it was too quick for me to catch a photo.

The GILDED FLICKER was an easier bird for the camera. I spooked it up from the base of a fallen tree where it was pecking for grubs of some sort.  It flew up into a palo verde tree where you can see a shaft of yellow feathers in the tail. When it flies, the underwing can shine golden in the afternoon sun. It differs from the Northern Flicker which is red-shafted and red under the wings in flight and by the color of the head. While a Northern Flicker is gray headed, this GILDED FLICKER has a copper-colored head.

January 5, 2018
Found time to check out some birds at nearby Prospector Park in Apache Junction today after taking my car in for routine maintenance. 

A familiar desert thrasher showed up: a BENDIRE'S.

Its lighter color, lighter iris,and lightness at base of bill instead of black all the way help differentiate it from Curve-billed Thrasher. But one of the best markers for me are the well-defined spots on the breast of the BENDIRE'S compared to the smudgy spots on the Curve-billed (no photo today). The spots are more orderly and rarely run together.

Although KILLDEER are known as birds that can be found around water, they can also be found around playing fields such as the well-watered soccer field at the northeast end of the park. It was distant from me but its size, shape and stance announced itself with clarity.

I continued birding but soon here a loude keeeeer call from the bird. It was crouched low on the ground as if injured.

Looking around, I noticed, perched above me, a female AMERICAN KESTREL with its eye definitely on the KILLDEER.

Uncertain about the precise drama that was unfolding in front of me, I walked off a ways and continued snapping photos of other birds but also keeping an eye on potential Predator and Victim.

A male GILA WOODPECKER was working persistently at a good-sized hole in a saguaro. Does it have breeding season on its mind?

A male GILDED FLICKER, with its coppery head and red malar highlighted in the sunshine, were distant and just barely reachable with my camera. Looks like he blinked!

Before leaving the soccer field, I checked back and discovered the AMERICAN KESTREL was looking at me; the KILLDEER was up and about. Whether the KILLDEER faked injury before the kestrel even had a chance to attack (looks like big prey for it) or whether the kestrel took a swipe at it, I don't know. Fascinating behavior to witness.

Out in the desert, I checked many of the ironwood trees for potential owls but found none. Desert birds included BLACK-TAILED GNATCATCHER, VERDIN, CACTUS WREN, PHAINOPEPLA and a few ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRDS.

Best of all was a male AMERICAN KESTREL perched on top of a saguaro. My first photos were from quite a distance but it allowed me to come quite close and was still perched when I left.

Tomorrow, I'll start a separate blog for Saturday's adventure.

* * *