Coon Bluff Recreation Area along the Lower Salt River, Maricopa County, AZ

Tuesday, September 19, 2017
With birder friends, Kathleen McCoy and Beth Whittam, I pulled into Coon Bluff Rec Area around 6 a.m.

Barely light when we began birding, we were thrilled to see, up on the ridge west of us, a lone wild horse posing between two mesquite trees. Too distant; too dark for photo op even though it was "picture perfect".

One of our first sightings that I'll return to later was at the river close to the bluff. A hard chip or chirp was not quite like an Abert's Towhee (nor Northern Cardinal) and I had no idea what might be down on the small island below us. But when we heard many chirps all at once, we couldn't believe our eyes. It was a highlight and revelation will be continued at the end of this blog.

Meanwhile, both women were seeing birds they can't always identify. Going out with birders a bit more practiced helps people new to birding get a handle on the birds around them.
Kathleen had never seen a VERMILION FLYCATCHER (below). We would see at least five (5) of them in our three hours of birding Coon Bluff.




The female Vermilions were also out and about but too distant for good photos. They are exquisitely colored to be safe on a nest since its peach-color is located on its lower belly and vent (area between its legs). When perched, this peachy area shines a subtle beauty.

The BLACK PHOEBE was present whenever we were close to the river. Two pair of them appeared to be hawking insects from the smorgasbord of them right above the water. It's voice was our constant companion.


BLACK PHOEBE
Our resident woodpecker, the GILA was drumming on the mesquite limbs where a female allowed a photo (below). With no red on the back of its head to indicate "male", this female was prepared to take off.




One of my favorite birds is the little BLACK-TAILED GNATCATCHER. A desert bird, it is less well known than the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Our tiny desert bird rarely sits still but when I'm lucky, I snag a photo.


BLACK-TAILED GNATCATCHER
We capped off the day laughing when we were treated to a rare sight. A first-year juvenile COOPER'S HAWK was "perfecting" its skill at catching prey. There were some ground squirrels running around. We watched the young COOPER'S HAWK make at least three attempts to catch that squirrel, but it never came up clean with it. The squirrel would hunker down among the weeds at the base of a mesquite until it felt it might be safe...not knowing that the Cooper's was on the ground just beyond the tree. But, try as it might, it didn't make a successful catch while we watched. A sibling flew in once from elsewhere in the mesquite bosque, perhaps thinking it could share some food from this one, but it flew off immediately when the noise of wings in the grass did not result in food for one, let alone two hawks. We felt fortunate to have witnessed this hawk's learning curve.



COOPER'S HAWK (two above photos)
My best bird of the day was the BELTED KINGFISHER, mainly because it was the First of this Season or (f.o.s.). The local kingfishers depart for the summer and this male was the first I've seen locally. Hard to photograph, the photo below is from my files. And, I'll post another file photo of a female so you can see the difference.


Male BELTED KINGFISHER with one blue/grey band across its chst
Female BELTED KINGFISHER has two very rufous belts across its white belly.
And, now, back to our delightful discovery in the early morning in the river below the bluff. Who knew that River Otter chatted up a storm? Oh, how they played!  In lieu of my horrible photo, I went online to find something similar to what we saw right below the bluff. Three river otter rolled, played and chirped like nothing I've witnessed before.



It's my understanding that the southwestern subspecies of river otter is extinct or not known to be alive. In the 1980's some North American river otter were released into the Verde River and here they were in the Salt! They were around last season, also, so they must be an established population. 

Lots of good memories this morning!


* * *








San Carlos Reservoir, Gila & Pinal Counties, Arizona

Monday, September 18, 2017
Having already secured our permits*, Hinde Silver and I entered the road leading to San Carlos Memorial. 

What?? Since when is this road not bladed and smooth? Again, I had traveled out to the San Carlos Reservoir for some good birding in my own little hybrid car and come face to face with deep gully-like ruts in deep sand on a road that had always been bladed and easy driving before. Having learned from my last experience out there that my vehicle is no match for sandy, deeply rutted roads (from summer rains and winds) I needed to turn back to the main road (Coolidge Dam Road a/k/a IR3). Bummer.

Having intended to spend at least two hours or more at the flat Memorial site, I could only imagine the sparrows I was missing in the grasses and weeds around the place. The Memorial itself is a reminder of the dislocation of the tribe from beside the Gila River when the Coolidge Dam was built and their previous village submerged. Being unable to proceed on the deep-sand road was nothing compared to what they experienced.

Being fed by the Gila River, San Carlos reservoir (lake) is about 23 miles long and is home to waterfowl, raptors and birds that we don't always see near our more developed cities and towns closer to Phoenix. So, I re-adjusted my thinking, picked up my notes from my last exploration there and found a more stony dirt road that carried us all the way to this north side of the lake in Gila County. With coves on both sides, I hoped to find some sandpipers or long-legged water birds but none were present. Spotting scope got a good work out here.

The reservoir was filled with many many grebes, both WESTERN and CLARK'S GREBES.
Difficult birds to identify when new to birding, the two grebes appear to be very similar but can be discerned by several differing characteristics. In mating plumage, identification is easier than right now when they are in basic or winter plumage. The red eye of the WESTERN GREBE is surrounded by its black head feathers while the CLARK'S GREBE (in basic plumage) has its black cap run right up to the mid-red eye; it doesn't come below the eye. Details, details. The WESTERN'S bill is a more olive and duller yellow than the CLARK'S GREBE - second photo below. 


WESTERN GREBE 
CLARK'S GREBE - note the brighter yellow bill
It looks simple when you see the photos of the differences but its a stretch to call them correctly in the field when they swim about in shade and sun light.

Although we had counted a couple LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE on utility wires as we drove toward the lake, one flew into a bushy shrub at cliff's edge directly in front of us and started calling. Heard it immediately, swung around and snapped a few photos. 


LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE
A few sparrow were active here, too: VESPER, BREWERS and BLACK-THROATED, the latter being one of my favorites and it was the most prevalent sparrow of the day.


BLACK-THROATED SPARROW (2)
After two hours along the lake, still enjoying clear skies and light breezes, we moved along to the Coolidge Dam area where we found more WESTERN and CLARK'S GREBES, a DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT and a GREAT BLUE HERON.


DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT


GREAT BLUE HERON far below us from our perch on the road above
My photography moment of the day occurred near the dam. First, I found a ZONE-TAILED HAWK flying with a small group of TURKEY VULTURES. Somewhat smaller than the vultures, the Zonie stood out despite its similarly bi-colored underwing. The one white band showing across its tail screamed ZONE-TAILED. 



ZONE-TAILED HAWK - two above photos. This one is crossing under a utility wire
When an OSPREY flew in and perched on a utility pole not far distant, I laughed because it looked as if it had cupped feet.


OSPREY close to insulators on utility pole
While I was attentive to the OSPREY above, another flew in across the road from this one and gave it a look.


OSPREY


OSPREY (same bird as above with head turned opposite direction)
Pursuing, then, more passable roadways into the lake from its south side (Pinal County), we lucked out with two roads that got us somewhat close from where we spotted a BALD EAGLE flying overhead but, try as we did, no shorebirds, gulls or terns materialized. 

Our final stop on the dividing line between Pinal and Graham counties (the Campground road) delivered a whole string of black and white birds bunched together along a narrow sand spit: DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTs and AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN. There were more of each along the spit and across the lake's center line placing some of them, uncounted on the list, in Gila County.
DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (larger than Neotropic Cormorant) and AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN


By day's end, we were thrilled with the results of our explorations but I'll definitely find someone with a higher-clearance vehicle with all-wheel drive the next time! Including our drive time, it was a ten-hour day!


* * *
* 24-hour Recreation Permit is required to bird on San Carlos land. Can be purchased for $10 per person at the new gas station (Chevron?) on the north side of the road just prior to McDonald's on the south AND right before Rt. 60 turns north toward the Salt River Canyon. Permits can also be purchased at the Circle K (also on north side) when you continue forward (instead of turning on Rt. 60) directly toward San Carlos on Route 70.

To view our bird lists, click the links below:



View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S39262594






Granite Reef Recreation Area, Lower Salt River, Maricopa County, Arizona

Tuesday, September 12, 2017
Having met two women new to birding at a recent Bird Walk at Boyce Thompson Arboretum, the three of us agreed to get together on occasion to do some birding. 

Today was the day. I selected Granite Reef Rec Area along the Lower Salt River, a place with which they were unfamiliar, to see what we might find. Because I like to spend a lot of time when I’m at the river, I hadn’t birded there since early summer (too hot) and had no idea what we might find.

Kathleen, Beth and I began birding at 6 a.m.  With no waterfowl immediately obvious on the river, we scanned above Red Mountain (not yet lit up by the sun) and found a small kettle of BLACK VULTUREs. They had seen lots of Turkey Vultures at Boyce Thompson but immediately confirmed the much shorter tail - the best ID mark we had from that distance. Their flatter wing position in flight was somewhat obvious although I've seen TUVUs sometimes rise up that way early in the day. Later, three of the BLACK VULTUREs would fly overhead so that they could then see the all black wing (instead of bi-colored of Turkey Vulture) plus the light primaries at the end of the wings. 

Red Mountain  [photo from my files]
BLACK VULTURE [file photo]
Kathleen commented on having heard a sound coming from the path off the parking lot. I hadn't heard it, but decided to check it out. What we found:




A small band of wild horses were working their way toward the picnic area, having bedded down, apparently, in the mesquite bosque. Two adults had foals following closely and nursing from time to time; the third adult may have been a stallion who waited for the four of them to emerge toward the picnic area. They were fearless, munching their way along, keeping an eye on us as we stood still at the gate. When they passed, we got on with birding!  

Lucky me! My new birding friends liked adventure so we covered the west side quite thoroughly.

How many species do you see?
We didn't want to spook the birds, but the WHITE-FACED IBIS were skittish and lifted into the air, circled a few times and then returned.
WHITE-FACED IBIS
WHITE-FACED IBIS foraged in smaller groups when they returned
SPOTTED SANDPIPER at same location

The weedy areas had lots of sparrows but not the one I was looking to see! They were all LARK SPARROWS -- much more striking in appearance than a Clay-colored Sparrow!

LARK SPARROW [from my files]

Approaching the dam, we had a mature BALD EAGLE fly downstream (west) and disappear off to the north. About the time we started focusing on the birds in the mud below us, another mature BALD EAGLE flew in from the south and followed the same flyway.

BALD EAGLE  [file photo]
In the mud, we had a great look at a male COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (yellow with black mask) and some SONG SPARROWs. A male MaxGILLIVRAY'S WARBLER was also in this general area. An OSPREY perched on the tallest pole on the barge by the dam while two COMMON GALLINULE (Moorhens) swam nearby.

We completed the complete circle of the west side of the picnic area before heading to the east-side trail where we added to our count of GREAT BLUE HERONs and spotted our only NEOTROPIC CORMORANT.

GREAT BLUE HERON twisting to preen
NEOTROPIC CORMORANT looking like it's in serious molt
The horses weren't our only mammal today. As Beth pointed out - Look!  There's another cow coming out from the marsh to the river. Lots of cows over on the land reserved for Native Americans. (Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community)

Then we spotted an unknown bird - no, it was birds, plural: dark round moving balls of mud to our naked eye. Oh, wow! A covey of GAMBLE'S QUAIL drank at the edge of the river - until yet another cow emerged close by.

As any birder knows, although that was the end of our walk, we didn't stop birding until we were back in the car and out of there.  (We don't stop then, either, but we don't count them for this location!)

So glad that Beth and Kathleen got me going and back to one of my favorite spots on the river!

* * *



Timber Camp Campground, Gila County, Arizona

Monday, September 11, 2017
An early-morning birding trip to TIMBER CAMP CAMPGROUND about 25 miles north of Globe on Route 60 was close enough to home to not drive a great distance to enjoy 5700’ elevation for some good cool-weather birding.

Kathe Anderson had gathered a group together (7 of us) to head east of Phoenix with our first stop being at the grounds of Besh-Ba-Gowah in Globe so the group from Tempe could stretch their legs. They had swung by our meeting place so Hinde, with three of us in her car, could follow. Besh-Ba-Gowah is an archeological site and museum where we wandered around on our birding treasure hunt.

In thirty minutes, our eyes and ears picked up a total of 19 species, including 59 TURKEY VULTUREs still roosting at the top of two cottonwood trees on some bare limbs in the distance. A PURPLE MARTIN was one of two swallows flying overhead; its size way larger and darker than the only other swallow, NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED.

Two WESTERN TANAGERs, a WILSON’S WARBLER, a NORTHERN CARDINAL and seven GAMBEL’S QUAIL kept us on our toes for proper identification. My favorite bird out there is easy to spot as it lives up to its name: VERMILION FLYCATCHER.

VERMILION FLYCATCHER
About a half hour later our two cars pulled in and parked at the Timber Camp Day Use Area and began birding…which we did for the next three hours. How nice to have it shady and cool under juniper and ponderosa pine trees compared to the open desert heat at home.

Maria, Kathe, Hinde, Lois, Cathy and Carlota
Together, we collected a list of thirty (30) very nice species, ones seldom seen in our low-lying dry hot desert area. Because I’ve seen very few RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHes this season, that bright male we saw was a great sighting for me but that place in my heart would have to be shared with the HEPATIC TANAGER, a male in all its red-orange color.

RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH (from 2012 photo file)

HEPATIC TANAGER  (from photo file)

BUSHTITS barely outnumbered the MEXICAN JAYs (25-24). Woodpeckers included: LEWIS’S (1), ACORN (9), HAIRY (2) and NORTHERN FLICKER, RED-SHAFTED (5).  

Three vireos: HUTTON’S (3), PLUMBEOUS (1) AND WARBLING (1); and four warbler species added to our adventure: GRACE’S (2), HERMIT(1), WILSON’S (1) and PAINTED REDSTART (3).

The least expected bird was one that flew over but didn't land close enough to us to pursue -- a CLARK'S NUTCRACKER.  A few of us were very familiar with the markings of the Nutcracker (in the Jay family) and called it almost simultaneously.

CLARK'S NUTCRACKER with very clearly defined gray, black & white pattern (internet photo)

With 43 species for the day, we wrapped up after 11 a.m.  With a stop in Globe at a hole-in-the-wall excellent Mexican restaurant, I was home by 2:30 p.m., knowing that the veil of heat had been lifted, yet again, by the wings of birds.

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View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S39132895

2-day birding trip to and from Patagonia, Santa Cruz County, Arizona

Saturday, September 9, 2017

While taking photos of the young SABINE’S GULL at the Amado Pond (Waste Treatment Plant) along the access road to I-19 South from Tucson, Muriel and I had no idea what else we might find by day’s end at our destination in Patagonia.

Breeding in the high arctic during the summer months, this juvenile SABINE’S GULL must have landed in this small pond on its way south to winter in the tropics. Many birders had already seen this white gull with its striking black and white wing pattern before we arrived seven (7) days after its original sighting on September 2nd. Tom Edell reported this rare sighting and it was confirmed with photos shortly after on the same day by Laurens Halsey, bird guide who lives in the general area.

Fortunately, everything came together at the last minute to allow Muriel Neddermeyer and I to escape our continued triple digit heat to see this beautiful gray/white gull on its way south. A small gull looking very tern-like with long pointed wings and forked white tail, I was thrilled to see this bird again.

SABINE'S GULL - photo by Muriel Neddermeyer

I was able to catch the underside of the juvenile SABINE'S GULL in flight
Feeling thrilled that the special gull had stayed around long enough for us to visit with it, we continued on with great hopes for birding along the trail in Patagonia Lake State Park.

Summer winds and rains played havoc with the birding trail: limbs and trees littered the area and ground cover was lush and thick. But we both knew our way around there so when the trail was invisible, we bushwhacked our way closer to the lake. We wanted to see the Green Kingfisher - but that did not happen. We heard it, but didn’t see it. 

In 2.5 hours of birding, my favorite sightings there were: WILLOW FLYCATCHER (2); THICK-BILLED KINGBIRD (2); four warbler species (ORANGE-CROWNED, NASHVILLE, MacGILLIVRAY’S and YELLOW-RUMPED); two AMERICAN COOT with very young birds swimming along and being fed by the adults; and good looks at the tiny NORTHERN BEARDLESS-TYRANNULET (3). 

Adult AMERICAN COOT was feeding the two young as they swam along beside it
First time I've been able to photograph a NORTHERN BEARDLESS-TYRANNULET
An afternoon stop at Tucson Audubon’s Paton Center for Hummingbirds, gave us good looks at the VIOLET-CROWNED HUMMINGBIRD (specialty known to favor that location) and to a MacGILLIVRAY’S WARBLER in the garden area.

VIOLET-CROWNED HUMMINGBIRD
Toward dusk, we ventured out to Harshaw Road. As it grew darker, Muriel spotted two separate COMMON POORWILL in the road, but by the time she called it each time, it had dashed from sight. Stopping the car (window’s were already down as we listened for possible owls), we could hear COMMON POORWILL calling. GREAT-HORNED OWLs were heard soon after at two separate locations.

Exploring Harshaw Creek Road, we had seen bats hawking insects above the water flowing over the wash’s concrete base for cars to pass through safely. When we came back that way, Muriel stopped the car on the dirt road a short distance back from the water, headlights off, windows open. Watching for the bats, I noticed a small mammal come out from my side of the forest. It walked in front of the car. At first glance, I thought small coyote, but when Muriel flashed on the headlights, a startled GRAY FOX turned back into the forest. It was a quiet beauty - and a non-bird hightlight of the trip for me.


Gray Fox (smaller than coyote)    [internet photo]
The next morning, Sunday (9/10/17), we birded our way along a back street in Patagonia on our way to Patagonia City Park. What was a Javelina doing back there?

Javelina on a city street in Patagonia
Same Javelina with different camera setting
At the City Park, the birds were active — including at least 50 BARN SWALLOWS, ACORN & GILA WOODPECKERs, BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK and several other expected species.

BARN SWALLOWs
After a tasty breakfast at the Gathering Grounds, we headed home by way of Las Cienegas National Conservation Area. Having visited this area the end of July when Cassin’s Sparrows arrive for monsoon mating, I expected to see some of them today. While the Cassin’s were very quiet, BOTTERI’S and BREWERS SPARROWS were singing all along the south-entrance grasslands. Unexpectedly, we found two large flocks of YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS gathered, behind leaves of course, in two large mesquite trees.

BOTTERI'S SPARROW

Tree is loaded with YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS. Can you spot just one? (just left of center)
Farther along that same road, we arrived at what is known as Cottonwood Tanks. At the two ponds there, some migrants were gathered in nearby trees (MacGILLIVRAY’S, YELLOW WARBLER) as well as LUCY’S WARBLER and COMMON YELLOWTHROAT.  A RED-TAILED HAWK and GRAY HAWK soared overhead.

VERMILION FLYCATCHER is always a joy to see
Departing the grasslands around noontime with sandwiches in hand for the drive home, we got to talking about the Red Knot being reported recently from a slop pond in Pinal County. It was right along the short-cut route I’ve been taking home (instead of I-10). Muriel figured it would work well back to her new place, too.

By 1:35 p.m., we stood on a dirt road in the desert hot stench looking through my spotting scope at shorebirds in the muddy mess of the slop pond. Birds were everywhere below us, including the visiting RED KNOT. A good birder, Muriel, who works full time, has been occupied with family for several months so had not gone to see the bird when it was at Glendale Recharge Ponds. In 40 minutes, we picked up 11 species of birds and chose not to stay longer for anymore rarities that might have been hidden in the shadows playing out on the water.

Altogether we spotted 90 species of birds, in less than 2 full days of actual birding time. My camera was not working well on this trip; it’s past submergence in water (a couple years ago) may be catching up with it. When Muriel has time to post photos, I will probably add some of hers to the blog. Two days chock full of adventure and birds! Can't beat it!

Muriel Neddermeyer
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View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S39117383
View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S39117746
View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S39118196
View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S39118457
View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S39118954