Birds, despite wind and dark overcast sky, smell of rain on the air, and black clouds sitting on the mountains

February 28, 2015
Sharon and Chris, two friends from Ontario, who had arrived last evening, chose to sleep in this morning, so I went out, as I often do, on my own.  They'll be staying with me for three weeks so they will have many opportunities to join me.  Great lovers of wildlife, they maintain feeders, especially during cold winter snowy months, for many bird species.

Will I get any birding done this morning before it rains?  That was my main thought as I left home around 7:15 headed for Coon Bluff Recreation Area on the Lower Salt River.  
After skimming past some road closures (Lost Dutchman Days parade at Apache Trail) and Usery Pass Road (blockades being removed after an "event" - biking or running) so that I arrived at my destination and started birding at 7:50. 

When I pulled into a very full parking lot at Coon Bluff, I realized that I had done something I rarely do.  I had gone to a popular camping spot on a weekend!  It's wonderful that families take their children camping and it looked like the children and parents had been up long enough to have already completed breakfast - good smells hung in the heavy air. Families sat around lazy campfires. 

The sky was growing darker so I left my camera in the car and walked toward the wide dirt road that leads to the river and the bluff.  I hadn't gone far when an Ash-throated Flycatcher flew directly in front of me across my path, and perched on a mesquite branch about five feet away from me at eye level.  How do these birds know?  With camera in the car, I had no option but to "just" fully enjoy the flycatcher's presence.  We made and held eye contact for several full minutes before it flew off.

The Vermilion Flycatcher males were perched and singing.  What a cool sound!  It's a difficult bird for me to photograph; its black mask usually hides its black eyes.  But what a gorgeous red and brown bird it is!  This photo was taken last year.

Another sighting was Gordon Karre, a birder friend!  He was getting into his car at the parking lot when I retrieved my camera about an hour and a half after I had begun.  He was guiding some guests from Washington who were delighted that he could share some of our Southwestern specialty birds such as the Vermilion Flycatcher.

Many of the overnight campers were packing up to leave so I birded the large site for a little over two hours.  A good number of swallows (Northern Rough-winged and Violet-green) were flying over the river and mesquite bosque.  Several Common Ravens were flying back and forth across the river to a cavity in the high bluff rocks.

Other sightings of note were:  1)  Two trees full of Red-winged Blackbirds - most of them females; and 2) A flock of Cedar Waxwings in an old leafless mesquite tree, some perching out in full view and others known only by their high-pitched voices heard from within many clumps of mistletoe.
Female Red-winged Blackbirds (some, pale first summer plumage)
Closer look at female Red-winged Blackbirds

After leaving Coon Bluff, I drove west along the Bush Highway to Granite Reef Rec Area.  Standing on the bank of the river, I could see out in the distance, five ducks.  Even at that distance (which I share with you below), the male aided my identification.
Five Bufflehead (1 male; 4 females)
Buffleheads: Mostly white male with black contrast; gray-brown female with oval white patch
Looks like the gentleman is working on his moves!

I also stopped at Phon D. Sutton Rec Area on the way to Granite Reef but it, too, was full of campers - the RVing kind.  So, I checked out the river below from one spot before heading to Granite Reef which was not crowded at all.  Clouds continued to gather and when I left there at 11:15, I wasn't surprised when a few rain drops sprinkled my car on the drive home.  So I really lucked out to have birded rain-free for over three hours.

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