February 2 & 4, 2015          Two Birding Outings so far this week:
                                               GRANITE REEF
                                               BOYCE THOMPSON ARBORETUM

Monday, February 2nd.    WENT OWLING!
Most owls are nocturnal.  So, to count owls requires dark sky.  Both Susan and I, being early morning risers, decided to go OWLING on Monday (02/02) at Granite Reef Recreation Area along the Lower Salt River.  Pulling into the parking lot at 5:30 a.m., I immediately saw a very large bird with wide wings pass in front of our windshield.  Great Horned Owl.  It must have been perched on the thick horizontal branch of the tree in the SW corner of the picnic area at the parking lot...and we spooked it. 

We stood in the parking lot listening and waiting.  After about five minutes we heard a loud squawk (whaawcck) near the reeds and water but it was like no water bird we had ever heard.  We felt lucky to hear this female Great Horned Owl (GHO) sounding off.  While the male gives a deep “whoo hoo hoot” call, the female has her own gravelly voice; the young sound even different when calling for food. Where I live, a family of GHOs has been showing up in late spring with two youngsters for the past two years so I’ve heard and tracked down their various calls.

We continued to wait, listen and watch in the full moon sky around us.  Next, we heard the deep “WHOO HOO HOOT” call from what sounded like a far distance over a hill to the southwest of us.  The female did not answer.  The male continued to hoot for awhile and then the female squawked again.

It would be nice, we thought, if we could also find a Western Screech Owl while we were here.  But what happened next was that we had two Great-Horned Owls - both the male and female - calling from the spot near the river and being answered by a male and female on that distant hill.  Wow! Since I don’t pursue, there are no photos, but it was a thrill to have surround-sound OWLS.

Since no Western Screech Owl sounded off for us, we drove east to Coon Bluff Rec Area while the sky was still dark.  Last year I had successfully heard them there at nighttime.  We parked in the first paved lot and walked slowly and quietly back along the paved entrance road.  Another Great Horned Owl hooted from a distance west of us.  I heard the Western Screech farther ahead of us to the east. It did its bouncing ball series of hoots one more time before it went quiet as the sky began to lighten.

What a morning!  That was definitely worth rolling out of bed early.  Since it was too light for owls and too dark for songbirds, we warmed up at a nearby coffee shop before returning to see what daylight birds might be flitting about.

Pulling into the parking lot at Granite Reef Recreation Area, the first thing that stands out is Red Mountain directly across the Salt River.

Red Mountain and Lower Salt River at Granite Reef

In the tops of the tall bare trees of the picnic area, birds were perched and facing the sun.  Most of them were House Finches but there were a few Lesser Goldfinch, too.

Lesser Goldfinch

We were hoping to find a Black and White Warbler that had been reported there so we birded the rec area for about 3 hours walking slowly through the picnic grove, over to the west trail, back and forth through wet weeds before heading to the berm.  Because low-lying water prevented us from reaching the far end of the west trail from the berm, we returned to start over on the west trail next to the river to follow it to its end.  Lots of trees could have held our Black & White Warbler but it didn’t show itself for us.  
But at the end of the trail, I saw my “first-of-year” Mexican Gold Poppy!  Quite early, I think, but wet weather has been kind to us recently.

Mexican Gold Poppy - Granite Reef Recreation Area near the dam.

We also found Dark-eyed Juncos, Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, Bewick’s Wren, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Vermilion and Gray Flycatcher in the mesquite trees.  Returning on the same trail, my attention turned to the Salt River where a flotilla of about 20 Bufflehead (males and females) were foraging the water.  Also out there were the usual Gadwall, American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler and Pintail, and three Canvasbacks and five Common Goldeneye.  

Beyond Granite Reef’s designated recreation area lies a pond created by a backwater of the river where we’ve discovered a treasure.  After a short drive to that pull-off, we checked the marsh and backwaters.  Yes!  In addition to the usual American Coots, Ruddy Ducks and a Pied-billed Grebe we counted TEN Common Gallinule (formerly known as Moorhens). It’s red bill and white stripe on its flanks differentiates it from the American Coots.

Common Gallinule
For a morning beginning with Great Horned Owls followed by a Western Screech Owl and ending with some of the above birds, I considered it another good day in the field.

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Wednesday, February 4th:   Birded BOYCE THOMPSON ARBORETUM, Superior, AZ
Since Boyce Thompson Arboretum doesn't open until 8:00 a.m. in the wintertime, I left home a bit early to stop first at Picket Post Mountain entrance road.  The mesquite trees and desert scrub land usually give up some good desert birds that may not be seen in the verdant Arboretum.  The sun hadn't yet cleared the mountain so the birds were not up singing but they were feeding beneath shrubs and in the tall weeds.  I spent more time here than I had planned and saw about eight desert species that I would see again in the Arboretum, but that is not always the case.

I wandered the Arboretum for about three hours.  I like to start toward Ayer Lake so the sun will be behind me the rest of the time. I took my time to explore the Children's Learning Center, the plaza and plants in front of the Smith Building, the Legume Garden, and the Cactus Garden before reaching the very small lake.  Last year birders had been pleasantly surprised to find a pair of Hooded Mergansers residing there for several months.  Today, I saw a female Hooded Merganser but don't know if her "guy" is with her.

Female Common Merganser
View from Ayer Lake toward Picket Post Mountain
Two Black Phoebes were chasing each other over and around the lake.  This one is taking a break on a short tree near me.
Black Phoebe
View below from trail by Picket Post House

Black-throated Sparrow - abundant today

The beautiful song of the Canyon Wren was heard throughout the Arboretum this morning, beginning near the employee parking area and continuing throughout, not just in the rocky outcroppings.  
Finding the usual birds and seeing some I hadn't seen since last winter provided a good morning of birding for me.  There were four Dark-eyed Juncos along the entrance path to the Demonstration Garden (Pink-sided, Gray-headed and Oregon form), there were Phainopepla and Gambel's Quail.  And, always, there are Northern Cardinals.

Female Northern Cardinal

But best of all for me, it was a 5-Wren day: Rock, Canyon, Marsh, Bewick's and Cactus Wrens.

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