A Few Days of Birding Locally

March 27, 28 & 29, 2015
With the thermometer reminding us that summer is quickly devouring spring, I decided to get up earlier to arrive at various birding spots at dawn or as soon thereafter as possible. Thus, I re-tried a visit to Gilbert Water Ranch arriving at 6:25 a.m. where I was rewarded with a sighting of my long-sought target bird -- Brown Thrasher. Spotted not down low and skulking under the shrubs and behind low limbs as I expected, but sitting up high on a bare mesquite branch facing a singing Northern Mockingbird, I couldn't believe my eyes.  Seeing the "clean" brown stripes on its underparts, its long rufous tail and back and with just the slightest down-curve to its bill, I had no doubt about this sighting. Still, I wanted a photo for documentation. Reaching for my camera did me in! The Brown Thrasher quickly flew down into its favorite jumbled habitat not to be seen by me again. I looked at my watch: 7:00 a.m.  

Not wanting to spend a lot of time at the place I had birded just yesterday, I did have two nifty sightings before I left: Rosy-faced Lovebirds and a female Hooded Merganser (on Pond 3). My next stop was Arizona State University Research Park in Chandler where the Nanday Parakeets visit from time to time. Today was not their time! There were no unexpected birds present there, so I drove through some nearby neighborhoods as well looking for the parakeets, but could not locate any. With these two stops completed, I was home before 10 a.m. with the heat of the day just rising.

On Saturday, the 28th, I headed to Phoenix's West Valley since there would be no commuter traffic clogging the highway. Having visited the Baseline & Meridian Wildlife Area several times with Audubon groups or friends, I knew my way around. When I see reports of birds on the listserv (an email hot-line) that I haven't yet seen this year, I often head for those locations to try my luck. Today, I was hoping to see a Ridgeway's Rail (formerly Clapper Rail that has been split into an Eastern (Clapper) and Western (Ridgway's). If I see it, I will be able to add the Ridgway's as a Life Bird, since my original sighting of Clapper Rail was in Virginia.

At 6:50 a.m., I began birding there under a clear sky in 75 deg. F.  Several cars were already parked, but I saw no one else that early. The location of the Wildlife Area is adjacent to the Phoenix International Racetrack (PIR)! When I walked out on the short spit to the southeast of the main trail, the birds in view were all backlit. I saw a large bird fly in and perch on a tree limb. It's distinctive rounded-shoulder shape was my "spirit bird" (the bird that got me started birding), the short-legged Green Heron. Despite not seeing its contrasting green and brown colors, I knew the bird. The sun was so directly into the camera though, that I couldn't see anything through the viewfinder!

Out on the water, I could easily see the white bills of the American Coots and the lone Pied-billed Grebe. Just then, I heard the kek kek kek of the Ridgway's Rail. I listened for a repeat, but it stopped. I wrote it down as a heard bird. 

Returning to the main dirt-road trail, the river water pools around some reeds and wetlands. There, I was surprised to see a lone White-faced Ibis which, in my photo, is totally backlit, so that it's mating-colored white border around its red-face does not show.

White-faced Ibis
Continuing my walk toward the bridge, where other birders had reported finding a Barn Owl, I tried to sort through the many swallows zipping this way and that overhead. I heard a few Northern Rough-winged Swallows but the majority were Cliff Swallows.

Cliff Swallows at their nests under the bridge 

Fishermen began to arrive to try their luck at the full flowing streams or ponds off the Gila River. I walked along the main flow hoping to see or hear a Belted Kingfisher but it didn't travel the river during my short foray along it.

The 1/2-mile-long bridge has many beams. From one end to the other I walked carefully, peering up at both sides of each cross beam. Lots of "whitewash" ran down the sides of the beams but I saw no owl. When I retraced my steps, though. I saw something in the distance, separated from me by water. The photo of it looks like an apparition with haze in the dark undergirding of the bridge.

The roar of engines revving and slowing as racers ran the track at the PIR filled the air. It was definitely time to leave. It seemed too early at 9:30 to head home, so I drove over to Tres Rios, another hot spot wetland in the same general area.

Spotting a Burrowing Owl along the way (at Broadway and 98th) definitely gave me a "feel good" sighting. When I reached Tres Rios, two men were there telling me I shouldn't enter over the horse opening in the fence. In the past, I usually arrived with friends and never noticed the NO TRESPASSING sign. (I had placed my parking permit on the dash.) A young man, Noah, and his Dad from California, were doing some birding while in the area for some spring training games (Oakland A's, of course). They told me I needed to enter by a path toward the Gila River, so I said I would after I used the porta-potty. When I returned, the two men were talking to a birder who was telling them the same thing I did: we may walk the dirt road.  The birder's name was Darrel Wilder! After the CA men walked off, Darrel and I talked a bit about what he had seen. I really had no intention of walking almost to the end to see IF I might spot an American Redstart; he thought he had heard one. He shared with me that it was his birthday! It was neat seeing him out celebrating the day birding as he turned a year older.

I caught up with Noah at the river trail. He told me he had spotted a Myrtle Warbler in the tamarisk cluster near the river trail (and provided the necessary ID markers), and mentioned that he wasn't totally familiar with desert birds, so I birded with him for quite some time. 

In the 45 minutes I birded there, I saw mostly what would be expected and I again heard a Ridgeway's Rail. I left Tres Rio for home at 8:15 at 68 deg. F.

Common Gallinule (formerly Moorhen)

Black Vulture

This morning, March 29th, I again set out early so that I was able to start birding at Granite Reef Recreation Areal along the Salt River at 6:45 a.m. Lucy's Warbler's were already singing! They're one of those "little gray jobs" -- a small, plain gray bird with a sharply-pointed bill.

Lucy's Warbler (above and below) in mesquite tree

Surprised at that hour to see a family arrive without fishing poles, I wasn't very happy about their presence interrupting my solitude! The man took photos of the young girl; the mother led them off to other spots for more photos along the western trail, my intended route. I decided to take the trail to the east. It was there that I spotted a female Lesser Goldfinch down in the reeds.

Lesser Goldfinch

Eventually, I walked the trail west of the picnic area, up the berm where I found a Lesser Yellowlegs in the small pool of water at the west side of the water retention area. Lots of Verdin were singing in the mesquite bosque.

Verdin: very small gray bird with yellow head and rufous shoulder patch
More people were starting to arrive at Granite Reef, so I departed for my next favorite spot along the Salt River, Coon Bluff Recreation Area. Oh, my!  Granite Reef was not THIS crowded! The place was loaded with Boy Scouts. One of the leaders noticed I was birding and told me about the owl in the mesquite tree above his tent who was WHOO WHOO WHOOING all night. When he mentioned its wide wing span, I suggested it was a Great Horned Owl. He wondered if it nested in the tree; I didn't know, nor did I look right then. He told me that 40 scouts had shown up for the clean up and overnight camp out. The bag of trash he was carrying including a sleeping bag, broken chair, etc.

Later, I was so busy taking a photo of a Greater Yellowlegs up river (to the east) that I hadn't noticed the Green-winged Teal on the shoreline. Photos popped up out of order below: bottom one was the first shot and when I noticed the GWTE in iPhoto, I zeroed in on it to include it.
Green-winged Teal
Greater Yellowlegs and Green-winged Teal
Greater Yellowlegs
Other sightings at Coon Bluff included this Black-chinned Hummingbird. It's not a "showy" photo but does provide the dark head and purple throat.  According to Sibley Birds, Second Edition, this is the Western counterpart to the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Black-chinned Hummingbird
To wrap up, I must say it is more common to see wild horses at the river than to see the three White-tailed deer I saw there this morning!

White-tailed Deer on north side of the Salt River, east trail from Coon Bluff picnic area

Getting out with the wild ones is always a treat for me and today was no exception. For today, I tallied 40 species; and overall for the past three days, 69 species.

View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S22560565

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