Three of Yuma's Best Birding Sites

April 9 & 10, 2015
Yuma, which is both a City and a County, is located in the Southwestern corner of Arizona along the Colorado River. Six months ago, I first birded that hot corner of the state. Since it was a new area to explore, a small group of us birders had arranged with local expert, Henry Detwiler to guide us around. We were thrilled when he spent the whole day with us (12 hours: from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m.) leading us to a great variety of rich birding possibilities.  I took copious notes, but really didn't need them on this visit.

The specific places my birder friends and I planned to visit on Thursday were well marked. Birders from all over the country know of Yuma because of its very rare bird - the BLACK RAIL. Naturally, each of us wanted to see or hear it again! 

From the east side of Phoenix, it was an hour's drive to the west side to meet my birding friends for a 6 a.m. departure. Three hours later, we began birding Yuma's public West Wetlands park. Temperature was cool - not stinking hot, as usual. Bonus: no bugs; just a few gnats. With its paved entrance, picnic area, playground and the developed wetland area, I would not have guessed that it had been built on a former landfill.
Located along the Colorado River, the riparian area's native trees had grown tall. We had birds flitting around in several species of willows, mesquite, Fremont Cottonwoods and desert shrubs. Hopefully, the native plants will help to keep the invasive tamarisk from taking over.  Around the tall cottonwoods, I sensed the "snow" of tiny whiffs of cotton blowing in the air.  I spied this broken branch with the large cotton balls still attached. These big balls don't blow in the ambient air but small pieces or puffs of it get blown about. Birds often take the small soft cotton puffs to line their new nests.

There were Western Kingbirds, Ash-throated and Hammond's Flycatchers, but I felt like we hit the jackpot with warblers: Orange-crowned, Nashville, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Gray and a male Wilson's.

Before leaving the riparian area, I searched this narrow stretch of the Colorado River for possible birds and came up with adults enjoying a lazy float downstream.

Too busy birding in the bosque to take photos, I was happy with our 28 species found there even though we didn't walk terribly far. When we headed for the car, I barely caught this Greater Roadrunner carrying a lizard.  Lunchtime? Or, for young?

As usual, we ate in the car as we drove to our next birding destination, Betty's Kitchen Interpretive Area. With access to the wetlands of the Colorado River, we spotted a variety of waterfowl with the best being Western Sandpipers. They differ from the abundant Least Sandpipers at water features in the Phoenix area by having dark legs, not yellow; a slightly decurved bill, and a bit of rufous (during breeding season) on its crown, ear patch and wings.

A Spotted Sandpiper in the process of getting its mating plumage spots, was in the distance.

Spotted Sandpiper

Cassin's Kingbird

Delightfully, a Cassin's Kingbird perched within good binocular view giving us all the markings we needed to differentiate it from the Western Kingbird. It's a darker bird overall, with just a tiny white throat between its dark gray head and chest, below which is its yellow belly. It doesn't have the white outer tail feathers of the Western Kingbird, although the tips of the tail are pale.

Cassin's Kingbird

Finally, it was time to head for Mittry Lake Wildlife Area - home of the Black Rail. The lake lies between two dams on the Colorado River: Imperial and Laguna dams. And, as we learned last year from Henry, one of the best places to look is at the Overlook Area. We scanned that area for birds while listening for sounds coming from the reeds below us. Prior to "calling" it, we heard the Black Rail GROWL -- a very staccato same-note call. Not the call we expected, but thrilled to have heard this less familiar one. We stayed quiet. About five minutes later, the same growl-call rose up from the reeds. We matched it to an i-pod recording and knew we had the prize bird!  

We checked out some other wetland areas before wrapping up at 3:30 to head for the La Fuenta Inn on Route 95 (16th St.) in Yuma. With a garden courtyard, outdoor patio, palm trees, dark sky and reasonable price, it's worth mentioning!

Since we were successful in hearing our target bird on Day #1, we decided to return home to make one more venture to Arizona State University in search of a Northern Parula (an "eastern" warbler) reported on Wednesday in a new location. Susan was the first to spot it and we each got good looks at it as it moved through the Palo Verde and dropped down to the aloe flowers in front of the Bio Design Center.

Great weather, safe travels, good birds, good friends; awesome.

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