Post-Surgery Birding -- At Last!

July 21, 2015

Color me crazy but it felt really good to get up early for my first post-bunion surgery Birding!

Friend, Lois L. picked me up at the house at 5:30 a.m., to go to Granite Reef Recreation Area along the Lower Salt River.  I was glad she was interested in my new approach to birding — sitting still and focusing on bird activity as opposed to counting the number of birds seen.

My hard cast, or boot, made of felt and velcro would pick up every weed, grass and twig if I walked through Granite Reef from east to west and up to the berm as usual.  Today, I never left the picnic area and walked mostly on the concrete sidewalk.  

At 6:00 a.m., a male Vermilion Flycatcher was already sunning and preening at the top of one of the mesquites in the bosque when we sat down at a concrete picnic table. It flitted around from tree to tree but mostly perched and preened.  Later, when it flew and perched at the top of a mesquite toward the river, a female Bullock’s Oriole quickly moved in and sent it on its way out of that tree.  

Vermilion Flycatcher (male)

Interestingly, no birds had issued alarm calls as we walked slowly (peg-legged, for me) over to the picnic table.  Apparently we didn't pose a threat to them; perhaps they recognized my hat??  The birds went about their business in fairly close proximity to us. Two Abert’s Towhees were not only scratching on the ground, they flew high up in the trees for seeds and spent some time knocking the seeds to the ground while they were up there!

We wouldn’t see the female Vermilion until an hour later when Lois set up her comfortable chairs in a shady area.  The female was fly-catching about 25’ in front of us from its perch on a picnic table and then from a sign by the parking lot — not carrying food to a nest.  We saw no young Vermilions in the mesquites but the male and female not being present at the same time, made me wonder if they might be working on a second brood, taking turns at the nest.

A photographer (Bernie Howe) arrived and also stood still east of our post. When he finally moved closer to the river to talk to another photographer, they both missed out on our best sighting of the morning — the kind of action that thrills me.

Lois and I had started toward the car when I saw a black bird that was not a Great-tailed Grackle (the dominant blackbird at that location) fly in and perch on a low branch close by.  Below it and a distance away was a browner bird, a female, also not a grackle.  Ah!  The shoulders on the black bird gave me the first clue and then its red eyes became visible — the “Darth Vader“ Bronzed Cowbird in pursuit of the female on the ground.  He flew down, puffed himself up and shook his feathers.

Male Bronzed Cowbird shaking its feathers toward female in mating display

Female Bronzed Cowbird taking note of him

The male followed at a discreet, unhurried but focused distance as the female walked to the base of a nearby mesquite.  He stopped several times to puff up and shiver his feathers. When he reached the base of the tree, the male flew up about a foot and hovered like a helicopter (kited) over her for at least 20 seconds before slowly landing upon her.  And, then, it was over.


Looking back at the female:  "Thank You"

Because counting is my habit, I noted 22 species at Granite Reef before we pulled away at 7:30.

Thanks to Cindy Shanks' posts on Facebook of wild horses at Butcher Jones Beach, we drove out there hoping we might catch a glimpse. Did we ever!!

Turkey Vulture on the beach!

Note the Cowbirds!

Swim Time

Swim followed by Dirt Bath to get rid of mites and other bugs

Play Time

Shimmering young colt

See ya later!

What a gratifying morning!  And, I'm so glad Lois was up for this kind of adventure.  (15 species of birds at Butcher Jones without trying; and approximately 35 wild horses)

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