Glendale Recharge Ponds (primarily) and ASU Research Park (secondarily), Maricopa County, AZ

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Reports of two rare migrating birds spotted at the Glendale Ponds over the past several days got me moving early this morning when I could avoid commuter traffic on I-10 West. 

Arriving at 5:45 a.m., I headed to Pond 5 with hopes of finding the Sabine’s Gull reported there by Magill Weber as late as last evening. There, I found another birder, Janine McCabe, but no Sabine’s where it had last been seen. I scanned the pond; Janine must have scanned the sky.  “Here it comes!” was music to my ears. A mature gull still in full breeding plumage, the gull circled the west side of Pond 5, turned and aimed directly toward us and landed on the flats not too far away.  How great was that!  

Sabine's Gull arrives at 6:06 a.m., Pond 5

Sabine's Gull; Pond 5

The gull walked along the edge of the water for just a few minutes before taking off again at 6:09 a.m.  But we had three minutes to study the bird and take a few photos.

Sabine's Gull lifting off in front of us; then flying east (below)
Bye-bye, pelagic bird: Sabine's Gull; Glendale 6:09 a.m

Two birders approached; they had seen the gull fly eastward.  It was Caleb Strand and Joe Ford so Janine and I hung with them while birding the remainder of Pond 5.

Last week, I had seen, but not photographed, a Baird's Sandpiper.  Today, it was also at the shoreline directly below the berm where I walked.

Baird's Sandpiper; Pond 5
And, while I've never seen a single Sanderling wandering the beach before (it's usually in a good-sized flock at the edge of waves), there was one below the berm not terribly far from us but I didn't want to flush it, so stayed back to take this photo.

Sanderling at Pond 5, Glendale; 8/29/15

Since I had spent several hours at this spot last Saturday, I didn't continue on to the next pond but worked my way back toward the car with binoculars, camera and spotting scope in hand.  I may be kicking myself for not going on to Pond 2 where the other birders may have easily picked up more off-the-flyway rarities.

Instead, I took a photo of an Ash-throated Flycatcher perched near my car. 

Then, on my way home, I turned toward ASU Research Park in search of the Nanday Parakeets which, again, were a no show. But, as usual, I couldn't leave without a photo of the bird that started my birding hobby.

Green Heron

For me, this was another very rewarding day in the field.

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Riparian Preserve at Gilbert Water Ranch, Maricopa County, AZ

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Sunrise; Gilbert Water Ranch
Arriving at first light at Gilbert Water Ranch always seems special to me.  At 5:40 this morning, with temperature in the mid-80’s (F), I found myself looking at numerous Snowy and Great Egrets lining the remaining S curve of water in mostly dry Pond 7. At the turn of the 20th Century these birds had been hunted almost to extinction to decorate women’s hats.  The demand for the mating feathers of the Great Egret were in such demand, it is said that they were worth twice as much as gold.  There is a good article in the summer issue of National Parks magazine about the man who found a feather in the Everglades and followed it to the rookery and on to women’s hats. Having recently read the article, I stood looking at the Great and Snowy Egrets knowing that PEOPLE had saved them from the greed of the marketplace that would have led to their extinction.

Snowy Egret whose breeding plumes were also harvested 
Not only were egrets fishing, about ten Black-Necked Stilts paraded around searching for breakfast. Two Black-crowned Night Herons perched in shrubs beside the thirty-foot wide sinuous strip of water that flowed beside and beneath them. 

Black-crowned Night Heron
One Great Blue Heron, standing at the south end of the curve, looked like a sentry. A Green Heron flew in and landed out of my sight.  As the sun rose higher, I noticed Least Sandpipers and Killdeer at water’s edge while voices of Curve-billed Thrashers and Verdin filled my ears. 

As I walked toward Pond 1, a bird in the mesquite limbs above me caught my attention.
European Starling

As I understand it, we have Shakespeare (and his American enthusiasts) to thank for the European Starling, our most numerous "invasive" North American songbird. This one above already has its white winter spots. Cavity nesters, many of them roost in saguaro holes at Gilbert Water Ranch. The bird is adaptable, tough and intelligent.  If you've ever seen a murmuration of starlings in the spring or fall as they gather together and fly in great swathes of synchronized rhythm, you will know you're looking at something special. 

Anna's Hummingbirds are abundant at the water ranch. Although they are often way too quick for me to photograph, this young female posed for quite some time. Note its green neck spots and overall grayish color.  As it matures the green spots turn red (as in the adult Anna's female) and the gray feathers on the back grow greener.

Juvenile female Anna's HB with green spots on neck
Same bird showing its overall grayish feathers

From recent eBird reports, I knew that many migrating warblers were visiting this rich riparian area and someone had reported a Solitary Sandpiper, a bird I haven’t seen in quite a while.  So, I moved on to Pond 1 to see what birds I might find there.  What I found was a dry pond recently plowed. But farther along, water flowed in between the furrows and shorebirds were stepping through them. When I found both Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, I was sure I’d find the Solitary Sandpiper nearby - but it was not to be - here or at any other pond today.

Lesser Yellowlegs with straighter bill than the Greater
Greater Yellowlegs with slightly upturned bill

I moved slowly not only because I’m still not quite 100% strong following foot surgery, but because the fully leafed-out Cottonwoods had warblers and other birds flitting about. While I’m confident identifying resident birds, I’m just now, after two years of serious birding, feeling better about naming the migrant warblers when they come through. If it’s a difficult one, I try to find three good ID marks for it: tail length, head shape and distinguishing markings such as full eye ring or a broken or very faint eye ring. It might take me twenty minutes with one warbler as it moves quickly through a tree foraging before I find enough to put it together. When I see high counts by other birders, I'm aware that they know the birds' chips and songs better than I do and get really high counts that way.

While I didn’t walk all the paths and ponds (missed Pond 6 and the Fishing Pond), I identified seven (7) warbler species:  Orange-crowned, Lucy’s, Nashville, MacGillivray’s, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow and Wilson’s in the 3 1/2 hours I meandered around the riparian area.

Most exciting sighting for me was an unexpected SORA that walked out from the low reed grasses beside survival Pond 5 very close to where I stood. There was an additional Sora at the base of a shade tree hanging over the water about ten feet south of the bird I was photographing.  Before leaving that area, I heard the whinny of another Sora a short distance across the water.

First three photos are of the same Sora

The Sora was within 10 feet of me at this point
Second Sora a bit farther along the shore line than the one above

Although the temperature had reached into the low 100s by my 9:00 departure, I felt rejuvenated rather than wilted as I headed for home.

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Glendale Recharge Ponds, Maricopa County, AZ

August 22, 2015

Great Blue Heron

Arriving a little after 5:30 a.m., about 200 yards behind another car, at Glendale ponds this morning, I was happy to see Gordon Karre getting his scope out as I pulled up in a piece of shade beside him.  

This was my second solo adventure in a while so it was fortunate to be able to leave my spotting scope in the car instead of hauling it around with me while I regain my former strength.

As we walked together toward Basin or Pond #1, a Bald Eagle flew over with a Peregrine Falcon in pursuit, apparently wanting it out of its territory.  But the Eagle paid little heed and perched on a near-by utility pole, not far from the Great Blue.

It had been several months since I had visited these ponds, so I was eager to see which waterfowl might be arriving for the winter but, more importantly, both Gordon and I were in search of some nice rarities spotted two days ago by Tommy DeBardeleben. With the sun at our backs, we went directly to Pond 1 in search of the Snowy Plover. We searched with binoculars; Gordon searched with his scope.  We walked west on the road between Ponds 1 & 6 so that when we arrived at the west end of Pond 1, we could also peer into Pond 5.  

Ah! With his scope, Gordon came up with the Baird's Sandpiper which I was then able to find with my bins since it was in the northeast quadrant of the basin closest to us.  

We turned then and continued searching Pond 1 for the Snowy Plover, walking to the north side to avoid looking directly into the rising sun.  The Plover eluded us, if it was there, but we did find a Semi-palmated Sandpiper that stopped by during its migration.

Semi-palmated Sandpiper

Another migrating shorebird, the Semi-palmated Plover, was a good find. Too distant for photos but easily identified in the spotting scope, there were two in Pond 1 and two in Pond 5, as I recall.

There were many more Western Sandpipers present than I usually see there, but they gave good comparison to the Least Sandpipers and to the Semi-palmated Sandpiper that was foraging in general proximity to one.

American Avocets were losing their breeding plumage and accompanied by young.

American Avocet

On empty Basin #4, Great and Snowy Egrets appeared to have arranged a meet-up.
{Photo-bombed by a Great Blue Heron}

A flock of nine White-faced Ibis had flown over and eventually settled on Pond 5.  The young have a dark, rather than red eye (below) and do not yet have the white "face".

By 8:15, we were both dripping wet from the sun's heat and the humidity so we began our return to the car.  We came upon Steve Hosmer who had searched yesterday for the Snowy Plover - without luck - but returned today.  We told him where we found the Semi-palmated Sandpiper and he was still walking to that spot when we departed around 8:30.

A very nice day in the field.  Thanks, Gordon; it was great birding with you.

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Butcher Jones Recreation Area, Lower Salt River, Maricopa County, AZ

Thursday, August 20, 2015
With physical therapy sessions strengthening my surgically repaired big toe/right foot, I ventured out alone (for the first time in a long while)
to Saguaro Lake’s Butcher Jones recreation area to see what birds I might find.

By leisurely observing, standing and meandering, I managed to see 23 species of birds in two hours.

Most unusual to me was seeing Turkey Vultures gathered on the beach of this cove. Usually, I see them roosting in trees or gathered on cliffs waiting for their wings to warm up in the early sunshine so they can lift off into the thermals that they will ride all day long.  Four of them flew off but three stayed on the beach the whole time I was there.

Turkey Vulture spreading its wings to cool off?  to dry them?
Many common birds were present and I actually rejoiced in seeing numerous Great-tailed Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds, both male and female of both species.  Being cooped up for two months made this first adventure on my own a little bit special.  I was grateful to have healed well enough to be out and about and, more importantly, to be in the company of birds again.  Yes, the grackles squawk a lot and hang out at the dumpsters but when viewed for the color in their blackness, they are beautiful.  Their great tails remind me of a rudder for steering.  The females, very lightly colored, almost tan, walked around with their beaks open in this hot weather.

Birds don’t have sweat glands like we do, but by holding their beak open, they can get rid of heat building up in their body through the membranes lining the mouth and tongue.  Some birds will sit with wings open and mouth open to keep their body temperature from getting too hot. 

When I ambled out toward the short trail toward Peregrine Point, I stopped in a wide green space near the marsh grasses long enough to hear the “churr” call of a Marsh Wren and caught sight of several song birds in a large mesquite: Nashville Warbler, several Verdin (adult and young) and a Yellow Warbler.  A Bell’s Vireo was singing and Gila Woodpeckers calling.

Along the trail, desert birds (Cactus Wren, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher and Black-throated Sparrow) flitted from tree to tree. 

Young Cactus Wren

Black-throated Sparrow

An Abert’s Towhee scratched around on the ground but also kept in touch with the rest of its “family” with its chip call.  The “wheet-wheet” call of a Curve-billed Thrasher let me know where it was located, and the very small Verdin were hopping, flitting and feeding everywhere I looked.  Awesome!

Verdin (bad hair day; after a bath, I'd guess)

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ASU RESEARCH PARK, Tempe, Maricopa County, AZ

Saturday, August 15, 2015
After yesterday’s 117° high, a visiting birding friend, Bari Silver, agreed to head out with me to go look for the Nanday Parakeets at ASU Research Park in Tempe, just west of the 101 on the north side of Warner Road.  

Since my doctor released me from my hard-cast boot on Thursday, I’ve been getting around in a pair of inexpensive running shoes twice my normal size (to accommodate a swollen foot).  Thus,  the Research Park, with its ponds, sidewalks, benches and easy-roadway access.

The South Pond is my favorite and the place I’ve found the Nandays on previous visits. Today, that didn’t happen.  But we had just reached the sidewalk when we spotted two warblers in a mesquite tree: a Wilson’s and a Nashville!  

That good omen for the morning was quickly reinforced when I spied a single Wilson’s Phalarope on the pond. Lighting was terrible, but I managed a photo of the surprising bird.

Wilson's Phalarope
Great-tailed Grackles were making so much noise in the pines and mesquites along the sidewalk, I checked them out to be sure they weren’t mixed in with the Nandays. Nope. No parakeets - just very noisy adult and young GTGR.

Mallards were on the pond with one Canada Goose and a hybrid of some sort with the White-faced Ibis marking around the base of the bill.  

Rarely do I walk past a Green Heron without trying for a photo and today, as it perched on a rock next to some marsh grasses was no exception.

Green Heron

Mostly, we ambled and caught sight of more song birds than waterfowl. As we moved toward the north end of the pond, we checked the palms next to the corporate buildings. 

Suddenly, a Brown Thrasher came into full binocular view! I know this bird from the east coast and quickly checked for its long rufous tail that matched its body color. It perched briefly at the top of the palm, showing its long slightly decurved bill, before going into the thickest part of the palm (where it begins to spread out from the trunk). For ten minutes we hung around that exact spot on the west side of the lake waiting to see that Thrasher again but we never saw it come out. Facing the building, it was in the left-most of three tall palms in front of an entrance to the T systems building with an S-curved entrance sidewalk. [I’m also familiar with the desert Sage Thrasher, a much smaller and lighter colored thrasher with a more distinct facial pattern and somewhat shorter bill.]

When we reached the end of the pavement at the north end, we thought we would sit on the bench under a spreading mesquite. The busy little birds in that tree had us up on our feet with our binoculars in no time.  The Nashville and Wilson’s were both there, but we didn’t count them a second time since we first saw them directly across on the south side of the pond.  Then we  spied a Black-throated Gray and a small drab acrobatic gray warbler that I thought would be a Lucy’s until it swung around on a limb and I spotted its yellow under-tail coverts — a Virginia’s Warbler! Even though I continued catching glimpses of the Virginia’s, I never saw a yellow breast spot so it may have been a young female.  

A couple Verdin were in and out and several Anna’s Hummingbirds also liked the mesquite.

Bird activity was already quieting by 8:45 a.m., but before heading home, we checked the other ponds in the Research Park. We saw no other waterfowl and deemed it too hot to get out and check the trees. We were happy with the phalarope, brown thrasher and the several migrating warblers that had given us such a very good two hours of birding on what was predicted to be another scorcher in the Phoenix area.  

* * *

And for those of you who have inquired about my status from bunion surgery in June, the progression had gone like this:

June 18 - July 9:  Surgery and knee caddy - 21 days

July 9 to August 13:  Graduated to hard-cast boot for 36 days

August 13: Went from hard cast to a running shoe two sizes larger than my normal shoe size to adjust to walking again while my foot is still a bit swollen.  Physical therapy begins next Wednesday and I'll soon be out in the field more frequently.

Beeline Highway: Bushnell Tanks and Sunflower, Maricopa County, AZ

Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Not all my birding friends share my excitement about birding Bushnell Tanks near Sunflower.  Lois L., however, was up for a first visit so she picked me up at 5:15 in order to begin birding there about an hour later.

Immediately, we heard many birds — more songs and calls than I could decipher, but I had just concluded that most were House Finches when one such male flew right up to us and perched on a small juniper. 

Located off of Route 87 to Payson, commonly called the Beeline Highway,  Bushnell Tanks’ elevation is about 2500 feet higher than the Phoenix Valley.  Sycamore Creek runs through the area to Sunflower.

Still in my hard cast boot, we stayed on the slightly uneven surface of the dirt Forest Road 22 after passing through the gate and did not continue along nor past Sycamore Creek which can entail some bushwhacking and very uneven territory.

In a nice mix of desert and riparian habitat of mesquite, juniper, willow and cottonwoods, we SAT along the road listening to flycatchers, vireos and verdin. We worked our way down the dirt road toward the creek with two more SIT stops  and were thrilled with the birds that came close and sang out. While I expect birds to sing in the spring, I was delighted to hear song from the Blue Grosbeak this time of year.

Two Cassin’s Kingbirds worked the high areas of the trees, while the grosbeaks were mid-level. Foraging on open ground, west of the dirt road right before the first cattle guard, were a flock of Lark Sparrows as well as a Chipping Sparrow in very bright breeding plumage. (eBird found the Chipper to be an anomaly at this time of year).  

Just as I picked up my sit-upon bucket to begin the trek back toward the car, I heard a “heavy” sound from the forest. Into our view walked a big black steer.  Lois and I were looking directly at 1000 pounds or more of pure indignation about “space invasion”.  It continued to glare at us, so we dropped our eyes and walked slowly and surely up the grade beyond Mr. Bull.

At this point, a very blue bird flew from a grove of tall trees west of us to a nearby juniper and sang. Knowing what it looked like, I played the song (iPhone app) of the Indigo Bunting. Bingo!  I chalked it up as my best sighting of the 28 species we saw at Bushnell Tanks.

Cassin's Kingbirds (top and bottom)

Next we drove east on Highway 87 a very short distance to the Old Highway 87 (a dead-end road, cut off from the new highway). Ranches and summer homes are located along this old highway and Sycamore Creek.  The highway easements and stream banks support very old tall trees including Arizona sycamores and Fremont cottonwoods in addition to willows, mesquite and juniper…great habitat for a great variety of songbirds, both resident and migrants. 

Normally, I park and walk the old highway but just having walked over a mile in my “boot”, I was content to bird by air-conditioned car, getting out only long enough to snap a few photos of special sightings.

Our first stop occurred as we entered the area. I spied a very long tail in a bare-limbed tree. Weren’t we surprised to find three (3) Greater Roadrunners in the same tree!

Can you find all three?
And then, there were two. . .

Closer look at one of the remaining two Greater Roadrunners

Continuing on, I asked Lois to stop when I heard a Summer Tanager. The male was on a very low hanging branch along the creek for a long time so I thought I’d try for a photo.  Although it was very active, it wasn’t spooked by my presence on the edge of the road. Nonetheless, photos were fuzzy. While I was doing that, Lois suggested I look behind the tanager to the bird perched on a low horizontal limb.  Common Black Hawk!  A first-year juvenile bird, it stayed put and allowed photos. I stood more on the road than on the bank for better stability and it paid off in better photos.

Summer Tanager

First-year Common Black Hawk

Foraging along a grassy area between the road and a rancher’s fence line were a flock of Lazuli Buntings. We spotted only one male; the others were likely female and young.

As we pulled into the cul de sac at the dead end, the clear voice of a Common Yellowthroat from the creek below was music to our ears.  Above, in the sky, we took good looks at two apparent Turkey Vultures because Zonies like this area, too.  Sure enough, one of the two birds was definitely smaller and while banking into the light, showed tail bands consistent with Zone-tailed Hawk. The two of them continued circling above Sunflower providing good size contrast for us to view several times until we left about thirty minutes later 

With Roadrunners, Summer Tanager, Black and Zone-tail hawks among our 27 species seen at Sunflower, all I can say at this point is:  What fun! 

* * *

Thunder, Lightning, Birds and Rain, Lower Salt River, Maricopa County, AZ

Friday, August 7, 2015

Our summer monsoon season has delivered more dust and wind than rain, so with the sky overcast again this morning, I didn’t even think of rain.

Birder friend, Julie C. and I met and started birding at Granite Reef Recreation Area along the Lower Salt River at 6:00 a.m.  Since this would be another SIT, we parked closer to the kayak and fishermen parking area so as to not disturb the birds too much in the picnic area where we would settle.

Julie had her chair; I carried a bucket with a nice rounded lid I had found online. It’s a handy way to carry gear and have a 360° option for sitting and following the sounds of birds.

Thunder and black clouds rolled over Red Mountain. Birds were fairly quiet with the exception of the early-rising Verdin who were as chipper as we were. A Ladder-backed Woodpecker whinnied a couple times from a distance and finally flew in from across Bush Highway.

A male Vermilion Flycatcher was busy catching insects in the air.  A Black Phoebe showed up and tried to chase the Vermilion away.  The Vermilion moved slightly to another branch but continued to fly-catch while the Black Phoebe stayed for half a minute before flying away.

Between thunder rumbles, Gambel’s Quail called from the east side of the rec area. We heard the sharp “peek . . . peek” of an Abert’s Towhee.

Several times, we heard a Brown-crested Flycatcher’s “whip” call followed by its rolling brrrrrrg, but it never flew into the mesquite picnic grove where we sat. 

Although the marsh grasses were tall, I heard a couple Northern Rough-winged Swallows over the river. Julie heard some Mallards in between thunder moans.

Gila Woodpeckers began to show up around us. And, at about 6:30, the lazy Great-tailed Grackles woke up raucously in the reeds and flew out one by one to stake out their own space.

Dark clouds dropped lower over the picnic area.  Jagged lightening struck the ground next to Red Mountain. It looked like the storm was not going to go around us.  But, still no rain.  We stayed put - briefly.

Best sighting there was a female Bullock’s Oriole feeding from one tree to another, looking very healthy with its yellow head showing a faint black eyeline that helps distinguish it from the female Hooded Oriole that also has a gray back and two white wing bars.  The Bullock’s female has a pale yellowish breast and white belly and vent, while the female Hooded’s yellow throat and breast continue on down through its belly to its vent, showing much more yellow underneath than the Bullock’s.

When a lightening bolt landed on the far west side of the rec area, the immediate thunder clap rattled our teeth, so we got ourselves back to the car in a jiffy.  

Faint rainbow

Having been there just forty (40) minutes, we headed toward Coon Bluff, but it was raining hard as we drove east on Bush Highway so we continued on out to Butcher Jones where, when we arrived, the rain was finished; it was clear and sunny.

It’s amazing what we see while birding.  We stayed in the car, parked parallel to the cove and muddy beach for the full 40 minutes of birding we did there.

In addition to female and juvenile Brown-headed Cowbirds around and on some of the wild horses there, we saw a small flock of apparent Pied-billed Grebes in the distance, a Great Blue Heron along the shoreline and American Coots closer to the beach. 

Out in the water, we counted 8 swimmers doing big laps around the near and far buoys — for an estimated one mile swim per lap.  The water didn’t look all that inviting but they seemed to be getting good exercise wearing bathing suits, bathing caps and water shoes.

Also present on the beach, in the marsh grasses and closer to us in the mesquite picnic area, we counted 16 wild horses.

After all the publicity about the US Forest Service wanting to roundup and eliminate the wild horses from this area, we counted 12 photographers out there with the horses “shooting” away. One man was running to get as close to the horses as possible for good shots. I was glad to see that when he spooked a band of horses over to the marsh reeds, they stood, across the inlet with heads in the tall grasses showing the photographer only their asses.

[The wild horses are on reprieve from the Forest Service’s initial attempt to round them up due to citizen activists who have followed the horses for years through the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group.]

Birds seen there and not mentioned above: European Starling, Great-tailed Grackle, Red-winged Blackbird, Gila Woodpecker, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Verdin, Curve-billed Thrasher, Mourning Dove and Turkey Vulture.

Still not 8:00 a.m. when we pulled out of Butcher Jones, we stopped off at Saguaro Lake North. It was unbelievably quiet. Out by the dam, we couldn’t even find a cormorant.   Nor, American Coots in close to the shore!  A bunch of Mallard mutts hung around the boat ramps, but for waterfowl, that was it at that hour. Not even a sea gull to tantalize us.

We did see some desert birds: Black-throated Sparrow, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Black Phoebe, Verdin, Gila Woodpecker and Turkey Vultures.

As we drove past Coon Bluff and Granite Reef, it was still raining there.  So, we finished birding at 8:20, and wrapped up our morning at Sunnyside Breakfast Lounge on North Power Road where Julie and I visited together for a while before heading back to our respective homes and future agendas.

There was no indication of any rain having fallen this morning in my neighborhood!

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