Granite Reef and Coon Bluff Recreation Areas along the Lower Salt River, Maricopa County, AZ

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Birding at first light again, it was 82° with the half-moon still well above the horizon when Lois Lorenz and I arrived at Granite Reef recreation area. Briefly, we sat at a picnic table to survey the sounds of birds around us.  Ohh. . . it was sounding like a very promising day.

Before Red Mountain turned red with the sunrise, we must have counted 20 species in that mesquite bosque:  Black Phoebe, Abert’s Towhee and Great-tailed Grackle were quite ordinary.  The brilliant red feathers of the resident male Vermilion Flycatcher were barely visible in early light yet flashes of red led us to its next perch. 

The whinny of a Sora floated downstream on the air from marsh grasses slightly east of us.  As sunlight hit the trees, we were able to see Orange-crowned and Yellow Warblers.  A Gray Flycatcher was present and Anna’s Hummingbirds buzzed everywhere.

Although I left my spotting scope at home on purpose, wanting to focus more on migrating songbirds than waterfowl, it was a bird over the water that gave me the biggest thrill.  As I looked over to Red Mountain, a swallow came into view. I lowered my binoculars to get an eyeball view of what I was seeing: a very big all dark swallow kiting, then flying from west to east up river. Back up went the bins to follow as best I could.  Would it circle back?  Nope.  The Purple Martin, our largest swallow, was gone as quickly as it had appeared.

Stoked with that sighting, we ventured out of the picnic area, slowly birding the “circle” before walking west. A great migrant trap, we had located several more warblers.  

Nothing lights up that dark mesquite forest better than a male Northern Cardinal!  Its red just pops! Its chip calls may have been directed to its mate that we wouldn’t see until our return on that trail.

Up on the berm, I was sure we’d find water in the retention area after so many recent storms.  But it was totally dry and full of seeding weeds that attracted a lot of birds: Lesser Goldfinches by the dozen, sparrows and, OMG, a gorgeous male Lazuli Bunting in full breeding plumage!  Lots of female Lazulis were present, too. Out in the weeds, our sparrow species seemed to be limited to Brewer’s even though I tried hard to find a Clay-colored in their midst.  All of those birds were too distant for photos, so I focused on a Song Sparrow foraging just off the trail as we returned.
Song Sparrow (more lightly colored than on East Coast
Somehow, three hours had already passed. Being not quite three months post-surgery (bunion), I was tiring somewhat but light cloud cover kept the temperature in the 80s.  So, we decided to check out Coon Bluff.  Good choice!

Lark Sparrows, with their delightfully contrasting facial pattern, were among our first sightings. A regular desert bird that neither of us associate with Coon Bluff was noisy and fun to watch: Cactus Wren(s).  

It had been months since I had seen a Bald Eagle along the river.  Lois spotted it first up on the bluff — an adult bird perched and staring at the Salt River below. 

This is how the Bald Eagle appears to us on the ground.  Find it?

Zooming in slightly, an airplane photo bombed

A Red-tailed Hawk, flying higher than the eagle, flew into view as it crossed over the river.

One more view of the Bald Eagle:

Another bird I hadn't seen recently, Belted Kingfisher, flew back and forth across the river in search of something other than the tuber’s trash floating downstream.

As the sun heated up, I decided to wrap up for the day, having spent just 50 minutes at Coon Bluff.  It had been pleasant; it was enough.

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