Salt River: Granite Reef and Coon Bluff Recreation Areas, Maricopa County, AZ

Friday, September 25, 2015
Waking up with birds on my mind, I headed to the Salt River. While there’s a sameness about returning to this area, it offers a variety of sightings which is something I like to observe. It’s also familiar . . . comfortable . . . like a home base of birding.

Beginning at Granite Reef Recreation Area at 6:30 a.m. (79°F), birds were just beginning to head to the tops of sunlit trees. Across the parking lot, I heard a familiar call that I thought was a Gray Flycatcher. It’s always rewarding to have my binoculars land on the “assumed” bird, as it did this time. It was flicking its tail downward, another identification characteristic that nailed it for me.

The sharp “pik” call of a Ladder-backed Woodpecker near the middle of a mesquite tree caught my attention. I found it before it flew.

While birding the circle west of the picnic area, I spotted two Bullock’s Orioles (both females, or perhaps one young), an Anna’s Hummingbird, a couple Black-tailed Gnatcatchers and two Common Yellowthroat.  Back in the picnic area, the Great-tailed Grackles were just getting up out of the marsh grasses. Either, they were having a bad feather day or they’re in the molt process.

Back-lit Great-tailed Grackles just getting up this morning
Waterfowl directly out from the picnic area was scarce. A Great Blue Heron was successfully fishing on the opposite shore (Native American land) while five American Coots dabbled for breakfast.

American Coots

As I followed the east trail for a change, I came upon a House Wren, Violet Green Swallows and one Black Vulture flying above Red Mountain across the Salt River. A Sphinx Moth caught my attention when I thought it was a hummingbird!

By the time I saw a couple paddle boarders heading quickly downstream, I realized I had already birded at Granite Reef for a little over an hour.

Leaving there and driving east, I pulled into the entrance road of Coon Bluff to the sight of a a Greater Roadrunner that decided to “run with the car” for almost a full minute. It was on the right-hand side of the road, so I pulled into the vacant left lane moving slowly and watching it. Eventually, it darted eastward into the desert.

Farther ahead, another Roadrunner showed itself briefly before disappearing and when I reached the parking lot, one was wandering around the edges.

Greater Roadrunner

Not every visit to Coon Bluff offers up Roadrunners so I took advantage for some photos with the one in the parking lot.

Almost always, a Vermilion Flycatcher shows up at Coon Bluff and today was no exception.

Living up to its name, the male Vermilion just caught a fly
Turkey Vultures are not my favorite bird, but when one perches up on the bluff giving me a close camera shot, I go for it.

I’m also practicing “in-flight” photography for birds more important to me than vultures, but I need to start somewhere. 

Birds were everywhere: overhead, on the ground, on the bluff (two Rock Wrens chasing each other), in the trees and at the water.

The Belted Kingfisher alerted me with its rattle call and I caught sight of it several times, but never a belly view that would have determined for me whether it was male or female.  The female has a rufous-colored breast band below the blue one, while the male has just the blue chest band.

A Spotted Sandpiper showed itself at two different locations. In its basic plumage, its breeding spots are gone but it was exhibiting its familiar tippy behavior (forward and back).

Spotted Sandpiper

Rock Squirrels love the rip rap along the river.

Other mammals made an appearance, too:
Two wild horses on Indian Land across the Salt River as I walked eastward
One wild horse also across the river when I returned

On my return from my walk eastward past the big cottonwood tree, I came upon Lindsay Story and her Dad. It was good to see them out and about and as we stood talking beside the river, two Sharp-shinned Hawks flew in with one perching in a mesquite directly over our heads!  

After a mile an a half of a loop walk there, I was feeling the heat so I wrapped up with a photo of a dragonfly (Flame Skimmer?) and headed home. 

At the end of the exit road, a Harris's Hawk was perched on a utility pole and allowed me to get a photo.

Harris's Hawk
Until the next time, then.

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