Saguaro Lake - Butcher Jones Beach area, Maricopa County, AZ

October 22, 2015
The invigorating temperature of 58° at 7:15 got me off to a good start. First bird I saw on the north side of the overflow parking area when I pulled in was a Crissal Thrasher - not usually on my daily checklist. My binoculars and camera were in the trunk!  Dang!  

Butcher Jones Beach, at a cove of Saguaro Lake, is surrounded by rocks and desert hills with washes — great habitat for a variety of birds. And with that first sighting, I quickly parked the car, grabbed my gear and walked slowly into the desert north of the lot. Birds…here…there…everywhere.

Rock Wren showed up quickly followed by Black-tailed Gnatcatchers that were abundant today. A small covey of Gambel’s Quail lifted into the air with their “spik”call notes, flying just high enough to pass over the embankment east of me and down out of sight.

The tinkling sound of the Black-throated Sparrow was present, but it took quite a while to come face to face to with one. Cactus Wrens (our largest wren) were out and about and not shy.  

Cactus Wren

Best sighting in that area was a Willow Flycatcher, perhaps a bit late in leaving.

Willow Flycatcher

But that was followed by BIRD DRAMA.  I spotted a Greater Roadrunner going along the ridge of the embankment well beyond where I stood.  Suddenly, a raptor lifted up from below the hill and swooped the roadrunner who accelerated quickly. The Cooper’s Hawk continued to fly out over the desert so the roadrunner ran for cover down to plants and shrubs on the desert floor.

Next, I birded the cove area and followed the walking trail to Peregrine Point.  It’s not a long walk but birds interrupted me so often, it took me over an hour to bird that short bit.

This Great-tailed Grackle was down in the edge of the marsh reeds.  Note the plastic wrap the grackle tossed before carrying its “breakfast bonanza” to a different spot. 

The light on this Great-tailed Grackle was gorgeous.


Farther out in the cove was a Double-crested Cormorant which can be distinguished from the more common Neotropic Cormorant by its orange lore, bill and skin at the base of the bill. In contrast, the Neotropic is smaller, sleeker, longer-tailed and has a V-shaped white border on its chin-patch.

Double-crested Cormorant

As I neared Peregrine Point, swallows filled the air. From what I observed, I estimated about 8 Violet-green Swallows and 10 Northern Rough-winged.  Today was a camera-practice day.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Violet-green Swallow

A very difficult bird to photograph well is the Black-tailed Gnatcatcher because it’s always moving. I consider myself lucky when I see the bird this clearly.

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

Despite its name, there is some white on the underside of its tail but not nearly as much as on that of the Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher.  Making use of a failed photo shot, here is the under-tail pattern of the Black-tailed Gnatcatcher.

With this, my favorite gnatcatcher, I got lucky today and managed several full photos like this:

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

As I returned toward the picnic area, Lindsay and her Dad, Dick, were coming my way. As usual, we compared notes before continuing our separate ways. It’s always fun to come upon other birders in the field.

The most unusual sighting I had was a very good one for me.  I heard a bird sound I didn’t recognize and tracked it down to a Canyon Wren. This bird has a beautiful cascading song, but its call is very short and buzzy. It was poking around the ground at the base of some rocks northwest of the picnic area and all my photos were of its back end.

Here is one I took earlier in the year.

Canyon Wren

A satisfying day in the field is a good thing!

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