Tres Rios Overbank Wetlands (permit required), Maricopa, Arizona, US

Friday, January 22nd:
This morning, I set off for yet another wastewater treatment plant that creates marshes, basins and ponds of water for waterfowl with its treated effluent. Putting it out for its final treatment through the ground to join the Gila River, this effluent wetland provides critical habitat for animals, raptors, songbirds, fish and waterfowl in our corner of the Sonoran desert.  Today’s journey took me and birder friend, Glenda, to Tres Rios (the confluence of the Salt, Gila and Agua Fria Rivers).

With Bill Grossi leading the Sonoran Audubon Society’s field trip (about 18 birders), we began around 8 a.m. by setting up spotting scopes on a berm from which we could look down into the fenced-off large basins loaded with birds. I counted 5 White Pelicans, 22 Cattle Egret, several Great Egret plus a great variety of ducks and cormorants. Raptors perching in distant trees included Cooper’s and Red-tailed Hawks, one a very dark morph. 

Sonoran Audubon field trip birders
Distant dark-morph Red-tailed Hawk
An Osprey flew overhead; a Northern Harrier flew low over the open marsh stream.

Hundreds of Yellow-headed and Red-winged Blackbirds lifted from the reeds into the sunlight as we returned from the berm to walk west on the dirt road beyond the fenced area. Here, streams moved slowly through the reeds while ducks enjoyed the morning sun. We walked slowly to avoid flushing birds ahead of us.

Cinnamon Teal - note its red eye
Common Gallinule (formerly Moorhen) (red frontal plate with yellow tip to bill)

Some birds perched on top of the fence or other advantageous high points:
Belted Kingfisher
Snowy Egret

Others fished with stealth from the reeds:
Green Heron
The sound of the Marsh Wren's chit calls accompanied us all the way to the intersection of three separate trails on which to continue westward.  Already 10 a.m., with a scheduled wrap-up time of noon, our choice was to turn back. 

A Harris’s Hawk perched across the wide pond opposite the concrete spillway. The Black Phoebe’s voice “tseeew” called our attention to the dry side of the spillway where two of them hawked insects from the air.
And on the spillway was a dead fish that I photographed because no one knew what it was. One man mentioned “sturgeon”. I don’t have a clue. Any of you fisher people??? I'm thinking a raptor had hold of it and another bird got it loose...hard to tell.

Birding the desert side of the trail on our return, we came upon Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Abert’s Towhees, Yellow-rumped Warblers and lots of White-crowned Sparrows. Interestingly, an Orange-crowned Warbler had been perched on a reed and a Song Sparrow picked nesting material from an open cattail when we birded the marsh side.

As we neared our parked cars, we took one more good look at the basins behind the fence where we found the “Bird of the Day” -  a HORNED GREBE - rare in this area.

Horned Grebe
Living in the West Valley of Phoenix, Bill is very familiar with the birds of Tres Rios and felt that the Harris’s Hawk and the Horned Grebe were the two outstanding sightings of the day. For me, it was seeing, if only briefly, the Least Bittern.
Least Bittern - photo by Glenda Jones

We drove back to our meeting spot through a pecan grove where we saw raptors, a Burrowing Owl and a few woodpeckers. Another day full of quality birding with 60 total species!

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