Lost Dutchman State Park, Apache Junction, Pinal County, AZ

Saturday, January 30, 2016
Not getting started birding until almost 10 a.m., the parking lot at Cholla Day Use area was already full on this beautiful winter day. As only the second car in the large overflow parking area, I got out into the desert under a clear sunny sky and calm winds at 59°.

It was a day to remember for some of the wrong reasons but certainly one very good reason. I heard and saw one of my favorite birds.

It always thrills me to see families and couples and singles with their dogs or alone hiking  Today, though, hikers were the least of my problems in hearing birds. Across the park was a helicopter that I assumed flew in for a rescue. I watched as a person came out of the low-hovering "bird", scooted quickly down a rope and took forever coming back up. Broken limb?  Heart-attack victim?  But the helicopter was on a training mission - not a rescue - and its piercing noise level made birding by ear a challenge for 40 of the 60 minutes I spent out there. It was fun to watch, though.

Crossing Jacob's Crosscut Trail as a breeze picked up, motion in front of the western face of the Superstition Mountains caught my eye. WHAAT???  Hang-gliders were sailing through the air; a few still jumped from higher perches. I watched to see how they would land - two made successful running stops -- through the very prickly terrain; another appeared to tumble a bit. Worst-case scenario would be having the wind carry the rider right into a saguaro. 

Despite the distractions, I managed to hear and find a Bendire's Thrasher singing in the Cholla picnic area before I left. It's one of the first bird songs I learned because it's the best way for me to distinguish it from the Curve-billed Thrasher that looks very much the same. Can you find the differences?
Bendire's Thrasher
Curve-billed Thrashers
Bendire's Thrasher
By the time I reached my car in the overflow lot, a volunteer was posted not only there but at each trailhead parking area to guide the many, many visitors to safe parking along the road.  When I left, someone lucky got my spot in the very large full lot. On a beautiful day, that, too, was a beautiful sight.

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