Tres Rios Overbank Wetlands (permit required), Maricopa County, AZ

Tuesday, May 10th
How could I miss seeing a PAINTED BUNTING in the Phoenix area last year between June 15 and July 15??  --  It arrived at the very start of my recovery from bunion surgery that prevented any long hiking for 8 weeks.

So, when I saw this bird for the first time 12 days ago at High Island, Texas, I felt redeemed for having to suck up such a local "miss".  I saw it as a LIFE BIRD there.

Not soon after returning home from that Texas trip, I started seeing reports of a male Painted Bunting at the same location it had visited last June/July at Tres Rios Wetlands in the West Valley of Phoenix. I live in the East Valley, about an hour's drive away.

It's early May and the bird (same one?) is back. Having missed it last summer, I didn't know the specific area to search this time. A quick phone call to birding friend, Susan Fishburn put me in good company. She invited me to join her (and Laura Ellis and Tommy Debardeleben) by meeting at the parking lot at 5:30 a.m.

What a morning!  I wore my "mojo" PAINTED BUNTING earrings (purchased at High Islands gift shop). The earrings had proved helpful there; would they increase our chances at Tres Rios??  No sightings of the bird had been reported for the past couple days.

When we target a bird, we try not to bird the entire area too heavily, but obviously didn't ignore the birds flying overhead, out on the water, heard in the reeds and landing in cottonwoods, willows, mesquite and snags around us. So, we walked and we walked.
A permitted worker gave us a brief "lift" in the back of his pick-up truck that put us close to where we needed to be - at the far west end of Tres Rios.

We were hearing birds...and stopped to listen. Laura was the first to spot it - PAINTED BUNTING in a tree behind sticks and branches. Tough sighting, but there it was! She has a good ear. But the Painted Bunting is different from many birds in that it varies its song and can easily be mistaken for a Warbling Vireo also singing from a tamarisk tree beside the cottonwood. Oops! There goes our bird. My photo shows some black and red but not even a discernible bird. Dang.

So, we listened harder and walked slower.  Ah, again! There it is out on a snag - wide open, singing its heart out. Too far for my little camera. In Texas this beautiful multicolored male bird (light green back, dark green wings and tail, red underneath and red rump, blue head, red eye-ring and stubby bill) was also distant and I really wanted to get a cleaner, closer picture of it today.  

But this is what I got:

Rare PAINTED BUNTING (male) at Tres Rios, Maricopa County, AZ

I didn't go down the embankment to get closer to the rarity because I'm short and I had a clear shot from where I stood, even though I knew the bird's location exceeded my camera's zoom. 

But Laura and Tommy both sought better photos and drew closer to it, aiming through clearings within the trees where they stood. And, did it pay off!

This PAINTED BUNTING is an East-coast bird, seen rarely in Maricopa County.  Photo by Laura Ellis.

Photo by Laura Ellis

It was 6:10 a.m. when the PAINTED BUNTING perched and sang for maybe five minutes. We were thrilled . . . excited . . . and I touched my earrings.  

With that climatic sighting so early in the day, we decided to continue birding for a few more hours on the trails lined with thicket. Lots of good birds were present: Black-chinned Hummingbirds, Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, a handful of nice migrating warbler species, Blue Grosbeaks, Black-headed Grosbeaks, Summer Tanagers, Lazuli Buntings and lots of doves. More importantly, we heard and saw the PAINTED BUNTING again shortly before 8:00 a.m.

As the morning heat increased, we started the long walk back to the car (with another brief stint in the back of the same pick up truck).  

While the PAINTED BUNTING was not officially a LIFE BIRD for me; it was the first time I had seen it in Arizona and has become part of my Arizona Bird List. Because its colors are a feast to the eyes, I'd go out to see it again if it returns next year!

And many thanks to Susan, Laura and Tommy for making this such a special treat of a day.

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  1. Great shots of birds, reflective of your passion!

  2. Bird-watching, such a gift of Presence, the Oneness of Now!