Riparian Preserve at Gilbert Water Ranch, Maricopa County, AZ

Sunday, June 26th
Arriving early at Gilbert Water Ranch under a cloudy sky and a moderate desert temperature of 88°F, I was curious as to what birds I might find after our really really hot spell. 

At the front east-side cactus garden, a GILA WOODPECKER’S face was buried in a saguaro for whatever breakfast treat it enjoyed.

Female Gila Woodpecker (no red on its head)

From the east-side entrance trail, the first pond across the grass and picnic area contained enough water and mudflats to get me off to a good start.

While NORTHERN SHOVELERS might number as high as 50 or more at this Pond 7 in January, today I was surprised to see any at all — two. 

Several AMERICAN AVOCET and BLACK-NECKED STILTS preferred the shallow edges and mudflats.

American Avocet waving its bill back and forth through the water to stir up food

Black-necked Stilt

Scanning the far edges of the pond, I was surprised to see two YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS land in the mudflats closer to me. I rarely see them at these ponds, so I quickly pulled my camera. Just as I was about to click on a frame including both of these female YHBL, they took off, but I got the single shot.

Yellow-headed Blackbird (female)

Very close to the shore where I stood, a large fish (sucker? carp?) was spawning (laying eggs). Then I noticed fish were close to the surface at several spots in the lake, apparently doing the same thing.  For anyone who knows or likes to fish, here are some photos. 

Fishing is allowed only in the Fishing Pond — the pond located directly behind the Gilbert Library where parking is available.  [SE corner of Greenfield & Guadalupe]

GAMBEL’S QUAIL were vocal in various spots and I found two scooting across the dry side of Pond 7.

It was amazing to hear so many SONG SPARROWS singing loudly. Our Southwestern species is much lighter than Song Sparrows in other parts of the country — its feathers being pale reddish brown. Wouldn't you know, it turned its back on me!

An AMERICAN KESTREL was perched high on the framework of a platform — too high, really, for a good photo, but here it is--enough to identify it, but not much more. 

American Kestrel
When I tried for a clear shot of a LESSER SCAUP, it was so close to a Canada Goose on land, that I ended up liking all the feathers on the goose better than the less commonly seen scaup.

Female Lesser Scaup swimming; Canada Goose preening

At another almost-empty pond, several KILLDEER had the water’s edge all to themselves and seemed to enjoy it. They weren’t even spooked by me.

At a later pond with scant water, a WHITE-FACED IBIS flew in and landed briefly.

Walking from pond to pond, I had lost count of the bazillion Desert Cottontails but there were no less than 100 out and about cavorting in the dry ponds and on the trails I walked.

ABERT’S TOWHEE are most often running on the ground there and hiding under shrubs. Today, they were up in the shrub so I wanted to take a few photos. It was about a year ago that Margie Reed called my attention to that bird in her west side portion of our community. It was the first time I became aware of its presence there, so I added it to my BYB list (Back Yard Birds). This year, I have one coming to the water I keep fresh in a “frisbee” watering spot in my back yard.  It’s sharp clear teek call is its way of keeping in touch with the rest of its family. It's pretty much a plain brown bird with black face, dark tail and rufous color at the lower end of its body where the tail begins.

Albert's Towhee

SNOWY EGRETS are delightful anytime, anyplace.  I saw just two today, but expect there were more.

And, a phenomenon I haven’t seen in quite a while was a treat this morning — a sundog.

Definitely glad I visited the Water Ranch this morning. Noted 42 species in less than two hours. Delightful sightings!

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Granite Reef & Coon Bluff Recreation Areas along the Lower Salt River, Maricopa County, AZ

Friday, June 24th:
Arising early, I was off to “the river” by 5 a.m., where my first stop was Granite Reef Recreation Area. During the summer, birds are especially active at this early hour so I just stood by my car to listen . . . to get a sense of the various species.

Four Peaks where the rising sun seeped through the clouds

Watching the sky as much as the trees and the ground, Mourning Doves were the ones waking up and moving quickly overhead. White-winged Doves could be heard in the distance: “Who Cooks For You?” over and over again. I spotted several at the red fruit on top of the saguaros across the highway.

Anna’s Hummingbirds were buzzing the tree tops and while I watched one, a Lesser Nighthawk with very pointed wingtips flew over showing its white band near the wingtip.  The photos below were taken in 2012 at Red Mountain Park in Mesa.

Lesser Nighthawk

The river was full and running fast. A couple female mallards had found some still water for their almost-adolescent young but American Coots were the dominant bird on the water. 

Following the song of a Northern Cardinal, I caught up with it.

Greeting the morning with constant song.

Although a Brown-crested Flycatcher was a good sighting for me, it was perched in a “backlit” situation making it a bad photo.  

So I walked the east trails, up to the berm which is high enough to give a direct view into the tops of trees.  Guess what I found quietly perched and looking for breakfast? 

Cooper's Hawk

A red-eyed Bronzed Cowbird back at the picnic area rounded out my visit at Granite Reef.

Arriving soon after at Coon Bluff a short distance east on Bush Highway, the birds were singing and calling everywhere.

Ash-throated Flycatcher

If I had not heard the Ash-throated Flycatcher, I might have mistaken the above bird for the Brown-crested which is very similar with a more yellow belly and larger bill.

Enjoying the variety of birds, I didn't always aim for photos because the mesquite are leafed out and it's difficult to get a whole bird in one frame. I solved the leaf problem by walking beside the wide-open running river but birds were scarce out there.  The one I found was on the opposite shore. This bird and I go way back so it somehow gave me a good photo at quite a distance where the river was wide.

Green Heron
What was a revelation to me was that post-cataract surgery with newly implanted distant-focal lenses in each eye, I could pick out a Killdeer from the trash caught up in the reeds at the shallow edges.  YAY!  Previously, I would have missed the Killdeer or thought all the big-gulp plastic cups were the bird.

Coon Bluff is always a good place to find Vermilion Flycatchers in the mesquite bosque. There were a couple males and females and I detected a young one out and about as well.

Vermilion Flycatcher

With cloud cover dissipating, the temperature was rising so I didn't walk as far eastward as I intended but chose to get out of the heat. 

Noting 40 species between the two locations was lots of fun and a great way to start my day!!

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Zanjero Park, Gilbert, Maricopa County, AZ

Sunday, June 19th: 

Two Young Burrowing Owls


My Dad was born and raised on a farm (the Fretz Family homestead) and didn't much like it. Yet I sensed his love of the outdoors even if it was working our large berry and vegetable  "patch". Although it was hard work, I always chose outdoor chores above the inside ones and worked side by side with him up to my teenage years.

It was no chore this morning to visit Zanjero Park with its new crop of Burrowing Owls running about among a few of the many burrows installed there by Desert Rivers Audubon and others. First one I saw was an adult.

Then I came upon this young one. It seemed to be saying, "Good Morning!"

But, uh-oh! Why didn't you tell me there was a step there? 

Let just tidy up a bit. I've got an itch.

The young were already learning to be alert to the world around them. Look at this sentry.


Once out of their burrows, they appeared to be learning to "wing it".

Oops! Junior didn't do as well.

"Can you believe that?" the bigger birds seem to be saying.

Where did they go?  Where did they go?

Over at the next burrow, the adult stayed inside with its "catch of the day".  

The young owl appeared to think it wasn't quite fully prepared for its own breakfast.

A delightful day with the owls before all of us needed to get out of the sun on what is predicted to be a 120° day.  At 2:30 p.m. in the shade of my porch:

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Miller Canyon, Sierra Vista, Cochise County, AZ

June 15, 2016
Waking in the wee hours with the heft of current events swirling in my head and heart, I did something I used to do as a young person when I couldn't solve complex problems. I got in the car and drove.

This time I knew where I would go, senseless as it may have seemed - a one-day turn-around trip to Sierra Vista - for a visit with a special bird. But, I felt surrounded by senselessness not only at the Pulse in Orlando but with a spineless Congress that allows yet again an unhinged person to kill at will with a repeat-fired weapon.  And this was my way of coping.

With previous help from a birder/photographer and reports on eBird, I knew where to locate a bird that in the past several years had nested high in Miller Canyon at 8,000'. This spring, it chose the lower canyon (under 6,000') that is more easily accessible for me.

What transpired with the NORTHERN GOSHAWK clarified my existential muck.

Unlike the Cooper's and Sharp-shinned hawks, the other two North American Accipiters, the Goshawk is rarely seen. Normally found at high elevations in mixed forests or near its edges, it is not a backyard bird.

By 7:00 a.m., I was on the trail. Fifteen minutes later, it happened.


Where was it? Yikes -- heading right toward me, knifing through the forest gliding toward me (I'm short) at shoulder level then up and over almost touching my hat. Again, it was coming toward me - with the same action. I got the message but my feet hadn't moved.

The Goshawk perched a short distance away in the forest. My feet were already stepping eastward away from the bird whose nesting territory I must have unwittingly invaded. My emotions were now filled with remorse countered by the exhilaration of that bird in flight protecting--immediately--what was of utmost importance to him. It meant no harm to me at that point; it was a muscled warning to leave its area. It gained my utmost respect.

When I turned to look back, I searched tree tops for nests and looked for the Northern Goshawk. Nothing high; so I started scanning all the trees.  OMG!  There it is--perched on a branch, its red eyes observing my every move.

What will happen when I switch my binoculars for the camera, I wondered. Very slowly, with the sun now nicely behind me, I lifted my little Canon SX50 and took a photo. 

It kept staring; I kept snapping. 

The Goshawk appears to be a male; the female is larger and its chest markings more coarse. Note its white eyebrow. Its blue-gray back is not visible but you catch some of its color in the tail bands. It's a chunky bird with a shorter tail than Cooper's or a Sharpie.

After five minutes or so of snapping photos, I put the camera aside and just stood and observed the Goshawk. Then, it relaxed and started preening. Although tempted, I didn't lift the camera again but left within 10 minutes of our encounter.

Other birds flew in and out and sang their songs. An Indigo Bunting was not interested in posing, nor were the Black-headed Grosbeaks.  But a Cassin's Kingbird and the Mexican Jays gave me some good looks.

Water in the creek brought the Cassin's (above) to me.

The Jays flew in and out while I was there but eight of them flew in toward the water as I made my way out of the area.

Mexican Jay (3 above)
The drive down and back was long . . . but not senseless. . .It was epic.

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