A Morning Bird Walk in Pinal County, AZ

Saturday, November 18, 2017
The Bird Walk being led by Troy Corman and Charles Babbit at Boyce Thompson Arboretum started promptly at 8:30 a.m.
When the large group of birders split up, I decided to go with the leader I didn't know: Charlie Babbit. Having heard of him often and seen his birding posts, it seemed smart to expand my awareness among various excellent bird leaders in Arizona. Another regular leader at BTA, Mark Ochs, assisted. High winds (18 mph) create the worst possible birding conditions, so our initial sightings were slim.

Walking all the perimeter trail plus off-shoots to the Demonstration Garden, Ayer Lake and a few other spurs, we covered at least 1.2 miles in three (3) hours of birding. Once we moved into the interior part of the Arboretum closer to Queen Creek, winds quieted down and birds started popping up. Chinese pistachio trees were loaded with fruit. Hard to stay focused on the tiny birds flitting around in the full-leafed and fruited tree, we were quite surprised to find a small handful of BRIDLED TITMOUSE pigging out. Usually found at higher elevations, these small chickadee-sized birds do sometimes move lower in winter to good riparian habitat with cottonwoods and wlllows such as those in the arboretum.

BRIDLED TITMOUSE (photo from my file of 2012)
 Other good birds photographed this morning included the following:

RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER in picnic area

RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER in eucalyptus area

CANYON WREN - singing and perching  (above and below)

HERMIT THRUSH - most often found on the ground, this one, too, was after some food
 Many local birders know "Jack" who clears brush at GWR and at BTA.  Today he was volunteering at BTA and after we chatted with him briefly, he called our attention to a bird he couldn't identify across Queen Creek. Boy! Did he get us going!

Our leaders quickly called out several potential warblers but just as quickly noted that it wasn't moving. I looked at Jack who was smiling ear-to-ear. He had just pulled a fast one on us by planting the above bird in the crotch of the tree.

My best sighting of the day was a WHITE-THROATED SPARROW too hidden in leaf matter and tangles to get a photo, so I post one from my files in 2015 also seen at BTA.
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Local Birding - Maricopa County, AZ Nov. 10, 11, 12 & 15th, 2017

November 17, 2017
In the field more than at my computer, this blog has been waiting to happen.
A week ago today (Friday 11/10/17), Susan Fishburn joined me to explore Granite Reef Recreation area along the Salt River in Mesa. Since that is one of my favorite local spots, I didn't expect anything new to show up, but YES! This time of year, one never knows what bird will land where. We had two very good sightings.

A bit east of the dam, we had found a spot at river's edge to set up the spotting scope. With binoculars I had watched a small flock of ducks emerge from a cove and paddle westward close to the reeds toward the dam. Quickly to the scope, I couldn't believe my eyes! How many times have I birded this location over the past several years - and never had seen what my eyes were telling me! I asked Susan to take a look and tell me what she saw. Yes. WOOD DUCKs - five of them (3 males; 2 females). The ducks turned and swam back eastward but didn't return to the cove; they lifted off, not to be seen by us again. Not a rare bird - just rare for us to come upon at this location.

All the way across the Salt River, these are the best three photos I managed
of the five WOOD DUCK

Our day at Granite Reef wasn't finished. Susan spotted a male HOODED MERGANSER out in the middle of the river.
Male HOODED MERGANSER  [3 photos]

Handsome bird with very thin bill, flattened white crest and two dark spurs down the front edge of its chest

One reason for our catching up with one another was that Susan wanted to be among the first to buy one of the books I collaborated on with Janna Blok. She knows both of us. Jannie and I were thrilled when our draft submission was accepted by the first publisher we sent it to. It's an 80 page slim art book titled "where will this train take me",containing Jannie's photographs and my contemporary haiku. It's now available by order through your favorite bookstore and online. 

On Saturday, November 11th, I had agreed through Birding Pals (an organization that enables birders to connect with one another from various parts of the country/world) to meet a woman who was attending a conference in downtown Phoenix and wanted to spend the afternoon birding nearby.

Therefore, I left in plenty of time to allow for some good birding west of Phoenix at Glendale Recharge Ponds. Over several hours, I had found the rare RED-BREASTED MERGANSER, lots of EARED GREBES and a BONAPARTE'S GULL.  

RED-BREASTED MERGANSER migrating through
BONAPARTE'S GULL sitting out in the middle of Pond 5 with other waterfowl (A gull in the desert)

Then it was time to catch up with my Birding Pal, Fran. It was a quick trip from downtown Phoenix to Encanto Park where she had her first taste of our heat and our birds. From New York City, Fran was excited to see the ROSY-FACED LOVEBIRD and our ACORN WOODPECKER, among about six other Life Birds.

ACORN WOODPECKER finding grubs in th ground

During my lunch break along a nice palm tree-lined residential road, I had checked my phone only to see that a very nice rare bird had been spotted at Gilbert Water Ranch, close to where I live on the far east side of Phoenix!  Susan had posted that she had seen the rarity early Saturday morning after the sighting had been posted on Friday. Dang! And, here I was over on the west side!

As it turned out, Fran was very happy with the desert birds she saw within our hour of walking the grassy areas of Encanto Park and found the heat a bit much for this time of year. (high 80s) So, we finished up earlier than I had anticipated, having enjoyed our time together very much. She's an author of children's books, so we exchanged!  Fran Manushkin wrote a series about Katie Woo and has started one with Pedro.
Then, I was off toward the Riparian Preserve at Gilbert Water Ranch hoping that someone might still be around the spot where the AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER had been observed today. Finding the birder or photographer is often key to locating the bird when the ponds are quite large. I managed to do just that and the bird was still filling up on one worm after the other. 

AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER feeding constantly as it migrates through the area
AGPL gobbling one of the worms


Only 3 p.m. when I arrived and found the rare plover, I stayed for a good thirty minutes or more with two photographers who were waiting for the afternoon light to change. 

The next morning, Sunday, November 12th, I met Lois L. to head up to Needle 
Rock Recreation area along the Verde River, northeast of where we live. With a planned stop at the McDowell Mountain Regional Park, we spent some time in the campground looking for the recently reported migrant, Golden-crowned Sparrow, but found only many many White-crowned Sparrows along with other desert birds.

After an hour there, we stopped off at Box Bar briefly but it was extremely quiet as was Needle Rock Recreation Area. Well, not entirely quiet: some folks like to run their quads over the dirt roads there. But bird-wise, we were a bit disappointed. Our best find, the CRISSAL THRASHER, eluded the camera as usual but the SONG SPARROW down in the reeds was too busy eating to worry about us.

YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER is a moving target and I rarely get photos but this Audbon's species stayed still for half a minute. 

The weather was wonderful; a bit cloudy, cool and comfortable with the Verde River running high and fast. The only other photo I took was of this plant below that reminded me of a an indoor "spider plant" but it is actually an Arizona wildflower known as Texas virgin's bower (thank you Eric Hough for the ID).

Today, Friday, November 17th, I birded Butcher Jones Beach, a cove of Saguaro Lake mainly to see if I could locate the RUFOUS-BACKED ROBINs reported two days ago by Lindsay Story.

Well, I got it early but just a glimpse. I heard it first and then got just a brief look before it was spooked and flew back into the cover of thick foliage. But I saw the identification markers of its very rufous-red wings and back, plus its narrow dark streaks from its white throat to its robin red breast. 

The water was full of birds!  A small flotilla of LESSER SCAUP, a REDHEAD, BUFFLEHEAD, and four GREATER SCAUP, many AMERICAN COOT, and lots of PIED-BILLED GREBE, as shown in the photos below.

Looked almost like a LEAST GREBE but has the dark eye of the PIED-BILLED, not yellow as in the Least

Other birds I photographed:

GREAT BLUE HERON and American Coots

Migrating birds that find watering spots in our desert are a treasure that I fully enjoy. Many waterfowl winter here so I've seen more ducks and geese than I ever saw in Tidewater Virginia.

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Phon D. Sutton Recreation Area, Salt River, Mesa, Maricopa County, AZ

Wednesday, November 8, 2017 
About twice a year I visit this particular rec area along the Salt River. It's a good birding spot but in our "high season" when snowbirds visit, its large parking lots fill with motorhomes that rotate in and out on the required time frame for Tonto National Forest. Too many people; too much noise.

A ROCK WREN, foraging in the parking lot this morning, will be stunned by the influx of campers when they arrive. Usually found in canyons or mountain foothills, the bird seemed totally out of its habitat. Then, again, I'm happy it's flexible in that regard as habitat is changing everywhere.
Observed first along the road as we drove in, this bird below stayed perched for more than thirty minutes. It was an easy call from the road; definitely NOT a hawk. Its slightly hunched posture was that of a heron and given its size and color, it would be a GREAT BLUE HERON. Yet, after we parked and got our binoculars on the bird, I spotted details that didn't add up. Then, it occurred to me. It can't possibly be a Gray Heron; it's a juvenile!  Sure enough, this bird below is a juvenile.
With a trail in front of the parking lot and related picnic gazebos, we (Jeanne Burns and Lindsay Schoenberger) were able to look down into the Salt River over the cattails and marsh reeds to find the action. We soon spotted an adult GREAT BLUE perched on a snag.
Check out the differences between this one and the juvenile in the photo above.


A familiar bird call was that of a BLACK PHOEBE that would later give a good photo opportunity.


The BELTED KINGFISHER is more difficult to find on its perch. We heard it more often than we saw it, but when we did catch a look, we confirmed that it carried the second band across its chest, a rufous one, indicating it was a female. Making many more trips east and west along the river than we did, the kingfisher was obviously in hunting mode.

From the thick reeds came the whinny of a Sora. When I hear that, I can't help grinning from ear to ear. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, birding is usually good.

In a small ponded area, we spotted about a dozen AMERICAN COOT, two AMERICAN WIGEON, and several COMMON GALLINULE.  

Still walking eastward above the reeds, we heard KILLDEER and at least one GREATER YELLOWLEGS as it flew in announcing itself with its "tew, tew, tew" call.

In its basic (winter) plumage, the SPOTTED SANDPIPER has become familiar to us without its breeding spots that are reflected in its name. It's a medium-sized sandpiper that finds it hard to stand still even when its feet are planted. It dips forward and back, teetering from the rear end of its body.

Two of our sightings were particularly exciting. When my granddaughter, Megan, was visiting, she spotted one of these sandpipers at Granite Reef Rec area across the Salt River and exclaimed, "What is that??"  All sandpipers are not alike!  This WILSON'S SNIPE, below, is a compact bird with a very long bill, boldly striped head and back, barred sides and flanks that show well on its white underneath.

Yes, Snipe are real!  TWO WILSON'S SNIPE

Even at 10" in size, this is a fairly secretive bird and unless it comes out in the open like shown above, can be very hard to find in grassy wetlands with lots of hiding places. What was so very exciting was not that we found two such good birds; we saw another...and another...until we totaled nine (9) WILSON'S SNIPE. Never saw that many in one place before!

How many Wilson's Snipe can you find in the photo above?
Two WILSON'S SNIPE with KILLDEER at right rear balanced on one leg
Wilson's Snipe demonstrating how it uses that long bill to forage for snails, etc.
In the big cottonwood trees, we spotted many YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS and one YELLOW WARBLER. In the jojoba and small mesquite shrubs, both BLACK-TAILED and BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS identified themselves by voice. 

Four species of woodpeckers were discovered as we walked the high trail from east to west (GILA, LADDER-BACKED, GILDED and RED-SHAFTED NORTHERN FLICKER).

Standing high in the parking lot on our way to the west side of the river, we enjoyed a mature BALD EAGLE fly over us.

But it was this final bird that had us guessing as to its identity. It was a bird we knew well as an adult, not in its juvenile plumage. In the distance (all the way across the river and east from us), it was extending its brown-striped neck way out beyond some reeds. Birders might imagine our adrenalin as we did our birder "wishful thinking"!  But, no, saved (or foiled) by our photos; it was not a bittern; it was a juvie GREEN HERON.

Juvenile GREEN HERON - set of four photos

Jeanne needed to leave a bit early, but Lindsay and I didn't stay much longer, finishing up at 10:40 a.m after a 7 a.m. start.  We enjoyed our day together!

Spotting wildlife is always a plus. Today, it was wild horses and a racoon swimming out from and along the reeds.

It was an especially good day for me by having two juvenile herons present - ones I seldom see. Cooler temps, a very light breeze, running water where the Verde River flows into the Salt as well as some back area calm water presented a nice variety. 

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