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

Wednesday, February 8
Believing "the early bird gets the worm" or in my case, "the birder gets the bird", I'm often at a birding site by sunrise.

On this day, I figured the birds at Thrasher Corner would wait for the sun, so I didn't rush over but arrived at Baseline & Salome at 8:00 a.m.  Compared to my visit there just two weeks ago (1/25), today was a bust. Then, we had Sagebrush Sparrows running all over the salt-bush desert scrubland; today, it was the common White-crowned Sparrows that were running everywhere...even carrying their tails high! Although we hadn't seen the LeConte's Thrasher that first visit, (I thought it was too early in the season for it), after today's visit, I'm thinking the same way. It was present singing today but very stealthy and never gave itself up. In past years (March), that bird has been perched high on open branches singing its heart out. 

So, we left there. Glenda Jones was with me and I knew she also liked Tres Rios, a Phoenix water treatment plant in Tolleson.  That was next up on our agenda as we turned eastward again on I-10.  

With few expectations for good birding at mid-day, we pulled into the small parking area, placed our permit on the dash and hauled the spotting scope up the berm to view the birds on the treated water far beyond our walking view. 

Many GREAT EGRET, flocks of various ducks and a couple rafts of BLACK-NECKED STILTs were observed.

Black-necks Stilts  [Photo: Glenda Jones]
BLACK VULTUREs (4) soared overhead. Looking very "squat" in the sky compared to Turkey Vultures, the Black Vulture has a black head (not red as Turkey Vulture); white wing tips (primaries) but the rest of its broad wings are black (not bi-colored light and dark as Turkey Vulture); its tail, is short that sometimes its legs trail out behind the tail, unlike the Turkey Vulture with its longer tail.  

BLACK VULTURE  [Photo: Glenda Jones]
Opposite in appearance to the Black Vultures, WHITE PELICANS began to soar overhead. More and more joined in until we counted 12 all-white birds with black wing-tips.

As you can see in Glenda's photo below, breeding adult White Pelicans' bills turn bright orange, usually with a fibrous plate on the upper mandible (looking like a little bump). This plate is shed after eggs are laid.

White Pelican showing its breeding "plate" on upper mandible  [Photo: Glenda Jonees]
So far, our mid-day visit to Tres Rios was unbelievably rewarding. Little did we know how much better it would become.

Although I knew that bitterns and rails liked the dense marsh and reed areas along the roadway where we walked, it wasn't unusual to count one of these birds by its known voice because they can be very quick and secretive. It must have been lunch time. From our position on the road, this is what we spotted in the reeds.

Male LEAST BITTERN very color-camouflaged in the reeds
Male LEAST BITTERN has black head and black back; female is more brown

Very buffy face, chest and wings

Not only were we thrilled to get such a good view of a LEAST BITTERN, we would see two more, and they seemed to take turns flying westward upstream as we walked the same direction.  

Not to be outdone by a bittern, the next "not-bird" that we spotted was a rail. 

VIRGINIA RAIL [Photo above and below: Glenda Jones] 

Did you ever hear, "skinny as a rail"?  These birds can stand and stretch upright between reeds making themselves very difficult to see (bitterns do this, too). When this Virginia Rail turned and ran back into the marsh, it appeared to deflate itself to slip right between two very close reeds. We saw two more Virginia Rails before we reached the spot where the trail splits in two.

There's a pond right before the trail splits and I wanted to check it out.  Glad we did.

Didn't see a whole lot in that first pond, but a CINNAMON TEAL is not that easy to come by and this was a gorgeous male.

With just one more pond ahead of us, we decided to check it out. Full of some kind of green leafy vegetation, a single WHITE-FACED IBIS stood preening close to us (hidden by reeds and weeds).

White-faced Ibis

In the photo above, you can see the white outline coming in around the Ibis' face. This little white-feathered area gave the bird its name; the white is only present in breeding plumage. In winter time, the size, shape and color of the bird helps to identify it. Although its feathers are almost as glossy as the more eastern Glossy Ibis, the Glossy is rarely found in Arizona.

With the sun high overhead, we had shed layers but were still quite warm. Wandering back toward the parking lot (1 mile), we spotted a BELTED KINGFISHER -- a male, looking for its lunch!

Belted Kingfisher - male

Doubt that I'll turn into a mid-day birder, but today's outing at Tres Rios was awesomely productive.

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  1. enjoyed seeing your bird pictures and blog.

    1. Thanks, Diane. It's a different kind of place.