Riparian Preserve at Gilbert Water Ranch, Maricopa County, AZ

Sunday, June 18, 2017  Father's Day
When I heard on Saturday that the Least Bitterns had returned and nested in the reeds by the bridge at Gilbert Water Ranch, you couldn't keep me in bed. Up early, I wanted to get a look at the three chicks. What would they look like? How would they hold on to the reeds.

I always thought of this bird as an east-coast bird since I had seen one -and only one- of these tiny rail-like birds of the reeds at my favorite marsh in Grandview (Virginia). So, I was thrilled to observe the LEAST BITTERN last summer when three of them spent much of their time at the Water Ranch public Fishing Pond! 

The adult bittern is about the size of a rubber football (without its neck extended). Both last year and today, the birds were not shy as long as we observed appropriate bird etiquette. One photographer was accompanied by his young daughter, also with camera. 

Having arrived at 5:30 a.m., two of us watched an adult LEAST BITTERN fly from the reeds in front of us across the lake to another stretch of reeds. Within ten minutes, it flew back with some food for the babies. One of the young had poked its fuzzy head out of the reeds but pulled back. It was probably waiting for that food.

A little before 6:00, a baby LEAST BITTERN perched on the reeds in front of us.


The young heron-rail-like bird will live much of its life within reeds like these. It walks around on the reeds barely moving them. They're very secretive and hard to see.

An adult LEAST BITTERN appears to be gently helping the young bird maintain its hold
 (the extra eye behind the chick--different color in adult)

Looking this way and that, the chick had to see the group of photographers within 20' 

Looking everywhere - even up in the air.  LEAST BITTERN CHICK
Because of my position on the bridge, I took photos of this chick only. Both parents were involved and busy with their three young ones, so I wished them well, when I left.

* * *

Coon Bluff & Phon D. Sutton Recreation Areas, Lower Salt River, Maricopa County, AZ

Friday, June 16, 2017 & Monday June 19, 2016
Arriving early enough in our June heat wave to enjoy the calm cool morning, the Salt River was a good choice to visit. Just ask the wild horses.

Just standing, belly-deep when we first spotted them, foraging for greens on river bottom
Wild Horses at Salt River-Phon D. Sutton Recreation Area

On Friday, I birded solo; on Monday, Marsha Wiles and Hinde Silver joined me.
Photos below were taken at Coon Bluff near picnic area.  Good place to see them this time of year. 

BULLOCK'S ORIOLE missing some feathers
Not quite sure what this TURKEY VULTURE was looking for in the Salt River--just staying cool, maybe.

Before we left Phon D. Sutton Rec Area, the horses, accustomed to photographers, came up out of the river to their desert trail right beside us.

* * *

Local Birding in Gila & Pinal Counties, AZ

Thursday, June15, 2017

When the Sonoran Desert temp goes up...up...up, Marsha and I decided to do the same thing -- head up...up...up for higher elevation birding. 

Aware of the lightening strike on Pinal Peak that was continued as a controlled burn, I was hopeful that we might make it as far as Sulfide del Ray Campground to give us a look at a few mountain birds. Gate was closed at our turn onto FR651, so having already spent about two hours inching our way up Russell Gulch (Road), we turned around and drove back down having seen 34 species of fairly well-known high desert birds. 

RED-TAILED HAWK at Russell Gulch

In past travels through Globe, both of us had seen a directional sign into the Pinal Mountain Recreation Area at the east end of the city. So we decided to give it a go. Not knowing precisely where to turn, I took the first sign we saw.

OOPS! I managed to "jeep" Six Shooter Canyon Road with my hybrid Honda Insight without mishap, but it was not a road I should have been taking through dips, around rocks and rain-washed gullies. Not able to turn around on what quickly became a very narrow rocky road, I wondered how far I would need to go to get out of there. Quite a relief to eventually come to a flat wide area (not a developed campground but apparently used for one) where I turned back, realizing that all roads going off from there were hard-core roads for high-clearance and 4-wheel drive vehicles. I covered one mile in an hour (in and out).

Able then to relax, Marsha and I ate lunch beneath a wide mesquite providing some shade as we checked off birds seen right there. Except for the challenge of the drive, the ride through that portion of the mountain was beautiful and cool, but we had no time for birding as Marsha helped "read the road" for me.

Not wanting to return to the desert so soon, we stopped off to bird a bit at Oak Flat Campground just above Superior. 

We're always thrilled to find a GREATER ROAD RUNNER!

GREATER ROAD RUNNER  [Photo by Marsha Wiles]
Cassin's Kingbird (worn feathers on side of tail; end of tail, white)  [Photo by Marsha Wiles]
At high-noon, with no one else in sight, I showed Marsha the whole campground before parking. What I spotted immediately was a female Vermilion going to her nest just a bit forward from us, easily viewed through the dusty windshield. The male also came in with food. I leaned out the window to get a couple shots, but one from inside wasn't bad either.

Male VERMILION FLYCATCHER (taken through the windshield)


Getting very very hot, we decided our adventurous day had been well worth getting up at 4:00 a.m.

View this checklist online at


Mormon Lake, Coconino County, AZ

Saturday, June 10, 2017
Why would I want to drive 150 miles (one way) to see a bird? For starters, I had missed it during its first sighting in early May when Kathryn Hart had discovered it on May 4th. But that was too close to my two-week Cape May, New Jersey Birding and Family trip to make such a distant full-day run.

All I could do was hope that this bird, never seen in Arizona before, would like Mormon Lake enough to stick around until my return. That was not to be. The Eurasian COMMON CRANE was last seen at Mormon Lake on May 14th and I didn't arrive back in the state until the 22nd. Dang! It's a rare vagrant to North America and the very first time anyone has seen and reported it in Arizona.

Having lived in Japan for three years (1960-63), I knew the crane carried great symbolism to its people. It signifies Love, Peace and Harmony and that's why so many Americans have now learned to make the paper cranes. Their symbolism carried over the Pacific to us -- much as the actual wayward COMMON CRANE had done. 

As luck would have it, it was re-discovered at Mormon Lake in June. So, I rounded up two birder friends to join me in our search for this rare Eurasian bird east of Flagstaff. With Julie Clark driving her SUV, she, Lois and I caught up with one another on our 3-hour drive, regarding our various birding trips over the winter months.  Before we knew it, we had arrived at the turn off from Route 87 to Mormon Lake Village, population given as: 50-5,000.

On this beautiful, but somewhat blustery Saturday, it looked like a festival was underway at the RV Park with a hand-made sign explaining: the poor-man's Sturgis. Bikers were everywhere. Not a place from which we could access Mormon Lake.

Having been to the Village once before, I had no real strategy for our birding the "lake" -- in which I could see no water. Heavy rains over the winter kept some little streams running out in the mostly-dry lake bed but it was covered with long flexible grasses that served as a carpet for long-legged shorebirds. From the Lodge, we spotted a few elk, but needed to figure out how to access the very large lake bed that appeared to be surrounded by private property and forest land.

Turning back to our car parked at the Lodge, a birder from Tucson (John) asked if we were there to see the Crane.Yes! He needed to fill his gas tank but told us he had already seen the Common Crane this morning and would be glad to show us how to reach a good spot. (I still don't know exactly where the "stake-out" spot was located but perhaps this was it.)

Fortunately, out in the shimmering distance, Lois spotted the COMMON CRANE keeping company with a Great Blue Heron. Once we saw it through the spotting scope, we could actually find it through our binoculars. So, I tried for photos of this rare bird foraging at least a football field length beyond us. 

COMMON CRANE at Mormon Lake; Saturday, June 10,2017 (Black "bustle" at its rear)
Back-lit photo in morning sun, neither the Great Blue Heron (left) nor COMMON CRANE show their true colors

Light gray all over, it appears white-bodied, with black face and neck, but white nape. Thick yellowish bill and
black flight feathers and tail.

After the COMMON CRANE lifted off to fly just a bit farther away (closer to RV Park but still not within sight of it, we decided to explore other access. We found a parking area on the right-hand side of the road, then hiked in through Coconino Forest land spotting lots of WESTERN BLUEBIRDS and other expected mountain species.

Although I'm not known for doing well with directions (in this case, I had none), I led to the lake where we got another good view of this very rare COMMON CRANE.

Still quite a distance away, the Crane's white nape shows as it preens (above)
Another Documentary Photo of the COMMON CRANE at Mormon Lake 6/10/17

L-R: Julie Clark & Lois Lorenz; dry Mormon Lake in background

We decided to drive around the whole lake to get perspective on where other birders might be locating themselves to spot the rare Crane. Just about where Mormon Lake Road turns into Route 87, what should fly across in front of the car (from east to west toward the lake) just above eye-level but the COMMON CRANE? -- giving us a fantastic jaw-dropping view of its full color -- neck outstretched and legs trailing. By the time I reached my camera, the crane had circled the SW portion of the lake and was flying toward us as if looking for a good spot to set down.  From the open car window, I managed yet another poor photo of this COMMON CRANE on its first known visit to Arizona.


* * *

Introducing International Birder to Maricopa County, AZ


Wednesday, June 7th   3:00-6:45 p.m.

Through membership in  “Birding Pals”, birders are able to contact birding people in other cities, states and countries to get information about or have a local birder share his/her local patch with you.

Many times, my calendar is full and I can’t meet with inquiring birders, but I used it recently for my trip to Cape May and was given excellent information on places to check out since that birder would be out of town during my visit.

Since Simon and Margaret Bailey from England contacted me in March, I was able to get them on my calender for two days between my own trips. 

Arriving late on Tuesday night, they requested some jet-lag time off on Wednesday morning but were quite sure they wanted to experience our desert heat in the afternoon. Or, as Margaret put it, “Enough rain and fog. Let me see what this is like.”

Starting out on N. Power Road (Mesa), we met and got acquainted over some coffee before I rode with them to some of my favorite places along the Lower Salt River.  When he contacted me, Simon allowed that he wasn’t a “twitcher” i.e., he didn’t keep a Life List and would not be looking for specific birds. He would be happy with whatever came our way….although a Roadrunner would be nice!  (nada)

Commenting on the saguaros and desert habitat, rock formations and mountains, they told me that they would be as pleased to see the “place” as well as the birds. Margaret (artist) is less interested in birds but joins Simon on his hobby. Hearing that, I decided to start out at Butcher Jones Recreation Area, knowing that the wild horses often hang out there in the summer to cool off in its cove of Saguaro Lake.  

The muddy beach of the cove and the lake was filled with people; the horses were at the rear of the picnic area cooling off under the mesquite trees. 

Birds were still at the forefront. While I came up with the identification for the BROWN-HEADED COWBIRDs and GREAT-TAILED GRACKLEs and a VERDIN, Simon spotted TURKEY VULTURE (12), RED-TAILED HAWK and BALD EAGLE!

 As so often happens, the main attraction became the wild horses.

6-day old young colt

Margaret enjoyed the horses; Simon and I found more BROWN-HEADED COWBIRDS at their feet.

Another young one
Mother protecting it
As we headed back along the Salt River, we stopped at Coon Bluff long enough to take a look at the river from that vantage point, check the bluff for eagles and the mesquite for bird activity. Not much happening.

Simon & Margaret Bailey
Wanting to know more about our tall desert cactus, I decided to show them what I call the “Grandmother” saguaro - one with many, many arms. When Simon asked how old I thought it was, I suggested well upwards of 100 years old since it often takes that long to grow its first arm. Maybe this one was 200 years old; I didn't really know. I was glad to see it still standing tall and healthy; it hadn't been caught up in the recent fire along the river.

To finish up, we birded Granite Reef from 6:00 to 6:30 p.m. Margaret commented on how cool it felt!  (101° instead of the 105° of earlier)

The two of them have traveled extensively and have family in Southern California, so they knew some of our birds: GILA WOODPECKER, GAMBEL’S QUAIL (I differentiated ours from the California Quail), COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, PIED-BILLED GREBE and SNOWY EGRET. With the Orioles being a no-show, great views of an ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER became the best find at Granite Reef. 

Worst find (for me) was hearing young begging for food and discovering a BLACK-TAILED GNATCATCHER going crazy trying to keep fed two good-sized begging BROWN-HEADED COWBIRDs at the base of a mesquite. (cowbirds lay their eggs in other nests indiscrimately letting that bird hatch and raise its young)


The next morning, Simon showed up alone. Margaret chose to lay low and allow him his day at a specifically birding place.

Recording 33 species between 6:15 and 8:00 a.m., we called it a good morning.
Simon had taken the photos he wanted and I had nabbed a few, too.

I'll finish up with this, my spirit bird -- the GREEN HERON that provided the spark to my current birding adventures.

(The bird blending into the reeds above and very focused below) .

It's not every day I bird with folks from England. It was a real pleasure as we enjoyed the thermal temps and good birds together!

* * *

Two Canyons of Santa Rita Mountains, Pima County and deAnza Trail, Tumacacori, Santa Cruz County, AZ

Sunday, June 4, 2017  Madera Canyon
Taking my usual leisurely time with breakfast and coffee, I was eager to leave the ozone-filled air of the Phoenix Valley for the fresh air of two canyons in the Santa Rita Mountains. 
Located in the Coronado National Forest about 25 miles southeast of Tucson, off of I-19, it’s a trip I’ve done many times. Not hard to love the escape from early summer’s desert heat for that of a mountain canyon even though it’s only about 10°F cooler…noticeable to me.

Arriving at Madera Canyon’s lowest marked trail (Proctor Road) at 8:00 a.m. (Elevation: 4458’), it felt good to stretch my legs and whole body after the three-hour drive south.

Birds were singing. Cottonwoods, oaks, sycamores, willows, mesquite — all the trees were now fully leafed out hiding the singer. A challenging morning of birding was just what I needed. Some expected resident birds were present as were summer visitors like DUSKY-CAPPED, ASH-THROATED AND BROWN-CRESTED FLYCATCHERs. 

Desert birds, VERDIN, BLACK-THROATED SPARROW, and LUCY’S WARBLER were easy for me to ID in this desert riparian area. A bright red SUMMER TANAGER tried my patience; I was sure it’s voice was the one hidden behind leaves and ….eventually, it flew out to a distant area in all its full red-feathered glory, confirming my ID. 

Finishing up my walk there with a nice prize (rare BLACK-CAPPED GNATCATCHER), I could feel the adrenalin rising. 

Link to my eBird list for Proctor Road:

Next stop: Santa Rita Lodge.

Here, I sat among other birders viewing a wide bird-feeding area filled with covered platform seed feeders, suet feeders, peanut-butter log feeders, numerous hummingbird feeders and piles of limbs and brambles for the ground-loving birds that search for insects and bugs to add protein to their diet, especially if they’re feeding young.

An ACORN WOODPECKER worked the peanut-butter feeder.

WILD TURKEYs (8 total) found their way to the water fountain feature crowding out most other birds temporarily.


Not super crowded with birders for a Sunday morning, most all of us arrive here to view the hummingbirds.

In silhouette, same bird as above: BROAD-BILLED HUMMINGBIRD
BLUE GROSBEAK (3 of them) worked the ground near the brush piles. What a nice splash of blue on the dirt.

The next bird ticks me off. Pete Dunne calls it the "Parasitic Blackbird".  It's in that family but goes by the name: BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD. The following photo is not of the male for whom the species is named (a black bird with a brown head) but its mate: a female, a pale nondescript bird.

Why do I dislike her? She lays her eggs in other birds' nests for them to incubate and raise. That's not only weird. Suppose you're raising two infants and two or three more are added to your task. The nesting couple doesn't differentiate the eggs; then feeds the interlopers along with its own, wearing themselves out and risking the lives of their own offspring. Nasty bird!

My favorite sighting at Santa Rita Lodge was the ARIZONA WOODPECKER, seen more often in forests than down in the desert. A brown-backed woodpecker, the photo below is of a juvenile male with some red feathers on the top of its head. 

Arizona Woodpecker at a peanut-butter feeding station

Driving, then, a bit farther up the road to Kubo Cabins B&B, Cora called out to me as soon as I arrived. Offering a more intimate experience with the birds along the low hills of a mountain stream (now dry, of course), it's a place I always visit. Birds did not disappoint!


BLUE GROSBEAK were here, too.

The BROAD-BILLED HUMMINGBIRD perched on a wire after filling up (at least somewhat) at one of the feeders.


A WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH decided the suet feeder was a perfect spot to land.

Even the ordinary HOUSE FINCH looked rather spectacular here in the woodsy riparian area.

Two birds gave me quite a thrill.  The first was the presence of VARIED BUNTING, a bird I rarely see for long periods of time. Usually, when spotted, they take off. Here, it showed its awareness of me across the stream on Cora's viewing deck, but was too busy eating to stop. Thus, my first decent photos of this very colorful bird.

How about that palette of color!  And, as you can see, the Grosbeak is well-named.

What do you do when a MAGNIFICENT HUMMINGBIRD stops directly in front of your face hovers within 3" there momentarily -- with my eyes seeing mostly its very green throat -- before flying off to a feeder?!  WOW!  

It had buzzed past me one other time and I think it may have stopped to read all those buttons on my hat!

In any event, it gave me goosebumps. Thrilling, indeed.

Good photos of that bird are difficult at all times, but on this day, I got my best ones ever. Even they do not do justice to this large hummingbird that is so much bigger than the others at the feeder, that about a quarter of its body extends beyond the feeder. 

MAGNIFICENT HUMMINGBIRD (above and below at feeder)

Having been birding since I arrived at 8 a.m., I decided to check into my room at a new location up in Sahaurita (Vagabond Executive Inn). 

Later, I returned to Madera Canyon to listen for owls up on the Carrie Nation Trail where, instead of standing at the Lodge and listening for them calling from wherever in the woods, I preferred being closer to them.

With a three-quarter full moon, the parking area at the trail head (5400' elevation) was light enough at 8 p.m. that I was able to watch two MEXICAN WHIP-POOR-WILL fly overhead. Had never seen it fly before. Its thick body, stretched out in flight, was carried through the night with wide floppy wing strokes. I assumed it was heading to roost.

As the sky darkened, I headed up the trail using my big light on the dirt road so I wouldn't trip over any protruding rocks. Once in place near the bench, I just stood and listened. Didn't need any playback. First a MEXICAN WHIP-POOR-WILL, somewhere close behind me in the forest, called just the whip part of its call but soon went all the way, over and over again with a reasonable pause in between. Whip-poor-will....whip-poor-will....... Ah! An answer came from another part of the forest, or perhaps, just another bird getting started: Whip-poor-will...over and to my ears. The one behind me might have been breathing down my neck.  

Before long, the WHISKERED SCREECH OWL added to the evening's symphony. The first one I heard sounded like it was coming from a lower elevation. Woot woot woot woot woot woot. Described as a telegraphic trill, its rhythm was steady...not wavering...not changing its note or pitch...just that same series of WOOT notes - maybe five or six at a time. Soon, one closer to me began to WOOT WOOT WOOT WOOT WOOT.  

Wrapped in the sound of owls, I returned down the Carrie Nation Trail, to the car, and off to bed.

Monday, June 5, 2017    Florida (flo-ree-da) Canyon
Knowing Chris Rohrer had a longer drive than I did, I didn't want to be late to our meeting spot but he had arrived before me.

This was my first birding expedition to Florida Canyon this year. It's a nifty place, but moderately difficult to hike upwards on a narrow stony trail trying to bird at the same time. Ocotillo and various cactus (prickly pear, sotol, yucca) and mesquite trees thrived on the barren hillsides. Closer to the stream, sycamore, willow and cottonwoods gave cover to the many birds that were there.

Almost immediately, I heard the somewhat melancholy song of the DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER. Chris has a great ear and began naming other birds around us as he led the way up the trail through the hillsides on each side of the stream to our right, now dry.

After a particular tough spot to climb over some big rocks, Chris said, "That's the worst of it."  Ha!  He had to say that two more times, at least!!  Dressed appropriately in hiking boots, sun  and insect-protective clothes with my usual wide-brimmed hat and lots of water, I was prepared for both the steep trail and the heat as the morning progressed.

We walked up beyond the dam to the end of the maintained trail and back. At a spot where I could pause with both feet side by side, I looked up and was trying to confirm an ID of an apparent Turkey Vulture. Chris caught on to it and together, we said, ZONE-TAILED HAWK. Note the bi-colored wings of the Zone-tailed that look so much like the Turkey Vulture. The bands on the tail give the "Zonie" away to birders. To small prey on the ground that don't note its slightly smaller size, they think the hawk is a non-threatening vulture. Slyly, cleverly, the Zone-tailed Hawk feeds well with a dive out of a kettle of Turkey Vultures to get its talons into a very surprised smaller bird or vole on the ground.

ZONE-TAILED HAWK    Photo: Chris Rohrer
Many of the birds were easily identified with binoculars but were quite distant for my camera, but I managed a few when I could stand firmly. A distant young male BLUE GROSBEAK was perched high.

BLUE GROSBEAK -Juvenile Male
In a bit over 2.5 hours, we located 45 species of birds that I just don't see on a regular basis, so it felt extra sweet to be finding NORTHERN BEARDLESS-TYRANNULET; PACIFIC -SLOPE FLYCATCHER; BROWN-CRESTED FLYCATCHER; WARBLING AND BELL'S VIREO; BUSHTITS; BRIDLED TITMOUSE; CANYON, CACTUS and ROCK WRENS; HOODED ORIOLE, warblers, tanagers, buntings, and more.

The bird we both wanted to see was a small beautiful warbler, the RUFOUS-CAPPED. Knowing its song well, Chris located the site of its potential nest in a dense thicket of shrubs, vines and small trees. From its original chip call, the male began using its agitated warning. That confirmed a nest and we knew enough to let the birds alone...we had both seen the bird previously and had just confirmed its chip and it agitated series of chips with playback.

On the way down, I took time to snap a photo of this dragonfly that I think might be a FLAME SKIMMER. Those of you who know your "flies", set me right if I've missed identified it.

eBird link for our time in Florida Canyon:

After a brief rest stop at the La Pasada shops, Chris caught sight of a GREATER ROADRUNNER just before we reached the 4-way stop. I quietly got out of the car but the bird ran across the street. Didn't want it to do that so I headed back to the car.  But had to stay long enough to enjoy its perch.

GREATER ROADRUNNER running across the street to the median
Hopping to the top of the rock, it looked like a statue!
It was still early enough to head farther south to De Anza Trail-Tumacacori in Santa Cruz County to search out the nesting ROSE-THROATED BECARD.  Arriving at 10 a.m., the temperature was taking its toll. We walked slowly on this portion of the long trail that was new to me. Since birders from all over the state would be coming to see these rarities, someone had hung pink ties at the turn points in the trail.

Two birders were present when we arrived: one who had driven over from New Mexico; one from Tucson with a very good spotting scope. The nest of this bird is amazing. Last year's nest (no one knew it was there last year) was on our side of the river and appeared to hang like an orioles nest but about a foot long. This year's nest is across the river and very high up above a bunch of leaves and branches which is now being finished off with soft feathers.
Way too distant for my camera, Chris shared his photo of this rare bird with me. Both the male and female were present.

ROSE-BREASTED BECARD   Photo: Chris Rohrer

One of my favorite birds was perched by the Santa Cruz River.
Female Vermillion Flycatcher
And, on the way out, not terribly far from the trailhead, we came upon an interesting conversation between species.  Hmmm.

When a day of birding flows through your body along with the external heat, the sweat, the chiggers and the joy, it's enough to know that you've been out in the natural world that so many people don't know exists. Or, perhaps, they just can't understand why anyone would want to visit such spots. It's an immersion experience.

eBird link:

* * *