Pacific Wren

Pacific Wren
Pacific Wren

Friday, October 30, 2015

Saguaro Lake: A Huge Oasis in the Desert

Recently, I decided to head out to Saguaro Lake on the Salt River to take in a much needed hike for exercise and of course do some birding in the process.  Now that fall has arrived in the Sonoran Desert, the temperatures are so much more inviting for long hikes.  Saguaro Lake is a man-made lake on the Salt River and is surrounded by some incredible scenery.  On the north side of Saguaro Lake is a picnic/campsite known as Butcher Jones Beach and from this site is probably one of the most scenic hiking trails in Maricopa County, at least in my opinion, but then, I have not hiked every trail in the county, so I could be wrong.  This trail was the focus of my hike and it surely did not disappoint.  I started my hike early in the morning and apparently was the first person of the day to set out on this trail as I did not run into any other hikers until on my return. Here are some photos from various points along the trail.   

Birding was actually pretty good along with many of the expected species such as Black-tailed Gnatcatchers and Black-throated Sparrows.

 Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

Black-throated Sparrow

One bird that I was not expecting at this location was the Sagebrush Sparrow.  It is not a rarity by any means, but the habitat just did not seem quite right for this species.  It is a wintering bird in Maricopa County and I have observed this species in many other spots in the county.  But on the other hand, this habitat is not that too far off, so maybe they are around, but have just gone undetected in the past.  (Once I returned home, I checked eBird and found that they had not been reported there in the past, at least in eBird.  So I got to add a new species to eBird for this location.)

Sagebrush Sparrow

Near my turn-around point, I discovered a gorgeous female Belted Kingfisher.  They can be a very shy bird and this one was no different, quickly flying across a small inlet when I flushed it.  Considering the distance, I was kind of surprised I got a photo that was recognizable.

Belted Kingfisher - Female

By the time I returned to the beach area, the waterfowl were much more active than when I started, so I sat myself down on a rock along the shoreline and noticed that mixed in with the hundreds of American Coots was a Redhead duck.  This was my first of the fall sighting of this handsome drake and he looked a bit out of place with all those coots and a few Pied-billed Grebes.


Pied-billed Grebe

Not sure what was going on with the coots that morning, but many of them were flying high over the water.  Usually, when I see a coot in-flight, it is low and near the surface of the water and quickly sets down in the water at a different location.  With them flying over my head, I asked myself, 'Why not?' in reference to taking a photo of one in-flight.  Really gives a different perspective on this oh-so-common bird.  

 American Coot

One last walk through the picnic area before heading home, in the search for a Gray Flycatcher.  The past couple of winters have had one or two residing in this location.  And sure enough, I found it, or maybe I should say, it found me, as it flew into a tree right above me.

Gray Flycatcher

A great overall hike of about 4½ miles with some incredible scenery and some great birds along the way.  Even some of the flora along the trail is pretty amazing.  I am always amazed at how some of the cacti dispersed seeds can germinate and survive in and among the rocks.

 My hike, from my GPS app,

 Some type of a fishhook cactus.

 Cholla cactus



Friday, October 2, 2015

The 2nd Meandering: The Salt River

After an interesting hike on Saturday, and really having an an epic moment or two, (see previous post), I opted for a place with some water nearby on Sunday, the Salt River area, specifically Coon Bluff and Granite Reef.  An early arrival at Coon Bluff found not too many people there except for a few people fishing.  I love coming to this place but this time I noticed that the grassy vegetation surrounding all the mesquites and trees is gone.  It always used to be a lush green carpet of grass.  I am not certain for the reason of this, but one theory is the wild horses of the Salt River might have contributed to its disappearance by overgrazing on land that cannot support the number of horses located there.  Or maybe it is due to some other reason.  Recently there was a big controversy about the wild horses and there was to be a round up to capture some of the horses to reduce their numbers and auction them off.  A big rally of support from many people got them to change their minds and they did not go through with the plan.  I too, enjoy seeing the horses along the Salt River and in fact I did see a few on Sunday morning.  But after seeing the grass vegetation gone, it made me contemplate the reasoning.  With no grass, it will greatly affect the wintering birds, especially sparrows and ground dwelling birds.  A year ago, a nice vagrant Harris's Sparrow spent the winter there with dozens of White-crowned Sparrows, but it is probably unlikely for that to happen again with these conditions.  Only time will tell if this habitat is in trouble or not.

Coon Bluff is quite frequently one of the best places to see Bald Eagles in Maricopa County and this day was no exception.  A pair of adults were waking from a night of slumber and in the first rays of sunlight, they made for a nice silhouette in a tree along the river.

Bald Eagles

A nice kettle of Turkey Vultures perched on a dead tree also greeted me before the sun had risen high enough to give them warmth for their first flight of the day.  They rely on the heating of the sun which creates those warm thermals that they rely on to glide almost effortlessly as they soar the skies hunting for a dead animal corpse to consume.

Turkey Vultures

One of the reasons that I love to come to this place is for the Vermilion Flycatchers; one of the most colorful birds in Arizona.  And as usual, they were present and actively foraging for insects in the air.  On this trip they were found in a bit different location than the normal campground where I used to see them.  But knowing where they are always makes the trip worthwhile.  Most non-birders are awe struck by the brilliant red of the males, but those females have a more muted coloration, but are really quite spectacular as well.  

 Vermilion Flycatcher - Female

Vermilion Flycatcher - Male

One of my favorite warblers, the Townsend's Warbler made an appearance, but was playing hard to get in the trees.  I will admit that this bird does make me ponder the thought that it might be a Townsend's x Hermit Warbler hybrid.  These 2 species do hybridize quite frequently and this bird does give me that vibe of possibly being a hybrid.

Townsend's Warbler?

A Spotted Sandpiper was resting on a rock out in the middle of the river as I explored the river as well.

Spotted Sandpiper

As I prepared to leave a Greater Roadrunner toured the parking lot and as I was headed out about 200 yards from the parking lot a second one ventured out onto the road in front of me and then crossed over to the left side and I was able to shoot photos out of the window of my vehicle.  (Guess that is why they are called 'roadrunners', they like to sometimes run on the roads!)

 Greater Roadrunner

After departing Coon Bluff, I decided to stop in at Granite Reef before returning home.  The most exciting observation at Granite Reef was a male Belted Kingfisher that was hovering over the water for sometime before taking a plunge into the water for a fish.  I knew it was successful in its plunge, but had a heck of a time detecting what it had caught as it appeared to carryout some moss or seaweed.  After reviewing my photos at home, I finally discovered it had captured a fish, but apparently some plant life came with it.  I love watching them hover like that while in a hunting mode.

 Belted Kingfisher - Male

 Belted Kingfisher - Note the tail of the fish under the wing on the right side.

And here it is carrying its fish and the seaweed as well.

Another fun and enjoyable outing to observe nature at its finest.  There is never a place too boring to return to for birding in Maricopa County of Arizona.