Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Christmas Bird Count

Beginning on Christmas Day 1900 ornithologist Frank M. Chapman, an officer in the fledgling Audubon Society, proposed a new holiday tradition - a "Christmas Bird Census," which would count birds during the holidays rather than shoot them. 

The data that has been amassed helps to guide conservation actions.  Today, changes and declines in bird populations directly relate to climate change, habitat loss, and the health of our planet.  

I signed up with the Morro Coast Audubon Society to Count my yard birds today.

The front yard is my primary birding area, as that is where the feeders are located.  On either side of the driveway are two seed feeders and two suet feeders.  Peanut crunch suet is the favored suet. The morning began with rain.  At 7:00 a.m. I was scraping mushy seeds out of the platform feeder, and resupplying.   Click on the above image to see the suet and platform feeder (upper left) that are located on the south side of the driveway.
                                                                           The early birds were White-crowned Sparrow (above), Golden-crowned Sparrow and California Towhee (below). The rain does not appear to affect their feeding strategy.  As the rain lessened more birds came out.  Around 11:00, when the rain stopped, Mr. and Mrs. Nuttall's Woodpecker appeared in the bottlebrush tree.  Ms Downey Woodpecker spent much time on the suet feeder in the bottlebrush tree.  I must speak to her about over eating.   (bird photos taken at Montaña de Oro)
On the opposite side of the driveway, Oak Titmouse was letting me have it in no uncertain terms, that the sunflower seeds needed replenishing. (Can you imagine taking orders from a tiny gray bird that weighs less than an ounce?)

Perky Bewick's Wren had a go at the suet while Ms Ruby-crowned Kinglet, flashing her Ruby Crown, came back for seconds and thirds. Overhead Mrs. Black Phoebe observed the action.  

At 2:00 the wind came up; it was time to call it a day.  This was a first. Never have I spent 6 hours looking at birds - including the over head birds which were Mallards, Gulls, and Turkey Vultures, the Total Bird Species Counted was - - 23!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Birding Morro Bay Marina and Sweet Springs

On the Central Coast, the fall/winter season is fantastic.  Migrating birds arrive daily - some species plentiful and other species diminished due to climate change.  Every bird that does arrive, whether a tiny Sandpiper, a Ruddy Duck or a Brant Goose, is a joy to behold. 
Morro Bay Marina - The tide was on the ebb (above).  Feeding in the soft, damp sand were Long-billed Curlew, Willet, Whimbrel, 12 tiny least Sandpiper, and my favorite winter migrant, a Spotted Sandpiper - a very dependable bird.  Every winter season, it is exactly where I expect it to be - feeding in the wet sand on the south side of the Marina.  Three Pied-Billed Grebe were constantly diving while a female Kingfisher dashed noisily back and forth.  In a tree at the east end of the Marina perched a Red-tailed Hawk.  

The high tide had inundated the pickleweed (below photo) leaving many little pools and rivulets of water.  Four Cinnamon Teal, one male, three females were feeding as they walked through the pickleweed; last year Cinnamon Teal were sparse.  Perhaps we will get more Cinnamon Teal this year. 
The scrub brush was quiet, California Quail (photo) White-crowned Sparrow, Bewick's Wren, Savannah Sparrow, and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher that was near enough to touch.  A great photo op. and my camera was in the car.
At Sweet Springs, earlier in the morning, a Warbler feeding frenzy was in progress.  As I entered the preserve a young woman had stopped to watch the frenzy.  She sat down by the trail and watched Yellow-rumped and Townsend Warbler dashing back and forth in pursuit of teensy flying insects that had just hatched. The Warblers landed many times in a small bush that was right beside her.  She was truly enjoying the happening.

In the pond, hanging out with the Mallards, were two pair of Green-winged Teal, the smallest North American duck.

From the overlook, a huge flock of ducks, Green and Blue-winged Teal, Ruddy Duck, Bufflehead, Wigeon, Northern Pintail (below), Northern Shoveler, and a rare bird to Morro Bay, a duck that breeds in prairie potholes,  the Canvasback - my first view of a Canvasback on Morro Bay (yeah!).

While concentrating on the ducks, I heard a familiar sound, Brant Goose (below), not the thousands that used to winter in Morro Bay, but a flock of eight. Their primary food, eelgrass has declined 97% in the last eight years.  The Morro Bay National Estuary Assoc. has an excellent article on the decline of Eelgrass in Morro Bay.

It is painful to think of the Brant, as hunting season begins - Monday, November 9, and continues for 37 days.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Birding the Mojave Desert

Last weekend was a birding weekend away from the Central Coast, but not away from the migratory birds that spend the winter on the Central Coast.  I and five friends drove about six hours to Zzyzx and the Desert Studies Center where we would experience "The Birds of the Mojave Desert." (photo - Zzyzx pond, also known as Lake Tuendae) For more information on Zzyzx and the Desert Studies Center, Wikipedia is an excellent resource.

The Desert Studies Center is located 8 miles southwest of the small town of Baker and four miles in from Hwy 15.  As you can see in the above photo, there is a beautiful pond, lined with date bearing palms, many of them Washingtonia filifera, California's only native Palm tree.  The water and the fruit bearing palms are a great attraction to many species of birds.  Late Saturday afternoon we watched a migratory Red-naped Sapsucker feeding on small, yet sweet dates of a native palm. (photo by Judy West)
As we walked from the "Center" to nearby Soda Dry Lake (below photo), we observed Black Phoebe,  Phainopepla, Loggerhead Shrike, Raven, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Cedar Waxwing.  Leading into a spring hidden in a thicket of Tamarix was a trail of Bighorn Sheep scat.
Saturday was a full day of experiencing "Birds of the Mojave Desert."
Baker town park:  Feeding in the freshly mowed grass was a mixed flock of Pine Siskin, White-crowned Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow,  Lesser Goldfinch, Cow Birds.  Ravens were abundant. 

Shoshone: A beautiful little historic town, with ample spring water. The owner of most of the local property is revitalizing the town with a focus on ecotourism.  Protecting wetlands and riparian restoration is paramount.  On the edge of a new crystal clear town pond we saw a migratory Wilson's Snipe, and Pied-billed Grebe.  In a nearby palm observed a Red-breasted Nuthatch.   Robins were busy on the school Lawn.   For more information on Shoshone and the desert wetlands -

Salt Creek: An important riparian and wetland area; a short walk took us to the wetland where we saw Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and heard Common Yellowthroat, and Marsh Wren. (photo - getting ready to head out on the trail)
China Ranch: A date farm, deep in a canyon near the southern end of Death Valley; we downed delicious date shakes and birdied among the date palms (cloth sleeves protect the ripening fruit from birds).
Desert oases offer migratory birds a place to rest, refuel and ready themselves for the next leg of their journey.   Great sightings of Gambel's Quail. (female Gambel's Quail by Judy West)
The weekend of intense bird studies was fun and informative, and I will have lasting memories of the beautiful and remote oases that give food and shelter to migratory birds, and perhaps to birds that are headed to the Central Coast.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Day of the Hermit Thrush

A few days ago, hoping to see Warblers,  I birded along the creek side of the campground in Montaña de Oro State Park (MdO).  I was listening for a mixed flock, of which the vangards are the Chestnut-backed Chickadees and the Bushtits; fortunately these little darling are constantly chattering which gives one a hint that the flock may be near.  While I was peering into the dense, dark shade of an old Monterey Cypress looking for the flock, my eye caught movement in a thick, nearby Blue Elderberry shrub. A Hermit Thrush (above) was feeding on ripe blueberries.  I watched till the little beauty flitted into the shrubbery. 

The Hermit Thrush is similar in size to an American Robin, but smaller.  They often stand upright with their slender bill slightly raised.  A variegated bold eye ring emphasized their large dark eye; they flit much less than a Warbler and can often be seen perched on a twig looking very alert.

Back to the flock as it continued to move through the Cypress.  Birds observed, Townsend's Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Hutton's Vireo, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Yellow Warbler, and a Nuttall's Woodpecker.   To my surprise I saw two more Hermit Thrush, not a usual happening, as they are mostly solitary, especially in the fall/winter.

 The rest of the campground was very quiet.  Due to the prolonged drought there is less for the birds to eat, barely any insects, and both seeds and berries are in sparse supply.  Now is when we humans need to become advocates for the birds.  If at all possible put out birdseed and or suet and water, especially if you are in California.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Birding San Simeon Lagoon

Met up with Harry and Norma Catchpole at Shamel Park in Cambria. The first bird of the day was a Spotted Sandpiper.  It's cute little rump bobbed up and down as it walked along the edge of the narrow Santa Rosa Creek Lagoon.  Four Great Egrets were roosting in the willows that lined the creek.  Over the sea, Brown Pelican flew.  No doubt about it, we were going to have a great day of birding. (above photo - San Simeon State Beach) (below photo - Harry & Norma at Santa Rosa Creek)

Our goal of the morning was to bird the San Simeon Creek Lagoon.  We were hoping to see the White-faced Ibis that I had seen in the lagoon two days ago. A boardwalk leads over a wetland to the beach.  We had only walked a few feet when we spotted four female deer walking along the edge of the wetland. We looked at them; they looked at us, and with cautious optimism they meandered on their way.
The lagoon was shallow; along the edges lay a thick layer of algae.  Immediately, sharp eyed Harry spotted a Black-necked Stilt with a broken leg.  The Stilt was able to fly and appeared to have no difficulty feeding.  While looking for the Ibis we watched, a sub-adult or first year Peregrine Falcon Bathing; now that was a treat.  As we continued watching,  three Turkey Vultures landed close to the Falcon.  We were quite sure we heard the Peregrine say, “too close for comfort,” as she flew north.

As we walked along the edge of the lagoon looking for the Ibis or anything with wings, we were amazed by a Great Blue Heron who was not in the least bit bothered by our presence.
Besides Mallards and Coots, the only birds we noticed were Killdeer, a Spotted Sandpiper and a Great and Snowy Egret.  Giving up on the Ibis search we headed over the beach to the water's edge.  Not wanting to waste a birding moment, we looked for Snowy Plover as we trudged through the gravely sand. Yeah, we spotted two of the little darlings.  When not moving the Snowy Plover tends to be invisible. (below photo - Snowy Plover)
 Along the edge of the water, a mixed flock of Whimbrel, Willet, Godwit, Long-billed Curlew, and one lonely Black-bellied Plover.  Missing from the beach were Gulls and Terns.

Located at the south end of the boardwalk is a small bridge over San Simeon Creek.  Willow branches dip into the still water - a perfect habitat for Green Heron.  It took us awhile to locate the Green Heron, as it was in the shade and bent over the water. While we watched it snag a fish with its stiletto like bill, a King Fisher was dashing back and forth across the peaceful creek.
Before lunch, which is always an important part of the day, we wanted to check out the bird activity from San Simeon Pier.  At a distance we saw a small collection of Common Murre,  and fortunately, one Murre very close to the pier, which allowed us an intimate view of the little darling.  Out to sea were thousands of Shearwater, flying by in a stream were Brown Pelican.

Resting on the shore was a small flock of Elegant Tern.  While we were looking at them, a Peregrine Falcon swooped down, causing them to take flight.  The powerful Peregrine took after one of the Terns.  Repeatedly, the Peregrine dove on the Tern, talons ready to grab on to its victim.  Feathers flew, and by some miracle the Peregrine accepted defeat and flew off.

Thought for the day - One Good Tern Deserves Another

On the 8/24 blog,    The question - "How many Dunlin do you see in the photo?  Are the smaller birds Western or Least Sandpiper" The answer - 9 Dunlin and Western Sandpiper.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Feeding Frenzy and Bait Balls

Seawater temperatures have reached record levels this year.  For many years the average sea temperature on the Central Coast has been in the mid 50s.  Today the water temperature ranges somewhere between 62° - 65°.  The warmer water attracts small bait fish such as anchovies, sardines, and smelt.  When the fish are threatened they form into a tightly packed spherical formation, the bait ball. 

For the last few weeks, feeding frenzies have become a frequent occurrence on the Central Coast.  Elegant and Royal Tern, Cormorant, Brown Pelican, Shearwaters by the thousands, Gulls, and the 40 - 50 ft. Humpback Whale are the feeders in the frenzy. 
Pelicans and terns dive from above.  The Pelicans scoop up a mouthful; Terns take only one fish.  Cormorant's and Shearwater's dive for fish. Humpback's with their huge mouths open lunge through the bait ball to the surface, gathering thousands of fish and sometimes a careless pelican into their giant maw.  Meanwhile, Gulls are after the leftovers and what ever they can steal out of the mouths of Pelicans.     (Photos by Mike Baird)
 A word of caution - Getting too close may be hazardous to your health.   Humpbacks weigh about 70,000 lbs. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Morro Bay - Return of the Sandpipers

  August 24 - Baywood - South Morro Bay - Western and Least Sandpipers (aka peeps) are returning by the thousands from their breeding grounds, Western Alaska for the Western Sandpiper and for the Least Sandpiper, the tundra and boreal forests of the Arctic.

The most notable difference between the two species is leg color - Western, black; Least, yellow green.  But if they are feeding in muck or standing in water nearly up to their knees, which are hidden in their feathers, luck is needed for identifying them.  (photo - Least Sandpiper)

As the migratory season progresses, a flock of sandpipers may include Semipalmated Plover, small flocks of Dunlin and Long-billed Curlew, and one of their best friends, my very favorite - the Black-bellied Plover.  For the keen of sight, a Baird's Sandpiper might be spotted.  Fortunately, the Baird's is one inch larger and a tad plumper than the Western and the Least.

The Western Sandpiper is the most abundant shorebird species in North America, whereas the Least Sandpiper, the smallest shorebird in the world, is numerous but is often found in much smaller flocks.

P. S.   Binoculars are a must when looking at peeps.  Now for some fun!

 How many Dunlin do you see in the photo?  Are the smaller birds Western or Least Sandpiper?  The answer will be in the next posting.  Happy Birding!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Return of The Terns

Elegant and Royal Terns have returned to Morro Strand Beach.  Huge flocks have been observed.  On Sunday the weather was lovely and the beach was filled with beach goers who often, unaware of bird etiquette, walk directly through a resting flock, disbursing them out to sea.  As a result of the busy beach, Terns were not abundant, but fortune did shine. 

North of the beach goers, was a long lagoon formed by recent, very high tides.  Three Terns were standing in shallow water, two were bathing. The smaller Elegant Tern was flanked by two larger Royals.  In the photo you will notice the smaller Elegant (right) has a slightly drooping, slimmer bill while the bill of the larger Royal is more robust in size and color.  Trying to identify the two species in a large flock may require patience.

 Arriving at the same time as the Terns are the Heermann’s Gulls.  Terns dive for fish, Heermann's Gulls do not, instead they steal fish from the Terns.  Technically speaking, Heermann’s Gulls are kleptoparasites, they feed by taking prey from another animal.  Heermann’s Gull is often found in close proximity to a flock of Terns.
Continuing north, stopped at Cayucos and Toro Creeks.  I would rate Cayucos Creek (above) as very sad and scummy, but did observe a flock of 7 beautiful Killdeer, one Canada Goose, and a bobbing Spotted Sandpiper in fading breeding plumage.  (The Cayucos pier is in the process of reconstruction.)

Nearly forgot to mention that on the Torro Creek beach, also know as Dog Beach, there was a mixed flock of Long-billed Curlew and Whimbrel. Since the dogs were playing down by the water, I was able to spend time looking at the flock, in particular two smaller resting birds.  Could they be juvenile Long-billed Curlew? I had never seen one. They stood up. Yes!  They were juvenile Long-billed Curlew.  That first time sighting definitely made my day.  

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Pied-billed Grebe - Black Oystercatcher - Pigeon Guillemot

Update - Cloisters Pond - Good News!  At the back of the pond, a few weeks after my April 5th posting, four tiny Grebes appeared.  A week later an additional three little Grebes appeared at the font of the pond; all have grown to maturity.  Considering the hungry Hawks and Raccoons that frequent the area, their survival rate is amazing.
Update - Black Oystercatcher - Oystercatchers are nesting at Montaña de Oro.  A monogamous pair makes a nest by tossing rock flakes, pebbles, or shell fragments toward their chosen nest site.  Two eggs can be seen in a nest, located on a seamount about 100 feet from the cliff.  Only one egg is visible (nest circled in red).  Unfortunately, anytime a person walks out to the point, the Oystercatcher gets off the nest;  when the person finally moves on, the Oystercatcher returns to the nest.  The photo by Mike Baird shows the proximity of the nest to the people standing on the trail.  Unfortunately, the viability of the nest depends on how many people walk out on this popular trail and how long they spend looking at the view.  This area is also popular with fisherman.
Update - Pigeon Guillemots - The action continues - Guillemots are dashing between rocks and the water and the water and the holes in the cliff, but much to my disappointment I have yet to find a nest that I can actually recognize as a nest.  The Guillemots are numerous, so there is hope that some are nesting.   A juvenile Guillemot usually leaves the nest at night; they flutter and tumble from the cliffs to the sea.  Once in the sea, it will take another couple of weeks for their flight feathers to fully develop.  I am thinking positively that during those weeks, I will see a juvenile Guillemot before it fully matures and flies out to sea.  
I am afraid that our love of nature is taking its toll on the nature we love.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Yosemite Birding

Yosemite National Park - On the road to Glacier Point is a peaceful and beautiful meadow.  The majority of visitors to the park do not know what they are missing as they speed by in a rush to the famous Glacier Point.  A few days ago I spent a couple of hours at the meadow looking for birds and listening to their songs.  The only other sounds, besides the birds, were the cars and buses speeding by.  Trying to find a tiny bird in a tall, dense tree is rather a challenge.  I was determined to not only hear the birds but to see them.
Cute and perky Dark-eyed Junco (photo) and Song Sparrow, who sang continually were the easiest to see.  Brown Creeper, and Steller's Jay finally made an appearance, but there was no luck with the Red-breasted Nuthatch whose tinny, single, note call echoed thru the trees continually.

After the Meadow, I headed into Yosemite Valley to Happy Isles, one of the less touristy areas, and to the Happy Isles restored "fen" - a peat-forming wetland fed by moving groundwater.  The Fen restoration project began in 2002.  Today the wetland is a functioning fen habitat that provides nesting and feeding for many species.  A sweet boardwalk provides the only access.  While on the boardwalk I saw only one small group of hikers.  They were headed to the mist trail which leads to Vernal and Nevada Falls, and if you have the stamina, Half Dome.
The bird songs were nearly overwhelming - flitting around were Robin, Red-Winged Blackbird, Song Sparrow and an eye-popping, Yellow Warbler, and to my amazement managed to spot a White-headed Woodpecker. (Wow!)  The trickling sound of water flowing under the boardwalk was music to my ears.   Like magic, a deer appeared out the dense water plants (above photo), nearly close enough to touch - gently the young deer proceeded to nibble on a variety of leaves.  The deer was nibbling long enough to take a video.

Although Yosemite is the third most visited National Park in the United States with nearly 4 million visitors a year, it is possible to find serene, natural spaces where one can experience nature at their own pace. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Pigeon Guillemots of Montaña de Oro

Of all my favorite birds, the Pigeon Guillemot (Cepphus columba) is number one.  During the breeding season, their rounded body is very black with brilliant white wing patches (photo by Mike Baird).  Their legs, feet, and mouth lining a brilliant orange-red; the feet are so red they look like they have been photoshopped.

Montaña de Oro's rocky shoreline with all its nooks and crannies provides the Pigeon Guillemot with ample areas to nest.  Like clockwork, every March, these hardy little sea birds arrive in Montaña de Oro.
 The Pigeon Guillemot uses its short strong wings to swim while searching for food, diving to depths of 150 ft.  When not feeding, they often rest on cliff edges (above photo).  By vigorous flapping of their wings, combined with the use of sharp claws on webbed feet, the Guillemot is able to climb the steep, rocky cliffs. 

A few days ago, from the Bluff Trail, I observed several pairs of Guillemots acting very frisky, with much splashing, wing stretching, and shallow dives.  I focused on a pair that was the easiest to view. For the ease of explanation I will call them Frank and Doris.  I would describe their antics as a pre-mating ritual.  Like some males Frank was the aggressor.  Doris was enjoying the attention but was rather standoffish, not ready for the grand finale.  Frank would close in, and Doris would scoot out of reach.  They participated in this behavior repeatedly.  Twice they flew to and from a nesting hole in the cliff. 

 As Frank (above photo, lower right) chased Doris he was constantly chatting.  Unable to understand the high pitched sounds, I made an unscientific assumption.  Frank was telling Doris that time was of the essence, as they must return to sea mid August.  He was reminding her that incubation takes at least 30 - 32 days, and then there is the intense 35 - 50 days of feeding the little darling; two eggs may be laid, but only one chick will fledge. (below photo - Doris checking out a nesting area)
Both parents incubate the egg and bring small fish to their chick.  Success raising a chick to maturity depends on the weather, the impact of human activity, and the warming ocean and its disastrous affect on the food chain.  Hopefully, Doris and Frank will incubate an egg, produce a healthy, well adjusted nestling which will one day return to the rocky cliffs of Montaña de Oro.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Laguna Lake April, 19, 2015

Laguna Lake Park - On silent wings a vortex of Turkey Vultures soared overhead, riding the thermals; with their acute sense of smell they locate their next meal - they are nature's clean-up crew.  I headed directly to the lake.  The water appeared down, but not drastically low.  The above photo shows about 1/3 of the lake.

As I pulled into a parking space, my eyes were directed to a Greater White-fronted Goose, accompanied by two Snow Geese, marching across the road to the picnic tables; hoping (if a bird can hope) for a handout. 

From a dense cluster of willows sang Song Sparrow, Wilson's Warbler, and Common Yellowthroat - a most delightful serenade. I walked down the road for a wider view of the lake, to be more precise, a view of the lake bed - not a pleasant sight; a large portion of the lake had evaporated, a stark example of our on-going drought.  

On the far side a small flock of migratory water fowl lingered, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, Ruddy Duck.  Feeding in the muck a flock of Western and Least Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover, and two Killdeer. As the lake continues to shrink, and the water is confined to a smaller and smaller area, the birds will be feeding in a toxic soup.

On a more pleasant note, I was returning to my car when a Red-tailed Hawk swooped in, grabbed a Coot and flew into the trees.  If I had blinked, I would have missed the action.

Could not leave the park without visiting the horses grazing in the open space.  There were 17 females, 5 adorable colts and one very lucky white stallion.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Pied-billed Grebe - Cloisters Pond - Morro Bay

 The Pied-billed Grebe - Podilymbus podiceps - (Photo by Mike Baird) is the most widespread Grebe in the New World, nesting from Southern Canada to Argentina.  There is barely a pond, lake, marsh, bay, estuary, or marina that does not have a pair of these stout-billed absolutely adorable divers.  Photo shows the Grebe in breeding plumage.  Most distinguishing marks are white eye ring, and a white bill with a black ring.
 The Pied-billed Grebe forages by diving from the surface; swimming under water propelled by the feet.  Diet consists of fish, and all types of aquatic life.  The above photo was taken mid March; The Grebe is clad in winter plumage.  Perhaps the little darling is a late bloomer.
A few days ago, at Cloisters Pond, noticed a nest in the reeds with a Pied-billed Grebe sitting on it.  The nest built by both sexes, consists of a dense mat of reeds and plant material and is usually situated so that it can be approached under water.  While I was watching the nest another Pied-billed Grebe appeared a few yards out from the nest.  Like magic it disappeared into the water.  A few moments later a little head popped up at the rear of the nest sitting Grebe.  The sitting Grebe moved off the nest into the water and the new sitter slowly and gently settled itself on to the nest.  Photo is of the second sitter settling down on the nest.   The expanded image shows the white eye ring.

Today, I checked on the nesting Grebes.  One Pied-billed Grebe in the water and none on the wet and muddy nest.  To be honest I felt sad, but I am hopeful the potential parents have constructed a new nest in a better location, and within a few weeks adorable young Grebes will be seen floating on Cloisters Pond.
Young Pied-billed Grebe at Cloisters Pond by Mike Baird.  A few seconds before the photo was taken, a gull had grabbed on to the Grebe, but this little defenseless Grebe managed to escape.
 You may find this video of a baby Grebe of interest.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Birding Arizona - Tres Rios Wetlands Corridor

The "Tres Rio Regulating Wetlands" - Reclaimed water flowing out of a Phoenix Treatment Plant has created a premier birding area in the Sonoran Desert, consisting of large ponds filled with a variety of water fowl.  In the many tall Cottonwoods nest Cormorants, Great Blue Heron, and Egrets.  The ponds, out of bounds to the public, may be viewed if one does not mind looking thru chain link fencing.  Water from the pond system flows into a wetland corridor, dense with birds.  After about a mile the water that has passed thru the wetland corridor pours into a riparian channel.  For your viewing pleasure, a 12 second video on the reclaimed water flowing into the desert.
Miles later the water will settle into a vast wetland restoration project where the Salt, Gila, and Aqua Fria Rivers converge. 

In the photo, the wetland corridor is on the right.  Many open areas in the reeds allowing for excellent bird sightings.  On the other side of the fence is the pond system (second photo) 

Before I get into bird sightings, I want to share how the unexpected can color one's day. 

Arizona Gun Laws - 1) A person over the age of 21 may legally carry a concealed firearm without a permit .  2) A person must be at least 18 years of age to possess or openly carry a firearm.

I was walking on an elevated berm 300 feet south of the wetland corridor and about 30 feet above a putrid creek dense with brush, trash, and trees (not a pretty sight), when I noticed an old SUV meandering slowly along a rough track.  My first thought was hunters; I had noticed shotgun shells littering the ground.

The SUV stopped in a open spot and a man and woman got out, walked around as if looking for something.  The woman came back to the vehicle and placed a hand weapon on the back seat.  They're looking for a place to shoot, I thought.  Time to announce my presence.

"Hi there," I called out. "Just wanted to let you know I'm up here."
"We're not shooting," the woman said.
"What kind of birds are you looking for," said the man.
"Anything with feathers.  Have a nice day," I replied and walked quickly back to the wetland area.

On a previous visit one of the workman told me that illegal hunting was a problem in the area.

Before the distraction I had just watched an Osprey, clutching a fish in his talons, land in a tree (top photo - the Osprey is the little center dot in the dead tree), and prior to the Osprey sighting observed a Canyon Towhee (first time sighting), similar to the California Towhee, scratching in leaf litter.

Saw many great and a few memorable birds.  The most memorable were an Abert's Towhee and a soaring Black Vulture.  Yellow-headed, Tricolored, and Red-winged Blackbirds were in the thousands.  Sora and Moorhen were numerous, here and there clusters of Cinnamon Teal (photo  sleeping Cinnamon Teal). Total Species seen 74.
Great-tailed Grackle were doing their boisterous best to impress the ladies.   Fencing can be very useful to birds.  The Grackle, a large blackbird, is posturing while Great Blue Heron appears to be using the fence for spotting something to eat. Twice I had seen, the usually secretive, Green Heron,  perched on the fence.
   Posturing is part of the male Grackle's breeding répertoire. 
What I find most amazing about the Tres Rios Reclaimed Water Project is how it has transformed a dessicated area of the Arizona desert into a haven for birds.