Monday, December 31, 2012

Some of 2012's Big Highlights

Here are some of 2012's best highlights.

Smith's Longspur in Buckeye.  2nd Record for Arizona, found by Kurt and Cindy Radamaker

Red-necked Grebe at Tempe Town Lake

 Northern Pygmy-Owl at Mount Ord

 Scott's Oriole at Mount Ord

 Plain-capped Starthroat at Montosa Canyon

 Reddish Egret in Gilbert

My 350th for Maricopa County!

Hi everyone,

Today I stepped outside of Tres Rios Wetlands and birded the Lower Salt River Recreation Area northeast of Mesa in the Tonto National Forest.  This is an excellent birding area, one of my favorites in Maricopa County.  There are 10 recreation sites along the Salt River within a 13 mile stretch, which all hold very good birding opportunities.

My reason for going out to the Salt River today was to look for a Red-breasted Sapsucker that apparently was found on the Salt/Verde Christmas Bird Count at the Blue Point Recreation Site.  I heard about this bird from an eBird report from a visiting birder named Jason a week ago.  I didn't know anything about this bird, so I didn't want to spend the money to chase it without knowing further information about it.  Yesterday I happened to find Jason's birding blog about his Arizona visit, and sure enough there was a picture of a male Red-breasted Sapsucker on it from the Salt River.  He said someone he met from the CBC told him about this bird on his blog.  When I got to Blue Point, I searched for the Red-breasted Sapsucker in the taller mesquites for over two hours without success.  I then decided to cross the highway to go into the adjacent Pebble Beach Recreation Site and search the big mesquites directly across the Bush Highway from Blue Point.  Minutes into checking these mesquites, the male RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER quickly came into view.  This is a very striking bird, and it was a pleasure to see.  I had plenty of good looks at it in the hour I observed it on-and-off, but it is quite skittish and isn't the easiest to photograph, although I managed pictures that are good enough for identification.  This is a good pure Red-breasted Sapsucker, with a solid extensive red breast without a trace of a black band on the breast and extensive red on it's head.  The sapsucker as well as Ladder-backed and Gila Woodpeckers were active in this area until 11 A.M., and then activity went down.  I couldn't refind the bird during a check later in the day, so earlier in the morning would probably be the best time to see it.  The Pebble Beach Recreation Site is actually closed for parking and trailer use for the season.  To see the Red-breasted Sapsucker, park at the Blue Point Recreation Site and walk across the street south to Pebble Peach.  These mesquites would be just west of the Pebble Beach entrance gate, and directly south of the Blue Point parking lot and restrooms.  Also, the sapsucker prefers the taller mesquites.  A HUGE thanks to whoever found this bird on the Salt/Verde CBC and to Jason for reporting it to eBird!

There were several other good highlights throughout the Salt River area during the day, and I also made stops at Butcher Jones/Saguaro Lake, and Granite Reef.  Other highlights at Blue Point/Pebble Beach other than the sapsucker were 3 BALD EAGLES (2 adults, one juv.), OSPREY, GREATER YELLOWLEGS, at least 4 GRAY FLYCATCHERS, 1 male VERMILION FLYCATCHER, HERMIT THRUSH, a flock of WESTERN BLUEBIRDS, and closeup views of a BROWN CREEPER.


Granite Reef highlights included another adult BALD EAGLE (my fourth BA EA of the day), good numbers of COMMON MERGANSERS, ~10 COMMON GOLDENEYE, NORTHERN PINTAIL, NEOTROPIC CORMORANT, and GRAY FLYCATCHER.  About 60 species for the Salt River area.

To bird the Salt River Recreation Area a Tonto National Forest Recreation Pass needs to be purchased for $6 dollars at a nearby gas station.  The closest station is a Circle K at the northeast corner of Power and McKellips Road.  An overview of the area and directions to the recreation sites can be found at my website on the Salt River page here:

On another note, the Red-breasted Sapsucker was a great highlight for me, it was my 350th bird for Maricopa County since starting to bird the county in 2009.  I wanted to reach 350 before this year was up, and things were looking like I was going to miss the mark by one.  But when I found out more about this bird, I decided to chase it and lucked out with 13 hours left on the clock for 2012.  Other birds I added this year for my Maricopa list were Smith's Longspur (thanks Kurt and Cindy!), Whimbrel (thanks Nathan!), Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Evening Grosbeak (Thanks Mark!).  I missed and struck out on a whole lot more, but the 5 I got were fantastic.   Thanks to everyone who has found and helped me find birds in the County over the last four years.  It has been fun.  I didn't do a Big Year this year in Maricopa County (although I did miss it!), but it was still a very fun year with many good highlights.

I hope you all have a great New Years and Good Birding for this upcoming year!

Tommy DeBardeleben (Glendale, Arizona)

Photos of the Red-breasted Sapsucker:

Friday, December 28, 2012

My record of a day at Tres Rios Wetlands

Hi everyone,

Today on December 28th, 2012, I made another trip out to the Tres Rios Overflow Wetlands for another long day full of exciting birding.  I spent the entire day at the location, where bird highlights were abundant as usual.  Because I came so close to recording 100 species on Sunday's outing, I decided to give it another shot today.  I went hardcore, working several areas more than once and packing my tripod and scope with the high chances of a distant identification need likely presenting itself.  I spent most of the day alone, but Jeff Ritz and his mother Shirley birded with me for some of the morning also.

I often refer to Tres Rios Wetlands as an "identification clinic".  It is a great place to get practice on a lot of different identification factors, whether birding by ear or identifying birds in flight.  I learn new things during every visit.  In the 2.5 miles that Tres Rios Overflow Wetlands runs west from 91st Avenue, I bird the immediate Overflow Wetlands, look at the birds through the fenced in adjacent Flow Regulating Wetlands, bird the Salt River's riparian habitat immediately to the south, and I also walk through some of the agricultural habitats in the area.  Due to this outstanding combination of habitat, a variety of birds present is a guarantee.

When I start birding, I usually take my time during the first 1/2 mile of birding the Wetlands.  Waterfowl are in the air and many fly in at dawn from the section of the waste water plant east of 91st Avenue, and many waterfowl also repeat the process at dusk by flying back to spend the night.  This has been my strategy for finding WOOD DUCKS, and it worked today.  In early dawn, I had a drake WOOD DUCK flying over the Flow Regulating Wetlands, and as I was standing by 91st Avenue at dusk, I had 4 more Wood Ducks fly overhead.  The Wood Ducks were part of 14 duck/geese species observed today.  Other highlights in this genre included CANADA GOOSE, GADWALL, all three TEAL, several flocks of RING-NECKED DUCKS, a flock of LESSER SCAUP, and a drake BUFFLEHEAD.  Also observed recently have been Canvasback, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Common Merganser, and Snow Goose, but they stayed out of sight today.

The best story of the day came from raptors.  Tres Rios is one of the best areas to view raptors, and I had close to 100 individual raptors represented by 14 different species.  The rarest of the 14 was the continuing juvenile RED-SHOULDERED HAWK.  This bird made a nice appearance for me about 1 mile west of 91st Avenue, and it perched on a short tree in the middle of some of the smaller basins.  The observation today added to the list of the many perches and locations around the wetlands I've seen the Red-shouldered Hawk in.  Other raptors seen came from a kettle of 10 BLACK VULTURES, ~30 TURKEY VULTURES, ~8 OSPREYS, at least 10 NORTHERN HARRIERS, 4 SHARP-SHINNED and 5 COOPER'S HAWKS, 1 adult BALD EAGLE, ~20 RED-TAILED HAWKS, 1 FERRUGINOUS HAWK who was a regal highlight, 4 AMERICAN KESTRELS, 1 MERLIN, 3 PEREGRINE FALCONS, and 1 PRAIRIE FALCON.

I also had another productive day for the continuing warblers, as I was able to record 8 different species.  Highlights among the 8 warblers were the continuing CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER, NORTHERN PARULA, 2 YELLOW WARBLERS, WILSON'S WARBLER, and 2 BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLERS.  The Black-and-white didn't show for me again today, perhaps it has moved on or is in a different part of the Wetlands.  The warblers have been along the Salt River channel just to the south of the Wetlands, starting close to 91st Avenue.

Besides the three families summarized above, I had plenty of other highlights throughout the day.  This included NEOTROPIC and DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS,  AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS, 4 LEAST BITTERNS who called and remained out of sight, CATTLE EGRETS, one GREEN HERON, large numbers of WHITE-FACED IBIS, calling VIRGINIA RAILS and SORAS (one Sora gave me a good visual), plenty of COMMON GALLINULES, 1 SPOTTED SANDPIPER, 4 GREATER YELLOWLEGS, 8 INCA DOVES and 2 COMMON GROUND-DOVES, 2 GREATER ROADRUNNERS, ~8 BELTED KINGFISHERS, the continuing YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER slightly east of where I have been observing it, 1 adult male VERMILION FLYCATCHER, 1 ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER, 3 LOGGERHEAD SHRIKES, 3 HOUSE WRENS and common MARSH WRENS, ~5 BLACK-TAILED GNATCATCHERS and 1 BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER, 1 BENDIRE'S THRASHER, the continuing SWAMP SPARROW as well as VESPER, LINCOLN'S, and SAVANNAH SPARROWS; 3 NORTHERN CARDINALS, several thousand YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS, a flock of WESTERN MEADOWLARKS, and several AMERICAN GOLDFINCHES.

Non-avian highlights included a BOBCAT who I came across and also 2 COYOTES.  I also had a scare as a Pitbull like dog came running up behind me.  It apparently didn't seem to know I was standing there and when I turned around, I got a stare down and growl before the dog decided to run the other way.  It looked behind at me as it was running and didn't see the holes in the ground.  I laughed a few minutes later at the sight of the dog tripping, but it served as a reminder that there are a lot of stray dogs who run around and breed in this area.  They can be a potential danger and I would advise any of you who go to Tres Rios to keep that in mind.  I ran into a ranger who informed me they are trying to get rid of the dogs.

At the end of the day that lasted 10.5 hours, I recorded 102 species.  It was a long day, but seeing 100 at one location in an outing (a well wanted goal of mine) was worth the time spent.  I saw many species in a hurry, as the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was bird # 96 in just over six hours of birding.  Over the last four+ hours, well...the final 6 I had to work very hard for!  I needed a Green Heron for #100, and I hike down to the river gave me that bird that I almost missed.  Flybys of both Merlin and last an adult Bald Eagle gave me my final number for the day, and also my best raptor count for the location and probably for a day's worth of birding.  It was another great day at Tres Rios, a location that I am greatful for that is so close to home!  In order to access Tres Rios Overflow Wetlands, a permit must be obtained from Tres Rios personnel.

A page for Tres Rios Overflow Wetlands can be found on my website at the link here:

Good Birding,

Tommy DeBardeleben (Glendale, Arizona)

Some of the highlights:

                                                            Chestnut-sided Warbler
Bendire's Thrasher
Sharp-shinned Hawk
American Kestrel