Feeling increasingly aimless and restless back East, I flew to Phoenix in early December to visit with Brian and Rochelle, organize and sort our stuff in storage and at their house, and figure out the next move for us and our stuff.I started out with big plans for detoxing in the wilderness and then blitzing the “work” afterwards, but instead I barely languished along with a pile of stuff that seemed to mostly just move around without diminishing, but at least it was sunny and warm out. After a short while, Anne flew in to join me. Now, with nearly a month behind me, I’m really feeling like old fish, though my hosts remain gracious. We’ve had a lot of fun here and now we’re about to leave Phoenix for a birding camping and road trip to areas not entirely clear except for our destination on January 4th (or 5th or 6th).
Here’s a collection of my photos from this period with some short write-ups and stories about them. Mainly, the photos include birding at Gilbert Water Ranch, birding in the Tonto NF, and kayaking the Tonto NF. If I find any good photos of our storage unit, I might throw that in too. Here’s Gilbert Water Ranch:
The Riparian Preserve at Gilbert Water Ranch is a small area, about a quarter of a Phoenix block, that the town of Gilbert set up as part of a commitment to reuse all of the town’s effluent water in a positive and productive way. The result is a series of ponds in the middle of the desert without the anti-wildlife attitude of a golf course. As expected, birds took notice and have cooperated with local birders to create a sweet hot-spot in the east Phoenix metro.
The first photo shows a Verdin, the Chickadee of the Sonoran, carrying a blade of grass. This Verdin likely isn’t carrying this grass to cache it for later, rather, it’s building a nest somewhere – in early December! Verdin do build roost nests – nests for spending the night – so this doesn’t necessarily mean that breeding is occurring, however, this particular Verdin was being guarded by a mate when I took this photo. Pretty cool that birds are continuing the cycle of life somewhere all the time…
The following shots are from the Tonto NF and they show the standard Harris’s Hawk pack hanging around on Saguaro.
Returning to Gilbert Water Ranch, here is some of the avifauna one can expect to find there on a typical winter visit.
AH-HA!!! This American Coot was literally biting at and eating Tamarisk! So that stuff does have a use after all! If Coots ever become threatened or endangered, we may all start planting Tamarisk in our city parks.
High in the sky, Anne and I spotted a group of American White Pelicans in formation, climbing a thermal. Suddenly, the birds began barrel-rolling, diving and spiraling toward the ground performing really magnificent aerobatic feats which I tried to capture (but only video would do it justice). Looking at these photos, imagine the movement of swallows overhead and the sound of flags flapping in a stiff wind. Also remember that these birds have a wingspan approaching three meters!!! The only North American bird that’s bigger is the California Condor! We’re quite lucky that these beasts don’t capture children in their humungous beak-pouches (though I would be happy to pursue this idea for a show on Animal Planet). Now please imagine the sound of air riffling through feathers:
Here’s the source of all those odd Canada Goose mystery hybrids:
And here’s a small group of Wilson’s Snipe sitting in the sun.
Now on to the Tonto National Forest and the Lower Salt River which runs through it. This is an area I kayaked and birded and bird-kayaked, especially over the last several days, and the area holds some really great species.
Here’s a Neotropic Cormorant, increasingly becoming common in the Phoenix metro thanks to the proliferation of stocked-fish, habitat, and a surprising lack of plinkers. These birds are relatively new to this region, being much more closely associated with the Gulf Coast and points south.
Here’s a semi-rarity for Arizona: the Red-breasted Sapsucker. Typically associated with California, these birds have become increasingly common in winter in Arizona. This particular individual was located by a nice gentleman I met at Denny’s after the Mesa CBC (though I can’t remember his name).
And here’s a first for me – a Brown Creeper in a mesquite! This was awesome to see and hear, although I was surprised that it appeared lighter than the birds I’m more experienced with from the northeast. The field guides I’ve read suggest southwestern populations should be darker. This might require further study.
Saguaro Lake on the Tonto held some cool water species, including the not-really-rare Horned Grebe, of which I found four mixed in with Eared Grebes. The Eared have a bigger forehead and heavier bill along with a rounder appearance. The Horned are sleeker-bodied and stouter-billed.
Here are a bunch of shots I took of Lesser Scaup, which I’m hoping to study more:
Here are my Phoenix hosts and paddle-partners on their first paddle together (and hopefully there will be many more!)
Finally, here’s a Common Raven, which I’m also interested in studying more in the future. This character flew in making a clicking sound I’d never quite heard before and alighted upon a dead Saguaro and continued clicking and calling. In hindsight, I should have investigated that cavity…