Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Salt River Sights

Several weeks ago I met up with two Phoenix area wildlife photographers for some east side birding. In exchange for a delicious Chipotle lunch, I showed them around one of my favorite Salt River sites, Coon Bluff. The bluff itself is a great and famous place to observe perched Bald Eagles, and its lower reaches host all kinds of other cool birds, including Canyon and Rock Wrens, Lucy's Warbler, and Flycatchers in the surrounding bosque.

We first explored the Coon Bluff trail heading west of the parking area, which eventually dead-ends along the Bluff. We had excellent looks at the Eagles, and also a female Common Merganser, seen first out of the water--kind of a rare sighting. I didn't realize how goofy these birds look when photographed head-on, but the blurriness of the image aside this has to be one of the most unflattering photos ever taken of the species.

To be honest, she had weirdly dilated eyes and seemed to be pretty disengaged from her surroundings, like she was in a trance. Must've been drinking the salt water again...

There were plenty of Swallows flying around too, with Rough-wings being the most frequent perchers.

In addition to the always-suave Phainopeplas, Ash-throated Flycatchers, and Vermillion Flycatchers in the mesquite bosque east of the Coon Bluff Parking area, the highlight of the day came in observing a pair of Bald Eagles from across the river. With rolling hills of saguaros in the background, they happily perched, preened, and fed in a very raptor-oreinted cottonwood tree.

There are lots of Eagle nests along the Salt River (which should not themselves be directly/intentionally approached, both for ethical and legal reasons), but Coon Bluff has to be one of the better places to observe these patriotic raptors in Maricopa county. They fly up and down the river, but seem to pause and perch in this area the most, with little regard for lookyloos. Eagle Bluff may be a better name; I have never seen raccoons in the area.

With recent rains helping the keep the desert landscape a most charming green, now is a great time to visit the Salt River sites. Steve and Charlie had a great go of it, snagging some super images not only of the Eagles, but of the Flycatchers and Woodpeckers in the area too.

We didn't find or photograph the wild horses this time around, despite them being the biggest animals in the area, but I did get one of the smallest. And gnats all she wrote.