Monday, March 26, 2012

Tres Rios Flow-Regulating Wetlands

The Salt, Gila, and Aqua Fria Rivers come together and form a fantastic birding habitat at the Tres Rios Wetlands in west Phoenix. This teeming riparian habitat is off-limits to the public, but with the right connections, suaveness, stunning good-looks, and cash-filled envelopes, one might illicit a black-market pass to park and bird in the area. Since I possess none of those things, I called the AZ Game and Fish Department and asked for a permit, which they mailed the next day.

A fair portion of this area is actually off-limits to everybody, unfortunately this is where the vast majority of the birds congregate. But within the accessible birding area there is still plenty to see. In a couple hours of evening birding I recorded sixty species, and some of the Listserv pros have reportedly seen over ninety species within the two-mile loop.

From behind the heavy-duty fence I spied into the sequestered area and saw almost all of the migratory ducks on display, as well as Cormorants, Coots, Stilts, and a half-dozen White Pelicans (not exactly something one associates with Arizona). With their size and color, the Pelicans were perhaps the most conspicuous birds at the preserve, but with every step one took along the waterfront the small and drab Song Sparrows still made their presence known.

The waterways are bordered by thick brush and tall reeds, which provide shelter for the Sparrows along with Coots, Herons, Red-Winged Blackbirds. They also re-acquinated me with my two main photographic nemeses, the Wilson's Warbler and Common Yellowthroat. Needless to say, I took no decent photos of these cowardly critters, nothing new there.

One of the most notable sightings of the evening was my first Least Bittern. It called and took off before I had the camera ready, and I was similarly greeted by some American Bitterns a little later. This Bittern experience got me thinking that birders really need to invent a Bittern-inspired mixed drink. It'd have to have bitters in it, obviously, maybe mixed with some rye whiskey and Creme de Menthe? If some brave soul wants to give that a try and let me know how it works, I'd appreciate it.

White Crowned Sparrow: one of the few birds willing to stand its ground in the face of photography.
The White-Faced Ibis (which I think should just be called the Western Ibis) was another eminently cool bird on display. My sightings of this other-worldly wader have been few and far between, and they're usually along these lines:

I was lucky to have this individual land within camera range, but a bit unlucky to have some stray dogs scare it off a minute later. The dogs and I then had a growling contest and I, having a better, angrier motivation, won.

The footpath moves along with the water, and on the south side there is a nice margin of chaparral and occasional tree clumps. House Finches, Vesper Sparrows, Cardinals, and Yellow-Rumped Warblers constantly alight from shrub to shrub. There is constant movement, and neither the birds nor the lizards stay still and exposed for long. That's just as well. With Kestrels and Shrikes lurking nearby, it's better safe than sorry.

With so many species and habitats condensed into a small area, the Tres Rios refuge really is an incredible birding patch. My photos don't nearly do it justice, but my excuse is that I was just casing the joint here on this first visit. I'm hoping to follow up very soon, as this seems to be as much of an urban birding Mecca as the Gilbert Water Ranch in east Phoenix. It's great excitement to add another site to one's birding repetoire, a new land to explore.