In the Field—Western Rivers Bird Count

A dispatch from Arizona’s Salt River.

I kicked off the Arizona Western Rivers Bird Count on the Salt River in an area that would be under water behind Orme Dam if not for the advocacy efforts of Dr. Bob Witzeman and Maricopa Audubon Society. And part of the reason we chose this area for bird counts is because, earlier this year, Audubon Arizona joined volunteers from Intel with funding from the National Forest Foundation to plant cottonwood, willow, and mesquite trees on the Salt River east of Phoenix in an area that had a fire.

So this May, I set up three walking routes around the perimeter of the burn for bird surveys with friends of Audubon. Our plan is to keep counting birds at this location to document the change in species as the baby trees grow up. The transect start points are on the Western Rivers Bird Count map. Sign up and help us count birds.

Our survey start and end was the “Shoe Tree.” We lucked out and had some nice birds, including a migrating Olive-sided Flycatcher and the “red bandit” Vermilion Flycatcher. When we reached the water edge, in an area that did not burn, we stood in the shade of beautiful tall cottonwoods. Here we “scored” the western rivers focus species: Yellow Warblers, Bell’s Vireos, Summer Tanagers, and very noisy Yellow-breasted Chats. We will visit a couple of more times this summer and plan to return next year to see how much taller the baby trees are and which birds are checking them out. The best bird for the day was a Broad-billed Hummingbird building a nest—what a sweetie!

Our second visit two weeks later was a sunny and cool day, unusual for May in the desert. We saw some new arrivals to the area: Blue Grosbeaks and Lazuli Buntings. Both beautiful blue birds. We anxiously approached the site of the hummingbird nest. Would she be there? It took a few minutes to find the nest and we were sad to see no bird. We finished the survey thinking about the fate of the hummingbird and her nest.  To my delight, my friend and fellow birder Marceline returned the next day and reported that we must have been there during her “lunch break” as the bird was sitting tight on her nest. Experiences like these keep me coming back to enjoy birds in their wild homes. Want to bird one our Arizona sites (or bird in another state)? Sign up here: