2016-03-24 Upper Gila River to Virden Bridge

2016-03-24 Sunday

Buteogallus anthracinus

At Silver City I stayed at the KOA Campground. All the tanks I wish to be full, were showing low levels and all those that I preferred to be empty were showing full. I bought enough propane to top off my supply, then used the hookups at the rented campsite to fill my fresh water and empty the other tanks of their undesirous burden. The store at the KOA had literature about birding around the area. Included was a map titled “The Birding Trail of New Mexico”, which later proved useful.

The following morning I found a local cafe for breakfast. Then I hit the road destined for a location I’d visited in years past, I call the Upper Gila River, near Cliff New Mexico. In August of 2003 I visited this location and found a juvenile Common Black Hawk, so it seemed likely that these birds nested nearby. The ‘Birding Trail’ literature also mentioned this place.

I arrived at the target area about 8:30am. While stopped at a side-road pull out and looking at sparrows, I heard a raptor cry and briefly saw a dark-colored buteo fly between some trees down stream. It appeared that the bird had a stick in its mouth. I drove the road in the direction I saw the bird and was rewarded with a nice view of a mature bird on a branch of a tree high overhead. I hand-held my camera and my biggest lens as best I could. Fearing it would cause the bird to fly off, I elected not to bring out my tripod. I used the outside of the van to steady my focus and took enough shots to give myself an opportunity to capture a good shot. The lighting was dicey, with the subject partly shaded and partly in full sun, and the view from below looking up at the bird not my favorite angle to flatter the subject. Still, I was grateful for the opportunity at a bird I specifically came looking for.

The road led to a small lake called Bill Evans Lake where it dead ended only 3 miles from where I found the hawk. After a short visit to the lake, I turned back. When I approached the previous location I spotted the hawk on a different tree, and this time the light was better and the bird was near eye level. Better yet, the bird was facing mostly away from me. I stopped to take a few more shots. Just before flying off, the bird looked in my direction. That was a ‘golden moment’ for me!

I left the area feeling my day was a stupendous success. It was still just past 10am! Now I studied the ‘Birding Trail’ map for ideas about where to go next. I found references to four locations within range of  my present position. These were: the Gila River/Mogollon Creek Confluence, the Burro Mountain Forest Road 851, the Redrock Road, and the Virden Bridge. Even if I found no special birds, I would experience new roads and horizons. Spending adequate time at these locations would not be possible if I intended to get home in a few days. I also wanted to pay a visit to my friend in Arivaca Arizona.

My first stop was at the Confluence of the Gila River and Mogollon Creek. This area had potential for riparian loving species. It seemed to cover several miles of river drainage. Given time, I could see  a pleasant several days might be spent here. I could not even give it two hours on this day.

In reviewing my maps, I saw I could ‘hit’ the next two locations by travelling a remote back country dirt road called “Redrock Road” which traversed the Burro Mountains. It was great to see this mostly uncivilized country. I stopped at several points along the way to listen for unusual birds, but heard nothing that made me want to linger this afternoon. Many miles and hours passed and about 5:30pm I found the Virden Bridge referred to in the ‘Birding Trail’ literature.

The Virden Bridge is a narrow concrete structure barely wide enough for two small cars to pass. Walking on the bridge might be unadvisable, except that it is rarely used. Few cars traversed it at the time of my visit. A young mother and her son who lived a short distance away felt comfortable enough to stop and chat about birds midway on the bridge. Crossing the Gila River about 40 or 50 miles downstream from where I began my day with the Black Hawk, the water flow was wider, yet still rather shallow. I found Gila Woodpeckers (and why not?), Lesser Yellowlegs, Killdeer, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Yellow Warblers and Yellow-Rumped Warblers. The birds that captured most my attention were a pair of Vermillion Flycatchers. It was almost 6pm when I began shooting them. I was in the shade, but they perched high enough on the nearby trees to remain in the last golden light of the day. By ten minutes after six o’clock, the light was done, and so was I. I drove to a wide level spot by the side of the road and made camp for the night.

Images from this day can be viewed below:

Click map markers to reveal further information