Thursday, May 7, 2015

Baseline and Meridian Wildlife Area

The Baseline and Meridian Wildlife Area is one of my favorite places to go when it comes to birding. "Why?" you might ask, well way back when I was a beginning birder I was introduced to this under-birded hotspot at a festival called "The Tres Rios Festival". Now don't let that name fool you, this is not the big Tres Rios site that you need a permit for, the B and M is about five miles west of Tres Rios. When I started birding around this area I was fortunate to be accompanied by Mr. Joe Ford, and we guided people around the marshy riparian area all day. That day I fell in love with this area! From then on I have been doing Important Bird Area (IBA) counts 3-5 times a year at the B and M. Away from IBA counts, I come to this spot anywhere from 12-22 times a year. The B and M has an amazing diversity of bird life. One of the most abundant habitats that the B and M offers is its marsh, which of course attracts large numbers of marsh birds. As a matter of fact, this very spot is one of the very few places in Maricopa County where you can find the endangered Yuma Ridgway's Rail. The marshy habitat also attracts large numbers of Virginia Rails, Soras, and Least Bitterns, it has also had American Bittern a few times! The second best habitat that the B and M offers are its many riparian stands of Fremont Cottonwoods and Goodding's Willows.

 Here is a map on how to get to the B and M from 91st Avenue, as well as another map of the B and M.

Map courtesy of Tommy DeBardeleben and Google

(The green highlighted path shows some of the trails, the car shows where to turn off, and the "P" stands for parking)

Here is one of the maps that I enhanced.

Below I explain what all of the colors are for.

Ridgway's Rail

Out of all of the awesome birds that can be observed at the B and M the most sought after would be the endangered yumanensis (Yuma) Ridgway's Rail. For those who are unfamiliar with the Clapper Rail split, the Clapper Rail was split into three species in 2014: Mangrove Rail which is found in Venezuela and Brazil, the Ridgway's Rail which is found from northern California down along the Colorado River, into a few spots along the Gila River and down along the Pacific Coast into Mexico, and the Clapper Rail who is found throughout the United States from Texas up to New York. The subspecies of Ridgway's Rail that is found in Arizona is the yuma or yumanensis which reaches its furthest west on the Salton Sea and goes as far east as the B and M. There are 2-4 pairs of RIRAs that breed at the B and M every year arriving by late March and staying until late September. The only pair that can be viewed without spending hours out, are seen along the tall bank which on the map is highlighted as a red trail, one must scan the reed-line often to make sure not to overlook any Ridgway's Rails or Virginia Rails, Soras, Least Bitterns, and possibly an American Bittern. All of the other red dots that are shown on the map are places where I have heard or seen RIRA. Using playback for Ridgway's Rail is strictly illegal because the yumanensis subspecies of the Ridgway's Rail is considered endangered. If searching for the RIRA one must have alot of patience, even though the RIRA stay in the reeds or sometimes along the reed-line they can also be seen on dry ground, but they are never far from water. Here is a photo of what I call the "Rail Pond" which is viewed by the tall bank. To listen to the Ridgway's Rail calls click here.

Rail Pond
Make sure to especially keep an eye on the end of the pond (top right part of photo) because the rails seem to favor that end, but they can also be seen on the other end or along the reed-line.


Virginia Rail

For those who like marshbirds the Sora and Virginia Rail are a little easier to view than the Ridgway's Rail, and they can be seen almost anywhere where there are reeds. The Sora and Virginia Rail are secretive birds that won't come out unless they think there are no threats (in other words people), and it can be pretty hard to dodge the eyes of a bird. So, for the best chance of seeing either of these rails one must be very quiet, patient, and should try not to make any sudden movements. To listen to Sora calls click here, and to listen to Virginia Rail calls click here.  

Least Bittern

The Least Bittern (like the rails) is a marsh dweller. But to add to its difficulty in viewing, the LEBI will not just flush or retreat into the reeds, it will sometimes just stay still until you are within a few feet and then it will flush in front of your face! To avoid such frustration, try scanning all marshy habitat from down to the base of the reeds all the way to the top because these birds can be at any elevation. I have even observed a LEBI climb 30 feet up a willow! To listen to Least Bittern calls click here.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Unfortunately I have not been able to see any Yellow-billed Cuckoos at the B and M, but I have been able to hear them a couple times. The Yellow-billed Cuckoo is another breeder at the B and M, with at least 1-2 breeding pairs making the B and M their nesting grounds. The YBCUs is the latest breeding bird to arrive, as they don't start showing up until early June. As shown on the map in white, the YBCU covers a lot of the river but in very low numbers. The best spot to find them is in the large stand of willows that are found just east of the bridge and on the northern half of the riverbed. But they can also be found on the west side of the bridge or I have actually heard them on the south side of the riverbed east of the bridge in the tamarask forest. Yellow-billed Cuckoos are hard to detect unless they are flushed or heard calling, because of their unique feeding techniques of sitting motionless until they find their prey. To listen to Yellow-billed Cuckoo calls click here.

Barn Owl

Great Horned Owl

The Barn and Great Horned Owls at the B and M are usually easy to locate. As shown on the map by purple. Both of these owl species can be found under the northern half of the long Avondale Bridge but they will not always be under the bridge because they will usually leave for the day if disturbed. Both species are known to nest at this spot and they might be harder to locate during the winter months.

Riparian Habitat
The riparian habitat (highlighted in yellow on the map) is well worth checking out at the B and M. All of the riparian areas that I have highlighted have had or I suspect to have good potential for rarities. The riparian stand that goes under and across the bridge on the northern side of the riverbed (known as "The Stand") is one of the best spots at the B and M to find rarities. In the past it has had Winter Wren, White-throated Sparrow, American Redstart, Eastern Phoebe, Orchard Oriole, Northern Parula, and more! Other than rarities The Stand has many birds nesting in it like a pair of Yellow-billed Cuckoos! Checking these riparian areas is always different but they are productive year-round.

Eastern Phoebe

 White-throated Sparrow

More birds that can be found around the B and M
During the Winter months at the B and M keep an eye out for Northern Shoveler, American Wigeon, Gadwall, Cinnamon, Blue-winged, and Green-winged Teals, American White Pelican, Northern Harrier, Cooper's and Sharp-shinned Hawks, Peregrine and Prairie Falcons,Virginia Rail, Sora, Greater Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Wilson's Snipe, Belted Kingfisher, Red-naped Sapsucker, Northern Flicker, House and Marsh Wrens, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Orange-crowned, Yellow-rumped, and Black-throated Gray Warblers, Spotted and Green-tailed Towhees, Lincoln's, White-crowned, and Brewer's Sparrows, Dark-eyed Junco, and Western Meadowlark . The more uncommon to rare birds that can be seen in the Winter at the B and M include: Common and Hooded Mergansers, Western Grebe, Brown Pelican, American Bittern, Ring-billed Gull, Eastern Phoebe, Winter Wren, Black-and-white and Chestnut-sided Warblers, American Redstart, Northern Parula, Swamp and White-throated Sparrows, and American and Lawrence's Goldfinches. During the hot Summer months keep an eye out for Ridgway's Rail, Lesser Nighthawk, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Black-chinned Hummingbird, White-winged Dove, Western Kingbird, Cliff Swallow, Lucy's Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Lazuli Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, Summer and Western Tanagers, Brown-headed Cowbird, and Bullock's and Hooded Orioles. In Spring (April-May) and Fall (late August-early October) migration the B and M is an exiting place to go birding because you never know what you might see! Swainson's Hawk, Caspian and Black Terns, Willow Flycatcher, Cassin's Kingbird, Bells, Plumbeous, Cassin's, and Warbling Vireos, Tree, Violet-green, Barn and Bank Swallows, Nashville, MacGillivray's, Yellow, Townsend's Hermit, and Wilson's Warblers, Chipping Sparrow, Black-headed Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, and Pine Sisken can be seen if one selects the right rout. Birds that tend to stay around the area year-round include: Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Mallard, Gambel's Quail, Pied-billed Grebe, Neotropic and Double-crested Cormorants, Great Blue and Green Herons, Great and Snowy Egrets, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Least Bittern, White-faced Ibis, Black and Turkey Vultures, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, American Coot, Common Gallinule, Black-necked Stilt, Killdeer, Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared, Mourning, and Common Ground-Doves, Greater Roadrunner, Great Horned and Barn Owls, Anna's and Costa's Hummingbird, Gila and Ladder-back Woodpeckers, Gilded Flicker, Black and Say's Phoebes, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Common Raven, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Verdin, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Crissal Thrasher, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Common Yellowthroat, Abert's Towhee, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Great-tailed Grackle, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch, and House Sparrow.

During all times of the year make sure to drink lots of water as it is very dry out here in Phoenix Arizona! The Baseline and Meridian Wildlife Area is sadly under-birded and I need your help to give this birding hotspot the attention it deserves. So please bird the B and M and enjoy the awesome wildlife that it provides!


  1. This is definitely a great place to bird. I'm still hoping to get my visual on the Least Bitterns. I have seen them only once! And while I've heard them several times since, I'd like to see them with a bit more detail down the road. I love this place. Just wish it wasn't so sketchy at time. There are strange people walking around that area, but it's definitely an important area for our Rails and Cuckoos. I hope it continues to be a safe haven for birds. And then there are the hunters:) Great pics and info!

    1. Thanks Mr. Chris! It is indeed a great place to bird at! Sounds like you had some fun when you went : ) I have seen some strange people there before but I have never seen any signs of people braking into cars. The key is to go very early on the weekdays. If you want me to show you around the place I will be more than happy to.