Friday, December 7, 2012

Scoping Out Yuma East Wetlands

Kathie looking through her new Vortex Viper Scope 11-22-12
Santa came early for me this year when my husband bought me this Vortex Viper Spotting Scope from Eagle Optics. It was the day before Thanksgiving as we eagerly awaited its arrival. When the doorbell rang and the FedEx man was there I knew we were in for a fun adventure. Instead of staying home for Thanksgiving, Gus decided to take me on a birding road trip to the Salton Sea! We quickly reserved some rooms, packed the car, and headed out with the new scope in the back seat and little idea of how to use it! We arrived in Yuma just at dusk, settled into our room and rose early the next morning. While everyone else was busy cooking turkey we were figuring out how to use the scope in our hotel room! After attaching it to the tri-pod which we also purchased at the same time, we headed out the door.
Ocean to Ocean Bridge in Yuma, AZ
 Our destination was the Yuma East Wetlands. I had learned of this place from a link sent to me by a friend. The Southwest Birders has great information on their site of where to bird in the Yuma area. The Yuma East Wetlands is also an eBird Hotspot. It was a very short drive from our hotel to get here. As soon as we pulled into the parking lot I was seeing and hearing birds. Yellow-rumped warblers were everywhere and an osprey flew right overhead as we were getting our gear out of the car. The Yuma East Wetlands are located right near the Historical Ocean to Ocean Bridge and right below the Yuma Territorial Prison.
Yuma Territorial Prison Guard Shack and Water Tower
 We thought of visiting this place but since it was Thanksgiving it was closed. However, it did make us want to come back another time. We realized that we could go birding in the morning, and spend the rest of the day exploring the numerous historical sites around town.

 We passed the information sign on our way towards the river and the river trails. Gus kindly carried the spotting scope for me and I walked along with my bins and my Nikon D80 camera. The trees and brush had birds twittering everywhere. With the temperature already in the low 60's and blue skies overhead, it was a perfect day for birding.
Yellow-rumped Warbler 11-22-12 Yuma, AZ

We walked east down a forested path until we came into the open on the banks of the Colorado River. The River is the border between California and Arizona and it was fun to look across to the other side and think that I was seeing another state! Apparently the river used to be very wide in this spot but with all the dams that have been built and the water that is drawn off for many towns, cites and states to use it has become just a mere channel that looks like you could walk across it!
What do I see?
As I scanned the river for waterfowl at first I saw nothing. Then a coot appeared swimming rapidly as it could downstream. Finally I saw something out in the river on a pile of rocks. It looked like a sandpiper and this looked like the perfect situation for setting up the scope.  Gus set it down and set it up for me. Then, I took my first look through the scope!
Spotted Sandpiper on rocks in Colorado River, Yuma, AZ 11-22-12
 There on the rocks in the middle of the river was a spotted sandpiper!
Two Spotted Sandpipers on rocks
 Oh wait! Now there are two spotted sandpipers!

Focusing scope while standing on bank of the Colorado River
 I put my bins down and handed Gus the camera, then focused on the birds in the river.
Taking Another Look
The scope was amazingly easy to use. It has a zoom optics which I looked through. Then, once I had the bird in range it had a rough focus and a fine focus wheel on the barrel which are very easy to manipulate. 
Rocks in the River
 While standing here on the bank it was very easy to get lost in what I was seeing through the lens! I found the tripod was very stable and I personally liked the angled eyepiece which made it easy for both Gus and I too look through the lens without having to adjust the height of the scope to match the person trying to look through it.
Now There are Three Spotted Sandpipers!
 As I was looking through the scope, yet another spottie flew in to join its buddies!
Look again!
Four Spotted Sandpipers on the rocks in the middle of the Colorado River!
 Apparently this rock is a favorite sunning and napping spot for Spotted Sandpipers!

Turkey Vulture
 After viewing the Sandpipers for awhile we finally picked the scope up and walked a bit farther down the trail until we came to a little knoll overlooking the river. We climbed the small hill and set up the scope again as a few turkey vultures swooped by overhead. While I had no need of the scope to see this bird as it flew low over my head, it did help to get a better look at them as the headed to a tall tree on the opposite bank which I can only assume is their favorite daytime roost!
Turkey Vulture Roost
 We barely scratched the surface of the birding at the Yuma East Wetlands. Though I could see more trails and more habitat off to the east, we needed to get back to the hotel and check out, for we were headed to the Salton Sea today and we were both so eager to see it! So, Gus shouldered the scope and I took my bins and camera and we headed back to the parking lot.
Black Phoebe at Yuma East Wetlands
 On the way back I found an orange-crowned warbler and yet another Black Phoebe in a bare-leafed tree. I had seen a couple earlier but now this one was facing the sun making it perfect to photograph with the light on its face.
Vortex Viper HD 20-60X80 Spotting Scope

My assessment of the Vortex Viper HD is that the optics are quite clear, it is very easy to use, though getting that protective sleeve on was a two person job and took more time than learning how to use the scope! However, once it is one you never have to remove it! (I hope!) I am not well versed in spotting scope lingo or even in using one. I have only looked through a scope a few times and they were always owned and operated by someone else! When we decided we wanted to get a scope Robert Mortensen recommended we call Eagle Optics. The person we spoke with was very helpful in helping a novice like me decide what would work for my price range and how I would be using it. Gus and I both did a little bit of research before we called, so I already knew I wanted to have the zoom feature and I suspected the angled eye piece or lens would be what I wanted as well. There were three good options in our price range but we chose the Vortex Viper because it has the capability to do digi-scoping, which is something I have never tried but might be interested in now. When we bought the scope, we also needed to buy a tripod for it as it needs a good and steady tripod to hold it. Ben at Eagle Optics recommend the Manfrotto 190XB. We spent more time putting it together and figuring out how to use it than the scope, but once it was together it also was quite easy to use.

We took the scope with us to the Salton Sea where it came in quite handy. I used it several times in several locations. I spent an hour and a half using it on one of the beaches and I could have stayed there longer, there were so many birds but it was the middle of the afternoon and I was getting sunburned! I have since used the scope at Sweetwater Wetlands right here Tucson and also found it useful for scoping out birds in the fenced off retention basins. It is still a tool that I am getting use to. I tend to be an "on the go" birder and though it is relatively lightweight, it is still a lot to carry around, especially if you are trying to use bins and a camera with a 70-300mm lens at the same time. While I would not take it on a hike with me, I will carry it in my car to use in situations where I can walk a short distance, then set up the scope and stay put, which I can easily do if there are enough birds!

As for birding in Yuma, if you get the chance to go there, I would highly recommend it. There are many birding areas all within easy travelling distance and some within walking distance of some of the hotels! Our hotel was right on the river and we were able to go out walking at watch birds even at night, as the riverwalk is well lighted and we found ducks in the canal near the Yuma Quartermaster Depot. Yuma County is one of the under birded counties on eBird, so any list submitted there would be of great help in tracking the Yuma bird populations. And, if you go there with a non-birder, there is plenty for them to do while you go birding, or, you can go birding in the morning and then have the rest of the day to explore the historical options as well as shopping and dining!

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  1. Yuma birding is absolutely fantastic. I've spent two summers doing bird work along the lower Colorado River and frequented Yuma quite a bit. Nice post!

    1. Thanks Tim! I loved it there and can't wait to go back. We barely scratched the surface!

    2. I have also spent quite a bit of time surveying the Yuma East and West wetland areas for Yellow-billed Cuckoos while I worked down there in 2010 and 2011. Such an awesome place! Thanks for posting these photos!

    3. Alex, I am glad to post them and spread the word about this awesome birding location!

  2. What a wonderful gift!! Your husband is a keeper, especially if he 'enables' you to be a better birder. Your photos are amazing and I am very envious of your opportunities!!

    1. Thanks Karen! I am so grateful for them and him!

  3. I know that we've emailed about this privately, but I'm so glad that you were able to get a great spotting scope. It opens up a whole new world of birding, especially when it comes to shorebirds and other birds often seen at long distances. Those wetlands seem like a pretty cool place to go birding. Happy B-Day to Gus too.

    1. Thanks Robert! I have a good life and a great husband!

  4. great shot in the middle of the pond

  5. a delightful read! What a thoughtful gift and what fun to take off for Thanksgiving with it like you did together. I enjoyed reading and I enjoyed looking at the photos and the Warbler and Phoebe are fabulous birds. I'm with you when I get my eyes behind the camera, or binoculars, time slips away ........

  6. Kathie, what a great gift. Your hubby is wonderful. I enjoyed reading your post and the photos. Happy Birding!

  7. I'm enjoying reading about your Thanksgiving adventures very much Kathie!

    1. Thanks Mia! I enjoy reading about all your adventures too!

  8. I really enjoyed the perspective you shared of the birds and wetlands while enjoying your new gift. A very enjoyable read. Looks like a wonderful place to visit.

    1. Debbie, it was great and we only saw a tiny piece of it! I so want to go back!

  9. Sounds like you spent an enjoyable Thanksgiving day at the Yuma Wetlands area. Oh what a wonderful gift from your husband. I enjoyed reading this post filled with beautiful images and a terrific narrative.

    1. Thank you so much Julie! It was certainly different and a wonderful adventure!