Category Archives: Arizona

Usery Mountain and Red Mountain

Red-tailed Hawk on Saguaro

We’ve been fortunate to have some cool days in Phoenix lately, before the true summer heat begins, so last week we took a local trip about 30 miles away to Usery Mountain Regional Park (a county park). It was very pretty. We made another stop first that I didn’t care for as much so I’ll put that at the end of this post…

I was glad to finally see this sign above. It has been around since the 1950s (although I’ve also heard it was already present during WWII) when a Boy Scout troop built it to help direct pilots to the Phoenix airport, 20 miles west. It’s made of rocks from Usery Mountain: each letter is about 100 feet high and 12 feet wide. The sign is 1,000 feet across and it took 5.5 years to assemble. More on this marker here.

Pass Mountain

Viewing Pond

This little pond and waterfall draws wildlife in for drinks and baths.

House Finches, male and female

Gambel’s Quail

Curve-billed Thrasher on Saguaro

Lesser Goldfinch

The Nature Center at the park had feeders set up behind it. I always appreciate feeders to draw birds in. No lifers but lifers aren’t everything…I guess.

This is the view looking south toward Apache Junction.

Our original destination that day was Red Mountain Park in east Mesa, where we went first. We had heard they have a wetlands area. Well, sort of, but not really. This park did not thrill me at all. I’m sure it’s nice for a city park if you live close by but it wasn’t worth the drive (to us).

The place was dominated by grackles and doves. We saw a few other birds but they’re the sort of birds we see at most of the ponds and lakes around town.

Canada Goose gosling

Cooper’s Hawk

Pied-billed Grebes, adult and immature

Western Wood-Pewee

Brown-headed Cowbird

Snow Goose

The highlight of that park was seeing this Snow Goose, which should really not be in the area and shows up on the rare bird alert regularly. It must either like it there or it can’t fly although it certainly looked fine. I’ve seen a migrating flock of these before but never one up close like this. It is a handsome bird.

Oh, the very first shot of the hawk on the saguaro? It cost me $24. I took it from the side of the road and laid my lens cap on my car. Hours later I remembered. It’s a big cap, 95mm. The replacement just arrived now.

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Madera Canyon

Mexican Jay (lifer)

Although I’ve lived in Arizona for over 40 years, I’ve never been to Madera Canyon before and only really became aware of it a couple of years ago from other birders. So, finally, I’ve experienced it and, like most of the other places in AZ that Tony and I have visited, it was beautiful!

Wikipedia says, “Madera Canyon is located in the Santa Rita Mountains, which is one of the largest of the Madrean Sky Islands. The canyon and its immediate surroundings are therefore home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, ranging from cactus covered desert in the lower reaches of the canyon to aspen and pine forest on Mount Wrightson.

With fifteen species of hummingbirds, elegant trogon, sulphur-bellied flycatcher, black-capped gnatcatcher, flame-colored tanager, thirty-six species of wood warblers, and over 256 species of birds documented in total, Madera Canyon is rated the third best birding destination in the United States. Other animals that can be found in Madera Canyon include black bear, mountain lion, bobcats, white-tailed and mule deer, foxes, coatis, ring-tailed cats, raccoons, wild turkeys, squirrels, and rabbits. Sixteen species of bats have also been recorded in the canyon.”

Unfortunately, we were only there for a few hours as we got a late start and, although it was several degrees cooler than Phoenix, we didn’t hike much because of the heat and time constraints. If you hike around, you can get some rare and unusual birds. We’ll go back in the fall and hike but, meanwhile, I did get 5 lifers and had a great time.

What we mostly did was hang out at the birdwatching area at Santa Rita Lodge. They are kind enough to let people who are not guests in their cabins also have access to this site for a donation to their bird food fund.

If you click on this photo (above), you can see the benches and chairs overlooking the feeding areas. We sat in the shade, a gentle breeze blowing, and watched the birds fly in to eat below…with cameras ready. It wasn’t even crowded since it was a weekday.

Broad-billed Hummingbirds, male and female (lifers)

Magnificent Hummingbird (lifer)

Magnificents are much larger than other hummingbirds but this guy stayed far away in a dark tree so I was lucky to get any photos at all of him. Someday I hope to get a good shot.

Hepatic Tanager (lifer)

Wild Turkey (lifer)

And I was able to get shots of some birds that were not lifers but ones I had never gotten decent shots of before.

Black-headed Grosbeaks, male and female

Bridled Titmouse

And a couple more:

Acorn Woodpecker

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Coues White-tailed Deer

As we were leaving in the late afternoon, we saw 3 deer together and another by itself. It had been many years since I came across a deer and was able to get a photo…the perfect end to a fun day.

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Mount Ord

See that little camouflaged cutie singing his heart out?

It’s my most recent lifer, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, which we saw on Mt. Ord.

Mt. Ord is the highest point in Maricopa County, the huge county in which Phoenix is located. It is 7,129 feet tall and is located off the Beeline Highway on the way to Payson. It is accessible by Forest Road 626. There are communication towers and a ranger station up there. So we drove my poor Ford Fusion up this 6 mile long, bumpy, rutted, narrow, winding dirt road, with no guardrails (and back down). It was do-able but a 4WD would have certainly been preferable and would be the only way I would do it in the future. But it was worth it because it was beautiful up there.

There are a ton of birds up there, and many that would be lifers for me, if we had found them…the only other “lifer” I found was this Dark-eyed Junco, Gray-headed variant. Technically, it is not a lifer as I’ve seen Dark-eyed Juncos before, but since I’m trying to hit 60 lifers in 2017, I’m counting variants, too.

A few views from the top:

Beeline Highway (SR 87)

Bartlett Lake

Theodore Roosevelt Lake

There was a fire on Mt. Ord last September, burning 1335 acres, so there are many burned trees.

You can park 1/2 mile from the top of Mt. Ord and then take this trail the rest of the way to the top.

There are other hiking trails on the mountain, as well as an old mine (we didn’t see it).

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay

Black-throated Gray Warbler

In my Facebook birding group (Birding–Arizona and the Southwest), another member and her husband went the day before Tony and I did. She was posting several birds that I didn’t see and I mentioned that to her. She said, “Oh, we had a guide.” So…next time, I want a 4WD with someone else driving and a guide!

Here’s a short Arizona Highways article about Mt. Ord.

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Hassayampa and Sherwood Heights

Vermilion Flycatcher, male

We had not been to Hassayampa River Preserve for 4 years so we went one day last week. I was hoping for some new birds, of course, as I know there are some reported there that I’ve never seen. Luck was not with me. We heard a ton of birds but just didn’t see many. It’s pretty dense there with a lot of very tall trees so the hiding is good. The first time we went all I saw were Vermilion Flycatchers and that’s pretty much all we saw this time, too. They are beautiful, though. Here are the posts I made back in 2013 where you can get a better idea of what the preserve looks like (1, 2, 3). This trip was photo-lite.

Palm Lake

Vermilion Flycatcher, female

Hassayampa has been a Nature Conservancy preserve for over 25 years and will soon become part of the Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Department. Their parks are very well-maintained so I imagine some improvements will be occurring soon to this former ranch. It will become part of the new Vulture Mountains Recreation Area. Here’s a link if you’re interested.

Mistletoe clumps in Mesquite

So…I never post only 4 photos! A couple days before I left on my Indiana trip, I had heard about a very rare bird for our area in a neighborhood not too far from me, on the border of Phoenix and Scottsdale. The bird also visited the same yard last year at just about this time, just for a couple weeks. He has now left on his migration again but I was able to get some shots before he left.

Orchard Oriole, male

He was very flighty and spent a lot of time deep in the homeowner’s mesquite tree eating from her chuparosa (the reddish flowers). I was lucky to get one clear shot…and he was a lifer!

I also spotted this Gila Woodpecker couple checking out prime Scottsdale real estate. They usually nest in saguaros.

This was in the homeowner’s yard. She makes metal and clay wildlife sculptures.

Apache Junction

meadowlark-1

meadowlark-2

A couple of weeks ago, Tony and I spent a lovely day in Apache Junction. I found my target bird, a Western Meadowlark, at Prospector Park, pretty quickly. Such big, handsome birds.

There were a few other pretty birds there:

quailGambel’s Quail, male

vfcVermillion Flycatcher, male

finchHouse Finch, male

phoebe-flySay’s Phoebe

We were already almost there so we went on to my new favorite park, Lost Dutchman State Park, in the Superstition Mountains. It was gorgeous!

superstitions

treasure-loop

posts

Although I didn’t spot any lifers there, I was able to get my best ever shots of these plentiful Phainopeplas, striking birds with red eyes.

phainopepla-malePhainopepla, male

phainopepla-femalePhainopepla, female

mtn-close-1

mtn-closeup-2

phain-silhouette

And no visit to Apache Junction is complete without a stop at the Elvis Presley Memorial Chapel, a movie memorabilia museum showing the movies that were filmed at Apacheland, including Charro, starring Elvis.

elvis-chapel-1