Phoenix Sonoran Preserve

Glowing Cholla 3

Glowing Cholla PSP

Glowing Cholla 2

Longshot

Much like the McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve, located in North Phoenix, has over 18,000 acres of beautiful desert views including 36 miles of exciting multi-use trails. The wildflowers were just beginning to bloom but the tons of Chollas were glowing in the sun.

We were at the Apache Wash Trailhead where a mountain biker crashed into a rattlesnake that same day and was bit. We did see an ambulance but didn’t know about this until seeing it on the news that night. It’s rattler season.

BTSP Gathering 2 PSP

BTSP 3

BTSP Gathering PSPBlack-throated Sparrows

The female Black-throated Sparrow is the nest builder (you can see her gathered materials in her bill) and a breeding pair is very territorial so the one on the nearby cactus must have been her mate.

CW PSP

Cactus Wren 3 SagCactus Wrens, Arizona’s State Bird

These two were also together so I imagine they are mates, too.

Painted Lady PSPPainted Lady Butterfly

Mexican Poppy PSPMexican Poppy

Purple FlowersScorpion Weed

Purple Wildflower

BrittlebushBrittlebush

Rock

Longshot 2

Another Longshot

There were really pretty views here.

Fat Sag PSPA perfect plump Saguaro after all our rain

4 Peaks in Distance

It was hazy but in the distance, we could see Four Peaks, 42 miles away, as the crow flies, still covered with the recent snow.

The day before, we drove around trying to get a good view of Four Peaks with the snow, away from houses and buildings. This was taken somewhere north of Fountain Hills…

4 Peaks 1

It’s been in the 80s the last couple of days; the snow has all melted. Spring is coming to the desert.

Gateway Trailhead

mtn view

This is the third time we’ve been to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale. It is comprised of 30,500 acres of Sonoran Desert, 7 trailheads, and over 200 miles of trails. This particular trailhead, Gateway, is the closest to town and it was very busy on a weekday afternoon last week. The trails were also very rocky so it was hard to look up while walking with cameras. Basically, it’s not a place that we would go to again but I’m sure many people love it…since there were a ton of them there. Nevertheless, it was still pretty…

painted ladyPainted Lady

brittlebushCreosote

Birds, none for most of the trail until we got towards the end…

btsp 2

btsp 1Black-throated Sparrow

mtn view 2

mtn view 3

cactus

downed cactus

gila on cactusGila Woodpecker

thrasherCurve-billed Thrasher

looking down

mtn with antennae

antenna close_edited-1Thompson Peak

flicker over cityGilded Flicker

finch

finches flyingHouse Finches

These are the other trailheads we’ve been to which were farther north, away from the city, and with nicer trails, more dramatic scenery, and better mountain views: Brown’s Ranch Trailhead and Granite Mountain Trailhead. Next time we’ll go to the trails that are farther north again…

McDowell Mountain Regional Park

This is Four Peaks as seen from McDowell Mountain Regional Park.  At 21,099 acres, it is one of the largest parks in the Maricopa County Parks System and is known for its stunning mountain views.

In a few more weeks, the daylight hours will be long enough to head farther out of town but we have been staying fairly local throughout the winter. We have a lot of new places on our list and several that we want to go back to again so this particular park and the one before it (White Tanks) will probably not go on our “repeat list.” It’s a nice park and I’m sure a lot of people love it but the 3 mile North Trail Loop that we walked seemed like a really long 3 miles, just not real exciting.

Black-throated Sparrow

It also was not overly birdy until we got to one small area toward the end of the hike that was very chirpy and busy. In addition to many of the above sparrows and the other birds in this post, we saw many House Finches, a Cardinal, a Ladder-backed Woodpecker, and several White-Crowned Sparrows.

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

Loggerhead Shrike (the impaler)

Phainopepla, female

Common Raven

Packrat Nest

Weaver’s Needle in the Superstition Mountains

Gila Woodpecker, female

One of the best things about many County Parks, I’ve noticed (in at least AZ, IN, and MI), is that they often seem to have bird feeders as they did here by the Visitor Center. We spent a little time before we left watching who would come to the feeders and talking to a friendly bird-loving ranger. No lifers but it was only the second time I’ve seen the following bird (there were 2):

Canyon Towhee

I did learn something new…

The Four Peaks are named, from left to right: Brown’s Peak (the highest at 7,657 feet), Brother’s Peak, Sister’s Peak, and Amethyst Peak. There is an amethyst mine up there, very rustic, that produces beautiful amethysts. And I just found out that you can take a helicopter tour to the mine, according to this article! That sounds totally amazing and is pretty expensive as the article states. I do have a ring that has Arizona amethyst in it so now I know where it came from.

White Tank Mountains

Looking east toward Phoenix and beyond

Our first day trip of 2018 was to the far west side of the valley to the White Tanks. In 1963, Maricopa County acquired the land that makes up the north end of the White Tank Mountains from the Bureau of Land Management and opened up the White Tank Mountain Regional Park. The park is currently the largest and most primitive park in the Maricopa County Park System with over 29,000 acres and elevation ranging from 1,370 to 4,087 feet.*

We walked the Waterfall Trail. It had rained the night before but not nearly enough for the waterfall to run. Neverthelss, it was a remarkable sight. The park is also full of petroglyphs from the Hohokam period, the prehistoric culture that occupied the Salt River Valley and surrounding area between AD 100 and 1450. Most of the artifacts there have been dated from AD 500 to 900.*

There is a large concentration of petroglyphs in a fenced area called “Petroglyph Plaza” and others are scattered throughout.

The end of this particular trail is at the waterfall.

There was water in a small pool at the base of the waterfall but, even without running water, one can see the sediment and erosion from thousands of years of flowing water. It was pretty awesome looking.

Where were all the birds???? We hardly saw any. This is the only photo I got.

Black-throated Sparrow

Hopefully, our future trips will be more birdful.

*Some of the information was obtained from this publication.

 

 

Road Trip South

cactus-wrenCactus Wren

picacho-peak-1

On our too infrequent road trips, we usually head north of Phoenix but one day last week we headed south. Of course, I was in search of birds, one particular bird, and Tony was willing to come along. We saw places we had never been before so that’s always interesting.

First stop was Picacho Peak State Park.

picacho-peak-2

While there, I got my first Lifer of the day, and there were several of these guys!

black-throated-sparrow-2

black-throated-sparrow-1Black-throated Sparrow

picacho-peak-3

Unfortuately, I didn’t think to take a photo of Picacho Peak itself until we had already moved on to our next destination. It’s a rugged mountain but we didn’t climb it, of course. The “easy” trail we were on was hard enough and I’ve decided to not do any climbing again. I’ll stick to flatter areas especially when carrying a big camera and lens.

Our next destination was Red Rock where there is a large feedlot. There were a lot of cows, of course, and a lot of birds (mostly Red-winged Blackbirds, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbirds, House Sparrows, and Starlings). This was where I got my second Lifer of the day but I didn’t know what it was until we got home later that night and I could do some research (meaning people in my Facebook birding group ID’ed it).

lark-bunting-1

lark-bunting-2Lark Bunting

Next we were on to the location where I hoped to find my “Target Bird.” This region is called Santa Cruz Flats, a large area of farmlands, dusty fields, and dirt roads. There are a lot of birds but they can be pretty far off in the fields so it’s hard to get close views.

santa-cruz-flats-map

We drove around a lot of dirt roads since we didn’t have a specific location where the target bird might be as they are found all along that area. But, guess what? We spotted ONE of the birds pretty quickly which is a good thing because in all our continued driving in search of more, that was the only one we saw. They are bizarre-looking critters.

crested-caracaraCrested Caracara

“A tropical falcon version of a vulture, the Crested Caracara reaches the United States only in Arizona, Texas, and Florida. It is a bird of open country, where it often is seen at carrion with vultures” (from Cornell’s All About Birds, where you can see some better shots of them).

We did see quite a few flying raptors but I’m not good at identifying them high up in the sky.

rt-hawkRed-tailed Hawk

says-phoebeSay’s Phoebe

Already happy to have 3 Lifers in one day, as we were nearing the end of our dirt road trek, we spotted my 4th Lifer!

loggerhead-shrikeLoggerhead Shrike

These guys impale their kills of insects, birds, lizards, and small mammals on barbed wire or thorns. I was glad to not witness that part of their behavior.

Quite a successful day and a good start to my 2017 goal of 60 Lifers. We definitely will need to go on more road trips to accomplish that.