Willow Springs Lake/Christopher Creek

We headed back up to the Mogollon Rim one day last week to go to a different lake…Willow Springs Lake (elevation 7,513 feet). It was beautiful…but raining. The birds were hiding, I didn’t want to get my cameras wet, and it was cold! At the same time that it was 109° in Phoenix it was 50° cooler there.

Abert’s Squirrel

So we left…to return another day. We headed down the hill to Christopher Creek for lunch, hoping it would clear up afterwards.

This is what the Mogollon Rim looks like from below as opposed to what it looks like from above in a previous post.

Christopher Creek is a tiny (3 square miles) census-designated place in northern Gila County. Situated at the base of the Mogollon Rim, the community lies at an elevation of 5,961 feet and is located approximately 23.5 miles northeast of Payson. The population as of the 2010 U.S. Census was 156 (Wikipedia). There were at least 100 homes there so the population must not take into consideration part-time residents. It’s a beautiful little town with some lodges, a couple restaurants, and a market or 2. I was very surprised to see this large, new LDS church there, too.

It’s now the town I wish we could have a 2nd home in (I keep changing towns but it’s just a dream anyway).

It didn’t really clear up, the rain let up a little but it was still very overcast and threatening to rain more so we took a walk on the creek. I heard there are a ton of birds there but they didn’t want to get wet, I guess.

Lots of slippery rocks in the creek as Tony climbed around on them attempting to get that award-winning photo. And this is it:

It’s very pretty. And then he fell on the slippery rocks. He had sprained fingers, we went to the ER in Payson because he thought one was broken, and then we headed home. And this is why you should always have a filter on your lens:

So we will return another day to further explore the area but this is monsoon season so you never know when you’re going to get a non-rainy day, especially up north.

 

 

Mogollon Rim

With temperatures hovering right around 120° this week in Phoenix (it only hit 119 officially yesterday), it’s nice to remember what it was like when we went to Woods Canyon Lake on the Mogollon Rim a couple weeks ago.

The Mogollon Rim is a topographical and geological feature cutting across Arizona. It extends approximately 200 miles, starting in northern Yavapai County and running eastward, ending near the border with New Mexico. It forms the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau in Arizona (Wikipedia).

You can walk right to the edge and it just drops off! You wouldn’t want to stumble around in the dark up here.

These teenagers were braver than me.

This was as close as I dared get, about a foot from the edge.

It is so beautiful and so cool up there at about 7,500 feet elevation.

There are other lakes on the Rim and, next time, which I hope will be fairly soon, we will try one of them. Woods Canyon Lake was pretty crowded although we were able to get away from the crowd and find a little clearing (above) where we just sat and enjoyed the cool breeze and quiet. We put out some peanuts to see who might drop by.

Grey-collared Chipmunk

And I got the target bird I had been hoping to get in Flagstaff a few days before but failed.

Steller’s Jay (lifer)

I think Jays, in general, are so pretty but these are especially stellar!

Williamson’s Sapsucker, female

We saw the male Williamson’s Sapsucker, too, but I couldn’t get a shot. Too bad because they are beautiful and look entirely different from the female. That was my first sighting of a male.

Western Tanagers, female and male

Common Raven

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Audubon’s, female

These warblers are plentiful in the Phoenix area in the winter and now I know where some of them go to breed. This girl was working on a nest.

I got 2 other lifers here. One was a Plumbeous Vireo but the shot I got is very mediocre. The other was a bird I really didn’t think I would ever see…because they’re almost impossible to see!

See it? They’re so tiny and blend in so well with the bark of trees that it’s very hard to spot one. I was pretty excited to add it to my list.

Brown Creeper (lifer)

There was a forest fire on the other side of the lake that was lightning-caused but they were letting it burn to clear out the area. Unfortunately, another fire, the Highline Fire, has started in the area since then but is now 92% contained, with acreage burned posted at 6,854. Always so sad this time of year…

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Cool Pines of Flagstaff

San Francisco Peaks, Humphreys Peak, highest point in AZ at 12,633 feet   (click to enlarge panorama)

It’s heating up in Phoenix now so our local adventures will be on hold and we’ll have to take our day trips to higher altitudes. Last week we were in  Flagstaff, elevation 6,909 feet. We were primarily at The Arboretum at Flagstaff located on 200 acres deep within the Coconino National Forest.

Western Bluebirds, male and female

There were many nesting boxes throughout. I think they appeal to the Western Bluebirds especially.

Say’s Phoebes

American Robin

And I got 4 lifers!

House Wren (lifer)

Pygmy Nuthatch (lifer)

Violet-Green Swallows (lifers)

Broad-tailed Hummingbird (lifer)

House Finch

Mountain Short-horned Lizard

The Botanical Blacksmiths exhibit features many metal sculptures at the Arboretum.

Western Wood-Pewee

Flagstaff Fun Fact:

This is the U.S. Naval Observatory Flagstaff Station. Visible from The Arboretum, it is the national dark-sky observing facility under the United States Naval Observatory. Flagstaff is also home to Lowell Observatory (where non-planet Pluto was discovered) and Northern Arizona University’s Barry Lutz Telescope and was the first jurisdiction on Earth to enact a light-pollution-control ordinance. Arizona has the densest grouping of dark-sky communities in the world, according to the International Dark-Sky Association: Flagstaff, Oak Creek and Sedona. Most people in the U.S. cannot see the Milky Way. We are fortunate to have many places in Arizona where one can do so.

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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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