Montezuma Well

Variegated Fritillary

Montezuma Well is part of Montezuma Castle National Monument in Rimrock, AZ (even though it’s in a location several miles away). It is a natural limestone sinkhole that has been home to many ancient cultures, spanning more than 1,000 years, including the Sinagua, Hohokam, and Salado peoples. By 1425, the people had migrated to other areas but the Well is still a sacred place for the Hopi, Zuni, Yavapai, Western Apache, and other Native American cultures.

The Well itself is 386 feet in diameter and holds over 15 million gallons of water. It is fed by Beaver Creek through a long, narrow cave (called the swallet) to reapppear on the other side at the outlet. The water contains arsenic and high quantities of carbon dioxide so fish cannot live in it but five endemic species have evolved here that exist nowhere else on the planet: amphipods, predatory leeches (not blood-suckers), water scorpions, spring snails, and a unique, single-celled diatom.

The people of the Sinagua culture began building the dwellings in the cliffs around the Well seen here.

These 125 steps, above, lead to the swallet. We went, instead, to the outlet which was only 45 steps down.

The largest sycamore tree in Arizona is down at the outlet.

Creekside

Along the creek at the outlet

I’m pleased that I finally broke my losing streak of ZERO lifers lately by finding one down by the outlet.

Summer Tanager, male (lifer)

We also saw the female but she was shyer and much less colorful. We also spotted a few other birds that we don’t see too often.

Bridled Titmouse

Brewer’s Sparrow

Western Wood-Pewee

There are ruins of other cultures scattered over the whole area.

Sinagua Dwelling

The ranger told us that we could probably see a Great Horned Owl if we went over to the picnic area. After much searching through the big cottonwoods and sycamores, Tony spotted him!

Okay, not really, but it had us fooled for a minute. We never did find the real owl.

Here is a short, minute-and-a-half video that the National Park Service did about the Well. This really is a strange and fascinating place.

 

 

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Veteran’s Oasis Park

Western Wood-Pewee

On another recent day when we had a reprieve from Phoenix’s heat, we headed to a destination about 30 miles away…Chandler, AZ…and Veteran’s Oasis Park, a new-to-us park. It’s a Chandler City Park with a community fishing lake but it also has several recharge (water treatment) ponds that are very wild. In fact, they are almost too wild to be able to see much wildlife but I’m sure the animals appreciate it. This is a very pretty park.

Black-tailed Jackrabbits galore

Turkey Vultures galore

Flame Skimmer Dragonfly

Desert Cottontail

San Tan Mountains

Killdeer

Great Blue Heron

Common Gallinule

Blue Dasher Dragonfly

They have blinds scattered around to observe/photograph the wildlife but the reeds and other plants are so overgrown that there isn’t much of a view.

From the recharge ponds, you can look out over farmland…from arid desert to green crops.

Homes with a farm view

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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Jacked About Lifers

DSC_2292

Once you start getting into birding, it’s pretty hard to not keep a list of who you see and it’s pretty exciting to get a lifer (a bird when it is first seen and positively identified by a birder. To qualify as a lifer, birds must be observed in the wild and under appropriate conditions to be added to a life list).

So, I’ve had an exciting week where I’ve seen and photographed FOUR lifers! They’ve all been in Phoenix, in 3 different locations, and none are overly common.

Western Wood Peewee

Western Wood-Peewee Front

Western Wood-Peewee 2

Western Wood-Pewee, above

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Warbling Vireo

I only got one shot of that little guy but he’s (she’s?) awfully cute.

And I got 2 lifers today at the park I go to once every weekend, Granada Park, and where I see quite a few birds but haven’t seen any lifers lately.

Lesser Nighthawk 2

Lesser Nighthawk

Nighthawks are those birds you often see flying around at night at brightly lit stadiums or close to freeway lights, hunting insects. But, in the daytime, they lay low and are usually camouflaged. I was very surprised to see this guy just standing on the trail, posing for me. He did take off and fly into some brush after a few shots.

Swallow 2

Swallow 3

Swallow 1

Northern Rough-Winged Swallow

There was a small flock of these in a tree I passed by. I had heard they were in this park but I had never come across them in my frequent visits there.

Swallow and Fledgling

Northern Rough-Winged Swallow, fledgling with adult

I hope my luck continues and I keep cranking out these lifers so that I can have a Big Year!