Verde River

We went to two recreation areas along the Verde River in Tonto National Forest last week: Box Bar and Needle Rock. These areas are less than an hour from our house and we had never been there. In fact, I’d never even heard of them until recently and no one else I’ve mentioned them to has either. It was like stepping into Autumn all over again. It was gorgeous there.

Excuse the way-too-many photos. I’ll try not to blabber too much.

Great Blue Heron

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

As we walked down a path to the river’s edge at Needle Rock, I saw something move behind a tree. I thought a person was fishing or something but, no, this is who was there:

We were about 3 feet from him/her! I thought she had stuff from the river on her head from having her head in the water…

But it was a ton of cockleburs! Altogether we saw 9 wild horses there (and they all had cockleburs in their manes and tails).

The horses are used to people but still wary…fortunately.

These horses are part of the herd of Salt River Wild Horses mentioned in a previous post. They have a pretty large territory they cover. The ones we saw on the Salt didn’t appear to have these cockleburs, though. I hope there is some way they work off eventually.

The birding wasn’t good but the scenery and the horses more than made up for that!

Full disclosure: I have 2 cameras that we take on our trips so Tony takes many of the landscape photos. 🙂

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Lower Salt River

This is Four Peaks as seen from the Phon D. Sutton Recreation Area on the Lower Salt River. This area is less than an hour’s drive from our house so we headed there one day last week. We drove through and hiked around several of the recreation areas along the river, ending at Saguaro Lake.

This is the confluence of the Verde and Salt Rivers, behind those rocks:

Our next stop was Coon Bluff Recreation Area, below, my favorite. This is where we hiked the most, looking for the herd of Salt River Wild Horses, often seen there.

We were fortunate to find a few of them, 4, to be exact.

“The Salt River wild horses are the beloved and majestic mustangs who have been roaming free along the lower Salt River in Arizona, for centuries. Arizona State Archives hold historic evidence of their existence in the Salt River Valley, back in the 1800s. Today, they are the pride of this community, a favorite subject of photographers, and the icon of the wild free spirit of the American West.” (SRWHMG website)

There are over 100 horses in this herd and the herd is growing at 12% per year, according to the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group, over 100 dedicated volunteers who constantly monitor the horses, making sure they are safe and ensuring that the public is safe from them. The horses often cross the Bush Highway so the group works to make these crossings safe for everyone concerned. They sometimes find injured horses or young horses separated from their bands and take them to their sanctuary for treatment, re-releasing them later, if at all possible, or allowing them to live out their lives at the sanctuary, if not.

Wild horses are controversial in the U.S. and these horses were slated for roundup by the U.S. Forest Service in 2015. There was a huge public outcry against this and, “in 2016, through the SRWHMG’s continued work with AZ State Legislators, the Salt River Horse Act (HB2340), was passed and was signed by Governor Doug Ducey, who had been supportive since the very beginning. This bill establishes that the Salt River wild horses are not stray livestock, makes harassing them illegal and requires a codifying of their humane management between the Forest Service, the State Agriculture Department and a private party. The bill paves the way for their humane management protocol that is geared towards achieving a reduced and stabilized population, so that each horse born in the wild can stay in the wild.” (SRWHMG website)

I’ve seen some beautiful photos of bands charging through the river, splashing water everywhere, but these four were intent on eating for the whole hour or so we watched them. No one ever raised their head. They have adapted to eating river grass which must taste really delicious. We were happy to see them at all, though. Not everyone does.

Here’s a short video of them on a recent day at the river:

That bluff in the center is Coon Bluff.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Phainopepla

This photo, above, was taken at the last recreation area, Water Users. Next stop is Saguaro Lake, after one last peek at Four Peaks.

 

I Got Lucky!

This is a male Pyrrhuloxia, sometimes called the “Desert Cardinal.” It is a cousin to the Northern Cardinal. He has been a nemesis bird for me. Their range is more in southern Arizona, southern New Mexico, southern Texas, and Mexico so they are not very common in the Phoenix area. However, this particular bird is now spending his 3rd (at least) winter at the Desert Botanical Garden and I’ve been chasing him that whole time but he was very elusive. I kept seeing photos of him in my Facebook birding group from many other people. He hangs out in a specific area quite a bit and, a few days ago, I sat there for 2 hours waiting for a glimpse. No show. I was getting discouraged but decided to go over one afternoon this past week and get disappointed again. I sat down and, within about a minute, he appeared! And he seemed to do a lot of posing just for me, probably recognizing me from all the times I’ve been looking for him:

Isn’t he beautiful/adorable/unusual? During breeding season, his bill is also bright yellow so he’s even more colorful then but he doesn’t breed up here so I’ll have to try to catch one in southern Arizona sometime.

Gilded Flicker, male

Northern Mockingbird

Queen

A couple days before finally seeing the Pyrrhuloxia, I went to Gilbert Riparian Preserve (Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch) in search of some rarities being seen there. I never have good luck there unless I’m with an experienced birder. Fortunately, one showed up and, when the bird finally appeared, helped me find it. It was a Prairie Warbler, very unusual for this part of the country, but my picture is not good at all. There are now several more rare (for Arizona) birds there so I should try to make it out there one day this coming week and hope someone can help me find them, too.

Desert Cottontail

And I saw a ton of these fast, little guys:

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Say’s Phoebe

Western Meadowlark

And these little warblers were energetically flitting about right in the same area as the Prairie Warbler giving me false hope several times as they have the same coloring.

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Audubon’s

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Fall in Page Springs

Oak Creek

We were in Page Springs the other day, which is technically in Cornville, close to Cottonwood. It’s known for having Page Springs Hatchery where they raise rainbow trout for sport fishing and for Bubbling Ponds Native Fish Research Facility. Both are owned by Arizona Game and Fish Department and are surrounded by a preserve where AZGFD and the Northern Arizona Audubon Society are engaged in conservation projects for the plants and animals. It is located on Oak Creek and has several miles of well-maintained trails which we were on.

For those of you who have real autumns, these shots won’t be that exciting to you but, in Phoenix, where fall doesn’t produce many changing leaves, we all get excited at fall colors. This area was not at peak yet, unfortunately, but it was still pretty. So here are too many fall shots of the area.

Rainbow Trout

Maybe that was too many…sorry. The Important Bird Area was not full of plentiful birds, of course. No lifers here.

White-crowned Sparrows, male and female

Red-winged Blackbirds

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Northern Cardinal, female

Nor did we see the River Otters which are sometimes spotted there.

This area is also known for its many vineyards and wineries.

We didn’t feel right not getting some souvenirs to make up for the lack of birds. It’s always nice to support the local economy…

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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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