Thursday, November 11, 2010

Our White-crowned Sparrows Are Back!

Ahhh, we can all breathe a sigh of relief, the cooler weather is here, and so are the White-crowned Sparrows!  These cute little puff-balls of winter are great fun to watch at the feeders.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Remembering Linda

Just over one year ago my good friend, Linda Hartelt, passed away after a long struggle with pulmonary complications stemming from her spinal cord injury.  So the past year has been a time of mourning her passing, grieving the loss a dear friend, and regretting not doing more to ease her struggle and to help her enjoy the last year of her life.

On an unseasonably cool day in mid June I found myself overwhelmed with sadness.  It was an incredibly gorgeous day outside, and Linda was not here to take it all in.  I couldn't bring myself to go outside and enjoy the day, it all seemed so unfair.  In the midst of my moping I suddenly heard a racket of tapping and fluttering at the back door.  Amazingly, there was a Peach-faced Lovebird perched on the back french door, pecking on the window as though he was knocking to come inside!  I looked around at the back patio and there were Peach-faced Lovebirds everywhere.

Lined up along the pool fence...

Swinging around on the hanging baskets...

One Lovebird even played me a tune on the wind chimes...

and a few seemed enamoured with my little stuffed toy Loon on the window sill...

The flock of nearly 20 lovebirds spent most of the day in my yard, raiding all the feeders, hanging out with the Quail...

bathing in the pool, and checking out the birdhouses...

It was truly an awesome sight to see,  I have never witnessed that many Lovebirds in my yard before or since.  Thank you Linda, you were here after all...

Monday, November 1, 2010

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Cactus Wren gathering nesting material at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.
Its field trip #2 with the More Birding With Cynthia Donald, the weather is gorgeous, and we're excited at the prospect of seeing 3 rare birds recently spotted at Boyce Thompson Arboretum - a Worm-eating Warbler, a Black-throated Blue Warbler, and a Gray Catbird.  But for a while it seemed all we were seing were common birds, atop electrical wires, of all things, at an arboretum full of wonderful trees.

Starling upon a most un-natural  perch.
  Things picked up though, and we all got a good look at a Red-naped Sapsucker who remained eerily motionless for quite some time.  I guess it doesn't require much motion to suck sap.  We also saw a Cactus Wren gathering nesting material and taking it to her well hidden nest draped over with palm fronds.  Ayers Lake was a bit sad though, with only one lonely Coot floating around on it.  Could have been that the Coopers Hawk lurking about was keeping everyone hiding in the reeds.

Red-naped Sapsucker who refused to turn around and smile.
Other birds of interest seen included a Black Phoebe, Hutton’s Vireo, Plumbeous Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Western Scrub Jay, Bewick’s Wren, Rock Wren, Canyon Wren, Marsh Wren. Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, Gray Catbird, Crissal Thrasher, Phainopepla, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Yellowthroat (heard but not seen), Green-tailed Towhee, Spotted Towhee (I saw close-up, after the group left), White-crowned Sparrow (yeah!  our little winter puff-balls are back!), Northern Cardinal, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Black-throated Sparrow, Pyrrhuloxia, Cooper’s Hawk (later reported to have caught a Northern Flicker and torn it apart out in the garden in front of God and everyone, glad I missed seeing THAT), and Red-tailed Hawk.

Click on image below to see slide-show.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

White-faced Ibis at Gilbert Riparian

A single Grackle among the White-faced Ibis at Gilbert Riparian Preserve
I don't know about you but I don't see any white faces among these White-faced Ibis.  So when a fellow birder said she saw some White-faced Ibis today, I thought maybe she'd been out in the sun too long!  Turns out that I don't know an Ibis when I see one.  There were plenty of them out today at Gilbert Riparian Preserve, on Field Trip #1 of "More Birding with Cynthia Donald".  Its too late to sign up now for this great class, but watch for the Spring 2011 class listed at .

Ducks now appearing at the Gilbert Riparian Preserve include - Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Cinnamon Teal, and the not-a-duck Pied-billed Grebe.  Other birds of interest seen today were an American Kestrel, Osprey, Western Kingbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, House Wren, Lincoln's Sparrow, Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Says Phoebe, and Black Phoebe.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Owls, Bats, and Ring-tailed Cats, Oh My!

Starts this Friday night!  Enchanted Trail Evenings at the Rio Salado Audubon Center this October. Premiere family event on the Rio Salado which will dazzle children of all ages!!! Invite your family and friends too!! Theme will focus on the nocturnal animal life on the banks of the Rio Salado. Activities will include live animals along the wheelchair accessible trail, games and puzzles and mask making and other fun activities. This Event will take place on 4 nights, 5:30pm ‘til 8pm:
  • Friday, October 22nd
  • Saturday, October 23rd
  • Friday, October 29th
  • Saturday, October 30th

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Hit the Trails in Support of Phoenix Desert Mountain Parks and Preserves

Photo by Loren Worthington
 These trails don't just maintain themselves!  So come out in support of the Phoenix Parks Trails Fund - established to to maintain and preserve over 200 miles of trails throughout the City of Phoenix desert mountain parks and preserves.  Sign up for the Phoenix Summit Challenge - a non-competitive hiking event that embraces various ages, abilities, and fitness levels to challenge an individual's mind and body while enhancing the quality of life and promoting healthy outdoor recreation. Participants are challenged on barrier-free and summit trails in the mountain preserves and parks of Phoenix. Register HERE for All-Access-Paved Challenge. Hike four wheelchair/stroller friendly trails of the Phoenix Parks! One Day - 4.5 miles -  10 hours
  • Papago Park
  • South Mountain
  • Rio Salado
  • North Mountain

Saturday, Nov. 6th, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Check-in begins at 7 a.m. At the conclusion of the event, join everyone from 5-8 pm on Sunday for a celebratory dinner at the Phoenix Zoo and free admission to Zoo Lights. Additional dinner tickets can be purchased for guests at the door for $10. All participants will receive a commemorative tee-shirt and dinner pass.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Birds Watching the 202

Great Egrets in the Tempe Marsh watching traffic on the 202
I wonder if any of those evening rush hour drivers whizzing by on the 202 have any idea of the hidden beauty just to their right, or even realize they are being watched.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

McDowell Mountain Park Bird Walk

Phainopepla and Northern Mockingbird sharing the mistletoe berries.
I finally made it out to McDowell Mountain Park for one of their Bird Walks led by Ranger Amy Ford (a long time birder with a great ear for identifying bird calls).   To my surprise, no one else showed up for the walk, so it was just the two of us on the ADA accessible Nursery Tank Trail.  It was a great opportunity for me to really listen to the bird calls, with Amy there telling me who was talking to who. 

Park Ranger Amy Ford
I was amazed that someone could differentiate between so many similar calls!  (Don't tell anyone, but I think she might be part-bird, I think I saw what looked like a flight feather poking out of one sleeve.)  The highlight of the walk was when a Cooper's Hawk swooped down in front of us when we reached the tank, which was quite full from all the recent storms.  Birds seen included: Phainopepla, Northern mockingbird, Black-throated sparrow, Canyon towhee, Cooper’s hawk, Gambel’s quail, Common Raven, Mourning Dove, House finch, Turkey vulture, and Curve-billed thrasher.  Birds heard included:  Verdin, White-throated sparrow, Northern Flicker, Gila Woodpecker, Cardinal, Black-tailed gnatcatcher, and Ladder-backed woodpecker.  Critters seen:  Lesser Earless lizard, Spiny lizard, Whiptail lizard, and Harris’ antelope ground squirrel.

Scarlett chowing down on a strawberry.
If you go to McDowell Mountain Park, be sure to check out the Nature Center, and the great new Desert Tortoise Habitat out back and meet the three dames of the desert - Lady, Scarlett, and Lily.  The Phoenix Herpetological Society has over 300 Arizona Desert Tortoises that need homes and are up for adoption.  If you're interested, carefully read their Arizona Desert Tortoise Adoption Packet and see what the requirements are.

Yours truly on the ADA accessible Nursery Tank Trail

The next ADA accessible walk at McDowell Mountain Park is Friday, October 29th, 9 AM to 10 AM, and will meet at Nursery Tank Trailhead.  Ranger Amy will be showing us which desert plants are edible, and I'm sure you'll see a few birds along the way!

Northern Cardinal checking out
the new Desert Tortoise Habitat

Lady, the habitat's Grand Dame, is rumored to be over 50 years
old, but shhhhh!  A Lady never tells her true age!

For more photos and details about Nursery Tank Trail's wheelchair accessibility, see my July 16th. 2010 post .

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Check Out the New Fall Color Page

Its the first day of Autumn though at 97 degrees it hardly feels like it here in the Valley.  For a taste of true fall weather, head north and take in the views of Arizona's beautiful fall foliage.  Check out our new FALL COLOR page!  You'll find:

  • Links to Arizona Fall Foliage Updates
  • Wheelchair Accessible Fall Hikes
  • Fall Color Railroad Tours
  • Fun Fall Events
  • Fall Native Plants Sales (The best way to attract wildlife to your yard is to landscape with native plants!)

Don't forget, its Bye Bye Buzzards Day this Saturday at Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Superior, and Verde River Days this Saturday and Sunday at Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood.  Both parks have great wheelchair accessible trails.

For more details on the accessibility of these 2 beautiful state parks, see :

Dead Horse Ranch

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Monday, September 20, 2010

Desert Tortoise Habitat Grand Opening

Desert Tortoise poster above is available from AZ Game and Fish in limited quantities.

So maybe they don't fly, but you just can't help but love this great denizen of the desert.  On October 1st at McDowell Mountain Regional Park it is the Grand Opening of the Tortoise Habitat along with a Tortoise Adoption Awareness Event. Join other tortoise lovers in celebrating the opening of this beautiful, huge tortoise exhibit and meet Scarlett, Lady, and Lily who will move into their brand new ‘digs’ at McDowell Mountain Park. Due to the many foreclosures and people moving in Phoenix, there are many tortoises in the care of the Phoenix Herpetological Society that need new homes. Find out how you could adopt a tortoise into your family—a lifelong commitment.  10:00 AM to 11:00 AM, Friday, October 1st at the McDowell Mountain Regional Park Visitor Center. No registration required, park entry fee is $6 per car.  For more info Contact: 480-471-0173 x201.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Oak Leaf Owl

Oak leaves form an eerie cock-eyed owl.

Hairy Woodpecker
On a recent trip to Show Low, Arizona, I was hard pressed to get a good long look at any birds. Most were high overhead flitting from tree top to tree top, steering clear of the big gnarly Ravens.that seem to have taken over the area.  I had expected to sit back on my parents porch and blissfully watch Woodpeckers, Blue Jays, Chickadees, Nuthatches and Hummingbirds whizzing by.  Instead, I watched huge black Ravens walking around the neighborhood like free-range chickens!  It took days to accumulate just a few far-off photos of my wish-list of birds. 
Pygmy Nuthatch

Rufous Hummingbird
Steller's Jay

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Free Access Pass

Save money on National Park entry fees by getting a free lifetime access pass for citizens with permanent disabilities.  The pass covers recreation opportunities on public lands managed by four Department of the Interior agencies – the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the Bureau of Reclamation, and by the Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service.

The interagency pass is good at vehicle-based entry sites for all occupants in a single, non-commercial vehicle. At walk-up sites, the pass is good for the pass holder and three adults (total of four adults). There is no charge for children under 16.

Documentation is required to obtain the pass. Acceptable documentation includes: statement by a licensed physician; document issued by a Federal agency such as the Veteran’s Administration, Social Security Disability Income or Supplemental Security Income; or document issued by a State agency such as a vocational rehabilitation agency.
Unfortunately, the Access Pass is not valid at State Parks or local city/county recreation sites.
An Access Pass can be obtained in person from a participating Federal recreation site or office.
For more information about the America the Beautiful Access Pass go to .

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Big Springs Environmental Study Area

Ok, I'm a wimp.  I just couldn't stand the heat, so I got out of the kitchen - so to speak.  I cut loose and headed north with no set plan.  When I reached Payson it still wasn't enough to cool my major meltdown state, so I kept going until I hit Show Low.  Ahhh, cool air whistling through the pines, and dark monsoon clouds looming overhead!

My first birding trip was over to Big Springs Environmental Study Area.  Its not totally wheelchair accessible, with rough lava rock gravel in the parking lot, you'll certainly need help if using a manual wheelchair, and possibly need a shove or two in a powered wheelchair.

But its just a short trail to get to a wheelchair-friendly viewing platform overlooking a beautiful meadow with a small spring-fed stream trickling nearby.  From the viewing platform a small trail leads to a little hidden viewing bench, then on to a bridge with views of the small stream.  Nearby snags are home to Acorn Woodpeckers and Stellar Jays.  The trail beyond the bridge is not accessible, winds along the meadow, and hooks up with Woodland Lake Park (which has a great paved path all the way around the lake, and an accessible fishing pier!)  See Accessing Arizona for a great review of the accessibility of Woodland Lake Park.
Birds commonly seen here, depending on the season, include Red-tailed Hawk, Bald Eagle, Northern Oriole, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Western Tanager, Kestrel, Great Horned Owl, Evening Grosbeak, Mallard, Pintail, Red-winged Blackbird, Green-winged Teal, American Coot, American Goldfinch, American Wigeon, Bufflehead, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Canvasback, Gadwall, Dark-eyed Junco, Acorn Woodpecker, Lewis' Woodpecker, Western Bluebird, Hairy Woodpecker, Stellar's Jay, American Robin, Scrub Jay, Common Raven, Mountain Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Pygmy Nuthatch.

Big Springs is just off of HWY 260 in Pinetop/Lakeside on Woodland Road.  Woodland Lake Park is also in Pinetop/Lakeside off of HWY 260 and Woodland Lake Road.

To see a slideshow of the Big Springs Environmental Study Area, CLICK on the image below.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tempe Town Lake Disappears

Tempe Town Lake, 8 AM, July 21st, 2010

Okay, maybe not completely, but it has been reduced to a big stinky mud puddle.  It blew a bladder last night around 10PM, sending nearly 1 billion gallons down through the Rio Salado.  Later today Tempe city officials deflated the remaining 3 bladders that make up the dam, allowing the rest of the water to drain out.
Sadly, the flood has left hundreds of fish, stranded and dying, in 2 or 3 inch deep pools of water.  The usual set of birds that hang out on the lake were strangely absent, only a few scavenger birds - Grackles and Doves - remained.  So, I ventured to the habitat east of the lake (the Tempe Marsh), and tada! 

Cormorants and Egrets huddled together, seemingly befuddled,
likely wondering where in the hell their lake disappeared to.

Cormorants and Egrets crowd together at the Tempe Marsh
 riparian habitat upstream from the now empty Tempe Town Lake.

Double-click on image below for an enlarged slide-show.

City officials say the lake will be empty likely until Novemvber.  It will then take 2 weeks to re-fill the lake.  To see a video of the empty lake, see this YouTube video

Friday, July 16, 2010

Why We Live in the Desert

The overnight low was 95 degrees, and today's forecast is 115 degrees with high humidity. Now is the time that we all begin to question our sanity.  Why, why, why on earth do we choose to live in this god-forsaken hellacious inferno?  Here is a gentle reminder...

During the winter, when others are dealing with this...

We desert dwellers are out enjoying ourselves, and admiring the snow off on the horizon, not piled up in our driveways.
Its February, and I'm out on the scenic and wheelchair accessible Nursery Tank Trail in McDowell Mountain Regional Park, and yes, that's SNOW on Four Peaks!   Nursery Tank Trail is a great trail with panoramic views of the McDowell Mountains, and the Four Peaks Wilderness Area in the Mazatzal (pronounced Mat-a-zel, not Matzaball!) Mountains.  The trail ends at a wildlife watering hole (tank) so you'll see a nice variety of birds, and at dusk and dawn possibly a few javelina, deer, coyotes, or cottontail rabbits stopping by for a drink.  Many of the mesquite and palo verde trees are loaded with desert mistletoe (Phoradendron californicum) which Phainopepla love to eat.  We saw a number of male and female Phainopepla feeding on and nesting in the big dark clumps of mistletoe high in the palo verdes. 

We also saw Gila Woodpeckers, White-crowned Sparrows, Abert's Towhees, Gambels Quail, a few Raven, and a kettle or two of Turkey Vultures soaring high overhead.  Other birds that frequent this area of high Sonoran Desert are Northern Cardinals, Cactus Wrens, Curve-billed Thrashers, Harris Hawks, American Kestrels, Flickers, Hooded Orioles, Wilsons Warblers, Mockingbirds, Annas and Costas Hummingbirds, and Verdins.
Phainopepla (Phainopepla nitens)

The surface of the trail was smooth, wide, and hardpacked.  Its 1.2 miles roundtrip, dotted with benches, informational signs, and one shade kiosk.  Recent heavy rains had caused a saguaro and a few barrel cactii to become uprooted and topple over.  If you go, check the weather ahead of time, as this is a flash flood area.  Dust dry desert washes (gullies) can fill quickly and run forcefully enough to carry away entire vehicles! 

So, lets try to maintain our sanity for the next 2 months, hope for a good monsoon season, and try not to get cabin fever...

Grandma (a.k.a. Shotgun-Shirley) in a desperate attempt to get to Walmart, holds grandpa at gunpoint so he'll shovel the driveway.

See more photos of Nursery Tank Trail and McDowell Mountain Regional Park by double-clicking on the photo below.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Bird Netting Catches a California King Snake!

The excitement just never ends in the Thomas Animal Sanctuary (my backyard).  Thought I'd seen every part of the desert food chain over the last few years - big fat desert spiny lizards, roadrunners trying to eat the spiny lizards, cottontail rabbits, owls stalking the rabbits, rock squirrels, and the occasional hawk swooping down to eat the squirrels . 

Now I have frogs, and a California King Snake trying to eat them!  Poor guy got tangled up in the bird netting we had just put out to protect our tomato plants.  I called the Arizona Herpetological Association for advice and was told King Snakes are great to have in your garden, are non-venomous,  feed on rodents and snakes, and are immune to rattlesnake venom.  So we cut him loose from all the netting and he's still here, just waiting for a frog to hop by.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Things That Go Bump in the Night

Last Friday evening it was Nocturnal Animal Discovery Night at the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center. The Rio Salado Park Rangers, the Arizona Herpetological Association, and Adobe Mountain Wildlife were all there sharing their expertise and did a great job. There were snakes, bats, a ring tail, a skunk, and we were all agog over the gorgeous Great Horned Owl.  If you still haven't been out to the new Audubon Center, tssk tssk, you really should go.  Inside is a gift shop area, wonderful displays, amazing photography, a lecture hall, and classrooms.  Large glass floor to ceiling windows look out to a demonstration pond/marsh habitat.  I had a hard time focusing on the lectures as the sun was setting, it was too tempting to look out at the marsh to see who might fly by.  Us birders can have short attention spans. 

The handouts provided were excellent, and beautiful posters of Arizona Rattlesnakes, and Bats of Arizona were handed out free of charge.  Afterward, we went outside with black light flashlights looking for scorpions.  As a followup event it would be great to go out on the trails on the north side of the Rio Salado at sunset for possible owl and nighthawk sightings, and with hopes of bumping into one of our nocturnal critters!.

Friday, June 25, 2010

One Bad-Ass Bird!

Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)

Its the male Great-tailed Grackle defending his turf.  Or maybe he's just peeved because he's wearing a pitch black feather coat in 110 degree weather.  With his crazed, maniacal, menacing look, he'd make a great side-kick for some dark goth-girl, or a black-leather-clad biker-chick, or even a wanna-be teen vampire.  Hmmm... I think the heat is getting to me.

Do you have an event, bird walk, meeting, or nature walk that belongs on this calendar? Please send info to

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