Friday, November 22, 2013

Gifts From Nature

Hooray for our much needed rain, even if it does put a buzz-kill on any planned birding adventures this weekend.  Unless of course you have a floating waterproof bird blind as shown below.

The birder hiding inside looks kinda like another giant gangly goose
many of us know - Jeff S. - is that you in there???

So what is a birder to do in such soggy weather?  Head on over to Arizona Audubon's "Gifts From Nature" where you can shop for the holidays while supporting the environment!

Gifts from Nature is a sale of unique nature-inspired arts and crafts by Arizona artists, including jewelry, wearable art, ceramics, home decor, garden enhancements, and unexpected discoveries!  See uber-cool clay creations by Allison Shock of Three Star Owl, and Farraday Newsome of Birds on a Wire.

Also, my favorite gourd artist, Nora Graf of Mesquite Gourds, will be selling her awesome nature and bird themed gourds, and gourd Christmas ornaments.

If the rain stops, you can always head out on one of the trails leading away from the Audubon Center and explore the restored riparian habitat along the Salt River.  There are over 5 miles of paved and dirt trails, almost all are wheelchair friendly.  Over 200 bird species have been spotted in the varied habitats along the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area.  Habitats include Sonoran desert scrub, wetland ponds, mesquite bosque, and cottonwood/willow forest.  Also, bird walks are held here each Saturday starting at 8am, led by experienced birder and naturalist, Joe Willy.

Saturday-Sunday, November 23 & 24, 10 am to 4 pm. - Free admission.  Open to the public.  Featuring 40 local artists, children's activities, live music, and scrumptious food from local vendors. For more information call (602) 468-6470 or go to


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Mesa Electric Park Recognized as an Audubon at Home Bird Habitat!

Dreamland Villa Desert Nature Walk (a.k.a. Mesa Electric Park) was officially recognized as an Audubon at Home Bird Habitat on Saturday as part of Tour de Bird!  Dreamland Villa residents received a sign from Desert Rivers Audubon to post on the trail, acknowledging their efforts in providing a healthy native habitat for the birds and other wildlife in their Mesa neighborhood.  

The trail is an amazing little hidden gem in Mesa, running along the tall electrical towers between Higley and 64th st., north of University Drive.  The well maintained smooth trail winds through a 2 mile stretch of desert lush with old-growth saguaros, ocotillo, prickly pear, palo verde, creosote and mesquite.  

When these 1950's and 60's patio homes were built, it was decided by the home owners to fill the easement area with native drought-resistant plants that would survive without irrigation.  As a collaborative effort by Dreamland Villa and Velda Rose retirement communities, a nature trail was developed, with quaint little sitting areas, rustic bird feeding stations, and interpretive signs.  Aloe plants, wildflowers and huge agaves can be found all along the trail.  Its a great spot to see nesting Inca Doves, flocks of Rosey-faced Lovebirds, Verdin, Cactus Wren, Gambel's Quail, Gilded Flickers, Eurasian Collared Doves, and Hummingbirds galore!  There are also quite a few furry critters that call this habitat their home - Rock Squirrels, Round-tailed Ground Squirrels, Harris Antelope Squirrels, Cottontails, Jackrabbits, Coyotes, and even Gray Foxes. 

If you go:  The Dreamland Villa Nature Trail runs between Recker and Higley roads, north of University, in Mesa. Just look for the huge electrical towers. One of the safer streets to park on is 56th st..  Parking is also available in a small lot by the community pool, on E.Colby st. east of 56th st..  The homes directly next to the park have their back yards open to the desert park, so if you decide to bird here, please be respectful of the homeowners and enjoy the park quietly, staying on the trail.  For a MAP see Dreamland Villa's website.

To learn more about Desert Rivers Audubon Bird Habitat Program or
to apply for Bird Habitat Recognition, click here.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Chihuly Glass Exhibit is Back at the Desert Botanical Garden

Love it or hate it, the glass art of Dale Chihuly is back on display throughout the Desert Botanical Garden.  I happen to love the work of Chihuly, but for some birders and nature lovers it's an annoyance and inconvenience. 

If you are a Monday Morning Bird-walker, most likely you will not need to make a reservation to get into the Garden because its highly unlikely that the parking lot will fill up at 8:00 a.m. on a Monday.  At all other times and days of the week, especially weekends and holidays, you had better make your reservations.

The Chihuly exhibit opens officially this Sunday Nov. 10th.  Reservations are for 4 hour increments - 8:00 am to noon, noon to 4:00 pm, and 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm.  So you will need to plan ahead.

Verdin were everywhere this morning and could be heard throughout the Garden.
Members receive complimentary admissions to Chihuly in the Garden based upon member level.  If you need tickets for additional guests and you have already made reservations,

you may purchase extra tickets for that date and time at a discounted price:

adult tickets: $17.60
child tickets: $8.00 
(ages 3-12; under 3 admitted free)
senior tickets: $16.00
student tickets: $9.60

If you would like a sneak peak at the Chihuly exhibit, early this week is the time to go, no reservations needed and no crowds.  Most of the exhibits are completed or nearing completion, and as of today, the Plants and People Trail is open, as is the Wildflower Trail, and the Herb Garden.

But be forewarned - due to a special event, the Garden will be closing at 12 noon on Friday, November 8th, with last admissions at 11 a.m..  and on Saturday, November 9th, the Garden is open to Garden Fund and Patrons Circle Members Only with reservations.

So, whether this Towhee is jumping for joy that Chihuly is here, or making a quick exit, we'll never know.  But there are still plenty of birds that are sticking around, despite all the hub-bub.

To make reservations online CLICK HERE.

Photos by Peggy Thomas


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Accessible Birding at Tonto Creek

Great Blue Heron perched in a Ponderosa Pine

Not expecting to see any birds with huge wingspans flying through the dense pines, for a split-second I thought "Pterodactyl!"when the set of large wings swooshed by my head at Tonto Creek.  As reality set in I realized it was a Great Blue Heron that I had flushed from his creek-side fishing ledge.

Wheelchair accessible trail at Tonto Creek.
Tonto Creek Walk-in Campground is just off Route 260 as you leave Payson heading east toward Show Low.  It's very wheelchair friendly, with a sidewalk switch-backing its way down and ending near Tonto Creek.

Unfortunately the trail and campground are very close to the highway, so much so that the constant hum of traffic makes it hard to hear the birds or the creek.
Lower Tonto Creek Walk-in Campground with Route 260
in the background.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird at Tonto Creek,
Aug. 15, 2013.
But it still makes a nice stopping point if you are heading to the White Mountains / Woods Canyon Lake / Mogollon Rim. 

The picnic area at the bottom of the trail is a nice spot to just kick back and wait to see who shows up.  It was here that I saw the Great Blue Heron come in for a landing on the Ponderosa Pine.  American Robins will pop out of bushes and forage around the picnic tables.  Broad-tailed and Roufus Hummingbirds zip from wildflower to wildflower.  If you're really still (or possibly asleep ;-)) a few Dark-eyed Juncos will come in close.  Who named that poor bird?  I always feel like I'm making a derogatory remark when I say the name "dark-eyed junco".  It congers up visions of a strung-out derelict with dark circles under his eyes. 

The birds you may see along the Tonto Creek area include common black-hawk, osprey, great blue heron, broad-tailed hummingbird, black phoebe, American dipper, belted kingfisher, warbling vireo, American robin, Mexican jay, steller's jay, bridled titmouse, mountain chickadee, Virginia’s and MacGillivray’s warblers, black-headed grosbeak, acorn woodpecker, pygmy nuthatches, and spotted towhees.
Dark-eyed Junco, Tonto Creek.

American Robin, one of many that were
hopping around the trail and picnic area at
Tonto Creek Walk-in Campground.
On a recent trip the campgrounds along Tonto Creek were closed for the winter (open April thru October) so I wasn't able to meander down the paved trail to the creek, but the fall colors along the roadside were wonderful. 

Further up-road from the campground is the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery, which offers even greater birding habitat.  The hatchery is also wheelchair friendly with paved paths used on self-guided tours of the facility.

So if you want to check the area out this fall and winter, the day-use parking and picnic areas remain open year long, as does the fish hatchery.  I hear that its a great place to stop in the winter to romp in the snow!

In typical squirrel fashion, this guy was scavenging between the picnic area and the restrooms.  I'm not sure of the I.D. of this squirrel, seems like an Abert's Squirrel, but there are no ear tufts.  So maybe an Arizona Grey Squirrel?

If you go:  Head east out of Payson on Route 260 to Kohl's Ranch. Then turn north onto Tonto Creek Road  (Forest Rd. 289). The first parking area on the left is the Tonto Creek Walk-in Campground.  For current conditions and info call the Payson Ranger Station: (928) 474-7900.

For information regarding the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery, contact Arizona Game and Fish, Tonto Creek, (928) 478-4200, or visit their website - Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery

Photos by Peggy Thomas

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