Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Birding the 202

It's Monday morning rush hour and your inching along the Red Mountain Freeway at 5 mph.  What's a birder to do?  Start birding!  With caution of course. 

Right away you will see swarms of swallows - Cliff Swallows and maybe Northern Rough-winged  coming out from their mud-nests under the freeway, flitting about catching their buggy breakfast, yum!

In the skies to the north Cormorants can often be seen in flight to their morning dining spot of choice along the Salt River.

Great Egret in reeds along the Salt River. Photo by Peggy Thomas
If you take a quick peek at the river under the 101 - 202 interchange. you'll likely see a Great Egret or two along the reeds in the "accidental wetlands" that have formed here.

As you approach the McClintock bridge, keep a lookout for the American Brown Pelicans flying low right over the freeway, its quite a sight to see!

American Brown Pelicans in flight near the 202 freeway.  Photo by Jeff Stemshorn

As your poking along in the stop-and-go traffic, don't forget to take a look up at the top of the freeway median lights, there's a good chance you'll spot an Osprey dining on his morning catch!

Osprey perched on 202 freeway median lights. Photo by Peggy Thomas.

If traffic is still jammed up after you pass the Scottsdale Road exit, look to your right.  The tree-tops that you see here arise out of the Lo Piano Bosque Habitat.  Depending upon the time of year, who knows what migrants you might see hopping from snag to snag.

Now for your eastbound journey home on the 202 during evening rush hour: Near the Priest exit keep your eye out for the Northern Harrier hunting in the riparian area below the Tempe Town Lake west dam.

Northern Harrier on the lookout for dinner at the wetlands below the Tempe Town Lake west dam.
Photo by Peggy Thomas.
After passing the lighted Mill Avenue bridge spanning the lake, look for the lone dead tree at Papago Stables, it is a favorite perch of the Bald Eagle.  This time of year the adult eagles are a bit weary from feeding their eaglets and are looking for a quick meal, so they wait for the Osprey to catch a fish from Tempe Town Lake, then steal it!

Bald Eagle at Tempe Town Lake.  Photo by Jeff Stemshorn

Once you pass McClintock you might feel as though you are being watched, and you are.  Scores of Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and Neotropic Cormorants are often seen catching the last few rays of sun in the tops of cottonwoods and willows of the Tempe Marketplace Marsh.

'Somebody's watchin' you...' Great Egrets at sunset watching traffic whiz by on the 202
from the tree-tops at Tempe Marketplace Marsh. Photo by Peggy Thomas

As you drive home wondering what you'll have for dinner, and you pass over the "accidental wetlands" at the 101 - 202 interchange, take comfort in knowing that below you the Black-crowned Night Herons are coming out looking for their dinner.

Black-crowned Night Herons at dusk in the "accidental wetlands" under the 101 - 202 interchange.
Photo by Peggy Thomas

NOTE : None of these photos were taken while driving.  I am NOT an advocate of birding while you drive.  I'm suggesting what you might see while stuck in traffic during rush hour on the 202 Red Mountain Freeway.  Always keep your eyes on the road when your vehicle is in motion.


  1. Ha! Great post Peggy! I bet many birders can guiltily related to this sort of birding, both doing it safely and...not as safely.


  2. Great post....thanks for sharing! :-)

  3. I love it! So much fun watching them all along the 202. Thanks for the details on what to watch for where.


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