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

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Wordless Wednesday

Photos by our newly relocated photographer
AND bird nerd, Jeff Stemshorn.

Taken at Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum
during Raptor Free Flight Demonstration

The most extraordinary birds of prey exhibition in the United States!

October 19, 2013 through April 20, 2014 —
Shows daily at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. 

Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum, Tucson, AZ

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Oak Flat Campground in Peril

  Photo by Anna Jeffrey

Help save Oak Flat Campground (near Boyce Thompson Arboretum)!  Oak Flat is a key birding area, four of the many bird species sighted there are on the National Audubon Society’s watch list of declining species: Black-chinned sparrow, Costa’s hummingbird, Lewis’s woodpecker, and Gray vireo.

A foreign-owned mining company is proposing a land swap in the United States Congress to acquire Oak Flat.  Fellow birder Kathe Anderson has put together an excellent letter asking that an Environmental Impact Statement be prepared and subject to public review, as required of all other major federal decisions. Please copy, sign, and send the letter below on to your congressmen, and John Boehner, and Nancy Pelosi.  For their contact information, click here.

A Not-So-Simple Exchange: Why Arizona's Oak Flat Deserves
Continued Protection From Copper Mining | by Elias Butler

Kathe Anderson's letter, which she is sharing:

Dear Speaker Boehner and Leader Pelosi,

                We all know how important copper is for modern technology.  Perhaps we could support the Oak Flat land swap that’s the subject of H.R. 687, the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange Act. But we can’t, at least not now, because without a thorough Environmental Impact Statement review before the mining starts, we don’t know the repercussions.  In fact, we feel that we don’t know much about this entire project.

·         Why is Resolution Copper, a foreign-owned corporation, allowed to by-pass our environmental laws until after the exchange is done and exploratory mining has begun?
                We don’t know.
·         Why are the water tables of nearby Superior and Queen Valley already falling dramatically?
                We don’t know.
·         Why would the House defeat a request to protect the quality and quantity of water relied upon by local citizens?
                We don’t know.
·         What will the impact of the mining activity be on the lands and cultural resources of the San Carlos Apache and Navajo nations?
                We don’t know.
·         Why would the House defeat a request that sacred sites be excluded from the exchange?
                We don’t know.
·         Where will the promised jobs actually be located?
                We don’t know.
·         Why would the House defeat a request that the promised jobs will benefit the local community?
                We don’t know.
·         Where will the accumulated wealth from the mine be spent—here in the United States or in foreign lands where Resolution Copper is headquartered?
                We don’t know.
·         Why is this copper mine project so important when the income to Arizona from this mine will be so much less than the income from tourism (including tourists to the very spots the mine will destroy)?
                We don’t know.
·         What are Resolution Copper’s mitigation plans for any damages to the environment used by wildlife, recreationists and Native Americans?
                We don’t know.
·         Why are we being kept in the dark?
                We don’t know.

                Please require that an Environmental Impact Statement be prepared and subject to public review, as required of all other major federal decisions.  Thank you.

Concerned voters:

A Vermilion Flycatcher at Oak Flat Campground.  Photo by Anna Jeffrey

Special thanks go to Kathe Anderson for taking action, keeping us birders
informed, and sharing her direct-to-the-point letter!

To learn more go to Arizona Mining Reform

Be sure to like the FB page Saving OAK FLAT Campground 

Latest News -  Earth Island Journal

Monday, October 14, 2013

Gilbert Water Ranch Bird Walk

A somewhat blurry quick shot of a Lazuli Bunting at Gilbert Water Ranch,
Oct. 12th, 2013.  Seen on Kathe Anderson's Bird Walk.

It was actually jacket-wearing weather on Saturday morning at Gilbert Water Ranch!  Some fellow-birders even donned gloves as we headed out on a Kathe Anderson bird walk (Kathe wore shorts!).  Kathe's bird walks are fun, fast-paced, and fact-filled.  I always learn something new, or see something I never would have on my own.  Sure enough, something out of the ordinary popped up high in the trees, a flash of blue.  Easily the most unusual sighting of the morning - it was a male Lazuli Bunting, shown above.

Our winter ducks are starting to arrive - Northern Pintails, Green-winged Teals, Northern Shovelers, and American Wigeons.

A Northern Pintail Duck in non-breeding plumage, at Gilbert Water Ranch,
Oct. 12th, 2013.

A pair of Northern Pintail Ducksw in non-breeding plumage,
Gilbert Water Ranch, Oct. 12th, 2013
Yellow-rumped Warbler, Gilbert Water Ranch,
Oct. 12th, 2013.
Our wintering Yellow-rumped Warblers are starting to appear, this one showing off his butter-butt!  The "warbler-butt" view is usually all I can capture of these twitchy jumpy birds.  The warbler below looks to be a juvenile, just barely showing hints of yellow.  A bit more subdued than his cohorts, he sat quietly for me, probably still missing his momma.

Juvenile Yellow-rumped Warbler

A very sleepy, nearly comatose, young Black-crowned Night Heron didn't budge as our group paraded by.  An hour and a half later I found him in the exact same spot!  He must have had a rough Friday night, out partying with the other teenage Night Herons.  (A possible kegger at Honey Bee Point!)

A sleepy juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron, Gilbert Water Ranch,
Oct. 12th, 2013
The greatest indicator of Fall was our FOS White-crowned Sparrows!

White-crowned Sparrow, Gilbert Water Ranch,
Oct. 12th, 2013
On a sad note, the storage shed at GWR had been vandalized overnight and all of the binoculars stolen. These binoculars are essential to the nature walks and bird walks held at the Gilbert Riparian Preserve. So, please, if you have any binocs you'd like to donate, contact Scott Anderson at .

Photos by Peggy Thomas (with the aid of
the very cooperative birds of Gilbert Water Ranch.)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Rainy Day Hummer

It's our first fall rain of the season and I'm loving it, but I'm not so sure that my resident Anna's Hummingbird shares my sentiment.

The patio thermometer read 58 degrees this morning!

He seems to have the rainy day blues.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Wordless Wednesday

Bzzzz... There is a major crisis in the Bee World - Colony Collapse Disorder, we are losing our pollinators!  Please help out our local bee population:  

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Ralph Nader Calls Upon Birders to Help Restore Democracy in America


At a time when democracy in our country hangs by a thread, Ralph Nader urges birders to turn their passion for birding toward becoming activists for change.  Ralph's model for a successful return to true democracy is outlined in his book "The Seventeen Solutions".  According to Nader, in order to succeed, we only need 1 to 2 % of the U.S. population to become activists with a direct focus on the activities of Congress.

In an  interview on Breaking the Set, he reasons that we have 15 million serious birdwatchers in America, and if just one in four of us became activists for change, with the same intensity we direct towards birding, we could turn the country around.  Hmmm... he might be on to something.

But then again, imagine Occupy Wall Street packed full of birdwatchers!  I'm not sure if we would have kept our attention focused on the issues for long, especially if we had our binoculars with us.  How far is Central Park from Wall Street anyway?

See Ralph Nader's interview on Breaking the Set with Abby Martin below.  To skip ahead to his "birdwatchers as activists" commentary, go to 10:00 on the timeline.

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

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