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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