Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Pima Canyon Wash, South Mountain Park, Phoenix, AZ.
South Mountain Park is located within the city limits of Phoenix and is often touted as the world's largest municipal park in the world. Not sure how true that might be, but it is a very large park encompassing approximately 16,500 acres. This is a 'desert' mountain park and is covered with trails, some as long as 17 miles for the entire loop. It is very popular with hikers and it provides some awesome views of the city of Phoenix and surrounding areas. Since it is so big, there is a lot of wildlife within the area and you never know what you might see. I have one spot that I frequently go to as it is easy access for me and it provides a lot of diversity in plant and animal life, and that place is Pima Canyon Wash. I find the bird life can sometimes be wonderful especially during migration season. In the summer this place is very hot and one should never tackle some of the hiking trails without carrying an ample supply of water. Due to the heat I do avoid hiking there in the summer, but since we have had some decent monsoon rains recently and the mountain area has taken on a green hue instead of brown, I was curious as to what the bird life might be, so I ventured out last Sunday to check it out. That turned out to be a great idea as I had a great time and observed some wonderful birds in the process.
The first birds that I encountered before the sun had even cleared the hills in the east, were Loggerhead Shrikes. They were very vocal and I saw 2 and heard maybe 2 or 3 more in Pima Canyon Wash. I know they have been breeding in this location in the past, so I think it is a good bet they were successful in breeding once again this year. This photo was taken before sunrise, so it really does not show off how strikingly handsome these birds really are. About the same time a Ladderback Woodpecker flew into the small tree near to me and offered me a great view of him.
As I worked my way up the trail Gambel's Quail were calling from every direction and a couple of them apparently was not aware of me standing there so I was able to capture a photo of one that was not running. These birds are usually very alert to their surroundings and do not allow easy photos by standing out in the open. They are very cautious at all times.
One of the most common birds to be found is the Black-throated Sparrow, but I think most people are not even aware of their presence as they tend to forage on the ground and under trees. No question how or why they got their name! Just a very dapper looking bird even though they are black and white with shades of gray and brown. I had 2 different individuals pose for me at 2 different spots.
Another fairly common bird in this area is the Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, but once again most people probably are not even aware they are there. They are even smaller than the Black-throated Sparrows and flit about in the mesquites snatching tiny insects in and around all the leaves. This is one of my favorite birds in this park as they are just so energetic and quite a lot of fun to watch.
Further on up in the wash is where I ran into some unexpected but wonderful migrants; Warbling Vireo, Orange-crowned Warbler and a Nashville Warbler. The Nashville Warbler did not want to pose for me, so I did not get any shots of it worth posting. But the other 2 really made up for it.
Once I reached my limit in the wash, I turned around and headed back and just before I arrived at the main trail that everyone else was hiking and biking, I got the biggest surprise of the hike and one that got my adrenalin pumping a bit faster. Scary to some and one thing to treat with caution, but when I make a find like this, it is really a wonderful thing to see the wonder of nature. This Rattlesnake was coiled up nice and calm on the path, so I stopped, took a couple of photos and found a way to navigate around it. Not exactly sure which species of rattlesnake this might be, but have been told by a very knowledgeable person that it is a Speckled Rattlesnake, which I tend to agree with. One other person suggested it might be a Tiger Rattlesnake. Really does not matter, I just like finding it!
Finally I got back to the trail head area and headed to the rock cliffs before I headed home. I just had to see the wonderful pair of Great-horned Owls that have resided now for 2 years in this canyon/wash. I know that last year they bred here as I saw them with a fledgling, so it is nice to know that they have found a safe haven to call home and raise their young.
With the fall season approaching and the temps starting to fall, this is a great place for back to nature and getting some great exercise in the process. I know I will visit it more on weekends again.