Fan-tailed Warbler

Fan-tailed Warbler

Monday, May 27, 2013

Tom's Thumb Trail - 25 May 2013

Saturday morning I made an early start to the day by arriving at 5:30 AM at the trail head of the Tom's Thumb Trail in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve near Scottsdale, AZ.  I wanted to do a bit of a scouting of this place due to the fact that I am going to be part of a birding survey for the upper elevations of this area in the very near future. I knew this was going to be a bit strenuous of a hike.  Elevation at the trail head is about 2760' and the elevation at the base of Tom's Thumb rock formation is 3840'.  So it is a gain of almost 1000' in elevation on this trail and the overall distance one-way is about 2½ miles.  Yes, it was slow going up the trail for me as this is a bit more than what I am used to, but it was really worth it.  Not only did I get some much needed exercise, the views were awesome from above.  

Birds were definitely out in full force with evidence of many species having already raised at least 1 brood of babies.  I found fledglings/juveniles of Say's Phoebes, Canyon Towhees, Black-throated Sparrows, and hummingbirds, most notably Anna's and Costa's Hummingbirds.  Most of the birds were not very cooperative for me an my camera, so bird photos were not meant to be.  But I did capture some photos of some other critters that made up for the bird photos.  Also on the hike to the top, I did spy a Gray Fox on the far side of a ravine, but it eluded me and had disappeared before I could get me camera on it.  Say's Phoebe's were at the beginning of the trail and the fledglings were still being partially fed by parent birds.
 Say's Phoebe at sunrise

Say's Phoebe, fledgling on the left with traces of its yellow gape.

All along the trail at higher elevations, hummingbirds were abundant and most were juveniles and/or females making it harder to identify each one when they flew by.  But many could be identified by voice and/or behavior.  The only male that I actually saw was a male Anna's Hummingbird feeding on little red flowers that were scattered all along the slopes.  Those flowers has to be one of the reason there are so many hummers along this trail.  

 Anna's Hummingbird

A hummingbird favorite

Near the top, I discovered some Black-chinned Sparrows and this is a species that the study would like to verify if they might be breeding in this location.  Even though none of them cooperated with me and my camera, it was a great find for me to find them this close to the Phoenix urban area.

Black-chinned Sparrow

At the base of the Tom's Thumb rock formation, I was able to photograph a California Patch Butterfly, which was a new species for me.  Another insect that caught my eye in the area of the saddle of the trail was a wasp, that appeared different to me as well.  I managed to capture a couple of photos of it and have since learned that it is a Female Sphex lucae which is a solitary wasp that hunts katydids as food for its offspring.  Thanks to Eric Eaton from Facebook with the ID on this wasp.

California Patch Butterfly

Female Sphex lucae Wasp

Lizards of various kinds were also in abundance all along the trail.  Here are 3 that I managed to capture photos:  Greater Earless Lizard, Zebras-tailed Lizard in the process of shedding its skin, and I think an Ornate Tree Lizard, but I am not 100% sure it this one as its tail appears much longer than this species should have.

 Greater Earless Lizard

 Zebra-tailed Lizard, shedding its skin

Ornate Tree Lizard

The red flowers that the hummingbirds were particularly fond of were not the only flowers I found.  A nice low spreading purple flower caught my eye as well as a Jojoba bush with nuts setting on quite nicely.

 Jojoba Nut

And to show off the beauty of this place, one scenic photo looking out over the valley to the north.

This was a bit of a strenuous hike and one that no one should attempt without ample water.  I logged in 5.24 miles with a elevation gain of about 1000', so the muscles were put to the test.  I could feel it the next day, but on the next blog you will see that I went out to another trail and did almost the same the very next day..


  1. Sounds like a nice exercise :-) Yes such a nice array of birds and plants and critters on this blog post today. Definitely worth the exercise!

  2. Thank you for this write up. I live in North Scottsdale and have been looking for somewhere close by that I could visit. It looks like this will suit 2 purposes... exercise and birding! Any other ideas for Scottsdale areas that will provide an hours entertainment for a birder?