Fan-tailed Warbler

Fan-tailed Warbler

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Hackberry Springs Loop Trail

A couple of weeks ago I was looking for a new trail to hike and a FB and birder friend suggested I try the Hackberry Springs Loop Trail.  (Thank you Pam Barnhart.)  So I took off after reading a link about this trail and I discovered that it is not marked with any kind of markers and I got to a point that I was not sure which fork I should take and I used my GPS app to direct me back to the trailhead parking lot.  When I researched it again, I discovered where I went wrong and today I decided to go back and give it another shot.  All I can say is WOW!  I missed a lot on the first trip and today I discovered how great this place really is.  It is beautiful and scenic and has a variety of habitats.  And the best part, almost no other hikers.  I never met one person on the first trip, and today I only met 2 other hikers.  Great solitude and lots of time to check out birds and other critters.
My hike around this loop was 5.8 miles in length with an accumulative elevation gain of 700' which tells you that it is not the easiest trail to hike on, but definitely not one of the most difficult.  There are some areas of scrambling over some boulders, but nothing too difficult.  I tallied 25 species of birds today which is not earthshattering, but found a really good mix and I am excited to check this place out during spring or fall migration as it appears to maybe be a good migrant trap.  If taking the trail counterclockwise, it starts out in typical desert terrain of canyons and dry washes.  It was along this stretch of trail that I got my first photos of the day and it happens to be a very handsome bird, the Spotted Towhee.  This species at one time, along with the Eastern Towhee, was lumped into one species, the Rufous-sided Towhee.  Some years ago, they were split into 2 distinct species with different ranges. Usually a somewhat shy and elusive bird, they do not always pose for photos, but spend a great deal of time like most towhees, scratching in leaf litter under shrubs and bushes.
Spotted Towhee
Eventually the trail ascended to a flat plain and along that uphill walk a Black-throated Sparrow posed for me.  This bird was the second most common bird for me on the hike today and I heard their tinkling call notes at many places along the trail and got to see many of them flying from one grassy-shrubby area to another. 
Black-throated Sparrow
At the top of this climb is a flat grassy plain interspersed with Mesquites, Cholla and Saguaro Cactus.  I was finding a lot of Northern and Gilded Flickers, Gambel's Quail, Curve-billed Thrashers, Cactus Wrens, and the most abundant species today, the White-crowned Sparrow.  Nothing rare, but it is always a delight when one can find Northern and Gilded Flickers in the same habitat. The Cactus Wrens were very vocal throughout the hike, but not too many actually made themselves visible.  Also had a lone Vesper Sparrow kind of hanging out with the White-crowned Sparrows.
Cactus Wren
Vesper Sparrow
This is where the trail can get a bit tricky as the trail to Hackberry Springs is not marked and one has to know where to head west.  This area being flat is very easy walking and eventually one comes to a huge canyon where the trail leads down and around.  The views are outstanding and the trail, which is rocky where you really need to watch your footing, eventually leads down to the bottom of the wash area and into the dry streambed itself.  Here is a photo of the landscape just before descending down into the wash area.  What a view!
View looking NE from the top of the flat plateau area just before decending
Once in the bottom area, a few old Cottonwood Trees were found which only adds to the great habitat for birds and other critters.  This is also where the trail starts heading south along the bed of the wash and the canyons start closing in to a narrow gorge and channel which is strewn with boulders.
 Entering the riparian stream bed area

This is the beginning of entering the narrow gorge
Walking through this gorge was awesome and upon emerging on the other side I discovered small pools of water in the stream bed which really adds to the flora and fauna of this area amid the dry desert landscape.  Of course water means life for more animals and birds and one of the first birds I found in this area was Rufous-crowned Sparrows.  Guess I was a bit surprised at first as this is a species that I have found only in 2 other locations in Maricopa county and both of those locations are higher altitudes.  But this is another reason that this place appears to be something special with a lot of potential.  Within 10 yards of the Rufous-crowned Sparrows a group of 4 Ruby-crowned Kinglets were also foraging in the trees and just another 20 yards down the wash I came upon the first of 2 Canyon Wrens.  This is perfect habitat for these most colorful of the North American wrens.  And with the narrow walls in this area they were fairly easy to see and photograph. 
Rufous-crowned Sparrow
 Canyon Wren Number 1
Canyon Wren Number 2
 Some of the small pools of water
This is a view of the narrow gorge looking back from where I walked
As I was making my way back to the trailhead a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher made an appearance and since it is one of my favorite birds I could not help trying to capture a couple of photos even though I have dozens of photos of this species already.  And in the process of shooting multiple shots, it decided to take flight.  Usually when that happens I end up with a photo with nothing but a branch or twig.  Well this time that split second captured the take-off flight and the underside of the tail really shows why this bird is called 'Black-tailed' Gnatcatcher.
 Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
Of course my avian friends were not the only creatures I saw, so will leave with a few photos of these other wonderful creatures.
 Cloudless Sulphur Butterfly (open for corrections)
 Dragonfly Nymph, this was new to me, had never seen one before, under about an inch of water in one of the pools of water.
Red-spotted Toad
 Unknown Butterfly (open for identification)
 Orange Sulphur Butterfly
Arizona Desert Tarantula
This has to have been one of my favorite hikes with the gorgeous scenery and then to top it off all the great avian and other wildlife that I encountered.  I will be visiting this place a bit more often, especially in bird migration season to see what it might hold.  If one is a fairly experienced hiker, it is not too difficult; I would rate it as a moderate hike.  But since it is very isolated and very few people are seen, if you are unsure of yourself or getting lost, then tackle it with a bit of caution.  Now that I know the trail, I am no longer apprehensive of how to get there and get around.  (Would not want to get caught in the narrow gorge during a heavy monsoon downpour of rain!)


  1. Very nice finds! I always love birding new spots. Looks like a wonderful time.

  2. Very cool Gordon! You came away with some absolutely gorgeous photos, and those Rufous-Crowneds are a nice find. This looks like a super spot!

  3. Gordon, this place looks wonderful! I love the red-spotted toad! I am so glad you worked it out and found your way.