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Wed, Nov. 20

Birding: Spending time in nature is my happy place

Courier Columnist Eric Moore.

Courier Columnist Eric Moore.

Over the past week, I’ve had several opportunities to spend time out in nature—which I’ve loved.  On my way home from Phoenix last Friday, I stopped in Black Canyon City and hiked the Black Canyon National Recreation Trail. The trailhead starts just north of the Rock Springs Café. 

I love the habitat this trail runs through—it is classic upland Sonoran Desert habitat. This is the same type of habitat I lived in when I was living at the private school for asthmatic children in Tucson from 1965 to 1969. Some people don’t see the beauty of the desert, but to me, everything about it is beautiful. Whether it’s the giant saguaros or the tiny pin cushion cacti, I love it all.

I hiked from the trailhead down to the Agua Fria River (which is flowing), dipped my hand in the cool water and hustled back all in less than an hour. By the time I got back to my car, it was almost completely dark.

The next morning I did a vigorous hike in the Dells. I started on the Flume Trail, transitioned to the Watson Lake Loop Trail and then onto the Peavine Trail and back. What an absolutely beautiful area! Why anyone would even entertain the idea of developing this area is beyond me. There is only one possible explanation—money—which is a poor excuse to ruin the handiwork of God. 

On Tuesday of this week, I led a private bird walk to the Granite Basin area, making several stops from Iron Springs Road all the way down to the lake. It was a beautiful day, weather-wise, but it was relatively quiet in the way of bird activity. While we didn’t see a lot of birds, we saw quality birds!

I always make a point to stop at the overlook on Granite Basin Road just before the saddle. This is one of my ‘listening’ stops, to see if I can hear a crissal thrasher. Sure enough, an obliging thrasher was vocalizing downslope, and we were fortunate to actually get a brief sighting of it before it disappeared into the chaparral. 

We also heard and saw a lone female phainopepla from the overlook. Typically, by this time of year, phainopeplas are gone. In the basin we saw several hermit thrushes, and by the lake we saw a flock of 20 to 30 western bluebirds.

Phainopepla, bluebirds and thrushes have a common food denominator—berries. They love mistletoe berries, and it seems nature has produced an abundant crop of berries this year for our wintering birds. We didn’t see any American robins or Townsend’s solitaire, which are also berry-eaters, but I am sure they are in the basin. 

When I take individuals out birding, it is gratifying to me when they see a new species for the first time in their lives. On this particular day, my guest saw three new species for her life list—brown creeper, Cassin’s finch and Merlin (a small falcon).

The brown creeper was in the Yavapai Campground area, the Cassin’s finches were in the Wekuvde Day Use Area and the two Merlins were seen at the lake. One was perched in a ponderosa pine tree directly above the parking lot and a second one was flying over the lake. We got the perched Merlin in the scope for an amazing close-up look!

On a different note, the last Highland Center bird walk for 2019 will occur 9 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 9.. All birders are invited. Please meet in the parking lot.

Until next week, Happy Birding!

Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, with two locations in northern Arizona – Prescott and Flagstaff.  Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at eric@jaysbirdbarn.com. 

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