I am fortunate to have hospitable members of my extended family living around the continent near birding hotspots. One recent visit in November 2014 was to gracious relatives and their beautiful home at the base of Pinnacle Peak in Scottsdale, Maricopa County, Arizona. As you probably know Arizona is on every birder’s list as a”must visit” location. The state has the mountains and cooler, higher elevations, primarily in the north (including the Grand Canyon), and the lower, hotter, desert habitats of the central and southern regions.
To me as an eastern birder this second visit to the state allowed a great opportunity to see “new birds”. In addition to the wonderful family Thanksgiving, I chose to visit two different birding sites in the county. The Riparian Preserve at Gilbert Water Ranch is located about 20 miles east of Phoenix, website htpp://www.riparianinstitute.org. This is a collection water management holding ponds surrounded by low vegetation, interlaced by trails. These ponds, directly adjacent to surrounding arid desert, are a beacon to thirsty birds and create a birding hotspot. I saw 33 different species including 3 life birds: Cinnamon Teal, Abert’s Towhee, and Great-tailed Grackle.
The other desert site I visited twice. This was the Marcus Landslide Trail in the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy, website htpp://www.mcdowellsonoran.org, about 3 miles east of Scottsdale. No water or ponds here–remember to bring your own. This was the quintessential Arizona desert with Saguaro cactus, balanced rocks, and mucho sun and sand. I saw 12 different birds including 4 life birds: Canyon Towhee, Brewer’s and Black-throated Sparrows, and Phainopepla. I also got my best hummingbird shots ever. My birding companion (not to be named) expressed some skepticism about the technique of calling in birds for photo ops. His skepticism was rewarded when initially we got no response from my i-phone’s rendition of a Cactus Wren, but 2 minutes later we were surrounded by several of this curious and gorgeous bird. This technique is somewhat controversial among birders and photographers, but it does work for many species. I’ll have a future post giving my take on it. Here are some of the shots from that trip.