November 26, 2015
Green Kingfisher female
Green Kingfisher female
If you happened to see Roger Naylor’s recent article about the San Pedro River in the “Explore Arizona” section of the Saturday Republic (11/7/15), and if you’re a birder who hasn’t been there and still has no plans to go, shame on you.  Naylor did a wonderful write-up.  There were no cringe worthy factual errors about the birds themselves, just enough facts about how and why the San Pedro riparian corridor is so important to Arizona’s bird life and birding community, and some fascinating archeological and historical notes, the latter being key for a weekend trip if you have a non-birding spouse.

My personal history with the San Pedro began in early May, 1991, when I finally saw my life Green Kingfisher after hiking a mile downstream (remember, the San Pedro flows north!) from the San Pedro House to an area of steep cutbanks where a pair of this much sought species had supposedly nested two years before.  I was relatively new to Arizona birding, already an avid lister, and ecstatic at hearing the bird first, recognizing the call (“tick, tick, tick”), locating, and then following along as this tiny emerald gem flew perch to perch, inches above the water, still-hunting for minnows from several overhanging branches.

In June of 1999 a long weekend spent along the river’s trails left me with a whole host of lasting memories, the most interesting of which was a three day friendship I struck up with the then ranger.  He showed me an urn with his mother’s ashes, which he was planning on scattering along the river corridor, and also claimed to have seen a White-tailed Hawk there the previous spring, this a species unexpected and never fully documented in Arizona.  I wrote about the two main incidents of the weekend, a spectacular experience with a Golden Eagle and my first ever encounter with “illegals” in Arizona, in my June 15, 2007 column

In August of 2000, Deva and I took our then six-year-old Phoenix grandson, JP, to the San Pedro House for their annual hummingbird banding event with hummingbird researcher/author Sheri Williamson.  The tapestry of emotions on JP’s face when Sheri placed a female Calliope Hummingbird, freshly netted, weighed, and then banded, on his hand and coached him through the release will forever be a highlight of our lifetime spent in nature.

A fact perhaps unbeknownst to Arizona birders is that primitive camping is permissible along the San Pedro, at $2.00 per night, as long as camp is not set up within a mile of San Pedro House itself, an old ranch house now serving as a Visitor’s Center/gift shop for the area.  The center is replete with a variety of historical and archeological displays, general nature and birding books, and information about the area.  It is open daily during daylight hours, free but donations welcome.

If you’re a birder, or just love being outdoors in a beautiful natural setting, the network of trails along the San Pedro beneath towering cottonwoods filled with the great diversity of southern Arizona’s bird and wildlife, is a truly unique experience--“History, culture, and recreation,” as Naylor says.  Go any time of year.  Go now.
JP's female Calliope Hummingbird