November 4, 2010
Osprey with fish
Osprey with fish
Tired of politics?  So am I.  Let's go birding.  Let's check out the Valley's "new" old hotspot, Tempe Marsh.  Tempe Marsh is birders' designation for the far east end of Tempe Town Lake from the second dam up to and beyond the McClintock bridge.  For the last two months this area has been hopping with avian activity, primarily large, visible birds seeking fish. 

On the morning of October 5, as the monsoon's last fling moved in from the southwest, I watched six Osprey and a Brown Pelican from the far northwest corner of the Tempe Marketplace (TMp) parking lot, just to the east of the McClintock bridge.  Two mornings later I saw and photographed two Bald Eagles, one with a fish in its talons, two Peregrine Falcons, one with a Mourning Dove in its talons, and an American Kestrel with a dragonfly in its talons.  After all, it is called Tempe "Marketplace."

The following weekend there were nine(!) Osprey in the air simultaneously over the north "arm" of the lake, and two dozen Turkey Vultures, attracted by the aroma of rotting fish, were lounging below the second dam as a Belted Kingfisher made plunge dives from a bridge abutment.  At any one time, upwards to fifty Great Egrets, twenty Great Blue Herons, and twenty Snowy Egrets were in view.

There are three good vantage points from which to catch this show.  The first, an am only site, is the corner of the TMp parking lot mentioned above.  The Osprey occasionally fish east of the bridge and this is where the resident falcons can be seen.  Glass straight down into the open water of the marsh for ducks, moorhens, and Green Herons.  A Eurasian Green-winged Teal spent several days in this area a few years back.

The other two sites are accessed from the small parking lot just southeast of the Curry Rd./Miller Rd. intersection.  Walk down the bike path toward the river and bear left at the first fork which leads under the 202 bridge.  Just before the bridge, there is a series of three descending berms on your left.  At the middle one is an orange sign that reads "Danger, do not enter when flooded."  Well, yeah!  But you're legal.  Runners, bikers, and fishermen use this path under the bridge to access the east end of Tempe Town Lake.  Go under the bridge along the berm, then follow the gravel road to the south and stop at the sharp east turn.  Now you're looking right down on the second dam.  This is a good spot for the Osprey, both early am and late pm when the sun is at your back.

To reach the third site, a pm only site, skip the berm, continue under the 202 bridge on the bike path, and set up near the picnic/rest area at the east end of the small park adjacent to the ASU dorms.  Stay out of the lake bed.  You do not want a $1000 fine and six months in jail and, anyway, the Osprey show is actually better with the birds at eye level or below you.

It's hard to say whether this influx of large birds seeking fish is the result of the rupture in the Tempe Town Lake dam and subsequent low water levels, but even with the lake refilled there will still be areas around Tempe Marsh where visible fish should attract Ospreys, herons, and egrets.  Be sure to do your cormorant homework so you can separate Double-crested from Neotropic, and don't forget a Pacific Loon spent several days right here two winters ago.

Hopefully the completion of Rio Salado Tempe Reach Phase Three will happen before the next fall election cycle.  It will allow close access to the west side of the McClintock bridge on the south and get birders out of the house away from those annoying phone calls from our so-called political leaders.