December 2, 2005
Costa's Hummingbird
Costa's Hummingbird
Many people assume that metro Phoenix, because of its heat, its relative lack of water, and its urban sprawl, is devoid of birds.  Not!  Here's a small secret--birds are everywhere.  Mike Rupp, president of Maricopa Audubon Society (MAS), has published a wonderful little book, Birds-Eye Guide To 101 Birding Sites:  Phoenix, which you need to purchase.  If you buy it through Krys Hammers at part of the proceeds will help fund MAS environmental projects.

Three of my personal top five Phoenix birding sites are covered in Mike's book.  The other two should be.  Number 1 is . . . Your Backyard!  It's not in Mike's book, but here's the deal with your backyard--you see these birds everyday and can study them intimately at your leisure.  Learn their field marks, attach a proper label to them, and then as you branch out you'll have a baseline from which to more readily recognize the birds you've never seen before and their differences.

Number 2 is Papago Park, accessed off Galvin Parkway between McDowell and Van Buren in east Phoenix.  For the birds it's a calm, natural oasis in the midst of the Phoenix bustle.  For you it's centrally located, it has a nice mix of locally common desert and water birds, and hiking around its buttes will give you a good workout. You'll have a chance to become acquainted with Harris's hawk (which lives off the park's ground squirrels), gilded flicker (the special desert woodpecker), and black-tailed gnatcatcher (a 4 1/2 inch black and gray busybody).

Number 3 is the Scottsdale Greenbelt section of Indian Bend Wash, whose ponds offer an introduction to two of the most accessible and easily recognized families of birds--ducks and herons.  For the ducks, go especially in winter.  For the herons, go especially early in the morning.  The most productive ponds will be McCormick Ranch Lake (Scottsdale Road & McCormick Parkway), Chaparral Lake (Chaparral & Hayden), and El Dorado Park Pond (Murray & 77th Streets).

Number 4 is Gilbert Water Ranch behind the library at the southeast corner of Greenfield and Guadalupe Roads in Gilbert.  This is a series of wastewater ponds open to the public where you can encounter some of the less common, more difficult bird families.  There are burrowing owl colonies, sparrows in winter, and sandpipers from August through spring.  And don't forget MAS does its beginner birdwalks on the third Saturday of each month, October through March.

My personal number 5 isn't in Mike's book either.  If you've come to birding through a love of nature and the outdoors, you'll understand the concept of "power spots," those special places you go to escape the real world (euphemistically called "your life").  Echo Canyon (McDonald Drive just east of Tatum), despite hordes of hikers, is a natural cathedral where peregrine falcons soar the high altars and Costa's hummingbirds flit through the quiet grottoes.  If you see a birder worshipping there with a long white lens on his camera, stop and say hello to me.