March 3, 2006
Bridled Titmouse
Bridled Titmouse
Birds do the same three basic things we do--eat, sleep, etc.  It's just that they have internal clocks and calendars that regulate more efficiently when and where they do it.  With breeding season well underway for desert species and spring migration beginning throughout our state, I'd like to spotlight my five favorite birding sites within a hundred mile radius outside of Phoenix.

No. 1:  Salome Highway thrasher site
The Phoenix area boasts one bird that cannot be found easily anywhere else in the country.  Le Conte's thrasher is a bird of the low desert, and the best place to observe this special species is where Baseline Road intersects the Salome Highway 40 miles west of Phoenix.  Take I-10 to state route 85, go south to Baseline, then west on Baseline to the "T" intersection.

The area here on the west side of the Salome Highway is unposted state trust land.  Arrive at the crack of dawn, walk quietly into the desert, and listen for Le Conte's soft, musical song in the most barren areas of this site.  Four other species of thrashers can be seen here in March, so this is a great test for your identification skills.  Go now, while they're singing, before it gets too hot.  Mid-morning is too late.  April is too late.

No. 2:  Granite Reef Recreation Area
Twenty miles northeast of Phoenix on the Bush Highway (Power Road), Granite Reef is the first of three picnic areas along the Salt & Verde Rivers on the Tonto National Forest.  Explore the mesquite bosque for early warblers and orioles, and watch for bald eagles and ospreys patrolling the river for their next fish dinner.  There is a $4 day use fee.

No. 3:  Mesquite Wash
This is an unsigned area northeast of Phoenix on the west side of state route 87.  The turn-off is 20.7 miles north of Shea Boulevard.  Cross over the bridge and take the dirt road to the parking area, then walk the rutted jeep trail to the water.  The wash is lined with willow and sycamore.  Wear old tennis shoes and splash right down through the creek.  You should see flycatchers and tanagers.  Zone-tailed hawks formerly nested here and out-of-range eastern warblers are possible.

No 4.:  Boyce-Thompson Arboretum State Park
Boyce-Thompson is the best birding site near Phoenix.  Period.  If you don't make it anyplace else this spring, go there.  The park is located 60 miles east of Phoenix on state route 60.  All you need to know about the park is on their website (  Hummingbirds, vireos, and orioles nest.  Guided birdwalks are on alternate Saturdays and Sundays.

No. 5:  Pinal Peak, the newest hotspot
The Pinal Mountains south of Globe, 90 miles east of Phoenix on state route 60, are the latest birding hotspot in central Arizona, thanks to the recent discovery of several species which were thought to breed only in the sky islands south of Tucson--bridled titmouse, red-faced warbler, and yellow-eyed junco.  It's a great escape from the desert heat, there are campgrounds at the top, and if you want overnight comfort with your birding, check out the Noftsger Hill Inn Bed & Breakfast ( in Globe.  Rosalie Ayala, the owner, is also on the board of Arizona Watchable Wildlife (, and can steer you to the best sites on the mountain.

Spring is here.  The birds are now doing all three of their basic things, so they're more active and visible.  You need to be out there doing it too.  Birding.