After living in the dry, green-gray desert I was not prepared for the beauty of the White Mountains of Arizona. As we headed east on Route 260 the pine forest gave way to rolling hills and tree-topped mountains. Cottony clouds floated in the azure sky above. If I had not driven here myself I would have thought I had been transported to the mountains of Colorado or Idaho. Yet, there was something unique about this place, and I soaked in the view around each corner.
Chris and I stopped at a few locations as we neared Greer. We checked one small creek for Dippers, a species I was longing to see again since it has been years since I have seen one. For Chris it would be a Life Bird, but we did not find one. So we pressed on to our campsite and set up camp. Of course we started counting birds in the camp ground. After eating a quick lunch we headed out to see what we could see.
Nearby to the campground was a location called Benny Creek where the dipper had been seen recently. We searched along the creek near the road and down on a trail, but once again, no luck. However, we did find the Clark’s Nutcracker, a new Arizona species for me and a Life Bird for Chris.
While a few green-tailed towhees hopped among the willows, we saw few other birds and soon headed back to the car. Near the parking lot we found a few Dark-eyed Juncos (red-backed) and a Cordilleran Flycatcher.
Our further exploration of the town led us to follow the road to the end where once again we searched for a dipper in the West Fork of the Colorado River. By now dark clouds were gathering overhead and the light grew dim. Along the path the water tumbled merrily along singing its mountains song. Overhead an osprey screamed and flew above our heads. Still, we did not find the dipper, but as we headed back to the car I saw the black back and white tail of a Bald Eagle retreating over the tree tops! This was my first sighting of a Bald Eagle in Arizona and I was baffled and thrilled. I did not ever expect to find this species up here in the mountains and I did not think this river was deep enough to provide enough fish for this bird of prey. It wasn’t until the next morning that I found out where the eagle was really fishing.
Across the street from the Rolfe C. Hoyer Campground are the Greer lakes. Chris and I checked them out briefly the night before. Now, on day two of our birding adventures in the White Mountains we were awakened by the honking of Canada Geese. After a long night of restless sleep I was tempted to sleep in, but the geese called me awake and I bolted from the tent. Chris was already up and wandering the campground so we hopped in the car and drove the short distance across the road. The green meadows surrounding the three reservoirs were covered with bluebirds! They dotted the road and clung to the flowering mullein.
Down by Tunnel Reservoir we found the noisy geese. The morning sunlight fell in golden shafts across the dew spangled grass and set the calm waters shining. A few cormorants gathered to dry on the banks of the reservoir while hummingbirds and swallows zipped around and overhead.
There was something about this particular area that reminded me of Scotland, even though I have never been to Scotland. I found this lake calming and intriguing. Once again, I could have stayed here all day. After stopping on the roadside above the lake we drove down into the parking lot to get a better look at some of the birds on the water. Our senses were on high alert looking for any species we had not seen yet. Our hopes were high for seeing woodpecker species as well as possible flycatchers and warblers, but the only warblers we found were Yellow-rumps, and the only woodpeckers were flickers. However, we did find a cute little chipmunk sunbathing on a rock near the lake! In the shallow water a Great Blue heron waded, but I was interested in a loud croaking I had heard coming from the treetops near a different lake, so we packed it up and headed for that location. As we started to drive out of the parking lot a black and white woodpecker flew with undulating flight across the road in front of the car. I stamped on the brake and put my bins to my eyes hoping to get at least a glimpse of some kind of field mark because there were numerous possibilities for this woodpecker, including Hairy, Downy, Williamson’s sapsucker and American Three-toed! An American Three-toed would be a Life Bird for us both, so the stakes were high. After failing to relocate the bird from the vehicle, I put the car in park and we both got out to chase it through the forest, with the car right in the middle of the road!
Off through the trees we went, scanning every tree and listening for every tap on wood. As we walked along we found the source of all that croaking earlier when we found a Great Blue Heron rookery in the trees near the edge of the much deeper River Reservoir. Mixed in with the herons were Double-crested Cormorant nests as well! As we searched the sky above suddenly a Bald Eagle came squeaking overhead! So, this is where they nest and feed! While Tunnel Reservoir is shallow, this body of water was long and deep. With no woodpeckers in sight and our stomachs growling Chris and I headed back to the car which I had gone back to move after a truck came driving into the parking lot. Now we headed to one of the local cafes for breakfast and we were fortunate to get a seat outside where hoards of hummingbirds fed from the numerous feeders. Of course we counted birds while we ate!
After breakfast we headed for a nearby nature trail where numerous woodpeckers had been found. However, as we started up the trail the clouds that had been gathering while we ate grew darker and we heard rumbles of thunder. Not wanting to have to pack up wet tents we rushed back to the campground and took everything down and packed up the car. Then, with high hopes that the storm would be brief and blow over, we went back to the Butler Nature Trail. Once again we headed up the mountainside as rain started to sprinkle down on us. For the most part it was very quiet here but we did find a House Wren in the brush. Around us Broad-tailed hummingbirds whizzed by as we hiked past the burnt trunks of pines and aspens. We soon realized our hunt for woodpeckers would be futile and we headed back down the trail to the car. We barely got inside the vehicle before rain started. It began as a gentle rain but soon developed into a downpour as we headed north on the road out of Greer. It wasn’t long before we reached Route 260 and as we turned west I was hoping we would get ahead of the rain and still be able to spend part of this day counting birds in the White Mountains, but the rain moved in faster than we could drive. We made it as far as Pinetop-Lakeside and after a brief stop headed down off the Mogollon Rim.
- Las Aventuras
- Standing at the Crossroads-Chris’s Post
- Trip to the White Mountains 2013-all my posts on this subject
- Rolfe C. Hoyer Campground
Camping Notes: We found that we did not need to make a reservation at the Rolfe C. Hoyer Campground. There were plenty of sites and they also had firewood and ice for sale at the entrance. While there were a few cafes and restaurants in Greer, the closest gas station and store was in Eager, 14 miles away.