Friday, August 30, 2013

There’s Nothing Like Christmas in August!

1. Christmas sign-kabIt’s August 2, 2013 and Chris and I are headed south on Route 77 after camping and birding in the White Mountains. The rain chased us down off the Mogollon Rim and it was only when we were south of Globe that the clouds started to break up and the rain ceased. We were both bemoaning the fact that we did not get to bird for very long in the White Mountains and so missed many of our target birds. As we come down a steep slope just a few miles north of Winkleman I spot a dirt road that leads down to a riparian area along the Gila River. On our way to the White Mountains on Thursday I thought I had seen a hawk hanging out in the tops of the cottonwood trees as we rushed by. Chris had mentioned how he would like to explore this area then, and we both were thinking it now. Though it is late afternoon, we still have time, so I turn off the highway and drive down the steep hill to the parking lot. I thought it was just going to be some little by-way made by the locals. To my utter surprise I saw a Bureau of Land Management sign designating this as a public access point along with restrooms, trash cans, and picnic tables!

2. bosque-kab Chris and I did not know what to expect but we eagerly get out of the car and head for the trees. Overhead the tree canopy closes in like a feathery green roof. Beneath our feet the earth is a gray powder made of silt, soil, and dry cow dung churned and trampled by numerous cow hooves. That’s right, we are in open range and there have been cows here…recently. I am an old farm girl from way back and I know enough to be leery of range cattle…especially the bull! This put me on alert even as a deep stillness envelopes us.

3. toad-kab We hear birds singing and calling everywhere. Beneath our feet we find a small toad in the detritus of the bosque. A brief shower pings us with fat rain drops, then passes by. We seek shelter under the tangled branches and keep our cameras dry.

4. vermillion fly-kab A soft, green-gray light mutes the colors of everything, including a Male Vermillion Flycatcher! We come out of the mesquite bosque and onto a dirt road that ran along the cliffside.

5. cliff-kab High overhead we occasionally hear cars passing on Arizona Route 77.


6. trail-kab But we follow a song down the green tunnel…

7. canyon wren-kab to where a Canyon Wren sings on the gray rip rap!


8. canyon wren-kab In-between songs it searches for insects,


9. singing wren-kab Then starts to sing once again!


10. down by the river-kab Down the path we go to the lush green river’s edge.


11. Gila river-kab Here the brown water cuts into the earth and twists around the bend.


12. swing-kab An empty ladder swing tells its own story.

And then we hear a cry down the river, but growing louder by the minute until…

13. black hawk juv-kab ..with cameras raised and eyes on the sky, we watch a juvenile Black Hawk fly into view! It circles over our heads and lands in a tree across the river, then takes to the sky and flies back to where it came from! I thought I had seen a Black Hawk from the road above as we had driven by yesterday. Now I am quite sure I did! Black Hawks nest and feed along rivers in deep canyons. We are in the perfect habitat for them! Here by the river we see kingbirds, cardinals and even a Blue Grosbeak! As we head back to the car a lone cow emerges through the trees in the shade of the mesquite bosque. It blinks at us benignly as we walk by. Once back at the parking lot an Ash-throated Flycatcher lands in a nearby tree. With 21 species on our list for this location, we feel like we had indeed found Christmas in the desert in August! But we are not done yet!

14. winkleman-kab As we drove into Winkleman Chris suggests that we check out the ”town” park. The place looks old and decrepit. I am a bit reluctant to drive down in, but as we did we actually pass a town policeman driving out! And then, we see birds! So many birds! We couldn’t look or count fast enough as sparrows and woodpeckers, kingbirds and flycatchers flew all around us! Here there was a warbler, there there was an oriole! Look! Look! See! See! Birds were everywhere in this forgotten land. While we drove past old brush piles and broken down fences we kept stopping the car to count birds.

15. dusk-kab Believe it or not, there are actually restrooms and a playground here, plus a campground for anyone brave enough to camp here! The Gila River curves around the park and flows under highway 77 west towards Florence and Coolidge with the Casa Grande Ruins along its banks. I found out later that this location is actually an eBird Hotspot called Winkleman Flats and Pedestrian Bridge. 122 species have been seen at this location. (Just click on the link to see the eBird Bar chart of species.) Chris and I saw 20 species here tonight. I also nominated Christmas to be yet another eBird hotspot. We will see what happens with that.

16. sunset-kab Meanwhile, after being a bit discouraged by getting rained out of the White Mountains, Chris and I were now smiling as the sun set on a great day of birding!

Birds seen in Christmas and Winkleman Flats and Pedestrian Bridge on August 2, 2013:

  1. Turkey Vulture-Christmas and The Shores
  2. Common Black Hawk
  3. White-winged dove
  4. Mourning Dove
  5. Yellow-billed cuckoo
  6. Gila woodpecker
  7. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  8. Vermilion flycatcher
  9. Ash-throated flycatcher
  10. Western Kingbird
  11. Bell’s Vireo
  12. Warbling Vireo
  13. Verdin
  14. Canyon Wren
  15. Bewick’s Wren
  16. Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
  17. Yellow Warbler
  18. Abert’s towhee
  19. Northern Cardinal
  20. Blue Grosbeak
  21. Lesser Goldfinch
  22. White-winged Dove-Winkleman Flats (species added at this location)
  23. Brown-crested Flycatcher
  24. Tropical kingbird
  25. Cassin’s Kingbird
  26. White-breasted Nuthatch
  27. Lucy’s Warbler
  28. Lark Sparrow
  29. Western Tanager
  30. Hooded Oriole
  31. House Finch



  1. Great story Kathie! That was the highlight of our trip:) one of the most exciting areas to bird. I'd like to examine more of this area during winter. Beautiful riparian area. As for the white mtns it was a good experience but we need more time on our next trip back. The rain was definitely consistent:) love your shots!

  2. Chris, I agree! It was such a special place and seeing and photographing that canyon wren was amazing! I want to go back as well!

  3. Yes, thanks for sharing your adventure! Great shots! Black Hawk with the desert terrain and cacti in background is beautiful!

    1. Kathyrn, we will so have to go here when you come to visit next time!

  4. It does sound like a great Christmas present, and an interesting area to go back to.

    1. Happy wanderer, Chris and I both hope to go back!

  5. What a fun adventure! You got some great shots of the Canyon Wren! They have quite song; I was excited to hear/see my first one this year.

    1. Tammy, that is so great that you got to see and hear the canyon wren!

  6. Sure glad the day improved from rain to birds.

  7. Kathie, another great birding report. I love reading about your and Chris's birding adventures. Great birds and I love the cute Canyon Wren. Happy Birding and have a great weekend!

    1. Eileen, thanks! I am so glad you enjoy the stories! It is fun to live them!

  8. You told a lovely story, very inviting and descriptive. Through your story and photos the reader gets to enjoy your trip along with you and Chris. Don't you just love the little Canyon Wren? I love hearing them!

    1. Sheila, thanks for the compliment and yes, I love the little canyon wren and rarely get to see one up this close!

  9. What an absolutely charming post. I loved the walk to the river especially. Oh and the wren is adorable.


Welcome to my nest! I hope you will enjoy spending time here with me and the birds. Thank you for your comments. I will try to get back to you as soon as I get back from counting more birds.