Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Sudden Sedona Syndrome

If you live in the Phoenix area, you'll get it eventually. Maybe it's the rush-hour traffic. Maybe it's the absurdly hot March afternoons. Maybe it's just driving past the same billboard one time too many. For one reason or another, you'll be struck with Sudden Sedona Syndrome, the overpowering desire to escape from the city and lose yourself up north in the mysterious red rocks.

Only an hour and a half away, Sedona is one of the most lauded day-trip destinations in the state, and for good reason. The scenery and hiking trails are among the most beautiful in the country. There is an abundance of wildlife and the crisp cold air stings your nose with a forgotten purity. No wonder then that extraterrestrials often make Sedona one of their favorite destinations, or so some of the locals believe.

Maria and I got our Sudden Sedona Syndrome this past Saturday (ok, we had actually been planning the trip a bit ahead of time). We enjoyed the lovely four mile hike into the Oak Creek west fork trail, seeing nearly two dozen bird species and soaking in the gorgeous red canyon. The steep, rocky walls and tall pine trees keep much of the canyon shaded throughout the day, and lingering snow can be found at points along the creek throughout much of the year. Birds like the American Robin and Dark-Eyed Juncos love to forage right along the melting line of snow, where they can dig into the moist earth.

In addition to Robins and Juncos, we also saw some lovely Nuthatches, Mountain Chickadees, Acorn Woodpeckers, and Steller's Jays. Adequate lighting for photography was a rare thing, but this was nice in a way as it forced me to pay more attention to those common birds that weren't afraid of the spotlight.  This pair of Robins flew tirelessly back and forth between the muddy creek bed and their nest, no doubt working within a tight timeframe.

Only the finest ingredients go into a Robin's nest...oh the things parents do for their young.
 Although the Robins stole the show, there was no shortage of side acts. It seemed like Oak Creek was swarming with chattery House Wrens all determined to bluff and bluster their neighbors into quiet submission.

With so many bossy House Wrens sounding off, this tiny Pacific Wren was quite content to keep silent.
It ran along its log and took delicate sips of water, trying to attract as little attention to itself as possible. With the Pacific Wren only recently being split from the Winter Wren, this was a new bird for me! We were fortunate to eventually hear it sing, which helped confirm the tricky identification.

The Brown Creeper is another shy denizen of the scrub oak forests. We saw several throughout our hike and they largely paid us no mind as they went about their business of gleaning insects off the tree trunks. It can be very easy to overlook these camouflaged creepers, but sit in any wooded, well watered area and they turn up pretty soon. They're the surreptitious spies of the forest, the sneaky sentries watching you from the woods...

Our little Sedona trip was a great escape from the city. Just as we were heading back to Phoenix the storm clouds moved in, dumping a foot of snow on the red plateaus and following us south to bring a little rain into the desert. There is no known cure for Sudden Sedona Syndrome, but a trip up to the big red rocks once or twice a year is enough to keep us city dwellers going, at least for a little while.