Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Birds Speak at Fish Creek

Last Saturday, Maria and I made the spectacular drive up to Apache Lake. Our driving itself was not especially spectacular (at least, mine wasn't), but rather the scenery, the winding desert canyons of the Superstition Mountains wowed and amazed with their colorful expanses. We took The Apache Trail/Hwy 88 up to about mile marker 224 and then parked in one of the canyons. After a brief descent, we found ourselves in the verdant, shady declivity known as Fish Creek. The creek runs for a couple miles and empties into Apache Lake. While it is not always flowing, it does serve as a nice shady respite for  lots of wildlife, and our two mile hike was filled with critters.

Upon entering the Fish Creek canyon, we were immediately greeted by Hooded Orioles and Bell's Vireos in the cottonwood trees. A few Northern Cardinals sang along the banks, and another interesting red bird, the marvelous Summer Tanager, paused to observe the curious bipeds stumbling along. This was one of two new birds we saw on this trip, and one I had been hoping to see for some time.

We saw many of the other expected desert/canyon species, including Abert's Towhees and Canyon Wrens. There were also lots of Yellow Warblers, including one male who was constantly followed and harassed by his recently-fledged chicks.While I was following this bubbly group of yellow birds through the desert scrub, Maria and I heard a harsh cry echoing through the canyon.

We looked up and saw a magnificent Zone-Tailed Hawk soaring overhead. This was a new bird for me, and it was an incredible experience to see it circling around on the canyon thermals, belting out its dominant call.

We hiked for another mile, observing Kingbirds, Gnatcatchers, and Black Phoebes all gathering nesting material. They were too busy to stop and pose for me, but the myriad of desert lizards were much more accommodating. Maybe it was just their cold-blooded nature combined with the overcast weather, but either way they were very reticent to move from their warm hang-outs. 

Eventually the water in Fish Creek ran out and so did the shady trees. We decided to turn back for the car, but not before I picked up a very nice sunburn. Much like the sunbathing lizards, I have since shed my skin and now feel like a new man!

On the way back, we were treated to more displays from the Zone-Tailed Hawk. The first bird was missing a couple of its primary feathers, and so it was easily recognizable. It was now joined by its mate, and together they glided along the canyon walls with a lofty grace and very appropriate sense of superiority.

Occasionally they would stop and perch on the dried century plants. I was never able to get very close, though I picked up lots of consolation lesions for my troubles. Nonetheless, the Zone-Tailed Hawks and their powerful calls were the highlight of the day, and provided one of the best new-bird sightings this year.