Monday, January 20, 2014

Stalking Creepers in Cave Creek

This weekend I went up to Cave Creek and the Mt. Humboldt area with a couple of specific targets. I needed to add Fox Sparrow, somewhat embarrassingly, to my AZ state list, and I wanted to try for better photos of Townsend's Solitaire and Cedar Waxwing than the pitiful stuff I have so far. Fortuitously enough, Rackensack Canyon, near Mt. Humboldt in Cave Creek, and the Seven Springs Recreation Area some 8 miles further down Cave Creek road, cater to all of these needs.

I spent the first hour or so of daylight scrounging around the scrub wash of Rackensack Canyon, getting brief glimpses and audibles of two slaty Fox Sparrows, in addition to a million billion Spotted Towhees, White-crowns, Scrub Jays, and a surprising couple of Stellars Jays and Rufous-crowned Sparrows. Early cloud cover and the high canyon ridge, plus a general lack of cooperation prohibited any photography, so I moved on to the next objective impatient and grumpy but also pressed for time. 

I had some of the morning's best birding while stopping along the Cave Creek/Seven Springs Road and surveying the juniper bushes. Excellent looks at Juncos, Sparrows, Bluebirds, and a couple of Solitaires justified the trip and the dusty car, even if they were mostly skittish when I'd pull over for better observations. Still, a little pishing near the ever-popular junipers never hurts. Here, a white-crowned Sparrow pops up to eyeball the interloper, while some Western Bluebird coloration is visible through the tangle.

Western Bluebirds were the most numerous species in the juniper hills, outnumbering even the bouncing brainless Kinglets. Given the relative commonness of this bird and their average tolerance of people, I've had a hard time capturing them very well on camera and actually doing justice to their pretty exquisite colors. The struggle continues.

The Seven Springs Recreation Area brings some cottonwood/sycamore riparian habitat into the juniper scrub mix, which makes for a fantastic diversity of habitats and some of the better winter birding in the greater Phoenix area. The Townsend's Solitaries were joined by more deciduous species and plenty of prowling accipiters. 

It's a cluttered mess of an area--great for the birds and tricky to get clear observations.

Perhaps the most unsettling thing about Seven Springs is the significant and terrifying infestation of the riparian trails with Creepers. Skulking, unscrupulous, Brown, and sometimes near-invisible, these Creepers crept all along the woods, devouring insects and peep peep peeping with impunity.

Such discomfort and neck-tingles one feels in these woods, knowing they're around. On the other hand, who am I, or we, to judge the Creeper? I spend my weekends indulging in voyeuristic hobbies of sneaking, spying and, collecting pictures (I'm still talking about birding). Perhaps we are not so different, you and I.

In another life, on another tree, I might have called you friend and ally, Mr. Creeper. Good luck to you, your creepiness. For my money, these are some of the least bird-like birds in the kingdom. They seldom fly, and not sing-songy, and act more like lizards as they scurry up and down in their brown camouflage. At any rate, it's always nice to see them.