Birds, Hills and a World Class Fountain

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Reflective Snowy Egret at Fountain Hills Lake, Arizona (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

Scottsdale, Arizona, has a well-deserved reputation as an international tourist destination with its multitude of restaurants and resorts, a winter desert getaway for northern snowbirds. Its western border snuggles up against the country’s fifth largest city, but relatively few people venture east of Scottsdale, which is their loss. Nestled in the hills and canyons between Scottsdale and the Fort McDowell Yavapai Indian Reservation, lies the quiet, unassuming residential community of Fountain Hills.

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Black-throated Sparrow at Fountain Hills Lake (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

Consisting of just twenty square miles, Fountain Hills is home to less than twenty-five thousand folks living in a beautifully varied desert landscape that ranges across 1,500 feet of elevation change.  Stunning views are abundant, particularly to the north, east and south, where you find McDowell Mountain Regional Park, the Verde River, Saguaro Lake and the Salt River Recreation Area.  Mountains on the horizon include the iconic Four Peaks, reproduced on the Arizona license plate.

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Double-crested Cormorant and the 330-foot fountain (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

In the center of town lies a 33-acre lake and park, circumscribed by a mostly level, scenic one mile paved walking path.  In the center of the lake sits the attraction which gives the town its name, a powerful, towering geyser-like fountain that once was the tallest in the world and still the fourth highest.  For fifteen minutes on the hour, from 9:00 AM until 9:00 PM, this geyser shoots a massive amount of lake water 330 feet into the sky, suggesting a fireworks display more than a water show.  Normally only two of three pumps are in operation, but on special occasions all three are employed, driving the water column 560 feet high.

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Early winter arrival, a stunning male Hooded Merganser (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

We had the opportunity to live near this fountain and lake for 10 weeks this fall, and a daily walk around the lake became our restful respite from the less pleasant purpose of our stay.  And of course being birders, we took full advantage of the lake’s magnetic draw to birds. The lake is an ebird hotspot, with 151 reported species from 374 visits.  During our time there, between our rental home across the street from the lake and our daily walks around the lake, we counted 70 species.  There are three small treed islands on the lake, and the mile long trail runs through a variety of trees including mesquite, pine and olive.  Current sightings include Yellow-rumped and Orange-crowned Warblers, Gilded and Northern Flickers, Double-crested Cormorants, American Wigeons, grebes, egrets, herons and spectacular Hooded Mergansers.

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A beautiful wild horse at Saguaro Lake, Arizona (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

In addition, countless birding opportunities lay close to Fountain Hills, with enough ebird hotspots to satisfy the most demanding birder.  The ever-flowing Verde River is just outside of town to the north, but our favorite secondary destination is Saguaro Lake and the Salt River Recreation Area.  From Fountain Hills Lake, it’s just 16 miles to Saguaro Lake, a ten-mile long reservoir that features canyons, trees and, surprisingly, saguaros.  An hour and a half daily boat tour is an easy way to find birds, including Bald Eagles, and waterfront picnic areas can be found at two ebird hotspots, the marina area and Butcher Jones Beach (named after an early surgeon).  High cliffs combine with desert scrub to broaden your birding opportunities.  From Saguaro Lake, continue on the Bush Highway and you follow the Salt River past a dozen other ebird hotspots as you loop south and back to civilization at Mesa and Highway 202.  In addition to birds, several of these stops are also good places to find and photograph wild horses.  And all this adventure is less than a two-hour drive from SaddleBrooke.

(This article was published in the February, 2018, issue of the Saddlebag Notes Newspaper, Tucson, Arizona)

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Birding Pinetop and the White Mountains

Steller's Jay

Steller’s Jay, Pinetop, Arizona (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

In spite of living in a land-locked state, Google ‘Arizona’s Beach’ and you’ll find a lovely oceanfront just four hours from Tucson.  Of course, it’s not actually part of Arizona; in fact it’s not even in the U.S., but it is an easy drive from both Tucson and Phoenix.  If you’re like me, with a love for the mountains equal to that of the sea, you’ll find even easier access to some of the most beautiful mountains in the country.  Most of our out-of-state friends picture saguaros and desert when they think of Arizona, and all of them are surprised to hear we have more extensive ponderosa pine forests than any other state.  Mt. Lemmon, of course, is the quickest way to get a mountain fix for Tucson residents, but if you want an experience richer than that of a sky island, turn north to the White Mountains.

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

A three hour drive on Highway 77 skirts the magnificent geologic formations along the Gila River south of Globe, then takes you down into and up out of the spectacular Salt River Canyon, through Apache country into endless ponderosa forests, reaching civilization again at Show Low, a hardscrabble town named in a poker game.  This part of Arizona, from Show Low north to Snowflake and east to Greer embraces two counties named for Native American tribes (Navaho and Apache), more than 20 lakes, elevations from 6,000 to more than 9,000 feet and lots of ponderosa pine trees.  It’s also a great place to find birds, with dozens of eBird hotspots, many of which boast more than 100 species.  There are many accommodation choices from private rental homes to resort hotels, with a wide range of rates.  Some places are more attractive than others for birding, with forest-adjacent decks or well-stocked feeders.

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Northern Flicker on Ponderosa Pine (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

One of our favorite destinations with both features is the WorldMark Condominiums in Pinetop-Lakeside, a small community of 4,000 just east of Show Low.  At nearly 7,000 feet, the forest is pine-oak, and the birds are abundant.  There are more than a dozen eBird hotspots, including lakes, reservoirs, ponds, creeks and marshes, all easily accessible from anyplace you choose to stay.  We recently rented a condominium at WorldMark for a three-night getaway, and although we explored many eBird hotspots, the resort itself was hard to leave.  A two-bedroom, two bath unit includes a covered outdoor deck, and is loaded with luxury for about $130 per night.

Mountain Chickadee

Mountain Chickadee, White Mountains, Arizona (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

High definition television is included, but we put birdseed and nuts on our deck railing and spent most of our time enjoying, feeding and photographing Acorn Woodpeckers, Mountain Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches and Steller’s Jays.  A special treat was watching Acorn Woodpeckers pluck nuts from the deck railing and stash them under windowsills and into tree holes; sustenance silos for the coming winter.  Beyond our deck, a lovely seating area outside the reception building was outfitted with multiple seed and hummingbird feeders, and the time we spent there was equally rewarding, with all the above birds plus Pygmy Nuthatches, Dark-eyed Juncos, Northern Flickers, Western Tanagers, Black-headed Grosbeaks and even Rufous Hummingbirds (this was September).  Needless to say, many more species are found at the area’s abundant lakes.

Acorn Woodpecker

Peanut-hoarding Acorn Woodpecker (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

Late summer/fall is especially rewarding in this high-elevation country when triple digit temperatures are common back home, but we’ve ventured up here at all times of the year and have never been disappointed.  Nights are colder in December, and sometimes snow hangs from the pines or builds along the roadsides.  But the chickadees, nuthatches and jays are still there.  And you get to watch the Acorn Woodpeckers raid their summer silos.

(This article was published in the November, 2017, issue of the Saddlebag Notes Newspaper, Tucson, Arizona)

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Hooded Orioles and Bronzed Cowbirds

Female Hooded Oriole with tacoma blossom

Female Hooded Oriole with Tacoma blossom (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

Due to a few simple twists of fate, we’ve been ‘stuck in Dodge’ this summer enjoying an unending string of phenomenal monsoons instead of our usual getaway to the foggy coast of Oregon.  However, this unplanned layover brought some unexpected surprises. Three weeks of rain turned the desert into Hawaii, cut our water bill in half, and our double digit highs (coupled with 1% humidity) were easy to take when Portland set a 130 year record of 105.  Another pleasant surprise was an abundance of summer birds. Broad-billed Hummingbirds, our most exotic local hummer, seem to be taking over Arizona. When we moved here fifteen years ago, they were no more than a summer treat, retreating to Mexico in the fall and not returning until spring, while now they’re a year-round SaddleBrooke resident as thick as bees. Even better, we’ve seen more Hooded Orioles this summer than ever, and the returning pair that nests in our neighbor’s palm tree had a record clutch of four this spring, two males and two females. Add regular visits from neighboring orioles, and these bright yellow, black and white birds are eye candy extraordinaire.

 

Patient House Sparrow yields to hungry cowbird

A hungry House Sparrow yields to a male Bronzed Cowbird  (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

Where there’s smoke there’s fire, and where there’re Hooded Orioles, there’re Bronzed Cowbirds, adding red and black to the bird rainbow. Cowbirds throughout the world are consistent in their nesting behavior.  They don’t build their own nests, instead parasitizing other nests, watching and waiting until the rightful owners take a break, then swooping in to lay their own eggs in the host nest. Sometimes they nestle these in with the originals, but often they’ll destroy all other eggs, even when they find another cowbird’s. Heartless, yes, but all part of nature’s drive for self-preservation. Sometimes, the host birds abandon the intruded nest and build elsewhere, and sometimes they simply build over the contaminated nest. One observer watched a pair of Yellow Warblers build a 12-story layer of nests, adding a new level on top of eggs each time a cowbird encroached to add her own. Often though, the host birds simply feed and raise the strange-looking chicks as their own, perpetuating the cowbird line.

 

Newly fledged male Hooded Oriole

First year male Hooded Oriole  (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

This summer we’ve seen lots of related action:  orioles driving off cowbirds, male cowbirds checking the palm for nests and female cowbirds flying into the tree, presumably to lay eggs.  Knowing exactly what these cowbirds are doing is as difficult as monitoring the orioles themselves during nest-building, since the nests are 30 feet or more above the ground and well hidden.  Hooded Orioles favor tall palms, attaching their nests to the underside of fronds. They peel off long frond fiber threads which they meticulously weave into beautiful hanging baskets. When researching Hooded Orioles’ nesting habits from the birding bible, Cornell University’s Birds of North America, we found almost nothing, due to limited studies and the difficulty in observing hidden nests high above the ground.

 

Male Bronzed Cowbird inspecting an oriole nest

Male Bronzed Cowbird inspecting a low-hanging, woven oriole nest  (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

Two weeks ago, these obstacles were swept away. A female oriole began building a hanging nest just over our noses under the eaves of our patio, less than 9 feet up.  Encouraged by a first year male (who was often chased by and in battle with an adult male—his father?), this female (his sister or mother?) would zip in under the eaves carrying a 2-foot length of palm fiber. The double-framed eave masked the nest from our patio door, but could see the hanging thread dance, bounce and slowly disappear as the out-of-sight oriole took two minutes to weave each thread into her intricate basket. In spite of a six day building process, our attempts to photograph the process were unsuccessful. We set a camera to be triggered remotely, but the layout required being in front of the camera on the open patio, rather than hidden inside. Nevertheless, we made continued efforts to photograph the oriole on her nest, an impossibility had the nest been normally located high in a tree. In the short available window, our oriole wouldn’t cooperate, but then luck delivered a more rare opportunity. While we baked in the sun, a male Bronzed Cowbird walked across the patio, and flew up and under the eave. We crept close to the camera, triggered the remote and managed to capture him inspecting the nest for his parasitizing bride.

Later, the nest was abandoned by the oriole. Not unusual, but it left us curious as to what we had witnessed and why.  Maybe the nest was built as a decoy to keep cowbirds away from a real palm tree nest?  Maybe a young female was just practicing for next year, her version of basket weaving 101?  Who knows? It remains a mystery we would have missed had we driven north.

 

(This article was published in the September, 2017, issue of the Saddlebag Notes Newspaper, Tucson, Arizona)

 

 

 

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Vultures and the Zone-tailed Hawk

A Soaring Turkey Vulture

Soaring Turkey Vulture (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

There are two species of vultures found in the U.S., and both are seen in southern Arizona. For the most part, Turkey Vultures (the more widespread and common) are Arizona migrants, flying up from Mexico in the spring to nest and vacation here before returning to their winter grounds in the fall. The smaller Black Vulture is a year-round resident of southern and southeast states, and although rarely seen in the SaddleBrooke area, is readily found in Pinal County’s Santa Cruz Flats. Turkey Vultures are distinguished by their large size, soaring and gliding high in the summer sky; wings raised dihedral and rocking side-to-side. From below, their silver and black plumage is distinctive, as is (if you can see it) their small naked head, red in adults but black in juvenile birds.

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Black Vulture in San Carlos, Mexico (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

By contrast, Black Vultures have shorter wings and tails, and appear solid black from below except for diagnostic silver-white wingtips. Head color also differs from their cousins; black for juveniles and gray for adults. Both vultures feed on carrion, and you’ll often scatter them from feasting on roadkill when you drive backroads. Neither species has much to say, and Sibley describes their voice as soft hissing, barking, clucking and whining. Like some golfers I know.

Rare Zone-tailed Hawk near Oracle

Rare U.S. Zone-tailed Hawk near Oracle, Arizona (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

So, in this part of the country when you look up and see a large black bird soaring and sailing gently high in the sky, it’s most often a vulture and around here most likely a Turkey Vulture. But not always. A similar-looking, but quite different bird found here during the same time of year, is the Zone-tailed Hawk. This is a relatively rare bird in the U.S. with a total of perhaps only 300 nesting pairs; a bird typically seen here only in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, and often mistaken for a Turkey Vulture when it is seen. The Zone-tailed Hawk is close to the Turkey Vulture in size, has a near-identical underwing pattern of black and silver and soars and sails like the vulture. And to add to the confusion, the Zone-tailed is often found together with Turkey Vultures, sailing alongside one or two or even mixed in with a larger kettle of vultures. From a distance, distinguishing one from the other is difficult at best, and if it weren’t for the white tail bands on the hawk it would be near impossible. So next time you’re inclined to shake off circling black birds as ‘just vultures’, raise your binoculars and take a closer look. You could find one of those 600 rare hawks. At least one nesting pair has been documented in the Canada del Oro Wash near SaddleBrooke’s Preserve, and we’ve seen a solitary Zone-tailed Hawk numerous times from our yard.

Zone-tailed Hawk with surprised prey

Zone-tailed Hawk with surprised prey (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

Zone-tailed Hawks have nothing in common with Turkey Vultures, so you might ask what’s up with this. And, as usual, there’s an answer. Turns out this is intentional deception, with the hawk taking advantage of his similar appearance and likely evolving it over time through genetic selection. Vultures eat roadkill and other well-dead critters. Zone-tailed Hawks like hot-blooded fresh meat like rabbits and rodents, neither of which are known for their keen eyesight. Suppose you’re a bunny enjoying a sunny morning, shopping for produce. A dark shadow passes over. You pause and take a weak-eyed look skyward, seeing only a couple of vultures circling slowly in the summer heat, looking for dead stuff, right? So you lower your head and go back to the veggies. Not always the right move.

 

(This article was published in the August, 2017, issue of the Saddlebag Notes Newspaper, Tucson, Arizona)

 

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Exterior Decorating for the Birds

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Male Hooded Oriole on stick sculpture (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

We get plenty of advice when it comes to interior decorating, but fewer suggestions when our yards are involved. More often than not, those limited ideas seldom consider all the creatures we share our outdoor living space with, especially birds. Recently, we’ve seen some fellow creature-oriented creative projects, and as we’ve implemented them in our own yard, our bird population has grown. Water features like bird baths, ponds and waterfalls naturally attract birds, as do flowers, shrubs and trees, and of course hummingbird, suet and seed feeders.  We’ve followed all of these suggestions, and our birds and other wildlife have shown their appreciation.  But if you’re interested in taking these basics to another level, there are a number of things you can do to increase both that appreciation and your number of visitors. And if you like to photograph birds, these modifications can also give you more natural photo opportunities.

 

Gila Woodpecker blends with cholla branch

Gila Woodpecker blends with cholla skeleton (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

For example, suet cake feeders look like square wire cages, designed to hold square commercial suet cakes.  These work perfectly fine, of course, but most people would prefer to take pictures of birds without a feeder in the frame. Through one of the local photography clubs, we found friends who substituted a segment of cholla skeleton for a suet feeder with great results. Dead cholla branches can be found with hollow interiors and nicely spaced ‘feeding’ holes. Just clean them up, inside and out with a hose, attach a length of looped wire for hanging and stuff a suet cake into the interior. Your suet-eating birds will appreciate the familiar surface of cholla, your landscaping will improve and you’ll get more natural-looking photographs.

 

Hooded Oriole on cholla sculpture

Drawn to a hummingbird feeder, this female Hooded Oriole rests on the cholla branch used to camouflage the shepherd’s hook (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

If you use shepherd’s hooks to hang hummingbird and other types of feeders, consider camouflaging the iron stands with branches and other plant material such as dead stalks of yucca, agave or desert spoon. You can secure the branches and stalks to hook stands with wire, making your feeder stands blend better with natural foliage. At the same time, you provide birds with more places to perch, again increasing your opportunities to get more natural photographs.  By including branches with small diameter twigs, you’ll also help your hummers, whose feet just weren’t designed for larger-sized sticks.  If you grow tomatoes and use those narrow gage tomato cages, you know how appreciative hummingbirds are of having those artificial perches. If you don’t grow tomatoes, you can still find tall flowers or vines that take to tomato cages, and hummingbirds will spend more time in your yard with more of these user-friendly perches.

Long showers at the bird spa

A newly-fledged Broad-billed Hummingbird showers under a water spray (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

Water is a well-known bird attractant, and moving water is better than still water. If you have any irrigation spray emitters to water ground cover, for example, these are probably set no more than a foot or two off the ground.  Using a tall plant stake, reposition one or more of these four or five feet above the ground, add a stick or stalk sculpture (or tomato cage) within the watering circle, and enjoy the daily bird show.

Showering hummer on tomato cage

Perched on a tomato cage, a male Broad-billed takes a shower (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

If your drip system doesn’t include a spray emitter, it’s easy to add one or just replace a drip emitter with a sprayer. We did this in a couple of different places with great payback. Hummingbirds take 10-minute showers, goldfinches preen on the dripping tomato cages and orioles forage through the mist and wet leaves. With a few simple steps, you can turn your yard into a high-end spa like Miraval, but for birds.  And free of charge.

(This article was published in the July, 2017, issue of the Saddlebag Notes Newspaper, Tucson, Arizona)

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It’s that Quail Time of Year

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Newly hatched and exploring the world (photo Prudy and Bob Bowers)

Not sure why, but for some unexplained reason we’ve seen more Gambel’s Quail this year than usual. On our quarterly Tucson Bird Counts along the Canada del Oro Wash and along Willow Springs Road we’ve counted far more quail in all of the sites than we’ve seen in past years, and the same can be said for SaddleBrooke.  This bodes well for future generations, and at the deadline for this article, in mid-May, most of us have already seen baby quail.  By the first of June and continuing into summer, we should see many more, with lines of newly-hatched babies following their parents like a string of wind-up toys.  Unfortunately, this bodes well for roadrunners, too. Greater Roadrunners seem to look forward to the arrival of bite-sized quail babies, maybe because their diet the rest of the year is mostly lizards and scorpions.

 

Handsome male Gambel's Quail

Handsome daddy Gambel’s Quail lookout (photo Prudy and Bob Bowers)

The Gambel’s Quail we see in SaddleBrooke is one of three species found in Arizona, the other two being Scaled and Montezuma.  Similar to California Quail, Gambel’s (Callipepla gambelii) is a non-migratory bird well adapted to life in the suburbs.  They are beautiful 10-inch birds that prefer walking to flying, and when they do fly, their short, rounded wings produce explosive and noisy takeoffs.  Both females and males have a distinctive topknot, and the male is particularly striking with his dark face, forehead and abdomen.  If you have binoculars, take the time to study their coloration and top knots.  The male is often seen perched on a wall or other high point, acting as a sentry while his family forages below.  Their diet is pure vegan, including leaves, seeds, flowers and plant shoots, and they scratch their way across the terrain like free-range chickens.

 

Mama and brood

Mama Gambel’s and brood (photo Prudy and Bob Bowers)

Unless they’re breeding, quail are gregarious and typically found in groups.  Social coveys form after the young hatch, sometimes consisting of several families and often circling the wagons and hatchlings when roadrunners appear. Normally only one brood is produced annually with up to 15 eggs, although 2 females may lay eggs  in the same nest.  Calling a quail nest a nest is a bit of a stretch, since you are likely to find a bunch of quail eggs under a bush, in a pot or just randomly dropped.  We found a single egg lying on our patio one day, stuck it in a nest with 15 other eggs under a bush, and all 16 eggs hatched successfully.  Quail young break out of their eggs in three weeks and hit the road running. No lengthy fledging for quail; none of the soft life typical for other birds. Quail are ready to roll immediately, an important characteristic when your ‘nest’ is open to the world on the ground and you rank at the top of a roadrunner’s menu.

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Loners need short-term protection (photo Prudy and Bob Bowers)

Once in a while one of these get-up-and-go babies gets separated from the rest of the family. Recently we had one wander in under our feet with no family in sight. If this happens to you, scoop him up and keep him in a shoe box lined with some soft cloth, water and powdered bird seed until you see or hear his family, which shouldn’t take long. Once they make their whereabouts known, release him nearby and they’ll find each other.

As cute as they are, getting attached to baby quail is not recommended. The fifteen you count on Tuesday will probably be thirteen on Wednesday and into single digits by Saturday. You might want to consider buying a puppy instead.

(This article was published in the June, 2017, issue of the Saddlebag Notes Newspaper, Tucson, Arizona)

 

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Canyon Birding by Train

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Verde River Canyon from open-air car (photo Prudy Bowers)

We didn’t intentionally plan this, but scheduling vagaries put us on three train trips to three canyons over three weeks in March.  A triple header spring fling.  Two of the trips were part of Road Scholar’s ‘Scenic Railroads of Arizona’, the first of which was a 4-hour, 40-mile round trip on the Verde Canyon Railroad along the beautiful Verde River.  The Canyon is rimmed with Sedona-like red rock cliffs and buttes, and the non-stop eye candy of colored rock, riparian forest and rushing water is impossible to turn your back on.  Coach car seats are assigned, but once the train pulled out, we moved to an open-air car and stayed there for the duration.  At an average speed of 10 miles per hour, we had plenty of time to take photos and look for birds, which included Turkey Vultures, Common Black Hawks and a posing Bald Eagle.

 

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Grand Canyon Railway Fiddler (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

The second Road Scholar ride was quite different, but equally rewarding.  The Grand Canyon Railway runs from Williams, Arizona across the Coconino Plateau to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, a 65-mile, 2-hour trip that descends from ponderosa forests to upper Sonoran prairie and then climbs back to pine, fir, aspen and spruce at the national park.  Wildlife, including pronghorn, is likely along the way, but the faster pace of this train and lack of open-air cars make spotting and photography more problematic.  So instead of trying to focus on slipping scenery, we enjoyed a fiddle-playing comedian and a colt-toting marshal.  Once in the canyon, birding wasn’t any easier, considering the constant distraction of sweeping vistas and plummeting depths.  They don’t call it grand for nothing.  Even so, you can count on Steller’s Jays, Dark-eyed Juncos and, if you’re lucky, California Condors.

 

Magnificent Hummingbird, Mirador Hotel

Magnificent Hummingbird at Mirador Hotel, Copper Canyon (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

Our third trip was a train adventure on steroids, taking three legs of the daily trains between Los Mochis and Chihuahua, Mexico.  Two passenger trains depart every morning, one heading east from Mochis and the other heading west from Chihuahua, each traveling 400 miles on a single track and somehow never colliding.  To board this adventure, we chose to take some friends and drive 600 miles south to El Fuerte, in the overly-publicized state of Sinaloa. From El Fuerte (312 feet above sea level) to Posada Barrancas (7,300 feet) are 80 miles of special interest, since they travel into and through the Copper Canyon, crossing high bridges, passing through long narrow tunnels and looping elliptically to gain precarious elevation. All this while surrounded by copper-colored rock walls (hence the name), spectacular waterfalls and hillsides of pink-blossomed amapa trees.

View of Urique from Gallego Point

Copper Canyon from Gallego Point (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

There are three great hotels at El Fuerte, Cerocahui and Posada Barrancas, and we put together a trip that included 5 overnights, including side trips to Mexico’s 800-foot Basaseachi Falls, Cerro Gallego, with a glass bottomed platform that juts out 6,000 feet above the canyon floor and an eco-park that features the world’s longest and probably highest zip line, a single run 3 miles long that reaches 80 miles per hour.  Of the three hotels, the most breathtaking is the Mirador, 7,400 feet above sea level and perched on the very edge of the canyon.  Every room features a canyon-side balcony, and if you can pull your eyes away from the view, you can find birds like Mexican Chickadees, Black-eared Bushtits, Painted Redstarts and Blue-throated Hummingbirds.  The challenge is giving up the view, even for a hard-core birder.

 

 (This article was published in the May, 2017, issue of the Saddlebag Notes Newspaper, Tucson, Arizona)

 

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