Compared with other outdoor activities like pickleball or biking, birding requires less equipment and burns fewer calories. And, unless you’re on a quest to see all of the world’s 10,000 species, it’s also a lot cheaper. In fact, with clear windows and a few feeders, you can enjoy birds from the cool comfort of your own home, although you’ll eventually have to venture outside if you want to find the 383 species eBird lists for Pinal County or the 450 species listed for Pima County. Jointly coordinated by Cornell University’s Laboratory for Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, eBird is a massive real-time online checklist program that collects bird observations from citizen scientists around the world. Anyone can register as an observer for free, submit bird sightings from anywhere in the world and review the collected data in a number of convenient ways. The system permits online recording of observations both at one’s personal sites, such as your own yard, or at established ‘hotspots’, notably bird-rich sites open to the public. I use eBird regularly, both to document my own birding experiences and to research potential locations for birding and writing. For this article, I turned to eBird to find all of the ‘hotspots’ listed for Pinal and Pima Counties, and, not surprisingly, found 49 in Pinal and more than 100 in Pima (eBird only shows the top 100 hotspots. You can view these data as a summary list of hotspots in order by the number of species documented, or each site individually, with the bird species detailed and ranked by those most recently seen. You can further explore the results by looking at individual observer’s dated checklists, with the actual number of each species recorded. In some cases, photographs are included, often to support sightings of unexpected or rare birds.
The top hotspot for Pinal County is Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park, with 260 species recorded to date, and the top hotspot for Pima County in Sweetwater Wetlands, with 294 species. Both of these locations are a bit of a drive from SaddleBrooke, but it’s easy to combine birding at Sweetwater (I-10 near Prince) with other Tucson errands, and we often combine a trip to or from the Phoenix airport with a stop at Boyce Thompson. If you’re picking up friends or family at Sky Harbor, consider swinging by Boyce Thompson on the way home. The gardens, trails and water features are a treat for all visitors, whether or not they’re interested in birds.
For the best birding closer to home, these are my ten favorites: The Canada del Oro Wash east of the Preserve and Unit 21, The entry drive and main golf pond at SaddleBrooke Ranch, Catalina Regional Park, Catalina State Park, Honeybee Canyon Park, Willow Springs Road, Oracle State Park, Peppersauce Canyon, 7B Ranch Nature Trail and The Shores Recreation Area on the Gila River. More than 150 species have been reported on eBird at many of these sites, and none of them are more than an hour’s drive from SaddleBrooke. Access to all of these sites is easy, except for our own stretch of the Canada del Oro Wash, which SaddleBrooke has fenced off to keep cattle out of the community. However, the land east of the fence is State Trust Land open to the public, and if we could manage to talk SaddleBrooke into installing a few cattle gates or walk-arounds, we could all enjoy this beautiful stretch of trees, often flowing water and an amazing variety of birds. All of the sites also have a number of relatively level and short trails to accommodate those of us no longer capable of steep climbs and rock scrambling.
Even without gates, you can bird the west side of the CDO Wash from a three-quarter-mile trail that begins at the south end of Desert Sky Drive cul-de-sac. Public parking is available just past the main golf course pond in SaddleBrooke Ranch, where you can easily look for water birds on the pond. Catalina Regional Park offers a trail to a bird-rich pond just three tenths of a mile south of the end of Lago del Oro’s paved section, and everyone is probably well aware of how to access Catalina and Oracle State Parks, as well as Honeybee Canyon. If not, email me for directions, and remember that Oracle State Park is open only on Saturday and Sunday. Peppersauce Canyon and campground are on the Mt. Lemmon Highway south of Oracle State Park. The 7B Ranch Nature trail, a scenic one-mile loop through a mesquite bosque, is a mile east of Mammoth on Copper Street, and the Shores Recreation Area is about 4 miles north of Winkleman. The Shores is actually in Gila County, where you enter the park, but since you look across the Gila River into Pinal County and there are lots of birds in this lovely riverfront setting, I’m including it anyway.
(This article is scheduled for publication in the June issue of the Saddlebag Notes Newspaper, Tucson)