Wild Burros of the Colorado River – A Puppy’s View!

March 2018 – Continuing our theme this year of seeking out places where the southwestern deserts and waterways meet, we drove the scenic drive that follows the Colorado River from the town of Parker, Arizona, up to the Parker Dam. Starting in Parker, we went up the California side of the river to the dam and then we came back down the Arizona side to Parker.

Boating on the Colorado River California-min

The Colorado River is a favorite spot for boaters.

The Colorado River is a popular place for water sports and water play, and even though the river was cold and the air was springtime cool, there were still lots of boats out enjoying the water.

Boating on the Colorado River Arizona RV trip

The desert mountain backdrop is beautiful and RV parks line the shore for miles.

From power boats to party barges, there was plenty of boating action going on.

Party boat on Colorado River Parker Arizona RV trip-min

A party boat rides the current on the Colorado River

The Parker Dam Road on the California side of the river south of Parker Dam is a combination of wild and natural recreation areas and RV parks. One RV Resort ends and then the next one begins with a smattering of BLM managed Rec areas tucked in between.

As we rounded one bend on this road, we noticed some wild burros in the road ahead of us. How cool!

Wild Burros Parker Dam Road Colorado River California RV trip

We saw wild burros on the road in front of us.

We’d spent quite a bit of time with the wild burros in South Daktoa’s Custer State Park last summer, and we’d watched the wild horses of Arizona’s Salt River many times over the years, but it was still a great thrill to see these guys standing by the side of the road.

Wild Burros Parker Dam Road Colorado River California-min

Wild burros of the Colorado River.

We slowed down as we approached them, and another car coming the opposite way did too. The wild burros slowly crossed the road over to the other car and said hello to the folks inside.

Wild Burros Parker Dam Road Colorado River California RV trip

The burros crossed the road to say hi!

Then I noticed that there were more wild burros on our side of the road. They were standing around just hanging out.

Wild burros of the Colorado River Parker Dam Arizona-min

A wild burro’s life is pretty chill!

Wild burro Parker Dam Road California-min

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Suddenly one of them walked up to our truck and poked his head in our truck window.

Wild burro looks into car at Colorado River Arizona RV trip

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Buddy was fascinated and leaned way out of the truck window to have a closer look. The burro pulled his head back out. Buddy’s face was reflected in the mirror and it made a cool image.

Puppy leans out of car to see wild burro Parker Dam Arizona RV trip

Buddy leaned over for a closer look.

Then the burro poked his head in again. He seemed to be smiling. Buddy shied away a little.

Wild burro at car window with puppy Parker Arizona RV trip

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Then Buddy stared up at the enormous muzzle in amazement.

Wild Burro and Puppy Colorado River Arizona-min

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“What kind of breed are you?” He seemed to be asking.

Buddy braced himself on the window sill to get a different perspective.

Wild Burro and Puppy Colorado River AZ-min

The two got a good look at each other.

Then the burro and the puppy touched noses for a brief second.

Puppy meets a wild burro at the car window Parker Dam Road California RV trip

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I reached out and petted the burro’s mane. He didn’t seem to mind at all. Then the burro slowly moved away, and I noticed a young colt standing off in the distance. He looked like a little stuffed animal!

Wild burro colt at Parker Dam Colorado River California-min

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What a cutie.

Wild burro colt portrait Parker Dam Colorado River California RV trip

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By then, Mark had climbed out of the truck and was taking Buddy over to meet some of the other burros.

Wild burros meet a puppy Parker Dam Road California RV trip

The burros were very calm and inquisitive too.

Everyone was relaxed and a bit curious as well.

Introducing puppy to wild burro Colorado River Arizona RV trip

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What a neat animal encounter that was!

If you are traveling in the northwestern corner of Arizona near Parker and Lake Havasu, the drive on Parker Dam Road on the western side (California side) of the Colorado River makes for a nice excursion. There are thousands of RV campsites to suit any budget, and the lake is a great place for recreation of all kinds.

Hopefully, the wild burros will come say “hi” to you too!

Kayak on Colorado River Parker Arizona RV trip-min

A kayak on the Colorado River.

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Fall Colors and Wildlife on the Sonoran Desert Rivers in Arizona

December 2017 – The Sonoran Desert in Arizona is known for its cactus and warm dry climate, but one of our favorite things in the Sonoran Desert is the waterways – the rivers and lakes that flow through the arid land.

Sunset on Verde River Arizona RV camping-min

Sunset on the Verde River

While Spring is an awesome time to see wildflowers in the Sonoran Desert, the months of Fall are a beautiful time to explore the central Arizona waterways because the cottonwood trees and other riverside deciduous trees begin to change color.

RV camping on Arizona Verde River-min

The many waterways in Arizona are wonderful to explore.

Autumn comes later to the Sonoran Desert than most places, peaking sometime in November. Some of our favorite Arizona fall foliage images are in this article about Tonto National Forest here. They are from the eastern side of Phoenix just beyond the edges of the city of Mesa along the Salt River and the Verde River (“Green River”).

This year we returned to the banks of the Verde River once again to witness the colorful display.

Verde River Arizona RV camping-min

A thick bed of fallen leaves leads to the river.

The Verde River rises and falls depending on rainfall and water releases at the dam upstream. In some places the water had seeped up between the trees and made wonderful reflections surrounded by fallen leaves.

Verde River Reflections in Arizona-min

Reflections.

Big cottonwood trees reached out across the Verde River.

Verde River Camping in Arizona-min

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Suddenly a group of wild horses appeared on the far shore.

Wild horses on the Verde River in Arizona-min

Wild horses come for a drink on the opposite shore.

Central Arizona’s wild horses live in small family groups all along both the Salt River and the Verde River. We have seen them many times over in areas east of Mesa along the beautiful Bush Highway which parallels the Salt River.

Suddenly one of the horses crossed the river and approached quite close.

Wild horse Verde River Arizona camping trip-min

The wild horses of the Salt and Verde Rivers are much loved by Phoenix residents and visitors.

His tail and his mane were filled with burrs from running around in the prickly desert. It gave him a bit of a rastafarian look!

Wild horse in Verde River Arizona burrs in its tail-min

This guy’s tail and mane were thick with burrs.

Arizona wild horse with burrs in its mane-min

Quite a hairdo!

We wandered away from the river after the horses left and found some stately saguaro cacti with their arms outstretched toward the heavens.

Saguaro cactus near Four Peaks Arizona-min

Arizona is the only state where saguaro cactus grows, and they bring a lot of personality to every landscape.

A yucca plant erupted in a spray of gold along its spikey leaves as the sun lit it from behind.

Yucca plant in Arizona-min

A sunlit yucca.

Up on a wire we noticed a regal Harris Hawk surveying the scene below him.

Harris Hawk Lake Meade Utah RV trip-min

High wire act — a Harris hawk surveys his domain.

He moved very slowly, first staring in one direction and then staring in another, surveying the ground for any signs of scurrying feet that might make a good snack.

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Harris Hawk on an RV trip to Lake Meade Utah-min

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We have gotten a kick out of seeing various animals in our travels, including wild burros, buffalo, prairie dogs, mountain blue birds and herds of cows in the Black Hills of South Dakota this past summer (blog posts here and here).

Arizona’s most scenic spots off the beaten path offers the opportunity for some particularly special wildlife encounters too, and I wrote an article in the December issue of Motorhome Magazine describing the wide variety of animals we’ve seen in our Arizona RV travels.

Motorhome Magazine Feature Arizona Animals by Emily Fagan December 2017-min

Motorhome Magazine December 2017 issue
Article by Emily Fagan – Photos by Emily and Mark Fagan

Motorhome Magazine has posted the article online at this link: Animal Encounters in Arizona.

Dead tree in Arizona-min

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From snowy egrets to burrowing owls to peach faced lovebirds to sandhill cranes to hummingbirds and a whole host of four legged critters like big horn sheep and mountain lions (not to mention the wild horses), there are all kinds of animals to be seen all around Arizona!

Arizona is also famous for its beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and we caught a few along the Verde River.

Pink sky at sunset in Arizona-min

Sunsets in Arizona are stunning and surprisingly reliable!

Sunset on the Verde River on an Arizona RV trip-min

Twice the color!

Arizona sunset-min

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Sunset on the Verde River in Arizona-min

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Lots of snowbird RVers are headed to Arizona now and in the coming weeks, and we hope you all take a drive on the beautiful Bush Highway and catch a glimpse of the wild horses and perhaps a Harris hawk or two!

Happy days on an Arizona RV trip-min

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MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

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    Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum – Wild Animals in Tucson AZ

    February 2016 – During our RV travels in Tucson, we visited the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum which is located in Saguaro National Park. This really fun “museum” is really more of an outdoor nature walk and zoo that lets you see all the creatures native to the Sonoran Desert up close in their natural environment.

    Big horn sheep Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    The great thing at this “museum” is that the animals don’t run away!

    The Sonoran Desert spans the states of Arizona on the US side of the border and Sonora on the Mexican side of the border, and it is an ecosystem and habitat that we just love. But the most exotic birds and animals are a bit reclusive, and the iconic creatures aren’t so easy to find while out hiking in the desert.

    So it was just fabulous to see a big horn sheep sitting up on a rocky hill and to be able to admire him will he slowly turned his head this way and that in the morning sun.

    Big horn sheep Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    Within moments of entering the park, we saw a big horn sheep sunning himself.

    The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum has several habitats for the animals of the different regions of the desert, with a mountain habitat for the animals that like the cooler climes amid big rocks and trees, and open grasslands for the creatures that prefer those areas.

    Fox Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    A cute little fox walks by

    We haven’t ever seen a fox or a wolf while out hiking, but we got see both here at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. A beautiful wolf who was pacing in his enclosure, no doubt looking for Little Red Riding Hood.

    Wolf Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    A wolf on the prowl — looking for Little Red Riding Hood!

    Little did he know that Little Red Riding Hood was actually over at the mountain lion enclosure!

    Mountain lion Arizona Sonoran Desert museum

    A little girl checks out a mountain lion… or vice versa!

    You can watch the mountain lion on two sides of her enclosure. There is a plexiglass window in one corner where the little girl was, or you can stand on a slightly elevated viewing area on the opposite side of the enclosure for another view down into her mini canyon.

    Mountain Lion Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    What a beautiful cat.

    This lioness kept everyone guessing and on the run. First she’d hang out by the window, but when the crowd got thick, she’d move around the corner out of sight. Then the crowd would trot around on the path to try and see her from the open viewing area on the other side.

    What a hoot! As this enormous cat leaped effortlessly between the rocks by the window and the big open gully around the corner, all of us tourists ran back and forth on the path outside her enclosure, cameras and cell phones at the ready!

    Mountain lion Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum Saguaro National Park Tucson

    This mountain lion kept all the tourists on the run!

    The trick to getting the most out of this museum is to arrive a little before the place opens at 8:30 a.m. When we arrived at 8:32, the parking lot was quickly filling and there was a line for tickets at the door already. The thing is, the animals are fed at opening time, so if you hustle down the path to the ones you want to see, you’ll catch them as they eat their breakfast.

    Within an hour, most of the animals were settling in for a nap, and many of them were hard to spot!

    We caught a fleeting glimpse of an absolutely gorgeous ocelot. What a fur coat!!

    Ocelot Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

    The ocelot ran past so fast she was just a blur.

    But after that out-of-the-corner-of-our-eyes peek at her, she was gone for the day in a quiet corner where we could just see her head moving as she licked her paws…

    But we did see the bobcats. They were snoozing under a rock!

    Bobcats Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    Bobcats catnap under a rock

    The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is artfully laid out, with paved and dirt walking paths that intersect and wind through the property. In some higher areas there are lookouts, and we loved the gnarly shade shelter that protected one of them.

    Lookout Area Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    A fun and crazy awning over a viewing platform.

    There are lots of more common animals too, and we got a kick out of the javelina, an animal we have spotted many times in the desert.

    Javelina Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    Arizona’s desert “pig” – a javelina (pronounced “havaleena”

    A little squirrel was busy scratching…

    Squirrel Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    I’m not sure if this guy was on display or just stopped by for the free food.

    And a coyote posed for several minutes while a crowd of camera shutters clicked away.

    Coyote Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    A coyote strikes a classic pose.

    We even spotted a deer back in the brush.

    Deer Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    We saw deer through the trees.

    One of the big highlights of a trip to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is the Raptor Free Flight presentation which happens twice a day at 10:00 and 2:00 all winter long. Again, even though we were there on a mid-week school day, the crowds were thick. Everyone stands along the walking path in one area and then a presenter begins to talk about the various birds that will be flying by.

    Raptor Free Flight demonstration_

    The highlight of a visit to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is the raptor free flight show.

    There are two trainers who have yummy dead animal pieces in their pockets, and they go into the various bird enclosures and ask the birds if anyone wants come out and fly around and get a snack.

    They bring out only those birds that are in the mood, so there is no guarantee who will be flying on the day you are there!

    The first bird we saw was a raven. These guys love the western National Parks, and we’ve seen them many times, but it was still a thrill to see one swoop over our heads and land on the trainer’s hand.

    Ravens and crows are extraordinarily smart birds, and I’ve read of a study of a flock of crows where one member of the flock was taken away for seven years and then brought back. The flock went wild upon his return, obviously recognizing their long lost buddy.

    Free Flying Raptor Exhibit Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    A raven flies to the trainer for a snack.

    Perhaps most thrilling was the great horned owl. I have a super sweet spot for owls (we had a wonderful encounter with some adorable wild burrowing owls just a little southeast of Phoenix last year and watched a wild great horned owl at the sandhill crane roosting area in southeastern Arizona too).

    Great horned owl Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    A great horned owl came out to see the crowd.

    To keep all these free flying birds within reasonable range, the trainers pulled bloody bits of thawed quail out of their pockets every so often and lure the birds over. (These weren’t pieces of the southwest’s sweet Gambel’s quail, thank goodness, but were commercially grown to feed raptors). Mark got an awesome shot of the great horned owl downing a bite!

    Great horned owl Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    Mmmm, mmm, good!!

    What a beautiful bird!!

    Great horned owl Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

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    Last up was a peregrine falcon, and it was really wonderful to see a falcon flying without the leather hood that falconers usually put on them. This guy zipped around and did some fabulous dives.

    Peregrine Falcon Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    A peregrine falcon comes in for a landing.

    Arizona was once home to a parrot species too. The Thick Billed Parrot lived all over the American southwest and was last seen in the Arizona’s Chiricahua Mountains in the 1930’s. They were reintroduced to the wild in Arizona in the 1980’s, but the effort was a tragic failure, in part because of predators, like hawks, and also due to releasing adults that had lived in cages for too long and had lost their street smarts.

    The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum had two thick billed parros on display, and they were making a wonderful racket!

    Thick Billed Parrot Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    A pair of thick billed parrots squawked happily

    There are two big walk-through aviaries in the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum — one for bigger birds and one for hummingbirds.

    What we’ve discovered in our RV travels around the southwest is that hummingbirds of all varieties are super easy to attract with a hummingbird feeder hung outside the rig, or mounted an RV window, and filled with a concoction of four parts water and one part table sugar.

    Hummingbirds

    Hummingbirds are easy to attract and fun to photograph from an RV if you’ve got a feeder.

    Hummingbird hand-feeding kit

    A hand-feeding kit!

    Even better — and a reader just alerted us to this — get a hummingbird hand-feeding kit. Doesn’t that look like fun?! We’ve just ordered one ourselves!

    Another great way to attract both birds and other small animals is to put out a dish of water a little ways from the rig. We’ve used a big upside down frisbee with great results. Several birds at a time, including cardinals, will stand in and around the frisbee, taking baths and drinking.

    The Sonoran Desert spans the Sea of Cortez too. This is an unusual eco-region because the creatures that live in or near the water have to contend with the very cold Pacific Ocean temps and climate that sweep up from the open ocean and the very hot desert climate and water temps that develop each summer.

    The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum has a tropical fish display that shows some of the fish of the area.

    Fish Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

    The Sonoran Desert includes Baja California and the Sea of Cortez where tropical fish abound.

    A trip to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a really fun excursion, especially for RV snowbirds looking for a neat daytrip during their stay in Tucson. Be sure to get there early so you can catch the animals as they chow down their breakfast!!

    There’s more info at the links below…

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    Peach Faced Lovebirds in Phoenix, AZ – Parrots in Cactus!

    If you are walking down the city streets of Scottsdale or Mesa in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area, you are bound to hear the squeaks of little green peach faced lovebirds as they fly between the trees and cactuses.

    Peach faced lovebird parrot saguaro cactus Scottsdale Arizona

    A peach faced lovebird perches on a saguaro cactus.

    They nest in the holes in the saguaro cactuses that have been made by other birds (mostly woodpeckers and flickers), and they are just as adorable as can be when they peek out of these nesting holes and look down at you.

    Peach faced lovebird in a saguaro cactus Scottsdale Arizona

    A peach faced lovebird peeks out of a saguaro cactus

    I have wanted to get a photo of one of these little cuties sitting in a saguaro for ages, and I had the chance a few days ago when we were visiting with our friend John Sherman, a professional wildlife and bird photographer who shoots for Arizona Highways. He knew of a saguaro cactus nearby where the peach faced lovebirds hang out in the late afternoons. 

    Peach faced lovebird in saguaro cactus nest in Scottsdale Arizona

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    He is a full-time RVer who lives in a wonderful custom built Class C motorhome, and he has a mouthwatering collection of photography gear.  He very kindly he let me borrow his humongous 150-600 mm Tamron lens (that I have been lusting after) to take a bunch of shots.

    Wow, what a lens, and WOW what a fun experience! (And thanks, John, for the inspiration to buy one a few months later!).

    Peach faced lovebird parrot saguaro cactus Phoenix Arizona

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    I’m not used to lenses that hang out nearly a foot from the camera body, so it took me a while to wrestle the thing into submission and make it stay still in my hands. But the little birds in the arms of the saguaro cactus waited very patiently as I got myself sorted out, and once I started shooting, they seemed happy to pose.

    What a surprise it was to see one lovebird in the flock that was a blue mutation!

    Peach faced lovebird parrot blue mutation Scottsdale Arizona

    A blue mutation of a peach faced lovebird!!

    Peach faced lovebirds are not native to Arizona. They are actually native to southwestern Africa! However, over the years escaped pet birds have established themselves in the urban Sonoran Desert, and they have become naturalized citizens of the state.  All the flocks in the desert areas here are descendants of escaped pet birds.

    Peach faced lovebird parrot blue mutation saguaro cactus Scottsdale Arizona

    Pretty in pink…and pretty in blue!

    They love the dry desert heat of the Sonoran Desert because it is just like their ancestral home across the ocean in southwestern Africa! They are savvy to bird feeders, and they make the most of whatever offerings they can find in residents’ back yards.  Wisely, they seem to have developed a palate for yummy Sonoran Desert goodies too.

    Peach faced lovebird parrot Mesa Arizona

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    Not all “introduced” species are appreciated, and certainly not all of them have endearing little personalities like these guys.  This part of Arizona seems to attract special feral animals, though, and last year I wrote about the wonderful wild horses we found living just beyond the Phoenix city limits.  Arizona’s wild parrots have been enjoyed for many years (here is an article about them.

    Peach faced lovebird parrot in Mesa Arizona

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    Wild parrots can be found all over the country, and a few years back we bumped into a wonderful documentary about a flock of wild parrots that has taken up residence in San Francisco.  This is charming movie, Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, is one of our favorites (blush), and we have watched it time and again, as it always makes us smile.

    Peach faced lovebird parrot in a palo verde in Mesa Arizona

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    Where do these peach faced lovebirds live around Phoenix? Check out the streets between 52nd and 64th Street and Cactus Road to Thunderbird Road in Scottsdale. They can also be seen in the trees between Albertson’s and the Shell station across the parking lot at McDowell Road and Power Road in Mesa, here.

    Peach faced lovebird parrot on saguaro cactus Scottsdale Arizona

    You’ll hear these guys’ high pitched squeals long before you see them!

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    Sandhill Cranes in Willcox Arizona – What a Party!

    February, 2015 – Every winter an amazing sandhill crane extravaganza takes place in southern Arizona and New Mexico. These big, raucous birds don’t mean to put themselves on display, but whenever 20,000 or so of any species show up in one place, whether its to witness a rock concert or just to loll about by the water’s edge, the sheer volume of identical creatures becomes an Event.

    The sandhill cranes show up in November every year, and they hang around until March, and one of the best places to see them during those months is around Willcox, Arizona. When we woke up on our first morning there, it was the cries of sandhill cranes flying overhead that got us out of bed.

    “It’s them!” I said to Mark excitedly as I whipped off the covers and flew out the door in my PJ’s. “They’re here!”

    Sandhill cranes in southeastern Arizona

    We look up and see wild zig-zag patterns of sandhill cranes in the sky.

    “Huh?” He said, clambering out of bed beind me. “Who?”

    I grinned at him as he joined me outside the rig in the pre-dawn light, and we both stared at the sky in awe as hundreds of sandhill cranes flew right over our trailer, making scattered V-formations all across the sky.

    This was their morning commute, and they were honking and jostling around in the sky just like motorists do on the freeways every morning on their way to the office. These guys were heading for their favorite foraging grounds, however. Once there, they would catch a bit of breakfast and then find a quiet spot for some mid-day frolicking or perhaps a nap. In the late afternoon they’d grab another quick bite to eat and then commute home to roost.

    Sandhill cranes fly in formation in Willcox Arizona

    These guys are heading to breakfast out in the farm fields.

    One of the best viewing areas is the roosting area at Whitewater Draw, a wide and shallow body of water about 6 miles south of the tiny town of Elfrida. As we drove down there in the middle of the day, we saw little pockets of sandhill cranes flying here and there, and we spotted little groups of them standing around in the farm fields. Their distinctive cries filled the air now and then as they called out to each other.

    Great exhibitions often come with entertaining sideshows, and the sandhill crane exhibition at Whitewater Draw is no exception. A pair of great horned owls had taken up residence in a large lean-to building, living in the rafters and watching all the crazy bird people coming and going below them.

    Great Horned Owl

    The “sideshow” at the sandhill crane extravaganza

    Crazy bird people never miss a bird trick, though, and these birders had set up a row of seats right below the owls so everyone could have a good look at them. When we got there, only one owl was in the rafters, but he made some priceless faces for us as we set up our tripods and took portrait shots of him.

    Sandhill cranes at a pond

    Throngs of birds line the shore

    A little ways from this shelter is a paved walking path for people to stroll along the edges of the water and take in the exotic spectacle of thousands of large birds standing around. At midday, most of the flock was out in the farm fields, but a sizable number was still at the water’s edge here at Roost Central.

    Sandhill cranes milling around by the water

    These guys were busy and oblivious to the people watching them from the walking paths nearby!

    The noise of these guys conversing among themselves was a low, continuous hum.

    A pair of sandhill cranes flies overhead

    Every so often a pair or trio would fly by.

    Overhead we’d catch them flying by every so often. This was a lazy time of day for them, and they flew past in pairs and threes. Most of their social activities were taking place on the ground, though, and they strutted and flapped and preened and marched around on the far side of the pond. Every once in a while the noise of their cries would rise momentarily and a few birds would take to the air and fly to a new spot.

    Three sandhill cranes fly over farmland in southeastern Arizona

    Three sandhill cranes flying over Whitewater Draw Arizona

    Sandhill cranes flying

    Hey! Wait for me!!!


    As the sun began to set, we suddenly began to notice small flocks of cranes flying in. The din of squawking and flapping from the birds on the ground would swell slightly when a new flock was sighted in the distance.

    The first sandhill cranes arrive at the lake

    As the sun began to sink in the sky, small flocks appeared on the horizon.

    As the flock would get closer the cries from the crowd on the ground would increase. Then another flock would show up on the horizon and the squawks from the home team would grow a little louder.

    Sandhill cranes at Whitewater Draw Arizona at sunset

    More and more flocks began arriving.

    Soon the arriving flocks were truly enormous. Literally thousands of birds were arriving at once, coming in from all directions and flying in massive V’s and W’s. The welcoming song from the birds on the ground grew ever louder, as if an orchestra conductor were leading them, waving his baton and flapping his arms and coaxing them to sing ever louder.

    A flock of sandhill cranes arrives at sunset in southern Arizona

    The noise of the excited birds on the ground and in the air calling to each other was deafening!!

    The crescendo grew louder and louder until the sound was truly startling. It was as if the rock stars had arrived. The crowd on the ground surged as the arriving birds landed, and the noise of them all squawking at the tops of their lungs became a defeaning din.

    For once, the people — the humans watcing all this — were all silent. Crazy birders, maniac photographers, and happy couples out for a stroll, all stared in stunned silence as the Arrival of the Cranes took place.

    People watch the sandhill cranes fly in Arizona sunset

    People watch the cranes arrive.

    We all watched with silly, happy smiles too. For once, humanity was completely upstaged by Nature as this miraculous event unfolded before us, totally beyond our control.

    And then, as if a light switch had been thrown, the vivid orange of sunset was gone, and delicious shades of pink and blue slowly blanketed the sky. The birds had all landed now, and the roar of excitement was gone from the air.

    Sunset at Whitewater Draw

    Peace reins once the birds have all found a spot by the water’s edge.

    The birds didn’t completely settle down for hours, though, and we heard them long into the night. Little squabbles would break out now and then, and suddenly a bird or two would take to the air in a huff, squawking loudly as he flew.

    First thing in the morning, about an hour before dawn, we crept down to the water’s edge, drawn by the rising sound of the sandhill cranes. When it was finally light enough to see across the pond, we noticed that the cranes had settled in the water overnight rather than on shore. No dry toes at bedtime for these guys. They like to stand knee deep in water when they sleep!

    Flocks of birds standing in a pond at sunrise

    We creep down before sunrise and find the birds slept standing in the water overnight!

    They shuffled around and, one by one, each bird’s head came out from under its wing as it shook the fuzzies and sleepies from its feathers. And then the low hum of crane squawks began to grow again. Soon the low rumble became a roar, rolling across the water like thunder, and then suddenly the pitch seemed to rise and the noise peaked, just as it had the night before.

    The rock stars had taken flight, and they were off — and they were ushered off stage with a cacophony of beating wings and loud squawks. Thin ribbons of birds began to fill the sky, and they wove their jagged patterns from horizon to horizon as they set off to get breakfast.

    In no time, the number of birds in the water had dwindled to just a small remaining few. The morning show was over, and the rush hour commute to the distant farm fields was well underway.

    Sandhill cranes roosing and flying in the morning in Arizona

    The raucous send-off is just as loud and wild as the welcome home was the night befor

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    Burrowing owls in Gilbert, Arizona – They’re a Hoot!

    We spent a few hours hoo-hoo-ing with the owls at Zanjero Park in Gilbert, Arizona, the other day. What a great spot for a day trip! Our friend Rick had told us about it, and he showed us some amazing photos he’d taken there. So off we went to do a little owling.

    A burrowing owl in Phoenix Arizona

    A burrowing owl checks us out!!

    Zanjero Park is is on the southern part of the 202 loop on the southeastern edge of Phoenix, Arizona. As we drove towards it, we wondered if we’d come to the right place, because it is as nondescript as can be. It’s in farm country and takes up just a few acres, and it is pressed right up against the highway berm! There’s a dirt parking lot and a small sign identifying the park and a larger sign explaining what this unique owl habitat is all about. And that’s about it!

    A burrowing owl at Zanjero Park in Gilbert AZ

    You rang?

    Burrowing owls like to live in tunnels, so volunteers have erected tunnels for them using large diameter pipe. Each owl house has a front door and a back door, and the owls like to hang out by their doors and watch the wold go by. There are about 15 or so owl burrows scattered along the ground next to the paved walkway though the park.

    An owl looks out of his burrow

    Whatcha lookin’ at ??

    What’s funny is that his is not a particularly scenic park. The highway traffic zooms by right next door, and it is definitely not a place that shows off Arizona’s gorgeous Sonoran Desert landscape that we love so much. However, despite being rather bleak and barren, it sits right next to a farm field full of yummy mice, and that’s why the owls like to live here and why the volunteers decided to help them out.

    Burrowing owl Zanjero Park Gilbert AZ

    Maybe I’m just a softy old bird lover, but these guys are darn cute!!

    We went at high noon, and much to our surprise, the owls were wide awake and out and about. We saw at least six pairs of burrowing owls lounging around on their front stoops as we strolled down the short paved walkway. In hindsight, morning or evening might be an even better time to visit if you want to take pics, because the owl burrows are lined up along the south side of the walkway, so at noontime you are staring into the sun as you spy on these cute little guys.

    If you are staying near Phoenix and are looking for something fun and different to do, go visit the burrowing owls of Zanjero Park, it’s a hoot!

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    Wild Horses Running Free

    We’ve been hearing the yelps of coyotes every night lately here in the Tonto National Forest.  How fun!  Even better, we’ve been woken several times by clip-clop of wild horses running past our rig.  In the mornings, the horses stick around a while, munching on the grass and chasing each other around. The other day, one came running towards me, his mane flying, and I was so excited to get a photo of this wonderful and free spirited animal.

    Wild horse in the Sonoran desert Arizona

    Wild and free!

    The horses can be seen from viewpoints on the spectacularly scenic Bush Highway along the Salt River in Phoenix, Arizona.  But they are easiest to find when you aren’t out looking for them!

    The Travel Channel sent a crew out with helicopters, photographers and film people to get footage for a new show they are producing about treasured landscapes in America.  We caught up with them in a viewing area, and found out their helicopters had counted 70 horses. But the crew on the ground hadn’t seen any that day!!

    Pair of wild horses drinking at the Salt River in Phoenix, Arizona

    A mirrored pair of horses at the water’s edge.

    We got really lucky down by the river’s edge where we watched them getting their evening drink. Two of them strolled slowly side by side, stride for stride, nibbling the grass while the glassy water mirrored their reflection.

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    Wild Horses!

    Here’s a sighting from the wild west of Arizona – wild horses!

    We’ve been mingling with these free spirited animals on the eastern fringes of Phoenix lately. They are probably descended from horses kept by the Indians on the nearby Yavapai Nation at Fort McDowell. They aren’t the most elegant of equine specimens — no one is brushing them down or feeding them apples and carrots on a regular basis — but they live life on their own terms, making their way on the edge of a very urban world.

    Wild horse at the Salt River in Arizona

    A wild horse comes down to the river for a drink.

    We have spotted them getting a drink at the Salt River, and we’ve seen them in the distance on the hillsides between the saguaros this year. We’ve even seen them taking a leisurely stroll down the road! However, the little colt that enchanted me last year hasn’t been by — yet.

    Blonde wild horse of the Salt River in Phoenix Arizona

    A wild horse pauses to look at me as it walks along the river.

    I was very lucky to have a unique encounter with that sweet little colt and his mom and few other horses from his herd last spring, and I told the story in this post: Wild Horses of the Salt River.

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    Wild Horses of the Salt River in Phoenix

    Horseback riders on the dusty trail

    Horseback riders on the dusty trail.

    April, 2014 – The phrase “wild west” evokes images of horses and cowboys and wide open spaces.

    While we were visiting Phoenix Arizona these past few months, we ran into lots of different horses and riders out on the desert trails.

    Some suddenly appeared in a cloud of dust, materializing on the trail as if in a mirage, or as if walking right out of a movie.

    Their cowboy hats and boots and spurs completed the picture to perfection.

    Others rode a fine line between the modern digital age and the wild west of yore, holding the horse’s reins in one hand while chatting away on a cell phone with the other. Continue reading

    Phoenix on the Wing – Waterbirds of Arizona!

    Artist easel in the Sonoran desert

    An artist creates his vision in the desert

    March, 2014 – The Phoenix area is full of beautiful hiking trails, and the Windy Cave Trail at Usery Mountain is just one of many lovely places to experience the Sonoran desert.

    We wandered out into the desert on marked trails and unmarked roads to go hiking — or at least to go for a walk — every day during our stay on the outer eastern edges of the city.  There was always something new to see.

    One morning we came across an art class that had set up easels all through the desert.

    Wildflower

    Spring is springing!

    The group of artists was huddled around the teacher as we hiked past, and we found Continue reading