Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Postcard from Payson, AZ and Beyond


Pine siskin at the Pine Trailhead near Pine, AZ 6-5-10

With temperatures heading into the rang of 105 degrees farenheight this weekend and the fact that is was our 33rd anniversary we decided to head for the hills and celebrate in Payson, AZ just below the Mogollon Rim. We had never been to Payson, which is in Gila County, and I had only counted birds in Gila County once last year when I barely drove into it after a trip to Boyce Thompson Arboretum. Back then I only counted 15 species of birds.  Now I was going to have the chance to up that total as well as escape the heat AND spend quality time with my sweetheart. So, on Saturday morning with our reservation made we jumped in the car and drove the 3 1/2 hours to Payson.


Kestrel in a Pine 6-5-20 at the Pine Trailhead

Once we left Phoenix the drive became scenic and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. After checking into the hotel we immediately went out exploring and ended up 14 miles north of Payson at the Pine Trailhead just south of Pine, AZ. Here the trees towered over us and the birds flew around us.

 DSC_0087 A kettle of turkey vultures gathers overhead.  I count at least 18 birds in the sky. Ash-throated flycatchers call from a clearing and a red-shafted northern flicker lands on the ground nearby. We spend about 35 minutes here just in the parking area and I count a total of 14 species of birds.


Back at our hotel I hear a bird calling and find a spotted towhee in the trees near the little bridge. The next morning it is there again along with white-breasted nuthatches and a Say’s Phoebe. While Gus sleeps in, I decided to drive down to Green Valley Park at the end of Historic Main Street to see what birds are out and about.

 DSC_0102 I drive past the Swiss Village which is across the street from the Payson Inn where we are staying and down the Beeline Highway to Main St.

DSC_0115After turning west I arrive at the park with its lush green lawns and three ponds.  I park by the main pond and start counting birds.

DSC_0118 There are people out fishing from the docks already and birds flitting about in the trees.  Lesser goldfinches twitter and squeak, Great-tailed grackles whistle and call.  A great blue heron is busy doing its own fishing in one of the smaller ponds across the street while barn swallows swoop above the blue waters. In the shade of this weeping willow I find two black phoebes hunting insects along the water’s edge.  It is so peaceful here and so lush compared to the Sonoran desert where I now live.

DSC_0119 I like the feel of the trees and the mountains. I liked the park with its fountains and green banks. People are emerging from their homes with their dogs.  I swear everyone in this town has a dog.  I don’t think I saw anyone walking or driving without a dog on a leash or in their car!

DSC_0125 But I am here to see birds. When Gus and I stopped by here yesterday I saw mallards and they are still here today, but this time a small flock of Canada geese comes swimming towards me.  It would be fanciful of me to imagine they are here to greet me, but the truth is, I think they are looking for a handout.  Well, sorry to disappoint you birds, but you are on your own! I have been here for a half an hour and realize I need to get back to Gus and the hotel so we can eat breakfast and get on the road.

DSC_0139After a continental breakfast at the hotel we check out and head north once again to Tonto Natural Bridge State Park. We tried to visit the night before but arrived just before it closed at 6 p.m. So, we are back today to see what we can see. The temperature is already rising at 10:30 a.m. and it feels so hot!

Tonto Natural Bridge is the largest travertine arch in the world.  At 183 feet high and 150 feet wide at its widest point, it has an international reputation and draws over 100,000 visitors a year. We drive to the far end of the parking lot where you can get a very good view of the arch from above. The best view is from below however, but you have to hike down a half mile very steep trail. Gus decides to stay up top, but I take my chances and scramble down with bins, camera and water.

DSC_0163 This is a view looking through the arch.

DSC_0175Though pines, cottonwoods and sycamores rise around me, this prickly pear on the cliff reminds me that I am still in the desert.


I look above me to the cliff edge where water spills in a glistening curtain to the creek below. Above me the sky is filled with White-throated swifts twittering and darting about. They are joined by a few cliff swallows as well and I am surprised when they suddenly break into a fight with cliff swallows diving at the backs of the swifts! Across the creek I hear a brown-crested flycatcher calling, waking up the forest with its raucous cries.


The fish in the creek are undisturbed by its calling.  I watch fascinated from the bridge they swim in the cool depths of the water. I would like to linger here.  I wish that Gus could have made it down here with me to see this for himself.  Perhaps we will come back when it is cooler. I start the hike back up, stopping several times along the way to rest with sweat pouring form my body.  My hair is damp and my skin is hot.  My camera and bins grow heavier with each step. I drink the rest of my water just before I reach the top where I find Gus sitting at a picnic table waiting for me in the shade. We get in the car and blast the AC.  From what the locals tell me, it is not normally this hot here.

We drive back to Payson stopping along the way for me to count birds by a creek while Gus naps in the car. After lunch at the Payson Airport’s Crosswinds Cafe where we have an awesome view of the Mogollon Rim we start on our way home. As we leave Payson I remark to Gus that this is a lot like being in New Hampshire only without the mosquitoes, black flies, humidity or snow! We decide to take the scenic route home instead of going back through Phoenix, so south of Payson we turn off AZ Highway 87 onto AZ highway 188 which takes us past Roosevelt Lake.  The temperature, which was 94 in Payson at 2:00 PM, now rises to 104, then 106, then 108! I have been up since 6:30 a.m. and though I love to look out the windows wherever we travel anywhere, I soon drifted off to sleep. Suddenly Gus wakes me and stops the car in the middle of the road and I am glad he does. Before me the clear blue waters of Roosevelt Lake sparkle in the blazing sunlight…

DSC_0201 …and just beyond the road at the edge of the reservoir in a collection of dead trees there are dozens and dozens of cormorants nesting along with a great-blue heron or two.  The sight is simply amazing and I am wide awake now. We are both amazed by the brilliant blue water and in spite of the heat soon hop out to take pictures.


Roosevelt Lake is quite long and we drive mile after mile past the sparkling waters which look so cool and inviting to me.  How I would love to get down there and swim! Ahead of us we see a blue arch rising and we soon realize we will be crossing this beautiful bridge.

 DSC_0209We cross the bridge then take the turn to Inspiration Point where we have a great view of the dam and the bridge.  From reading the informational sign I learn that this is the largest single span arch bridge in he world!  In 1995 is was named one of the Top 12 Outstanding Bridges in America along with the Brooklyn Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge.  It is 108 degrees outside with wind blowing at a speed strong enough to keep a flag unfurled.  Yet we are captured by this beauty and we vow to come back again soon, though hopefully when it is cooler!

DSC_0210 North end of the bridge which we had just driven over 6-6-10.

Gus got some amazing photos and he said this was his favorite part of the trip.  I will post his pictures in a separate post. This was definitely the long way home but so pretty.  We had a great time! As for me, I bumped my Gila County Bird List from 15 species to 43! However, I was quite surprised that I did not see any warblers anywhere. I did hear some bird calls that I could not identify, but I never got my eyes on the birds.

Birds seen in Gila County in July 2009:

  1. Mourning dove
  2. Cactus Wren
  3. House finch
  4. Great-tailed grackle
  5. Gambel’s quail
  6. Eurasian-collared dove
  7. Northern Cardinal
  8. house sparrow
  9. white-winged dove
  10. turkey vulture
  11. common raven
  12. lesser goldfinch
  13. Verdin
  14. rock pigeon
  15. red-tailed hawk

Birds seen in Gila County on this trip June 2010:

  1. Say’s Phoebe
  2. House sparrow
  3. turkey vulture
  4. House finch
  5. common raven
  6. spotted towhee
  7. Eurasian-collared dove
  8. American robin
  9. barn swallow
  10. western kingbird
  11. mallard
  12. rock pigeon
  13. great-tailed grackle
  14. great-blue heron
  15. Cassin's kingbird
  16. bullock’s oriole
  17. acorn woodpecker
  18. American crow
  19. Pine siskin
  20. lesser goldfinch
  21. bridled titmouse
  22. Violet-green swallow
  23. American kestrel
  24. Ash-throated flycatcher
  25. White-breasted nuthatch
  26. pygmy nuthatch
  27. Northern flicker
  28. mourning dove
  29. Canada goose
  30. Northern rough-winged swallow
  31. Black phoebe
  32. white throated swift
  33. Cassin’s finch
  34. Brown-crested flycatcher
  35. Phainopepla
  36. Cliff swallow
  37. Double-crested cormorant


Gaelyn said...

Payson looks so lush. I need to add Tonto bridge and Roosevelt Lake to me AZ list. Even though hot, what a great way to spend your anniversary.

Kathie Brown said...

Gaelyn, it was a great way to spend out anniversary and it was still cooler up there than down in Phoenix or Tucson! As for Payson, I loved it and I will definately go back!

Birding is Fun! said...

I love that area of AZ. When I was a Boy Scout leader in Mesa, we had several campouts just outside of Payson on Hwy 260 I think it was.

Max said...

I spent my first summer in the southwest while working on the Mogollon Rim 11 years ago. As you noted, it is an incredibly biting insect-free place! Your pictures and bird list brought back a lot of memories.

Kathie Brown said...

Idaho birder, yes, highway 260 runs right thorugh the town and heads east towards the White Mountains. We did not have time to go that way but hope to return someday and do more exploring.

Max, so glad to bring back happy memories for you. I sure had fun creating new memories of my own. What a beautiful place! I would be tempted to live there, but then I would have to leave my beloved Sonoran Desert!

Anonymous said...

Those waters are so blue Kathie and I like the Canada shot.

Larry said...

The sun reflecting off the siskin and kestrel gave the birds interesting color. There are some great places out there but I am not a big fan of heat.I'd rather be too cold than too hot.I was getting worn out as you described heavy binoculars,cameras and sweat.The Cromorant scene is pretty cool.They group together like that in the Connecticut River some times.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was interesting your bird count in 2009 and 2010.

Some very nice pictures too.

Kathie Brown said...

Roy, thanks! I like the Canada shot also.

Larry, it WAS very hot on this day and my camera felt twice as heavy as it acutally was but I was still glad I went though I'd like to go back when it is cooler!

Abe, I thought so too!