Phoenix and Central Arizona Wildlife Viewing
Metropolitan Phoenix has great winter birding and wildlife watching. In southwestern Pinal County seek out “life-list” possibilities. At the Nature Conservancy’s Hassayampa River Preserve northwest of Phoenix, the Hassayampa River’s riparian community many birds. Palm Lake at the Preserve offers four-acres of open water and marsh.
Guided bird walks are offered in many spots around the Phoenix area, from Hassayampa Preserve in the northwest to the Gilbert Riparian Preserve in the southeast valley, and Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park to the east.
Gilbert’s man-made Riparian Preserve wetlands have grown famous for attracting a variety of birds. While you’re there walk the trails around the percolation ponds and scan the shallow waters for stilts, phalaropes and herons.
Explore Mount Ord, northeast of Phoenix via the Beeline Highway. The peak tops out at 7128 feet, high enough for ponderosa and pinyon pines. For a scenic drive and great day of birding, continue up the Beeline Highway (route 87) to state route 188 and then turn southeast for a leisurely drive along Tonto Creek and past Roosevelt Lake.
You’ll find aquatic birds nearer the Phoenix valley at the confluence of the Salt and Verde rivers. Less than a half-hour drive north of Mesa, the 100-acre parcel supports trees large enough for eagle and osprey nests.
More than 200 species of birds are confirmed at the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Project along the Salt River and near central Phoenix. This area opened in 2005, and quickly earned a reputation amongst urban birders as a prime spot.
Drive up the Apache Trail (Route 88) to Canyon Lake and look for bighorn sheep.
Summertime is for reptile fans and Arizona is the best of all states for snakes, lizards, frogs, toads, turtles and tortoises. After morning sun has warmed the boulders you might find chuckwallas basking at Phoenix’s South Mountain Park.
At the Nature Conservancy’s Hassayampa River Preserve find plenty of bird fledglings, busy feeding and getting strong enough to survive the autumn migration.
Thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from a day roost beneath a bridge to take wing and hunt insects. This is repeated at sunset nightly at the Maricopa County Flood Control tunnels near the southeast corner of 40th Street and Camelback Road.
The Phoenix Bat Cave is really a 7 mile long underground tunnel which is part of a Maricopa County Flood Control ditch. A good viewing spot is at the southwest corner of 24th Street and Biltmore Circle, just south of Lincoln, south of the Squaw Peak Police Precinct.
Arrive at South Mountain Park near Phoenix early in the morning and you’ll hear the cactus wren calling. Check out Javelina Canyon and Fat Man’s Pass for hikes popular with wildlife watchers. Boyce Thompson Arboretum celebrates the seasonal migration season with the “Bye Bye Buzzards” event, a seasonal salute to turkey vultures before they depart to spend winter months in southern AZ and Mexico.
The last of the autumn migrant birds are passing through Maricopa County and “migrant traps” such as the Hassayampa Preserve, Gilbert Riparian Preserve and Boyce Thompson Arboretum.
Winter residents have arrived at the Hassayampa Javelina, raccoons, ringtails and bobcats all call the Preserve home, and may be seen shortly after sunrise.
Christmas Bird Counts begin this month, and are one of the most popular watchable wildlife events of the year. Counts within this region include over two dozen areas. Amateur birders are encouraged to volunteer with Christmas Bird Counts.