Rackensack Canyon & Seven Springs Rec Area

Saturday, January 17, 2015  --  Tonto National Forest

Excited to return to Seven Springs Recreation Area in Cave Creek for the second time in under two weeks, I was up early.   My January 9th visit with birding friends provided a fantastic showing of Western Bluebirds sunning on every bare branch of a tall sycamore tree as we entered the area -- beautiful little birds that I don’t see in the Phoenix Valley.  There was such variety of bird species in the Recreation Area that day, we didn’t explore Rackensack Canyon long enough to find the Fox Sparrows reported there.

Of the four subspecies of Fox Sparrow, I've seen only the Red (Taiga) form in Ontario, CAN--on October 1, 2012, my first sighting of any of the Fox Sparrows and a Life Bird.   Now, while a small flock of Slate-colored Fox Sparrows are being seen, I really wanted to get up to Rackensack Canyon before they flew off.

This morning, I had gathered two friends to join me to explore Rackensack.  My friend, Hanny V. who lives in my community, and my regular birding friend, Susan, joined me to bird the canyon.  Susan ended up driving her high-clearance vehicle for the dirt roads and spring-water crossings. 

Moon setting as we arrived on 1/09/15
Rackensack Canyon
The morning chill gave way to sun on the hillsides bringing the birds to life.  We heard Cactus Wrens; we saw a Northern Flicker's red under-wings flash past us; and heard Spotted Towhees scratching leaf litter on the ground.  The sunshine made us feel better, too!

Susan, Boofy (dog) and Hanny

We birded slowly, each of us spotting one bird or another.  The Western Scrub Jays with their larger size and loud voice were the easiest to spot.  The Verdin and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, both so tiny they can maneuver behind leaves with no problem at all, forced us to stay sharp and quick.  Hanny spotted the Northern Cardinals, a male and a female.  Slowly, we continued walking but at our rate of speed I doubt we covered a full mile one way.  In the 90 minutes we birded Rackensack Canyon, we were visited by Dark-eyed Juncos (Oregon form), Phainopepla, Bewick's Wren, House and Lesser Goldfinch, many White-crowned Sparrows and . . . finally . . . the Slate-Colored Fox Sparrow!   It popped up from a bush to take a look at us from a low tree branch.   But as soon as I lifted my camera lens toward it, the sparrow flew off.  Photo below was found on the internet.

Slate-Colored Fox Sparrow
Seven Springs Road is sometimes paved and sometimes dirt road and after a rain, sometimes a mud road.  Today it was good.

Road toward Seven Springs Recreation Area

Saturday is not a particularly good day to visit the rec area for birding.  There were jeeps, one after the other, going up the road; there were campers and hunters and hikers -- all great activities but not conducive to quiet birding, especially when we rely on our ears.  Jim Ripley had the right idea.  We came upon him at the distant Group Camp Area with a photographer friend.  They were, more or less, perched on the rock wall (built by the CCC in the 1930s) waiting for the birds to come to them.   We walked to the ramada area where we saw three different woodpecker species (Gila, Ladder-backed, and Red-naped Sapsucker), two Cedar Waxwings and at least 25 Chipping Sparrows.  A single Townsend's Solitare was a nice find and we added that to our ongoing list including the two Loggerhead Shrikes we had seen on the drive up.  Elevation is approximately 3,400'.

 The few birds that posed during my two recent visits are below:

Female Phainopepla

Female Cassin's Finch

One male and four female Phainopeplas

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View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S21384910

View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S21385155