Woods Canyon Lake, Canyon Point Campground (Sinkhole), Forest Road 51 in Overgaard & Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery (3 separate counties: Coconino, Navajo & Gila)

August 9 & 10th
Birder friend, Jeanne Burns summers in Heber so we agreed to meet at Woods Canyon Lake around 7:30 a.m. to do some birding along the Mogollon Rim. After driving the 5,800-foot elevation change from my house, I arrived at the Store parking lot with a little time to spare. But a Ranger pulled in right behind me and started his gas-powered weed whacker spoiling the peace and quiet. Walking to the opposite end of the lot, I began birding and was viewing a GRACE’S WARBLER when Jeanne arrived.

From there, we walked east along the lake, the edges of which were lined with fishermen. While their lines remained slack, the fishermen watched three OSPREY take fish from the lake time after time. One Osprey stayed perched high in a snag on the opposite shore.

Osprey at Woods Canyon Lake

It had been several years since I had visited this birdy place so I was glad Jeanne knew her way around. She particularly wanted to see if she could find this year’s fledged Bald Eagles so we birded our way slowly to the dam area.

MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE songs sounded so thin and quiet compared to the STELLER’S JAYS and COMMON RAVENS.  

As we neared the dam, we began to hear BROAD-TAILED HUMMINGBIRDS zipping around. HOUSE WRENS were vocal while chipmunks and golden-mantled squirrels played on the rocks.

The Chipmunk’s striped face:

helps differentiate it from the Golden-mantled Squirrel also at that location.

Golden-mantled Squirrel

Babs crossing the dam
After crossing the dam, Jeanne remarked that the barriers protecting the Bald Eagle nest were down so that we could wander up along the trail on that side looking for the young eagles.

We never found the fledged birds nor the nest, but were quite happy with finding the mature BALD EAGLE perched on a limb with many branches in our way. We walked to find a clear view.
Mature Bald Eagle

Returning to our car by a different route through a campground, we spotted two more warblers: RED-FACED AND TOWNSEND’S.
We also walked south along the entrance road but road and paved trail-sealing projects deterred us — too noisy and active for birds to be hanging around. Altogether, we walked two (2) miles.

Having never heard about nor seen the sinkhole Jeanne mentioned, we stopped next at Canyon Point Campground where the sinkhole is located. Needing to park in the designated parking area, Jeanne said it would be a bit of a walk from there to our destination. We ended up walking almost another two miles.

By then, it was late morning and birds had quieted down, but spending a good hour walking through the Sitgreaves National Forest still gave us good numbers of birds in twelve (12) species. 

Two DARK-EYED JUNCOS made us “work” for identification. While we would expect a Gray-headed subspecies we were looking at a gray body, the usual black lore, rufous patch on its upper back, pale throat and bi-colored bill — indicating RED-BACKED FORM of Dark-eyed Junco. One was a juvie.

Bi-colored bill helps identify this Juvenile Red-backed form of Dark-eyed Junco from Gray-headed

Brown Creeper

Just as we were looking at a very active VIRGINIA’S WARBLER, we saw a long strand of humans walking up and out of the sinkhole. [Hiking group from Payson] So now that we had reached our destination, our hope of seeing birds was going to be greatly reduced from their presence.

But we went forward and descended slightly into the sinkhole, found a rock to sit on from which we could look down into the trees below us.  There is no water at the bottom, so the 40-50 hikers had probably hiked all the way to the bottom and back out. We got ZERO birds there in fifteen minutes.

After walking back to the distant parking lot by a different route, we headed to Jeanne’s cabin where I would leave my car so we could travel together.

We took some down time during which I enjoyed her multiple bird feeders and water features in her back yard. One bird that has always managed to evade my camera lens is the PYGMY NUTHATCH.  Fortunately for me, it was the most prominent bird at the feeders while I watched.

Pygmy Nuthatch - above and below

In late afternoon, we headed out to one of Jeanne’s favorite places: Forest Road 51 in Overgaard. Due to the hour and possibly the increasing clouds, it was very quiet bird-wise, but it was beatiful open green country and forest.  We spotted two wild horses, one of which was a tall tan horse with black mane and tail, suggesting a palimino. It was standing with a black horse that could explain the dark mane and tail. Both were in the distance but stunning to see, nonetheless.

Sunset from Forest Road 51 in Overgaard

Our original plan had called for going up to the White Mountains on Day #2, but with 90% chance of rain up there on Wednesday, I had called and canceled our room reservation. We would stay on the Rim to bird for awhile.

Returning to Forest Road 51 worked out much better with a 6:40 a.m. start.
We had barely turned in on the road when we started seeing small flocks of birds in the grasses beside us.  CHIPPING and LARK SPARROWS were abundant as were WESTERN BLUEBIRDS. 

Jeanne heard a Western Meadowlark while I spied a CASSIN’S KINGBIRD on my side of the road.  We stopped at various spots to get out and walk about enabling us to come up with a few HAIRY WOODPECKERS, NORTHERN FLICKERS, PYGMY and WHITE-BREATED NUTHATCHES. But the bird Jeanne really wanted me to see was the Lewis’s Woodpecker that was not in its usual grove of Pondersosa Pine.

Cassin's Kingbird on a mullein stalk; they seem to like that herb

As we reached our turn-around point at the five-mile mark, we began to hear WESTERN WOOD-PEEWEE.  On our return drive, we stopped again at the pine grove and this time, success!  Photo is lousy due to clouds, backlighting and bird position but we saw an identifiable LEWIS’S WOODPECKER.  Yay!

Forecast for showers to begin in Payson at 11 a.m. motivated me to start back down from the Rim Country before I got caught in rainshowers.  Had just learned by email photos that Apache Junction had finally gotten some of the rain that was flooding so many other cities around us and leaving us dry. Apparently, we had 2.5” in a short period of time yesterday filling our water retention area to the max. So, I had no intent of getting caught in any flooded waterways and departed Jeanne’s good company and mountain cabin at 10 a.m.

Before reaching Payson, I pulled off to stretch my legs at the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery (Arizona Game & Fish). I was curious as to whether the American Dippers spent the summer there but found none. In abundance were Painted Redstarts darting and dashing into Tonto Creek near the falls below the pipe. Trying to get photos of them took a lot more time than I intended spending there!  

Painted Redstart hiding from me
Painted Redstart

On down the mountain into Payson and home via Bush Highway, I covered the 138 miles from Heber to home in three hours.

Although disappointed in not being able to visit the White Mountains briefly, I know that I’m heading there with birding friends toward the end of the month and am already looking forward to that trip.

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  1. Nice post and great birds! By the way, the squirrel in your post is a Golden-mantled Squirrel, which is different than the Antelope Ground Squirrel. They have different ranges and habitats.

  2. Thanks, Gordon. It's much more colorful than the Antelope Ground Squirrel, too. Should have looked into but thanks for the "fix".

  3. A great outing for you. So glad you were able to coordinate the visit that was discussed last spring. I know you were so looking forward to birding that area. Loved the Lewis' - great post. Thanks for sharing.