Woods Canyon Lake, Willow Springs Lake and Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery, Coconino & Gila Counties, AZ

Thursday, July 6, 2017

To start birding at Woods Canyon Lake at 8:50 a.m., my friend, Marsha W. and I had driven just two hours to get to this 7500’ elevation. Along the way, I believe we saw "virga" clouds--i.e., clouds releasing rain that evaporates before reaching the ground.

Photo by Marsha Wiles -- experiencing her first summer in the Arizona desert
Stepping out of the car into clear fresh air, no clouds and lots of bird sound assured us we would have a good day.

While our first sighting of GRACE'S WARBLER(s) were thrilling, they were much too active for photos. Breathing the scent of the pine trees was satisfying enough at that moment.

Red-shafted Northern Flickers were flying from tree to tree giving us some wonderful views of their red-underwings.

Among the warblers were other feeding birds: both RED and WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH; AMERICAN ROBINs; and STELLER'S JAYs.

At the sound of OSPREY, we walked from the parking area to the Lake where we eventually counted five (5) OSPREY flying overhead at the same time.  My photos were a bust; but Marsha came through with a perched osprey.

OSPREY  [photo by Marsha Wiles]

Fortunately, we continued watching the birds in flight and found a BALD EAGLE flying over. Later it, too, perched.

BALD EAGLE  [photo by Marsha Wiles]
Surprising me in the air was a small flock of PURPLE MARTINs (4). Not seeing them very often down in our desert area, it's always a pleasant shock to realize these large dark swallows are part and parcel of Arizona's high country. Mostly, the Violet-green Swallows were busy snapping up insects over the lake.

Our BROWN CREEPER was moving quickly up a tree trunk, working its way to the back of the trunk as we looked on, but I hoped it would fly back to the bottom and work its way back up. Nope. It had seen us, camera ready, a few seconds too late and did not stay. I heard more creepers during the day but that one's feathers had contained strikingly clear brown and white markings.  

DARK-EYED JUNCOs moved around at our feet, though Marsha insisted there was no Red-backed subspecies. Her field guide didn't list it, but my Sibley's did. Had fun debating it, though.

At Woods Canyon Lake, we had two more really enjoyable sightings.  RED-FACED WARBLER (4) was vocal and even perched briefly on open limbs. Felt lucky to get this photo since it is always in motion.

Hearing it before seeing it, I felt confident that the bird that actually perched for us was a CORDILLERAN FLYCATCHER (2). The tail feathers showing light or "white" threw us but I'm guessing it was a worn adult and the sunlight just passed right through the thinning color.

With more and more families arriving at or near the lake from the campgrounds or nearby Payson, we decided to check out Willow Springs Lake a bit farther east on the Mogollon Rim.

Willow Springs Lake was much quieter but still cool and breezy even though the temperature had risen to 84°F by noontime. (at least 15-20 degrees cooler than the desert floor)

RED-CROSSBILLs (3) were the only new species here. So, from a picnic bench we listened to MOUNTAIN CHICKADEEs and watched the Red-backed species of DARK-EYED JUNCO foraging very nearby. 
Neither of our field guides showed juvenile Red-backed species so I entered this bird below into eBird as a Yellow-eyed Junco. I looked around for an adult (knowing it would be a rarity here) but never found one so was unsurprised when the eBird reviewer got back to me fairly quickly letting me know it was most likely a juvenile RED-BACKED.

After spending just an hour there, we headed down the hill to stop at Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery.

The five mile drive into the hatchery takes us directly into the forest so, again, our senses were treated to multiple triggers: various blooms, thick greenery, birds, fresh clear air, butterflies and dragonflies.

Arriving at the parking lot was a bit disillusioning. Children galore. Smart parents. But they had found and were very excited about the very large trout in the stream right below the man-made waterfall where the American Dippers usually hang out. 

So, we walked down the road lined with trees on both sides, and took the occasional open spots in toward Tonto Creek to check for Dipper downstream.

Good habitat but we found no American Dippers in Tonto Creek today.

On one of our forays into the Creek, I saw from a distance what I thought might be a Say's Phoebe. But no! Look what we found!

Another CORDILLERAN FLYCATCHER - engaging in just that activity, flying out and back to its same perch

With just 26 species to show for our long day (5:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.), neither of us really cared about the total. We were cool and enjoying ourselves among birds we generally don't see very often.

Babs [photo by Marsha]
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View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S38009512

View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S38009564


  1. Top ten favorite birding spot in AZ anytime of the year. The Tonto Fish Hatchery is magic!