Birding in Flagstaff, during the winter, can be challenging. Many bird species have moved south, and those that tough it out tend to be quiet and reclusive. So where do you go to find birds? Where there’s water! Especially this year due to the past years being so dry.
You will see more birds on a sunny day without much wind (or in a spot out of the wind). In winter I find the birds seem to be most active in the morning, once the sun has been out for a while. Flagstaff has a number of places with year-round water that are frequented by our resident birds, such as Steller’s Jay, Mountain Chickadee, White-breasted, Red-breasted & Pigmy Nuthatches and a variety of Woodpeckers, to name just a few.
Try visiting any of our local springs. My personal favorite is Little Elden Spring. Take Hwy 89 to Elden Springs road, at the junction of FR 556A there’s a parking area. Walk across the road and up a short trail to the spring.
The reason I love this area so much is the incredible diversity of trees along the AZ Trail here – I haven’t seen so many different kinds of trees, all in one place, anywhere else in Flagstaff. There are Oaks, Junipers, Ponderosa, Aspens, Spruce and others I haven’t identified. It’s also the only place I’ve encountered Elderberry bushes growing wild. The rocks along the trail are fun too! Many have vugs of crystals in them.
Another great spot to find birds is Kachina Wetlands Preserve. https://northernarizonaaudubon.org/NAAS/kachina-wetlands-preserve/
When the water isn’t frozen, you can find a variety of ducks, eagles, hawks and perching birds – even, if you’re lucky, a Roadrunner – there is a pair residing in the area and I was lucky to get a photo of one on my last visit.
For the best winter birding you need to make like a bird and migrate to a warmer climate. Fortunately for us, that is a simple day trip to the Verde Valley.
First stop is Red Tank Draw. Driving south on I-17, take State Rt 179 (Sedona) exit and go east (away from Sedona).
You will see a small sign, and once across the bridge, pull over and park on the right. You’ll see a trail that leads down to the stream bed, walk a short distance south, and even as dry as it is right now, you’ll find small pools of water, perfect for perching birds to drink and bathe in. Find a comfy rock to sit on and wait 5 to 10 minutes for the birds to return. I found lots of Robins, a few warblers, several phoebes, a sapsucker and numerous ruby-crowned kinglets enjoying this area. The geology here is wonderous, as is the peace and quiet, if you hike a bit further down the streambed and away from the road.
Just down 179 a bit further is the perfect spot for a picnic – at the Beaver Creek Picnic Area https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/coconino/recarea/?recid=75389
This is my niece’s favorite picnic spot – we take a short walk down the trail and hop onto the large rocks in the water, relax and wait for the birds to fill the trees along the waters’ edge.
From here it’s a short hop over to Bubbling Ponds at the Page Springs Fish Hatchery. https://northernarizonaaudubon.org/NAAS/bubbling-ponds-preserve/ Bubbling Ponds hosts numerous species of birds due to the fish hatchery ponds where AZ Game & Fish raise many of the species of endangered Arizona fish, as well as having Oak Creek in close proximity.
Here you can see a variety of ducks, herons, eagles and hawks – including the Common Black Hawk, which is only found near water and is not common, as its name implies. There may only be 250 pairs in the entire U.S. They do migrate, and are not typically found at Bubbling Ponds in the winter – however, one seems to have decided to stay this year and can frequently be seen high in a Cottonwood tree between the road and the ponds. Another bird that is fun to spot here is the Belted Kingfisher who frequents the stretch of Oak Creek next to Bubbling Ponds. Numerous other bird species frequent this area, making it an amazing place to visit any time of year.
Other good birding spots in Flagstaff include:
Francis Short Pond
I-40 Wetlands (just below Sam’s club)
Elden Springs (& the Elden Homestead site)
Sinclair Wash below Willow Bend
Other good birding spots in the Verde Valley include:
Verde River & Ponds at Dead Horse Ranch State Park
West Fork of Oak Creek, in Oak Creek Canyon
West Clear Creek Campground and Day Use Area
Another source of good, local birding information is Jay’s Bird Barn (who graciously donate both the feeders and birdseed at Willow Bend). https://www.jaysbirdbarn.com/
As is Northern Arizona Audubon, https://www.northernarizonaaudubon.org/
Contributed by Kathie Satterfield