TEXT ONLY VERSION
Having been to California in 2003 and not being able to fit in a look at the Grand Canyon, this trip was dedicated to touring the canyons and other natural sites of Northern Arizona and Southern Utah. The itinerary fell into place quite easily when the map was studied, since a loop could take in some of the most spectacular vistas that can be encountered anywhere. The arrival airport could realistically have been either Phoenix or Las Vegas, but the circuit more naturally lent itself to the latter.
Following our arrival in Las Vegas, and an overnight stay there, we left the next morning to cover the following locations:
Flagstaff. Set at a relatively high altitude, this is a good central spot for various differing parks and also Sedona, which is a very picturesque town to the South. Early mornings here were cold (around 40°F);
Grand Canyon. It has to be done, and is every bit as spectacular as you have heard. The best direction to approach the National Park is from the East entrance, since the road from here passes many outlooks from the South rim. Within Grand Canyon Village itself, there is a worthwhile walk westwards along the rim. We found it was best to buy an annual pass to the National Parks, since this worked out better value than day passes when also visiting Bryce Canyon, Zion, Arches, and Capitol Reef;
Page. This is the town set up in the 1950's to service the building of the Glen Canyon dam. It is thus located only a couple of miles from Lake Powell, which is probably of most interest to water sports enthusiasts. However, there is a good 8 mile circular rim walk around Page, with some nice views of the lake and also one or two birds to be seen. In addition, Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend are well recommended;
Moab. Many people visit here for the water based activities on the Colorado River. For ourselves, the two main reasons for the visit were Arches NP, which is only 5 miles to the North, and Monument Valley, which is on route from Page;
Bryce Canyon. This is at a higher elevation than expected, which keeps the daytime temperatures down to a respectable level, and the composition of the canyon itself is astounding. Not only does Bryce offer stunning scenery, but the accompanying forest and sage brush land over the highway are good for both birds and mammals.
While a little bit of research into the birding sites of the area was conducted before leaving, the main object of the holiday was to see the sites, and staying 2-3 nights in each of the locations left little time for any other activities. That being said, the geology and interest from the natural wonders of the area are unbelievable, and should be enjoyed in their own right. Some birds can be seen at some of these locations, but lack of them is by no means a disappointment.
The timing of the trip was intended to fit in with our other holidays, so the fact that we were in the area during the driest month was a useful coincidence. Not only was there no rain during our stay, but even clouds were few and far between. Temperatures varied hugely from one location to another, with highs in Las Vegas being bring up to 109°C (even nights didn't drop out of the 80's), to the much more refreshing 70's - 80's of Flagstaff and Bryce Canyon. Car hire was booked via the internet and using Dollar, which was much cheaper than the counter prices. We treated ourselves to a convertible, which was a good investment given the weather.
Arizona Mountain Inn, Flagstaff
There seem to be many chain hotels within the town, but this is a much better location, since the main building (with 2 recommended reasonably priced suites including breakfast) and associated cabins are surrounded by ponderosa pines. This offers some immediate birding on the doorstep, and while the variety of species is limited and generally of commoner types, seeing such characters as Western Bluebirds and Hairy Woodpeckers close up and almost on demand outside of the back door is rewarding.
Yavapai Lodge, Grand Canyon
Accommodation within Grand Canyon Village is limited, with only 4 lodges to choose from. When we arrived at Yavapai, all rooms were booked, which is probably why most tourists either stay at Tusayan a little further South, or visit for the day. Hence booking ahead in the Summer is advisable, but the reward is to be able to sleep within walking distance of the local California Condor population. Yavapai seems to be the more basic of the choices, but still offers a roomy and clean respite, surrounded by pine woodland with ample potential for a small variety of common species..
Marriott Courtyard, Page
Page is located 2 miles from the Glen Canyon dam, which is the reason for the existence of Lake Powell, and even for the town of Page itself, since it was founded in the 1950's for the construction of the dam. There are many chain motels in the town, but the Marriott is set aside from habitation for a still reasonable price. It is also next to a golf course, but this didn't seem to hold anything of particular interest. An 8 mile rim trail around the town is worth doing for the spectacular views of the lake.
Mayor's House, Moab
Moab is the largest town in South-eastern Utah, and hence has a good variety of chain hotels, but it also offers very reasonably priced B&B's such as this. The property is set to the East of town towards the hills. Worthy of note are the excellent (but not too filling) breakfasts, and the lack of any keys to enter the property and rooms (no need for them according to the owners). It has a small garden with pool, and of avian interest the nest of a pair of Black-billed Magpies. I did walk the street looking for birds one afternoon, but in the high heat only came up with Western Kingbirds, Lesser Goldfinches, and copious American Robins & House Finches.
Bryce Canyon Lodge
There is one lodge within Bryce Canyon NP, and several less expensive ones just outside. On the face of it, there doesn't seem a great benefit in the former, since a car or shuttle is still required to reach many of the viewpoints and hikes. One of the beauties of the lodge is the proximity to the main road, and more exactly, the open area of sage brush beyond. This has great potential for open meadow and sage specialists.
Arizona Mountain Inn, Flagstaff
The ponderosa pine woods which enveloped our lodge for three nights were covered properly over a three hour period early on the second morning of the stay, following a short walk around the grounds the previous morning. Most of the species had been seen then, with only one or two more added. One thing that has to be said about the morning sortie was that it was very cold - daytime temperatures had been in the high 70's, but this morning began at around 40°F degrees. On the other hand, light was reasonable at around 5am, and full when I started the rounds half an hour later.
The predominant habitat is ponderosa pine woodland, with the occasional clearing for tracks running through. Yesterday's high profile Hairy Woodpeckers were again in attendance, being seen as soon as I left the doorway. Predominant species were probably Western Bluebird, which were in some cases feeding fledged young, and House Finches, often heard singing as well as being seen. Violet-green Swallows had been noticed in good numbers yesterday, but the treat of the morning was discovering that at least one pair of birds was coming to the ground to collect straw for nest building. A nectar feeder outside the neighbouring chalet only had one brief Black-chinned Hummingbird visiting.
A little deeper into the woods were Dark-eyed Juncos, often located by singing males, but a further pair were found to be collecting food for young near to our room. Black-capped Chickadees were common, but diligence paid off when a few Mountain Chickadees were picked out. Only 1 Pygmy Nuthatch was seen on both mornings.
Other sites in the Flagstaff area
This was a habitation site for the Sinagua Indians, who fled the volcanic eruption to colonise the ledges of this canyon. Juniper and pinyon pines abound here. Our visit found only the rim trail open, since a landslide had blocked the descent on the Island Trail. Potential species as seen on the boards include Townshend's Solitaire and Great Horned Owl, but we made do with Steller's Jay and Ash-throated Flycatcher.
Sunset Crater/Wupatki National Monument
The loop containing these two sites is well worth doing for the scenic rewards, particularly the volcano crater for the still impressive lava fields and ash covered slopes. However, very little bird life was present at the volcano, apart from overflying Violet-green Swallows. Similarly, the Wupatki relicts only proffered a pair of Rock Wrens.
We landed here too late in the day to do the area justice, but the mix of habitats created for the arboretum make it a site of rich potential. Even a short walk around the immediate vicinity of the reception can add some common species to the list. It is worth noting that the opening times are 9 - 5, and entry outside of these seems impossible, since there are locked gates and a high fence.
Sites in Sedona
Slide Rock State Park
This is ostensibly a family day out type of place, where dad and the kids can have fun in the clear waters of Oak Creek. However, some nice birds can also be seen while watching the fun and frolics, such as Bullock's Oriole, Hairy Woodpecker, and Black Phoebe. The short walk above the creek is worthwhile, and the skies above are adorned with numerous White-throated Swifts.
Red Rock Crossing
This is a short walk through woodland and alongside a small creek to the base of Cathedral Rock, which in itself is worth the visit. Numerous birds can also be heard singing and calling as the walk progresses, many of which are Lesser Goldfinches, although we also added Phainopepla and Black Phoebe, with White-throated Swifts overhead.
South of Sedona, and beyond yet more impressive red rock mesas is this small town, we did a road stop for a vista and walk to Bell Rock. We completed this short walk, and turned up nesting Western Kingbird, a pair of which were mobbing an unidentified hawk, with additional Ash-throated Flycatchers evident. The longer loop walk may be worth doing for more species and superb scenery.
The main purpose of the visit to the Grand Canyon was to mutter in wonder at this geological marvel, which was duly done. However, despite the fact that no specific birding was done here, some nice birds were spotted anyway. The most obvious one is California Condor. These are most reliably seen from Lookout Studio within Grand Canyon village, along with the many chattering tourists who also want a piece of the vulture action. This is the second site to the Big Sur in California to have released captive birds, and they have now bred successfully on 7 occasions.
Also within the confines of the village are many breeding Brewer's Blackbirds, which cannot be missed. A Black-throated Grey Warbler was edging its way along the bushes on the South Rim of the village.
Within the pines, Western Bluebirds and Lesser Goldfinches abound, along with a few singing Dark-eyed Juncos and Black-capped Chickadees.
The viewpoints towards the East Entrance are also worth checking. After a party of Blue-grey Gnatcatchers, 1-2 families of Townshend's Solitaires were chanced upon.
Rim Walk, Page
Page is set in the desert, and was originally established to service the manufacture of the Glen Canyon Dam nearby. Although it has now grown and adapted into a small town, it is still surrounded by desert, with the odd oasis of a golf course and gardens in interspersed. The Rim Walk is an 8 mile loop which more or less encircles the town, overlooking the lake, desert, and outer part of the habitation.
I covered a small section at the head of North Navajo Drive, which is also designated as a nature reserve. One of the hopes was to see snakes along here, since they have been reported, but no luck this morning. Birdlife is sparse and of limited variety, the most common being small family parties of Black-throated Sparrows. Most of the obliging individuals were immatures. Rock Wrens are also common along here, again often seen in family groups. And that was about that for the actual walk, although a couple of battling Black-chinned Hummingbirds were near to the car park, along with a few Mourning Doves and Great-tailed Grackles.
Back at the hotel, I decided to have a quick look at the golf course, since they can often offer an oasis to desert birds. Pay dirt was struck with a Greater Roadrunner working the fairways, eventually posing within a few metres in front of me.
Arches National Park, Moab
This is one of the most stunning and amazingly formed of the regions parks, with not only the arches to see, but many other rock formations in the rich red coloured rock. The Delicate Arch walk was tackled - about a 2 hour uphill hike alongside the aged and child buggies. In addition to the arch, Violet-green Swallows were joined at the trail head by an American Kestrel. The car park of the Devil's Garden, at the apex of the park, held Juniper Titmouse, with Black-tailed Gnatcatcher on the trail, and small numbers of White-throated Swifts overhead.
Capitol Reef NP
This spot formed a good stopping off point for the Moab to Bryce Canyon journey. The cliffs along the North-eastern edge are as usual picturesque, and a Golden Eagle was spotted from the drive. However, the picnic area shortly after the entrance offers wooded shade and the chance for one or two birds. In addition to the obvious American Robins and Brown-headed Cowbirds, we saw Common Flicker, Western Kingbird and a singing Yellow Warbler while stuffing ourselves with a Subway sandwich.
Good numbers of sightseers meander around the various trails of Bryce Canyon, but it is worth joining in and wandering both the Rim Trail and also the hikes descending into the formations of the spectacular canyon. In addition, one or two species of birds are found: my own targets of Clark's Nutcracker (pair along the Queen's Garden Trail), and Mountain Bluebird (female along the Rim Trail) were both ticked off during one walk. Violet-green Swallows are always overhead, with 3 White-throated Swifts putting in a noisy appearance. At the Sunset Point picnic site, a couple of White-breasted Nuthatches came more or less to the tables, with a Dark-eyed Junco a little more reticent.
Early morning walk
First aim of the morning was the tourist orientated sunrise watch from Inspiration Point - not such a bad idea since it shows up the hoodoos of the canyon in a positive light. After passing a couple of Mule Deer in the half light, I was surprised that there were so few people around - one or two huddled at the lookout posts in the cold morning air.
After gasping at the spectacle that is sunrise (admittedly it was a reasonable effect), the rim between Sunrise and Sunset Points was covered. The main habitat of interest is the bristlecone pine woodland which backs on to the rim path. The White-breasted Nuthatches of yesterday didn't put in an appearance, but one of the mysteries solved - a distant singing bird suspected as Townshend's Solitaire was probably backed up by a much closer singing bird on the rim, which then continued to feed on the path. Western Bluebirds were again evident, as were a couple of Dark-eyed Juncos. A distant singing sparrow was eventually tracked down to perch near to the Bryce Canyon Lodge - a dapper Green-tailed Towhee. A much more difficult songster was Grace's Warbler, flitting from bristlecone pine to pine, but occasionally showing well enough between trees for identification. A small group of Brown-headed Cowbirds was possibly a family party, often to be found squabbling in the undergrowth. Only other species of note were 2 separate calling Western Tanagers.
Before returning for breakfast, a brief sortie to the sage brush on the opposite side of the main road had to be done. It quickly became evident that more time should have been spent here, since the potential of the area seemed huge. After a singing Western Meadowlark, the first of a few Sage Thrashers was found near to the road. While watching this, a grouse of some description erupted from near to me, but couldn't be relocated. A sparrow on the other side of the road seemed to have potential but disappeared before it could be screened properly.
Escaping the city life of Las Vegas for some reasonable desert birding is quite straight forward, since Corn Creek is less than half an hours drive from downtown on the State Road 75. Set 3.8 miles along a dusty but very well maintained gravel track, the reserve is consist of a fairly small green oasis in the desert, holding some standing water in the form of bullfrog infested pools, and a mixture of trees. There is even a toilet and small visitor centre, although the latter showed no signs of being open during my visit. There are also interpretive boards and leaflets to be had, along with a guest book to sign.
At first I had the impression that the reserve was much larger than it actually was, but it turned out to be relatively small, so I completed at least 3-4 loops of the trails. Ash-throated Flycatchers seemed to be everywhere, being quite common and noisy. A group of Phainopeplas also kept reappearing and alighting at the top of bare branches. The active and constantly calling Lucy's Warblers were more difficult to get good views of - they were seen regularly enough, but played around in the leafed trees. At least 2 Yellow-breasted Chats were a lot easier, since they frequently sang from the topmost lookout branches. A Loggerhead Shrike with mouth watering insect was a bit of a surprise. There were probably fewer species than I had expected in this hyped up spot, which may have been down to season, but it is probably one of the better and higher potential locations in the Las Vegas area.
Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve
More time should have been spent here, since there is more in potential than just the lagoons, and even these kept turning up more species as the time, and temperature, moved on and up. The location from Las Vegas is ideal - just across the 75 from the centre of town, and the directions make the site easy to visit. After using the intercom at the main gate for entry, the visitor parking and centre were well signposted, passing the out of bounds working lagoons on the way. No fee is required, just signing in and out is all that is requested. A map of the birding area is provided along with a bird list.
Most of the birding is on the lagoons, of which there are nine, but a perimeter walk can also be done, looking in particular for Crissal Thrashers, which are listed as common in the mesquite to the other side of the boundary fence. Time constraints meant that I had to cover this quickly, and none were seen. The lagoons are well worthy of attention, with #9 offering extra interest since reeds have been planted, and are the host to a colony of Yellow-headed Blackbirds. The small islands were also the only place to hold a few American Avocets, alongside the more common and widespread Black-necked Stilts. The only lagoon which was mainly dry was #3, due to maintenance, but the small pool remaining was the best place for White-faced Ibis.
Black-necked Grebes were very common, being present on nearly every lagoon.
Wildfowl were present in small numbers - mainly Redheads and Ruddy Duck were
joined by the odd Cinnamon & Blue-winged Teal, and even singles of Pintail
and what looked like female Bufflehead. 2 separate Green Herons were
inadvertently disturbed from the edges, and 2 Killdeer seemed to be performing