Prescott: Watson Woods, Grapevine Canyon: Pacific Wrens, etc.
8 Mar 2015, 1:16 AM,
Prescott: Watson Woods, Grapevine Canyon: Pacific Wrens, etc.
Yesterday (March 6, 2015) I headed over to Prescott (Yavapai County) to meet up with friends for birding and camping. Before our meet up, I stopped by Watson Woods Preserve/Watson Lake in Prescott where highlights of the 41 species I encountered included four WOOD DUCKS, a female HOODED MERGANSER, a beautiful dark-morph RED-TAILED HAWK, ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRDS engaged in courtship displays, a HAIRY WOODPECKER, my first-of-season VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS, BRIDLED and JUNIPER TITMICE, a 'MYRTLE' YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER among several 'AUDUBON'S', tons of WHITE-CROWNED and CHIPPING SPARROWS, and 10+ AMERICAN GOLDFINCHES.

Later in the afternoon I met up with Micah Riegner and Guy Whol, and carpooled out to Grapevine Creek, which is accessed via Forest Rd. 87A west of Hwy. 69 southeast of Prescott near Dewey/Mayer. [NOTE: the road to the trailhead is very rough, rocky, and rutted, so you should only attempt driving it if you have a 4WD, high-clearance vehicle.] Upon turning off of the highway, we stopped to bird the grassland and desert-scrub habitat along the road. Here birds included 125+ CHIPPING SPARROWS, several WESTERN BLUEBIRDS and WESTERN MEADOWLARKS, and at least one CASSIN'S FINCH. At the first creek crossing on the road we spotted two more CASSIN'S FINCHES, plus several AMERICAN ROBINS as we entered the canyon.

Grapevine Creek drains off the east side of Big Bug Mesa, a northern extension of the Bradshaw Mountains. From the highway, the slopes of the mesa appear to be mostly chaparral with some conifers, but once you get into Grapevine Canyon you encounter a lush perennial stream with huge Arizona alders with surrounding pine-oak forest (ponderosa pine, Arizona white and Emory oaks), the south-facing slope above the creek covered with chaparral (scrub-oaks, manzanitas, mountain-mahogany, ceanothus), and the north-facing slope covered with old-growth mixed-conifer forest (white and Douglas-firs, ponderosa pines, and Gambel oaks). The juxtaposition of chaparral right across from mixed-conifer is really unique, Micah describing it to me before our trip as a place where "you can be listening to Red-breasted Nuthatches and Black-chinned Sparrows singing at the same time." The kiosk at the trailhead shows that the canyon has over a dozen springs too.

Arriving near dusk, we decided to go for a night hike to trying owling the canyon. About 0.25 mile up the trail from the trailhead sign we heard what sounded like a possible WATERTHRUSH species giving hard, high-pitched chip notes along the creek very briefly at dusk, but our attempts at playback of both Louisiana and Northern failed to yield any response. We hiked about two miles up the trail and failed to hear any owls, but did get to watch a yellow-ish, almost full moon rising through the large firs at the spot we turned around at. Back at our camp at the trailhead while we tried to get warm by our campfire (it got into the 20's that night), we briefly heard a singing WESTERN SCREECH-OWL.

This morning (March 7, 2015) we hiked up the trail again and tried to call in the previous night's possible waterthrush, but didn't have any luck. We did however have several singing ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRDS, HUTTON'S VIREOS, BRIDLED TITMICE, BUSHTITS, BEWICK'S WRENS, RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS, and SPOTTED TOWHEES, plus one CRISSAL THRASHER singing its heart out up on the chaparral slope. We saw and heard a few male ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRDS doing their courtship displays, while one of the females we saw may have already been starting to construct a nest (visiting the same spot on a branch over and over). Some surprises included a female TOWNSEND'S WARBLER, an ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, half a dozen GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLETS, and three CASSIN'S FINCHES. Farther up the canyon we saw a flock of 20+ PINE SISKINS foraging on the alder catkins. About two miles up the trail where the creek goes along some huge white firs and Douglas-firs where a spring flows down-slope, we were amazed to hear a *PACIFIC WREN in full song. We used some brief playback to bring it closer so we could obtain audio recordings and photos. Afterwards we watched it for about 20-30 minutes and the bird seemed to be territorial, circling around us and occasionally giving bits of song and call notes as it foraged under fallen logs. Given its singing, behavior, and the seemingly perfect breeding habitat, we are wondering if this species might locally nest here and possibly elsewhere in the Bradshaw Mountains area, as they were found nesting locally in Oak Creek Canyon and a few of the Mogollon Rim drainages during the Breeding Bird Atlas surveys in the 1990's. It would be worth checking the upper stretches of this canyon in late spring and summer to see if they in fact are breeding at this locality. Farther downstream, we used playback for Pacific Wren a few times near the large piles of downed woody debris in the creek and did get one calling in response. We also think we flushed a third individual from a wood pile, but that bird wasn't responsive to playback. In the same area that we watched the singing Pacific Wren, we also watched a RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH come out of an old woodpecker hole in a pine snag, perhaps getting a cavity ready for nesting. We also heard more GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLETS high up in the firs and watched a possible territorial squabble between four NORTHERN FLICKERS (either two pairs fighting at a disputed territory boundary, or three males chasing a female; we couldn't determine the sex ratio of the four birds before they flew off). Heading back through chaparral along the trail on the way back down the canyon, we heard a couple of singing BLACK-CHINNED SPARROWS and one RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROW.

Grapevine Canyon is definitely a place worthy of more birding coverage and exploration!

Good birding,

Eric Hough

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