Sunday, 19 June 2011

Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, PHX

50 acres of cactus and mesquite brush would be a reasonable description of the Desert Botanical Garden, but would undersell it terribly. It is a beautifully laid out garden with art features, special exhibits and very photogenic birds.


The receptionist, who took my $15 entrance fee, noted my binoculars and offered me a bird list which gives status and incidence of over 100 species that frequent the gardens. I had already found a few in the car park, adding Verdin and Cactus Wren to my trip list.


A cactus patch just inside the main entrance gate held my attention for a while. A White-winged Pigeon sat at the top of a Saguara cactus feeding from the pulp of the flowers, while families of Gambel’s Quail were a little shy and stayed in the shadows. The females were far more inclined to stand for a picture than the males.

A few local photographers were already taking pictures and one told me that Lesser Nighthawks could been seen during the morning at a point on the western extreme of the gardens and I headed out in that direction along the Plants and People trail. At the trailhead a Greater Roadrunner came out onto the path ahead of me and looked up hungrily at a Mourning Dove’s nest which held two chicks.


The tops of the cacti were blooming with fleshy red flowers which the birds love to eat. At the top of almost every flowering cactus was either, a Cactus Wren, a Gila Woodpecker, a House Finch, or a Curve-billed Thrasher.


White-winged Doves were especially common and the pulp of the flowers covered their faces as if it were lunch-time at nursery school.


Along the trail is a small pond which held a few dragonflies and I succumbed for while to the odonata. This one is a Flame Skimmer, Libellula saturata.


There appeared to be a pecking order that was decided by size and aggression. The White-winged Dove took top slot by virtue of its greater bulk. The aggression of the Gila Woodpecker was too much for the Cactus Wren and the House Finch seldom got a moment to relax.

I reached the point where the nighthawks might be seen and stopped there for a while with no success. Four American Kestrels kept me watching as they mobbed a Turkey Vulture that had strayed into their airspace. Other birds seen along the trail included Northern Flicker and Abert’s Towhee and Brown-crested Flycatcher. Some reptiles that I think are the Horned Lizard were quite common. A couple told me that they had seen a snake, so I high-tailed it back to the spot that they indicated on the map, but it had moved on.


Next I tried the Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail. This is a quarter of a mile of cacti that climbs gently to a small pagoda that affords a great view of more birds on top of more cacti. It is raised a few feet above the surroundings and allows a much better angle for pictures.


The gardens and the nearby zoo are part of Papago Park. This is a public area of mesquite scrub and cactus, but not half as nicely laid out as the gardens, but access can be had at any time. There are 3 lakes here however and if I ever go back, this will be one of the first places that I visit. It could also serve as an early-morning starter before the gardens open at 07.00, a late evening sundowner, or a cheap alternative to the $15 entry. It would probably be a very inferior choice if the gardens are open.

Find Papago Park and the Botanical Gardens at N. Galvin Parkway (Google Earth ref; 33 27’ 35”N 111 56’ 57”W ). From Route 202 come off at N. Center Parkway. Continue straight as if about to rejoin the freeway. Turn north, right, at N. Priest, which becomes N. Galvin Parkway after 1.5 kms. 1km further is a roundabout and the gardens are signposted to the right. Signs to the zoo earlier will give public access to Papago Park by keeping left.

Birds seen; 23

Green Heron 1, Mallard 3, Turkey Vulture 2, American Kestrel 4, Gambel’s Quail 20, Mourning Dove 30, White-winged Dove 150, Inca Dove 2, Greater Roadrunner 1, Black-chinned Hummingbird 15, Anna’s Hummingbird 1, Gila Woodpecker 20, Northern Flicker 2, Brown-crested Flycatcher 1, Cactus Wren 15, Curve-billed Thrasher 15, Verdin 25, Common Starling 2, House Sparrow 20, House Finch 40, Lesser Goldfinch 2o, Abert’s Towhee 4, Northern Cardinal 3.

Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, PHX