payday loans

Archive for the 'Papago Park' Category

You are currently browsing the archives of Three Star Owl – Functional and Sculptural Clay Artwork with a Natural History .


The top of our neighborhood is a great place to view the impressive dust storms that roll into the Phoenix metro area a few times during each monsoon season. My view is to the south, across Papago Park towards South Mountain. This is the direction the storms often come from, the result of a tall cumulous cloud collapsing in a down-draft blast that kicks up agricultural and desert soils in a shock wave of granular murk. They move fast and arrive with a gust of hot wind and chemical-laden grit. I walked up to Oak street to watch this one come in. (Click on each photo to enlarge. All photos A.Shock).

Here’s what the sky to the south looked like pre-haboob. You can just see the brown glow of the dust cloud low to the left of center, a dirt-colored sliver of sky between the two houses, behind the utility pole. The rest are local gray storm clouds. The low sun is the bright glare on the right:


It only took a few minutes for the javelina-brown snout of the haboob (previous snout here) to reach the metro area. In the photo below, it’s engulfing Sky Harbor airport:


The photo above is looking southwest. The front of the dust cloud stretched to the east as well. Here’s looking towards the east valley just as the edge of the storm reached our neighborhood:

 haboob east

The gray thunderstorm above the dust cloud was biding its time. It brought some ominous cloud-forms along for the ride. If the front edge of the dust is the snout of the Heavenly Javelina, these clouds were hanging down like her teats:


Our part of town was fortunate: just a blast of gritty wind, a smattering of raindrops, some window-rattling lightning, and it was over in half an hour. Other neighborhoods weren’t so lucky: stronger winds downed trees, there were flooded roads, and some lightning strikes that crisped a tree or two.

Posted by Allison on Aug 27th 2013 | Filed in natural history,Papago Park,yard list | Comments (1)

Twilight turtle tale

Driving home with E from campus this evening, we saw a turtle in the street. It was at the corner of Curry and Mill, lodged uncomfortably against the curb, traffic whizzing past just inches away — stranded halfway between the green lagoons of the Zoo and Tempe Town Lake, but blocks from either.


Heroically, E leaped out of the truck and ran back to check on it. It was a red-eared slider (I think; I’m no expert on turtles), and as far as we could tell, she was intact. E put her on the floor of the truck between his feet, and we headed to the zoo.

There is a chain of ponds off the zoo parking lot, a palm-lined man-made aquatic environment stuffed with turtles and ducks and perch and algae — a place that could easily absorb another turtle, or welcome back one who had wandered away.

We set her on the rocky shore right at water line, but she just sat there, head and legs still pulled in tight to her shell. Then GLOOP — she launched with a small splash, oaring madly to the bottom of the lake, and was gone.

Posted by Allison on Jun 8th 2012 | Filed in close in,natural history,Papago Park,reptiles and amphibians,unexpected | Comments (6)

Bendire’s thrasher in Papago Park

Some things always amaze me.  One of them is why there are so many different Thrasher species in the arid Southwestern U.S.

Most of us who live in the Low Desert are used to two of the more common thrashers: the ubiquitous Northern mockingbird, its slender gray-and-white profile often seen on high perches, singing its melodious and varied song.  Our yard mockers rock their own vocalizations, but also the sounds of other birds, like cactus wrens, cardinals, and kestrels.  Our other common thrasher is the larger Curve-billed thrasher.  These are busy and athletic foragers, with big down-curved bills and a loud, ringing song.  They have a distinctive “wit-weet” call that people are aware of, even if they don’t know the name of the bird who’s making it in their backyard.

<< Bendire’s thrasher (Toxostoma bendirei)

But there’s another thrasher, very close in appearance to the Curve-billed, that breeds in the low desert, too, although it’s not as common.  It’s the Bendire’s thrasher.  Also a plain, mostly brown bird with a vivid and intelligent golden eye, it too has a strong, long bill, less de-curved than the Curve-billed, and pale at the base instead of dark (you can see this subtle field mark in the photo at left, especially if you click to enlarge).  It’s perhaps best distinguished by its song, which is “chewier” and to my ear, not as ringing as the Curve-billed.

In the last couple of weeks, E and I have been treated to a very bold Bendire’s thrasher singing from the tops of the sparse trees in a part of Papago Park where we walk several mornings a week.  Its chewy, bubbling song attracted our attention; I’m not sure we would have noticed it wasn’t a Curve-billed if we hadn’t heard it.

Bendire’s thrashers are known to inhabit the Park, but we hadn’t encountered one there before, so it’s been a treat for us to enjoy its consistent presence along our route.  We had a quick glimpse last week of a second nearby thrasher — it may have been another Bendire’s, so we’re wondering if this stretch of desert isn’t supporting a breeding pair.  We’re keeping our eyes open.


Toxostoma, the genus of some of the mimid thrashers like Curve-billed, Bendire’s, Crissal, California, Brown, and LeConte’s, is a compound name formed from two Greek elements, τόξον, bow, and στόμα, mouth, referring to the strong curved bill — in some cases extremely long and curved — of these birds.  They use it to turn over foliage and clear crevices of debris by moving it strongly from side-to-side, the action which gives them their type name, thrasher.  In search of insects and miscellaneous food items, they ream out all the stuff that settles between flagstones or cracks in the pool deck, leaving a line of turned-up crud along the joints in the cement, so we always know when the thrashers have been foraging there.

Posted by Allison on Apr 11th 2010 | Filed in birding,birds,close in,etymology/words,field trips,natural history,Papago Park | Comments (2)

Aerial talon-show over Papago Park

Had a nice morning walk in Papago Park (Phoenix AZ) this morning — the spring air was breezy and clear, and the high skies brought out a number of aerial show-offs.  The main attraction was a Peregrine falcon, spiraling and soaring between the two largest buttes in the Park and the Army National Guard reservation, over McDowell Road.

<< Peregrine falcon soaring; note typical peregrine dark “hood” and pointed falcon wings (Photo E.Shock)

The falcon’s showy overflights attracted the peevish attention of the local pair of Red tailed hawks, who flew up to try to show it the door.  In terms of aerial agility, the big, broad-winged red tails are no match for a nimble sickle-winged falcon, but we did witness some serious stooping on the part of both species, and even one brief roll-over with talon-grappling incident.

<< Redtailed hawk, in a power glide.  Note black patagium — leading wing edge close to head — one of the best field marks for IDing red-tails aloft (Photo E.Shock)

This action went on among sparse clouds of White-throated swifts — was the probably migrating Peregrine trying to nab a quick swift-to-go before heading north, the raptor equivalent of a drive-thru fast food breakfast burrito?

No wonder the Redtails were upset — a little searching with binox of the inaccessible red rocks on the Military’s property turned up the hawks’ nest, a substantial stick-pile wedged in a ledge on the butte.  We’ve suspected they were a nesting pair, but now we know for sure.

A loggerhead shrike was on duty, as well.  Spring has been cool, and there are still very few insects around, which suggests that the Lesser goldfinch and lingering white-crowned sparrows in the desert park might wish to keep sharp.

<< The last thing the grasshopper saw. Loggerhead shrikes are sometimes called “functional raptors” because although they’re Passerines (perching birds) they prey on insects and small mammals, qualifying them as birds of prey.  Dig the tiny white “eyebrows”.  (Photo E.Shock)

The photo of the p-falcon’s a bit grainy due to having to magnify it, but please click on the Red-tail and the Shrike images to enlarge them so you can admire the good feathery detail.

<< Oh, and here’s King Kong…  Their nest is near here, and the Red-tails love to perch on his brow and warm themselves on a sunny morning.

Posted by Allison on Mar 27th 2010 | Filed in birding,birds,field trips,natural history,nidification,Papago Park | Comments (2)

A first year Cooper’s hawk…

immCoopPapPole…is bent on both mayhem and mischief.

She was lurking at the north entrance to Papago Park early Saturday morning, in the low spot where the White-crowned sparrows, House finches, and Mourning doves are usually found in great numbers on chilly winter mornings.  She even swooped over our heads on her way up to the top of the utility pole.

(Right, first-year Cooper’s hawk in Papago Park, Accipiter cooperi; photo E. Shock)

But just after E snapped this telephoto, the Coop’s glimpsed more grandiose prey: she started the sparrows, but flew right over them.  I can’t say I’ve ever seen a bird-specialist like a Cooper’s hawk chase a full-grown Black-tailed jackrabbit, but this bird did, and kept after it for ten or twenty seconds, as the jack zigged and zagged evasively until the Cooper’s pulled up, empty-fisted.  What do you suppose she thought she was going to do with it if she caught it?  immCoopPapFenceShe either had an inflated idea of her own skills, or was a very hungry bird: no matter how spry a flyer, she can’t have been that good a footer!

(Note: Cooper’s hawks weigh 8-21 ounces, and jacks weigh 4-6 pounds!)

This hawk was bent on causing trouble: here’s a picture of the same bird a few minutes later, on the felon’s side of the fence, trespassing on clearly signed military property.  Scofflaw!


(All photos E.Shock)

Click here to view another picture of an immature Cooper’s hawk in Papago Park that E took this spring.

Posted by Allison on Nov 22nd 2009 | Filed in birds,field trips,natural history,Papago Park | Comments (3)

A Morning of Birds in Trees

Easter mornings are often spent focused on the ground in an Easter Egg hunt, a ritual seeking delightfully chthonic goodies on a day of rising up.  But our Easter walk in Papago Park was filled with airy trophies instead: birds in trees.  And the birds were obliging. Once seen perched safely on high, they stayed to be photographed, preoccupied with their own activities — singing, like the Ash Throated Flycatcher (“k-brick, k-brrr”) and the Mockingbird, or glaring, like the Loggerhead shrike and the immature Cooper’s hawk.  The young hawk didn’t stir as we passed Its Fierceness fairly close to the trail: it appeared to be waiting on the tip of a palo verde snag for the warming air to create wing-filling thermals, so it could continue its northward journey.

Click on an image to enlarge; the Cooper’s hawk’s glare is better bigger.

(From top to bottom: Ash-throated flycatcher; Northern mockingbird; Loggerhead shrike; immature Cooper’s hawk.  All photos E. Shock)

Posted by Allison on Apr 13th 2009 | Filed in birds,field trips,natural history,Papago Park | Comments (1)

Poor Old Papago Park

One of my simple pleasures is going on early morning walks with E around the buttes in Papago Park. We can walk there from our house, and though the walks are for health, we always make note of birds and the other animals we see.

A first impression of this landscape is accurate: a worn scrap of urban desert, surrounded by buildings and golf courses. (At 1200 acres, this scrap seems to be getting smaller all the time, as the City of Phoenix doesn’t seem to be able to keep its hands to itself: even this morning we noticed a shiny chain link fence slashed across the creosote flats, closer to the butte trail than just a few days ago; a golf-course expansion, I suppose, because Phoenix doesn’t have enough acres in fairways?) I don’t have a biologist’s expertise, but the buttes and the land between them don’t seem to be a rich or terribly diverse environment. Next to the lush Zoo and wonderful Desert Botanical Garden, where the birding is always great, the part of Papago west of the parkway seems especially barren. Sometimes we only see a handful of bird species, and no mammals but other humans and their dogs (and only a few of those in our early hours). But over the years and through all seasons in all weather, we’ve discovered that there’s more in Poor Old Papago than you might expect.

This morning’s walk was a perfect example. In addition to the numerous mourning doves and house finches, there were two Loggerhead shrikes in the park, fierce “functional raptors” looking for a protein-rich breakfast like a grasshopper or small lizard. They were making their ratchety “shrike-shrike” call from the tops of the greened-up creosotes, so we heard them before we saw them, though once we got closer the shrikes’ bold gray, black and white plumage blinked in the sun. The verdins saw the shrikes too, emitting incessant alarm calls and flicking their wings.

The serious, top-order predators were out, too: a Red-tailed hawk launched itself with a cry off the rock we call “Jaws” and flew south to the biggest butte, Barnes Butte (named after Will C. Barnes who is known himself for writing a book on Arizona place names). And the ‘yotes were out: Coyotes are pretty common in the park. This morning we saw two together, an apparent family: an adult and young one, looking a bit scruffy, like the park itself. We’ve seen coyotes actually stalk dog-walkers, maybe keeping an eye on things until the other four-legs are off their patch of land. When fire engines hurtle by, the Butte goes off” and invisible ‘yotes howl and yip until the sirens are faint.

There’s plenty for the coyotes to eat, actually, if they can catch it. Stray cats, for instance. (When we first started walking in the park, one of our landmarks was “Half-cat Stash” — a bit of feline jerky with clumped, sun-bleached pelt patches that was gradually being reduced by some not very picky predator) Also, there are Black-tailed jackrabbits. We’ve seen as many as eleven during one walk, their radiator-ears glowing pink with the low sun shining through them. Desert cotton-tails are common, too. These tough lagomorphs are numerous enough in the park so that the City has had to chicken-wire the young saguaros to keep them from being girdled by gnawing teeth. The cactus situation is at best marginal in the park: there are few new ones coming up, and some of the old saguaros are dying: one we called the “Condo” because it hosted numerous starlings and a Gila woodpecker or two just recently came down in a monsoon windstorm. Now it’s lying there rotting, gradually watering its nurse tree. Hard to believe this land was designated Papago Saguaro National Monument from 1914 until 1930, known for the stately columnar cactus. But now, Papago definitely calls out for some succulent guerilla gardening…

Even after all the walks we’ve taken In Papago Park, E and I are still seeing things for the first time, like the barrel cactus we found this summer only because the monsoon has been better than usual. Normally invisible against the gravelly soil the heads of several barrels blazed out in the washes because rain had soaked them over night and their normally dry, brown spines had taken on their true color: bright red. We know where one hedgehog cactus grows, having seen it only because it was in full bloom. There are even pincushion cactus, Mammillaria grahamii (or “mammo-grahams” as we’ve nicknamed them, Graham’s nipple cactus) tucked away on a sunny slope of the little butte. One day we hope to catch them blooming, too. Even more invisible was a Lesser nighthawk on her nest, staunchly incubating through the monsoon season, hidden in plain sight under a small creosote. We don’t know for sure if she successfully fledged her young, but we’d like to think so.  Can you find her invisibly sitting tight on her nest in the photo above (Spot the Bird)?

There are always surprises: last fall a gleaming, swift Prairie falcon lingered in the high rocks and air overhead; we watched it for two weeks before it moved on. Also, what was left of a Barn owl, abandoned on the top of a rock after it had become a meal for a Great horned owl (they’re there although we’ve never seen one — occasionally there’s a softly barred feather caught fluttering in a shrub). There are strangers, too: an exotic male zebra finch hung out with a flock of native house finches for a week or so; and nearby there’s a thriving breeding population of Budgies (parakeets) nesting in saguaro cavities.

Lodged in the cracks between Phoenix, Tempe, and Scottsdale, Papago Park may not seem a terribly wild place, but it is something very precious in the middle of the metropolitan area: open desert space in an area that’s been the residential heart of the Rio Salado settlement for thousands of years.

Poor Old Papago Park. There’s been talk of “improvement” for Papago for years. Does it need improvement? In my view “Improvement” doesn’t always include parking lots, pavement or pathways. Because the beauties and benefits of Papago are subtle and in their natural state, I fear they will be overlooked by ambitious city managers, profit-seeking developers and even well-meaning citizens eager to “improve” something that doesn’t need improvement, but rather a little appreciation for what it is.

All photos© All photos in this post taken by E. Shock in Papago Park, except the Loggerhead shrike, taken on the Margie’s Cove trail in the Maricopa Mountains.