See six species of thrasher at this little-known desert hotspot west of Phoenix.
By Jim Burns | Published: 10/20/2006
January through March may be winter in much of the country, but it’s the time of year for shirtsleeves, wildflowers, and baseball spring training around here. And in the bird-poor, barren, low desert west of the city of Phoenix, it’s breeding season for Arizona’s fascinating and challenging thrashers.
Six species can be found in the state: Sage, Brown, Bendire’s, Curve-billed, Crissal, and Le Conte’s. Brown is only a winter vagrant. The other five all breed here.
Three of the five — Bendire’s, Crissal, and Le Conte’s — are local breeders, secretive in habits, drab of plumage, and difficult to distinguish from one another. Each can be found more easily in Arizona than anywhere else, and each is a prize. Birders who make the 45-minute drive west of Phoenix to this site not only stand a chance of seeing all three but might see all three together, in the same binocular field, in the same bush. And Sage and Curve-billed may be there too.
The thrasher party generally begins in early January, perhaps as early as Christmas, and lasts through mid-April, sometimes through May, but the best calendar window is February and March. Think of it as spring training for your birding perseverance and identification skills. — Jim Burns
Jim Burns also wrote about the Gilbert Water Ranch, Gilbert, Arizona, Hotspot Near You No. 43, Boyce-Thompson Arboretum State Park in Superior, Arizona, No. 53, Fool Hollow Lake Recreation Area in Show Low, Arizona, No. 143, Canoe Creek Road, Osceola County, Florida, No. 150, Francis Beidler Forest, Harleyville, South Carolina, No. 158, and Mount Ord, Sunflower, Arizona, No. 184.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates to view location: 33°22’33.40N 112°46’07.89W
W. Baseline Rd. and W. Salome Hwy., Maricopa County, Arizona
Bendire’s, Curve-billed, Crissal, and Le Conte’s Thrashers breed here; Sage Thrasher passes through in March. Other breeders include Gambel’s Quail, Anna’s Hummingbird, Verdin, Cactus Wren, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, and Northern Mockingbird. Winter visitors include Sage, Lincoln’s, and White-crowned Sparrows and Loggerhead Shrike. Occasional raptors: Turkey Vulture, Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Prairie Falcon.
When to go
February and March, crack o’ dawn to lunchtime.
No water, no restrooms. Tucson and Maricopa Audubon Societies offer field trips in February and March.
Unposted state trust land. No fees, no defined trails, and not wheelchair-accessible. Maximum distance walked about a mile.
Walk a large semicircle to the southwest and back to highway. Look for Le Conte’s in low saltbush, Bendire’s and Crissal in stands of mesquite. Bring a scope, and dress in layers. In February and March, it can be freezing at dawn and hot by noon.