Sunday, January 16, 2011

Patagonia/Sonoita Creek Preserve

It's another beautiful day here in Southern Arizona with temperatures projected to be in the 70's. We decided to head up into the Santa Rita's to visit the Nature Conservancy's Sonoita Creek Preserve located in Patagonia. The views along the way are amazing even this time of year when most of the landscape is dressed in various shades of brown and tan.

After living here in the desert southwest for five years and traveling around to different wildlife areas I have come to the realization that it is all about the availability or lack of water. The abundance of plant and animal life depends either on the presence of water or the ability to adapt to the lack of it. In the riparian areas that I visit the abundance and diversity of plants and animals is truly amazing. In the desert scrub and the more arid areas plants and animals have adapted to needing less water to thrive.

The survival of man here is also dependent on a sometimes hard to find commodity and the evidence of wells operated by wind power are scattered across the landscape. As you can see this Red Tailed Hawk has adapted to it's metal perch which has a commanding view of the surrounding grasslands.

When we arrived there were many birds visiting the feeders at the visitors center including an Anna's Hummingbird, purple finches, goldfinches, and white breasted nuthatches and many sparrows that went unidentified as we were anxious to hit the trails.

One of the most impressive things on our visits to Southern Arizona Riparian areas is the majestic Cottonwoods. Some of these trees are massive in size and I can only guess at their age but they must be very old indeed as evidenced by the specimens that have long since crashed to the ground. In either the upright or prone positions they provide lodging and cover for many creatures.

The creek was flowing gently but steadily along and the water looked quite clear. I have to admit I am curious about the origins of this particular creek as in allot of ways it seems oddly out of place. For those of you who are not familiar with the weather here our rainy seasons are summer and winter. Winter rains can be infrequent and are generally more gentle while summer rains are usually more violent and produce large amounts of water in a short period of time. It is not unusual for it to rain heavily in one part of Tucson while being sunny and hot in another. I have driven down the road with thunder and lightning on my left and bright sunshine on my right.
Fact: Sonoita Creek has about 5 miles of perennial flow the first 2 of which are located on the preserve.The Creek's watershed covers approximately 200 square miles.

The Railroad: The railroad trail supported tracks for a line that ran from Benson,Az. to Guaymas Mexico.
There are several trails that loop around the preserve that I would characterize as easy walks suitable for anyone except wheelchair bound individuals. The Railroad Trail travels along where a bygone train used to pass through Patagonia.

The Creek Trail is equally easy but because of it's proximity to the water we saw quite a bit more wildlife activity here.

We spotted five different Mule Deer during our visit including this buck that was the most skittish of the two groups. The shot below is of one of two adolescents that were traveling along the creek with their mother. The two of them still retained some of the colors you would expect to see in a very young animal.

The more time I spend in the wild places the less I seem to worry the creatures that I encounter there. These Mule Deer knew that I was there and walked right out of their cover in the woods and crossed in plain view only a hundred feet from me. At one point when the two adolescents were crossing in front of us they stopped and one of them stamped and grunted at us.
I had a similar experience with a roadrunner just last week when it crossed my path within three feet of me totally ignoring the fact that I was there.

We saw quite a few hawks on this trip including this Red Tailed Hawk hunting along the creek. 22 different species of raptors have been seen in the preserve. Several pairs of Gray Hawks nest at the preserve.

There were Goldfinches,Purple Finches,White-breasted Nuthatches, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Black Phoebes, White-crowned Sparrows, Bridled Titmice and many more who scooted away before positive ID could be made. All in all not too shabby.

We were treated to this sleepy Screech Owl who didn't even acknowledge our presence near his house. For those of you who have never visited Patagonia/Sonoita area it is well worth the trip. On several occasions we have seen Pronghorn Antelope during our trip. Information on the Western Screech Owl can be found at:

1 comment:

  1. Love the Goldfinch and deer! Thanks, Ray.