Local Field Trips!

The Cottonwood/Willow Forest along Palm Lake at sunup.

We have had the opportunity to go on a couple of local field trips lately to enjoy the wonderful fall weather we have been having! Our first field trip was with our school to the Hassayampa River Preserve. We had two very capable volunteer guides who split us into two groups to hike the trails in the preserve. The day started off cool but soon warmed up nicely.

We enjoyed being in a forest – a Cottonwood/Willow Riparian Forest, the most endangered forest type in the country according to our guide. This kind of forest can only grow where there is abundant water near the surface and this is exactly what happens along the Hassayampa River in this area. There is always water flowing in the Hassaympa but it is mostly underground. In this stretch of canyon south of Wickenburg, shallow bedrock forces the water to the surface! You can find at least a small stream at any time of the year. This makes the area very important for birds and mammals. I have been surveying the beetles of the preserve for the last 4 years and am getting a good checklist built. I may cover that in a future post. But today, we did nothing but hike the trails, look at a few birds, and enjoy the scenery.

California Fan Palm (Washingtonia Filifera) in its natural state.

The palms in the preserve have received little care in the last 20 years. We heard an interesting bit of history from our guide… Apparently the area around Palm Lake used to be a trailer court. One of the residents was working on his Corvette and had a little accident. He poured gasoline into the carburetor to try to get it started and the car caught fire. That fire spread to the palms, and you can still see the burn marks on the trunks.

Washingtonia palms don’t need to be trimmed for their health. The trees in the preserve have about 20 years worth of dead fronds on them and are doing great! The problem is with the fire hazard. If a spark (or a burning car) were to ignite the dead fronds on these trees during a dry time of year the results could be disastrous! A lift is the only safe way to trim off the dead fronds (see this post) and we have the only lift capable of getting in to these trees. Two winters ago we cut the dead fronds off all the trees close to the visitor center to reduce the risk. Subsequently we removed several of the palms that were growing near the foundation of the building. We will likely have more work there in the future as funding becomes available.

We hiked on the trails down along the river and Palm Lake first thing in the morning. Finally, in the late morning we hiked up to Lykes Lookout which is a rock ridge that gives on a panoramic view of the Hassayampa River valley and the surrounding hills. Our guide said they will be installing signs there identifying the various mountain peaks at some time in the future.

View of the Hassayampa River valley from Lykes Lookout.

Beautiful Fall Foliage on the Cottonwoods!

We were also able to get down the the Gilbert Water Ranch to look for a Baikal Teal (a bird from Asia that showed up in early December). We really enjoyed seeing all the water birds – geese, ducks and shorebirds. That is a real treat in the desert! We definitely want to go back.

Alas, the teal was seen the afternoon before we arrived and has not been see since! We wanted to go down earlier but didn’t have any opportunity to go. Maybe it will show up again sometime, but I doubt it.

One of the ponds and a viewing blind at the Gilbert Water Ranch.