The Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Northern Cardinal

The Boyce Thompson Arboretum is part of the state parks system, and is located on the south side of US Route 60, about 50 miles east of the I-10/US 60 junction This is about 3 miles west of the town of Superior. US 60 is called the Superstition Freeway from I-10 east to Apache Junction. Allow 60 minutes for the drive from the split off I-10. Hours are 8 AM to 5 PM daily except Christmas. There is an admission fee that seems to go up each year. The Arboretum is a migrant trap in spring and fall, an escape from the brutal heat of metro Phoenix in summer, and a place to see some interesting wintering birds. With lush woods along a stream that has some water most of the year in an otherwise dry desert area, it offers opportunities for seeing non-desert birds in the Phoenix area. Watch for Harris's Hawks on utility poles along US 60 between Mesa and Apache Junction and around the turnoff to Queen Valley. Get a trail map at the entrance, make your first stop at the demonstration garden and picnic area, then follow the main trail along the creek. Loop up the hill and visit man-made Ayers Lake, then return to the entrance past the cactus garden.

Expected birds year round include: Pied-billed Grebe, American Coot, (all at the small lake), Mourning and Inca Doves, Anna's Hummingbird, Gila Woodpecker, Gilded Flicker, Common Raven, Black Phoebe (lake and stream bed), Verdin, Cactus, Canyon, and Bewick's Wrens, Curve-billed Thrasher, Phainopepla, Northern Cardinal, Abert's Towhees, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird (by the lake), Lesser Goldfinch, and House Finch. In winter, look for Ring-necked Duck (lake), Northern (red-shafted) Flicker, Red-naped Sapsucker, Say's Phoebe, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, White-breasted Nuthatch (uncommon), Cedar Waxwing, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Spotted Towhee, Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's form), Green-tailed Towhee, White-crowned Sparrow, and Dark-eyed Junco. Migrants can include most anything: expect most of the western empidonax flycatchers, Plumbeous and Cassin's Vireos, and Orange-crowned Warblers. In summer there are Turkey Vultures, Costa's and Black-chinned Hummingbirds, Bell's Vireo, Lucy's Warbler, and Yellow-breasted Chat. Uncommon to rare birds include: Zone-tailed Hawk (March to September); Rufous-backed Robin (almost annual in winter, possible wherever the orange Chinese pistache berries are plentiful); White-throated Sparrow (occasional in winter); Fox Sparrow (Slate-colored or Sooty forms, occasional in winter). A Brown Thrasher has wintered here at least five years now.

For bird photography at the arboretum, I like to spend time at the Demonstration Garden, along the main trail between the Australian section and the Herb Garden, or at Ayer Lake.

There is a patio setting in the Demo Garden with recirculating water and shade. I like to sit here quietly and see what birds come in to drink from this reliable water source. Among the species I've photographed here are Lesser Goldfinch, Western Tanager, Brewer's Sparrow, Yellow Warbler, and Inca Dove.

There's also a bowl-shaped fountain nearby that recirculates water, and this has been a worthwhile spot to sit and wait for birds to visit the water. Recent subjects that I've photographed here include Lesser Goldfinch, House Finch, Anna's and Costa's Hummingingbirds, and a rare Lawrence's Goldfinch.

The main trail beyond the Australian section is often the best place for seeing birds. It can be good for ground-feeding birds (White-crowned Sparrow, towhees, Hermit Thrush, thrashers). The trees and bushes with berries in this area attract robins (including the rare Rufous-backed Robin), thrushes, Fox Sparrow, Brown Thrasher, Townsend's Solitaire, thrashers, flickers, and Gila Woodpeckers. Set up low to the ground and work any ground-feeding birds, or wait near fruiting trees for feeding activity.

Ayer Lake is worth checking. Coots and Pied-billed Grebes sometimes come close enough to the edge for good image size in photos. Say's and Black Phoebes feed from the trees along the edge. Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Yellow-rumped Warblers can provide good opportunities.

A good way to spend some more time in this area is to continue east on US 60 to Oak Flat Campground about 4 miles beyond Superior. Look for a turn on the south side of the road just after it levels out from the scenic drive up the canyon and through the tunnel. The change in elevation from the arboretum brings different species. Lesser Goldfinch, Canyon Towhee, Juniper Titmouse, and Western Bluebird can be found year round. In some winters there are Lewis's Woodpeckers, Western Scrub Jays, and Fox Sparrow. Look for Scott's Oriole in May through September. Gray Vireos are sometimes found nesting on the hillside past the campground. Crissal Thrasher nests beyond the camp sites in the shrubs at the east end.

Official web site: Boyce Thompson Arboretum