Come learn about high country hummingbirds in the White Mountains

[Source: Bruce Sitko, The Cerbat Gem] – The Arizona Game and Fish Department is again offering a unique opportunity for people to learn more about Arizona’s colorful forest hummingbirds at the 9th annual High Country Hummers Festival. On Saturday, July 28, Sheri Williamson, one of the nation’s foremost experts on hummingbirds, will lead a capture and bird-banding event that is free and open to the public at the department’s Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area located near Eagar in eastern Arizona.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for people to get up close and personal with these flying jewels,” says Bruce Sitko, spokesman in the department’s Pinetop office. “We are quite fortunate to get Sheri, who is the author of the Peterson Field Guide to Hummingbirds of North America, to come with her staff of volunteers and demonstrate her research.” This free, one-of-a-kind program will begin at 8 a.m. and conclude at noon. Costs are underwritten by the department’s Heritage Fund. Supported by Arizona lottery dollars, the Heritage Fund is dedicated to the education, conservation and enhancement of Arizona’s wildlife, biological diversity, scenic wonders and environment.

Other fun programs will also be offered at the wildlife area that day. There will be educational exhibits featuring live hawks, owls and a bald eagle. You can even get your photo taken with one. Visitors can view presentations on hummingbird and eagle natural history. Department staff will lead a “birding basics” program, including identification tips, recommended field guides and technological tools available to aid in learning about our avian visitors.

People are also welcome to explore the visitor center’s interpretive displays on wildlife conservation, habitats and prehistoric culture. Breakfast and lunch concessions will be provided by the Springerville-Eagar Regional Chamber of Commerce. “We encourage visitors to come prepared to spend most of the morning outdoors with the potential of some summer rain,” says Sitko. “It’s a good idea to bring a camera, as there will be plenty of great photo opportunities. We also require that pets be kept on a leash.”

Williamson, together with her husband Tom Wood, founded and operate the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory (SABO), which is a non-profit scientific and educational organization based in Bisbee. SABO’s mission is to promote conservation of birds, their habitats and the diversity of species that share those habitats through research, monitoring and public education.

High Country Hummers is an officially designated Arizona Centennial event. To get to the wildlife area, take Highway 191 from Eagar toward Alpine 2 miles to the signed turnoff at the top of the first hill. Drive south 5 miles to the property on a gravel road suitable for cars. For more information, visit the High Country Hummers web page at

Game and Fish to buy Horseshoe Ranch next to Agua Fria Monument

[Source: Joanna Dodder Nellans, The Daily Courier] – The Arizona Game and Fish Commission has unanimously agreed to buy the Horseshoe Ranch, sealing a deal to keep the 199-acre inholding surrounded by the Agua Fria National Monument in public hands. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management had wanted to buy the ranch ever since the surrounding lands became a BLM monument in 2000, but couldn’t come up with the money to maintain it in the future, explained Monument Manager Rem Hawes. So Game and Fish stepped in with the help of grant and lottery money.

The historic ranch features two homes, bunkhouses, a large barn, storage buildings, ancient rock art and a half-mile of the Agua Fria River in southeastern Yavapai County. “This is a significant riparian corridor,” said Angie Lohse, land and water program manager for Game and Fish. The agency plans to use the ranch for outdoor and wildlife educational activities, she said, much like way it uses its Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area near Springerville [to read the full article click here].

The gift of the Arizona Monsoons

[Source: Tom Brossart, The Payson Roundup]

Tom Brossart photo

We were looking for elk, maybe a deer or even a pronghorn antelope, but the largest wild animal we saw was a jackrabbit — she was big, but not quite the wildlife we were looking for on our hike along Rudd Creek at the Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area.

What we found was a wide variety of wildflowers along the nearly three-mile hike, which starts at the visitor center follows Rudd Creek to the Mckay Reservoir and then loops back around to the visitor center, which is the old ranch homestead and worth seeing in its own right.

There are more obvious areas in the White Mountains for a hike, hunt for wildflowers or wildlife, but few nicer than the wildlife area outside of Springerville for an early morning or evening adventure.

My wife and I were in Springerville for a different photo shoot at the Casa Malpais, and a Forest Service ranger had told us about the Sipe Wildlife area, which is managed by Arizona Game and Fish Department. Always up for a hike in the wilds, it was just too inviting to resist.

Tom Brossart photo

Since photographing wildlife was the goal of the day we rose early at 4 a.m., grabbed a quick bite of breakfast and drove the five miles on U.S. Highway 180/191 to the turnoff to Sipe. At the top of the mesa there is a sign and pretty good forest road that takes you to the 1,362-acre wildlife area, which is surrounded by national forest. The road is good, I don’t know that I would take a car on the road, but we did see one person with a car.

The night before the visitor center manager told us they spotted a large herd of elk, but after searching during the evening hours we found none. But we still had high hopes for the next morning’s hike.

Starting the hike at around sunrise we expected to see some wildlife, but they all must have known we were coming. There were lots of sign and tracks, but no wildlife this morning.

What we did find were isolated areas of a wide variety of wildflowers. There were no meadows blanketed with brightly colored summer blooms, but there were enough wildflowers to add interest to the hike since the elk were not cooperating.

The hike is an easy one. It follows a meandering trail along the creek up to an old cabin, and then circles through a forest area to the reservoir where you can find migrating birds in the fall and spring, but only one duck and his mate in July.

On the way back to the visitor center you pass an old Native American ruin with its own history that is worth a quick look.

Tom Brossart photo

The wildlife area is the former White Mountain Hereford Ranch, which according to the visitor center host, had problems with too many elk. Seems the rancher planted alfalfa to harvest for winter feed, but the elk ate the grains before it could be harvested despite the best efforts to the contrary. No harvest meant no winter feed for the Herefords, which probably meant it was too expensive of a proposition. So the ranch was sold and the state game and fish folks purchased it in 1993 to meet the objectives of the Arizona Heritage Fund Program for threatened, endangered and sensitive species and their habitats and also for recreational opportunities.

The site has several wetlands area, several easy to moderate hiking trails, a wildlife viewing area and a visitor center with numerous displays.

The visitor center is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the wildlife area is open from one hour before sunrise and to one hour after sunrise.

Wildflowers are nice right now, but the best time for wildlife is fall and spring. There are special programs from time to time: such as the recent event that allowed the public to observe and photograph hummingbirds; and in early September AGFD conducts a basic wildlife-viewing workshop. For more information on special programs at Sipe, call (928) 367-4281.

Originally published on August 11, 2010

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