Wildlife watching is something you learn by doing, and there are plenty of great spots in the East Valley to discover a wonderful variety of local birds and animals. You’ll find woodpeckers, hawks, coyotes, owls and so many other species as you explore nearby nature spots, while also enjoying Arizona’s great weather and scenery. Early morning or around sunset during the golden hour is a good time to go. A day spent on the trail or in the park is never a bad day!
We highly recommend the following spots, most just a short drive from Cadence at Gateway:
At the top of our list is the Gilbert Riparian Preserve, an innovative and unique area created by the Town of Gilbert as they committed to reuse 100 percent of its effluent water. The preserve is a combinationwater resource development and wildlife habitat, with rich educational and recreational opportunities. Roam around the preserve’s 110 acres, with seven water recharge basins, and you’ll run across such a variety of wildlife. It will take your breath away. Approximately 298 species of birds have been identified on the site, and many insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles and mammals have found homes there as well. More than 4.5 miles of trails weave through the park.
The Preserve is at its glory in the spring, where you’ll find gila woodpeckers busy making homes in saguaros, egrets soaring across the ponds, herons and black-necked stilts fishing, plus an occasional coyote roaming in the outer acres. Recently rare migrating birds have been spotted at the preserve, including a Roseate Spoonbill and a pack of American Pelicans. Birders flooded their social media pages with these popular birds.
2757 E. Guadalupe Rd., Gilbert
Coon Bluff, Phon D Sutton, Goldfield Recreation, Blue Point Recreation, Saguaro Lake
While driving along the Bush Highway in Mesa, take time to visit several of the turnoffs that lead to recreation areas. We can’t tell you exactly where, but there’s a good chance you’ll spot a few Salt River wild horses, especially if you’re in the Coon Bluff area. Often the horses are in the water grazing on eel grass. You’ll also find colorful vermilion flycatcher birds, hawks, vultures, roadrunners and an occasional bald eagle. Please keep your distance and treat all wild creatures with respect. It’s an amazing area for wildlife.
From Cadence, take Power Road or the 202, continue north of Thomas Road and Power Road turns into N. Bush Highway. Recreation areas off Bush Highway.
This 3,648-acre park has 29 miles of multi-use trails plus scenic wind caves. Chances are, you’ll come across quail, Harris’s Hawks, red-tailed hawks, gila woodpeckers, gilded flickers, verdins, curve-billed thrashers, cactus wrens, phainopeplas, sometimes a bald eagle, great horned owls, and an occasional deer and coyote. When you first enter the park off Ellsworth Road, the park’s Nature Center has a small water area in the back that attracts many species of birds. The Nature Center also holds educational programs and guided hikes.
3939 N. Usery Pass Rd., Mesa
You’ll be surprised at the variety of bird life at Freestone Park in Gilbert. Although it has athletic fields, a carousel and children’s activities, there are two small lake areas and a waterfall that attract many types of birds, including egrets, herons, geese and many ducks. Since the lake area is small, the birds tend to just fly back and forth across the lake, making it easy to both see and photograph them from the walking paths. The lakes are stocked with fish, so you can also view the birds’ food-hunting activities that take place in the mornings.
1045 E. Juniper Rd., Gilbert
Gilbert’s new park has a 7-acre lake that includes an urban fishing pier and is stocked with a variety of fish for recreational fishing opportunities, including bluegill, catfish and bass. You can see egrets, heron and other birds by walking the half-mile path that surrounds the lake. Your family will also enjoy the amphitheatre and playground amenities.
Higley and Queen Creek Roads in Gilbert.
Set aside a few hours to explore the 113-acre Veterans Oasis Park (including 78 acres of which are designed for groundwater recharge and wetlands) that serves as a habitat for diverse Sonoran Desert plants, wildlife and Chandler’s Environmental Education Center. You’ll find geese, ducks and an occasional lovebird close to the parking lot but wander back a little bit more and you’ll find jackrabbits, roadrunners, small reptiles, hermit warblers, osprey and an occasional family of coyotes. More than 153 species of birds have been documented in the park. One Saturday each month, the Desert Rivers Audubon Society holds free bird walks.
4050 E. Chandler Heights Rd., Chandler
Red Mountain Park has a fairly large lake surrounded by cottonwood and willow trees and a riparian island in the center of the lake. We’ve found a few desert birds, including thrashers, wrens and even an egret, plus many ducks but we haven’t found a large variety of bird life. It is a nice park to visit for the scenery alone.
7745 E. Brown Rd., Mesa
Built in 1970, the main water fountain at Fountain Hills is one of the largest fountains in the world. The fountain sprays water for 15 minutes every hour at the top of the hour. This beautiful park attracts many tourists and local residents. Be prepared for some crowds, but we mention it because we recently spotted a bald eagle perched on a tree surveying the whole situation. The lake also attracts vermilion flycatchers, great blue herons, woodpeckers, hawks, sandpipers and rare ducks.
16705 E. Avenue of the Fountains, Fountain Hills
A bit farther to the east, about 35 miles from Cadence, is Boyce Thompson Arboretum, the largest and oldest botanical garden in the state of Arizona, with 392 acres and nearly three miles of path in native riparian habitat. The grounds are a magnet for birds and animals, attracting over 300 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians including butterflies, squirrels, rabbits, quail, red cardinals, canyon wrens, thrashers, black-throated sparrows, plus an occasional javelina, deer or raccoon. The arboretum holds an annual “Bye Bye Buzzards” event in September as turkey vultures leave the area and then welcomes the vultures back in March as flocks return to roost in the tall eucalyptus trees and cliffs.
37615 E. Arboretum Way, Superior
Take some time to visit a few of the above-mentioned parks and trails. Exposure to a variety of native and non-native animals and birds and noting their unique environmental needs makes us all aware of our area’s precious resources.
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