Usery Mountain Regional Park, AZ

Even though I’ve started a new year of critter-spotting and already cataloging them for the 2022 Round-up, I have to dip back into 2021 to get us all caught up. After our string of Regional Park repeats, we finally rolled into a new-to-us one, Usery Mountain. Many of our friends had nothing but good things to say about this park, and we we looking forward to our stay there. It was the longest of them all, where we were splitting our time in two different sites. Helpful Hint for Future Travelers: the Regional Parks only allow a maximum 14-day stay in one site. You can, and many people do, simply move to another site every 14 or fewer days, and it’s easy to reserve your stay that way provided you do so early, probably at least six months out. Our stays were 10 and 14 days, respectively.

Our first site #6 was adjacent to the little connecter trail to the VC, and I had been assured by several people that that was where I would positively see Peach-faced Lovebirds. I had seen them a few times before, but very briefly and not well enough to get any decent photos, so I was eagerly anticipating this opportunity. As soon as we were settled, I beat feet over to the VC and was immediately disappointed to find exactly zero. I went inside to inquire as to their whereabouts, but the resident bird-person was not on duty. I returned home glumly. The next morning, TBG heard a distinctive squawking, and looked out to see the Peachies right outside our rig. They had come to us!

They continued to show up for several consecutive mornings, and we also saw them many times throughout the campground during the first leg of our stay. Now, you may be wondering why there are little African parrots living in Arizona. Good question! They are not native, having either escaped captivity or been illegally liberated, but they have managed to establish themselves and not only survive but thrive here. Most parrots are tropical and would not make it for long in dry Arizona, but the Peachies come from a very arid region originally, and the climate here suits them nicely. Other than being damaging to grain crops, which aren’t widely grown here, they don’t seem to be disruptive to native plant or animal species. Since it is highly unlikely we will ever travel to where they are native, we really enjoyed seeing them and would call out each time we did, “Peachies! Peachies!” because we’re fun like that.

Superstition Mountains, a favorite range, is visible from the park.

None of the Regional Parks are really remote since they’re situated around the Phoenix perimeter, and Usery does get some road and shooting range noise. It is very convenient to services, though, and we got caught up at the laundromat early on. The showers were nice and hot, which was great once much cooler weather finally arrived. I don’t generally mind campground shower houses, but when the southwest winter sets in, it’s a mighty chilly walk to/from them and trying to get warm pants on without soaking the cuffs is an exercise in futility, not to mention a dangerous balancing act. One way or another, some of the heat from the shower is going to be lost on the dash back home. A small price to pay for the otherwise great location.

The park has over 32 miles of trails, and we had fun hiking, biking, and even running them a few times. All of them are accessible from camp depending on how far you want to go, but for our hike up to Wind Cave, we drove to the trailhead.

Once you get to the base of the mountain, it is a steep but very manageable climb up that would be very unpleasant any time but winter.

That accounts for all the other people sharing the trail, though other than at the cave itself where most folks naturally take a break and which is packed with squirrels, it never felt overly crowded. We could see that darn Fountain Hills fountain from up there, too!

Mountain biking in Usery is super-fun and almost devoid of anything technical, with lots of Whee! in myriad dips and curves.

As well as the Peachies, the birds were abundant. At our first site, I only put out the hummy feeder, thistle bag, and water dish which brought in plenty of specimens, but at our second site, I added a suet block, and that amped things up to a ridiculous level. In the 14 days we were at that 2nd site, those birds plowed through four suet blocks. The Thrashers tore bigger holes in the thistle bag, much to the delight of the Peachies, quail, doves, and squirrels.

As well as those at my feeders, the park is home to a goodly population of Harris’s Hawks.

Because our stay here included the first three days of 2022, I hedged my bets with both them and the Peachies, counting on sitings in the new year, thus able to include them in the 2022 round-up. The colorful parrots were our first visitors on 1/1, but the hawks that we had literally seen every single day of our stay, were suddenly gone. I know it makes no difference whatsoever to anyone but me that each year’s critters actually be seen in that calendar year, but it’s my rule just the same. On our very last day, when I was stuffing half of a suet block into the feeder hoping it would last half the day, a hawk glided low and silent above my head and then disappeared into the brush. I love moments like that.

the spines of the barrel cacti glow an intense cerise after the rains

This location was close to TBG’s friend Jerry’s place, and they were able to visit one evening while I enjoyed some alone time at home. On another day, Jerry wanted to go with us on a hike TBG and I had done last time we were in the area, so we met at the trailhead. The guys didn’t hold still long enough for me to get a sign photo, and it’s lucky TBG took some pics because, for some unknown reason, I took precisely none.

We were also invited to spend Christmas Eve(ning) with Jerry at his place where he made us delicious BBQ chicken in the smoker. Our arrival that night coincided with a deluge, which soaked us in the short distance from the car to the front door and left me quite cranky for a little while, but it set us up beautifully for a Christmas Day hike TBG had been keeping his eye on, Massacre Falls.

It was another of those wonderfully overcast days on which no bug spray, sunscreen, or sunglasses were required. The rain had made the multiple shades of green vibrant. As we made our way to the falls, the best views were behind us.

Returning hikers assured us water was flowing at the falls, and indeed it was.

Like the cave, this was another natural gathering point for hikers, and it was mostly impossible to get a photo without others in it, and though beautiful, it wasn’t a very relaxing place to relax. I picked up some garbage, TBG got the best photos, and we began the return journey. None of that ruined our overall enjoyment of the hike, though.

A few days later, we headed out of the park again for a hike at Boulder Canyon. Once we got the parking figured out, the hike was on. The trailhead was a marker along the main road, and the beginning of the hike was a long, long steady up.

Then there was some down, then some more up, then some more down, then up again.

It was a good, strenuous hike!

In between Boulder Canyon and our last big hike for this venture, I donated blood and except for a few short walks around the park, relaxed and watched my birds and the sky. Okay, I played on my phone, too. Happy?

Did you know that it takes the body 48 hours to replace the plasma after donation but up to four to six weeks to replenish the red blood cells? Since red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body (then picking up CO2 to take back to the lungs for exhalation) it’s not a bad idea to take it easy for a bit after giving. I did, in fact, feel a bit lightheaded on our easy walks for a couple days, but that just meant more phone games and bird-watching.

Once all that was sorted, we had one more hike to do on the park’s longest trail around Pass Mountain, and it kicked off 2022 as our First Day Hike.

Though it was a sunny day, much of the trail was on the shady north side of the mountain and quite cool in both senses of the word.

For our last hurrah before leaving the Phoenix area, we headed into Gilbert to check out the riparian preserve there. The (free) parking areas were rapidly filling, and we were not the only ones with our birding regalia. There were so many birds and so many that were new to us! As we meandered around the ponds admiring the plethora of shorebirds, we were escorted by both bunnies and hummies.

c/w Black-necked Stilts, Least Sandpiper, American Avocets

American White Pelican launching

c/w Cinnamon Teals, Ring-necked Duck, Northern Shoveler

It was a lovely place to spend an afternoon and the perfect way to wrap up our time in the valley.

Goodnight, Phoenix!

18 thoughts on “Usery Mountain Regional Park, AZ

  1. Your bird sightings and photos are fantastic!! And I love your stories about them. I am trying very hard to not be jealous of your close encounters with the peachies. I want so much to see them! And as Shannon said, I’m glad to know that they are one of the few exotic creatures that aren’t wreaking havoc in their non-native environment. You definitely have had a fantastic desert winter with all of your gorgeous hikes, biking, birding and photography. Such a soul-nourishing way to begin 2022!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think I’m good and well hooked on the birds now. If you look on ebird, it shows that there have been some feral Peachies spotted in Florida. https://ebird.org/species/peflov/US-FL You need to go find them!! Mind you, they refer to them as Rosy-faced Lovebirds, a name I defiantly refuse to recognize. I don’t know who authorized the name change, but they should be ignored and shunned. It really has been a good winter so far, and I thank you for helping me see it through fresh eyes, my friend ❀

      Liked by 1 person

    • If you ever pass through the area, you definitely should stop to try to spot the Peachies! Usery is a good place for them, but they are expanding their territories all the time, and there are many pockets of them all around the Phoenix area (particularly east side.) I hope you do get to see the little cuties sometime!

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  2. For some reason I find the story of the lovebirds incredibly appealing. It just makes me happy to learn that somewhere, somehow there is a place where escaped exotics are NOT destroying the ecosystem but instead are just happily residing.

    Also, great tip about the long term stay opportunities at the regional parks. The trick is planning far enough ahead, as always!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I like their story, too! It’s nice to know that whether they’re escaped or liberated (probably a combo) they’re not dying out there, at least in Arizona (eek, I hope folks wouldn’t let them loose in say, Maine :|)

      The first time we were through the Phoenix area, and realized we hadn’t had to move along necessarily from which park we were in, it was a frustrating aha! moment πŸ˜€

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  3. Hiking, Birds and the Sonoran Desert! What else can I ask for? Im so glad the Peachies came for a visit not once but several times. I was expecting a picture of Rosie from the Riparian Preserve, there is one there that made Arizona home.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Not too much better than that! It was your blog posting of the Peachies that taught me of their existence, and I knew then I had to see them, too. We should have gone to the Riparian Preserve more than one — our mistake for sure. I think you should show me/us around Hassayampa in a few months πŸ˜‰

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  4. Good morning Joodie, just wanted to let you know that I enjoyed reading your new post- excellent writing and pictures ! My favorite picture is the one of the cactus – you should enlarge and frame it! Have a good day Annemarie

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Man, I miss those bright blue desert skies and beautiful regional parks. You’ve got some beautiful photos in here – the magenta hummingbird is a favorite, but so many great landscapes too. I love the one where you are in silhouette looking out. And it’s nice to see the greenery against the desert scenery as well – even if it does mean occasionally getting rained on. Glad to hear you guys enjoyed your visit!

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    • We’re trying to drink in all the stuff we love about the SW, too, the skies and bright birds topping our lists as well. The weather quality hasn’t been consistently great, though, so we really appreciate the blue when it happens. Rain in the desert is one of the most interesting weather occurrences in that you can immediately feel and see the dryness abate — the cacti plump before your eyes, the colors pop, and your eyelashes un-crisp πŸ˜€

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  6. Beautiful Bird pictures! I always read your column, but am silent on comments. Anyway, I never knew the story of the parrots. I live in AZ and now want to search them out!

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    • Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to send such nice words! I hope you find the Peachies — if you’re in their area, you will likely hear them before you see them. Usery is a great place to spot them, I would say mornings are best there. I did see one at the Fountain Hills fountain out on one of the little islands among the ducks. They are also said to hang out in the trees in front of the Home Depot in Mesa. We didn’t see them there, but the first time I ever saw a pair was in Mesa at a friend’s house. Another friend (in a comment on this post!) said one lives at the Gilbert Riparian Preserve, too. That’s a great birding place even if you don’t spot a Peachie — but I wish you all the luck in finding them!

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  7. Great read, and now I know there are actual birds called Peach Faced Lovebirds which, interestingly enough, is how I refer to wife and me. All I could think about while reading this was how we can buy another rig and hit the road again. Thanks for sharing and keep them coming.

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    • Hahaha you’re Peach-faced Lovebirds! Little did I know I could have included a photo of you two for my 2020 Critter Round-up πŸ˜€ The road is beguiling, isn’t it? When we’re done full-timing, we will miss so much about it — not the smallness of the RV but the bigness of the country. Scritches to Toohey, and hey to your Peachie!

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