Tanque Verde Wash at Wentworth Road Area
One of our absolute favorite birding areas in the Tucson basin is the bird-rich Tanque Verde Wash, especially where it crosses Wentworth Road. The larger local area includes Agua Caliente Park to the north, Redington Road to the east, Tanque Verde Wash to the south, and North Conestoga Avenue to the west. This article will focus just on the Tanque Verde Wash area and the 49er’s golf course.
Getting there is easy. Travel east on Tanque Verde Road until you pass Soldier’s Trail on the left side of the road. The next right turn is North Forty Niner Drive. You can enter the 49er’s Country Club and Golf Course here and park in the paved lot near the country club house. Cross back over the entrance road and you will be in the area of several ponds with extensive vegetation. The golf cart trails will lead you through most of the golf course areas and it does cross several small washes that should produce good birds. Stay on the golf cart trails and stay off fairways and greens! The 49er’s Golf Course and Country Club allows birders onto their private property but only till about 8:00 am. (We have birded this area later in day and never encountered any problems).
It was in this area that three of our best rare sightings in the Tucson basin were made – a Gray Catbird (an eastern species rarely seen in the southwest or Pacific states), an Aztec Thrush and the Rufous-backed Robin. The thrush and the robin are Mexican endemics that on rare occasion venture this far north and cross in the United States. Winter is best time to look for these species, especially the Rufous-backed Robin. All these species tend to be high in trees or lower in really thick brush.
Phainopepla and Vermilion Flycatchers are almost guaranteed to seen in the area. While this is a great area for birding any time of year, the breeding months of spring and summer produce many different species in the same habitat. Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Purple Martin, Summer and Hepatic Tanager, Bell’s Vireo, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Blue Grosbeak are easily seen during breeding months here. This time of year, winter, you should find Chipping Sparrow, Green-tailed Towhee, and Orange-crowned Warbler. Semi-hardy wintering rarities such as Cape May Warbler (seen in an elm tree where insects were attracted to a row of sapsucker holes), Little Blue Heron (seen at one of the ponds) and Mississippi Kite (observed flying over the wash) are to be looked for.
After 8:00 am you should venture into Tanque Verde Wash, directly south of the 49er’s site. This is the area we return to quite often as we know we will not be disappointed with the birding there. Along the northern side of the wash, from Wentworth Road to the east for about 100 yards is a stand of large sycamores, cottonwoods, and other riparian vegetation. Watch for raptors especially in this area. Just north of the wash and on the east side of Wentworth road you will see a series of horse pastures. Glass over the vegetation, fence posts, telephone lines and poles in this area and you’ll likely see Phainopepla and Vermilion Flycatchers there. By mid-March Lucy’s Warblers and Bell’s Vireos are plainly apparent.
Walking down the wash west of Wentworth Road should yield any number of migrants and/or winter residents. This area is particularly rich in all species of Goldfinches (including Lawrence’s and American during the winter months), Lazuli Buntings, and many species of rarer wintering sparrows and towhees. Rare migrants seen here include Dickcissel, Painted and Varied Buntings, Northern Parula and Northern Waterthrush. One year we must have seen 10 American Kestrels in this one mile stretch west of the wash. All the surrounding areas north and south of the wash are privately owned, however the wash itself is state owned and birders are free to watch birds without disturbing anyone. Be sure to go slow and check the low thick shrubbery, the mid-elevation vegetation and the tall trees that line both the north and south sides of the washes. It shouldn’t be hard to list 40-60 species along this mile of the wash in a relatively short time.
Shani and I spent 6 months living on a horse ranch in this area and we had the opportunity to bird this area every day. There was not a single day that we were disappointed, even in bad weather! We probably saw over 150 species within this easy mile long walk down the wash. We usually would walk west along the south side of the wash first and by the time we got the Conestoga Ave area would turn around and walk back along the north side of the Tanque Verde Wash. If you’ve never birded this particular area, you’re in for a great experience. Bring a birding friend and perhaps you’ll discover some species you have never seen before.
Tucson Audubon’s Finding Birds in Southern Arizona has a detailed section dealing with this area including directions to both the 49er’s Country Club and Golf Course and the adjacent Tanque Verde Wash area. The Wild Bird Store regularly stocks the revised and updated version of this important book. Many birders consider it, after their favorite field guide, as their birding bible for our region.