Birding Arizona City and the Western Sod Farms
by Cliff Drowley
©1998, Maricopa Audubon Society and the author. Reproduction restricted to personal or educational use; reproduction for commercial use prohibited without the written consent of Maricopa Audubon Society and the author.
Arizona City, located about 50 miles south-southeast of the Phoenix area, attracts good numbers of waterfowl and some shorebirds. The area is often mentioned on Phoenix and Tucson Rare Bird Alerts during migration and winter seasons. A quick glance at a state map shows nothing unusual about the area; it's near Casa Grande and Eloy, in a largely agricultural region.
The chief attraction for birds and birders at Arizona City is a small lake, built as part of a housing development. The lake is the largest body of open water for miles, immediately surrounded by low-density housing and then by fields. Unusual species such as Snow, Ross' , and Greater White-fronted Geese and Neotropic Cormorant are seen here in the late fall and winter, along with wintering ducks and coots. Wintering Long-billed Curlew are also seen frequently.
A second birding attraction in the Arizona City area is Mountain Plover. This species has been found during the winter at Western Sod Farms, a few miles south of Arizona City. Directions to both locations are given below. This area is close to I-10, and is a quick detour on a trip to Tucson. It's about 20 miles from Picacho Reservoir, as well, and the two destinations can be combined in one trip.
Arizona City is reached by taking I-10 south from Phoenix toward Tucson. Exit I-10 at Sunland Gin Road (Exit 200, about 45 miles south of the I-10/US60 interchange). Take Sunland Gin Road south about 5-1/4 miles to San Lazaro Drive (see Maps 1 and 2). San Lazaro is not well marked; there's a video store at the corner of Monaco Drive and Sunland Gin about 1/4 mile before San Lazaro, and there's a large 2-story apartment building on the left (east) between Monaco and San Lazaro. Turn right on San Lazaro, and follow San Lazaro about 1/4 mile; the lake can be seen on the right. The lake is surrounded by a housing development, and has several cul-de-sacs projecting into it. A good viewpoint is at the end of Maui Circle, opposite the fountain (I've never seen the fountain operational; it's similar in design to the one at Fountain Hills).
Scan the lake for ducks and other waterfowl. Cormorants often are perched drying their wings on the fountain structure; both Double-crested and Neotropic Cormorants occur at the lake, and a good comparison between the two species can be seen. Wintering geese may be seen on the lake or on shore (there are domestic white geese on the lake as well).
To circle the lake, continue west on San Lazaro to Reef Drive. Turn right (north) on Reef, and continue to Guaymas. Turn right on Guaymas (it curves to the left); the lake may be viewed from several positions along Reef and Guaymas. Guaymas ends at Monaco; turn right (east) on Monaco to follow the north shore of the lake and then return to Sunland Gin Road.
The property around the lake is private, and there are a number of homes on the lakefront. Avoid trespassing on the private land (good views can be had from the road), and respect the privacy of the homeowners around the lake.
The Mountain Plover location can be reached by continuing south about 8 miles from San Lazaro (about 13 miles from I-10) on Sunland Gin Road to Greene Reservoir Road (a gravel section-line road running east-west). This stretch of Sunland Gin road often has wintering sparrows, and has been a good area for raptors including White-tailed Kite in winter. Turn left (east) on Greene Reservoir Road, and follow it for about 1 mile. The Western Sod Farm fields and machinery can be seen on both sides of the road for about 2 miles. Mountain Plovers have been found on the fields to the north of the road; there may be other birds such as Least and Western Sandpipers, Long-billed Curlew, and Killdeer present, as well. During late summer 1998, a Pacific Golden Plover was found in the fields. Bird the area from the road; do not walk into the fields.
Return to I-10 by going north on Sunland Gin Road.