Tommy J. DeBardeleben

Butcher Jones Recreation Site

Fast Flight Facts

Target Species:  Desert Riparian bird species

Elevation: 1500'

Habitat:  Thick mesquite bosque surrounded by desert hills and Saguaro Lake

Overall Birding Rating: 5

Difficulty: 1 (Easy)

Birding Type: Easy Hiking

Facilities:  Parking, restrooms

Fees/Ownership:  Six dollar Tonto National Forest Fee

Closest Town or City/How far from Phoenix:  Mesa /33.5 miles east-northeast of Phoenix

Getting there:  Accessed to parking area is right off the Bush Highway

Overview: At the Butcher Jones Recreation Site, it is a perfect place to bird in a mesquite bosque habitat and observe the birds that inhabit that preference of habitat.  Almost the entire circular parking area is mesquite bosque.  The surrounding hills of the area are lower sonoran desert mixed with rocky cliffs to provide a variety of habitat.  And then there's Saguaro Lake, which is right along the site and is the main attraction of Butcher Jones Recreation Area, as Butcher Jones Beach meets the lake.  This place is often very crowded on weekends, but many of the birds don't seem to mind.   

In the spring and summer, typical birds to see and hear in the mesquite bosques include Gila and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Vermilion and Ash-throated Flycatchers, Bell's Vireos, Verdins, Phainopeplas, Lucy's Warblers, and at times Bronzed Cowbirds.  In the winter months in the same mesquite habitat, watch for Northern "Red-shafted" Flickers, Gray Flycatcher, Brown Creepers, Bewick's and House Wrens, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Green-tailed Towhees, Lark, Lincoln's, and White-crowned  Sparrows; and Dark-eyed Juncos.  Year round in the surrounding desert will provide looks at many of the desert species including Gambel's Quails, Red-tailed Hawks, White-winged Doves, Anna's and Costa's Hummingbirds, Gilded Flickers, Cactus, Rock, and Canyon Wrens; Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, Curve-billed Thrashers, Abert's Towhee, and Black-throated Sparrows.  It is good to come early when birding the shore of Butcher Jones Beach and walking south along the lakeside trail up to the dock area, as this place crowds up heavily as the day goes on.  Early in the morning is a great time to view waterbirds, as Western Grebes often come close to the beach in numbers.  Hearing them give their awkward high-pitched calls is always a treat to hear.  Regular waterbirds to expect in the right seasons include Green-winged Teals, Canvasbacks, Redheads, Lesser Scaup, Buffleheads, Ruddy Ducks, Pied-billed and Eared Grebes, Double-crested Cormorants, and Great Blue Herons.  Shoreline birds that prefer the reeds by the beach and shoreline habitat in season include Sora, Spotted Sandpiper, Marsh Wren, and Common Yellowthroat.  With this mix of habitat and good amount of bird species that are usually present, most early morning visits to the Butcher Jones Recreation Area will be very productive.  Uncommon to rare birds observed at the Butcher Jones Recreation Site have included Greater Scaup, Horned Grebe, Sabine's Gull, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, and Swamp Sparrow.   

Birding Tip: Come early.  As this site is good for both water and landbirds, start by scanning the waterbirds with a scope from the beach first before a majority of people arrive on site and move the birds further down the lake.  Walk the Saguaro Lake trail that can be found at the southeast end of the parking lot south for good views as well.  This trail is excellent for walking several miles and viewing the eastern half of Saguaro Lake.  Once finished with the waterbird tally, bird in the parking lot's mesquites and surrounding desert habitats that have several good small washes.  One good spot that will often produce many species is located more at the northwest end of the parking lot.  There are picnic tables at this spot and it goes back into a narrow wash and mini canyon-like setting.  Many birds can often be seen by standing/sitting at the picnic table and then by walking back into the wash.  Sometimes after rain, it sometimes creates a little spring where birds will come down and drink.  Another desert wash is located by the southwest end of the parking lot.  It is often very productive in all seasons, as it is bordered on the south by overlooking cliffs at it's start.  A morning of birding at the Butcher Jones Recreation Site can often produce up to 50 species. 

Directions:  If coming north up the Bush Highway, the Butcher Jones Recreation Site will be the last area to stop at, as it is closely after Saguaro Lake, and located between mile markers 33 and 34.  Take Butcher Jones Road east once you reach the turnoff to the recreation site. 


Butcher Jones Recreation Site Map

Butcher Jones Recreation Site eBird Data


Scenes and sights from the Butcher Jones Recreation Site:

View of Butcher Jones Recreation Area and Beach, and Saguaro Lake

The large picnic area with the mesquite bosque forest


Spring and Summer

Picnic site at northwest corner of recreation site, walk back in the area for good birding..

Butcher Jones Beach


Birdlife of Butcher Jones Recreation Site:

Greater Scaup (rarity)

Horned Grebe (rarity)

Western Grebe

Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet (rarity)


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