135707aOn major holidays, when the store is closed, our family has a tradition of going on short day trips where we can hike and explore little-known locations. This year the idea of visiting Date Creek Ranch came to my mind, so that is exactly where we went.

Every year in March, I lead bird walks for Northern Arizona University’s Road Scholar Program. Date Creek Ranch is one of the places we visit during our week-long bird watching trip. Usually the creek is still running in March, and the riparian habitat bordering the creek serves as a migration corridor for birds in spring.

Each spring I see a variety of bird species at the ranch including Harris’ hawk, loggerhead shrike, vermilion flycatcher, ash-throated flycatcher, wild turkey, canyon wren and many more varieties. Without a doubt, our visit to the ranch is one of our best birding destinations of our whole week.

Unfortunately, when our family visited the ranch on Labor Day, the creek was dry. However, it was obvious that they have had some pretty good monsoon storms earlier this summer. In spite of the heat, (we should have gone earlier in the day) we still saw a good variety of birds including gray hawk and zone-tailed hawk.

Date Creek Ranch is a working cattle ranch. The philosophy of the owners is to achieve a “healthy and happy atmosphere for wildlife, people, and livestock.” They raise grass-fed beef and lamb and they do not use any antibiotics or hormones. They also raise a breed of gourmet chicken that is originally from France. The ranch also has a 100 percent organic apple orchard that is open to the public each fall.

This weekend, Sept. 6 and 7, the ranch is hosting its annual apple festival. Admission is free, and the public is invited to visit the ranch between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. for apple picking. You can pick all you want, and you can eat while you pick! Apples are $1.10 per pound (cash or check), which is a great price for organic apples. Boxes and all of the tools you will need for picking are provided. During this weekend’s apple festival, you can eat apple pie, and buy apple butter and apple cakes.

Apple picking will be available every weekend in September and possibly into October, while supplies last. On Sept. 20 and 21, the ranch will host a bratwurst barbecue in addition to apple picking. For more information about Date Creek Ranch I invite you to visit their website at www.datecreekranch.com.

So how do you get to Date Creek Ranch? From Prescott, take Iron Springs Road west to Kirkland. Turn left on country road 96 until it connects with State Highway 89. Take a right on the 89 and stay on this road until you get to Congress. In Congress, turn right on State Highway 71 and go west until it intersects State Highway 93. Go northbound on the 93 until you get to mile marker 177.5 where you will turn right onto Date Creek Ranch Road, which is dirt. Stay on the dirt road for four miles until you come to the ranch house and orchards.

You will definitely want to bring sunscreen, a hat and a lot of water. Most importantly, don’t forget to bring your binoculars for bird-watching! The ranch is surrounded by Sonoran Desert habitat, with beautiful sahuaros, ocotillos and large Joshua trees, which are more reminiscent of the Mohave Desert. You will likely encounter Gila woodpeckers, verdin, cactus wren and many other varieties of birds that we don’t get to see in the Prescott area.

Until next week, Happy Birding!