Tue, April 07

The Bird Man of Tavasci Marsh

Doug Von Gausig remembers summers in Old Town Cottonwood

He grew up in Prescott but often traveled back to the Verde Valley to accompany his father on frequent hiking and camping trips.

"Dad was a hunter, but we didn't shoot much," Von Gausig explains. "We reveled in being alone and listening to the quiet. He somehow instilled a love of nature."

Now a biologist and Verde Valley resident, Von Gausig is a premier bird inventory specialist for two of the area's most unique destinations: Tavasci Marsh and Peck's Lake.

As an ardent birder, Von Gausig has been given an opportunity of a lifetime, he says.

"I got on the ground floor of what was the most interesting biological event," he explains. "Very few things are as wonderful as Tavasci Marsh. It's a treasure."

"It was a cattle pasture," He explains. "A dairy reclaimed it as pasture land and that destroyed Tavasci Marsh for 50 years."

According to Von Gausig when Arizona Game and Fish along with the land's owner Phelps Dodge allowed the beaver dams to return, the marsh slowly, "recreated itself in a natural fashion. They created a new habitat that had to gather new species."

And Von Gausig became a very busy birder.

During his observations at Tavasci Marsh, Von Gausig created more than just an extensive list of his feathered friends, recording not just their behavior but the calls of the new visitors and residents of the marsh.

That's how he discovered the Yuma Clapper Rail had made Tavasci Marsh its home.

A shy creature, Von Gausig noticed its distinctive call when acquiring the other many sounds of the area.

Other birds of interest in the marsh include Black-Crowned Night Herons and Great (American Egrets), and even White-faced Ibis.

Just north of the marsh is also a habitat reborn, like its neighbor Tavasci Marsh.

Once part of the Verde River, the man-made Peck's Life now quenches its thirst via a tunnel through a cliff at the West-end creating a distinctly different habitat.

With its shallow river water, the lake attracts Canvasbacks, American Coots Gadwalls and a winter population of up to 5,000 waterfowl.

"One of the best places of birding," says Von Gausig's describing his favorite get away at the north edge of Peck's Lake. The area's "gallery forest" consists of mesquite, soapberry and hackberry, prime locations to glimpse the Northern Cardinal, Albert's Towhee, Verdin, and an assortment of warblers.

According to Von Gausig a birder could expect to see between 15 to 20 species of birds in this specialized niche at Peck's Lake. "That's one of the best small concentrated areas," he says.

And if a birder desires the impressive site of the largest bird in the Verde Valley, Peck's Lake will undoubtedly be a satisfying destination for a view of the Great Blue Heron.

"They're more at the lake than at the Marsh," Von Gausig explains. "They breed in the Cottonwood trees in riparian areas of the Verde River."

Finally, to catch a who's who of the owl family, the cliffs on the lake's north side is the habitat for a vibrant mix of wildlife including Great Horned Owls.

During the Verde Valley Birding Festival, walks are scheduled Friday, Saturday and Sunday to Tavasci Marsh. To access Peck's Lake take the road to Sycamore Canyon Wilderness area on your way to Tuzigoot and look for the day use area adjacent.

If you're lucky you may glimpse one of the area's most frequent visitors to the area: Doug Von Gausig. His Verde Valley summers field trips transitioned to full-time residency in 1976.

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