Tavasci Marsh, Spring-fed Riparian Zone Near Sedona, Arizona
The evolution of Tavasci Marsh and the adjacent Peck's Lake is a little complicated, what with nature and man changing things up over time. Thousands of years ago, the Marsh and the lake were directly connected to the Verde River, but the river slowly changed course and the marsh and lake remained. The marsh is fed primarily by Shea Spring, which supplies it with 68-degree water year round, while the lake is fed from the river via an underground tunnel. The pioneer family for which the marsh is named, ironically, drained it at one point to make more room for grazing, but thanks to the efforts of men, and, believe it or not, beavers, the wetland has been revived.
Birders in particular have come to know and love Tavasci Marsh for its unbelievable abundance of resident and migratory birds, many of which are representatives of fragile populations. The guided marsh tour is probably the most popular field trip of the annual Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival, and with at least 167 species documented there, it's no mystery why. The Northern Arizona Audubon Society identifies the marsh as an Important Birding Area, and with the recent transfer of the land from the Phelps Dodge corporation to the Bureau of Land Management, nature lovers can be comforted that the place will stay wild for the foreseeable future.
Redwing blackbirds love the tall cattails for perching and nesting, and sedate Great Blue Herons stalk the waters for fish and frogs. During the winter there's a whole host of geese, ducks, mergansers and rails. But birders are a discriminating bunch, and are always on the lookout for more uncommon or threatened species, like the Least bittern, Yuma clapper rail, Golden eagle or the Rufous-sided towhee. Because the marsh is such a draw for migrating birds, the population is constantly changing and offering new opportunities to birders.
Birders in particular have come to know and love Tavasci Marsh for its unbelievable abundance of resident and migratory birds, many of which are representatives of fragile populations.
As plentiful as they are, birds aren't the only critters drawn to Tavasci Marsh, of course. As unlikely as it may seem in the desert, river otter live here! The Verde River and the marsh create prime habitat for these curious, clever, and occasionally goofy mammals, who spend half their life in the water. They can stay submerged for up to 8 minutes while they hunt for fish, crawdads and frogs, and create underwater entrances to their dens on the riverbank. All that time under water requires a thick coat to keep warm, and otters have 3,000 hairs per square inch of skin!
River Otters make Tavasci Marsh their home.
Above: North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis)
The Verde River was home to the Southwest River Otter, a subspecies that has all but disappeared from the Southwest. While its conservation status is listed as "Sensitive" or "Species of Concern" with various agencies, some conservationists believe it may be extinct, while others aren't willing to write it off quite yet. Due to trapping, pollution and indiscriminate water use, otters had all but disappeared from the area until the 1980s when some public land managers began releasing subspecies of river otters from other parts of the country into the Verde. It's a good bet that if you see an otter in Tavasci Marsh, it's one of these introduced subspecies.
With 8 - 12 inches of annual rainfall, all places with water take on near-mystical significance in Arizona. We even have whole days devoted to the celebration of a body of water. Take Verde River Day, a fantastic opportunity to get to know the area around Tavasci Marsh and the Verde River. Hosted by Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Verde River Day features more than 40 exhibits and activities, including organized canoe rides, geology tours, panning for gold, demonstrations on local ecology and natural history, food, entertainment and, of course, a Civil War Re-enactment.
For more information about Tavasci Marsh, visit www.nps.gov.
Note: If you visit Dead Horse Ranch State Park, there's a short trail called the Tavasci Marsh Trail that leads to an observation deck offering a great viewpoint of the marsh from which to spot birds!
Article by Sarah Horton for GatewayToSedona.com.
Tavasci Marsh photo courtesy of nps.gov.