Mattie Creek in Winter

Cottonwood gallery near Mattie Creek

Running through the heart of the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, south of Tucson, Arizona, is a short reach of perennial stream called Mattie Creek.  It runs through a lovely cottonwood gallery, and, like most wet areas in the desert, is rich with wildlife.  There’s no trail there, but the wash leading to the spring that starts the perennial reach is pleasant to walk in, and a great place to look for tracks.

I took the dog for a walk there a couple of weeks ago, both to get some exercise and try to record some quiet winter sounds.   We entered the wash in a deep cut, where flash floods had gouged a crevice more than 15 feet deep and, in places, no more than that wide.  The walls of the cut were old gravel beds – evidence that this area has been streambeds since the Pleistocene, and long before.  I scanned the gravel walls closely as we headed down the wash.  Occasionally erosion reveals some very interesting history of the area.  Dinosaur bones have been found in these sediments, as have the bones and artifacts of some of the first peoples to grow maize in this part of the world, several thousand years ago.  Some years back, a couple of human skeletons were found, tossed into a small ditch and embedded with about 100 Hohokam arrowheads.  The speculation was that the skeletons might have belonged to some of the early Spanish settlers who overstayed their welcome.

The rocks hung on to their secrets, and we arrived at the little spring.  The only bones we found were a small fawn from last summer that were scavenged and chewed, hidden in the leaf litter.  At the spring, the water is narrow enough to jump across, which we did, and I found a nice, gurgling segment of stream and hung the microphones from a small cottonwood just a few feet from the water.  We continued downstream, scanning for tracks, watching for wildlife.  We’ve seen coatis and bears in here, and tracked mountain lion, bobcat, turkey and opossum.  The birds were a bit more active than I would have expected in late January, but the other critters remained hidden.  We scrambled up to the top of the bank for lunch and to watch the stream below for activity.  A couple of black phoebes were busy darting in and out of the trees after small insects.  Nothing else, so we returned to the recorder, packed it up, and made our way back up the wash.

Mountain lion tracks on the bank of Mattie Creek
Mountain lion tracks on the bank of Mattie Creek

Here is an excerpt of the recording I made.  Just a quiet little stream, with some activity of the winter avian residents: lesser goldfinch, black phoebe, northern flicker, canyon wren.

For an interesting overview of the history of the area,  see

And for more recordings of Mattie Creek, see: Monsoon rearrangements, and Listening for signs of spring.

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