April in Arizona – Part 2: Coming Home

April in Arizona – Part 2: Coming Home

We left the Tucson area on April 19 and headed to Page, AZ. Page is at the western end of Lake Powell. We booked three nights in the Wahweep campground and stayed in a large site overlooking the lake.

On the first day we walked on the nature trail near the campground and recorded seventeen species of birds, including a Hooded Oriole, which was common for us in the southwest, but rare for Page, which is just on the Utah border.

Later that morning, we mountain biked the Page Rim Trail, which is a sixteen kilometre loop around the city. The section of trail in the photo is pretty mellow; there are harder bits on narrow sections with drop-offs farther along. Notice how low the lake is; the white area along the water’s edge is the “bathtub ring” and shows how high the water used to be.

The next day we drove an hour along the highway in Utah, then turned down a “main” dirt road that eventually crossed the border back into Arizona. Soon we turned off and negotiated the sandy roads. Doug likens it to driving in deep snow – don’t stop!

Finally we were at White Pocket, which is a part of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. The sign warns, “Routes are not defined. Know where you are going and how to get back.” We had visited back in 2016, so we weren’t worried. It’s basically a large outcropping surrounded by desert scrub so there was a natural boundary.

We took so many photos. It seemed that around every corner there was another amazing view. Here’s a “long” view so you might get a sense of the scale.

Here’s the same formation a little closer.

This is our favourite section. We climbed down this notch twice and up it once, because we kept circling around.

Here’s Doug in almost the same place.

Wendy just a little farther along, going back up to the notch.

We liked the red rock best, but much of the area was white “brain-like” rock. Wendy is taking a photo of some cacti that are surviving in a rather inhospitable place.

This sloping ridged walkway is another favourite spot.

We saw other people at White Pocket, but it was easy to avoid them. We did stop to talk with a guide who had stationed himself while his clients clambered around him. He gave us the scoop to the route to Double Barrel Arch which was on our way home. The arches are visible from the main road, but he told us about walking up an old road behind them so we could get a closer view.

The next day we took the same “main” dirt road but stopped earlier at the Wire Pass trailhead. The trail followed a wash that led to a slot canyon.

It then opened up and there was a short section of red wavy rock.

After the next narrow section, there is a wall of petroglyphs where the canyon from Wire Pass joins Buckskin Gulch. The bighorn sheep is Wendy’s favourite.

Now we were in Buckskin Gulch. We chose to turn right and head south (downstream if there was water). The other times that we had explored this direction were short-lived, because there was too much water. This time we brought water shoes but didn’t need them because it was completely dry.

This section would have been very difficult with muddy water covering the rocks.

The sun reflecting in an opening farther along makes the rocks seem like they are on fire.

On our last night at Lake Powell we wandered around the campground at sunset. (As you may be aware, every post needs a sunset photo.)

Next stop was Cortez, Colorado. We arrived around noon, just as a snow squall hit. However, it cleared up in a few hours, so we decided to drive up to Mesa Verde National Park. The road is 32 kilometres from the base up to the museum and the start of the hike to Petroglyph Point. That meant we didn’t start hiking until 3:45, which was unusual for us to start that late. The trail traversed the side of Spruce Canyon. There was one tight section.

We reached the petroglyphs in about an hour. The late afternoon sun made the panel stand out.

Here’s another view of the panel; the largest one in Mesa Verde.

Just above the panel, the trail heads up the cliff band. Steps have been cut into the rock.

We followed the level trail along the mesa back to the museum. In the photo below, the trail is just out of view in the trees above Spruce House. On a previous trip, we were able to tour the ancient site. Currently it is closed to the public because park staff are stabilizing the access trail.

Another day, we did the road tour of Mesa Verde. We got to the Square Tower overlook around 9:30 and had the spot to ourselves.

Another big reason to visit Cortez is so we can ride one of our favourite mountain biking trails at Phil’s Trailhead. This section is called “The Ribcage” because it has a multitude of “down and ups” similar to a rollercoaster. Doug stopped to get this photo of Wendy near the bottom of the “whoops.” It was too much fun to stop higher up for a photo.

Then it was time to head home. The first day of driving over Soldier Pass in Utah and through Salt Lake City in the pouring rain, was less than ideal. So the next day we only drove as far as Idaho Falls. We got there early enough so we could get our COVID-19 test done in preparation for crossing the Canadian border.

Our results (negative) were ready by 7:00 the next morning, so we chose to tackle the long drive in one push. Our border crossing went smoothly and after an eleven hour trip, we were home in our own driveway. And now we are through our two week quarantine and ready to enjoy spring in the East Kootenay!

The Redwood is all cleaned out and “put to sleep.” Look for our next post sometime in the fall!

April in Arizona – Part 1

April in Arizona – Part 1

On April 1, we drove two and a half hours to Organ Pipe National Monument. Perhaps we were the “April Fools,” because by the time we started hiking (9:30) it was 26 degrees. We took the path to Bull Pasture that you can see veering off ahead of Wendy in the photo below.

Organ Pipe cactus has a limited range in the US. It is common in Mexico in eastern Sonora. It is far more frost sensitive than saguaros, so it grows better near rock outcroppings that keep the heat and shield it from frost.

The trail was through rocky terrain.

We climbed up to an area called “Bull Pasture,” which is an elevated plateau. We can’t imagine that any cattle would be happy here.

These Golden Hedgehog cacti were close to the trail, almost at the elevation of the “pasture.” They are another of the cacti species that is found here, but in only a few other places in Arizona.

This pretty cactus is quite small (15-20 cm tall) and according to our field guide, is “exceptionally common” in Southern Arizona. It’s known as Graham fishhook.

We came down from Bull Pasture through Estes Canyon. By the time we were back at the truck, it was 11:30 and 35 degrees. April’s heat wave had just begun.

The next day was too hot to bike or hike, so we went to Sweetwater Wetlands to look at birds. We were sitting in the shade, surveying the pond, when we saw this Green Heron catch a frog. It looked at first that it was too big for the bird to manage, but after the heron positioned the frog properly, it was able to swallow the whole thing at once. Notice the lump in the heron’s throat in the last photo.

We went to Reid Park for some birding, early on Easter Sunday. The park was busy with the “advance crews”: family members who were designated to set up and “claim” a spot for their family picnic later in the day. It wasn’t too busy for the birds, however.

This American Pipit had us stumped at first, because we would usually see it on mud flats and in a small flock.

We have seen Yellow-rumped Warblers almost all winter, but this male looked especially nice in his breeding plumage.

On our way home, we made a quick stop at Christopher Columbus Park, especially to see if the Western Grebe was still there (it was). We were really lucky to see this Hermit Warbler in a pine beside the lake. Hermit Warblers are only in southern Arizona during migration, and then they would be more likely to be found in a forest. This sighting was therefore given the “rare” designation. And it was the first Hermit Warbler we had ever seen.

Later that week, it was still too warm to do any more desert hiking, so we headed to the upper trails of Madera Canyon. We took the Old Baldy trail up to Josephine Saddle, where this photo was taken.

This photo of the tall pine (and Wendy for scale) is a few 100 metres down the “Super Trail” from the signpost in the last photo. We took the newer and less steep “Super Trail” down to our starting point to make a ten kilometre loop hike.

It was just after twelve when we got back to the truck, so there was plenty of time to look for birds lower in the canyon. This Arizona woodpecker was near the feeders at Santa Rita Lodge.

We walked the trail below the Madera Canyon Picnic site. This Painted Redstart put on a show for us for at least fifteen minutes, so Doug got plenty of photos.

Ramsey Canyon Nature Conservancy Preserve is just southwest of Sierra Vista and was on our list to visit. It used to be the Mile-Hi Ranch and still has some standing buildings, although many have been removed. Because it has high canyon walls and a perennial stream, it has a cooler environment. On April 12, we saw plenty of warblers: Lucy’s, Yellow-rumped, Grace’s, Black-throated Gray, Townsend’s, Hermit and Painted Redstart; and three species of hummingbirds (Rivoli’s, Black-chinned and Broad-billed.) There would be many more varieties of hummingbirds later in the season.

The Paton Center for Hummingbirds in Patagonia opened in April after having been closed to the public since spring of 2020. We visited the center on April 15, and were rewarded with a good view of the Violet-crowned Hummingbird, the species that made the center famous.

This Broad-billed Hummingbird, although more common, is our favourite hummingbird.

After the Paton Center, we headed to Patagonia Lake State Park. We walked the birding trail and saw Summer and Western Tanagers, and a Zone-tailed Hawk, along with forty-one other species of birds.

After that, we got a permit for the Sonita Preserve, which is just outside the state park. After driving to the end of the road and the parking lot, we walked down a service road to get a view of the lake. Through the scope, we could see Ring-billed Gulls in the middle of the lake and a pair of grebes (Western and Clark’s) in the bay.

We got five mountain bike rides in before we left the Tucson area. We sometimes set the alarm for 5:00 so we could be on the trail by 7:30 to beat the heat. Even though we rode the same trail in the Tortolita Preserve over and over again, it was never boring. We enjoyed mastering the tricky bits and noticing different things along the trail.

These two saguaros, dubbed “The Hugging Twins” were a significant landmark for us, because when we passed them we knew we only had five minutes before we could see the parking lot and the end of the trail. Each ride took us about an hour and a quarter.

We visited the Desert Museum for two more times in April. These Passionflowers fascinated us with their variety of colours.

These Long-spine Prickly Pear flowers were also captivating.

This Saguaro is from South America, and grows in Argentina, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. It has a showier flower than the local saguaros.

But the local saguaros were also putting of a show. This saguaro was an “early bloomer” on April 7 at the Desert Museum.

By April 15, the saguaros were blooming everywhere. This nice one was growing right beside the main road into our neighbourhood.

And the Palo verde tree in our yard was also in blossom.

We always want to include a sunset in our post. A few clouds always add some interest.

And this is the last one for this season from our spot in Picture Rocks, Arizona.

Part 2 will detail our trip home to Canada. You can look forward to sights from Page, Arizona (Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument) and Cortez, Colorado (Mesa Verde National Park).

March in Arizona – Part 2

March in Arizona – Part 2

This post is all about birds we’ve photographed and the places we’ve seen them.

In early March we visited Agua Caliente, a historic resort that has been converted to a regional park. It had a very tropical feel with all the introduced palm trees.

This Hooded Merganser was hanging out with a pair of Mallards in the main pond. It’s the only one we’ve seen in Arizona, although they’re only considered uncommon in the winter months here. This one is a first year male and we thought he was pretty special.

This Northern Parula is in the Wood-Warbler family and is considered rare in all of the west. We were thrilled to be able to find it in our binoculars in a tall willow, and Doug was very pleased to get a photo.

This Lucy’s Warbler was in the same tree. If you look closely, you can see rusty speckles on its head. Since seeing this one, we’ve had numerous sightings; they seem to be everywhere! One even visited us at our yard. But the first good sighting is always special.

Perhaps this should have been called the “Cute Birds” section. (Can you decide which is the cutest?) We like to say that, “every bird is a good bird” when people ask, “Have you seen any good birds today?” but we think this Ovenbird is a very good bird. It’s also a Wood-Warbler and like the Northern Parula, its quite aways from where it should be living. Its also quite skulky, walking along the forest floor. Luckily, we had information about where it might be found, but even so, we looked for it on two different days before we were successful. It was hanging out near the Anza trail close to Tubac.

Tumacacori National Historic Park is close to Tubac and about five minutes from where we saw the Ovenbird. We did the full tour last spring. This year, we headed directly to the orchard in hopes of finding another rare bird.

And we successfully located a Black-capped Gnatcatcher. This male’s cap hasn’t quite come in all the way yet, but its dark bill is a distinguishing characteristic. Black-capped Gnatcatchers don’t wander very far into the US and are usually found in Mexico.

For some variety, we drove to the Ironwood Forest National Monument, which is within twenty minutes of our place. We had information that a couple of Sagebrush Sparrows were hanging out near a corral. We found the corral and there were plenty of sparrows around, but they were all a long ways out in among the bushes. We saw some common sparrows (White-crowned and Black-throated) but not the particular one we were looking for. Here’s a view of the Ironwood Forest, which doesn’t have very many trees in it at all.

Wendy was trying to get closer to some sparrows, but Doug saw the bigger picture and took this great shot of the clouds.

Although we didn’t see a new sparrow for us, we did get a view of these “birds.” These heritage aircraft (circa WWII) were in town getting re-certified so that the pilots would be able to fly in upcoming airshows around the country.

It was a cool day at Sweetwater Wetlands when we saw this Cooper’s Hawk perched on a post. You can see white spots on its back because its all fluffed up trying to keep warm.

Another day at the Wetlands, we had a good look at a Green-tailed Towhee. Usually they hide underneath bushes. They are a little smaller than the Spotted Towhees that we have in BC.

We have posted many Pied-billed Grebe photos on this blog, but this one is a bit different. Doug was lucky enough to have his camera ready when this grebe came up with its next meal: a frog.

We never know what unusual bird we might see at Sweetwater Wetlands. This day we were treated with a sighting of a Black-bellied Whistling Duck. Apparently, they are common locally around Tucson, but this is the first we’ve seen in Arizona. And, according to the reports, it flew off the next day.

Black-chinned Sparrows are uncommon and like to hang out on arid hillsides with dense patches of vegetation which makes them difficult to see. Luckily for us, a couple of them have taken up residence at the Desert Museum, and we’ve had a couple of opportunities to see them. This day, this sparrow was more interested in the grass seed and totally ignored us.

This female Costa’s Hummingbird entertained us another day at the Desert Museum. You can see pollen on her bill.

We have a trio of Harris’s Hawks in our neighbourhood. One afternoon, Wendy looked up from her sewing machine and saw a hawk fly by. We grabbed the binoculars and camera and went out to investigate, and Doug caught this one in flight. Harris’s Hawks hunt in family units. Last year, we got good view of them at the Desert Museum’s “Raptor Free Flight” (which isn’t taking place this year), but this was the closest we’ve ever seen them in the wild. We’ve seen them from a distance for the last few weeks on our daily walk in the neighbourhood.

The middle of March is a good time to see hawks and other birds in migration. We went to an open field in Tubac and sighted five species of hawks (Cooper’s, Common Black Hawk, Gray Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk and Red-tailed Hawk) as well as Turkey Vultures, but most were so high up in the sky that a photo wasn’t warranted. These White-faced Ibis were interesting though.

The hawk sightings dwindle by late morning, so before lunch, we went birding along the nearby Anza trail. We saw this Cassin’s Kingbird right after we crossed the road. It is quite similar to the western Kingbird that we see in BC, but is has more gray on its throat.

We also saw this Gray Hawk perched way up in a cottonwood.

After lunch, we drove a few minutes south to the Santa Gertrudis Lane, which has an access to the Santa Cruz River and the Anza trail. We’ve posted pictures from this river in the last few months, because we have been looking to see a Rufous-backed Robin. This time we were successful, but it was such a quick look that we don’t have a photo. Later in the month, we returned again and although we had a better view of the robin, the photographs were only good for identification purposes. That gives us a good reason to go back again!

We went birding a lot in March – over twenty days. We hope you enjoyed seeing some of the birds we saw.

March in Arizona – Part 1

March in Arizona – Part 1

This post focusses on our activities of hiking and mountain biking and the creatures and flowers that we’ve photographed in March. Part 2 is all about the birds.

Our first hike in March was to Brown Mountain. It’s named after a gentleman named Brown who was active in the formation of the Tucson Mountain Park where it’s located. It’s a rather low bump to earn the title “mountain,” but perhaps “Brown Bump” wouldn’t seemed like much of an honour to Mr. Brown. The hike goes up, then along the ridge, down the other side and along the flats to the start for about six kilometres total. Here’s Doug near the high point of the ridge with the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in the background. He’s wearing a knee brace which seems to help with his knee pain.

Our next hike was to Madera Canyon. Usually we go to the canyon to bird, and we slowly walk the lower trails. This time we continued up the nature trail to the end of the road (and a picnic site), then back down. We want to hike to the peaks in the background, but we want the snow up there to melt first.

This view of Golden Gate Mountain (left) is from the David Yetman trail in Tucson Mountain Park. Our hike started on the other side of the low pass in the centre of the photo. We found some trails to loop around at about the altitude that this photo was taken and then returned over the pass to our truck for a six kilometre hike.

We’ve hiked almost every trail within a half hour drive from our place, so we were happy to find this trail with such a great view of Sombrero Peak, (which we climbed in February.) The trail is in the northeast corner of Saguaro National Park (West) and is appropriately called “Scenic Trail.” We used it to link to a trail that goes to a pass between Sombrero and the outcropping on the right, and to an unofficial trail that we have previously used to as an approach route to Sombrero. It made for a pleasant afternoon walk on one of our cooler days.

Later in the month, we hiked again in the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area to the “Phoneline” trail. The trail contoured along the sides of the canyon, below the ridge we climbed earlier. Here’s a panoramic view looking at the trail and the upper canyon.

And here’s a view of Wendy on the Sabino Canyon Historic trail that we used to get off the ridge and down to the road. An electric tram takes visitors up and down the canyon. We walked along the road back to the parking lot and met families with young children who had got off at the end of the route and hiked along as far as they had energy for, and then hopped back on the returning tram. The paved road made the sixteen kilometre hike achievable for us.

Our last hike in March was back at Madera Canyon, on the opposite side of the canyon from our earlier hike. We climbed higher on the trail to Bog Springs and Kent Springs, through juniper/oak forest into pine forest. There was snow along the side of the trail at our highest point. We were on the trail in a little over an hour from our trailer, which allows us to easily hike in the forest as well as in the desert.

We have probably been mountain biking more days than we have hiked. With hiking, we try to find new place to explore. With biking, we’re happy to ride the same trail and work on mastering the features or riding it a little bit faster. Plus, we’re finished the ride in less than an hour and a half which means we can read and relax in the afternoon… or do chores or work on blog posts or (for Wendy) sew!

Here are two more pictures of the trail at the Tortolita Preserve.

This post has a new section: “Creatures,” which includes photos of animals, reptiles and insects we’ve photographed. This young bobcat did not seem to be at all shy as it enjoyed the sunshine (and posed plenty of times) one day that we were birding at Sweetwater Wetlands.

This Desert Spiny Lizard was also enjoying a bit of sunshine on another day at the Wetlands.

Sun-bathing seems to be a theme here… This coyote at the Desert Museum has a favourite rock that it sleeps on.

This squirrel was also at the Desert Museum, but not part of a display. It’s one of the “wild” animals on the grounds, although this fellow seemed pretty tame.

This striped skunk actually was someone’s pet, but now has a home at the museum. Usually it is in its underground burrow, but one morning we were lucky enough to be there as it was being fed. We chatted with its caregiver and found out that when it came to the museum, it was so fat that it could only walk a few steps without resting. Now with proper nutrition it can move around easily, but the caregiver said it is still bulkier-looking than a skunk living in the wild.

This bumble bee is known as a Carpenter Bee, (genus Xylocopa.) This female is way too big to fit in the Penstemon flower, so she “steals” nectar by using her mouth parts to cut a slit at the base of the corolla, without pollinating the flower.

Every time we visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, there are new plants blooming. This agave is called “Our Lord’s Candle.”

This Mescal Bean flower is on a native shrub. All parts of the plant are poisonous containing the alkaloid cytisine.

The cactus garden at the Desert Museum is constantly changing. This view from mid-March includes blooming pink Penstemon and small yellow flowers in the Sunflower family.

Towards the end of March, we saw these torch cacti in bloom. This showy cultivated varietal is called “Flying Saucer.”

We also see some interesting flowers when we’re hiking. These “Fairy Dusters” caught our eye on a hike in the Tucson Mountain Park.

On the same hike, we got a close look at Ocotilla in bloom.

Although this March has generally had below seasonal temperatures, we’ve had some opportunities to eat dinner outside on our patio. For those of you interested in details, the candles are battery operated and the wine glasses have covers to prevent tiny flies from getting in.

And there were a couple of days when it was too hot to have an iron adding heat to the inside, so Wendy set up her pressing station on the patio under the canopy.

And every post must have an iconic sunset. This one was on March 29.

That wraps up the hiking, biking, flowers and creatures of March. Part 2 (posting soon) will be all about the birds we’ve seen.

February in Arizona – Part 2

February in Arizona – Part 2

This post is all about our birding adventures. Be prepared for many photos of birds.

We returned to the Tubac area, to a location a bit south of Turmacocori National Historic Park to an access point to the Anza trail called Santa Gertrudis Lane. This is the view of the Santa Cruz river. The tall cottonwoods are just starting to green up in early February.

We were here to see any birds that we could, but specifically, the Rufous-backed Robin. We have yet to see one, although we have seen a few American Robins. Wendy is probably looking at an Abert’s Towhee, which are numerous and robin-sized.

We got a good look at this Mexican duck. Both the male and female resemble a female Mallard and is included as a subspecies of mallard in older field guides. The male below has a distinctive yellow bill and his wings in flight show narrow white bars rather than the bold white bars of a Mallard.

These Inca doves were foraging near the riverbank. They are very small and slender doves with dark-edged feathers that give them that scaly appearance.

While searching for the robins, we were rewarded with a view of this male Hepatic Tanager. Mostly they winter in Mexico, so this fellow is at the northern edge of his range.

Another time we accessed the Anza trail between Tumacacori and Tubac at Clark Crossing Road in Carmen. We got a quick look at this Crissal Thrasher. They are a secretive bird and like to forage in dense brush. This was the third time we had ever seen one and Doug’s first photo.

One of the times that we birded at Santa Gertrudis Lane, we also accessed the Anza trail in Tubac. We were hoping to see a special little bird way up in the cottonwoods. Not this time, but we have this view for you of the cottonwood trees and blue sky instead. Just being in nature is reward enough.

We had good views of this Hutton’s Vireo when we hiked a trail in Madera Canyon. Hutton’s Vireos look very similar to Ruby-crowned Kinglets, but they are stockier and have a thicker, hooked bill, among other subtle differences. This time, there was a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a Hutton’s Vireo in the same tree, so we could easily compare them. It also helped that it was a shorter tree, so the birds weren’t that far above us.

Also along the same trail near the Madera Canyon Picnic Area we saw a flock of Yellow-eyed Juncos. Their habits are very similar to the Dark-eyed Juncos that we have at home in Canada, but instead of hopping they walk along the ground when they are foraging. They are found year-round in the southeast corner of Arizona and southwest corner of New Mexico in open pine forest of the mountains.

We were also rewarded with a good look at this Townsend’s Warbler. Townsend’s Warblers will be up in the Cranbrook area later in the spring.

A new birding area for us was Fort Lowell Park. It’s an urban park full of ball-fields and large dried-out lawns, but it has a pond and mature trees and attracts a variety of birds including rarities. There were a few Eastern Bluebirds among the Western Bluebirds. You can tell that this one is an Eastern Bluebird by the rufous throat and sides of neck as well as its white belly.

There were plenty of Lark Sparrows and Doug was able to get a close-up shot.

We also enjoyed watching this brilliant male Vermilion Flycatcher. These flycatchers seem to prefer ball fields and are often along the fences. This time it perched on a tree for a more natural shot.

The Santa Cruz River flows from Mexico through Tucson, and although some sections don’t have any water, treated waste water is added to sections within Tucson. We accessed the river bank by walking along “The Loop” shared pathway and cutting down some informal trails. The day that this photo was taken, we were searching for a Gray Hawk and came upon this scenic view, (as long as you look in the right direction and avoid looking at garbage and debris that has been deposited after a flood.) There was a Cooper’s Hawk sitting in the middle of the tree, which Doug took many photos of with his bigger camera, but that decided to fly off just as he took this one with his iPhone. You can just make out the hawk in the photo below if you know where to look.

So no Gray Hawk that day, but about a week later we returned and found a different access to the water and were rewarded with some quick views, mostly of the Gray Hawk flying away. It stopped long enough in a distant tree for Doug to get this photo. Gray hawks are rare and very local at only a few locations near the Mexican border. Apparently there are only about 100 nesting pairs in the United States.

After our success with the Gray Hawk, we drove a short ways to Silverbell Lake in Christopher Columbus Park to see the birds there. The lake has been artificially coloured (not sure why) and is full of fish (or we think so because of all the people fishing from shore.) The pretty goose in the right photo also looks surreal, and sort of is, because its a Snow Goose that has decided to take up residence.

A Western Grebe was also enjoying the lake.

We made another visit to Reid Park in central Tucson. We were there especially to see a couple of Red Crossbills,…

… but were also impressed with these Cedar Waxwings feeding on Palm Tree fruit.

Doug is always keen to go to Reid Park because there is a good chance of catching military aircraft flying over on their way to or from Davis-Montham Airforce Base. Here are some photos of those other “birds.” The two aircraft on the left are A10s, known as “Warthogs.” The A-10 is a very distinctive-looking, slower flying aircraft, designed for ground attack. The aircraft on the right is a EC130-H Hercules, which is cargo plane designed for electronic warfare. If you look closely you can make out the wire antenna array beyond the tail, which is designed to jam electronic signals.

We also looked to birds every time we visited the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. One early morning in February we were lucky enough to see a couple of roosting Black Vultures. The vultures were sitting on the structure that housed the museum’s captive vultures, separated from them by only a few metres and a wire netting. It’s unclear about why they were there; were they working out an escape plan, or taunting the captive ones? A maintenance worker told us they had been there for about three nights. Vultures wait until the air warms up enough so they can use the rising air thermals to gain height. When we looked for them a half hour later, they were gone.

The hummingbirds love the gardens at the Desert Museum, especially since many of their favourite flowers are planted there. Here’s a close-up of a female Costa’s Hummingbird.

One last location to describe. We went to Sweetwater Wetlands several times in February. On this particular cooler, cloudy day, the Snowy Egret was putting on a good show and seemed quite comfortable standing on the railing. We took plenty of pictures of it, but still wanted to see the other birds in the pond. You can see Wendy looking through the ‘scope and with the unperturbed Snowy Egret on the railing. We were rewarded with a good view of this male Wood Duck.

On another day, Doug caught this Common Gallinule vocalizing. Gallinules are in the same family as American Coots, but unlike coots, they are generally solitary. They also never make it as far north as BC.

This little bird was enjoying a bath in the stream at the entrance to the wetlands. Its the most unusual sighting of an Orange-crowned Warbler that we’ve had.

Almost every time we visit the wetlands, we see a Northern Harrier. This time it was hunting right near us and Doug was able to catch it in flight. Notice the distinctive white rump.

There is plenty of wildlife at the wetlands. This young raccoon was startled when it saw us. Its buddy had just darted out of the reeds and scampered by and it was deciding whether to follow or retreat. It chose to return to the reeds.

We see so many birds here. We hope you’ve enjoyed the accounts of our February sightings. We already have some fantastic photos for the March blog post, coming in a couple of weeks.

February in Arizona – Part 1

February in Arizona – Part 1

This blog is about our hiking and biking and happenings around our place here in Picture Rocks, just outside of Tucson, AZ. Part two will be all about our birding adventures.

Our first hike of the month was a short one to some petroglyphs up King Canyon. The petroglyphs were created by the Hohokam people who lived in the deserts of southern Arizona and Northern Mexico from about 200 AD to 1500 AD. The petroglyphs cover both sides of the canyon, so the photo below show only a portion of them.

We revisited a peak that we can see from our place. Its official name is Safford, but is referred to as “Sombrero” because of its resemblance from the east to that type of hat. The photo below is of Sombrero from close to the trailhead.

The trail winds around the mountain and up a weakness to the summit. Here Wendy is starting up the final gully. The prominent mountain behind her is Panther Peak, with its saguaro studded ramp.

Here’s Doug at the summit. We could locate our fifth-wheel with our binoculars.

Another February hike was Blackett’s Ridge in Sabino Canyon Recreation Area in the Santa Catalina Mountains. The out-and-back trail climbs with several well-graded switch-backs to the ridge and then continues gradually over false summits to the high point. The photo below is looking west over Tucson to the Tucson Mountains. By the time we were back to the truck, we had hiked 10 kilometres.

Another day we discovered a shorter (5 km) hike on the Lower Javelina loop in the Tortolita Mountains.

We continued to do lots of mountain biking in February. Mostly we rode the 15 kilometre loop at the Tortolita Preserve. Here are more photos of the trail.

Here, Wendy is making her way up out of a wash, with a healthy-looking Palo Verde behind her.

This section is the trickiest. It doesn’t look very steep from the photo, but when a rider is approaching from the wash below, the edge appears as a wall. Wendy’s strategy is to get as much speed as possible so that she only has to stand on her pedals for about two rotations, and then make the quick turn at the top.

We also rode our mountain bike in Honeybee Canyon and we have included some photos of the area in previous posts. One time in February, we met a this cow that had had a close encounter with a cholla cactus. She was lying down when we passed by on the way back, but got up quickly when Doug approached with a plan to flick it off.

We visited the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum several times. It was amazing to see flowers blooming in February. Clockwise from top left: Tufted Evening Primrose, unknown, Blanketflower (gaillardia), Desert Beard-tongue (penstemon), Creeping Lantana.

Almost everyday before dinner we do a loop walk around the neighbourhood. Often the sky is cloudless, but sometimes the clouds form in interesting ways.

Wendy had time to design and piece this small quilt top. She made it using “sand-scape” fabric that she bought in the south-west a few years ago.

We have beautiful sunsets, not every night, but this one in the middle of February was outstanding.

Doug replaced the top and seats of an old picnic table that our landlord had and we are enjoying using it. This photo was from the afternoon of Valentine’s Day when we decided to go “out” for guacamole, chips and beer.

On calm mornings, we often see a hot-air balloon hovering over the mountains. On this occasion, the balloon came quite close. We were leaving to go birding, so Doug had his camera handy.

Check out February in Arizona: Part 2 to see our newly discovered birding locations and many bird photos.

The Saguaro Awards

The Saguaro Awards

This whole blog post is dedicated to the saguaro cactus. We live among the saguaros and have taken many, many photos of them. The saguaros in this blog were photographed since we came down here in December.

We’ll start with the most famous. This cactus in the Tortolita Preserve has its own sign: “Strong-Arm Saguaro.” Its one of the biggest we’ve seen.

We ride our mountain bikes past it often. This photo gives you a better sense of how big it is.

If the saguaro on the left had a sign it would be, “Small-Arms Saguaro.”

These saguaros are within a fifteen minute walk from our place. They win, “Favourite Saguaro Grove.” Saguaros have a relatively long lifespan. Some could live 175 to 200 years. After about 75 years, it may sprout its first branches, or arms.

This one is one of the tallest we have seen. Also, it is on the trail to Sombrero Peak, so it wins: “Tallest Saguaro at Elevation.” A saguaro rarely reaches 15 metres in height and occasionally 12 metres. More commonly they are 10 metres tall. If Doug is used as a scale, (he is about 2 metres tall), this one seems to be 14 or 15 metres tall.

Saguaros grow from a seed and they struggle for their first years. The knife is in the photo below is about 10 cm long, so this little one isn’t much bigger than that. A 15 cm saguaro is estimated to be 9 years old, but growth is dependent on the amount of water it receives. This little one was growing alongside the rough trail to Panther Peak. It wins: “Smallest Saguaro on the Trail.”

Most saguaros have one main stem with arms that branch out. Sometimes something causes two leaders to develop. This is the only one that we’ve seen with three. Its name is “Triple Top.”

This saguaro is also unusual. The previous saguaro’s arms were all growing from the same level. This one has a “V” split, similar to how trees in Canada sometimes develop. Its the only one we’ve seen in our travels. Meet “Victory Saguaro.”

This group of saguaros have earned the award: “Growing in the Least Hospitable Place.” We viewed them from the trail to Sombrero Peak. The tallest one is probably 20 centimetres high.

Some saguaros grow in rare formations called cristate or “crested saguaro.” It is believed that its only found in one in every 10 000 saguaros. We’ve seen less than ten. This one is right beside a trail in the Sweetwater Preserve, where we’ve hiked several times. It was going to be the winner of the “Crested Saguaro” award, until we found another more interesting one. But its still pretty special, and we take its photo every time we pass it. It is awarded, “Favourite Crested Saguaro.”

This is the winner of the “Most Unusual Crested Saguaro” award. In all the other crested saguaros that we have seen, the abnormal growth is along the top. This one has grown sideways. Its also not very tall, perhaps 3 metres high.

This is the “Grotesque” Category. Sometimes the saguaro arms grow in strange ways. Here are our favourites.

Saguaros can still live when parts have been destroyed. This one is awarded with: “Beat up but Still Alive.”

But the following saguaro is awarded: “Beyond Beat Up but Still Alive.” Obviously the central section must still be intact enough to provide nutrients to the one living arm.

When saguaros die, their outer shell disintigrates and eventually falls off, leaving the framework of long, woody ribs.

This one is along our daily loop walk so earns, “Friendly Neighbourhood Saguaro Skeleton.”

We saw these two saguaro skeletons on a ridge in the Tortolita Mountains. Their award is: “Together in Life and Death.”

This skeleton in the Tortolita Mountains is beautiful, so is awarded: “Splitting Pretty.”

The “Best Saguaro Skeleton” award goes to this one, found in Saguaro National Park (West).

Perhaps you’ve had your fill of saguaros, but if not, our next blog posts will for sure include photos with saguaros. They can’t be avoided around here!

January in Arizona (Part 1)

January in Arizona (Part 1)

Happy New Year. We’re enjoying our time here in Arizona. This blog will focus on hiking and biking and part 2 will be about birding.

A few days after Christmas, we walked right from our door to the top of Panther Peak. It took us a couple of hours get to the top. Here’s a view looking east towards Tucson, from just below the summit.

Here’s a view of Panther Peak, taken on the way down.

The next big hike was to Wasson, the peak just south of our place. It is possible to walk right from our door, but we chose to make the short drive to the trailhead. The last time we climbed Wasson, we approached it from the other side. This time we hiked up the Sendero Esperanza.

The hike starts off on the flats, following an old mine road towards the ridge.

Up on the ridge, we joined the Hugh Norris trail to the summit. Here’s a view of the trail along the ridge.

Whenever we approached other hikers, we popped our masks on, as did the few people we met.

Another day, we hiked in the Tortolita mountains. We started in the wash and hiked up to the Wild Mustang ridge. The trail to the ridge skirted these impressive boulders.

Here’s a view looking southeast. If you had a high powered telescope and the inclination, you could probably look across the valley to see the houses near our place.

We stepped off the trail to this great lunch spot on water smoothed granite.

Those were the three “big days” of hiking. We also did several shorter hikes, mostly within a 20 minute drive.

This trail in the Sweetwater Preserve is called Rollercoaster, but it’s much gentler than the Rollercoaster trail in the Cranbrook Community Forest. Bikes are allowed on these trails and there are parts like this one, that we think are fine for riding, but they tend to lead to rocky, unappealing sections.

Another local hike is in Saguaro National Park. Ten minutes to the trailhead, then an hour and a half hike. This time we took the Ringtail trail to Picture Rocks trail to Box canyon trail to make a loop.

We did a lot of mountain biking at the Tortolita Preserve. We had a memorable ride on Christmas Day, especially since it was a replacement for the skiing that we used to do that day.

Here are a few pictures of the trails, taken on different days.

Here’s one of Wendy making her way up out of a gentle wash.

This part is called the “Palo Verde Tunnel”.

The signpost called this, “Old Timer Ironwood.” Ironwood trees can grow to be 150 years old. Their wood is so hard because of all the minerals in it.

We also rode at Honeybee Canyon a couple of times. This “pile of rocks” was our turn-around spot this day. It made it a two hour ride of just over 20 kilometres.

Doug loves taking photos with the rocks as background. This is a different pile of “exfoliating granite boulders.” This weathering produces good sand for the trail riding.

Here’s some photos from our place. When there are scattered clouds, it makes for a great sunrise.

And the clouds improve the sunset as well. Both photos are from our patio.

Here’s what the Redwood and our patio look like in the sunshine.

It’s a big event when rain is in the forecast. Most of Arizona is in a severe drought this year. Here’s a view from the Desert Museum of a thunderstorm developing. We made it home before the rain hit.

We actually had a day or two when it rained most of the day. Here’s that view, from inside of course.

And one night the snow level was quite low. This is a view of Wasson Peak from our yard, the next morning.

Wendy used her inside time to advantage and finished this small art quilt. It’s about 11 by 19 inches (28 by 49 cm). She started it at a workshop in Sisters, OR in the summer of 2019. She used a variety of fabrics and different techniques including narrow insets, appliqué, hand-quilting and free motion quilting.

Have a look at January in Arizona – Part 2 for details of our birding adventures.

January in Arizona (Part 2)

January in Arizona (Part 2)

This blog is all about our birding adventures.

Since our last blog post, we’ve visited the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum a half a dozen times. We book the 8:30 time slot, when it’s not at all busy. We wear our masks the whole time we’re there, even when we’re completely alone. Here’s a view of the entrance to the cactus garden in the morning light.

When there aren’t many people around, it’s ideal for taking photos of birds.

We were lucky to get a long viewing of this Canyon wren. We were surprised to see it there. Usually we hear them when we’re hiking in the mountains and we might catch a glimpse of them on the rocks.

One morning, a maintenance worker alerted us to the location of a Great horned owl.

This Hermit thrush posed in the sunshine.

This male Northern cardinal hopped along the walk and we were able to creep up closer and closer.

We also had plenty of good views of the javelinas.

We’re usually leaving the museum by 10:00, when the next group of visitors are arriving. We’re making good use of our season pass.

Another birding spot that’s really close to us is the Santa Cruz River at Ina, where we had seen the Northern Jacana in December. We returned in January and this rare bird was still hanging out there. Doug was lucky enough to catch it moving its wing to show the flashy yellow flight feathers.

Doug caught this Great Egret just as it was landing.

Another time, a flock of little birds perched for a few moments in a nearby tree and Doug’s photo allowed us to identify the Lawrence’s Goldfinches. They have been known to winter around Tucson, but they are usually seen in Southern California.

And we got a good look at the resident Great Blue Heron.

There is also a Green Heron that hangs out under the bridge. After the heavy rains, the concrete drop resembled a waterfall and it seemed happy to stand in the spray.

We also went to the Sweetwater Wetlands several times. This January view reminds me of the colours in September at home in BC.

This Greater Roadrunner was out near the parking lot one morning.

Reid Park is in the middle of Tucson, so it’s about a half hour drive for us, but still pretty local. We got a good look at this female or immature male Summer Tanager…

…and our first ever sighting of a Cassin’s Kingbird.

We saw a Greater Pewee at the same park last year, but this time it wasn’t as high up in the trees. Notice how bright the underside is of its two-toned bill.

There were at least thirty Neotropic Cormorants perching along the pond edge. Here’s a close up view of one of them. That eye is amazing!

One January morning, we left before sunrise for a two hour drive southeast to Willcox because we wanted to see the Sandhill Cranes take flight. As we approached Willcox, we saw thousands of cranes in the air and we thought maybe we were too late. We arrived at Lake Cochise (a fancy name for a waste-water pond) around 8:00, and there were still at least two thousand cranes hanging out.

We were the only people there on that cold morning. The pond was mostly frozen. Doug took over a hundred photos. Here he is in action.

Here’s a flock of Sandhill Cranes lifting off. They circled around and headed for their feeding grounds.

Doug caught this group as they flew by. By nine o’clock, almost all of them had left.

After we checked out the birds at the nearby golf course pond, we drove south to Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area near McNeal. We arrived around 11:30, just as thousands of cranes were wheeling down from the sky.

Here’s a photo of the sign, if you’d like more information.

Once the cranes landed, they didn’t do much, except make a racket. It was impossible to count how many were there, perhaps 20,000 or more. And it was also impossible to capture them in one photo. There was also a flock of about 50 Snow Geese in among them.

And there were some waterfowl close to the edge of the pond. Here’s a male Green-Winged Teal.

This male Northern Shoveler was waddling along the ice. We don’t often get a view of the whole bird like this.

On another day, we drove south about an hour to Tubac. We’d been there a couple of times last year, hoping to see a Rose-throated Becard, without success. Again the becard stayed hidden, but we had an enjoyable outing and saw over thirty species.

Doug took this photo of a Gray Flycatcher. Gray Flycatchers have the distinctive habit of wagging their tail gently downward.

We hope you’ve enjoyed all these bird photos. Next month’s blog is likely to have just as many. Birding in Arizona is amazing!

Merry Christmas from Arizona

Merry Christmas from Arizona

We’re in Arizona now, at the same place we were last year. Logistics were a little different this year, because we were allowed to fly into the US, but not drive over the border. We ended up chartering a small plane to fly us to Kalispell, and getting our truck and trailer shipped to us there.

It was a gorgeous clear morning in early December; perfect flying weather.

Wendy spent most of the fifty-five minute flight looking down, and taking photo after photo.

Here’s a view looking towards the Steeples. Fisher Peak is in the clouds.

The next morning, our truck and trailer were delivered to our hotel in Kalispell and we headed south.

After three long days of driving (Kalispell, MT to Idaho Falls, ID to Mesquite, NV to Tucson, AZ) we reached our winter residence. Our landlord had put up a new, and much larger gate, which made it really easy to pull in and get set up.

The day after we arrived we took a short walk down the road and into the State Trust Land. We took this photo of our local mountains, with Panther Peak on the left side of the ridge.

For our first real hike, we returned to the Tortolita Mountains. We chose to hike the same trail as our last hike in the spring, which was along the ridge to Alamo Springs. Here’s Doug standing near a magnificent saguaro.

On another cooler morning, we returned to the Hugh Norris trail and made a loop by going down the Sendero Esperanza, to Dobie Wash and back to the parking lot. (about ten and a half kilometres)

For our next hike, we combined birding and hiking at Sabino Canyon. Although we saw over a dozen species of birds, there were fewer than we had expected, probably due to the fact that there was no water in the canyon. When we were here in 2019, the creek was full to overflowing; this year there has been little rain, especially in the fall. It was a gorgeous location however.

We soon got into our routine of alternating between hiking, birding and biking. We did our first three rides on “The Loop,” a paved pathway that loops around Tucson. It’s not ideal to ride the pavement with our knobby tires, but it helps us get in shape for the single track trails.

We found some nice single track in the Tortolita Preserve. It’s a 15 kilometre loop that we can drive to in about half an hour. It’s not too technical; just enough to keep you on your toes and allow you to feel you’ve accomplished something. There are some steep washes to go down into and hope you have enough speed and strength to get up out of, and soft sand along the edges of other parts of the trail. And of course the ever present cactuses. But it’s quite enjoyable.

We also returned to the Desert Museum. We found that if we arrived at opening on a weekday, it’s virtually empty – of people, not birds or animals. The first time we went, the coyotes and javelinas were very active.

Here’s a couple of views of the cactus garden at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum.

And another one.

The second time we went to the Desert Museum, we focused on birding. Doug got a good photo of a Costa’s hummingbird sipping from a creosote flower.

This is a cute Black-tailed gnatcatcher hunting for bugs on the spikes of a saguaro.

We also went birding at the Sweetwater Wetlands, which uses treated waste water to provide habitat for wildlife and viewing opportunities for people. This Sora was in a shallow stream near the entrance.

Treated waste water is also added to the Santa Cruz River. There is a steady flow under the bridge that we cross every time we drive into Tucson, which provides suitable habitat for some interesting birds. We often can spot a Great egret or a Great blue heron as we drive across.

One morning we set out to look for a rare bird that we had learned was spotted there. We thought it might take us the whole morning to see it, but within five minutes, we had a good view of a Northern jacana. We spent several minutes looking at it, and Doug was able to catch the male in flight.

If you look closely at the photo, you can notice the jacana’s extra long toes. These toes allow it to walk on floating vegetation.

We had such good luck seeing the jacana, that we thought we’d try for another rare bird. There’s a male Elegant trogon who hangs out in Madera Canyon that we tried unsuccessfully to see a number of times last season.

So one early morning we arrived at his known “hanging out” spot. There was no one else around. Within ten minutes, we spotted the trogon perching on branches of low shrubs and flying from his perch down to the water in the canyon and up again. We were thrilled to see him, but when he flew out of view, we decided to take the trail downstream to look for other birds. It turned out the trogon had the same idea and we had a number of other good views of him along the trail, until he flew into the high branches of the tallest trees.

We continued birding to our turn around spot and came back up to the parking lot. Just as we reached the pavement, we caught another glimpse of the trogon. This time he perched in the sunshine and even came closer to us.

Enjoy this photo of an Elegant trogon. It’s like he is dressed in his Christmas finery of red and green.

Later the same day, we visited Canoa Ranch Conservation area. Wherever there is water in the desert, you’ll find birds. The pond was full of waterfowl; American wigeons, Ring-necked ducks, Northern pintails, Redheads and of course, American coots.

We also have plenty of birds to look at at our own place. Doug got a good shot of this male Pyrrhuloxia, through our back window.

Wendy also had some time to sew and quilt some festive placemats.

She finished the binding outside in the sun.

On December 21st, we viewed the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. We could clearly see the moons of Jupiter and the rings on Saturn, through the spotting ‘scope, but our photos taken through the ‘scope couldn’t show the detail. You can make out the “bright star” in the early evening sky in the photo below.

Merry Christmas from our wee spot in Arizona.

And happy new year!