Birding near Tucson, Arizona: April 2022

Birding near Tucson, Arizona: April 2022

After we got back from Costa Rica near the end of March, we went out birding with the camera about fifteen times. This blog includes photos of some of the birds we saw.

Sweetwater Wetlands was the spot we visited the most. The trees had leafed out and were full of warblers (Yellow, Yellow-rumped, Lucy’s and Wilson’s)

This Yellow Warbler was singing high in the branches of a dead tree. Just as Doug focused and took its picture, it took off in flight.

We saw a Black-crowned Night-Heron on a couple of our visits.

We saw an American Bittern more times this year than we ever had before. This sighting was extra special for us because we were by ourselves when we saw the bird fly into the reeds. On all the other times, other people had seen the bird first and pointed it out. Here’s a photo of the bittern in its “You can’t see me, I’m just another reed” pose.

The pond at El Rio Open Space Preserve had been dry for an number of months. Marana Parks had done some rehabilitation work, removing overgrown trees along the shore and cattails that were encroaching the pond. Here’s a view looking south of the banks that were built up at the far end, taken about a week after they started filling the pond.

There were some waterfowl, but more will likely arrive later. This Abert’s Towhee with seeds in its mouth was in a drier area surrounding the pond. Abert’s Towhees are usually found in pairs; when you see one, its mate is usually nearby.

This is an Ash-throated Flycatcher, with its short bushy crest.

We visited the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum a couple of times. Wendy is looking at a Cooper’s Hawk sitting on the highest horizontal branch on the right.

Here’s a close-up photo of the same bird. This Cooper’s Hawk was calling frequently from the same perch, so we were able to locate it easily.

Every time we visit the cactus garden at the Desert Museum, we check out the Cactus Wren nest. We saw the wrens building this nest earlier this year and now they are feeding chicks. Here’s a shot of a Canyon Wren exiting the nest.

The Desert Museum is a great place to photograph hummingbirds. This is a female Anna’s Hummingbird.

On our last visit in April, we were lucky enough to see a pair of Hooded Orioles. They usually nest in the palms on the museum grounds. Here’s a photo of a male Hooded Oriole. The “hood” in this case is the yellow top and sides of the head.

Every month we try to visit Reid Park. Even though it is a city park with lawns, ball fields, playgrounds and picnic sites, it attracts a large number of birds. Many of the birds are waterfowl that enjoy either of the two lakes. This Neotropic Cormorant is drying its feathers after diving for fish. Cormorants’ feathers are not water resistant which allows the bird to dive deeper, but requires the bird to dry its feathers before it can fly.

This male Mexican Duck was feeding in a small stream. His plumage is similar to a female Mallard, but he has the characteristic yellow bill of a male. Until recently, Mexican Ducks were considered a sub-species of Mallards.

We went birding in Madera Canyon, not only because there are lots of birds there, but also because it is a bit cooler because of its higher elevation. This is a Cassin’s Vireo. At home in BC, we usually only recognize this bird by its distinctive song because it usually stays hidden in the foliage.

This is probably the first photo that Doug has captured of a Pacific-slope Flycatcher.

We made a last visit to Tubac, about an hour an a half south of Tucson. The female Rose-throated Becard was building a new nest, so she was easier to locate than other times. Birders come from all over to see this species because they are found in only a few spots in the US.

This Summer Tanager has returned to the area. Summer Tanagers are long-distance neotropical migrants that winter in southern Mexico and northwest South America. Their favourite foods are bees and wasps.

Just as the “summer birds” are returning to the Tucson area, we “snowbirds” need to head home. We’ll be taking a break from posting blogs until we travel again in the summer. Until then…

Arizona Activities – April 2022

Arizona Activities – April 2022

This blog will cover our hiking and biking activities as well as spring flowers, a visit to downtown Tucson and the regular events around our place on North Desert View Dr on the outskirts of Tucson. This post includes our activities in the last part of March as well as April.

Our first few hikes were at the end of March. The temperatures were heating up so we ventured south to Madera Canyon, where it wouldn’t be as hot. It was warm enough to wear shorts and t-shirt when we headed up from the upper parking lot (Mt. Wrightson Picnic Area) on the Old Baldy trail. We found a few patches of snow in the shade near our highest elevation.

At Josephine Saddle we had our lunch, then headed down the “Super Trail.” Most people do the loop the opposite way, but we would rather climb the steeper trail and take the longer more gradual trail downhill. Here’s a view towards Josephine Saddle which is the low point just to the right of Wendy in the photo below.

The next week, the weather was not as hot so we hiked closer to home. Here’s Doug on the Pima Canyon trail. We hiked up to an old dam and back. (4hrs, 10km) We saw plenty of birds even though we didn’t bring binoculars.

By the next week, it got really hot, but we wanted to get out anyway. We started walking before 8 for a two hour ramble with views of Sombrero Peak. We made a loop around the rock bluff that is behind Wendy in the photo below. We were home well before lunchtime, and spent the afternoon in our air-conditioned trailer. It reached 37 degrees Celsius that day. (April 8)

Now to our mountain biking. We revisited the Honeybee Canyon area in early April. The trail has vast views and the landscape is more open than our usual spot at Tortolita Preserve. Many people travel farther than our 30 kilometre ride, but we wanted to keep it under three hours. It was 27 degrees Celsius when we finished, so warm enough for us.

We were surprised on our ride by this small clump of Golden Poppies out in what seemed like the “middle of nowhere.”

Here is another photo of our favourite mountain biking trail at the Tortolita Preserve.

And another one taken on our last day riding there in the middle of April. On this ride, it felt like we had the trail “wired”; we knew each bend and drop, when to brake, how fast to take a corner and what gear to be in to do a climb. We know the twenty times we rode the trail over the season taught us that. We can hardly wait until next season.

Along the Tortolita Preserve trail, we usually see birds and sometimes a cow. This time we rode past a scary-looking snake. We stopped and Doug got this photo before it slithered away. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but if you look closely you can see that the yellow stripes have red in the middle. We think it is a deadly coral snake, but we didn’t get close enough check out its fangs to be sure. The rhyme that can help you tell if it is a coral snake or not is: “Red touching yellow will kill a fellow, but red touching black is safe for Jack.” It’s another reason to travel north when it gets hot: the snakes come out.

Another spot that we visited many times over the season was the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The first time we visited the museum back in the spring of 2019, it was to see an art quilt show, so it was fitting that we saw the latest exhibition on our our last visit of this season.

This wall displayed works by four different artists. It’s interesting how each one is similar with the use of bright colours and artists’ decisions to show only part of the creature in their work.

Springtime brings the flowers to the Desert Museum. It seemed that all the Ocotillo bloomed at once. It was a bit weird to see them blooming when most of them didn’t have leaves.

This is a blooming barrel cactus at the Desert Museum. We forgot to get its name, but we don’t think it is a local species. The cactus garden has cactus from all over the world.

This is a flower of a prickly pear that is found in the Tucson area. It’s red interior is a distinct feature of Opuntia macrocentra or black-spined prickly pear.

This Engleman prickly pear grows beside the dirt road on the way to our place.

So did this Buckhorn Cholla. Without flowers, its interestingly shaped arms are quite formidable, but the flowers give it a softer look. We had never seen them bloom before.

The week before we came home, we thought about things that we hadn’t done yet and going into downtown Tucson was one of them. In early 2020, we saw that the Old Pima Courthouse was being renovated. The work is now complete and it’s beautiful. This is a view from the back near the gardens for The January 8th Memorial that commemorates the tragic event on that day in 2011 and the wonderful Tucson spirit that emerged. The city’s visitor centre is housed in the building and has interesting displays about Tucson’s past.

The University of Arizona’s Rock and Gem Museum has also moved to the Old Courthouse. We were not expecting such an extensive collection and amazing displays. Our favourite section was the full-size model of the mine in Bisbee, Arizona, showing the crystals and gems as they may have looked on a mine wall. We spent more than an hour looking at the museum and only saw about half of the displays.

Our main objective, however, was to have lunch at the famous El Charro restaurant. Doug had the same favourite meal (Enchiladas Banderas), but we hadn’t been there since February of 2020, so he really enjoyed it.

That was the only time that we ate out at a Tucson restaurant for our whole stay. We enjoy preparing our own meals. We keep our air-conditioning at 25-26 degrees Celsius, so on days when the air-conditioning is still running at dinner time, we cook outside. In the photo below, Wendy is preparing a bulgar pilaf on the induction plate. The chicken will be grilled on the barbecue.

Tucson sometimes feels the effects of the winter storms that dump snow in northern US and Canada. On March 29th, we actually had a hail storm. Here’s the view looking south, taken from the trailer doorway. On days that we have a forecasted high of 20 degrees Celsius or lower, we plan a dinner that we can make in the oven.

The clouds from the storm that day helped make a stunning sunset.

The time came that we had to make our way home. This is the view on our last night, with the truck in place to hook up early in the morning.

After four days of driving, we made it home to Cranbrook, BC. It’s springtime here, the grass is greening up and the daffodils are almost up.

All the bird photos will be in the next blog post coming shortly. The Redwood has been cleaned and will be ready for our next travels in the summer.

Costa Rica in March – Part 6 (final)

Costa Rica in March – Part 6 (final)

This blog will be about our last two days of birding with the Tropical Birding’s Birding with a Camera tour. Our bus took us north along the Pacific coast. We stopped at an overlook near Jaco. This was the view of the beach.

Flocks of Brown Pelicans flew by and so did a couple of Scarlet Macaws. The group walked down the road a couple of hundred metres following them and Doug spotted one and was able to get a photo. A beautiful bird!

We continued north to our hotel for one night, Villa Lapas. We didn’t take any photos of the hotel; it wasn’t as unique as the lodges that we had stayed in previously. They had a large lawn area and we had a good look at a Green Iguana (Iguana iguana) that was just outside our room.

On our afternoon birding walk, we walked down a dirt road that followed the river.

There were two Yellow-throated Toucans, high in the trees. Here’s one of them.

The toucans flew over to another tree, and while Wendy was looking at them there, she saw a pair of Scarlet Macaws stick their heads out of two nest cavities. The toucan continued to keep watch on a branch just a few metres away. Our guide told us the toucans were probably waiting for the macaws to leave the nests so they could eat the eggs or young. Luckily that didn’t happen when we were there.

Doug spotted this small Green Kingfisher along the riverbank. We know that this one is a male because of the rufous breast-band. A Green Kingfisher is half the size of a Belted Kingfisher that we are familiar with at our home in BC.

We saw this White-whiskered Puffbird sitting in the middle of a forest trail. It acted as if it was injured, because it didn’t move as we came close. The specialized feathers (bristles) of a puffbird that project from the base of its beak likely protect the puffbird’s face and eyes from the scaly moths, butterflies and other large noxious insects that make up the puffbird’s diet.

This is a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, which we only saw once on the trip. They are more common later during the wet season.

We watched a pair of Rufous-naped Wrens having a dust bath and later perching on a railing. They are noisy and conspicuous wrens.

We’ve already posted a photo of a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher in this Costa Rica series of blog posts, but we really like this little bird and it posed so nicely.

Our hotel was really close to the Tarcoles River and a birding river cruise was arranged as part of our tour. We boarded one of the Jungle Crocodile Safari boats at about eight o’clock, way ahead of the regular tourists who ride the boat in order to see crocodiles.

We had lots of room to move from side-to-side depending on which side was close to shore or out of the sun. It was a slow-moving river and also quite shallow. We were impressed at how our driver could maneuver the boat so that we had good views of the birds.

We had a pair of Mangrove Swallows who stayed close to the boat the whole time. It looked like they were building a nest on the boat’s roof. Here is one feeding close to the boat.

We had a good view of this Turquoise-browed Motmot. We saw two that day, but they were the only sightings of the whole tour. This species of motmot has a large area of bare shaft on its central tail feathers.

We only saw a Bare-throated Tiger-Heron once. It eats a variety of prey items, including baby crocodiles.

Here are two photos of a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron; the first in its more common pose and the second when it was doing a stretch. It forages for crabs and other crustaceans in the estuary mud, and is often active at night.

Our captain made sure we saw a good-sized crocodile before he turned the boat around.

The boat headed out towards the ocean.

The Magnificent Frigatebirds were plentiful in the wide section of the estuary. Here are two views: head-on and side-view. These birds are females, because males have a red throat patch. These pterodactyl-like birds are really big (90 cm – 130cm). Although they will pluck their own prey from the water’s surface, they generally maneuver skillfully to harass other seabirds in order to steal their prey.

When we were near the beach, we could see that there was a crew doing a cleanup. People come from all over the world to volunteer in beach clean-ups. There are tours that you can pay to join that are specifically set up for this or tourists can volunteer for a scheduled beach clean-up event.

The boat turned again and headed back inland. We got a good view of a Common Black Hawk. Common Black Hawks are found year-round along the coasts of Central and South America. Some of the population migrates into Mexico and Arizona. In Arizona, its pretty special to see one because they are only found along permanent streams.

This silly-looking bird is a Roseate Spoonbill. Its distinctive spoon-shaped bill is obvious in the photo below.

Here is a Roseate Spoonbill feeding. Spoonbills walk slowly while sweeping their bills from side to side in the water. They swallow their prey whole.

We were really lucky to see this American Pygmy Kingfisher. The boat backed up so we could get a better view, but it was still behind a lot of foliage. It is the smallest kingfisher in Costa Rica.

As we made our way back to the dock, we looked carefully for shorebirds. There was a group of Ruddy Turnstones that were well camouflaged among the rocks. This bird is just developing its breeding plumage. From April to September they develop a rufous colouring. They were all turning over rocks in their search for prey.

A Willet walks purposefully, picking and probing the ground for prey. Their territorial song is “pilly WILL WILLET” which gives them their name.

This is a White Ibis. Ibises detect and grab prey with their long-decurved beaks, which they use in up-and-down, sewing-machine-like movements.

We saw over fifty species on our hour-and-a-half tour. After we got back to the hotel, we packed up, checked out, and had lunch before we set out on our final bus ride back to the San Jose area. One of the group members requested that the bus driver find us a “tourist trap” so we could pick up souvenirs. Luis drove us to the biggest souvenir shop in the area, “El Jardin.” We bought some wonderful things, but no socks.

By mid-afternoon we were back at Hotel Robledal. We enjoyed our last dinner with the group and headed off to the airport in the morning.

Throughout the whole tour, we saw some amazing birds as well as some beautiful scenery. The people were friendly everywhere we went. Often if we were near a roadway, people would honk their horns as a welcome. The occupants of one car, yelled, “Pura Vida” as a greeting. Going through all the photos (over one thousand of birds alone) and writing this blog has helped us extend our enjoyment of the trip.

Now that we are almost half-way through April, we will start putting our “Arizona in April” blog posts together.

Costa Rica in March – Part 5

Costa Rica in March – Part 5

This blog is about our stay at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge in the Pacific Lowland Rain Forest.

After we left Talari Mountain Lodge, we continued south on the Inter-American Highway. There were many banana plantations alongside the main highway. When we turned off the highway, the road was more rural with fields and small houses. We started our birding list along this entrance road to the lodge.

A Ruddy-breasted Seedeater perched up on a branch. We were lucky to see this bird, because they are not very common. The sky was so bright, it appears white in the photograph below.

There were Brown-throated Parakeets feeding in the banana trees in a small yard. Mostly when we saw parakeets throughout the trip they were flying by in noisy flocks, so it was nice to see one somewhat stationary.

This Yellow-headed Caracara was keeping a look-out over a field. Caracaras are raptors that will hunt their own prey but feed mostly on carrion. Yellow-headed Caracaras will pick ticks off the backs of cattle.

There was some standing water in one of the fields that we passed. There were dozens of Wood Storks, but this one was close enough to the road to get a good photo. The stork’s neck and head are featherless.

This is a Gray-cowled Wood-Rail, which we were glad to see because although we had heard its raucous call we had not seen one yet. One guidebook likens its chorus to the sound from a group of drunken chickens. They are also often found near water.

Southern Lapwings are becoming more prevalent in Costa Rica since the species was first recorded in 1997. They favour open grassy areas near water.

We saw this Little Blue Heron taking off. It is about half the size of a Great Blue Heron.

After looking at birds along the road for about an hour, we finally made our way to Esquinas Rainforest Lodge. The lodge is on the edge of Piedras Blancas National Park.

Here’s a view of the main building that houses a lounge, the bar and the restaurant. The pond in front has a couple of caimans living in it.

On the afternoon that we arrived it was about 35 degrees C and very humid, so we got our bags into our rooms, and ….

… we changed into our bathing suits and headed to the pool. So refreshing!

Our group had two tables for our meals. While we were here, we shared our table with our friends from Cranbrook and the bus driver, Luis. Our friends can speak Spanish and Luis has some English, so we could have interesting conversations.

After dinner, we sat outside on our veranda and listened to the rainforest sounds.

The next day, we stayed on the grounds around the lodge. This tayra wandered on to the lawn in front of the lodge, and was especially interested in the bananas that were hung to ripen. Tayras are members of the weasel family and are omnivorous.

As usual, we saw many birds throughout the day. We’ll start with the larger ones. This is a White-tipped Dove. The light-blue orbital skin differentiates it from two other doves in the same family.

The Great Curassow is in the same family as the Crested Guan which was featured in a previous blog post. The curassow is uncommon to rare in protected areas. There was a pair at the lodge and we expect they knew they would not be hunted. Here’s a photo of a female Great Curassow.

The male Great Curassow was more skittish and moved quickly away.

This is an Orange-billed Sparrow that frequented the lawn and gardens near the lodge.

We took a short trail through the forest to a pond. The morning clouds were lifting just as we arrived.

There was a Northern Jacana that walked on top of the pond vegetation with the help of his spread-out toes.

Green Herons like to overhang the water so the lodge provided a suitable perch.

This Purple Gallinule had a few chicks and mostly stayed hidden.

Then we searched for birds in the forest, and found this Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, high up in the branches.

This Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher was also a long ways up and so the photo is a little fuzzy.

On another forest trail that crossed over a bridge and climbed a hill, our guide heard a trogon calling, so we were aware that there was one in the area. Doug was near the back of the group and lucky enough to be in a position to see and photograph the Slaty-tailed Trogon that was way up in the treetops.

Farther along the same trail, on a narrow section in a tangle of rainforest, Wendy looked up and saw a bird that reminded her of a kingfisher. Doug knew there couldn’t be a kingfisher that far from the water, but he followed her gaze and found the bird perched as a kingfisher might do. When we had seen the bird and could think more clearly, we realized it was a Rufous-tailed Jacamar. A Rufous-tailed Jacamar is about the same size as a Belted Kingfisher and hunts butterflies and other insects with its long, needle-like bill and perches at low to mid-heights.

We caught a glimpse of a Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager in the morning, but later in the day, another one was more cooperative. This ant-tanager is uncommon and only found in the region.

We were also pleased to see a pair of Spot-crowned Euphonias. It was the only time during the trip that we happened to see them. You can see that the male bird in the photo below has bands on his legs. These are not regular bird bands, but ones that are used as part of the lodge’s local research.

This pond is along the road between the lodge buildings and other trails and is the home to caimans. The caimans could climb over the short fence if they chose to, but mostly they stay near the water.

Caimans are related to crocodiles and alligators and are mostly nocturnal. These slow-moving creatures mainly eat fish, but they will also hunt insects, birds and small mammals and reptiles.

We saw this Purple-crowned Fairy up high in the trees near the caiman pond. Because of its bright white underparts and shining green back, its easy to identify from a distance, even being a small as it is. (12 -24 cm)

Yes, this Charming Hummingbird was very charming. This one is a male, having a blue-violet patch on his breast. You can see that he’s been feeding on flowers because he has pollen on his bill.

This Long-billed Hermit is feeding in a Heliconia (hanging lobster claw), so it is hard to see its long-bill, but it is also noted for its long tail, which you can see.

We saw this Common Basilisk summing itself on the roadway.

We also saw a lot of butterflies throughout our trip. Mostly they were moving erratically as butterflies will, so there are no photos of flying butterflies. This swallowtail was drinking at the water’s edge, so it was easier to take a picture of. We realize that calling this butterfly a “swallowtail” is the equivalent of calling a bird a “sparrow,” but we have not gone to the effort to learn more about butterfly identification, at least not yet…

Only two more days of the tour are left to describe! Part 6 will be posted soon.

Costa Rica in March – Part 4

Costa Rica in March – Part 4

This blog is an account of our two night stay at Talari Mountain Lodge near San Isidro de El General.

We left Trogon Lodge and worked our way south on the Inter-American highway. Our first birding stop was on a roadway to a communications tower at about 3400 metres, near Cerro de la Muerte. This area was close to treeline and was covered with shrubs and dwarf bamboo. Clouds enveloped the surrounding hills.

This area was home to the Volcano Junco. The yellow eyes of this endemic bird made it seem angry.

This Black-cheeked Warbler lived in the same habitat, and is also an endemic bird to the region. It also shared the “angry bird” look when viewed head-on. (See the second photo)

After trying to persuade a wren to show itself, (it was not cooperative), we hopped back on the bus and headed south to lower elevations. We stopped at a small lodge called Bosque del Tolomuco. The owners have worked hard to cultivate bushes and plants that attract birds, especially hummingbirds. In the photo below, some of the group is walking down the steep driveway from the main area.

In the trees down by the hut, we saw a group of these Elegant Euphonias. This is one of the males.

The bushes on the side of the driveway were full of hummingbirds. Here’s a small White-tailed Emerald, a hummingbird that is only found in Costa Rica and Panama.

Here’s a male White-throated Mountain-Gem. (There was a photo of the female White-throated Mountain-Gem in the previous blog.)

This Scintillant Hummingbird is very small, only 5 – 11 cm long. The male has a beautiful orange-red throat.

The garden was home to many hummingbirds that are only found in this region, and this female Volcano Hummingbird is another one of them.

Green-crowned Brilliants prefer to perch to feed rather than hover.

This Violet Sabrewing zipped in and out so much that it was difficult to get a photo. Its wings were really pointed.

This is a Silver-throated Tanager which liked to visit the fruit feeders.

The bird on the left is a Speckled Tanager.

A Rose-breasted Grosbeak also visited the feeder for a few moments.

And we were lucky enough to see these capuchin monkeys, grooming each other in a tree near one of the outbuildings.

The next stop was lunch at a rustic restaurant (Traphiche de Nayo). Here’s a photo of our Cranbrook friends with their freshly squeezed pineapple juice.

And here we are with a view of the other side of the restaurant. Behind us are artifacts and a poster explaining the traditional ox-driven sugar cane press.

Doug chose the “Costa Rican” plate with chicken. The only concern we had about the food throughout the whole trip was that the portions were so big. We resorted to sharing a lunch on some of the days.

That afternoon we reached Talari Mountain Lodge. The rooms were simple, yet comfortable. The signs were made of reused tires, which were cut into shapes and decorated.

We ate in a huge open air room. Here the group is getting ready to go over our daily list of bird sightings.

The next morning, we went out birding as usual.

Perhaps the photographers were trying for a photo of a Long-billed Starthroat in the photo above.

A couple of Scaled Pigeons were also nearby. Here’s one of them.

Also up in the treetops was a Turquoise Cotinga.

We had never seen a White-crowned Parrot before coming here, although they are fairly common in the lowlands and middle elevations of Costa Rica.

Talari Mountain Lodge is on the Rio General, so we could look down at the riverbank. Here is a Crested Caracara. It was competing with a Black Vulture for some sort of prey and at this moment, the vulture was the one with the food.

We found this Pale-billed Woodpecker in a tree near our cabins. It is similar in shape and size to the Pileated Woodpeckers that we have in Canada. Its distinguishing characteristics are its pale bill, its red head and the white “V” on its back.

This Streaked Flycatcher was gathering nesting material.

The dining room was situated on a hillside that gave us views of the forest on two sides. We spent some time looking for hummingbirds in the flowering bush below, but only caught glimpses.

After breakfast on the first morning at Talari Mountain Lodge, our bus driver drove us a short ways to Los Cusingos Bird Refuge.

We saw outdoor hand-washing stations everywhere we went in Costa Rica. The one at the entrance to the refuge was unique.

This morning, a grasshopper caught our attention.

The forest at Los Cusingos was full of these peculiar-looking trees. They are Socratea exorrhiza, the walking palm or cashapona, and they have unusual stilt or buttress roots. The roots allow the tree to cover a wider area for collecting nutrients in the nutrient-poor tropical forest soil, and they prevent the tree from falling over.

Near the canopy of the forest, our guide spotted this Rufous Piha. The piha is in the cotinga family.

This Brown-billed Scythebill is a kind of woodcreeper, with a strongly decurved bill.

This Golden-crowned Spadebill also has a name derived by the shape of its bill. Its an uncommon flycatcher in Costa Rica, so we were lucky to see it.

Here’s a photo of the group taking pictures of the Golden-crowned Spadebill. You can see how tricky it is to get a camera focussed on a small bird with so many trees and people nearby.

After our forest walk, we spent some time looking at the former home of Dr. Alexander Skutch, a pioneer researcher of neo-tropical birds. His whole 78 hectare (192 acre) tropical forest property has become a bird sanctuary and his home has become a museum.

The simple house was built in the 1940s and didn’t have running water until the 1990s. Dr. Skutch was almost 100 when he died in 2004. His house has been left the way it was when he died. There were bookshelves in almost every room.

Near the back of the house, we noticed a Streak-headed Woodcreeper investigating an opening in a hollow tree.

This Grey-headed Tanager was in the front yard.

When we were working our way up the road towards the parking lot, we had a quick glimpse of a Swallow-tailed Kite. (This photo, however was taken the next day, when the bus stopped by the side of a road on our way to our next lodge.)

That afternoon we were back at Talari Mountain Lodge, and went up the mountain trail that starts right beside this shed with a old sugar cane cart.

We saw Heliconia plants in many place in Costa Rica. Heliconia rostrate, the hanging lobster claw or false bird of paradise is a perennial plant native to Costa Rica and is also found in parts of South America.

Towards the end of our birding hike in the afternoon, we noticed a number of hawks high in the sky. Soon the sky was filled with thousands of Swainson’s Hawks migrating north from their winter homes in South America. There must have been a thermal above the lodge, because the hawks circled around for several minutes before heading north. The photo below only captures a fraction of the sky.

Here are three of the hawks from a cropped and enhanced photo that Doug took. These are all showing “light adult” plumage.

We headed to Esquinas Rainforest Lodge the next morning, which will be the topic of our next blog.

Costa Rica in March – Part 3

Costa Rica in March – Part 3

This post includes our bird-watching activities on the two days that we stayed at Trogon Lodge in Costa Rica. The first bird photograph, however, is from our final morning at Rancho Naturalista. We went birding by ourselves and this Red-throated Ant-Tanager perched in good light.

This is a view of the hilly countryside in the Reventazon Valley, taken out of the bus window.

We drove to the town of Ujarras, one of the few places that a rare endemic ground-sparrow is found. We wandered down a country road and before long, a couple of the Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrows were seen hopping around a small yard.

We continued on our route to our next lodge in the Talamanca Highlands, stopping at a few spots to look for birds. One stop was in Los Quetzales National Park. The Resplendent Quetzal was the main draw of the area, but we didn’t see any this day.

The quetzal was promised for the day after, so we enjoyed looking for other high elevation birds. Mostly, the birds were hard to photograph, but Doug was able to catch this Yellow-thighed Brushfinch before it flew away. Its yellow “thigh” is just visible on its right leg.

The road cut through steep forested terrain. The bus stopped for a few moments for us to get photos of the vista.

We stopped at a small restaurant in the Savegre Valley. For the price of a cup of coffee, we could look at the birds that gathered at the feeders and in the garden. The restaurant was on the edge of hillside, so we were above or even with the birds. No straining of necks was required!

There were plenty of Talamanca Hummingbirds. This is one of the bigger hummingbirds and can be 12 – 24 cm long. It is closely related to the Rivoli’s Hummingbird that we see in Madera Canyon in Arizona.

Another amazing hummingbird is the Fiery-throated Hummingbird. In certain light the throat is a mix of red, orange and yellow.

Another fantastic hummingbird is the Lesser Violetear. It’s a very small hummingbird of only 5 – 11 cm long. The violet (or in this case bluish) patch on each side of the face give it its name.

This male Slaty Flowerpiercer was about the size of a hummingbird but chunkier. Flowerpiercers are nectar robbers that poke a hole through the flower base to draw off nectar without helping the flower transport pollen.

This Flame-coloured Tanager was hopping around the garden.

Not every bird is as bright as that tanager, but we also want to include the “less flashy” birds. Here is a Sooty Thrush, which is a little bigger than the American Robin that we have at home in Canada.

We see this comical looking species at Madera Canyon in Arizona quite often, but this Acorn Woodpecker posed so nicely, that it needed to be included as well.

Another bird we see often is a Wilson’s Warbler, but we rarely get a view of one from above. The male’s black cap is really easy to see in this photo.

After a long day of birding, we arrived at Trogon Lodge, just as the light was fading. Here is a view of our cabin. Our room was on the right.

The lodge had a fancy restaurant and we ordered from a menu. Most of the other lodges that we stayed at had set meals and everyone received the same food.

This is the view of the path from our cabin the next morning. The lodge is set at the bottom of a steep valley.

We did manage to catch a glimpse of a Resplendent Quetzal on the grounds. Here, Wendy is scanning the treetops in hopes of seeing it again.

This rhubarb-type plant dwarfs our friend.

Here’s a view of the restaurant and the trout pond in the foreground, just as the light was hitting the hillside above. We enjoyed fresh trout for each of the dinners we had at the lodge. The trout ponds are fed by a cool mountain stream.

They also grow their own lettuce.

Here’s another view of the gardens and the surrounding hillside.

Later that morning, the bus took us up out of the valley and to even higher elevations. Pariosol Quetzal Lodge is at 2650 metres (just under 9000 feet), and like most places in the area, is situated on the side of a hillside.

We took the trail down to a viewing platform with nearby gardens. Here’s the view looking out from the platform.

A Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher was one of the first birds to show up.

The nearby flowers allowed for good photo opportunities. This hummingbird is a female White-throated Mountain-gem.

Here’s another photo of the female White-throated Mountain Gem, taken in the nearby garden. (The male has the white-throat.)

Here’s the whole group (except Wendy who is taking the photo) looking at the birds that visited a fruit-filled bush.

One of the “birds in the bush” was this male Golden-browed Chlorophonia. He shows only a little bit of his “golden brow,” so perhaps he’s immature. A beautiful bird, nonetheless.

Wendy spotted this Peg-billed Finch in the same bush. This type of finch is considered rare in Costa Rica so it was a lucky find.

And this Black-thighed Grosbeak flitted among the bushes on the hillside to the left of the fruiting bush. The white spot on the wing is distinctive.

We explored the rest of the gardens and walked a little ways down the path. We met people who had walked a few hours down into the valley and all the way back up.

We saw this Black-billed Nightingale-Trush beside the trail.

On our way out of the garden we stopped to take a photo of these succulents, planted in the shape of a lizard.

Our bus took us to a nearby location which we call the “Quetzal Stake-Out.” The lodge and their birding guides have a partnership with a farmer who planted the quetzal’s favourite tree over twenty years ago. Now they can provide tours to those who want to see the Resplendent Quetzal up close. Here’s a view of some of the rest of the farm.

Here’s the special tree, an aquacatillo, which has avocado-like fruit. Quetzals pluck the fruit from below in mid-flight. Also note the perches that have been provided. And you can tell by Doug’s clothing that it was raining, although it was more like a drizzle that is typical of the cloud forests.

We had a quick view of the quetzals as we were hiking up the trail, but we were assured that we’d get a better view later in the afternoon when the quetzals generally fed. They made us coffee and there was a bathroom, so we were relatively comfortable while we waited in the shelter.

It was worth the wait. Here is a front view of the male, Resplendent Quetzal.

And a look at the male’s backside. Doug took over thirty photos of the quetzals. We saw them flying and picking fruit, but Doug’s photos were a bit blurry. It was an exciting experience that we will always remember.

Here’s a front view of the female Resplendent Quetzal. The female, without the fancy tail, looks more like other trogans, because quetzals are part of the trogon family.

Satisfied with our sightings, we headed back in the rain to Trogon Lodge.

The next morning, we had a final view of Trogon Lodge and the surrounding hillside.

Our next night was at Talari Lodge in the Pacific Foothills, but we had lots of country to see before we got there. Part 4 will be posted soon.

Costa Rica in March – Part 2

Costa Rica in March – Part 2

We stayed three nights at Rancho Naturalista, a birding lodge in the Central Caribbean foothills of Cartago province. Here is the main lodge, where we had our meals and where some of our group had rooms.

From the entrance, we could walk through to our dining area.

We ate outside on the covered veranda.

This is the lounge where we met to go over our birds lists. We saw over 130 species of birds around the lodge as well as in the general area.

Our room was in a separate cabin, a short walk from the main lodge.

Every morning, we would start our birding with our coffee or hot drink, up on the deck overlooking the garden.

Here’s a view of the garden and one of their hummingbird feeders. White-necked Jacobins were the most plentiful hummingbird.

The deck also overlooked the mountains and the valley below the lodge. This is a Crested Guan, which mostly stays in the trees which is surprising for its size. It was feeding on fruit in a tree about a hundred metres away from the deck.

This is a Lesson’s Motmot, a species we saw several times on the trip. Most motmots have long racquet-tipped tails which they swing like pendulums.

It was a treat to see this Crimson-collared Tanager because while they are fairly common throughout the Caribbean lowlands and foothills, we only saw them twice on the trip.

We saw many Golden-hooded Tanagers throughout the trip and enjoyed looking at each one with their distinctive colouring.

One morning after breakfast, we walked up farm roads to a more open pasture area.

We found a spot that had good views of the surrounding trees, because we were hoping to see a cotinga. We waited quite a while with nothing happening, so Wendy walked up a bit from the group, following the sound of a small flycatcher. She recorded its call so she could study the recording to help identify the bird. On a whim, she played the recording back and the bird responded by flying closer and perching nearby. Soon after, Doug joined her in the shade and she played the recording again. The Yellow-bellied Flycatcher perched close enough for Doug to get this photo. Yellow-bellied Flycatchers are the most common migrant empid. flycatcher around, spending its winters in the tropics and its summers in Canada, but they are not found southeastern BC where we live.

We spotted a Keel-billed Toucan way up in a tree along the skyline.

The toucan was so far away (about 200 metres) that the best view of it was through the scope. In the photo below, Wendy is taking a picture with her iPhone through the scope (digiscoping.) The photo was okay, but not as good as the one that Doug took with his telephoto lens.

We walked down from the pasture and along the road and then up to a house off the main road. They had planted verbena bushes to attract hummingbirds. Here is a photo of the photographers trying to get that perfect shot.

This is Doug’s photo of a Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, sipping from the purple verbena flowers.

This little hummingbird is aptly called a Snowcap. It’s a little smaller than the Rufous Hummingbird that we have in the summer in BC. It also liked to visit the verbena flowers and the perches of the nearby bushes. We also saw a Black-crested Coquette, but it was very skittish and difficult to photograph.

After lunch, we took a bus ride to the La Angostura Reservoir.

We saw a Collared Aracari in a tree alongside of the road. It is in the same family as the toucan but a little smaller (about 40 cm).

As we worked our way along the road, we had better views of the water. There were distant views of Great and Snowy Egrets, Great Blue, Little Blue and Green Herons along with a Limpkin (a new bird for us.)

These Black-bellied Whistling Ducks looked comical perched in a tree. They nest in large hollows or holes in trees and often perch in trees.

This female Ringed Kingfisher perched near the water. Ringed Kingfishers are the largest kingfisher in the Americas (about 40 cm in comparison to the Belted which is 33 cm).

After breakfast the next day, we stopped at a spot on the road that overlooked a ravine. We were almost even with the upper branches of a tall fruit-bearing tree. We waited for about half an hour before a cotinga arrived. This beautiful blue-coloured cotinga is called a Lovely Cotinga, and was a new bird for us. It’s a rather chunky bird, that is just a little shorter than an American Robin.

The bus took us to another birding spot where we walked on a road beside the Tuis River. There was one place where we could access the river and check for Black Phoebes and American Dippers. (which we saw)

This Black-and-White Warbler was feeding along the sides of a branch of a tree near the riverbank.

This Collared Trogan allowed us good views of its beautiful back, but we couldn’t convince it to turn around and show us its reddish belly.

On our way back to our lodge, the bus took us to another birding “hotspot;” a bridge crossing a small, swiftly moving stream. A pair of Sunbitterns had made a nest on a branch over the stream which was about thirty metres from the bridge. We also saw a pair of Torrent Tyrannulets foraging at the stream’s edge. We waited awhile, but the Sunbittern stayed on the nest. It was fortunate that the birds chose to build a nest so close to a bridge and we would have been extremely lucky if it also chose to display its beautiful wings.

Later that afternoon, we took a trail from behind the cabins into the rainforest surrounding the lodge and walked along the edge of a ravine.

Below us, our local guide spotted a pair of Rufous Motmots on a branch overhanging the ravine. Here’s a photo of one of them. Motmots tend to stay still for long periods while they scan their surroundings for suitable prey – large invertebrates and small reptiles and amphibians. It is unusual to take a photo of a bird from above and it was tricky to get a view that was unobstructed by leaves and branches.

Further along the trail, our guide found a spot where two Crested Owls were roosting. We were quite a ways from them on the trail so they weren’t bothered by us, although it might be hard to tell from their expressions. They were the same species that we saw two days before.

After seeing the owls, we headed down another trail to the “Hummingbird Pools.” The trail winds along the sides of a steep canyon and ends at a viewing platform where you can see the pools in the stream below. We saw a hummingbird (a Crowned Wood-nymph) bathing in the shallow pools, and other birds also came to drink at the stream, but it was too dark to take good photos.

The next day we headed to the Talamanca Highlands and our next blog will be about our next few days at higher elevations.

Costa Rica in March – Part 1

Costa Rica in March – Part 1

This March, we travelled to Costa Rica and joined an eleven-day “Birding with a Camera” tour organized by Tropical Birding. In keeping with our “Travels with a Fox” theme, we brought along our little fox mascot. In the photo below, the fox is tucked into the arms of a decorative frog which was on the wall of one of the lodges. The little fox will be included in various photos throughout the blog, but not pointed out, so it will be a bit of a “search and find” exercise.

This blog covers the first three days in San Jose, Hotel Robledal and the road trip to Gualipes.

We spent a few days in San Jose before the tour to acclimatize. We stayed close to the city centre in Hotel Grano de Oro, one of the best hotels in the city.

Our room on the second floor had a terrace with overlapping roofs that allowed air to come in but no rainfall.

Here’s a view of the hallway right outside our door. The restaurant is below in the central courtyard, which allowed for good airflow when the windows were open. There was no air-conditioning, yet it was comfortable.

The food was amazing. The photo below was taken after 8 pm on the night we arrived, so there were less people there than the next night when we ate earlier. The hotel only has 37 rooms, so we were never crowded.

One day we reserved a spot for a hot tub on a roof-top terrace.

The Sabana Metropolitan Park was a fifteen minute walk away from the hotel, so we went there one morning for some birding on our own. If you do an internet search about this park, you will see images of a beautiful park surrounding a large lake. The lake is now totally dried up and looks like it hasn’t had water in it for quite awhile. But is was a large open space and we got some exercise and saw some birds.

Here is a weathered wooden statue carved from a stump. Most of the structures in the park were done in the 1970s and they are showing their age.

We located a pair of noisy Orange-chinned Parakeets. Because we were looking up at them, we could see their orange “chins” easily. Although we had seen this species in a previous trip to the tropics, it was the first time that we had found and identified these birds by ourselves.

We searched out a Rufous-collared Sparrow because we had read that although it was a common sparrow throughout the middle and upper elevations, it was not found in forests. It turned out that we saw plenty of these sparrows throughout the trip, but we think the first one that we saw was pretty special.

The Sabana Metropolitan Park is on land that used to be an airport. Adjacent to the park, is the Costa Rican Museum of Art, which is housed in the old terminal building. The building was opened as an air terminal in April of 1940 and its neo-colonial style was typical of Latin American architecture of the time. It served as an international air terminal until 1958.

We visited the museum one morning. Below is a photo of the Golden Room which used to be the diplomatic room of the former airport. The stucco mural covers all four walls and depicts Costa Rican history from pre-Columbian to 1940. It also includes plants and animals of the region.

There are other permanent displays outside in the sculpture garden. We like to call this one, “Bumpy Soccer Field” or for Latin America is could be “Bumpy Football Field” but its real name is “Heterotopia.” There seems to be a lot of deep thinking involved in this kind of art.

We also walked the other direction from our hotel towards downtown, to the Central Market. It is an enclosed city block and is full of all kinds of shops. Wendy bought a couple of handbags, but mostly we were there to experience the place.

Soon it was time to join the group at Hotel Robledal that was located close to the airport in Alajuela. We enjoyed a cool swim in the pool.

The grounds were home to many birds.

There were two Feruginous Pygmy-Owls roosting in the trees just outside our balcony.

These Spot-breasted Orioles were new to us. Both males and females have similar colouring.

We took a long detour on our way to our first lodge, that took us over the Central Mountains to Guapiles and the Caribbean region of Costa Rica. Near Guapiles, we visited a private home that had set up a bird-viewing area for visiting birders.

We got very good views of a Montezuma Oropendola. Oropendolas produce bizarre gurgling and rasping noises. They nest in colonies and produce long pendulous nests.

Here are two Green Honeycreepers. The species is named for the female one (the green one), and not the black-headed blue one (the male).

This pretty bird is a male Red-legged Honeycreeper. Honeycreepers feed on fruits, insects and nectar.

A guide from the “Guapiles Feeder Place” (our name for it), came with us and we loaded into our bus and headed out to a nearby location.

We tromped through some rutted fields to an owl roosting location. We saw a pair of Crested Owls, but they were quite obscured behind branches. Two days later we had a better view of the same species, so the later photo will be on the blog.

We took another forest trail so we could see Honduran white bats (Ectophylla alba) also known as Caribbean white tent-making bats. These bats build “tents” out of Heliconia plant leaves that they first cut carefully with their teeth. Here the local guide and our tour guide are looking at the roosting bats.

Here is a photo that Doug took with his cell phone. They are really tiny bats with wingspans of no more than 10 cm. They are frugivorous, preferring one species of fig which means that habitat loss will greatly impact the population numbers.

Our local guide took us to another location that was a known roosting spot for a Great Potoo. The nocturnal potoo looks so much like a stub of a branch that it isn’t concerned about being harassed while it sleeps the day away.

We continued our route to our first lodge: Rancho Naturalista in the Central Caribbean Foothills. The next blog will be about our adventures there.

Birding in Arizona: February 2022

Birding in Arizona: February 2022

This blog is mainly about the birds we saw in February. Although the first several photos are actually from January.

We drove up to the Phoenix area on January 24th to bird at the Riparian Preserve at the Gilbert Water Ranch. These American Pelicans were basking in the morning light.

We were glad we went early enough to see them, because they soon flew off. One flew overhead when we exploring other trails. They are very distinctive and comical-looking birds.

There was plenty of shallow water at the Preserve. We saw at least thirty Black-necked Stilts, but this one was the closest. Black-necked stilts walk delicately on their extraordinarily long red legs.

American Avocets can be seen in BC, but when we see them there, they are in breeding plumage with rusty heads and necks. Both males and females have the same plumage, but females’ bills are strongly upturned. The bird in the photo is likely a male avocet since his bill is rather straight.

We also saw over forty Long-billed Dowitchers. They also prefer shallow muddy pools.

The most exotic bird in the Preserve was the Roseate Spoonbill. It sticks around, mostly roosting in the same area. Most of the time it was sleeping. Doug was lucky enough to catch a photo in the few minutes it was awake. Normally spoonbills are found along the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, or along the coast of Florida, so this one was a long way from its regular home.

A Nashville Warbler usually spends its winter in Mexico and farther south, but we suppose this one thought Arizona was a fine place to spend some time. Doug’s camera caught him with a curious expression.

We had reports of sightings of a LeConte’s Thrasher in the salt flats northwest of Tucson. So we went to see if we could see one too. It was a very harsh and arid environment with lots of bare sandy ground interspersed with saltbrush and creosote bushes. Here’s the view with the eastern mountains in the background.

And here’s looking in the other direction, with the western mountains in the background. A whole lot of nothing…and no LeConte’s Thrasher.

But we did see a new kind of sparrow to us (Sagebrush Sparrow) and this Sage Thrasher sang and posed.

We also had a good view of an Ash-throated Flycatcher.

If you look closely at the crook in the saguaro, you can see a tangle of sticks with a Great Horned Owl sitting on top. There were no trees in the area, so the saguaro was the best roosting spot around.

We birded at Madera Canyon a couple of times in February. It’s a much more hospitable environment. This Rufous-backed Robin was enjoying the berries in the pyracantha bush (a non-native shrub that grows to 3 metres or more.) The Rufous-backed Robin is a bit more secretive than the American Robin that we are familiar with in Canada. Notice that along with rufous colouring on its back and wings, it has an all-dark face without white markings around the eye.

This photo shows the berries on the bush really well, but it also shows a bit of the white with black-streaked throat. Not all birds pose for the camera; sometimes they stay hidden in the branches.

At Madera Canyon we can usually count on a Hermit Thrush to perch up on a rock, or in this case a branch.

On our way back to Tucson from Madera Canyon we usually stop at Canoa Ranch Conservation Park. This time there was an Eared Grebe and some Hooded Mergansers. An Eared Grebe doesn’t develop its wispy yellow plumes (which give the impression of ears) until April.

There are at least a hundred sparrows at Canoa. White-crowned sparrows are the most numerous, and are the bigger birds in the photo below. The smaller sparrows in the photo are Brewer’s Sparrows. We’ve also seen Lark, Lincoln’s, Savannah, Song and Rufous-winged Sparrows. Persistent (or lucky) people could spot a couple of Clay-coloured Sparrows among the large flocks, but we have not put in the effort required, especially for a bird we can see very easily in the summer in BC.

Another favourite birding destination is Tubac. At the end of February we were fortunate enough to get good views of a Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet. It’s a very small bird of just less than 4 1/2 inches or 11 centimetres long. Even though there is “Northern” in its name, it is only found as far north as southeast Arizona.

Also on that same day in Tubac, we saw a yellow-shafted sub-species of Northern Flicker. This photo doesn’t show the yellow undersides of the wings (which we saw when it flew), but the red nape crescent, gray crown and brown face are visible.

These were some of the 143 species that we saw in February 2022. In the next few weeks we will be birding in Costa Rica, so we can assure you that there will be many bird photos to view in the upcoming blogs.

Arizona Adventures: February 2022

Arizona Adventures: February 2022

At the beginning of February we travelled to Page, Arizona. No visit to Page is complete without a stop to view Horseshoe Bend. The city has put in a new parking lot and the National Park Service has rerouted and improved the trail. Yes, there is a $10 parking fee, but the upgrades are worth it. We had been here a couple of times before, and didn’t miss the old sandy trail over the hill.

Horseshoe Bend is an amazing natural phenomenon, widely photographed and publicized, yet still awe inspiring. The Navajo Sandstone cliffs tower over 1000 feet above the river.

Here is the typical full horseshoe view.

Here’s a different view. It’s amazing to think about how the water could cut through those huge sandstone cliffs that tower over 1000 feet above the river. The Navajo Sandstone was formed 190 million years ago when a large part of the western United States was blanketed in sand dunes.

Doug looks pretty calm that close to the edge.

Page was our staging stop for our hike to “The Wave” in the North Coyote Buttes area. We posted a whole blog about our adventure that day, but here are a few photos to remind you or in case you missed it.

On our drive back to Tucson we decided to take a detour to the Grand Canyon. We’d only made one other visit. There are a few remnants of snow in the foreground of the photo below .

It was really cold that day, (-9C when the photo was taken), but Wendy had the winter gear.

On our loop back we drove the 89A into Sedona. Mostly when we’re driving through this area, we’re pulling the 5th Wheel, and can’t drive the narrow, winding road, so it was only the second time we had driven the road.

We had hoped to go for a short walk on the Bell Parkway, but we couldn’t find a parking spot, so we stopped at the side of the road and grabbed a photo. It reminded us of why we don’t visit the Sedona area anymore. It’s beautiful but too crowded.

On February 8th, we did our annual hike to the highest mountain near our place. It’s only 4,688 feet, but with over a 2000 foot elevation gain. Our favourite starting point is at the Sandero Esperanza trailhead on the Golden Gate road.

The other big peaks in the area, Panther Peak and El Sombrero are in background of the photo below.

The trail joins the Hugh Norris trail at the ridge. There’s a break in the climbing while we traverse.

We had our lunch at the top, along with a dozen others. Here’s the view looking southeast at Tucson from very close to the top.

This photo was taken a few minutes later. The view is of the Avra Valley in the west.

It was a special treat to enjoy the Desert Museum later that week with our friends from Cranbrook.

Raptor Free Flight is a “must see” at the Desert Museum. Doug took these photos of a couple of Harris’s Hawks with his iPhone. The birds get really close.

We have found that watching the raptors in this controlled setting has helped us better identify them in the wild.

There are many different environments close to our place near Tucson. So another day we decided to explore the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, hoping to see different sparrows and longspurs. We saw lots of sparrows and a White-tailed Kite, but no longspurs. But there were some beautiful views.

On February 15th, we hiked along the wash beside the petroglyphs that the Picture Rocks Road and community are named. The petroglyphs are carved into the rock by the early Hohokam people.

The petroglyphs are on the rock bluffs on the right in the photo below. This portion of the trail isn’t in the national park, and you can see tracks of motorized vehicles in the sand. The wash is called Picture Rocks Wash, as you might expect.

Farther along the trail we discovered several pretty pinkish-purple flowers. They had long thin leaves that reminded us of chives. This photo is enlarged; the group of flowers were about the size of a quarter. We think it is Taper-tip Onion, a native plant to Arizona.

The Modern Quilt Guild’s annual big show, QuiltCon was in Phoenix this year in the middle of February. A friend who used to live in Cranbrook joined Wendy. She was spending a few weeks in the area. The men went birding at Gilbert Water Ranch, so the quilters had plenty of time to view the quilts.

Wendy asked her friend to stand beside this quilt, to give it a sense of scale. The quilt was called, “Pride and Joy,” and won first place in the piecing category. At the end of the show it was also awarded the People’s Choice Award. Veruschka Zarate made it as a self-portrait of herself and her two little boys.

Which brings us to quilt-making at the Fifth Wheel. Wendy tries not to run an iron inside when the air-conditioning is on, so this outside pressing station was set up. It works fine unless it’s windy.

Wendy completed this quilt top called “Sparrows” for our new grandbaby. The quilting will probably have to wait until she returns home because her machine here is pretty small.

And now to our flower section. This cutey was taken at the Desert Museum on February 11th. It’s always amazing to us to see flowers blooming so early in the year.

By the third week in February there were many flowers blooming at the Desert Museum. The stately pink flower is a penstemon and the yellow flowers are brittlebush.

The only mammal photo this month is of Collared Peccaries. They are locally known as javelinas. The “collar” on the javelina on the right is more prominent. When we first came here three years ago, we were excited to catch a glimpse of a javelina in the wild. Perhaps the plentiful rain last summer allowed their population to soar, because they have now become “problem animals.” In many places, javelinas are diurnal, but in the suburbs of Tucson they are more nocturnal or crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk).

This photo was taken on one of the rare times that we saw them in the yard in daylight. After this sighting, Doug followed them to see where they got through the fence. So the fence was reinforced again with wire dug into the ground, and rocks blocking weak areas. Checking for tracks in the morning and fixing spots that they have pushed their way through has become one of Doug’s daily routines.

Here are a few sunset photos from our place. The good thing about clouds is they help make the best sunsets. There’s another sunset photo on the banner that you can see if you view the blog on your computer.

The next blog is all about birds.