Birds at the Desert Museum

Birds at the Desert Museum

This blog is all about the birds we have seen recently at the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum. Enjoy!

This bright fellow is a male Lesser goldfinch.


This male Phainopepla posed nicely on one of the sunny days that we visited the museum.


The Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum is not a typical museum. Most of the displays are outdoors. Many of animals that are on display have huge natural enclosures. There are two enclosed aviaries; one for hummingbirds and one for other desert birds.

From the end of October to the middle of April, they have an extraordinary bird of prey exhibition called “Raptor Free Flight.” The birds fly completely untethered in the open desert. We went to a couple of the presentations and Doug took his larger lens to capture these amazing shots.

Here’s a Barn owl. Barn owls feed almost exclusively on rodents and is nocturnal in the wild.


The raptors will swoop from perch to perch to feed on the meat scraps that have been placed there by the trainers.


Barn owls have the most accurate ability to locate prey by sound out of any animal tested. The shape of their face helps to focus sounds.

This Great-horned owl was injured when it was young and has imprinted on humans. It vocalized throughout the presentation with a call that normally would be used by very young owls.


Great-horned owls are found throughout North America. They forage for birds and small mammals up to the size of rabbits.


The broad ear tufts of feathers are not horns at all, but they help to focus sound.


Below is a Gray hawk. They are found in Southeast Arizona in the summer. Their banded black and white tail is a good identifying feature.


Here’s a photo of a Harris’s hawk. They are found throughout Mexico, and into Southeastern Arizona and a small part of Texas.


Their white uppertail coverts and tail tip and their rufous shoulders make them very distinctive.


Harris’s hawks are the only hawks known to hunt in family groups.

Here’s a view of a Ferruginous hawk. They have a wider range in North America and hunt over arid grasslands and the adjacent farmland. Ferruginous refers to their rusty colour. (Fe: symbol for iron) The feature photo of this blog (visible when you view the blog using an internet browser) is also a Ferruginous hawk.


This strange-looking bird is a Crested caracara. Although it is in the falcon family, it has scavenging behaviour closer to a raven. It will fly relatively low in search of prey (lizards, mammals) and patrol roadways in the early morning to find carrion before vultures fly.


Notice the lack of feathers on its beak, which is an adaptation for eating carrion.


If you are ever in the Tucson area, we highly recommend visiting the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum.

Our next blog will include photos of hiking and biking, and likely some birds as well!

Arizona Yard Birds

Arizona Yard Birds

This whole blog is about the birds that come to our feeders at our place near Picture Rocks, Arizona. Our favourite hummingbird is this male Costa’s. He is very inquisitive and will come right up to Doug when he is filling the feeders. The male Costa’s has a long, flared gorget, that shimmers when it catches the light. Also notice the white “eyebrow.”


Here’s a view of him sitting on a nearby branch.


We also have a number of Lesser goldfinches.


They love the nyger seed that we set out for them.


We also have a few House finches. House finches are found throughout the US and Canada, often in urban areas. In Arizona many of them live in the desert which could have been their original home before they became more widely distributed. We see a lot of them on our desert hikes.


Here’s a female House finch (left) with a male Pyrrhuloxia. The Pyrrhuloxia is similar to a Northern cardinal with a grayer overall colour with rosy-red highlights. Around here, Pyrrhuloxia are found in desert scrub and Northern cardinals in riparian woods.


We have a couple of Gilded flickers that visit the feeders and suet. They are very similar to the Northern flicker that we have at home, but with a brighter cinnamon forehead and an all-brown crown and nape. They also are yellow underwing, unlike the Northern flickers (western) that are red-shafted.


These Gila woodpeckers look a little bit like the Gilded Flicker but without the black chest patch. Male Gilas have red on the top of their head. The two females in the photo below are swallowing simultaneously.


There are a number of Cactus wrens in the area. This one came for some water.


The yellow eye on the Curved-bill thrasher makes it seem that it is always angry. Their call sounds a bit like someone whistling for their dog.


Gambel’s quail usually feed on the ground. When they approach the area, they usually trot along, so we were a bit surprised to see that one had flown up to the feeder.


Soon his buddies joined him.


On the left side of the water dish is a White-crowned sparrow. We have about six or seven that come regularly. In the background, you can see a small portion of the number of Mourning doves that also come to visit the feeders. Some days there are fifty or so. They are also fun to watch.


We also have a few other species that are around the yard, but don’t come to the feeder and generally hide in the trees and bushes. They are: Verdin, Black-tailed gnatcatchers and Phainopepla.

Our next blog will also be all about birds. Doug’s got some great pictures from the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum to share.

Back to Tucson

Back to Tucson

We drove to Calgary and flew to Tucson via San Francisco. We were happy to leave the snow behind. Here’s a view from the airplane of the Steeples and Mt. Fisher with Cranbrook behind them.


The ridge behind our place was as pretty as ever.


And we had some beautiful welcoming sunsets.


The hummingbirds came back almost as soon as the feeders were filled. This is a female Anna’s.


The weather wasn’t too hot to hike, so we ventured out. We hiked to the top of Wasson Peak, the highest one in Saguaro National Park (Tucson Mountain Division). Here’s a view of Wendy near the summit. Our trailer is somewhere on the flats below (above her head in the photo.)


Here’s Doug with a view of the Avra Valley behind him.


Another day we returned to Tubac. We went birding in the morning and we were unable to locate a Rose-throated becard. But we enjoyed the birding and saw lots of interesting birds. We came to listen to a talk, “Return of the Rose-throated becard” that was scheduled for the afternoon. We had time to have lunch in Tubac and see a little of the Mexican-feeling town.


All this wall art was for sale. Some pieces were ceramic, others were made of metal.


It was very windy that night and it was still windy in the morning. By 10:30, it seemed to die down a bit so we headed out for a hike. We drove to the trailhead for Picture Rocks wash in about ten minutes. It was a pleasant hour and a half hiking through the wash, past the “picture rocks” (petroglyphs), and finishing the loop on a desert trail.


Doug visited the Pima Air and Space Museum on two different days. (Wendy did quilting related stuff: once to a Quilt festival/market and another day to a sewing day at a local quilt shop.)

The Pima Air and Space Museum had several hangars displaying WW2 vintage aircraft that Doug really enjoyed. He grew up reading about them and making models. Quite a zing to see the real thing!


The Spitfire was nice to see up close and so much bigger than the model Doug built when he was 12. His current favourite military aircraft is the A10 Warthog which happen to pass over our fifth wheel on a regular basis.


We had a late start one day because we had planned to ride our bikes, but one of the tires on Doug’s bike had a rip in the sidewall. So after taking the wheel to the bike shop, we headed to Reid Park for a little birding.

We chose Reid Park because a rare bird, a Ruddy ground-dove had been seen there over the last week or so. We didn’t see the dove, but we did see another rare bird, a Greater pewee. Doug got a photo of it that is good enough for identification but too small to include here.

Reid Park is in the middle of the city, with a zoo, rose gardens, two ponds, lawns etc. Alongside the ducks that enjoy being fed crusts, there are some interesting birds. This one is a juvenile Black-crowned night heron.


Here’s another Black-crowned night heron (who’s a bit older, but still immature) standing near a yawning Neotropic cormorant. The bird behind is an American wigeon just taking off.


We don’t often see Northern shovelers when they aren’t in breeding plumage. It’s bill gave it away.


And it’s always a pleasure to see a Vermilion flycatcher.


So the next day, with the bikes all ready to go, we rode about 18 km on a paved multi-use trail along the Santa Cruz River in Marana. In the photo below, we’re close to the most northerly end of the trail near the El Rio Open Space Preserve. The flowers are flowing over the fence of the garden of a high-end home.


Another day we hiked up and along Brown Mountain, which is in Tucson Mountain Park. We can drive to the trailhead in about 20 minutes. Here is Wendy at the beginning of the uphill section: a nice trail with switchbacks and not too far to climb.


Here’s a view looking northeast towards Wasson Peak, the highest one on the skyline.


Once we got to the top of Brown Mountain, we walked along it’s ridge and worked our way gradually down. We got a good view of the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum grounds. (Doug turned around for the photo.)


There were some magnificent saguaros along the trail.


We were watching out to try and find the smallest saguaro, and this one was probably the littlest we could find. It was about 20 cm tall and perhaps five to ten years old. Although we didn’t see very many small ones, once the saguaro becomes established, it can grow to be very old. The first branches of the saguaro develop when the cactus is fifty years old.


Here’s our final photo for this blog, a male Black-tailed gnatcatcher. We saw at least a dozen of them along the trail. They especially liked foraging in the Palo verde bushes.


You can look forward to more bird photos in our next blog.