Tucson, AZ: final post

Tucson, AZ: final post

We got back to mountain biking, after Wendy’s scraped knee healed and she purchased some knee pads. She hardly ever falls, but the knee pads are confidence boosters. We went farther than our first outing and covered over thirty kilometres in three and a half hours.


The next week we went out again, but turned around at the “big rocks” to make a twenty kilometre ride.


We’ve birded at El Rio Open Air preserve a number of times. Often the Black-crowned night herons are hidden in the branches. This time, a couple of them were more visible. This photo was taken through the scope.


Doug spent some time at our place practicing with taking photos through the scope. Here’s an Inca dove, one of a half dozen that visit our feeder. These doves are very small (only 20 cm long) and have a beautiful scaly plumage pattern.


On a cooler day when rain was expected, we went birding at the Desert Museum. Many wild flowers were blooming, which made the cactus garden even more gorgeous.


Here are some desert bluebells among the hedgehog cactuses.


The desert museum had a very good specimen of desert honeysuckle. Hummingbirds love these flowers.


We hiked again in the section of Saguaro National Park that is really close to us. This time we headed up some trails we had hiked before. This photo of the pink penstemon was taken on a wash beside the Ringtail trail.


There are a myriad of trails in this area that allow a hiker to make different loops. This time we went over to the Gila Monster trail. A Gila monster is a kind of lizard, but we didn’t see any. We knew when we started hiking that rain was in the forecast, but we hoped we would get home before it started. This photo was taken moments before we felt sprinkles. It was windy and damp for about twenty minutes, but we only needed to put on our wind jackets to be comfortable. We dried off by the time we got back to the truck.


The next day, we set our alarm for 6, because we wanted to go birding at Madera Canyon, an hour drive away. The leftover clouds from the rain the night before made for a spectacular sunrise.


By the time we got to Madera Canyon, the sky was clear. We parked at Proctor Road and hiked on the paved trail.


About five minutes from the parking lot, we heard the Northern beardless-tyrannulet, a bird we had been hoping to see. It flitted around as flycatchers will, but it finally perched long enough on a sunlit branch for Doug to get this photo. It’s unfortunate that it didn’t perch a few centimetres lower, so it’s head was not blocked by the branch, but we were happy to have this good of a view of such a small bird. (Only 11 cm long.) It also has a very limited range in the US. A life-bird for us!


Later that afternoon, we had good views of a Yellow-eyed junco.


On the way home from Madera Canyon we stopped by Canoa Ranch Conservation Area, to see if there was anything interesting. We saw a lot of the same birds that we had seen the last time. Doug is looking through the scope at some Ruddy ducks, a pair of Ring-necked ducks and one Bufflehead. Madera Canyon is in the mountains in the background of the photo.


A few days later, we returned to Madera Canyon. We really wanted to see an Elegant trogon. There was one male in the area that fed on the red berries of the pyracantha bush. He had come to the bush in the morning on the previous two days, so there was a crowd expecting his arrival. The photo below shows some of the people on the road. We were practicing social distancing, so kept a lookout from the trail below. Unfortunately, he didn’t show up that morning.


We walked up to the Santa Rita Lodge gift shop, where they have over a dozen feeders. We had a quick look at the feeders and the surrounding area. Doug got a good photo of an Arizona woodpecker, another bird that has a very limited range in the US.


After lunch, we went back to check out the pyracantha bush and were rewarded with a view of a male Hepatic tanager.


The next day, we found another great area for hiking in the Tortolita Mountains. Pima County maintains the trails and provides signage and maps.


We chose to follow the Alamo Springs trail out of the wash and up along a ridge.


There were plenty of wildflowers and cacti to look at.


It was an excellent trail through interesting terrain.


This rock formation is nick-named “Machu Picchu,” because it looks like it is a man-made structure. After we read the information board, we took a rest on the nearby bench.


We didn’t walk all the way to Alamo Springs, instead we went down the spur trail to the valley bottom and walked along the wash back to the trailhead.


On our last day in Tucson, we went birding at Sweetwater wetlands. The maintenance crew had cleared the edges of the ponds which made it easier to see the birds that like to hide in the reeds. Doug is taking a photo with his iPhone through the scope of a rare and hard to see bird known as …


… an American bittern! You might not see it at first glance.


That afternoon we reorganized the trailer to make it ready to move. We were reluctant to leave the beautiful weather of Arizona, but it became clear that our best place during the coronavirus pandemic was at home in Canada.

The next morning, after some fancy manoeuvres, we were out through the narrow gate and on our way. We drove north and sailed through Phoenix and Las Vegas because there was less traffic than average. At 6:30, we found a spot for the night in the Walmart parking lot in Mesquite, NV.


The next day, we drove twelve hours to make it to Dillon, Montana. We got home on the third day of nine hours. Before we could park the Redwood, Doug needed to get out the quad and plow to clear a space in our regular parking area. It had not been plowed all winter, because we were expecting to get home after everything had melted. Here’s a view of the trailer with the car beside it. Wendy uses the car to move the food from the refrigerator to the house.


We’re home now and doing our fourteen day self-isolation. We hope to be out in the trailer in June. Until then, keep safe and stay healthy.


Tucson: Mar. 1 – 8: Biosphere 2, Buffelgrass & Birds

Tucson: Mar. 1 – 8: Biosphere 2, Buffelgrass & Birds

We visited Biosphere 2 in early March. Biosphere 2 is a research facility, now owned by the University of Arizona. It was originally built between 1987 and 1991 as a closed ecological system meant to demonstrate the viability of such a system to maintain human life in outer space. From 1991 to 1993, four women and four men lived inside and sustained themselves with food that they harvested in the closed system.

Here’s a view of the facility from a knoll just above it.


Nowadays, the facility has guided tours every half hour as well as several small-scale and large-scale research projects. The rainforest biome had recently been reopened after an experiment which they manipulated the water input to simulate a drought and measured the effects on the plant life. Our tour guide said it would take quite a while to deal with all the data that was generated.


Another day, we decided to do our own weed pull on our closest trail, the one up Panther Peak. The brittlebush was now flowering and made a nice contrast to the teddybear cholla.


We came to pull up some buffelgrass that we had noticed on our previous trips. The trail goes right through this patch. Buffelgrass is an invasive grass and is especially bad because it can allow a fire to spread through the saguaros.


It took strength, but most plants came up with roots intact.


Here’s the view after our effort. We will need to go back another time to get the bit we missed.


We stuffed the grass into two garbage bags and then considered how we were getting them out. It was quite rocky and fairly steep where we did the work, so balancing the bag on our heads worked for awhile, but soon our shoulders were sore. We found holding the bag over our shoulder “Santa style” was the preferred method. We’ve since researched about what other people do and found that they leave the grass in the area, but weigh it down with rocks.


We found a new area for hiking that has many short trails that can be combined into loops ranging from an hour to all day. It’s known as the Sweetwater Preserve and is about a twenty minute drive from our place, on the east side of the Tucson Mountains.


Can you spot the Curved-billed thrasher on top of the saguaro?


We did a few days of birding, too. We visited the Canoa Ranch Conservation Area which is in Green Valley, just south of Tucson. There were quite a few other birders there looking especially for a Clay-colored sparrow that had recently been sighted and is rare for this area.

We didn’t see one, but Doug did get this photo of a Brewer’s sparrow with his long lens.


And we visited the Sweetwater Wetlands again. This Greater roadrunner was preening himself in a tree. This photo was taken with an iPhone through the scope.


Until next time…

Tucson: Feb. 24 – Feb. 29: Birds, Flowers, Picacho Peak

Tucson: Feb. 24 – Feb. 29: Birds, Flowers, Picacho Peak

It was time to visit Sabino Canyon again for some birding. Here’s a view of the recreation area before the trail climbs into the canyon.


Doug got out his camera and big lens for the first time since our Panama trip.


He got some good photos. Here’s a male Costa’s hummingbird.


This is a female Northern cardinal.


We walked up the Bluff trail and looked across into the branches of the tall cottonwoods. A Cooper’s hawk was building a nest. We watched as it pulled dead twigs off branches and carried them to the nest. It rested for a few moments and Doug was able to get this shot.


A little further up the trail was this male Broad-billed hummingbird. We had seen them before but only in vicinity of feeders, so it was wonderful to see one “in the wild.” Note his broad, notched tail and bright red bill.


He was preening and shaking out his feathers. Doug caught him fanning his tail.


There were Black-tailed gnatcatchers flirting about in the creasote bushes. One male paused long enough for this photo. He was in breeding plumage which made him very easy to identify.


Here’s a view of Picacho Peak that we took in September when we were staying at the park for a few days. Its centrepiece spire is visible from Tucson as well as from the roads near our place. It was on the list of “mountains to climb that we can see from our winter home.” So we picked a day in February. (February 25 to be exact.)


We left our place by 7 am and were on the trail just after 8. The trail starts on the side you can see in the previous picture and switchbacks up to a shoulder. The route then heads down the cliff face on the other side. Here is Wendy down climbing with help from the cables.


The trail then skirts the cliffs. It’s amazing that this saguaro can survive here.


Soon the real climbing began. Doug climbed this section by leaning back and pulling up.


The trickiest bit had cables on both sides for handholds. It allowed us to get up a section that would have required full-on climbing gear.


This ramp and handrail made for an easy traverse.


We were on the top by about 10:00 and had the place to ourselves. We didn’t stay long though, because it was quite windy.

Picaho-summitOn our way down, we met many people ascending, but we only had to wait at one of the “one-way only” sections.

We took a short side-trip near the trailhead to take photos of the Mexican gold poppies. (Eschscholzia mexicana)


Another day, we visited the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. This view of the cactus garden shows Organ Pipe cactus and Totem cactus surrounding a number of varieties of barrel cactus. Notice the heart-shaped prickly pear cactus on the front left.


After spending months riding the pavement on “The Loop,” we finally found a good place for mountain biking. It’s about a 40 minute drive to the trailhead for us, but it was definitely worth it. Much of the trail is the nice desert riding we enjoy; not too many rocks or too much sand. Here’s Doug on the “Honeybee Loop” trail …


and Wendy just a bit further down the trail. The trails in Honeybee Canyon are reached from the Big Wash trailhead in Oro Valley.


We went birding again to Reid Park. Back in November, we saw this Greater Pewee and got a fuzzy photo of it. It was a rare bird for the area. It seems it decided to stick around for the winter. This time, it cooperated better and Doug was able to get this shot.


The other reason for birding at Reid Park, in the middle of Tucson, was its closeness to the Davis-Monthan Airforce Base. On the day we were birding, the pilots who fly historic warbirds from Korean, Vietnam and WWII were being recertified. Some modern planes were also flown. That meant there were plenty of interesting planes overhead. Doug probably took as many pictures of aircraft as he did of birds that day. Here’s a view of an F-16.


This blog gets us caught up for February. More hiking, biking and birding to come!