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!