February in Arizona – Part 2

February in Arizona – Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Western Grebe was also enjoying the lake.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February in Arizona – Part 1

February in Arizona – Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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