March in Arizona – Part 2

March in Arizona – Part 2

This post is all about birds we’ve photographed and the places we’ve seen them.

In early March we visited Agua Caliente, a historic resort that has been converted to a regional park. It had a very tropical feel with all the introduced palm trees.

This Hooded Merganser was hanging out with a pair of Mallards in the main pond. It’s the only one we’ve seen in Arizona, although they’re only considered uncommon in the winter months here. This one is a first year male and we thought he was pretty special.

This Northern Parula is in the Wood-Warbler family and is considered rare in all of the west. We were thrilled to be able to find it in our binoculars in a tall willow, and Doug was very pleased to get a photo.

This Lucy’s Warbler was in the same tree. If you look closely, you can see rusty speckles on its head. Since seeing this one, we’ve had numerous sightings; they seem to be everywhere! One even visited us at our yard. But the first good sighting is always special.

Perhaps this should have been called the “Cute Birds” section. (Can you decide which is the cutest?) We like to say that, “every bird is a good bird” when people ask, “Have you seen any good birds today?” but we think this Ovenbird is a very good bird. It’s also a Wood-Warbler and like the Northern Parula, its quite aways from where it should be living. Its also quite skulky, walking along the forest floor. Luckily, we had information about where it might be found, but even so, we looked for it on two different days before we were successful. It was hanging out near the Anza trail close to Tubac.

Tumacacori National Historic Park is close to Tubac and about five minutes from where we saw the Ovenbird. We did the full tour last spring. This year, we headed directly to the orchard in hopes of finding another rare bird.

And we successfully located a Black-capped Gnatcatcher. This male’s cap hasn’t quite come in all the way yet, but its dark bill is a distinguishing characteristic. Black-capped Gnatcatchers don’t wander very far into the US and are usually found in Mexico.

For some variety, we drove to the Ironwood Forest National Monument, which is within twenty minutes of our place. We had information that a couple of Sagebrush Sparrows were hanging out near a corral. We found the corral and there were plenty of sparrows around, but they were all a long ways out in among the bushes. We saw some common sparrows (White-crowned and Black-throated) but not the particular one we were looking for. Here’s a view of the Ironwood Forest, which doesn’t have very many trees in it at all.

Wendy was trying to get closer to some sparrows, but Doug saw the bigger picture and took this great shot of the clouds.

Although we didn’t see a new sparrow for us, we did get a view of these “birds.” These heritage aircraft (circa WWII) were in town getting re-certified so that the pilots would be able to fly in upcoming airshows around the country.

It was a cool day at Sweetwater Wetlands when we saw this Cooper’s Hawk perched on a post. You can see white spots on its back because its all fluffed up trying to keep warm.

Another day at the Wetlands, we had a good look at a Green-tailed Towhee. Usually they hide underneath bushes. They are a little smaller than the Spotted Towhees that we have in BC.

We have posted many Pied-billed Grebe photos on this blog, but this one is a bit different. Doug was lucky enough to have his camera ready when this grebe came up with its next meal: a frog.

We never know what unusual bird we might see at Sweetwater Wetlands. This day we were treated with a sighting of a Black-bellied Whistling Duck. Apparently, they are common locally around Tucson, but this is the first we’ve seen in Arizona. And, according to the reports, it flew off the next day.

Black-chinned Sparrows are uncommon and like to hang out on arid hillsides with dense patches of vegetation which makes them difficult to see. Luckily for us, a couple of them have taken up residence at the Desert Museum, and we’ve had a couple of opportunities to see them. This day, this sparrow was more interested in the grass seed and totally ignored us.

This female Costa’s Hummingbird entertained us another day at the Desert Museum. You can see pollen on her bill.

We have a trio of Harris’s Hawks in our neighbourhood. One afternoon, Wendy looked up from her sewing machine and saw a hawk fly by. We grabbed the binoculars and camera and went out to investigate, and Doug caught this one in flight. Harris’s Hawks hunt in family units. Last year, we got good view of them at the Desert Museum’s “Raptor Free Flight” (which isn’t taking place this year), but this was the closest we’ve ever seen them in the wild. We’ve seen them from a distance for the last few weeks on our daily walk in the neighbourhood.

The middle of March is a good time to see hawks and other birds in migration. We went to an open field in Tubac and sighted five species of hawks (Cooper’s, Common Black Hawk, Gray Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk and Red-tailed Hawk) as well as Turkey Vultures, but most were so high up in the sky that a photo wasn’t warranted. These White-faced Ibis were interesting though.

The hawk sightings dwindle by late morning, so before lunch, we went birding along the nearby Anza trail. We saw this Cassin’s Kingbird right after we crossed the road. It is quite similar to the western Kingbird that we see in BC, but is has more gray on its throat.

We also saw this Gray Hawk perched way up in a cottonwood.

After lunch, we drove a few minutes south to the Santa Gertrudis Lane, which has an access to the Santa Cruz River and the Anza trail. We’ve posted pictures from this river in the last few months, because we have been looking to see a Rufous-backed Robin. This time we were successful, but it was such a quick look that we don’t have a photo. Later in the month, we returned again and although we had a better view of the robin, the photographs were only good for identification purposes. That gives us a good reason to go back again!

We went birding a lot in March – over twenty days. We hope you enjoyed seeing some of the birds we saw.

March in Arizona – Part 1

March in Arizona – Part 1

This post focusses on our activities of hiking and mountain biking and the creatures and flowers that we’ve photographed in March. Part 2 is all about the birds.

Our first hike in March was to Brown Mountain. It’s named after a gentleman named Brown who was active in the formation of the Tucson Mountain Park where it’s located. It’s a rather low bump to earn the title “mountain,” but perhaps “Brown Bump” wouldn’t seemed like much of an honour to Mr. Brown. The hike goes up, then along the ridge, down the other side and along the flats to the start for about six kilometres total. Here’s Doug near the high point of the ridge with the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in the background. He’s wearing a knee brace which seems to help with his knee pain.

Our next hike was to Madera Canyon. Usually we go to the canyon to bird, and we slowly walk the lower trails. This time we continued up the nature trail to the end of the road (and a picnic site), then back down. We want to hike to the peaks in the background, but we want the snow up there to melt first.

This view of Golden Gate Mountain (left) is from the David Yetman trail in Tucson Mountain Park. Our hike started on the other side of the low pass in the centre of the photo. We found some trails to loop around at about the altitude that this photo was taken and then returned over the pass to our truck for a six kilometre hike.

We’ve hiked almost every trail within a half hour drive from our place, so we were happy to find this trail with such a great view of Sombrero Peak, (which we climbed in February.) The trail is in the northeast corner of Saguaro National Park (West) and is appropriately called “Scenic Trail.” We used it to link to a trail that goes to a pass between Sombrero and the outcropping on the right, and to an unofficial trail that we have previously used to as an approach route to Sombrero. It made for a pleasant afternoon walk on one of our cooler days.

Later in the month, we hiked again in the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area to the “Phoneline” trail. The trail contoured along the sides of the canyon, below the ridge we climbed earlier. Here’s a panoramic view looking at the trail and the upper canyon.

And here’s a view of Wendy on the Sabino Canyon Historic trail that we used to get off the ridge and down to the road. An electric tram takes visitors up and down the canyon. We walked along the road back to the parking lot and met families with young children who had got off at the end of the route and hiked along as far as they had energy for, and then hopped back on the returning tram. The paved road made the sixteen kilometre hike achievable for us.

Our last hike in March was back at Madera Canyon, on the opposite side of the canyon from our earlier hike. We climbed higher on the trail to Bog Springs and Kent Springs, through juniper/oak forest into pine forest. There was snow along the side of the trail at our highest point. We were on the trail in a little over an hour from our trailer, which allows us to easily hike in the forest as well as in the desert.

We have probably been mountain biking more days than we have hiked. With hiking, we try to find new place to explore. With biking, we’re happy to ride the same trail and work on mastering the features or riding it a little bit faster. Plus, we’re finished the ride in less than an hour and a half which means we can read and relax in the afternoon… or do chores or work on blog posts or (for Wendy) sew!

Here are two more pictures of the trail at the Tortolita Preserve.

This post has a new section: “Creatures,” which includes photos of animals, reptiles and insects we’ve photographed. This young bobcat did not seem to be at all shy as it enjoyed the sunshine (and posed plenty of times) one day that we were birding at Sweetwater Wetlands.

This Desert Spiny Lizard was also enjoying a bit of sunshine on another day at the Wetlands.

Sun-bathing seems to be a theme here… This coyote at the Desert Museum has a favourite rock that it sleeps on.

This squirrel was also at the Desert Museum, but not part of a display. It’s one of the “wild” animals on the grounds, although this fellow seemed pretty tame.

This striped skunk actually was someone’s pet, but now has a home at the museum. Usually it is in its underground burrow, but one morning we were lucky enough to be there as it was being fed. We chatted with its caregiver and found out that when it came to the museum, it was so fat that it could only walk a few steps without resting. Now with proper nutrition it can move around easily, but the caregiver said it is still bulkier-looking than a skunk living in the wild.

This bumble bee is known as a Carpenter Bee, (genus Xylocopa.) This female is way too big to fit in the Penstemon flower, so she “steals” nectar by using her mouth parts to cut a slit at the base of the corolla, without pollinating the flower.

Every time we visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, there are new plants blooming. This agave is called “Our Lord’s Candle.”

This Mescal Bean flower is on a native shrub. All parts of the plant are poisonous containing the alkaloid cytisine.

The cactus garden at the Desert Museum is constantly changing. This view from mid-March includes blooming pink Penstemon and small yellow flowers in the Sunflower family.

Towards the end of March, we saw these torch cacti in bloom. This showy cultivated varietal is called “Flying Saucer.”

We also see some interesting flowers when we’re hiking. These “Fairy Dusters” caught our eye on a hike in the Tucson Mountain Park.

On the same hike, we got a close look at Ocotilla in bloom.

Although this March has generally had below seasonal temperatures, we’ve had some opportunities to eat dinner outside on our patio. For those of you interested in details, the candles are battery operated and the wine glasses have covers to prevent tiny flies from getting in.

And there were a couple of days when it was too hot to have an iron adding heat to the inside, so Wendy set up her pressing station on the patio under the canopy.

And every post must have an iconic sunset. This one was on March 29.

That wraps up the hiking, biking, flowers and creatures of March. Part 2 (posting soon) will be all about the birds we’ve seen.