Birding in Arizona: Nov. – Dec. 2021

Birding in Arizona: Nov. – Dec. 2021

This blog will be all about our birding adventures.

Sometimes it’s really hard to find a certain bird because birds have that tendency to fly anywhere they want. But sometimes it’s really easy. This Wood duck was in a pond at Reid Park, in the centre of Tucson. The hardest part was locating him among the hundreds of other ducks (Mallards, American Widgeons, Ring-necked Ducks) but he was very distinctive. He cooperated by swimming close to the edge of the pond. Wood ducks have been known to winter in the area, but they still make it into the “Rare Bird Alert” on our eBird app.

This White-faced Ibis must have thought he was in Mexico already and he hung out in the Santa Cruz River near the bridge that we drive over most days on our way into Tucson. Another easy “rare” bird.

Probably the easiest rare bird we saw this November was a Williamson’s Sapsucker. She chose to hang out in the pines behind the scoreboards in a southwest city park. She was preening herself way up in the tree, so we were able to see her well enough, but the photos are not “blog worthy.” We’ve never seen this species before, even though they spend their summers in Ponderosa Pine forests near where we live in the summer.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a great place to see birds. Most are wild birds that enjoy the habitat that the grounds provide, but some are captive birds that are trained to participate in the museum’s “Raptor Free Flight” program. Below are two photos of a Gray Hawk; one as it’s landing and one as it’s taking off during the program. Gray Hawks sometimes make their way into the Tucson area and we were lucky enough to see one in the wild last spring.

This Rufous-winged Sparrow was also at the Desert Museum. The little rufous patch on its shoulder is easy to see in this photo. This species is only found in southern Arizona and northwestern Mexico.

The Desert Museum is also a great place to see hummingbirds. Most of the photos on previous blogs are of hummingbirds that we’ve seen in the gardens of the museum or somewhere else in the wild, but the following ones were taken in the Hummingbird Aviary. This one is a female Anna’s Hummingbird.

The long, flared gorget of this male Costa’s Hummingbird sparkled in the sunlight.

Rufous Hummingbirds are only in the Tucson area during migration. They are the most common ones that we see at home in BC.

Another great place to see birds and hummingbirds in particular is the Tucson Audubon Society’s Paton Center for Hummingbirds in Patagonia, AZ.

It’s the only place that we’ve seen the Violet-crowned Hummingbird. When we visited towards the end of November, it was the only hummingbird we saw there. (Although there were plenty of other interesting birds.)

Madera Canyon is always a dependable place to see some interesting birds. The creek in the canyon had a good amount of water this fall after the wet monsoon season this summer.

This Hepatic Tanager looks a lot like a Summer Tanager, but has a dark bill and a darker face. It’s found in pine-oak forests, which includes Madera Canyon, but they don’t venture much farther north than the Arizona border.

We always love to see Painted Redstarts, and there are many of them that spend their winters in Madera Canyon. They are also a southern bird.

This White-breasted Nuthatch posed in its typical downward facing position. They are found year-round throughout the US and southern Canada. They make quite a racket, so it’s usually easy to find them in a tree.

Perhaps this Hermit Thrush spent its summer up in Canada, although they are known to stay in this area all year. This one posed nicely so we could get a good look at him.

We like to think that the Ruby-crowned Kinglets that we see here in Arizona, spent their summers in Canada, but there is no way of knowing. Usually, the ruby crown is hidden, but this fellow had it on display for us. He was also at Madera Canyon.

We often see a Northern Cardinal when we go birding, especially in the Tubac area. Doug had fun catching this female cardinal in flight.

We go birding at Sweetwater Wetlands regularly. Sometimes, we can get a good view of a bird but have a hard time identifying it. This Ring-necked Duck is a good example. It was by itself, and not in breeding plumage.

And sometimes a bird likes to hide in the reeds and we are lucky if we see one. This Sora ventured out for brief moments allowing Doug to get a few photos. We were examining the reeds very diligently this day, because an American Bittern had been seen in the area over the previous days. We didn’t see the bittern, or perhaps I should rephrase that to say: we have yet to see the bittern, because we will keep looking.

There are also some birds that are in a known location that almost every birder wants to see, but they are still hard to find. We visited Catalina State Park with the intention of seeing some Long-eared Owls. Luckily, a kind birder saw us coming down the trail and walked back with us to the spot where he had seen an owl. He told us someone had showed him the spot, so he was passing it on. We have to thank the first birder who found their day’s roosting spot and let someone else know. Here Wendy is looking at a “lump” in the far mesquite which is actually a Long-eared Owl.

This is the best photo that Doug could get. The tangle of branches made focussing the camera very difficult.

Long-eared Owls are one of the few species that roost communally, which means that if you can see one, you might be able to see others. Since someone had shown us the location, we showed another six or seven people. One of the birders that we showed the first one to, soon found another two owls, and then a fourth. With difficulty, we were able to identify the “lumps” as owls. The owls were so far away that they were unaffected by the attention.

Also that day, we got good views of Lawrence’s Goldfinches. They winter in southern Arizona and northern Mexico, and they are only otherwise found in California. Here’s a photo of a male.

This female Tennessee Warbler was a bit tricky to find because it looks very similar to an Orange-crowned Warbler. There were plenty of Orange-crowns around so it meant looking carefully at each one. It was extra special because it was the first one we had ever seen.

This Northern Parula was in the same grove of trees at Christopher Columbus Park that we saw the Tennessee Warbler. Its normal range in the eastern US. Because it is so distinctive, we were able to see it on three different days.

Warblers love the trees along the Santa Cruz River near Tubac. One of the times were went there, we were lucky enough to see a Chestnut-sided Warbler, but she flitted so quickly among the leaves that all the photos were blurry. We’ve wandered into these cottonwoods numerous times in search of the Rose-throated Becard, but we have yet to see it. But we will keep trying.

Arrivaca Lake is a beautiful spot south of Tucson. We’d never been there and wanted to explore a new area. Like many lakes in Arizona, it is dammed which means it has virtually no shoreline. It would be ideal to bird it from a kayak or canoe, but very difficult on foot. We’ll probably never see the Green Kingfisher that has been spotted there. But we had a bit of an adventure climbing the ridges around the lake and we had a nice look at a Belted Kingfisher.

We will take a break from writing a blog, but not from looking at birds, so there will more photos when we post again at the end of January.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Back to Arizona – Nov. – Dec., 2021

Back to Arizona – Nov. – Dec., 2021

We’re back at our place near Tucson, Arizona. This time it was a lot easier getting across the border. The hardest part was getting off our street because it was slippery with a new snowfall. Once we were on the highway it was smooth sailing.

The border wasn’t crowded at all, even though we went through on November 8th, the first day that it opened.

After three long driving days, we were at our place looking east at the mountains in Saguaro National Park.

The weather was unseasonably warm those first few weeks, so we enjoyed some outdoor dinners.

We’d missed the Arizona sunsets,

and sunrises.

Instead of shovelling snow, we helped our landlady place new fenceposts.

In the first few weeks, we worked on our fitness, with easy walking while we were birding. It also took awhile to retrain our ears to the bird calls and familiarize ourselves with the local birds. Here Doug is likely looking at a Yellow-rumped warbler at Sweetwater Wetlands.

We visited Silverbell Lake at Christopher Columbus Park to see if the resident Snow Goose was still there (he was). The lake is popular with fishers. We’ve seen huge catfishes being caught. The water is coloured with a non-toxic dye in order to keep the algae from growing.

There were plenty of other interesting birds there, which will be covered in the next blog post. And this orange dragonfly, a Flame Skimmer, caught our eye.

We visit the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum about once a week. Doug always gets good photos there. This time, he was getting shots of a Rufous-winged Sparrow. Have a look at the cholla (a multi-spine cactus) just to Doug’s right in the photo below. That messy bit of twigs on the top is a nest of a Cactus Wren.

Wendy was in position to capture the wren leaving the nest with her phone camera.

The cactus garden at the museum seems to always have something in bloom. Below is a Crow’s Claw Barrel cactus. Its native to central and southern Mexico.

Another day at the Desert Museum, we viewed the Mountain Lion (we’d call it a Cougar at home) through a thick piece of plexiglass. He was literally right in front of us.

Our first hike was on flat trails in Arthur Pack Park, a desert oasis in northwest Tucson.

We also hiked the gentle hills at the Sweetwater Preserve.

Towards the end of November, Doug figured his new knee was ready for a real hike. We hiked the Alamo Springs trail in the Tortolita Mountains.

It was good to get up high again, and we were happy that we managed the four hour hike without any trouble.

In early December, we hiked another of our favourite trails: the Hugh Norris trail in Saguaro National Park (west). The first part of the trail is really well built with hundreds of stone steps.

Within half an hour, we reached the ridge. The trail traversed the ridge with slight changes in elevation and with good views.

We were surprised to see this little flower blooming among the rocks. It’s known as Trailing windmills (Allionia incarnata).

We’ve also had a great time mountain biking. We rode on the paved “Loop” trail a couple of times to gain some fitness, but by the third week in November, we tackled our favourite trail at the Tortolita Preserve. Here’s Doug in action.

And another of Doug coming up a slightly rocky bit.

The photo below shows Wendy approaching the steepest piece. It’s probably only 30 degrees but from the sandy bottom it appears to be vertical. Anyway, everytime we make it up this bit we give ourselves a cheer.

The whole trail is about fifteen kilometres and it takes us a little over an hour. The last part is gradually uphill, and it seems to never end. This stately saguaro let’s us know that it’s five minutes to the truck.

Wendy named the saguaro, “Mr. Majestic.” Here’s a staged photo of Wendy (she turned around and rode back) with one of her favourite saguaros.

At the end of November, we drove to Ramsey Canyon Preserve, which is close to Sierra Vista. We had two goals; to see some different birds and to view the fall colours. We saw a lot of birds that we could see in BC in the summertime. Townsend’s and Yellow-rumped warblers, and Ruby-crowned kinglets were plentiful.

The white-barked Arizona Sycamores add a brightness to the scene.

These cacti are all ready for Christmas.

We’ll do one more post that will be “birds only,” then take a break until the end of January. We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.