We’ve seen more birds this January in Arizona than any other year. Some of it was luck, some of it was because we went out more often, and some was because we did our research and went to places that special birds had been seen.
The first photos are actually from the last day in December at Christopher Columbus Park. We’ve shared many photos of Silverbell Lake, but here’s another one from a different angle.
This time we were searching for a Scarlet Tanager. We spotted the female after another birder directed us to the grove of trees where it was last seen. Once Doug got his camera on it, that was the sign to the others that we’d seen it and soon there was a group catching glimpses of the bird.
The female Scarlet Tanager isn’t scarlet, it’s yellowish. It is distinguished from the more common Summer Tanager by the dark wings. Unfortunately, by the next day, she had decided to fly to somewhere new, and couldn’t be relocated.
On January 1st, we went to Sweetwater Wetlands to try to see a Rusty Blackbird. Lots of other birders were wanting to see it as well. In the winter, Rusty Blackbirds are found in the eastern US. In the summer, we might see one near where we live in BC, but we never have.
We were lucky enough to get a good view of it perched on a stalk, before it disappeared into the reeds. This bird, however, has hung around, so in February we’ll try to see it again.
We visited the Green Valley Wastewater Reclamation Facility to see a Dunlin, a shorebird that spends its summers in the arctic and its winters on the coast. There were two that had stopped for awhile in their migration. They were along the shore of this pond. The scope was required to be able to tell them apart from all the other shorebirds gathered at the shallow water. The facility has several ponds, some with more water, and some that were dry depending on the schedule. Not the most natural setting, but in Arizona and most places in the world, birds will gather at any water.
On the first Friday in January, our friends from Cranbrook joined us at Whitewater Draw, a major Sandhill Crane roost about two hours southeast of Tucson.
While we were waiting for the Sandhill Cranes to come back from feeding on the fields in the north, a flock of about 120 Snow Geese circled the pond, before landing back in almost the same spot on the far shore of the pond.
We saw these two Sandhill Cranes earlier in the day. They were some of the last to leave their overnight roosting spot.
The biggest flocks arrived around 11:30. A photo can’t capture the huge numbers or the constant movement. We estimated there were ten thousand Sandhill Cranes, but there could have been double that. Many of them landed on nearby fields, out of range of our scope.
The ones that landed nearer the viewing platform made a huge racket. Many people, most who were not birders, came to experience the cacophony and awesomeness of the vast numbers of cranes.
The secretive American Bittern that lives at Sweetwater Wetlands has been easier to see since the first week in January. Prior to this we had only seen it once. This January, we’ve had three good views of it. It moves slowly and doesn’t seem to notice the cameras, so if one photographer finds it, others have an excellent chance to see it too.
The American Bittern’s bold stripes help it to be camouflaged among the reeds.
We had never seen a Burrowing Owl, so when we discovered that they were quite common in the fields about a half hour from our place, we went in search of one. Driving alongside fields is not our favourite way to look for birds. The fields were full of ravens, but that seemed to be all there was, until Doug spotted a suspicious-looking lump which turned out to be an owl. It sat still and didn’t seem to notice us, and Doug was able to get several photos. When we left, it was still there.
Here’s a Lark Sparrow, all fluffed up as protection from the chilly air, at a spot near to where we saw the Burrowing Owl.
We have Gambel’s Quail in our yard everyday, but this one was in perfect light at the Desert Museum.
We finally saw the rare Rose-throated Becard on a trail in Tubac, high up in the cottonwoods. The female makes the nest, which is a very large mass of vegetation with an entrance low on one side. It’s the dark spot high in the trees in the photo below. We saw the female close to this nest but it was impossible to get a photo. So we thought the photo of the nest would have to do.
But we went back a couple of weeks later, and this time we were much luckier. The female Rose-throated Becard doesn’t have a rosy throat, however. She does have rufous sides to her wings and what looks like blush on her cheeks.
The bonus bird for this trip to Tubac was a male Green Kingfisher. He posed on a branch just below the bridge. We’ve only seen one in Arizona a number of years ago. It was an unexpected bit of good luck.
We went back to Kennedy Park to see the Williamson’s Sapsucker. This time, she was lower on the tree and Doug was able to get a good photo. Usually it is hard to see the bit of yellow on her belly.
This Greater Pewee posed nicely. The photo shows its bi-coloured bill well. It’s a little bigger than the Olive-sided flycatcher that we are familiar with in BC. It is found in Arizona and eastern New Mexico in the summer and normally winters in Mexico. This one seems pretty happy to fly-catch above a golf course pond in central Tucson.
Another lucky find was this Ferruginous Hawk. We had just left a spot that had Horned Larks (too small for a good photo) and Doug kept his camera nearby. So when we spotted it perched on a pole he was ready. He got a photo of it flying into a nearby field, and an even better one of it on the ground. There hadn’t been any sightings of this species of hawk this close to Tucson, so several birders from the area came to see it, some even the same day as our report was submitted.
We found these Hepatic Tanagers drinking in the creek in Madera Canyon. The male is reddish (hepatic = relating to the liver, in this case, liver-coloured.)
The female Hepatic Tanager is yellowish, similar to the female Summer and female Scarlet tanagers. Note the dark bill (similar to the Scarlet Tanager and unlike a Summer Tanager) and the greyish wings (unlike the Scarlet Tanager and similar to the Summer Tanager).
This Bridled Titmouse was bathing in the same stream as the tanagers. Bridled Titmice are the desert equivalent of a chickadee and just as cute.
Our final bird photo for January is of a Swamp Sparrow. They are pretty hard to find in the western US in winter except along the coast. This one found a small patch of swamp at Christopher Columbus Park and has been there for three weeks now.
This is only a selection of the birds that we’ve seen. We pretty much do some birding everyday, and birds are plentiful here so we see a lot of them.
Our next blog will be a special edition about our hiking trip to “The Wave” in northern Arizona.