November 2022 – Part 2 – Mostly Birds

November 2022 – Part 2 – Mostly Birds

The morning after we arrived at our place just outside of Tucson, Arizona, we were welcomed by a family of Harris’s Hawks. One of the hawks perched about ten metres from our patio, while the others perched on nearby saguaros. Here’s an iPhone photo of the closest hawk, since Doug had not yet unpacked his big camera.

A few days after that interesting sighting, we read in the Rare Bird Alert that a Fan-tailed Warbler had been seen in a wash near Catalina State Park. This was a very rare bird for the area. Using our eBird app, we could determine the location where it had been seen. The number of people waiting around for it to show up was also an indication that we were in the right place. We looked around the area for an hour or two without any success, so we headed off to another location to look for different birds. We figured the bird had flown away in the night.

Later that same day, we returned, because an email alert let us know it was still around. Here’s a view of the crowd looking at the fancy warbler. We met some people that had driven non-stop from Wisconsin, so we felt pretty lucky to be in the area already.

The Fan-tailed Warbler didn’t seen to be at all perturbed by the onlookers. It hopped around chasing insects under the roots of a tree that was overhanging the bank. It mostly stayed in the shadows which made it difficult for good photos.

In between our two times checking for the Fan-tailed Warbler we visited Lakeside Park. There were no “special” birds there, but we were happy to have such a close-up view of this Least Sandpiper.

And this Great Egret took to flight nearby as well. Notice its black feet; Snowy Egret’s feet are yellow.

On the first day that our friends were visiting, we went birding at Sweetwater Wetlands and Christopher Columbus Park. At Christopher Columbus Park (below) we saw two species of cormorants and two species of egrets along with over twenty other species.

Next up was the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. It’s a great place to become familiar with the desert flora and fauna. We went early Monday morning, and it wasn’t very crowded when we visited the hummingbird aviary.

We were very fortunate to see this Lewis’s Woodpecker on a palm on the grounds of the museum. Although they winter in the area, they are not seen very often.

It was also a good day to take in the “Raptor Free Flight” show. We have seen the show several times, so Doug was able to predict where the Great Horned Owl might land. He took this photo with his iPhone.

This photo of the Crested Caracara was also taken with his iPhone. The caracara is in the falcon family although it is very un-falcon-like. It feeds on carrion and some lizards and mammals.

The next day we travelled south to a trail near Tubac that follows the Santa Cruz River. The river was the highest we’ve seen it in three winters.

We saw plenty of birds including a Chestnut-sided Warbler. This Lark Sparrow was Doug’s best photo of the outing.

From there, we drove to Madera Canyon. Below, Doug and Bob are trying to get a good shot of some little bird high in the treetops.

This Arizona Woodpecker was a little more cooperative. It is a little smaller than the Hairy Woodpecker that we are used to seeing in BC and has a brown back.

One day, we did some urban birding at Reid Park. Here the group is surrounded by ducks; both wild and domestic. Jo Ellen and Gretchen are looking up at some Black-crowned Night-herons that are perched in the branches above.

It is such a treat to get this close to a male Wood Duck that was swimming in the smaller of the two ponds.

This male Mexican Duck in the same pond, is definitely not as flashy as a wood duck, but it is still an interesting bird. Until recently (2020), it was considered a sub-species of a Mallard. It resembles a female Mallard, but has a yellow bill. It’s important to look at the tail feathers, because if there is a curl or some white, that would indicate that it is a hybrid.

On another day, these javelinas were “helping” clean up the excess bird feed at the Paton Center for Hummingbirds in Patagonia, AZ.

Nearby, we got several good looks at the hummingbird that made the center famous: the Violet-crowned Hummingbird. The light didn’t catch the violet crown very well, but the clean white front with a red bill are distinguishing features.

We doubt that this male Northern Cardinal in Patagonia had any idea that he would take such a striking photo. And so with this photo, we wish you a Merry Christmas!

The next two photos are a little past our contrived deadline, but are included because we looked several times in November for a rare bird and we were happy to finally see it. We saw it December 5 from the bridge at Sweetwater Wetlands, very close to the parking lot.

The sought-after bird was a Northern Parula. It migrates from the eastern US to the east coast of Mexico, so this little guy was a little off-track. Every year, a few spend some time in the Tucson area.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Our next post will be in January.

November 2022: Arizona Adventures – Part 1

November 2022: Arizona Adventures – Part 1

Our trip down to Arizona from Cranbrook was a bit of an unexpected adventure. Because we weren’t towing the fifth wheel, we were not too worried about bad weather. When we set off, the forecast was for light snow. By the time we reached Missoula, the snow was quite heavy. It got worse as we travelled east, but there was really no place to stop, so we slowed down and put the truck in four wheel drive. Here’s what our view was like for at least an hour.

By the time we reached the Interstate 15, the roads were plowed and the visibility had improved. We drove all the way to Pocatello, ID which ended up being a twelve hour day.

Day two was from Pocatello to Page, AZ. We left in light snow, but soon the skies cleared. We drove Highway 20 to join the 89 near Panguitch, UT and then took a short side trip to the entrance to Dixie National Forest. The red rocks looked amazing with the recent snowfall.

The last day’s drive from Page to our place in Picture Rocks was uneventful, but we did confirm that there were sections of road that were too bumpy to tow the fifth wheel over without consequences.

We were happy to be back. Here’s a sunrise view from our patio.

We spent the first week settling in and checking out birding sites so we would be ready for our visiting friends from Cranbrook. Part 2 of this blog will focus on the birding destinations and the birds we saw.

Of course, we visited the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. After driving through all that snow, we were enchanted with the bright flowers and the active insects. Enjoy the bee on the sunflower, the Queen butterfly on the Blue Mistflower (a SE Arizona native plant) and the bright yellow Evening primrose (genus Oenothera).

We also rode our bikes on “The Loop,” to try and regain some fitness. Here, Wendy is off of the paved trail just for the photo.

One of our first hikes with our friends was to Sabino Canyon. The group was fascinated with the scenery and the vegetation. The saguaro on the left is referred to as crested or cristate. These oddly shaped cacti are somewhat rare and may be a result of a genetic mutation or perhaps an environmental cause such as a lightening strike or freeze damage.

We split into two groups for our hike in Saquaro National Park (West). We all started from the Sendero Esperanza trailhead. Once they reached the ridge, Doug, Bob, Gretchen and Jo Ellen headed east up the Hugh Norris trail to the summit of Wasson. Here’s a view of that group close to the summit, with Tucson in the distance behind them.

Wendy and Dave hiked slowly up to the ridge and then turned west on the Hugh Norris trail, with no destination in mind. Here’s Dave beside an interesting group of saguaros of various ages. The smallest one might be ten years old. The tallest one is likely under fifty years old, because most saguaros don’t develop arms until at least that age. Some saguaros never develop arms and their ages can’t be determined with core samples like they do with trees, so its hard to know for sure.

We all got back to the trailhead at the same time and enjoyed our lunch together.

A few days later, we hiked our favourite loop in the Tortolita Mountains. We started on the Wild Burro trail and joined the Alamo Springs Trail. Here’s Wendy on the ridge.

We didn’t get all the way to Alamo Springs because we took the Alamo Springs Spur Trail off the ridge and back to the almost flat Wild Burro trail. Here’s a photo of the group on a section of trail that has a stairway carved into the rock. The total loop was about 9 kilometres.

Here’s a view of Panther Peak from a road near our place. It was the destination of our next hike a couple of days later. The trail we followed went up the draw in the middle of the photo, where the middle saguaro and the shadow intersect, and continued along the long ridge to the summit on the left.

Here are Dave, Jo Ellen, Bob and Gretchen on the summit. A mine and what is left of one of the Twin Peaks is below them to the northwest.

Wendy chose to wait in a sheltered spot just below the pass. 

Another day, we drove up the long, winding road to the top of Mt. Lemmon. We stopped briefly in Summerhaven, a small community perched on the mountainside at 7,700 feet. In 2003, the community was almost completely destroyed by a forest fire. Another forest fire threatened the town in 2020 but the structures were saved. The old sign stands in front of the group of cabins that the replacement for the Mt.Lemmon Hotel. This old logging truck is a piece of history on display.

We drove farther up the mountain and hiked a short trail. The first section of the “Meadow trail” was through charred forest. Further along, the trail dropped into a section of forest that was relatively untouched by forest fires. Tall trees towered over us. We saw birds that reminded us of home in BC: Red-breasted Nuthatches, Mountain Chickadees and Brown Creepers. In the photo below, three people have joined hands around the Douglas fir, and it wasn’t the biggest tree there!

When we got out of the forest, the views were amazing, but it was still chilly as you can tell by our clothing. Some of us noticed the elevation, since we were over 9000 feet.

That covers the hiking. Now to some culture. Doug and Wendy took a short walk through downtown on the American Thanksgiving weekend. Wendy posed in front of a new mural that celebrates the annual bike race: El Tour de Tucson.

The restaurant that we ate at was crowded, but while people waited, they could browse the colourful artwork on the street nearby.

The downtown area was almost deserted. Here’s a view of the renovated court house.

This decorated tree is in the square across the street from the courthouse. We’d like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas!

And we will leave you with an unusual sunset. November 2022: Part 2: Birding Adventures in Arizona will be posted soon.