January 2023 – Part 2: Birding

January 2023 – Part 2: Birding

We love looking at birds and while we sometimes wish that all birds were as predictable as the ones that come to our feeders, we realize that would take away the element of chance and therefore the excitement out of our birding.

At the beginning of January, we went out to an area of desert scrub, hoping to see a Bendire’s Thrasher. We eventually saw the thrasher, but on the way, we got a good view of a Crested Caracara, perched in the dead branches of a tree. We’ve had many sightings of a Crested Caracara in the wild, but we have not often seen them perched. The caracara was the “bonus” bird of the trip.

The next day, our target bird was a Common Grackle. We knew the area that one had been seen, and we had attempted to find it at the end of December, but we had yet to see it. In fact, we had never seen a Common Grackle. When we got to the spot and realized we were the only people there and that the one Common Grackle was among more than a hundred other birds (Great-tailed Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds, Brewer’s Blackbirds and starlings), we were not very hopeful. There was nothing else to do but examine every grackle that we could see. We kept looking and walking along, hoping for a good view. Luckily, several perched on a wire above us. The farthest one on the right looked a bit different. And on closer inspection, it was the Common Grackle! It stayed in one place long enough for us to get the ‘scope on it and to take photos. It is usually found east of the Rocky Mountains.

On the way home, we stopped at Reid Park, which always has interesting birds. We see Cedar Waxwings often in the park, since they enjoy the fruits of the various introduced trees. This one was in a Acai palm tree.

The next day, we went to Madera Canyon, mainly to see sapsuckers (Williamson’s, Yellow-bellied and Red-naped). We spent a couple of hours looking for and at sapsuckers, and saw all three species. This good view of a male Townsend’s Warbler was the “bonus” bird.

We walked along another trail in the area and this Greater Peewee posed cooperatively.

Another day, we drove up Redington Pass where birds that we might expect at home in BC had been spotted. We saw a large flock of Evening Grosbeaks, heard and saw some Cassin’s Finches and were surprised at the large numbers of American Robins. We also saw Western Bluebirds, and Doug got a good photo of this male.

One of our goals for the season is to go birding in new locations. And so we hiked the birding loop trail at Catalina State Park. We saw this roosting Great Horned Owl,

and got quite close to this Green-tailed Towhee.

We’ve made it an annual tradition to go to Whitewater Draw, south of Benson, to witness the flocks of Sandhill Cranes. We got there before sunrise after a two hour plus drive and watched thousands take off to forage in the fields. After warming up in the truck, we wandered around to look at other birds and to wait for them to return about midday. Even though the air is warming up, Wendy is wearing just about every piece of clothing that she brought. (Next year: down jackets!) There were White-crowned Sparrows in almost every bush and we saw a large flock of Yellow-headed Blackbirds take off.

The Snow Geese were the first to return at about 10:00. There were over 300.

Mixed among the Snow Geese were some Ross’s Geese. This one was separated from the main group, so it was close enough to photograph.

We got a good view of a Wilson’s Snipe as it was foraging near the trail.

Near the snipe, there were two Soras. Usually they are very hard to see.

The Sandhill Cranes started arriving back around noon. We figured there were at least 10 000 cranes, but there could have been double that number. Most of the flocks landed in fields that surround the wetland, but several birds came closer.

Soon there were about twenty in a nearby section of the pond which allowed for some good photos.

Another day, we visited Agua Caliente Park. It was a former resort that the county bought and converted into a park. Last September, lightening struck palm trees near the Agua Caliente Spring. Strong winds spread the fire but the firefighters had it under control in a couple of hours. Some of the trees had to be removed because they were too damaged to flourish and hopefully the rest of them will survive. This area is fenced off while the vegetation recovers.

We saw one of the smallest Great Egrets that we’ve ever seen.

This female Hooded Merganser kept diving and surfacing quite a distance from where she disappeared which meant it was a bit of a challenge to get a photo, but Doug persisted.

We visited Sweetwater Wetlands a couple of times in January, and are disappointed by the smaller numbers of waterfowl than previous years. We see Orange-crowned Warblers every time we visit and enjoy watching them when they perch on the cattails.

These four Snow Geese have been hanging out at the Green Valley Water Reclamation Facility. The goose in front is a Greater White-fronted Goose, but it seems happy enough to join them. Greater White-fronted Geese breed in the Arctic Tundra.

This is a male Lawrence’s Goldfinch. They live year-round in California and in some winters, large numbers move east to Arizona. We’ve been lucky enough to see them for the last few years. This goldfinch is part of a flock at Canoa Ranch.

When we drove up to Phoenix to pick up our daughter and grandson at the airport, we went early enough to do some birding first. This Prairie Falcon was perched above a field on the outskirts of Chandler.

We spent most of our time at the Riparian Preserve at Gilbert Water Ranch. We first thought that the grebe below was a Clark’s Grebe, but experts suggest that it is a Western Grebe. It’s very difficult to tell the two species apart when they are in non-breeding plumage.

There were several Long-billed Dowitchers in the shallows. Doug caught this one taking a stretch.

These are American Avocets in non-breeding plumage.

Black-necked Stilts also like the shallow waters. Their plumage doesn’t change throughout the year.

We were lucky enough to see this Northern Mockingbird stretching its wings. When they perch, the white is hardly visible and when they fly … well, it’s usually just a flash that we see.

We spent some time down near a bridge in Box Canyon looking for a particular bird (that we missed seeing that day) but we figured it was time to head out after a group of about ten birders walked by. It was a beautiful area however, and we will return again.

We were really happy to see this Black-chinned Sparrow, since we haven’t seen one in a few years. This one is a female, and only the males show a black throat.

It was also nice to see this Rock Wren because often we hear them more times than we see them.

On the last day of January, we went to Arthur Pack Regional Park especially to see an Osprey, and we saw it as soon as we arrived. Doug took many photos and had several good ones to choose from.

We also wanted to see Eared Grebes, because we hadn’t yet seen them this year. Maybe the ones that winter in Arizona will fly north to BC where we’ll see them when their plumage makes it look like they have “ears.” Their red eye is hard to miss!

We did a lot of birding in January, going out every day except six. We’re enjoying the calm and the meditative qualities as well as the interesting people we meet when we bird.

January 2023 in Arizona – Part 1

January 2023 in Arizona – Part 1

This post is about a bit of hiking and the visit from our daughter and grandson. Also included are some surprising flood images and the expected sunrise and sunset shots.

We did a short hike in a remote corner of Saguaro National Park (West). Here’s a view of Wendy with the Tucson valley and Mt. Lemmon in the foreground.

We hiked up to a saddle. Marana is behind Doug in the photo below.

In the middle of January, we had several days of heavy rain, which also brought snow to the mountains. The Rillito River, which for most of the year is dry, was inundated with water. It flows into the Santa Cruz River, and this is what the river looked like flowing under the Ina bridge.

This is taken from the same spot when the waters had subsided substantially.

This is looking north at the bike path during the flood.

And the same spot after. A new path is currently being constructed on higher ground to avoid this section of “The Loop.”

Our youngest daughter and her 11-month son came to visit for a week. On the first day, we walked near our place to our favourite saguaro grove. Our daughter has her sleeping son in a front carrier.

We walked on a trail we had recently discovered, which gets us to this view only twenty minutes from our place.

A little farther along the trail is a thick stand of Teddy Bear cholla. Wasson Peak is in the background. This loop takes us about an hour.

Later we visited a playground and the Saguaro National Park visitor centre. We found a sheltered sunny spot because it was unusually cold that day.

Another day, we hiked at Sabino Canyon. Snowmelt made a stream in Rattlesnake Canyon, which is normally dry.

As usual, we found some blooming flowers at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. January blooms are pretty special. This yellow beauty is found on a candle bush (Senna Alata). It is native to most of the neotropics and is planted was an ornamental in Arizona.

This blue-violet flower is in the nightshade family.

If you look closely, you can see a hummingbird near the flowers of this Aloe Vera.

Facing out in the front carrier allowed the little one a good view, and his mom was careful that he only touched non-prickly things.

Packrat Playhouse at the Desert Museum was so much fun. This Gila Monster slide was a favourite.

We planned a second trip to the Desert Museum, which meant timing the morning nap with a “nap-walk.” The King’s Canyon trailhead is just by the Desert Museum entrance. We scheduled our drive so the little guy was still awake and then walked up the canyon without talking as he slept. It was another chilly day,  but he was cozy and warm.

After we visited exhibits at the Desert Museum that we had missed, we returned to the Packrat Playhouse. This time the giant rattlesnake’s mouth was intriguing.

We had several rainy and cloudy days in January which allowed for some gorgeous sunrises …

… and sunsets. There were so many good ones that it was hard to choose one!

So here is another sunset that includes our Arizona home.

We spent many days birding in January, so check out Part 2, which will be posted soon.