February 2023 in Arizona – All about the Birds

February 2023 in Arizona – All about the Birds

We did some birding almost every day in February. We visited several of our regular spots, but also went to different, unfamiliar spots.

The first new spot was La Posta Quemada Ranch which is on the southeast side of Tucson and within the Colossal Cave Mountain Park. “Posta Quemada” means “burnt station” after a nearby stage station that burned in the early 1860s. In the late 1980s, Pima County acquired the ranch. Nowadays, there are riding stables and hiking trails, which allows for good birding opportunities.

A Rufous-backed Robin had been hanging out there since December, so we finally decided to try and see it too. There were American Robins there as well, so that meant examining every robin carefully. The Rufous-backed Robin is a rare visitor from Mexico. It was hanging out near an old ranch house.

We also walked along the wash. The photo below gives you an idea of the terrain.

One of the most exciting sightings in February was of the Elegant Trogon. This time we walked up and down Madera Canyon in search of the bird. Shortly after noon, we were heading back down canyon again and uphill hikers, noticing our binoculars, told us they had just seen the trogon. So we picked up the pace and soon met a group of photographers that let us know we had just missed it, but it was heading downstream. Soon we caught up to it. It stayed on this perch in the sunlight for quite a long time, so we had a really good view of his iridescent back.

He flew to a nearby branch so we had good front views too. In a little while he moved further back and preened. We had a chance to show his location to several hikers. Such a beauty!

That day in early February was one of the warmest of the whole month. It was the only time all month that Doug wore shorts, so it was significant enough for a photo. He is posed in front of the famous Pyracantha bush which was now devoid of berries.

The next day was cooler when we went to try to see a Pine Warbler. Here’s a view of Wendy in the centre with several other birders. We might have had a quick glimpse of the warbler, but it was mixed in with multiple Yellow-rumped Warblers high in the trees. We had hoped that it might come down to the ground to allow us to see it better, but that didn’t happen. One of the positives of the day was that we got to talk with other birders; some we knew well, some that we hadn’t seen since the season before, and some that we got to know better. Another good thing was learning about a new birding spot. As you can probably discern from the photo, we were in a cemetery. The tall pines in the middle of the city were a draw for many species of birds. Red-breasted Nuthatches and Red Crossbills were other rarities that we found at this site.

The next day, we explored Catalina State Park some more. A pair of Long-eared Owls are winter residents and we were lucky enough to see them.

The day after, we went to a trail along a golf course in Green Valley, hoping to see a rare kingbird (Couch’s Kingbird). Our friend had seen it the afternoon before, so we were hopeful that we could too. And there were several other birders with the same high hopes.

We did see several Cassin’s Kingbirds which are mostly in the area in the summer, so seeing one in the winter was nice.

The next spot was one we visit regularly: Reid Park. Here’s another photo of the resident Wood Duck. We can never get enough of looking at him.

Kennedy Park is another spot we visit several times. This time, our target bird was a Bronzed Cowbird. They have cool looking red eyes! But they also hide in the trees, so we didn’t get a good photo. But Doug did get a good photo of the resident female Williamson’s Sapsucker.

While we were looking for that bird, we spotted another sapsucker. This one was also as rare as the other, but unexpected. This is an immature Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

Here’s a photo of Doug taking photos of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. You can see that this park also has tall pines. They must have planted these trees when they were building the park.

Kennedy Park is more than 162 acres and includes a ten acre lake. The lake is popular for fishing and also has plenty of waterfowl. These Muscovy Ducks must have been introduced, but that doesn’t make them any less interesting.

Here’s a Hammond’s Flycatcher that we saw another time that we visited Madera Canyon. They winter from Southern Arizona into Mexico and Central America, and are common in the summer where we live in BC.

We also saw a female Hepatic Tanager at Madera Canyon that day. They are year-round in the montane pine-oak forest of Madera Canyon. We watched her eat a large grasshopper. She’s just finishing up the end of it in the photo below.

Doug is likely taking a photo of the Hammond’s Flycatcher in the photo below, but the Hepatic Tanager was nearby in the same sort of vegetation.

Canoa Ranch Conservation Park is down in the valley near to Madera Canyon, so we often stop by before heading home. This time there was a pair of Hooded Mergansers.

We often stop by Christopher Columbus Park since it is fairly close to where we live. This time we were entertained by this Pied-billed Grebe. We thought at first that it wouldn’t be able to swallow the sunfish, but it persisted and managed to swallow the wide fish.

We ended the month with a successful “thrasher chase,” with a sighting of a LeConte’s Thrasher. We had tried to find this “life bird” three times before. This time, we left our place around 6:20 am and got to the spot just before 8 am. We walked out hopefully into the desert. Soon Wendy heard the thrasher singing so we followed the sound. It sang perched on a bush for over fifteen minutes as we gradually moved closer. This view of Doug taking a photo gives you an idea of the habitat of extremely arid and sparsely vegetated plains with saltbrush and creosote bush and lots of bare ground.

The photos that Doug took from that spot were fine for documentation purposes, but luckily for us, the thrasher ran along the ground to different bushes that happened to be closer to us. These three photos are the best out of the several that Doug took. It’s always cool to hear a bird singing and see its beak opening as it does.

We could tell that the area had had a lot of rain recently, because there were damp patches and puddles. These Desert Evening Primrose flowers were also blooming.

These photos were the highlights of our February birding trips. We’re looking forward to March when we should see more migrating birds.

February 2023 in Arizona: Part 1

February 2023 in Arizona: Part 1

We did a lot of birding in the first part of February, but we also walked our favourite loop near our place in Picture Rocks several times. Here’s one of our favourite views of Panther Peak from that trail. Most days were cool in the morning but warmed to about 20 degrees C.

We had a bit of a surprise on February 15, when we awoke to snow on the ground.

We went out into the yard before breakfast to get these photos, before the sunshine melted all the snow. The prickly pear cacti didn’t hold very much snow. The mesquite in the background is just starting to leaf out.

More snow stuck to the chain-fruit cholla.

By the third week in February, Wendy’s leg injury was finally healed enough to do a proper hike. We chose one of our favourites in Saguaro National Park (West): the Hugh Norris trail. It was a cool morning, so there was no need to get an early start. We had our snack when we reached the ridge after the steady uphill. If we’d had our binoculars we could have seen our place in the background.

Here’s Doug from that spot.

We saw a few different wildflowers along the ridge, although the wind made it difficult to get anything in focus. This glandularia was low enough and on a lee side, so it was the “wildflower of the day.”

We headed down the Esperanza trail and linked with the Dobe Wash trail. Just past the intersection, we stepped off the trail to get a better view of one of our favourite “grotesque” saguaros. This saguaro has lost an arm since we photographed it in 2020.

At our lunch spot, we noticed the nearby saguaro had the beginnings of new arms. Here’s Wendy taking a photo, so you have a sense of the scale.

Here’s the photo she took. It’s as if the saguaro has pimples bursting through its skin. We will be sure to return to see how fast it grows.

When the Dobe Wash trail reached the road, we crossed and joined the Bajada trail, which parallels the road for a short distance, then joins a wash. Mostly we walked on sand, but sometimes there was a section of grippy granitic rock. The whole hike was about eleven and a half kilometres and we did it in a leisurely four and a half hours.

On the last day of February, we stopped on our way home from birding at Picacho Peak State Park. It took us about twenty minutes to get up to the gate when we arrived around 10:30. By the time we left two hours later, there was a huge line and it seemed that every parking spot in the place was taken.

It was an amazing sight and worth the effort. We walked up from the De Anza Picnic Area, and soon we were alone on the trail.

So many California Poppies!

Of course, it’s best to get down low for a good photo.

Another view.

And to conclude, here are a couple of views around sunset at our place. This first one is ten minutes before sunset, looking west.

This photo was taken on a different day, about fifteen minutes after sunset. We don’t often see popcorn-like clouds like these.

This post includes photos from our activities on just a few days in February. Part two of this blog will be posted soon and will be all about our birding adventures.