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.

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.

December 2022 – Part 2: Birding

December 2022 – Part 2: Birding

This blog post is all about the places we went birding and the birds that we saw. We made an effort to go to new birding spots. One of them was Montosa Canyon, which is on the Mt. Hopkins Road on the west side of the Santa Rita Mountains. We didn’t see any rarities but it was more of a reconnaissance trip so we’ll know the area better for our next visits. And maybe on our next visit, we’ll remember to take a photo of the area. Anyway, there were several Hutton’s Vireos and Doug captured this one in good light. A Hutton’s Vireo looks a lot like a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, except chunkier and slower moving.

Canoa Historic Ranch is close to Montosa Canyon, so we made a stop there. This Snow Goose has taken up residence. It’s a juvenile which is confirmed by its dingy gray plumage.

Another day we familiarized ourselves with a small section of Box Canyon. We watched this almost dry waterfall for over an hour. Some of the birds were below us, some were high on the ridge and some mostly stayed in the middle. It was interesting to see the wildlife “wake up” as the sun hit the rocks. We also saw a family of coatis scrambling among the rocks.

After talking to some birding friends, we learned about another part of Box Canyon to explore. This spot was above an old dam and therefore flatter. We visited in a cold snap, and there were still remnants of snow from a recent storm. There were no “special” birds on this trip, but we’ll be ready when they are sure to arrive in the spring.

And we went back one more time, after finding out about a creek with flowing water. There were several American Robins in this habitat.

This mesquite tree provided a micro-environment for a rare bird for Arizona. A Black-throated Blue Warbler got side-tracked on his way to the Caribbean and decided that the mesquite in the yard of a NE Tucson condominium, beside a popular hiking trail was his favourite spot.

The fence and the tangle of branches made viewing difficult, but Doug was able to get a “doc shot,” which means it wasn’t the greatest photo, but it was enough for identification purposes and documentation. We spent a few hours watching this pretty bird as he chased other birds away from his chosen tree and ate insects that were attracted to the sapsucker holes on the tree trunks.

We saw this Greater Pewee at Madera Canyon, one of our regular birding spots. Its bi-colour bill is distinctive.

El Rio Open Space Preserve is also a regular stop. The Town of Marana has made improvements on the former gravel pit. Wendy is looking through the scope at the waterfowl: lots of Mallards, Northern Pintails, Ring-necked Ducks and Green-winged Teals, and only one Redhead. Finding the one Redhead in among around a hundred other ducks is a similar exercise to the children’s book, “Where’s Waldo?”

Along the northern side of the pond, there is a trail that heads into the rough grasses and brush. There were several sparrows at the start of the trail, so we ventured farther.

We were lucky enough to see a female Lazuli Bunting. Lazuli Buntings spend their summers in the north and pass through the Tucson area on their way to Mexico where they winter. Perhaps this one is one of the few that will winter in this area.

Another day, we set out to see a Rusty Blackbird. Several people had seen a pair of these rare birds at a waterhole in Las Cienegas National Conservation Area. It was a popular enough bird for the location to be named, “stake-out for Rusty Blackbird” on eBird. We waited for about an hour for the blackbirds to show up. There was a very energetic Vermilion Flycatcher and an actively feeding Wilson’s Snipe that kept us entertained while we waited.

Here’s the male Rusty Blackbird. They are found in much of Canada during the summer, (although we have never seen one there), and spend winters in Eastern United States.

Here is the pair; the female is actually “rustier” than the male bird.

On our way home, we drove through Patagonia and stopped at the Patagonia Lake State Park. Here’s a view from the start of the birding trail that overlooks some feeders. Somewhere among the large groups of sleeping birds, there was a Greater Scaup (another rarity for the area) but it was impossible to tell. We’re not very concerned if we can’t see this bird in Arizona, because we know we’ll see at least one in the summer in Canada.

Now to a different kind of “stake-out.” This time we were trying to see an Elegant Trogon in Madera Canyon. It had been seen regularly for the last few days from this spot under the sycamores. In the picture below, at least one person is looking towards the pycantha tree that we all expected the bird would visit.

There were a few other birds around like this Bridled Titmouse. We hung around for a few hours. Some people gave up and left and others talked about if they left the trogon would show up.

A friend took our picture since not much was happening.

And all at once, things happened. One of the women who had left went to picnic site downstream from where we were. She found the trogon! She texted her friend who was still up with the big group and the message was relayed to us all. We hustled back to the truck and drove five minutes down to the next parking area. Someone relocated it and we all got a quick view of the trogon before it flew below.

Most people went back to the parking area, but Wendy scrambled down the bank on an animal path hoping to get a better view. Doug followed and we were rewarded with amazing views of a male Elegant Trogon. His red chest is very striking,

but his shimmery green back is exquisite.

The Elegant Trogon perched long enough for Doug to take a photo with his iPhone. That gives an indication about how close we were.

We had several minutes with the trogon to ourselves, but we were happy to share the experience with others. Here’s a photo of a couple of the areas top birders getting some good shots. We also had the chance to point out the bird to casual hikers. Eventually it flew farther down the slope, out of view, and we felt very privileged to have had such an awe-inspiring experience.

We made another trip to Las Cienegas Natural Conservation Area. There are six types of ecosystems in the 42 000 acre block of now-protected public land. In the photo below, Doug is looking over semi-desert grassland. From this spot, we saw a Chihuahuan Meadowlark and four species of Raptors: Red-tailed hawks, Northern Harriers, American Kestrels and White-tailed Kites.

Here’s Doug’s photo of one of the White-tailed Kites.

Another day, we went into the scrub desert just west of Picture Rocks to find a Bendire’s Thrasher. We found the bird, and had good views through the scope. The photo was good enough to prove we had seen the thrasher, but we didn’t include it here.

This photo of a Black Vulture was the best one of the outing. It was a cold morning and we think the vulture was waiting for the desert to heat up so it could ride the thermals.

We ended the year with a great sighting of a Blue-headed Vireo, from the bike path along the Santa Cruz River about twenty minutes from our place. One of our birding friends told us that this is only the second time that this species has been seen in Tucson.

We had a great birding month and we’ve made a great start on the new year. We’re already prepping next month’s blog which will be ready in early February.

December 2022 in Arizona: Part 1

December 2022 in Arizona: Part 1

Part one of our December posts is about biking, hiking and other activities. Part two is all about our birding excursions.

We got back to mountain biking at the Tortolita Preserve. Here’s a view of the great “Strongarm” saguaro cactus that fell down this year in August. The trail has been rerouted around its remains. The decay is now evident. We posted many photos of this cactus in previous blogs.

Here’s a photo that Doug took of Wendy on Christmas day, also at the preserve.

We did a little bit of hiking, but we did most of our walking when we were birding. Here’s a photo of Wendy at the Sweetwater Preserve, and even though the focus was on the hike, we carried our binoculars and saw several birds.

And we visited our favourite saguaros on our walks on State Trust Land. We don’t need to drive anywhere to get to this hike; we just walk down the road from our place.

Every month we like to post at least one flower. This sulphur cosmos was blooming at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

Mostly our photos show gorgeous blue sky because that’s the standard weather for around here, but we did have several wet, rainy days this month. Here’s a view of the Panther ridge taken on a neighbourhood walk between rain showers. The cactus in the foreground is Chain-fruit cholla, one of the “jumping chollas” that are native to this area. If a person or animal gets too close, parts of the cactus break off and stick to their clothing or fur, seemingly “jumping” off.

One rainy day we went to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum and viewed all the indoor exhibits. We saw exhibits that we had only seen a few times or not at all, because we usually spend our time at the outdoor spaces of the grounds.

The museum includes an aquarium that includes marine life from the Sea of Cortez. The Sea of Cortez is surrounded by the Sonora desert, so is an included environment in the museum’s displays.

This beautiful fish is a False Moorish Idol. (Heniochus sp.) These butterfly fish are not actually found in the Sea of Cortez, but they look very similar to a true Moorish Idol that does live there. Moorish Idols are very sensitive fish that don’t do well in captivity, so the Heniochus fish are used in their place.

On rainy days, as well as fine days, Wendy worked on the free-motion quilting on a quilt that she pieced in the trailer a few years ago. She quilted cactus motifs (mostly saguaros) in each block.

Here is the completed quilt. Wendy finished her “Arizona Quilt” by Christmas as a present to herself.

Wendy also completed this quail hanging from a purchased panel for Doug for Christmas. It’s about the size of a placemat.

It’s hard to show in a photograph, but the quail seems to puff out from the densely quilted background, giving some dimension to the piece.

Here is our Christmas display of doves, cardinals, lights and fake greenery above the valance. And there’s a spot for our little fox mascot.

Many evenings, we enjoyed “happy hour” outside in from of our propane firepit. This photo was taken on New Year’s Eve when the sunset light reflected in clouds in the southern sky.

Another day, the ridge to the east of us seemed on fire from the alpen glow at sunset.

We’ve experienced many beautiful sunsets this month. Here’s one of the better ones.

Here’s a view through the decorative sliding gate that leads from the property.

We wish you a happy new year. The part two post will be all about birding and will be posted soon.

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.

A Short Trip to Arizona : Sept. 2022

A Short Trip to Arizona : Sept. 2022

We took our fifth-wheel to its winter home this September, so we didn’t have to worry about bad weather when we go down again in November. However, we did get to experience some weather with the tail end of the “monsoon season.” The Arizona monsoon season is brought on by a shift in wind direction which brings the moisture from the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. The combination of desert heat and moisture mean that there are periodic rain showers and thunderstorms. Here’s our site located just outside of Tucson, with our view of a ridge in Saguaro National Park.

It was warmer than we like and very humid. We avoided cooking inside, so we used our portable induction plate and barbecue a lot.

The clouds made for interesting skies. Here’s a view of El Rio Open Space Preserve, where we often go birding. We saw many of the birds we are familiar with: a Greater Roadrunner, Abert’s Towhees, Gila Woodpeckers, and both Green and Great Blue Herons, for example. Some of the waterfowl were a little harder to identify, because they were not in breeding plumage, so we spent some time discerning Blue-winged Teals from Cinnamon Teals. But we could always count on easily identifying American Coots.

Another of our “go-to” birding spots is Reid Park, a park in the centre of the city. We were lucky to see this Forster’s Tern swooping over the pond.

Madera Canyon is about an hour south of our place in Picture Rocks and at a higher elevation, so it was a more comfortable temperature for us. The picnic area usually yields several species of birds, but the day we went, there were only four. But the twenty-two Turkey Vultures that were roosting at the picnic site (on the tables, on the ground, in the trees) made up for it.

The feeders at Santa Rita Lodge are within walking distance of the picnic site, so we walked up to see what was there. We were so early that the hummingbird feeders weren’t out yet, but the regulars (Lesser Goldfinches, Acorn Woodpeckers and Mexican Jays) entertained us.

The star of the show, the Rivoli’s Hummingbird also made an appearance. In this photo, he is waiting patiently (?) for the nectar to appear.

Next we birded the Proctor Road trail in Madera Canyon, and ran across a mixed flock with Bridled Titmice and Nashville and Black-throated Gray Warblers. They flitted though the trees making a good photo difficult to obtain. We were finished there by 10 am, so we drove down to the Tubac area.

We like the Anza trail that goes along the Santa Cruz River and is accessed at Santa Gertrudis Lane, especially on this day, because it was shaded and it was getting hot. We saw a new bird for us: a Thick-billed Kingbird. These kingbirds winter in Mexico and only come up in the summer to a few Arizona locations with cottonwoods along permanent streams. This guy was hanging around a little longer than the rest of them, which was lucky for us.

There were a pair of Inca Doves in the trees along the riverbank. All their feathers are dark-edged which creates a beautiful scaly pattern.

We love the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. In the hot months, they open at 7:30 am, so one day we got there for opening. This “on-glove” Burrowing Owl was just outside the entrance. They are small owls (less than 25 cm / 10 in) with long legs.

We saw another owl in a covered spot inside the ground of the museum. The docent who was handling this Barn Owl shared lots of interesting information about this species and owls in general. Barn Owls are strictly nocturnal and rely on their acute hearing to catch their prey of rodents and small creatures. The Great-horned Owl is their predator, so by avoiding the lighter parts of the night when those owls are hunting, they stay safer.

We were lucky enough to see lizards on this visit. This Clark Spiny Lizard was in the lizard enclosure which we always check, but rarely see any lizards. It definitely was warm enough for it to be moving around. Its body size (snout to vent) was about 13 cm or 5 in.

This Spiny-tailed Iguana was climbing the rocks near the entrance to the museum. Although they are not native to Arizona, they are found in the Sonora Desert in Mexico. They were introduced to the museum grounds in the 1970s and have free range of the grounds. They haven’t been reported off of the museum grounds, but perhaps if they did leave, they would fall prey to coyotes, bobcats and hawks. This one was about 60 cm (24 in) long from head to tail.

The ocotillo leaves were the biggest we’ve ever seen, probably due to all the rainfall. Later in the year, the ocotillo will revert to looking like dead sticks until it rains again.

This Graham Fishhook cactus with red fruit was growing in the shade of a Palo Verde tree. This small cactus was about 10cm (4 in) tall, so its easy to miss.

This Mexican Lime Barrel is one of the flashier cacti, and the only cactus we saw blooming. It is native to Mexico.

We saw some wonderful insects. The most colourful was this Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly.

The Pipeline swallowtail caterpillar feeds on plants in the Aristolochia genus. The docent that was in the butterfly garden showed us which plants they eat, and we found the caterpillar. The caterpillar’s body stores some of the plant toxins which makes them poisonous to predators.

When we were watching the butterfly with our binoculars, this Praying Mantis came into focus. Mantises are an order of insects that contain over 2,400 species, so we can’t specify which kind this one is. All mantises have triangular heads with bulging eyes.

We saw this Yellow Garden spider when we were birding in near Tubac. It’s body was about the size of a loony, so it was probably a female because they are generally bigger than males.

Since it was so hot, we got up before dawn so we could be biking by 7 am. Here’s Wendy at the Tortolita Preserve. Notice how lush the foliage is.

Here’s a photo of the same area from early 2021, with sparser vegetation. We’ve included this photo of the famous saguaro cactus, (Strong-arm) because it toppled over in August of 2022. Look at the next photo for its current state.

This photo was taken from almost the same spot as the previous one. All that is left standing of Strong-arm is the base, with all the arms now on the ground. The trail has been re-routed around the debris and it will be left to rot in place. It is thought that it was 150 – 200 years old, but it could be older. Experts believe it died from old age.

A blog post would not be complete without a sunset shot. The clouds added a different dimension.

We made our way home with a side-trip to New Mexico to bird at Bosque del Apache NWR. There was nothing remarkable; the birding is better there from November to March. We checked out the nearby Sevilleta NWR which had plenty of swallows on the hot afternoon we visited.

We stopped in Green River, Utah for the night. The next day we drove through Salt Lake City and stopped just north of SLC at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge to break-up the long drive. We had great views of American Pelicans, American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts as well as huge flocks of migratory waterfowl. We made it to Dillon, Montana that day.

Our final day’s drive was from Dillon to home, with a short walk into the Ninepipe NWR (Trumpeter Swans, (more pelicans and lots of waterfowl) and a break for lunch at our favourite restaurant at Tamarack Brewing in Lakeside, Montana.

So, it’ll be a month or two until our next post.

Birding near Tucson, Arizona: April 2022

Birding near Tucson, Arizona: April 2022

After we got back from Costa Rica near the end of March, we went out birding with the camera about fifteen times. This blog includes photos of some of the birds we saw.

Sweetwater Wetlands was the spot we visited the most. The trees had leafed out and were full of warblers (Yellow, Yellow-rumped, Lucy’s and Wilson’s)

This Yellow Warbler was singing high in the branches of a dead tree. Just as Doug focused and took its picture, it took off in flight.

We saw a Black-crowned Night-Heron on a couple of our visits.

We saw an American Bittern more times this year than we ever had before. This sighting was extra special for us because we were by ourselves when we saw the bird fly into the reeds. On all the other times, other people had seen the bird first and pointed it out. Here’s a photo of the bittern in its “You can’t see me, I’m just another reed” pose.

The pond at El Rio Open Space Preserve had been dry for an number of months. Marana Parks had done some rehabilitation work, removing overgrown trees along the shore and cattails that were encroaching the pond. Here’s a view looking south of the banks that were built up at the far end, taken about a week after they started filling the pond.

There were some waterfowl, but more will likely arrive later. This Abert’s Towhee with seeds in its mouth was in a drier area surrounding the pond. Abert’s Towhees are usually found in pairs; when you see one, its mate is usually nearby.

This is an Ash-throated Flycatcher, with its short bushy crest.

We visited the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum a couple of times. Wendy is looking at a Cooper’s Hawk sitting on the highest horizontal branch on the right.

Here’s a close-up photo of the same bird. This Cooper’s Hawk was calling frequently from the same perch, so we were able to locate it easily.

Every time we visit the cactus garden at the Desert Museum, we check out the Cactus Wren nest. We saw the wrens building this nest earlier this year and now they are feeding chicks. Here’s a shot of a Canyon Wren exiting the nest.

The Desert Museum is a great place to photograph hummingbirds. This is a female Anna’s Hummingbird.

On our last visit in April, we were lucky enough to see a pair of Hooded Orioles. They usually nest in the palms on the museum grounds. Here’s a photo of a male Hooded Oriole. The “hood” in this case is the yellow top and sides of the head.

Every month we try to visit Reid Park. Even though it is a city park with lawns, ball fields, playgrounds and picnic sites, it attracts a large number of birds. Many of the birds are waterfowl that enjoy either of the two lakes. This Neotropic Cormorant is drying its feathers after diving for fish. Cormorants’ feathers are not water resistant which allows the bird to dive deeper, but requires the bird to dry its feathers before it can fly.

This male Mexican Duck was feeding in a small stream. His plumage is similar to a female Mallard, but he has the characteristic yellow bill of a male. Until recently, Mexican Ducks were considered a sub-species of Mallards.

We went birding in Madera Canyon, not only because there are lots of birds there, but also because it is a bit cooler because of its higher elevation. This is a Cassin’s Vireo. At home in BC, we usually only recognize this bird by its distinctive song because it usually stays hidden in the foliage.

This is probably the first photo that Doug has captured of a Pacific-slope Flycatcher.

We made a last visit to Tubac, about an hour an a half south of Tucson. The female Rose-throated Becard was building a new nest, so she was easier to locate than other times. Birders come from all over to see this species because they are found in only a few spots in the US.

This Summer Tanager has returned to the area. Summer Tanagers are long-distance neotropical migrants that winter in southern Mexico and northwest South America. Their favourite foods are bees and wasps.

Just as the “summer birds” are returning to the Tucson area, we “snowbirds” need to head home. We’ll be taking a break from posting blogs until we travel again in the summer. Until then…