March / April 2023 in Arizona – Part 3: Birding Farther Afield

March / April 2023 in Arizona – Part 3: Birding Farther Afield

At the end of March, we travelled to the Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona. We left early in the morning so we could stop along the way and see some birds in Willcox. Here’s a view of Cochise Lake in Willcox.

Here’s a closer view of the American Pelicans at the lake. They look huge compared to the Northern Shovelers swimming in front of them.

There were also some American Avocets.

Portal is on the east side of the Chiricahuas, and access roads are better from New Mexico. It’s possible to get to Portal over the mountains, but the road is impassable in the winter. Portal is a tiny village. The Portal Store (Cafe and Lodge) is the main building in “downtown.”

Just down the block is the post office, with the library is right beside it. That completes the tour of downtown. About 800 people live in the area.

We were staying at Cave Creek Ranch, but we were too early to check in, so we explored farther into the canyon.

We hiked up a short trail to a viewpoint to see this panorama. The rock walls are composed of fused volcanic tuff.

This is the view from the same spot in the opposite direction.

Sunrise from the ranch grounds was magnificent.

Here’s an early morning view from the patio in front of the office. Our unit was in the left low building in the background. The wild turkeys have gathered, anticipating a handout. The Cave Creek Ranch feeders are on the “must see” list for birders. The provided guidebooks have seen plenty of use.

This is the hummingbird we came to see: the Blue-throated Mountain Gem, and it was at Cave Creek Ranch. We saw this species in a couple of other places in the canyon, but the best views were at the ranch feeders.

This male Evening Grosbeak was also really close to the patio.

On our first full day, we drove farther into the canyon and hiked to Ash Springs. From the trail to the springs we got a good view of Winn Falls. The birds seemed to congregate at the spring area. The most interesting was a Yellow-eyed Junco. We were a little early in the season for a lot of the species, so we will visit later another year. There was too much water in the creek for us to safely cross, so we returned the way we came, rather than completing a loop.

We had our lunch at the John Hands Campground. The creek has been dammed at this location. Even though the creek is not in its natural state, the waterfall is still pretty.

That afternoon, we hiked a short way along the South Fork of Cave Creek, below impressive sheer cliffs..

The next day, we birded with friends that we hadn’t seen for years. It was by chance that we both came to Cave Creek on the same weekend. This photo was taken along the nature trail between the Visitor Centre and Sunny Flats Campground.

We took a few steps off the trail to get this view of Cave Creek.

This Painted Redstart was cavorting in the creekside willows.

That afternoon, we celebrated the serendipity of both couples booking the same weekend at Cave Creek Ranch. It was great to catch up and to get to know each other better.

We left the next morning, and headed out early to Stateline Road. Our goal was to find a Cassin’s Sparrow that we knew had been sighted along the road. Since it was a quiet road, our strategy was to stop as soon as we saw some birds moving. On our first stop, we were able to get a good view of the target bird. It was definitely not a sparrow that we would ever see in BC or even any other part of Canada.

The desert scrub along the road was also a good habitat for Bendire’s Thrasher, so we kept a lookout for one. And we were fortunate to see one perched in good light. It was our third sighting for the year, but the best photo.

Recent improvements to Willow Tank, that is farther south on Stateline Road, have meant that it is a dependable place to see several species of sparrows. The term “tank” is used to describe any man-made water hole in the desert, usually made to provide water to cattle. Sometimes the water is actually in a metal tank, other times it’s a depression that has been filled with water. Willow Tank has been fenced off from livestock, and now it benefits the birds.

Willow Tank has also been improved for birders to have good viewing opportunities. Here’s a view of the tank through an opening in a bird blind. There is no cost for anyone to visit Willow Tank. The enhancements benefit the birds as well as bringing tourist dollars into the nearby communities.

In late March and early April, we made two trips to Ramanote Canyon, in hopes of seeing a Rufous-capped Warbler. We didn’t see that bird, but we did experience an amazing landscape. Here’s a view of the canyon before we walk down a steep jeep track to the stream below.

We actually did see a species we had never seen, along the trail closer to the truck than the above photo. We saw two Scott’s Orioles. The female posed for a photo; we only got partial views of the male since he landed in the middle of the tree and was obscured by branches.

This photo was taken from the stream at the bottom of the steep hill on our second attempt. It was a chilly morning.

This was the view above the dam, which was about 500 metres from the stream crossing.

There was a faint trail, mostly put in by cattle. At the beginning it was fairly open and easy going.

Farther up the canyon the trail became a bit overgrown with prickly bushes.

Here’s a close-up of the bush, locally known as the “Wait-a-minute” bush (Mimosa aculeaticarpa.) It got that name because the prickles catch your clothing and you need to back up to get the thorn out, or risk a tear.

The warbler we were searching for likes sunny brushy habitat in foothill canyons. It stays low in the dense vegetation, so we spent time looking for movement, without any success. (A positive note: the birder in the photo did see the warbler, a few weeks later in a different location.)

Our trip home was uneventful, and when we arrived at our place, the snow had mostly melted. The bird species that we saw all winter in Arizona are making their way up to BC and soon there will be a dawn chorus cacophony.

The Fifth-wheel is all unpacked and cleaned and will be ready for our annual trip to Oregon in July. We might not do a blog post about that short trip, but we’ll post again in the fall when we go back to Arizona.

March 2023 in Arizona – Part 2: “Local” Birding

March 2023 in Arizona – Part 2: “Local” Birding

This blog post is about our March birding in the Tucson, Green Valley and Tubac areas.

On our regular monthly visit to Reid Park in central Tucson, we were lucky enough to see a female Belted Kingfisher fly over the smaller pond. She landed on a perch long enough for Doug to take a photo, then she made another couple of passes over the pond and was gone.

A Lewis’s Woodpecker has been hanging around Reid Park and the neighbourhood since the fall. We have seen it several times, but sometimes we only see it on a power pole. This time, the woodpecker was checking out the pine trees near the ball park and we were able to get some good views.

We returned to Box Canyon to try again to see the Five-striped Sparrow. It’s an impressive canyon. Here’s a view of the “waterfall,” which is usually dry or seeping. We saw the special sparrow in the gully just to the left of the white rock face (waterfall).

The Five-striped Sparrow’s range is limited, from Northwest Mexico to just into Arizona. It likes to live in brushy scrub on rocky slopes and can be very skulky unless it is singing from atop bushes.

We saw this Wilson’s Warbler from the bridge in Tubac. Because we were looking down at the bird, we had a good look at the male’s black cap.

The same day, we also birded at Santa Gertrudis Lane, which is just south of Tubac. We saw some interesting birds, but the highlight was seeing this White-tailed buck.

In the middle of March, we returned to the Tubac area and joined several others at the Hawk Watch at Ron Morriss Park. The park’s open space gives a good view of the sky and it’s right beside the Santa Cruz River, which has cottonwood trees that are favoured by the hawks when they rest overnight on their migration.

The Common Black Hawk was one of the hawks we had hoped to see. The first day we saw just one, but three days later, we saw twenty. Sometimes the birds are way up high, but the “Main Guy”shouts out which species he sees and a general sky location. The Common Black Hawk has very broad wings and an obvious tail band.

Here’s a photo of a Zone-tailed Hawk. It looks a lot like a Common Black Hawk, especially when perched. When it is flying, it is very similar to a Turkey Vulture, which may be an advantage when it is hunting prey. Both Common Black Hawks and Zone-tailed Hawks are rare and local, with US populations around 300 nesting pairs.

Doug’s favourite hawk is the Gray Hawk. It is rare and very local and regular at only a few locations near the Mexican border in mature trees along permanent streams. The US population is only about 100 nesting pairs. We see and hear Gray Hawks at several locations that we bird regularly. It’s always a pleasure to see one.

We saw this Great Egret on an unusual high perch at Canoa Historic Conservation Area. Its black feet are very obvious, which is one feature which distinguishes it from a Snowy Egret.

In February, we posted a photo of a group of birders on a golf course in Green Valley, all looking for a Couch’s Kingbird. We went another time in February with no success, and a couple of times in March. On our fourth attempt, we had good views of the bird for several minutes. That day, we just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Couch’s Kingbirds are common in some parts of Texas, but are rarely seen in Arizona.

This is a Common Merganser, which we see in Canada regularly. They winter down in Arizona, but we don’t often see them at a city park. This one was at Christopher Columbus Park in Tucson.

Some friends told us of a location where we could see a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl. We drove a couple hours south on a secondary road, then turned on to a decent dirt road, which became rockier as we progressed. We walked the final section of road until we reached a wash. It was a bit like searching for a geocache, since we had some coordinates to follow. Here’s Doug in the wash, taking photos of the owl.

The owls were quite far away, so these photos have been digitally enhanced. Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls are less than 7″ tall (17cm). They are active in daylight.

We were lucky enough to see the two owls together, and we could hear a third owl tooting in the distance.

We also considered ourselves very lucky on the day that we saw this Swamp Sparrow at Sweetwater Wetlands. We knew the area that this skulky bird hung out, and we had spent a few hours over several visits hoping to catch a glimpse of this elusive bird. On the day we saw it, we decided to wander by its favourite spot, “just in case.” We rounded the corner and the sparrow was out in full view. It moved to another perch long enough for a good photo. It was another case of being in the right place at the right time.

We had tried to see a Pine Warbler several times. We searched twice at the cemetery in Tucson (see the photo in the February blog) and we didn’t see the one that was reported beside the golf course in Green Valley when we were looking for the Couch’s Kingbird. But the day we went to give it our final try, it was almost too easy. The bright yellow bird, which mostly hides in pine trees, chose to perch in a leafless mesquite and also foraged on the ground. It was the first time we had seen this species. A lifer!

Here’s a photo of Doug taking a picture of the Pine Warbler. He’s standing beside the De Anza Trail in Green Valley, beside a tall fence (as you can tell from the shadows) that is meant to keep the golf balls from landing on hikers.

We have one more blog to post from March, about our trip to Portal, Arizona and Cave Creek. The scenery was stunning and we saw some new birds. Coming soon.

March 2023 in Arizona – Part 1

March 2023 in Arizona – Part 1

This blog post is about our hiking and biking. We have also included several flower photos, since the wetter season has meant a spectacular flower bloom.

We took advantage of the good weather in early March and went hiking. The first hike was one we do every season right from our gate: Panther Peak. The beginning of the trail is pretty standard and easy to follow. The route goes up a gully and soon we were navigating boulders. Doug is standing on the “trail” in the photo below.

Here’s a view of Wendy on the descent. (We’ve included plenty of summit photos in previous blogs.) Marana and the town of Oro Valley are in the mid-ground. Snow is visible on Mt. Lemmon.

The next week we joined our friends from Cranbrook on a hike in the Tortolita Mountains. The photo below was taken at our traditional snack spot on the Alamo Springs trail. We usually sit on the bench and admire the interesting rock formations. This time there were a couple of Canyon Wrens singing and flying around. We thought maybe they were nest building.

We continued along the ridge. This photo was taken as we started our decent back to the Wild Burro wash.

We also got out on our bikes again. We rode on “The Loop” a couple of times to get in shape for mountain biking. The photo below is of a huge bird sculpture by a newly rerouted section of the trail. It’s near the Ina bridge, where the Santa Cruz River flooded in mid-January. (See the January blog post for photos.) The sculpture is titled: Big Year and the artist is Trevor O’Tool.

We finally got to Tortolita Preserve for our first mountain biking of 2023 on March 15. We were trying to beat the rain, but is started sprinkling on us shortly after we started our ride. We rode almost half-way, then turned around. Coming back, we got a photo of a recently fallen saguaro. It started pouring just as we reached the truck.

Here’s a view of a different section of the Tortolita Preserve trail on a beautiful day.

This Pipeline Swallowtail was beside the birding trail at Patagonia Lake State Park. It was near where we were hoping to see a Green Kingfisher, so it was our consolation prize.

With the rainy weather, wildflowers bloomed all over. This Notch-leaved Phacelia was on our local trail we’ve named “Panther Wash Loop.”

There were also many of these flowers. They are Blue Dicks or Purplehead in the Brodiaea family.

We watched this Desert Spiny Lizard one sunny day at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

Parry Penstemon is the most common native Penstemon in the desert around Tucson. It adds a lot of colour to the cactus garden at the Desert Museum.

This hedgehog cactus was also blooming.

This year was the first time that we had seen an Organ Pipe Cactus bloom.

These California Poppies were blooming beside the road through Saguaro National Park (West). We passed them almost every day, so we stopped one time for photos.

The unsettled weather meant we had some interesting sunrises. This one was on March 15, the same day we went mountain biking and got caught in the rain.

Later the same day, it cleared up, but started sprinkling again, which gave us a good view of this full rainbow.

The next day was also cloudy, but there was still enough contrast to see this Gambel’s Quail on its perch. This is one of our favourite snags along the road to our place.

Our first dinner outside was on March 28. In 2021, we ate dinner outside several times in February.

To wrap it up, here’s our favourite sunset photo of March.

March was a busy month. We’ll be posting two more March blogs; one about the birding around Tucson and another about our trip to Cochise County (Willcox, Portal and Cave Creek.)

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.