Monday, April 30, 2012


Neotropic Cormorants
On a tip from several birders, I discovered that near the Sweetwater Wetlands, there is a park with a lake and an island!  And it was here that I discovered my best views of Herons, Egrets, and Neotropic Cormorants!  They had been flying into the wetlands but not sticking around......Where were they going?
Thanks to a tip off from my friend, I was able to visit this park for the first time and find the Great Blue Heron rookery located on the "island" in the middle of the lake. Granted it's not Lake Michigan big, but it was a larger lake stocked with fish and that's were I found all my larger water birds. 
It was fun to stop here.  How long have I lived in Tucson and never been to this area?  It makes me think that there are more of these little gems hidden around town.   We arrived at the park and quickly identified the island in the lake.  It was far away from humans for the herons to build their nesting area.
The Neotropic Cormorants are strange birds but they all hang together in a group.  The eye color, long neck, and slinky water movements sometimes remind me of a snake, a seal, or the lockness monster.
While the Neotropic Cormorant freaks me out a bit, the opposite can be said of the graceful Great Egret.  These birds weren't with the Cormorants or Herons but off to the side of another lake.  Absolutely gorgeous birds.....
It is always bizarre for me to see water in the desert. But stranger still are the birds that hang around these water holes....
The Christopher Columbus Park is located off of Silverbell road and is near Pima Animal Control.  It is also one of the few lakes stocked with fish in the city.
I had a lot of bird sightings which included a variety of smaller birds like the Vermillian Flycatcher, House Sparrow, etc.   There were also a lot of butterflies in the area.
During this day, I met up again with Sally and Robert and they were such a wonderful couple.  I laughed a lot because they both were very similiar to other birding couples I've met.  One is the extreme birder while the other enjoys hanging out with the other person and is the camera support.  That's my relationship with Pat as well.  We laughed a lot because they had some wonderful couple sparring going on.....and it was good for Pat to see because we have the same discussions/playful fights.  "You said you'd only be 15 minutes!!!  It's now a half hour later!":)  What is love if it wasn't for this kind of stuff?  And to be honest, I would miss that joking/serious poking at one another.  It's nice to know that we aren't the only ones who have these "discussions". 
So in the middle of this desert city, you will find an oasis here and there.  You just have to keep your eyes and ears open for them. Or ask other birders:)
And speaking of Oasis...check out El Presidio Gardens own little Oasis!!!  Two hummingbird nests!!!!  Here's Mom on her eggs:)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Dinosaur Link

Random thoughts to begin your day. Exploring the world of birds is quite exciting and there never seems to be a boring one in the batch.  On the way back from a trek in the mountains, we stopped at the Rooster Cogburn Ranch near Picacho Peak off of I-10. 
I've passed this place a billion times and have always wanted to stop.  What was different this time?  I had a friend with a camera who said, "Why not?" And so it was done.  Standing among these giants I found myself thinking about a recent discovery made in China about dinosaurs.  These birds reminded me so much of Jurassic park that it tripped me out a bit.  In fact, they have the nasty habit of pecking you if you're not watching.  My friend found out the hard way:)
So to make this post interesting here are some facts about this incredibly cool bird.  Are ostriches related to dinosaurs?  Although modern reptiles were once thought to be the closest relatives of Tyrannosaurus rex, more recent evidence indicates a closer relationship between T-rex and the ostrich.

Similarities Between Tyrannosaurus Rex and the Ostrich

Tyrannosaurus rex had large powerful hindlimbs, long in proportion to their bodies. The ostrich also has heavy long powerful legs, strong enough to kill a lion. The fossil skeleton of an early tyrannosaurid found in China appeared to be coated with filamentous structures identified as the precursors of feathers. It was suggested that, despite not having discovered any large tyrannosaural specimens with protofeathers, it is possible they existed.
Today scientists are making a lot of discoveries that strengthen their theory that dinosaurs and birds are linked tightly together.  The question is, "Which group evolved from the other?" Digs around the world, like in the Gobi Desert, are providing evidence that dinosaurs may fall into two with feathers and the other without. 
"The newly discovered fossil of Microraptor lived about 130 million years ago, during the early Cretaceous period, in what is now northeastern China. The latest depictions of the beast, whose feathery adornments may have extended to other Microraptor species, suggest it looked similar to a crow, even though non-avian dinosaurs had already separated from the ancestors of modern birds by that time." Source
I actually felt fear.  If I were thrown into a pen with these birds, I would actually be worried about my life.  They way they walked, their height, and their rapid beak attack made me think twice about approaching them.  Are they dangerous? Anyone who's seen Hitchcock's classic film The Birds may feel a little uneasy around pointy beaks and razor-sharp talons. An ostrich attack, however, is straight out of Jurassic Park. Like that movie's velociraptors, ostriches are fast--they can run at up to 45 mph--and they have a sharp nail on each of their feet that is capable of slicing a person open with one kick. Unlike velociraptors, however, an ostrich can reach more than nine feet tall and 350 pounds. Larger than most people:)
And here is one more tidbit you should know before visiting the ranch. Ostriches love man-made objects, especially shiny ones, so before you go out on safari or onto an ostrich farm leave all your jewelry behind and do not display shiny or dangling objects when near ostriches. Even the most mild mannered of ostriches practice investigative pecking, and a peck at an earring or your eyeglasses - or your eyes, for instance, could result in serious injury. Or your friends finger:)
My friend has only the short lense for her nice Nikon.  She got a little too close to the birds and had a peck at the head as well. I laughed, but had it been me, I don't think I would have been smiling very much.  The Ranch is a lot of fun.  Bring the kids as they will have a good time feeding the goats, donkeys, etc. It was a nice way to end the day after a hike. Here's the link if you are interested.  It's about 35-40 minutes north of Tucson.  Until tomorrow....

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Forest of Lorikeets

Hello fellow bloggers,
Today's post is one of those fun ones.  I should be in the garden more...and I am....but on my off time from work, etc., I find myself exploring the little nooks and crannies of Arizona and it's fun. Today is another visit to the Ostrich Ranch, but I'll be exploring the interesting world of parrots. You saw these guys last time on a post titled "Splash" last week. I have a lot of experience with them and for some reason, they are attracted to me anywhere I go. 

My family has never raised Lorikeets before so it was interesting to watch them hop and fly around.....and they also had some fun playtime while we were there. They come from the Australian region and colonies can be found all over the New Zealand, Australian and Polynesian islands.  So I guess it makes sense to have a Forest of Lorikeets on an Ostrich ranch. 
My focus today is how to handle a parrot if one approaches you:)  I am very relaxed around most birds and they can sense that emotion.  I walked into the caged area and I had them all over me.  A young girl asked me if I worked there.  I laughed and told her no.  She then asked, "Why do you have so many all over you?"  I told her to stay still and freeze(because kids like to chase:).  Right after I said that, she froze and one landed on her head:)  And then the kid was worried about it pooping on her.  Ahhhh.....the poop.  Everyone wants a parrot on their shoulder but they don't want the nasty stuff on their clothes. But it all comes with the territory:)
Now those of you who have parrots/parakeets may have your birds trained to not "do the deed" on your shoulders or hair, but if this isn't the case, I find that having them on your hand and moving them away from your body will teach them to poo off body:)  But as with everything, it does take time and patience.  The good thing is that this group of birds is really smart.
Watch your jewelry, buttons on shirts or glasses.  They love this stuff and will pick or bite them off with their beaks:)  Personally I love when they go to your ear and "whisper secrets".  It tickles a bit. 
And I'd like to remind my blogger friends that I'm not one for caging birds at all.  If you do have birds, a large cage like the one I was in is really ideal.  They had A LOT of space to fly.  There were trees for them to play on as well as the bird houses to nest. When I lived at home, I'd train our Quaker and Lovebirds to escape their jails.  My siblings and parents would get irritated that I did that but sometimes they just wanted to get out and say, "Hi."  Of course when the bigger birds did it, everyone cleared the room because they inflicted bodily harm:)
I remember one time taking a nap on the couch and our green Quaker opened up his cage and walked on the floor over to where I was "sleeping".  Now I knew he was coming, but I pretended to sleep and see what he would do.  He crept up onto the couch and walked onto my chest.  Chuckie then moved over to my face and proceeded on playing with my ears and nibbling on my hair.  When I woke up, he began to giggle and whisper, "Chuckie." and then start laughing.  We taught him his name and he was quite the lover.  He's still alive and kicking by the way.  Yeah, they live a long time! Think of your wills.  On a trip to Panama this summer, I was reminded that some zoos or refuges take in birds that are not wanted by the surviving family members.  I also had this discussion with my parents:)
Several birds were flying my way!:)
Another point I want to make about parrots....especially the big ones like Macaws or African Greys.  If they feel like they're going to fall or your hand is not steady, they will grab onto you with their beak or sharp feet.  Provide a strong support when extending your arm or be prepared for bite marks, scratches or blood:)
But this is why I'll never keep birds as pets.  They need to fly.  They need social interaction.  Most people are so busy that they don't have enough time for their birds.  And they'll outlive us which is not fair at all to them.  This is just my humble opinion but birds make strong connections either with another bird or the bird owner.  We all die and when we do, many birds go through a deep depression.  They will pick their feathers or simply not want to be with another owner again.   We've rescued many birds because people die all the time and their kids didn't want them at all. My mother being in the pet industry usually seems to be the contact person for relocating larger birds to new homes.  In fact, today my mother has an African Grey because of situations like these.
One other item I'd like to bring up.  Here in Arizona(and elsewhere), it is vital that you make sure you know where you are getting your bird from!  Please verify where the bird came from and only adopt from trusted sources.  On my travels to Central America and the Amazon, I have witnessed bird populations decimated due to poaching which is creating mass extinction of these birds in their areas.  I remember watching my mother raise parrots from eggs.  It's quite the operation:)
Also be aware that some states like California will check your vehicles and body search you for the dreaded Quaker that has escaped into their enviroment.  This bird has been introduced to many parts of the country and has done well:)  I remember my trip from Arizona to California when I did my big move.  We were stopped and I had my Peach Faced Lovebird with me. It was no joke, but my Dad and I giggled a bit.  They'd love our Quakers:) 
Years later, the Peach Faced Lovebird would become a new addition to Arizona's birding list.  Apparently many of them escaped and created colonies around Phoenix and several bodies of water in the area.  The Peach-faced Lovebird is a very pretty small parrot native to South-western Africa. Like many caged birds, accidental releases in urban areas are common. Unlike most accidental releases, this parrot has the potential to rapidly adapt to desert habitats in Arizona.  Who knew?!!
So that's my commentary and opinion:)  Parrots are fun birds to observe in the wild.  Best chances to see them?  Well, like most things, it's usually bright and early.  You'll probably need to get on a boat and cross a river or two:) Or maybe the ocean.  Listen.  Because they are loud critters. People would always say my house sounded like the Amazon.  Then I went to the Amazon and found out why!  More tomorrow....

Friday, April 27, 2012

Coral Honeysuckle

Pics taken on the North side of El Presidio
My feature plant this month is the Coral Honeysuckle.  Tucsonans LOVE this vine for the colorful blooms during our spring season. A slow growing plant for me at El Presidio, but one that has recently produced several flowers off the vine. This Coral Honeysuckle has been slow to grow on the North side of our building.  It receives some sun but not the scalding hot temps of the Western side.
I'm not crazy about the vine as it doesn't perform well over the entire year and I like plants that will produce either green leaves or flowers all year round.  A resident wanted to try this vine out and so we did.  It needs excellent morning sun with some shade from the intense summer sun.  But during the summer it looks ragged and I wasn't crazy about it all.  However with spring here, the vine has grown some and the flowers provide some welcome color.
There are better Honeysuckles out there for our Tucson area and they are important as they attract a lot of hummingbirds and butterflies to our gardens. Mexican Honeysuckle is your best choice for the Tucson area and enjoys full sun.   It's not fussy about soil and is fairly drought tolerant.  Make sure the soil has good drainage. If you're interested more about this type of vine, check out Hall's Honeysuckle.This is your best bet but there are other choices out there.  Ask your local gardener and you'll find a variety of Honeysuckle as a vine or bush to suite your needs.  More tomorrow....

Thursday, April 26, 2012

El Presidio Spring 2012

This year I lost 2 plum trees and a barrel cactus.  However the garden is looking great.  Like every gardener, we experiment some with different plants, place what we know to perform, and put in a couple that need a little extra care:)  But El Presidio is on year 3 and we're on track.  There are lots of things that are working and it's making a difference.   A special thank you to everyone for coming and helping out around the property.  It helps both Donnie and myself focus on watering and jump start our hot summer.  The oak trees really get me down with the acorns, leaves, and pollen.  I love these trees but when most gardeners are prepping up their yards for spring and summer, we're going through fall here!  It can be frustrating.  And the pollen gets everywhere and makes my eyes itchy.
Sitting out during our HOA meeting, I really LOVED what was going on around our gardens.  The plants looked great and this year, we've added birds....lots of them!  Just by adding the sounds of birds chirping to our property has created a very unique atmosphere.....and an oasis. I want color, sound, and purpose.  I've written this before but I'll write it again.  The goal is to have our gardens provide shade, fruit, and fun while being xeric and wildlife friendly.  Just no mice. 
Aloe Bloom
I sat back and really loved watching the birds nesting and flying from tree to tree.   My focus will be side planters yet again.....the citrus garden on the east side and the bamboo on the south side.  The north side is nearly complete with the Nandina and Cacti Gardens placed.
House Finches get crazy
These are the beginnings of spring.  While a lot is flowering, there are more trees and bushes that will begin next month.
Mexican Bird of Paradise(the yellow variety)
So as temps warm up, stop and smell a rose from the CC Rose Garden near the palm tree.  Check the Mulberry tree for fruit.  The fig tree may have some treats hiding under the leaves.  We will have lots of peaches in July and plenty of persimmons in November.  And the citrus trees have lots of flowers:)
But for now, enjoy the reds, yellows, purples and oranges around our place. It has taken us 3 years to get here and I have much more planned.  The fountain will have to wait for a bit until all the rotten wood is replaced around our homes.  Wood is fine for some things but shouldn't be used as a main feature in the desert.  The beams we have now are full of termites and dry rot.
Red Oleander
Hopefully the plants will distract:)
While pruning near the west wall, we were noticing the palo verdes from our neighbors property encroaching upon the parking area......and then we noticed something else......

...this little hummingbird nest on one of the branches.  I knew we had two families for sure, but I didn't know where the second nest was.  Now I do:)  Love natures best kept secrets.  They are such intelligent little birds who have lately been doing some serious drinking.  Maybe it's the 100 degree weather we've been having!
Again thank you all for your help around our gardens at El Presidio.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


My best shot for the year of the Phoebe
You never know.  You never know.  I am finding that once I have that obligatory "snapped an excellent to alright shot" out of the way of a bird, I can relax a bit.  And then there are eyes.  They become sharper at spotting most of what would otherwise remain hidden from the public eye. Things that were hidden are now easier to find.  My birding skills are getting better and here is what I discovered on this particular day.......
Night Heron
I have wanted badly to spot a Night Heron and today I got that shot.  It took me minutes of scanning reeds before I found this little gem hiding.   What a beautiful bird!
Hispid Cotton Rat
And then there are the ears.  I hear something scrabbling in the reeds and think, "Warbler, Flycatcher, Sparrow?"  Nope. Just a rat.
Great Blue Heron rookery
And the rustle above your head, "Owl, Hawk?"  No!  A heron rookery!!!! And there they were....4 nests! FOUR!  It looked as if the parents were dropping fish into the nest and the young ones were feeding.
Most people walk by.  But not me:).
Your eyes will strain and your hands will get heavy from holding the binoculars or camera...
But if you're patient, you'll see this below!!!!  Look very very closely.  I'm not going to tell you what to look a birder.  Look closely.  Patiently.  And maybe you'll see it:)
 What?  You can't see it?  Look closer.  Hint.  My favorite kind of bird.  And another amazing capture without tips etc.  All I can say....exciting.  More tomorrow....
The Great Horned Owl nesting