Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Miller Canyon
Now that summer is upon me.  I can begin to devote my time towards the study of birds.  It is not enough to just see, photograph or hear a bird.....

Curve-billed Thrasher on Saguaro Cactus
It's understanding the ecosystem better, recognizing the calls, and working with others.  Many early mornings have been gladly sacrificed for these incredible birds.  My mother, in her 40's, turned into a crazy bird lady specifically working with parrots from our home.  I honestly laughed and enjoyed watching her feed baby Monk Parakeets on our cupboard.  She'd place the syringes full of the fruity goo into their hungry little beaks while we helped keep an eye on the others.  When friends came over, they would laugh at our loud birds.  They would also mention that our home sounded like the Amazon rain forest.  Not that they'd ever been...... 

Purple Martins
I had a hard time keeping parrots, parakeets, and lovebirds in their cages.  I always left the cage door unlocked or cracked open so that they could fly or walk to wherever they needed to go.  But I wasn't INTO birds.  I wonder if there was a secret gene waiting to be activated....just like it did for my mother.  

Summer Tanager
I've always had the desire and passion to travel and garden.  I've always loved wildlife.  But this need to really really understand birds?  I just don't understand it.  I just know that they are on my mind constantly.  Sometimes I wish I could just shut it off.  And I'm not alone.  There are several within this social circle that are just as addicted as I am.  Addicts encouraging each other to do better.  To see better.  To hear better.  And just be better birders.

In St. David searching for the Mississippi Kite
Recently, we met up with a mother and daughter team from Washington state for a special focus on the Montezuma Quail.  Bruce Berman invited me to tag along and help out in the search.  I've heard these birds often and I've even waited for them quietly to make an appearance. One blew by my head once, but they never had given me any great visuals. It's one of the most difficult birds to observe in the wild, but we were determined to hike and find these birds once and for all. But nothing would shock us more than to discover the mother in our group was 90 years old! Both mother and daughter conditioned their bodies during the winter months to prepare for this steep and rocky hike. Now that's dedication!

A Montezuma Quail call could be heard from the canyon's hillside. Everyone put their scope, binoculars and cameras up. It was very very close. For this bird, one has to stand perfectly still and scrutinize every detail in the landscape.  This quail often surprises birders by shooting straight up from the grasses.  One sat still only inches away from me before exploding from the rocks.  Heart attack?  Thankfully not this time. 

But the reveal would happen.  I heard the male's distinct call.  And I searched the spot from where I heard the call.  Like many other moments before, I held my breathe and waited........and waited.  A "rock" bounced up and a moment happened.  Don't move. Don't breathe.  Stay forever in my mind. 

Montezuma Quail
 Eventually, everyone got their binos on the bird.  Then I heard several more calling nearby.  We moved further on down the trail where the quail would silently watch us from the rocks......and we'd silently watch them back.

White-eared Hummingbird
 After our epic Montezuma Quail finds as what is called my many birders as the "Quail Valhalla Trail", the group disbanded and went to grab breakfast before hitting another trail in Miller Canyon. 

Buff-breasted Flycatcher
 Our target bird would the nesting Northern Goshawk.  This would be a lifer for me, but to be honest, I was fascinated by all specialty birds nesting along the trails!  We found Western Tanagers, Buff-bellied Flycatchers, Northern Pygmy Owls, Greater Pewees, Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers, a White-eared hummingbird, and of course the Northern Goshawks.  For many birders, these birds are high on their list of "must sees" when they come to visit.  On this day, we would find all of them casually flitting around branches or rock. 

Painted Redstart
 I'd like to dedicate this post to three very special people.  First to Bruce Berman for inviting me along on this wonderful hike.  And finally to the mother/daughter team from Washington state.  Jackie and Annie, you both inspired me with your birder dedication.  I've met 70-somethings on the trails, but to hike with a 90 year old is a real honor.  I am not worthy.  Jackie, you make me believe that anything is possible. Annie, you are a wonderful daughter. I can only imagine the adventures you have while on the road together.  Very few things surprise me these days.  This was one that still lingers freshly in my mind.  And it will be part of my Montezuma Quail story.  Until next time.....

Northern Goshawk
For more stories of birds from around the world check out Wild Bird Wednesday.


  1. Great photos - that quail is a beautifully colored and patterned bird. A 90 year old hiking that trail is an inspiration to us all.

  2. It's not crazy to like animals. Rarely do they intend you harm.

  3. Great story, Chris! I hope I can hike when I am 90. Congrats on the quail sighting. Awesome photos and post. Happy Birding!

  4. What a great series of beautiful birds! Such a variety you found!

  5. Great shots! Amazing pictures of the hummer! Wish I could see one of those!

  6. A marvellous variety of birds, beautifully photographed. I didn't take much interest in birds until a couple of years ago. My daughter now calls me the crazy bird lady.

  7. A tremendous post and that find and shot of the quail is fantastic. I enjoyed reading all about your findings.

  8. That quail is a beauty!! Boom, Bobbi and Gary.

  9. such beauties! wow, that quail!

  10. Oh, Chris, this is just fantastic! More amazing photos than I could ever hope to create! I am always so jealous because you get out there and DO it! And you find so much!

    Could you recommend a good bird book about SW birds? We have several but they cover the whole US. It was actually very helpful to us to have the checklist provided by Chuparosa Inn that listed the birds found only in Madera Canyon. A book that broke it up into such specific territories, especially in AZ, would be awesome...

  11. The quail is just amazing Chris - what a beautiful bird :) A really lovely post and story and wonderful to hear of the mother and daughter team - hope I can still hike at their ages!

  12. How wonderful! I hope I can still go out hiking when I'm 90.

  13. Gorgeous group of birds.. I especially love the Tanager... Beautiful!!!!

    Yes, birds are interesting to study and learn FROM. Today I posted a blog about our Baby Bluebirds -and one lady commented saying that HUMANS could take a lesson on parenting from the birds. That is TRUE.


  14. Thanks everyone for stopping by and commenting. A great local bird book for people interested in birds around Southern Tucson is Finding Birds in Southeast Arizona. There is a Montezuma Quail in the front of the cover and has a ring binding it all together for easy field use. Great book full of amazing secret places:)

  15. Thank you so much, Chris! I have to get a copy.

  16. That Quail is an amazing looking bird, and the Summer Tanager reminds me of Costa Rica, so special enjoyment in this post!

  17. Another compelling story Chris. You need to now write a birding book - "Addicted to Birds". You gave me a whole lot of work but here goes.

    Lapwing numbers have decreased in Britain since the middle of the 19th century. The early declines were caused by large scale collection of eggs for food. Introduction of the Lapwing Act in 1926 prohibited this, and was followed by a considerable recovery in bird numbers.

    Since the 1940s lapwing declines have been driven by large-scale changes to farming. Large areas of grassland were converted to arable, marginal land was drained and improved, and chemicals were introduced for fertilisers and pest control with increasing reliance on them.
    By 1960 the lapwing population had stabilised at a lower level.

    Another sharp and sustained decline started in the mid-1980s, with range contractions in south-west England and in parts of Wales. This followed further intensification and specialisation - abandonment of rotations, switch from spring to autumn sown crops, increased drainage, increased use of agrochemicals.

    Such changes have resulted in much of the arable land becoming unsuitable for nesting by April because the crop grows too high. Tillage, drainage and pesticides have also caused a reduction in food availability.

    As pasture land is improved, the resulting increased risk of trampling by livestock, earlier cutting for silage and lower food availability have affected lapwings adversely. Phasing out of rotational farming and shift of arable to the east of England and pastureland to the west of England has removed the habitat mosaic that is essential for successful chick rearing.
    Mosaic where grass and spring tillage fields are close together has declined significantly in recent years, and the loss of this prime habitat has resulted in a decline in lapwing numbers.

    Nest failures on arable land come from egg losses during cultivation and from predation, and poor chick survival due to crop growth. Crop growth can also shorten the laying season.

    The Yellow-footed Gull (Larus livens) is a large gull, closely related to the western gull and thought to be a subspecies until the 1960s. It is native to the Gulf of California.
    Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis), sometimes referred to as western yellow-legged gull (to distinguish it from eastern populations of yellow-legged large white-headed gulls), is a large gull of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, which has only recently achieved wide recognition as a distinct species. It was formerly treated as a subspecies of either the Caspian Gull L. cachinnans, or more broadly as a subspecies of the Herring Gull L. argentatus. It is named after the German zoologist Karl Michahelles.

    I hope you see a Lapwing soon Chris. i reckon it will certainly become extinct.

  18. The quail is amazing. And love the brigth Tanger. Nice selection of birds!

  19. Chris, this is an amazing post. I loved every picture and every word. I remember the thrashers from when we wintered in AZ years ago .. maybe I can find a picture in my archives someday. And the quail are fabulous as are all the birds.

    But especially what an amazing wonderful birding hike. I want to be that healthy when I'm 90 some ... guess I better start being more serious about my conditioning ).

    Thank you so much for sharing this amazing experience.,

  20. a 90 year old who hikes? Inspiring! You feel about birding the way I feel about gardening. It is a driving passion, for sure!

  21. Phil, WOW!! I figured it was something like that with the Lapwing. I don't think something like this would float in the US. Preservation is preservation. I know this of a government protection type thing, but it's hard to imagine that we'd let these birds dwindle to extinction. This is a world wide event and I practically study birds several hours each day. This is one that has come up from time to time. Thank you for taking the time to write the information down.

    I went back on my gull collection and compared your photo with my yellow-footed one and there is a bit of a difference....mainly in the bill size. I find ID'ing gulls to be a lot of fun ......it comes down to size, one spot or another on a bill...upper or lower.....pink legs vs yellow legs vs orange legs.......great stuff. The YLGU is one I haven't seen in photos until now. So thanks for sharing everything you do. Chris

  22. Unique Chris, this Montezuma quail is unique! I can only say Oh!

  23. Great post and enjoyable read! Very nice captures too. I hope I will still be hiking when I'm 90 too. That's pure dedication indeed.


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