Saturday, April 29, 2017

A Tucson Spring

It's spring here in the desert.  I've kept it local for several weeks because I need to budget my money for a bigger trek coming up.  It has been an enjoyable challenge because I am forced to play within the perimeters of my own area.  It's a different kind of birding, but it's still quite enjoyable. 

Mallard duckling
Outsiders often visit the Old Pueblo in April and ask the locals, "When is your spring?"  People living here KNOW that spring is subtle.  Our trees leaf out and release terrible amounts of pollen:) But our trees aren't bold and tall like the ones found on the eastern part of the US. For birders, we visibly see the migration happening before our very eyes. 

While waiting for my master lens to return from the shop, I took cell phone pics and used a smaller lens for some of these shots.  Imagine going to your work place and finding this Great Horned Owlet staring back at you?!  It was hard to focus and listen to the adults talking in the room:)

Least Sandpipers
While Tucson doesn't have a lot of watering holes, we do have a few that attract some special migrants.  This time of year is good for rare sandpipers.  The most common are Least, Spotted, Western and Solitary Sandpipers.  Pectoral and Stilt Sandpipers are good birds but they are not always reliable. I have found that I need to be in the right place at the right time to spot these passing migrants.  The key is to place yourself in those spots for a possible sighting. 

Solitary Sandpiper
 Staying in one area also allows for a VERY in depth look at our local birds.  Take for example this Killdeer below. 

Many of us know that a Killdeer parent will act injured to draw a predator away from the nest. While I am not a predator, I am clearly a danger in a different kind of way.  

Almost every living creature on this planet uses some form of communication.  As a birder, it's my job to interpret that communication for a better understanding of the birds.  It offers a very satisfying observation as well. 

In this particular case, I knew I was near a nest.  I stopped quickly and scanned the area.  Had I made a few more steps in the wrong direction, I might have stepped on these eggs.  Thankfully, I understood what the bird was telling me. Look at how much this Killdeer's eggs look like the surrounding rocks!  Nature is amazing. 

I believe that Coachline, or El Río Preserve, will be one of Marana and Tucson's premiere birding spots when it's all finished.  It has been a wonderful success.  A walking/bike path have been put into the area making this premiere birding spot even better.  There is now a parking area (with a ramada for lunch and shade).  As a local, I can tell you that I am super excited about this transition.  And my tires are glad as well.  No more gravel/sharp rock parking:)

Several years ago, friend and birder, Magill sat with me as we did a Big Sit and counted birds under the awning at this place for the day.  It was a lot of fun as we ended our observations with lots of Lesser Nighthawks flying around us. 

Black-crowned Night Heron
 After two weeks, my master lens returned back to me repaired and I was so excited to get the darn thing that I headed to Reid Park to film Great-tailed Grackles collecting mud.  It. Was. Great.  Even if they were just Great-tailed Grackles:)  That's how happy I was!

But during those grueling two weeks of waiting, I did some research for our upcoming Wrenegades event.  Every year, we get together to raise money for the birds of Southern Arizona.  It helps support Tucson Audubon's projects. 

I spiced up my treks but kept it cheap.  A really nice place to bird on Mt. Lemmon is the Rose Canyon Lake area.  But I didn't want to pay the hefty entrance fee so I parked off the highway and hiked down to the lake.  Another woman did the same but as she was hiking down into the area, she didn't realize how far it was:)  So I kept encouraging her to keep going.  "Where is the damn lake? My kids better be down there."  I told her not to worry.  We chatted the mile hike down and got to the lake.  She didn't see them but from her conversation about her kids, I guessed they'd be at the floating dock fishing.  And there they were.  That trek, for the day, landed me a Lewis's Woodpecker. 

I also scouted around for the ducks.  Again for our birdathon.  There are a few wintering ducks still this proud drake Ring-necked Duck. 

A Round-tailed Ground Squirrel eats some refreshing Barrel Cactus fruit on a hot near 100 degree day. 

And my research takes me into new areas around town locating new Burrowing Owl locations.  The one at our airport is now gone which means that the construction crew destroyed the burrow:(  Thankfully birders saved the birds and had them relocated.  It was very sad to see them go.  But it also forced me to scout out new locations which was fun. 

Next week, I join up with my fellow Wrenegades to find as many birds in a 24 hour time period as we can.  Will we break our old record?  Stay tuned for more.....

Friday, April 21, 2017

Las Aventuras: Birds and Blooms 2017

Pomegranate.  The most expensive fruit out there and yet it grows all over the city.  So many people let this fruit go to waste.  Why?  It's too messy and stains outfits. 
I sat down this past week and began reading one of my favorite blogs, Ragged Robin's Nature Notes. While I was reading about her fun at an English garden, I began to think....which is clearly a dangerous thing for me to be doing these days:) Basically, Caroline inspired me to get off my butt and do a little local arboretum fun of my own. 

So without further ado, here's Tucson's very own Birds and Blooms 2017 edition!  Here's a little preamble before I get started.  1. If you love plant collections and desert birds, there are three places you need to visit in Tucson. The Tucson Botanical Gardens, Tohono Chul Park and my favorite, the Desert Museum.  Today we visit Tohono Chul Park.  2. Since I'm still waiting for my 500 mm lens, I have chosen to use my 55 mm lens(which I've never used before).  And that was the challenge.  So here goes.....

One of the best times to visit Tucson and Southern Arizona is during our spring months.  April really is perfection. However this year, we've seemed to skip from winter straight into summer.  For people living in Tucson, our gardens can be a sanctuary for many of our living desert creatures.  If you come from the green belt of the US, you may feel helpless and frustrated by your desert landscaping skills.  Don't worry.  You can still have a lush and beautiful desert backyard sans the grass and high water bills!

First off, I recommend visiting the three places mentioned above as they give great ideas about planning your backyard.  AND!  Each of these places offers really fun courses on Tucson gardening!  So let me start with the first thing on my mind. Shade.  

A nest......
Creating shade in our desert community is a MUST.  It can save you money on that air conditioning bill, create a space to read and have coffee in the morning OR just make things 10-20 degrees cooler in your yard.  For wildlife, it's a sanctuary.  I looked up into the canopy of this Texas Ebony Tree and whom did I spy?

A Cooper's Nest
A very silent Cooper's Hawk.  Tip number 2.  Plant ONLY things that grow in the desert!  Here we live in the Sonoran Desert which means we have SO much to choose from!  I believe we are the lushest(is that a word?) desert of the world.  So, place plants that will attract butterflies and birds into your yard.  This Baja Fairy Duster below is attractive to both hummingbirds and butterflies.  Plant a Hackberry Tree and hope to discover one day a rare Rufous-backed Robin in your yard during the winter months!

Marine Blue butterfly on the Baja Fairy Duster
And for potted plants?  Go for it.  Buy crazy colored pots(or not) for your seasonal plants.  Many Tucsonans choose herbs like lavender and basil.  They do great in our hot summer climate. 

 Keep the pots close to the hose so that they are easy to water.  If you are on the outskirts of town, wire mesh is needed to keep Javelina, Deer and other critters from munching on your plants.....unless of course, you don't mind:)

Recently, I spoke with several birders who created a yard just for shade and the critters.  Cathy Skow, who recently had the rare Golden-crowned Sparrow in her yard, strategically placed several key plants in her viewing line.  How did she know what to plant?  As a birder who needed ideas, she went to the one place in town that has many birds, the Sweetwater Wetlands.  There she found several key plants like the saltbush that attracts a lot of smaller birds like sparrows and warblers.  She liked what she saw and put the plant into her yard. Brilliant!  And guess what?  That's where the Golden-crowned Sparrow liked to hang out with its White-crowned Sparrow friends.  

I love color and I love pots and I love bird baths and I love tile.  We live in Tucson.  Make it colorful.  So sure, we don't have grass and that's okay.  We also don't have to mow lawns!  Make  your gardens come alive with practical things that will add color and structure to your space.  I have wind chimes and a sun catcher.  I also am addicted to cobalt blue pots.  Have fun.  The more color you add; the better. And for carpeting the desert floor with green?  Why not try agaves and other succulents like aloe and put them in clusters?  They really make a space pop!

I use my pots for my tropical cacti and succulents.  Also note.  There's a Verdin on top of one of the plants.  This lens was challenging!!!

The more I travel to other habitats outside of the Sonoran desert; the more I realize how much I love cacti.  Also, cacti in the spring will add color.  But most of all, it adds structure and character.  

I like cacti because it also adds a security benefit around our home.  It keeps the meth addicts off our property.  When you live in the city, you always have to think about protecting your home.  A nice wall of prickly vegetation will do the job:)

Water features are also nice as they add sound and attract lots of birds!  Water features can be easy.  You can do electric or use solar panels!

In the pic below, two Lesser Goldfinches come in for a quick drink and then fly off. 

Many desert gardeners like to make an informal trail around their garden.  

You can build piles of rocks into areas for lizards to hide and live. In Tucson, we have lots of them during our warm and hot months.  

Desert Spiny Tail
Some still like the living Ocotillo fences.  This was popular many years ago.  Today, the fad has kind of faded:)  Instead, plant the entire Ocotillo and watch the blossoms attract various species of hummingbirds and bees. 

A forest of Cholla cactus can be deadly for trespassers or......

......a nesting ground for your Cactus Wrens and Curve-billed Thrashers. 

The beautiful Cactus Wren
It's amazing that these birds don't stab themselves in and out of their nests.  I guess it's another good reason why they have feathers:)

I thought about my own garden while I did this trek today.  My garden that I began 7 years ago continues evolving.  The large plants have grown and now must be pruned back from structures.  They have also created shade. 

The shade has changed what I can grow under the canopy of the trees.  I haven't done that part of my garden yet.  

Zebra-tailed Lizard
I hate watering plants now so it's all native stuff.  The vegetation that needs constant watering is gone.  

Our water fountains are great except that one needs to be constantly cleaned and maintained.  I don't like that anymore so I just maintain my solar run bird bath. 

I have made my yard a better place for lots of birds.

When I came home today after my trek to the Tohono Chul Park, I felt motivated to work in the 90+ degrees.  And interesting enough....

My female Broad-billed Hummingbird let me know that she was nesting once again in the same spot as last year.  She rebuilt the nest from last year and again has chosen my garden to be her home. It's an honor!

And when I started attracting new birds and critters into my yard, I knew I had done something right.  The only problem?  I'm older and lack the motivation to begin phase 2 of the project:)  But each year, I add something new and over time that adds up. 

A note about Ragged Robin's Nature Notes😉Caroline writes from England about so many things related to nature.  She's part birder, part historian, part garden explorer and a lover of all things wonderful.  She especially likes moths. At the end of many of her treks, she'll finish with a wonderful dessert.  Sometimes I imagine having dessert and tea with her.  And maybe someday we will! Anyhow, check her blog out.  It's a perfect way to get your morning going. Until next time.....

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Oculus Reparo

Greater Roadrunner
A little over a year ago, I updated my camera gear to a 500 mm lens.  She was a monster, but oh how magnificent were those photos!  

Turkeys put on a display at the Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon.  Photo taken with my cell phone
Now she's in the shop due to the zoom feature (which locked up on me last week). Here are the last of my 500 mm shots.  

My first White-faced Ibis of the year flies over my head at the Coachline Lake in Marana
I kept my emergency 300 mm lens from my last camera but oh.....I so notice the lack of detail in the photos now.  So while I wait for the 2 weeks to pass, migration is happening all around me. 

Rare for the US but common in our southern Sky Islands, the Buff-breasted Flycatchers are quite active on top of Carr Canyon
I have been swamped with work and with visitor's from out of state coming to bird.  It's so easy to escape and join others to find birds when there is a lot at home to get done:) Elf Owl vs Fixing The Ceiling Fan? Or Tufted Flycatcher vs watering the garden?

I might be reaching a new chapter in my life with our local birds in the sense that I don't need to drive two hours to see an American Golden Plover.  Instead, I'm okay birding a local patch nearby my house. 

My first of the year Grace's Warbler on top of Carr Canyon
And while I am without my lens, I'm actually enjoying the fact that I don't have it.  My binos have been all that I've been carrying lately. 

A beautiful Swainson's Hawk takes flight
So, I don't have any pictures of the Golden-crowned Sparrow I saw at a local resident's home this past week(thank you Cathy!). And it was also on that night that my camera lens decided to freeze up on me😠😠 I don't have a pic of the Broad-winged Hawk I saw getting harassed by a Great-tailed Grackle.  These are all rarities that I think require photo documentation, but it's not going to happen for the next several weeks.

Jenny (first person in the pic) tolerates Bill's crazy bird addiction.  When the Elf Owl shows, everyone is thrilled.  Madera Canyon this time of year is AWESOME! 
I went out one evening with Bill and Jenny from Wisconsin to Madera Canyon and helped them locate Elf and Whiskered Screech Owls.  We also got a visual of the Mexican Whip-poor-will.  All three were lifers. 

A bathing female Yellow Warbler at Sweetwater
On the day I saw this bathing Yellow Warbler, I met up with Nathan and Stella from Maryland at Sweetwater.  I'm not sure if Nathan's Dad will talk to me after he drove up a rocky road on Carr Canyon for the Tufted Flycatcher. He was visibly shaken and stayed inside of his car. I forget flatlanders are not used to our intense Arizona rugged landscape.  To him, I offer my sincerest apologies. I had new tires put on my passenger vehicle and showed them that I also made it up the road without incident.  They had a rental and it was really ok.....but still.  Finding some excellent birds can be challenging.  Their reward?  Beautiful views of the rare-to-the US Buff-breasted Flycatchers. 

Green Heron at Sweetwater
While I wait for my lens to return, I'll still continue birding.  

a large kettle of Turkey Vultures lands in the Arizona Cottonwoods for the night
One last note.  If you've been following Las Aventuras for a few years now, you'll recognize these characters:)  This year, our Great Horned Owl team, Mike, Janet, Peter and myself, purchased a new basket for our nesting owls.  

Great Horned Owl at my work site
 We weren't sure if they'd take to the new basket as they began nesting in the Saguaro nearby. 

 BUT, there were a lot of kids walking past that area and the owls decided to move to the new basket.  This year, there are only two owlets  because the first two eggs were placed inside the arm of the Saguaro.  When they moved to the basket, those eggs were abandoned. 

Anyhow, their progress is on track.  My biggest complaint?  That stupid string.  We were so worried that the basket would fall during our windy season in March that we overdid it:)  My guess is that this weekend or the next will be their first venture outside the basket. Both Mom and Dad are trying to push them out to get them on the ground.  Owlets learn to walk first.  Then fly(sometimes into buildings:) and then hang out with their parents before flying off into our nearby wash.  Until next time friends.....