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.....


  1. Great thoughts and great pictures.

  2. I fell in love with your Sonoran Desert this winter when visiting Organ Pipe Cactus. Hard to believe how lush the desert is. Of course I like the idea of only planting natives. Who wants to waste time mowing grass. Lots of great suggestions here. Hope you do get to go birding with Caroline, in her backyard.

    1. Me too. Her dessert dishes look amazing. She birds kinda like I do. Comfortable walk with a nice cup of tea afterwards celebrating the outing. That's a proper way to end the day after an amazing time of exploration. Some just go go go without absorbing it all in. That is not me.

  3. What a wonderfully interesting post Chris and thanks so much for the several mentions. I so enjoyed seeing the different plants and flowers that thrive where you live and reading about creating areas attractive for wildlife. You can't beat a garden shared with nature :) I love growing herbs - they are visited by so many pollinating insects - lavender, rosemary, mint, basil, thyme and marjoram are particular favourites.

    I do hope you visit England one day and we can meet up to go birding and enjoy tea and cake together afterwards :)

    1. Of course! One day I'll get over to England and meet all you guys who I follow. Life is better because of blogger and facebook. Had I never started this blog, we would have never "met" and I would have missed out on your part of the world. So thank you for sharing your stories and photos.

  4. Interesting post. Photos are so great. Thank you.

  5. Hello, what a wonderful post. I love all the garden shots, pretty flowers and sculptures. I love garden art. Great shots of the birds and lizards. Happy Friday, enjoy your weekend!

    1. Thanks Eileen! Hope you have a great week ahead planned!
      Happy birding!!

  6. Que bonito lugar.. Feliz fin de semana..


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