Friday, September 7, 2018

The Highs and Lows

The carpeted green valley below Kitt Peak
Lately, I've been focused on the job that pays for my health insurance.  The start of the new year for every teacher is a tricky one.  If you set the tone right during the first several weeks, the rest of the year is perfection when it comes to classroom management.  On top of the main job, I've also been working on our house project that includes lots and lots of planning.  And on the weekends, I eagerly escape to go birding with friends. 

a Canyon Wren plays hide and go seek with us
Gordon came down for the weekend and we decided to do fun birding in cooler settings.  Kitt Peak was new for Gordon and it was just a nice get away from the heat.  For the first time in a LONG time, we should have brought our sweatshirts!  It was cold!  What a wonderful thing!

Yarrow's Spiny Lizard
 In fact, this is the end of summer for us.  It's the height of insects and migrating birds and bats.  September is so GREEN and buggy!  This is the best time of year for butterflies.  The trails are full of them!

a stock photo from several years ago on Kitt Peak.  This is the area we covered birding
We headed south of Tucson towards Sells on the Indian Reservation.  There's a peak that has telescopes on it.  And that's where we birded the morning finding lots of fun birds.  

Mexican Jay
We found Mexican Jays collecting acorns from an oak tree. 

juvenile Mexican Jay
 Spotted Towees appeared to be marking territories for yet another nest.  

Spotted Towhee
Meanwhile butterflies stole the show. 

Bordered Patch Butterfly
Down below in the valley, the wildflower show was incredible.  The rains have been good to Southern Arizona and the oranges, blues, purples, reds, yellows and pinks are confirmation of a happy desert. 

Arizona Poppy
One area was thick with wildflowers.  A beautiful carpet made by nature. 

Trailing Windmills
 There was no shortage of bugs. I try to escape the chiggers and mosquitoes, but they somehow find me. 

Plains Lubber Grasshopper
 The heat finally ends our Saturday of birding fun.  Sunday comes and we were looking forward to exploring Reddington Pass.  This was another new area for Gordon, but as we exited our place, we hit a wall of heat and changed the plans. 

American Snout
We wanted an easy place to bird, get water, have a nice lunch and see fun things.  The Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum was the perfect fit.  While it's technically a "museum", it's much more than a building full of crap.  Here you can explore the wild spaces and see lots of real and wild critters that hang inside and outside of cages.  It's a great place to look for desert birds like the Cactus Wren or Gilded Flicker. 

Gordon and Micheal scour the Desert Museum property for butterflies, lizards, birds and other odd insects
Another unique species that lives on the grounds is an iguana that has survived decades on the property.  

San Esteban Island x Sonoran Spiny-tailed Iguana
Meanwhile we checked out the other critters hanging out around the riparian/desert corridor of the museum grounds.

male Bighorn Sheep struts his stuff

Eventually we made it to the aviary.  This year, I have spoken with many people about this subspecies of Northern Bobwhite below. The Masked Bobwhite is VERY rare and can only be found at the very close border of Mexico and Arizona on a few ranch lands.

the extinct-in-the-wild subspecies of Northern Bobwhite(Masked Quail)
They are breeding these birds to release in the wild, but even when we go to study them in the cages, they can be difficult to see!  So it was a real treat to find that this pair had mated....and had a chick!

I know it's a caged bird, but it's so rare in the wild that practically no one has seen these birds at all beyond a stuffed model on display for what used to live in the grasslands. To see them like this close up was spectacular. Over the years, I've seen only one in the aviary and she was always hiding.  Not on this day!

And that chick was adorable. 

After work, I'm exhausted.  The heat drains the life out of me. The mornings are lovely and it's really the only time to do any birding.  You get a 4 hour window and that's it.

Olive-sided Flycatcher
A lovely win for the week was an Olive-sided Flycatcher hanging out at my local patch that I monitor weekly.  And a very human downer happened when I misidentified a juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron for a super rare Yellow-crowned Night-Heron.  To be fair to myself, many others thought it was a juvi Yellow-crowned Night-Heron as well.

American Avocet
I got two minutes to look at the bird from a distance, snapped my shots and then had to wait until I got home to look at them.  Magill got home before I did and looked at the pics up close and said, "Nope.  This is a juvenile Black-crowned."  Our hearts sunk.  The ID is a tricky one, but next time I'll be looking at that bill better. 

Birding in Dateland and surrounding areas for shorebirds
The juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Heron has an all dark conical bill where the juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron can have some yellow in the bill. Oh well.  You win most and lose a few every once and awhile.

Black-crowned Night-Heron
We randomly explore the state and search for something fun to show up. I wouldn't do it alone as it's more fun birding with friends during this nasty and beautiful time of year. We motivate each other to bird during these trying times. Migration is upon us and every day, there is something just waiting to be found.  Will you find it?  Until next time.


  1. QUOTE: "Birding during the hot challenging times brings us beauty, some excellent finds and maybe a disappointment once and awhile."

    And yet, when I brought my Swedish wife and her kids out to Tucson and Sonoran Desert Museum on a day of over 100+ F, we saw tonnes more birds & sounds than any cool wet Swedish boreal forest (almost none) environment here. Go figure!

    1. It's incredible isn't it? I always think, how can something thrive in this heat? And yet they do. After our Hawaii excursion, I know what you say about the Boreal forest. Has it always been that way? Or were there once plenty of birds in that area? Still, Sweden sounds like a lovely place.

    2. No it hasn't. Much of the landscape here has been almost entirely converted over to industrial forestry of monoculture conifers. There are relatively few pocket woodlands left of what the natural ecology once was. Mainly southern and central Sweden were hardwood broadleaf forests, mostly Oaks. (Quercus robur). Amazing Oak, in a healthy forests they grow straight high and tall. Sweden was a major ship builder even for other countries wanting quality wooden sailing ships. So most of the Oak forest was decimated for profit. Most forests are so monoculture now and dense, little lives in them inlarge numbers. But the eerie silence is what first struck me. Many native birds live nearer to urban open environments. For example Magpies. None live in the wild areas, only around cities and towns.

      I recently read an article from Canada about Magoies in the wild there and they perform an interesting service for the moose. They seek out moose and land on and groom them for their ticks. But many magpie family groups have forgotten this behaviour as they live in and around humans and scavenge off their new host's trash. When I have seen Magpies within the forest edges, I see them methodically going through the forest floor and turning over the mosses and lichens which may contain earthworms for which Sweden has millions. But it is interesting as to what benefits this may provide to the plant life all the surface disturbance. I'm going to do another post on Mapie behaviour soon.

      Here are a couple pics of Magpie disturbance of moss and lichen ground covers.

      disturbed moss lichen carpet

      Closer view of moss upside down

  2. Hello, Chris! Sounds like an awesome day of birding. Wonderful sightings and photos. Enjoy your day and weekend!

  3. Loved this account, and thanks for the shout out to the AZ-Sonoran DM. I need a fall road trip, and that sounds like the perfect destination.

    1. This is the perfect stop for your fall trip:) My fall trip usually goes up to Northern Arizona:)

  4. Your photos are beautiful - loved the scenery, the birds, wild flowers and butterflies. So glad you found somewhere cooler to go birding.

    1. Thank you so much. I'll be stopping by soon to catch up again. Things are beginning to slow down here again which is nice. Hope you are well!

  5. Chris, it's me Magpie!!! I have often come to check out your blog and read about all the wonderful things you are doing. Haven't commented because I'm such a bad blogger. Your shot are beautiful, as always. I am playing around with starting my blog back never know with me.

    1. HOLY. COW! It has been forever! So glad you are alive! Not even a peep from you. What a flashback! Thank you so much for stopping by and making my day. What a happy occasion! Since we've "met", I've changed so much into a birder that it's not even funny. I now even guide people....thanks in part to this blog:) I hope you begin to write again. It's okay. We all take breaks, short and long. But it's so good to hear from you!

  6. Some amazing scenery and lovely birds! I really love the Canyon Wren :)

  7. I'm glad to know you can still make mistakes. Aren't you glad you have Magill? Good times! Keep on birding my friend, but I am starting to slow down, too.


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