Saturday, April 4, 2020

Secret Worlds of Sanity

Gray Hawk monitors area
Birds can and do speak to one another often.  From the hundreds of bird species that call Arizona home, it's a constant challenge to learn all their various forms of speech. Every time I go out, I attempt to learn their language.  Migration is in FULL swing now and birds are in full song mode. 

Camouflage and possible nesting site.
As the pandemic takes a stronger hold, I explore further into the overlooked/underbirded areas of Arizona. The town of Catalina has a lot of beautiful areas to bird. Arizona is wild and open country.  

This is NOT social distancing!  To be fair, I think we survived this covid scare because it was all around us in January and February. I'm still not taking any chances.  My friend on the right , we believe, had it in January.  But we'll never know since our governor doesn't have enough testing for everyone.  Just go home and die there. Oh wait!  Only go to the hospital if you're dying and it's too late.  Ducey is a terrible governor.  Thankfully Lori survived the event.  She is a survivor.  My neighbor is recovering from covid right now.  She was lucky in that it was just a mild case for her. How did she get it?  Friends from Washington came to visit:(
I continue to counter the crowds by understanding their routine lives. I visit places that most people overlook. There's a lot of back road trails around the Catalina area that have several lovely riparian areas. 

Not distance in the trail between me and my subjects!  Social distancing is a serious matter.  
Sometimes permits are required, but it's well worth the planning. Today, I'll share some tips and observations from my past week's time out with our amazing Arizona birds.

The best birding right now in Arizona is along our riparian areas as birds migrate through these wet and shaded corridors.  If you're a rarity hunter, this is the place to be.  Our first stop is the incredibly beautiful riparian area known as Cienega Creek Natural Preserve outside of Tucson.  You need a permit for this location, but it's easy and free!  Just go online and follow the instructions. I was interested in this corridor for migrating warblers and nesting hawks.

The Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler
This area is incredibly bizarre.  One walks from desert birds immediately into a creek covered by cottonwood trees!  It's night and day.  And so are the birds.  We walked from above the highway surrounded by desert into this very loud birdy area.  It was so bizarre to me because I couldn't hear the birds down inside the canyon.  But once we got there, WOW!  The bird song took over. 

I am always intrigued by this time of year because wintering and summer warblers overlap.  There are the chipping Yellow-rumped Warblers in their gorgeous breeding plumage mixed with our other regular wintering warbler, the Orange-crowned Warbler.  A regular warbler that breeds in the higher elevations of Arizona but pass through these areas on the way up to places like Mt. Lemmon, the Black-throated Gray Warbler, can also be found here in smaller numbers. So often, those are the "chips" you will hear in the riparian corridors.  The challenging part is figuring out which chip is made by these warblers. 

Black-throated Gray Warbler
And while that is going on, the summer breeding warblers, the Yellow and Lucy's Warblers are vocalizing, (and chipping) and looking to settle down for a nest.  Now the trickier part is separating all this "noise" from rarities like a Prothonotary Warbler or American Redstart.  While Celeste was getting an ID on a sparrow along the creek, I was trying to locate what I thought was an American Redstart calling.  No luck.  Cienega Creek can be a challenge for birders as many of the warblers, flycatchers, etc hang out inside the trees. 

And while all these warblers are chipping or singing, there are a million other birds making their various calls. My ears are good.  Often I stand in one spot and just enter in the data.  I don't have to see many of these birds as I have seen them often.  But some, I like to see over and over again..... Yes, I have my favorites:)

I'm not a huge fan of vireos and it has been a vireo week!  We had Cassin's and Plumbeous Vireos which have somewhat similar calls.  We had a Warbling Vireo at the creek.  AND the MOST common vireo is my FAVORITE one, the Bell's Vireo.  Their "watchee wichahhh" call also makes me laugh. It's a small vireo with a loud voice and a huge personality.  Here's your yearly photo of a Bell's Vireo.  I cannot tell you how much I love these little vireos.  

Bell's Vireo
And again, flycatchers are cool but not my favorites EXCEPT maybe the Northern Beardless Tyrannulet.  Again, it's a common bird for southeastern Arizona and one I know very well.  The call is a piercing, repetitive and slightly descending PIU PIU PIU PIU! It's often in the background and ignored by birders. Or birders don't know what bird is making that noise. It's unique. But I've wired my brain to repeat the call subconsciously outloud when I hear the bird.  Then I look.  They also have this three note "di di di" that means they are just chillin' and letting their other half know where they are.  The piercing repeated note is a territorial call. At the creek, we had them foraging for bugs around the lower canopy of the cottonwoods.

The smallest flycatcher with the biggest personality, the Northern Beardless Tyrannulet
And while ALL this is going on, you have to keep your eyes and ears ready for hawks!  Hawk migration might be winding down, except maybe for the Swainson's Hawks, but most of the other hawks are beginning to nest. On this day, we had beautiful views from a pair of Gray Hawks getting ready to nest.  They made their "whiny" scream to let others know that this was THEIR spot.  

A Gray Hawk flies over our heads
And while not a great shot of these Zone-tailed Hawks, it didn't lesson the excitement when we spotted them trying to pair up.  To observe these hawks nesting in this area was worth the trip alone.  

Zone-tailed Hawks "flirt" as they ride the thermals over the creek
During another trek this week, I planned for a sunset walk along Proctor Road into Madera Canyon.  I did about 2 miles along the trail.  People were thick along the creek and all were Covid 19 violators.  They weren't smart at all about anything really.  They were in the streams letting kids run around the banks where I've seen rattlers.  Another woman thought she could illegally trespass into the Santa Rita Lodge bird area because it was her right. The owner was polite and told her to turn around but the woman continued with her vulgar speech and that she had every right to walk on their private property.  The lodge had to call the rangers.  Many people from the city who have no clue about nature are literally overcrowding these natural spaces. And it's because of this, so many places are completely shutting down their entrances into parks and preserves.

Madera Canyon at the right time of day is a delight.  At 4 PM, a lot of the annoying people have to go home and "eat" and do whatever they do at night.  I arrived as the canyon was emptying out.  And I had the whole place to myself. My mission?  I don't know.  Just get out of the house and enjoy being outdoors.  This quarantine can be too much! Thankfully there's plenty of areas where I can go to avoid the crowds. 

Common Raven
As I hiked up into the Whitehouse area of the trail, I sat down with this Common Raven and watched him waddle about the empty parking lot looking for food.  Then in a really interesting observation, I watched him call his partner from the parking lot into the sky.  

In less than a minute, I watched her swirl down from out of nowhere to join him. 

She flew right in front of me.  Ravens are absolutely gorgeous.  Look at the detail of that plumage!  I imagine, if I were a designer, how I'd incorporate such intricate patterns into one dress.  This Common Raven has 7 or 8 different feather patterns!  Incredibly beautiful bird. 

I hear the dry "whit" of the Ash-throated Flycatcher hiding on a limb
After watching the Common Ravens, I hear the unmistakable calls of the Montezuma Quail!  I go into the canyon further and find them.  They toy with me like they always do.  And like always, I'm so stupid that I flush a covey!  The male makes his alien descending "zzzzzzzrrrrr" after they flush as if giving me the middle finger.  Well, that's me giving the bird a human personality. What he really was doing was telling the ladies where he went:)

The canyon was so lovely that I stayed until the evening just to listen for Whiskered Screech-Owls and Elf Owls.  And it didn't disappoint.  I also hung out with the owner from the Santa Rita Lodge for awhile chatting with him about his business in this time of cancellations.  He's hoping the loans will help him out.  I'm hoping he got through that mess.  Apparently it wasn't as easy as the US government made it out to be.  Again, a bunch of liars. Every single one of them. 

Coue's Whitetail Deer
Okay.  Breathe in and breathe out.  I can't fix stupid.  But I can escape and connect with nature if I so choose.  And so can many of you.  Until next time....


  1. Wonderful post. More than ever we need to think about controlling the things we can - for one, I dont have the energy to try to deal with things beyond the reach of my own arm!

    We dont have a big seasonal change in birds here - some small ones, but not the big influx of migrants like you have.

    Hope you are well - Stewart M - Melbourne

    1. I know. I'm exhausted with that bit as well. I've stopped caring about everything else. I'll try and make the changes when I can, but I mentally and physically exhausted from this all.

      It's pretty awesome to watch the changes but the weather is getting warmer and that means smarter planning. Heat in the middle of the day here is not that fun.

      Take care!

  2. Thank you for sharing these wonderful photos. At the moment over here I can't get to the countryside as you can't use your car for things like this so having to rely on wildlife in the garden. So glad you are able to go places to continue birding. Stay safe and well.

    1. I know. It is getting better though for you to kind of walk? I hope so. That's no fun. I had a similar issue last year. Can you drive at all? Thanks for sharing your journal with us because this is the best way to travel right now, through other's blogs! Be well and I hope your situation is getting better. Chris

  3. Sounds like you have an incredible array of natural sites close by to visit. Nice to hear kudos re: ravens. They are so often just maligned. Like to think that in times like this it brings the best out in people but unfortunately, there are a few who lack that capacity.

    1. There are so many to choose from. I do one day out and another at home. I'm trying my best to quarantine but I don't do well being stuck at home. I like being outside. And in my city, so many people are like me in that we love being outside all the time, especially this time of year. Take care and thanks for stopping by!

  4. Lovely shots and looks like a perfect escape. And no, you can't fix stupid. You can only hope the population wakes up!

    1. LOL! I'm hoping after this corona fun that people do! But we'll see. I'm not holding out much hope:)

  5. thanks for sharing nature with me this morning

  6. This is such a beautiful post! your knowledge of birds is so cool to me! We don't have the variety you do near us, so wow! I loved seeing ( and trying to hear) all the birds you saw!! I am so sad that people don't respect the land - and that they are unaware about rattlers and private property laws... sigh - but back to your birds - WOW!! they are so beautiful!

    1. As with everything, there is the good, the bad and the ugly. And somehow we learn to navigate through it all. Thank you for stopping by. It means a bunch. Take care and be well.

  7. What enchanting photos of your critters! It's sad that uneducated folk aren't helping our situation.

    I'm delighted to read your post at 'My Corner of the World' this week! Thanks for linking up!

  8. Love this beautiful post! You are so lucky to have such incredible places close by to visit.

  9. Wonderful post, i love the photos!!! That is very beautiful landcape and bird life!
    Greetings Elke

  10. Arizona looks like a decent place to self isolate - plenty of distractions! The saga of this virus has a long way to go I think - and longer in some countries than others.

    Hope you are well - Stewart M - Melbourne


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