Friday, April 4, 2008
5 Days of Birding: Day 3 Sycamore Canyon Wash
On Saturday afternoon Kathryn and I had a meeting to attend, so Saturday morning we headed out to the big wash across the street. We are late getting out the door and as we walk down the driveway the air is scented with the blooming sweet acacia trees that live in my front yard. Their blossoms are bright yellow puff balls that glow against the cerulean blue sky like a thousand miniature suns. However, the real sun is already beating down on us with a vengeance, but a cool breeze riffles our hair as we access the trail at the top of the cul de sac. I want to show Kathryn Sunset Point, which is a spot high above the wash where I can see far out to the west towards Green Valley and Sahuarita. The scarred mountainside from the Coppermine is visible, but so is the beautiful Sonoran Desert. From this vantage point I can look down into the wash or across the landscape to watch the sun as it sets in the west. Here, too, are where the Saguaro Sentinels stand and I search the many holes for signs of the purple martins that nested here last year. At that time the houses had not been built this far up the road, but now the cul de sac is full and the martin homes are empty. Are they scared off by the close proximity of humans, or have the just not returned yet this year? I will keep watch over the next 2 months to see.
Some improvements have been made to the trail with some access points landscaped and inviting you in for a stroll. I haven’t been out here in awhile and I am delighted to discover that steps have been added to a steep slope washed out by last year’s Monsoon. Right by these steps someone has placed a bird feeder shaped like a cat’s head in a tree. An unknown sparrow hopped out the opening with a small seed in its beak, took a look at us unimposing women and hopped back in for more. Simultaneously I realize that I do not recognize this sparrow species, and I forgot my camera! We watch the little sparrow through our binoculars trying desperately to memorize all the field marks: un-streaked breast, dark line from the corner of the eye, rusty cap, but not solid. Darn! He flew away! Was it a chipping sparrow? It didn’t look quite right. A rufous winged? No. It only had one malar strip, not two. Could it be a rufous crowned? I wish it was, but they are really secretive and shy and I have never seen one. It’s hard to believe one would be at a bird feeder. Well, since I am not a sparrow expert yet and I didn’t get a photo, we will never know. We walk down the steps and head right back home for the camera since we are not far away.
We cross the street and head into the wash once again. Just a few days ago I discovered the new access through the barbed wire fence that was put up last fall. A”Y” shaped opening has been created allowing us to walk through, yet still restricting motorized vehicles. A great compromise! We pass through this opening into another world.
Kathryn and I headed up the wash to see if we can find any new birds. Gambel’s quail are slinking and calling down among the scrub brush. We find a Verdin and some black-throated sparrows. A tiny gray bird flits among the mesquite branches. We both try to fix our binoculars on it but it keeps the twigs between us and it. I catch a glimpse of a rusty butt, Kathryn a peek at its head. Flash! Rusty upper-tail coverts! Flash of gray, flash, Streak! Darn you bird, stay still! But that cinnamon colored rump is distinctive I find out later, a Lucy’s warbler and a life bird for us both! No photos however. That thing moved too fast and in such dense cover.
We wander up through gravelly sand, then turn and head back down the other side of the wash. Three ravens fly overhead annoying a turkey vulture, but it is a lazy game. Then we hear and spot a crested flycatcher with a rusty tail. Every time we get a clear view it flies farther down the wash. I am never close enough for a clear shot with the camera. We debate about whether it is an ash-throated or a brown-crested. I had mostly seen brown-crested flycatchers here last year, but would that hold true for this year? I will have to wait and see. Thrashers, cactus wrens, and Gila woodpeckers are the most abundant birds we see today and I didn’t get a photo of one of them. So much for going back for the camera! Still, I am glad to discover I am no longer fenced out of the wash. I can just walk right in. We counted 15 birds in all but we have big plans for tomorrow!