Tuesday, April 15, 2008
What We Saw in the Wash Today
We had a brief respite from the endless wind this morning, which allowed Jean, Peggy, Pam and I to explore Sycamore Canyon Wash together. My friends drove from the north side of town and arrived around 7 a.m. We loaded up our gear and headed out the door to cross the street and enter the wash at its closest location to my house. Here the prickly pear are putting out buds and pads as we enter the wash. Can you see the difference?
The first bird we see is a Gila woodpecker drumming on someone's vent pipe to their house. As we enter the wash an ash-throated flycatcher calls to us from atop a mesquite tree in the golden light of morning. Behind the flycatcher the blue of the Santa Ritas welcomes us to this day.
We can already hear the call of a Gambel's Quail which I soon discover perched on a dead snag keeping watch. Before us the barbed wire fence is cut and lying on the gravel. Have the 4-wheelers done this? I see tire tracks leading off into the distance. Around us sparrows are flying. Jean and Peggy soon identify them as chipping sparrows! Chipping sparrows? I didn't know we had them here! Perhaps that is the sparrow I saw in the cathead bird feeder when Kathryn was here. For me, it was out of place and I didn't think they would be here, but before this day is over, we will see many more.
A pair of pyrrhuloxias flies across an open space to hide in denser cover. High on the canyon rim a curved-billed thrasher sings to the rising sun. A white-winged dove scoots across the sky. Another sings from a saguaro. We find black-throated sparrows singing their morning songs. A yellow-rumped warbler gleans insects from the twigs of an acacia tree. Brewer's sparrows and chipping sparrows fly up before us and dive farther into cover. High on the canyon rim in some dead treetop a pale gray form catches our eye. We are all surprised to find a loggerhead shrike perched there. Then motion in a nearby bit of scrub catches our eyes and we discover orange-crowned warblers and a Wilson's Warbler. Many of these species are the first I have recorded here in Sycamore Canyon.
Some movement in the understory gets my attention. We all train our binoculars on a green-tailed towhee hopping about. I have enough time to get my camera up and I snap off a few shots before the towhee flies away. A little gray spectacled bird proves to be a plumbeous vireo, a lifer for me. Then we spot a Lucy's Warbler hopping about with her tiny gray body and chestnut rump flashing at us now and again. Did I get a photo of that? Nope!
At a bend in the wash I see some large, dusty-colored bird of prey fly up from the ground on silent wings and disappear beyond the bend. The other women don't see it but when we get farther up the trail it flies up before us again, only to disappear beyond the next corner. There is much debate on whether it is an owl or another raptor. I vote for an owl, but no one really got a good look at it, and it will have to stay a mystery for now.
Our rumbling stomachs are calling us home to the breakfast of whole grain and pumpkin pancakes which I promised to cook for everyone. So we head back down the wash finding this queen butterfly sipping the nectar from a Palo Verde tree.
We also find some wild cotton bushes which used to be grown and harvested by the Native Americans. You can see the little cotton bolls at the ends of some of the stems.
This wild hibiscus, which Peggy informs me is hibiscus nudicus so named for the naked stems it grows on.
As we round the bend near the copper-colored bank of the wash that is nearest to my house we spot yet another loggerhead shrike surveying its territory from atop a scraggly mesquite tree. It looks like the Lone Ranger with its black mask and gray suit set off by white. A handsome bird for a hunter, who captures its prey of mice, insects and small birds and impales them on thorns or the barbs of barbed wire fences. Some people know this species as the butcher bird due to this practice of hanging its food to cure and coming back to eat it later.
Some of the cactus are putting out fruit already. Others are growing pads and buds. this staghorn cholla is striking with its purple arms and yellow fruit. When I first moved here last year I really didn't notice the prickly pear before it bloomed. At the top is a photo of what growing prickly pear looks like. The flatter segments are new pads, and the more cone shaped bits are the new flower buds forming. Soon they will be covered in yellow flowers to be followed by the most beautiful jewel colored fruit. For now I find the buds interesting with their garnet edged segments that remind me of an artichoke. In the end we spotted 27 species of birds today with 8 new species added to the Sycamore Canyon Bird list published in the sidebar of this Blog.
1. Gila woodpecker, 2. Gambel's quail, 3.Ash-throated flycatcher, 4.cactus wren, 5.House finch, 6.mourning dove, 7. pyrrhuloxia, 8.Curved-billed thrasher, 9.White-winged dove, 10.black-throated sparrow, 11. chipping sparrow, 12. yellow-rumped warbler, 13. Brewer's sparrow, 14. Orange-crowned warbler, 15. Loggerhead shrike, 16.Wilson's warbler, 17.Black-tailed gnatcatcher, 18.gilded flicker, 19.green-tailed towhee, 20.plumbeous vireo, 21.Lucy's warbler, 22.turkey vulture, 23.Red-tailed hawk, 24. Hooded oriloe, 25. Hutton's vireo, 26. House sparrow, 27. Verdin. (Species in green are new to my count of Sycamore Canyon. Birds in Red are new life birds for me.)