Monday, June 30, 2008

How a Peaceful Sunday Morning Turned into Heart Pounding Excitement and Ended in Death

I was sitting at the computer in the den when Gus called to me from the kitchen. “I think I just saw a rat walk across the patio!”

"It could be," I answered. Then I went to see for myself. Since I am the resident expert on all things to do with nature, he relies on me for stuff like that. Sure enough, there behind the gas grill and an empty pot a pointy face with big ears and beady eyes stared at us, nose twitching. So this is what Blossom has been trying to tell us about for the last two weeks or more. She would hurry out the door and run down on the side of the house where the AC unit is, a place she normally avoids. Gus goes outside and tires to chase the creature away. He stamps his feet and yells a bit. It darts off the brick patio and down onto the dirt on the north side of the house where the AC unit is partially hidden by a half wall about 4 feet in height. Past the AC unit is the end of the block wall that encompasses our back yard. In the center of this wall a decorative block is built into the base with openings to let the water drain out during the Monsoon. Gus thinks the rat has run out this opening, so he covers it with two large stone blocks left over from building the sitting wall on our patio. Then, he thinks again. He sees the drainage pipes that the landscapers have installed beneath the brick patio and figures the rat might have gone up one of those. I am doubtful, but Gus grabs the hose and drags it over to one of the drains and turns it on. It is then I notice the blocks in front of the only escape route.

I walk over to remove the blocks, still voicing my doubts to Gus but pointing out that this was a bad idea to block up the only escape route, just in case the animal did emerge from the end. As soon as I turn around I see that pointed face with big ears and two beady eyes staring at me from the end of the drainpipe as water pours out. I am terrified of rats and I‘m sure I screamed as I bolt back to the patio and the rat retreats inside the pipe, water or not!

At this point I take over the hose end of the operation and Gus goes over to keep watch on the end of the pipe. Sure enough, once again the rat emerges, thoroughly soaked. And in the water that flows from the pipe dozens of rat dropping float. It has been living in that pipe for awhile.

Gus grabs a nearby shovel to herd the creature towards the opening at the end of the block wall. It darts behind some leftover lengths of drainage pipes. Gus grabs the pipes and lifts them up. The rat runs towards him. He hollers and swings the shovel. The rat retreats. I decide to use the water canon method that worked so well with the beetles that covered the mesquite tree last week and so I join the fray and point the hard jet of spray straight at the creature. In fear it climbs the half wall near the AC unit with the agility of Spiderman. I train my hose on it and it leaps like superman across the compressor! Then, instead of retreating out the opening in the block wall, it returns towards us.

We cannot believe our eyes. Gus yells and swings. I scream and spray. Rat climbs the wall and leaps again. Then, in a last ditch effort to return to the only safe place it knows, it comes straight at us. I’m screaming. Gus is yelling. He catches the rat on the end of the shovel and tries to fling it over the wall. It falls off and surges onward. He swings again and the shovel comes down on the rat’s head. With tears in his eyes and fear in his heart, Gus brings the shovel down again and again. I hear the guttural sounds of his fight. Then, he scoops up the limp body and flings it over the wall into the wash. I breathe a sigh of relief as I realize it is over. For today, Gus is my hero.

As we stand there, hearts pounding, breath coming in gasps we suddenly hear a voice call out, “Did you git it?”

We look up astonished, trying to find the source of the voice. There down the street one of our friends is standing in front of his house with another unknown neighbor. Apparently, drawn by our shouts and the sights of shovels flying and water spraying, they had witnessed the whole thing.

“Did you git it? Richard asked again, a chuckle in his voice.

“Yes” Gus replied. It was a rat.

“Well, I knew it had to be a rattlesnake or a varmint,” responds Richard. “If you ever get a rattlesnake in your yard, you just call me.” Richard is a remnant from the 60’s with long hair tied back in a ponytail that hangs down his back. A welder by trade; he is a native of Arizona and very cheerful and friendly. He owns an aging black lab mix and we often see him while walking our dog. We stand there dazed as we realize the show that he and his neighbor must have witnessed from afar. In the pent up rush of adrenalin, we chuckle with relief. Then, I take the hose and flush out the other drain pipe that runs into the first one in a “Y”. More rat droppings float out from the end of the pipe in the murky water.

Gus stands there with his t-short soaked in sweat, panting. “I have to go sit down,” he says. It’s around 11:30 a.m. and we have not eaten. It is only later in the day as the adrenalin has drained from my body that I finally cry. The image of that poor creature struggling valiantly to return to the only home it knows haunts me. But it could not live in my yard. It had to go. At 2:00 a.m. this morning I awaken and write this epitaph to the rat:

Homage to a Rat
You bravely fought to make it home,
and though I’m sad you’re dead,
I’m also glad you’re gone.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Formatting Frustrations and Triumphs. Email woes.

First, a note about my email. If you email me I will answer you. If you don't hear from me it's because my email box dumped you into junk mail and deleted you before I remebered to check my junk mail. Sorry. Please email me again.

As for fomatting. I am a total novice with this blogging thing. I stumble my way through the formatting. I have figured out a few things, though, and Troy of Ramblings Around Texas has been a great help to me. Thanks Troy.

I have noticed that when I move photos around in compose mode that often they loose the ablility to open up to a larger size when you click on them. I still haven't worked this problem out but I did figure out how to fix one problem on Friday and I was so proud of myself.

Often when I publish a post I want to have a space between lines near the bottom. On my Skywatch Friday post when I published it originally it wouldn't leave a space between the 3 bottom lines, no matter how many "hard returns" I made at the end of the line.

I know NOTHING about HTML but, I looked at it anyway and discovered that all the html info was seperate from the words I typed. So, on a chance, I just made a space in the HTML after one of those > symbols. When I republished my blog there was a space! Hallelujah! You don't know how happy I was and how proud of myself for figuring this out. I know how I want my blog to look and it frustrates the heck out of me when I cannot accomplish that.

I also noticed that the HTML code for the top photo that enlarges was different than the HTML code for the 2 lower photos that don't. I work in the compose mode because I don't know HTML and I'm afraid to really mess things up and not be able to fix it. But, I may try a couple of things now. It's all about learning, right?

Note: I just found this in Blogger Known Issues:

In Internet Explorer 6.0 and in Compose mode, if you upload an image and then drag it to another location in your post, you might be unable to click through to the full size version of the image once the post is published. To avoid this problem,you can either use a different web browser or switch to Edit HTML mode to move the image code manually.— latest update on Thursday, August 09, 2007
June 30 Update: I tried this with today's post and it worked! yeah!

But, now I just noticed that some of my formatting buttons are missing from my post editor. GRRRRRRRRR.....!!!!! They have a new spellchecker that doesn't work. (6-30-08 The old spell checker is still there. This is operator error as the spell checker changed when I clicked into HTML mode. Once I clicked back into compose mode it worked like I expected it to and the other formatting buttons re-appeared.)

If any of you have any helpful suggestions, it would be much appreciated. I do go to Blogger's help articles but since I don't know the lingo I don't understand what they mean when they talk about certain things. They should publish a glossary of terms. That would help.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Recipe For Enjoying The Monsoon

Take 1 Cloudy, gray, day
Add: Lightening bolts, thunder, and rain
Prepare: One chaise lounge
With: 1 good book
1 cup Earl Grey tea
1 pair of binoculars
1 journal with pen (for writing down impressions)
1 camera at the ready
2 Curious cats

Open Patio door, shut off air conditioner; read book, sip tea, fall asleep with 2 cats curled in your lap while listening to the sounds of rain.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Skywatch Friday: Monsoon Sunset

These photos were taken last night by Kathie as the first storm of the Monsoon rolled through Sycamore Canyon just as the sun was setting. I used the 18-70 mm lens and set it on the automatic setting for a landscape. The colors have not been manipulated at all. The only enhancement was to sharpen the photo slightly.

To view more Skywatch Photos click on Wiggers World.

To view my other Skywatch post click on
Kathie's Poet Tree

To see Gus' sunset shots from the next evening go for the Gusto!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wednesday Morning Wake Up

(Mt. Fagan)

I wipe my groggy eyes and roll over in bed. The room is dark and cozy with a soft gray light. I wonder what time it is since it feels later but the room is still so dark. It’s 7:45 a.m., long past the time when the sun should have illuminated my room like the high beams of a truck parked outside. I snuggle into the covers, enjoying this overcast morning. Breezy Boy, my cat, curls up into the hollow of my body and purrs away. I am thinking that maybe I will stay in bed and enjoy this luxury just a few moments longer but suddenly I hear scratching on the patio door. Gus had let the dog out just before he left and now Blossom wants to come in.

I trundle out of bed and open the door. Blossom prances in like she owns the world. I pop my head out to feel the day and catch a whiff of rain in the air. Dark clouds are mounting over the Santa Ritas. Mount Fagan looks dark and broody. It looks like a curtain of rain is falling on the Rincons, but still the slopes are sending smoky plumes into the sky, and mixed with the smell of wet desert I can also smell the smoke. There are 8 fires burning now in Southern Arizona and the Distillery Fire in the Rincons has grown to over 5,000 acres.

(Rincon Mountains)

The cats follow me out to the kitchen winding around my legs and begging for breakfast. I step out this patio door to see the thermometer. It is 83 degrees and comfortable with a strong breeze gusting sometimes to a full wind. Off to the west, however, the sky is blue and clear. Sunlight beaming out from beneath the edge of the cloud bank illumines the mine tailings of Green Valley into a golden table land. It cuts a sharp edge against the pale blue sky.

(Green Valley Mine Tailings)

Once I shut the door the birds return to feasting in the backyard. Once again the finch feeder is covered in Lesser Goldfinches.

(Lesser Goldfinches on thistle seed feeder)

Mourning Doves are gleaning the seeds from the ground while flickers, Gila Woodpeckers and thrashers all vie for the peanut feeder. Out the den window a lone juvenile Gambel’s Quail pecks beneath my globe shaped feeder. His bland gray color blends in with the mourning doves but his shape and the plume atop his head betrays his true species. Over on this side of the house the house finches mob the globe shaped feeder while house sparrows pick at the quail block. A Canyon Towhee joins the fray and grabs whatever seeds it can. Then a feisty Cactus Wren flies in and chases away a thrasher to grab a peanut that was dropped on the stony ground. It’s just another day for Kathie’s Birds here in Sycamore Canyon, but the Monsoon is creeping ever closer and we may get storms this afternoon.

(Canyon Towhee at seed cake)

For now, I leave you with this peaceful scene of a potted dove. She has built her nest in this pot on a neighbor’s front porch. The family can sit in their bench and she does not flinch or fly away. My neighbor says she has seen the eggs when the mother flies off to feed in the evening. The male hangs around on nearby rooftops, waiting for the hatching and his job to begin of feeding the little brood. For me, the question arises: does the mother actually trust my neighbor and her children, or is her mother’s instinct so strong that she will not abandon the nest in spite of great fear? If the latter is true, I can’t help but wonder if I could confront my own fears in the same way.

Note: All of today's photography is by Kathiesbirds with the Nikon D80 and the 70-300mm lens except for the morning dove which was photographed Saturday, June 21, with the 18-70mm lens.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Fire in The Rincon Mountains

(Distillery Fire June 23, 2008 photo by Kathie @5:58 p.m. MST)

If you live in the west then you come to know summer as fire season. This was true in Idaho, Colorado, and Utah. It is also true here and over the weekend dry lightening sparked 2 fires at the south end of the Rincon Mountains. The Rincons are part of the Coronado nation Forest and Saguaro National Park, East. I see them every day from my back yard. They are part of the “place” where I now live.

(Distillery Fire photo by Kathie June 23, 2008 @ 5:57 p.m. MST)

Yesterday afternoon the smoke billowing from the Distillery Fire filled the eastern sky. From my house these mountains are 10 to 15 miles away. The houses seen in the foreground are only the length of a football field away. According to the news last night this fire has grown to over 2000 acres but is being allowed to burn since it is not threatening any structures. It is being treated as a controlled burn that will help prevent more serious fires in the future. The Cumero Fire, farther east in Happy Valley is being contained since there are homes in that area.

Last night I experimented with the night photo button on my camera and took these shots of the flames creeping down the slopes in an ever widening ring of fire. At first I hand held the camera but that resulted in blurry edges to the flames. So, I set the camera on the stone cap of a pillar in the block wall and took the photo again. This is the resulting photo which I have sharpened but that’s it.

Shooting Data for night photo taken by Kathie:

(Nikon D802008/06/23 22:25:39.9JPEG (8-bit) NormalImage Size: Large (3872 x 2592)ColorLens: VR 70-300mm F/4.5-5.6 GFocal Length: 300mmDigital Vari-Program: Night LandscapeMetering Mode: Multi-Pattern4 sec - F/5.6Exposure Comp.: 0 EV)

This morning when I woke up the air was flat with smoky haze that I could smell as I watered my plants and filled the bird baths. Look at all three photos to see the roof lines of the houses and make a comparison.

(Rincon Haze by Kathie June 24, 2008 @ 8:40 a.m. MST)

You will notice a dark spot on the image. That is a dust spot that is on my camera optics that I have not been able to remove. It is inside the camera and not the individual lenses since it shows up whether I am using the 18-70mm lens or the 70 -300 mm lens. Any suggestions anyone? I have wiped the mirror and top of the optics with a soft lens cloth to no avail. I certainly don’t want to damage my new camera but it is so frustrating to have this spot ruining my photos.

Update: As of noontime today the Distillery Fire has grown to over 4,000 acres. An attempt is being made to fight and contain the fire.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Mesquite Tree and a Dust Storm

(Dust Storm photo taken by Kathie June 21, 2008 @ 7:21 p.m. MST)

The bugs are gone. After the mesquite tree was invaded by hoards of insects I water blasted them off the tiny leaves. This mesquite tree has only been in the ground for a year and already is providing lacy shade to our new patio. I am rather fond of the tree, especially since the birds seem to love it. It is a native Velvet Mesquite, the kind that grows scrubby out in the desert, but here in the landscape with a regular supply of water, it will grow tall and lush.

(Velvet Mesquite Tree taken by Kathie 6-22-08 @ 10:59 a.m.)

Yesterday the temperature was 111 degrees Fahrenheit here in the shade of my patio at 1:30 in the afternoon. I sought shelter in my room and watched a movie while keeping an eye out the patio door. Suddenly a strange bird landed near the door. I watched this small bird with a bright white eye-line that was different that anything I have seen around here before. I knew it was a sparrow and I was hoping it was the elusive 5-striped sparrow which I have never seen and is only in a few locations here in Southern Arizona. It would be Big News if it was here, but I would have to have proof. I crept out of my room and grabbed my camera which was in the den with the 18-70 mm lens on it. I changed it as quickly as I could and crept up to the back door where the strange sparrow was now perched in the ever friendly mesquite tree.

(Juvenile Black-throated Sparrow 6-22-08 by Kathiesbirds)

I started taking pictures but the bird soon got leery of me and flew off. As usual when I am excited, these are not the best, but once uploaded to the computer I was able to identify this new mystery bird as a juvenile black-throated sparrow. While it does not have the black throat of the adult, it has already developed the dark cheek patch and the white eye-line seen in its parents. Black-throated sparrows are frequently spotted here in the Sonoran desert. They make a lovely tinkling sound, like a tiny bell choir when they sing amongst the desert scrub.

(Adult Black-throated sparrow taken by Kathie in Sycamore Canyon 3-18-08 8:09 a.m. MST)

By late afternoon the temperature has dropped to 95F in the shade. I join my daughter-in-law on the covered portion of the patio where we sit in the shade and sip strawberry smoothies and talk. The sun is getting ever closer to the horizon when the wind starts to pick up. There is a noticeable drop in the temperature and I look towards Mt. Fagan only to find his face obscured by a thick gray veil. I wonder if that is rain on the mountain but as the wind intensifies our skin is being sandblasted. We gather up our stuff and head indoors. While we frequently have high winds here in the canyon, it is rare for us to have dust storms. This wind is blowing over the top of Fagan and down-slope to my house. It is now I realize that if the Rosemont Mine goes in this dust would be full of poison and there would be nothing I could do except flee inside and shut my door.

Dust obscures Mt. Fagan; Palo verde tosses in the wind. Photo: Kathie 6-21-08 @ 7:22 p.m. MST)

The wind is so fierce it lifts the seat cushions from my chairs and I remove them to the safety of the house. The flag in front of the model homes is full out and I wonder if it will be torn from its tether once again. Now the air is full of dust and the sinking sun is cast as an eerie copper glow in the sky. The sight is ethereal, beautiful, and mysterious but the beauty belies the possible danger to come.

(Dust over the desert by Kathie 6-21-08 @ 7:21 p.m. MST)

The wind is still howling when we head off to bed, but this morning all is calm in Sycamore Canyon.

(Gilded Flicker 6-22-08 by Kathie)

The birds are back at the feeders with gilded flickers and Gila woodpeckers eating peanuts, finches feasting on Niger and sunflower seed, while doves and quail fight for position beneath the feeders, scrambling for every scrap.

(Juvenile Gambel's Quail Poto by kathie June 22, 2008)

These scrappy juvenile quail showed up and joined the fray with the rest of them. The trees look none the worse for the bashing they received last night, and the temperature is rising once again. Let’s see, should I read a book, or watch another movie today?

(Peaceful Palo Verde and Mt. Fagan June 22, 2008 @ 10:55 a.m. MST Photo by Kathie)

Friday, June 20, 2008

Insect Invasion

(Photo by Kathie 6-20-08 @ 11:03 a.m. Nikon D80 with 18-70 mm lens)

I came home from shopping this morning to find my mesquite tree covered with these. I was filling the bird feeders when I first noticed them. It took a minute for it to register how many there were and then, to realize that they are devouring my velvet mesquite tree. I don't have any pesticides around the house because I refuse to use them . I don't want to poison my birds. I decided to try to wash them off the tree, so I grabbed the hose and sprayed away. Well, the hose knocked them off, but they just started crawling up the trunk again in hoards. There had to be at least a thousand of these pests, and they have already eaten the tender new leaves off the tree. I am afraid it will be denuded by evening.
(Photo by Kathie 6-20-08 @ 11:03 a.m. Nikon D80 with 18-70 mm lens)

Does anyone out there know what these are and if there is an eco-friendly way to get rid of them?
(Photo by Kathie 6-20-08 @ 11:03 a.m. Nikon D80 with 18-70 mm lens)

In the meantime, I am hoping that some species of birds likes to eat them for dinner and will swoop in here with biblical timing and devour the lot!

Update from Doug Taron:
Hi Kathie- I may not be able to ID your beetles myself, but I do have contacts. This is from my friend John who I was just collecting out in Colorado with:"They are spotted blister beetles, Epicauta sp., and they congregate like that during mating season. They will feed on the foliage and flowers but shouldn't defoliate the trees. They do more good than harm as the larvae are grasshopper egg predators/parasitoids and adults often are pollinators. Of course it goes without saying that she should not pick any of them up if she is highly sensitive to dermatitis since blister beetles are called that for a reason - their hemolymph contains strong irritants that will cause such." Wed Jun 25, 07:49:00 AM 2008

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Skywatch Friday: Save The Scenic Santa Ritas

( Mt. Wrightson photo by Gus taken June 14, 2008 @6:30 a.m. MST)


How much can our fragile ecosystem take?

Where will the Gila monsters go?

Will vultures rise on dusty thermals?

Will raptors hunt the fleeing mammals?

Will songbirds lose their voice in clouds of mining dust?

Will Mt. Fagan shudder with the blasting mines?

and when the Monsoon comes

will poison rain fall on the desert and run

down the washes to your house and mine?

From a previous post called The Name of My Mountain.

This photo is of Mt. Wrightson in the Santa Rita Mountains as seen from Sycamore Canyon. Just beyond the ridge is the world renowned scenic area Madera Canyon with world class birding as well as hiking and camping. Augusta Resource Corporation has a plan underway to create an open pit copper mine in the Coronado National Forest which is to the east of Madera Canyon and just north of the Greaterville Road. The proposed Rosemont Mine is also west of Las Cienegas National Conservation Area and Davidson Canyon, which drains into Cienega creek, one of the few year round creeks in Arizona. Home to a variety of birds and wildlife, some rare, it has been designated a “Unique Waterway of Arizona”. Highway 83, which is the main route to the mine, is a designated scenic route, the first in the state. All of these precious and sensitive areas will be impacted by the Opening of the Rosemont Mine. The public comment period has been extended until July 14, 2008. It is not too late to submit comments to the National Forest service. It’s never too late to write to your congressman.

To find out how you can help stop the Rosemont Mine or for more information click on the following links:

To view more Skywatch Friday photos visit Wigger's World.

To read about our Saturday hike in Sycamore Canyon click Here.

To see my other Skywatch post visit Kathie's Poet Tree

To see Gus' Skywatch Friday post visit Gusto!

An Early Walk and a Mystery Bird

Long shadows lay across the desert on Saturday morning, June 14, when Gus and I entered the big wash across the street. We got up early to beat the heat and were out the door by 6:30 a.m. Gus carries the camera and I have my binoculars harnessed to my chest. We both have hats and bottles of water hooked to our belt loops. While there air is still cool in the shadows, one only has to step into the sun to feel the coming heat of the day.

To the south the jagged peaks of the Santa Rita Mountains loom against the pale blue skies. A few wispy clouds float above the mountains, hinting of the monsoon just south of the border. A cactus wren flies up cackling to a nearby rooftop as we pass through the block walls that define our neighborhood. The tall saguaro condo greets us on the left—a home to woodpeckers and martins. A small flock of rufous-winged sparrows seeks shelter in the desert scrub beneath the saguaro. The song of a curved-billed thrasher follows us as we pass through the barbed wire gate into the wash.

Here we head north so the sun will be at our backs, better for identifying birds and taking photos. We keep to the wide sandy bottom of the wash but scan the Palo Verde, mesquite, acacia and creosote bush along the edges for signs of life. The wild cotton is blooming again, while the dried bolls from the last season still cling to leafless twigs. A lesser nighthawk flutters overhead searching for breakfast in the ever warming day. Gila woodpeckers chatter as they cling to nearby saguaros. White-winged doves call out, “who cooks for you, who cooks for you?” over and over again. The air is full of bird sounds.

The Santa Rita Mountains look so lovely in this morning light. They have a bluish cast as the sunlight plays along the gentle slopes casting purple shadows. Nestled along the canyon rim the saguaro sentinels reach for the sky with purple martins circling like satellites around their desert homes.

As we progress farther downhill the side of the canyon becomes narrow and steep. Soon tall red banks loom over us and we can see the layers upon layer of gravel and rock that have been laid down and then carved through by the force of water. It’s always hard for me to imagine water rushing down this dry bed with crunching sand beneath my feet. I have yet to see this wash flowing fast and deep enough to have carved this canyon out. I wonder as I’m walking if millions of years ago the Grand Canyon started as something like this.

Most of the vegetation is up on the canyon rim now, or growing along the edges of the wash. Huge roots lie exposed in the steep bank in their search for water.

Their twisted shapes look muscular and thick as they grab onto the eroding soil of the red caliche walls. The wash curves left, then right, then flattens out again before it reaches the newly constructed bridge that will bring people and cars to the new neighborhood on the west side of the wash. At this point they are only putting in roads, but someday the pounding of hammers will be heard as more human homes invade the desert. For now, the birds and wildlife are the only residents here.

High on the east bank we spot a female hummingbird gathering nectar from a saguaro blossom. Her tiny size is emphasized by the large green cactus. With her tiny feet extended, she looks like a helicopter coming in for a landing on a frilly helipad.

An ash-throated flycatcher hunts from a nearby mesquite tree. Then a Gila woodpecker decides the flycatcher is too close to home, and chases the intruder away in a blur of black and white wings and chestnut tail feathers. We watch a canyon towhee fly to the center of the wash, then skulk along the bottom as it proceeds to walk to the opposite side. Once there it alights in a tree before turning and flying into deeper cover.

We listen as a male Gamble’s quail calls from the west bank.

He walks out into the center with his questioning “whoop? whoop?” When he is halfway across we spot the female at the edge of the bank.

She looks out, gauges the danger, and decides to head back into cover. The male turns around and crosses the wide expanse of gravel, then disappears into the brush with her. I guess we know who’s in charge in that family!

So far I have been able to keep to the shadows of the eastern bank where it is cooler. Now the cliffs have flattened into low banks and Gus and I pass through the large cement openings of the new bridge. It is the gateway to a different world.

A deep basin filled with riprap is on the north side of the bridge. I can only guess that it is to hold the water and debris before it overflows and continues on its way downhill. We skirt the edge of the basin and re-enter the wash again.

I have never been north of the bridge before. This is all new territory for me. Gone are the step banks and cliff edges we have just walked past. Now it feels more like an alluvial fan as the gravel spreads out into various channels before us. There is more vegetation here and suddenly we hear the whirr of cicadas in the brush around us. One insect starts to whine on the left, then another picks up the chorus on the right. The insects sing us down the dry gravel bed while the sun beats down and cooks us. I am vigilant in my lookout for snakes, but all we are seeing are lizards. I glance back towards the mountains and see the bridge we have just walked under set against the beautiful Santa Ritas.

I don’t find this flat place quite so interesting. We aren’t seeing many birds anymore. The heat is making us tired and we are both hungry since we haven’t eaten breakfast. So, we decide to head for the big saguaro to our right which we know is at the edge of Sycamore Canyon Park. As we walk cautiously through cholla and prickly pear we see birds all over this old man cactus.

A Gila Woodpecker and Gilded Flicker cling to separate arms of this green monster. The spiny flesh is pocked with holes. Still, this ancient giant produces blossoms in an ever hopeful attempt to reproduce.
We step out of the desert and onto the pavement of the track that encircles the park. After the dry sand and gravel and sparse vegetation of the desert the large expanse of lush green grass is a cool feast to our eyes.

Along the edges of the park a few scrubby shrubs and trees still grow, though many have been removed to make way for the community center and neighborhood swimming pool that is under construction. A little gray birds flits among the twigs of an acacia tree. I have seen several of these birds in the canyon today but I have not been able to identify them.

They are a plain gray with no wing bars or eye rings, but they have this distinctive yellow base to their lower mandible. Gus snaps off a few photos for me in hopes that I will be able to identify the bird at home.

Just as we are about to leave the park area and head home I spot a kestrel atop a distant saguaro. Gus walks back to get a photo as purple martins dive bomb the bird. Irritated, the kestrel flies off with a lizard in its talons in search of a more peaceful place to consume its breakfast. Speaking of breakfast, it’s 8:15 now and our stomachs have been growling for at least an hour. We stride home in the heat and cook up a feast to consume in our air conditioned home.

As for the mystery bird, well, I searched three bird guides and numerous web pages without success. While I hoped it might have been a gray flycatcher, it didn’t have that silhouette or behavior. Also, a gray flycatcher is about 6 inches and this bird seemed smaller. I considered the blue-gray gnatcatcher but that wasn’t it. No eye ring, no black tail, not the right profile or behavior. Was it a vireo? I checked those out also, but still the shape of the beak was not vireo like, nor did it have the eye lines or spectacles of the gray vireo. On Tuesday one landed in the Palo Verde tree in my backyard. I quickly grabbed the camera and stepped out the door. The bird didn’t seem to mind my presence but as soon as it heard the camera click, it flew off. On Wednesday it came around again at about the same time. This time I stayed inside and clicked off about 100 shots through the glass windows and doors. I off-loaded the pictures, enlarged them and examined each one. Its shape and behavior suggested a Verdin, but there was no yellow head, no red shoulder patches. Could it be a juvenile? Perhaps, but none of my bird guides had a good picture of one. Off to the internet again where finally I found a photo and a description on the 10,000 Birds Clinic page. Apparently I was not the only one stumped by trying to identify this bird, for it stumped these guys too. But in the end it was confirmed: Juvenile Verdin!

(Note: All of today's photography is by Gus except for the 2nd photo of the juvenile Verdin which was taken by Kathie on June 18th.)

I counted 22 species of birds in the canyon today:

  1. Kestrel (1)
  2. Turkey vulture (3)
  3. White-winged dove (4)
  4. Mourning Dove (4)
  5. Gambel's Quail (6)
  6. Gila woodpecker (5)
  7. Gilded Flicker (4)
  8. Ash-throated Flycatcher (2)
  9. Canyon towhee (1)
  10. Lesser nighthawk (2)
  11. Purple martin (19)
  12. Barn Swallow (1)
  13. Cactus wren (4)
  14. Curve-billed Thrasher (7)
  15. Verdin (6)
  16. Black-tailed Gnatcatcher (3)
  17. Pyrrhuloxia (1)
  18. Rufous-winged Sparrow (6)
  19. Great-tailed grackle (2)
  20. House Finch (7)
  21. Common raven (1)
  22. Hummingbird species, female (1)