I immediately start scanning the area for birds, wondering who has arrived here for the winter. As the road curves around the perimeter of the park I look towards a certain corner where I always see a road runner. Sure enough it is there. I put on the brakes and roll down my window to get a better view of this desert dinosaur-like bird. The prehistoric looking creature cocks its tail and lifts its head to get a better look at me. We stare at each other for unspoken moments, then it turns, drops its tail and head while elongating its body and slinks away into the brush.
I continue on my way past the row of palm trees on my left and the scrubby desert on the right to the parking lot. After parking the car I grab all my birding gear and my lunch and head for a picnic table in the shade of the palms that grow along the stream. The shallow stream flows from the original spring for which Agua Caliente is named. It flows slow and lazily out to a reservoir providing a home to waterfowl, turtles and fish. Soras and blackbirds seek shelter in the reeds. Ducks and turtles live in the water and on the tiny island near the eastern edge. Agua Caliente is a true desert oasis providing shelter for body and spirit.
Along the paved path a tiny bird flits about from tree to tree. When I see its lemony rump I know I am seeing a yellow-rumped warbler, my first for this fall. Overhead the towering date palms are loaded with their apricot-colored fruit. Gila woodpeckers squawk nosily in their branches as they compete for it. I wander across the open lawn area of the park and cross a little bridge to the south side of the pond near the reeds. I’m looking for something beside the numerous widgeons and mallards floating in the water. Far across the pond I see a ring-necked duck, but here near the shore I only see turtles bobbing.
A little song sparrows hops out of the reeds to investigate me and the sound. Its eyes are wide with curiosity. We watch each other for a bit, then I head on my way.
My path takes me along the edge of the water where ducks are settling down for their afternoon nap. A few of the numerous turtles decide to join them and I laugh at these odd companions snoozing on the island’s shore. I wander past the old ranch house that is now a museum and Audubon gift shop.
At the eastern edge of the house stands an old mesquite, rumored to be the oldest one in the Tucson area. Its many heavy branches are supported by brick columns and steel poles to preserve the tree for as long as possible. Frequently I can find warblers, wrens, or Verdin here, but today all I see is a rock squirrel scurrying for its hole. It freezes at the underground opening, hoping I do not see it, but I do, and I snap it’s portrait, before moving on. When I look away, it disappears.
Today only a few people are here in the park. I relish the solitude as I meander at will. I find a verdin busy in the branches of a nearby tree, and watch as it searches for insects among the tiny leaves.
A familiar silhouette on the bare branch of a Eucalyptus tree catches my eye. I walk ever closer to confirm its identity as a Cooper’s hawk. The towering tree elevates the bird far above my head. It has no fear of me as I walk slowly beneath it, then wander off towards the mesquite bosque.
A bosque is a Spanish term for a thicket or wooded area. Here the paved trail squeezes between the north end of the pond with its palm trees, willows and reeds, and the cottonwoods, eucalyptus trees and mesquite on the other side. In this narrow wooded fringe I have found brown creepers before. And this is where I have seen towhees, vireos, warblers and other woodland birds. Though the area is small in size it is rich with birds at times. The path before me is a tunnel through the mesquite. I have seen a hermit thrush in here before, but today the thicket is quiet and empty.
Bright white sunlight blasts my eyes as I emerge for the bosque into the desert beyond. The cacti are more numerous here along with other typical desert scrub. Desert grasses have turned gold and brown in this dry season. Agua Caliente Lake is white and empty, its surface cracked and baked, its shadows blue and long. Along the circular path the blue-black males and gray female Phainopeplas call from the surrounding trees and bushes, their eyes red as the berries they eat.
The path around the dry lake is a silver thread of compressed caliche. Though I have never seen this area flooded with water, apparently sometimes it is. The few palm trees that dot the lake look like island women in grass skirts ready to dance in the slightest breeze. It is mostly still today as I round the bend and head back towards the desert oasis. I have wondered aimlessly for well over 2 hours. In that amount of time the sun has sunk casting longer and bluer shadows.
Irritated, the Cooper’s tries to ignore the rascal beneath,
but suddenly another raven flies in to join the fun and when I look again, the Cooper’s Hawk is gone and only ravens laugh in the waning light.
Visit MY WORLD Tuesday to continue your tour around the globe.
Birds seen Today at Agua Caliente Park:
Location: Agua Caliente Park, Tucson
Observation date: 11/19/08
Notes: Sunny, warm, bright day. The Cooper's hawk was sitting on the branch of a Eucalyptus tree for at least an hour until 2 ravens came along and chased it away. The blackbirds were seen at the end of the day as I was leaving. They were diving in and out of the reeds and rushes.
Number of species: 25
- American Wigeon 49
- Mallard 73
- Ring-necked Duck 2
- Cooper's Hawk 1
- Sora 1
- American Coot 5
- Mourning Dove 1
- Greater Roadrunner 1
- Anna's Hummingbird 1
- Gila Woodpecker 12
- Black Phoebe 1
- Common Raven 4
- Verdin 10
- Cactus Wren 4
- Northern Mockingbird 1
- Curve-billed Thrasher 2
- Phainopepla 11
- Yellow-rumped Warbler 5
- Rufous-winged Sparrow 6
- Chipping Sparrow 1
- Song Sparrow 3
- Yellow-headed Blackbird 2
- Great-tailed Grackle 12
- House Finch 3
- Lesser Goldfinch 2
Photographer's Notes: All of today's photos are by Kathie taken with the Nikon D80 and the 70-300mm lens set either in Sports Mode or Programmed Auto for landscapes.