Male Black-chinned hummingbird 8-24-09
Winged PIGS! 7-7-09
A journal about nature, birds and wildlife in Sycamore Canyon of the Scenic Santa Ritas Mountains in Corona de Tucson, including birding in the Tucson area. "Hold fast to your dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." Langston Hughes
The Santa Ritas to the south rise raggedly to the sky. Their jagged peaks tear at the clouds drifting slowly by. Mt. Wrightston towers above them all, but the whole range is a sight to behold. Beautiful and smoky blue in this light, with gray green desert tumbling down its slopes punctuated here and there by the towering and spiny saguaros. And everywhere tonight it seems there are birds. Perhaps they have raised their voices in joy over the blessings of rain. The air is alive with the sound of their voices and my ears search the sounds trying to identify them all. I am getting better at birding by ear and I hear so many familiar desert voices.
On Sunday Gus and I took a drive up Mt Lemmon, a 9000 ft mountain located at the northeast side of Tucson in the Catalina Mountains. A drive up the Catalina Highway starts in the Sonoran Desert with towering saguaros. As we head up the highway the temperature is already 98 degrees F at noontime. As the road follows the steep switchbacks higher and higher we watch the temperature gauge drop and the terrain around us changes from sonoran desert to mountain pine forest. By the time we reach the Palisades Visitor Center the temperature has dropped to 77 degrees!
Today Gus is taking the photos as I have injured my left arm trying to put away a suitcase on a shelf high overhead and strained my rotator cuff. I am alright but the gist of the matter is, I can't use my left arm. So Gus is doing all the photography today. That's fine by me. I am pleased that he is with me and that he finds pleasure in photographing the birds. We scurry out of the car, for the Plaisades Visitor Center is well known as a great location to see a Magnificent hummingbird. If I do see one here it will be a *Life Bird for me.
We take up positions on the deck of the visitor center and watch as broad-tailed hummingbirds and rufous buzz and whizz by. They land at the feeder in groups and drive each other away fiercely. Then suddenly a large black looking hummer lands on the perch, dwarfing the rest of the birds. In the shadows he appears black but then the sunlight bounces off his throat and the lime green gorget flashes like a neon sign. After drinking a moment he flies off into the nearby pine tree and lands on a slim twig. I watch with mouth agape as the smaller hummers dive past him and he flashes his feathers once again. This time I see not only the lime green gorget, but the purple crown feathers on his head. Is there any wonder they named this bird "Magnificent?"
Notice how much longer and and straighter the turkey vulture's wings are. With a wingspan of 67" its "fingers" are of almost equal length, forming a square tip, while the zone-tailed hawk 's fingers are graduated in length, forming a gentle curve. Also, the zone-tailed hawk has 5 fingers while the turkey vulture has 6. I saw my first zone-tailed hawk on July 2 right here in Sycamore Canyon, the day after I returned form Connecticut. It came flying toward my den window and at first I thought it was a turkey vulture, but then it seem to be flying differently. Then I though it might be a raven, but it seemed much larger. as the bird drew closer with deep scoops of its wings I was able to see the white bands in the tail and the feathered head. As my mouth dropped open in astonishment it flew directly at the window and over the house. It was so close I was able to see it with my bare eyes. Knocking myself out of my stupor, I dashed into the living room to grab my camera. I had to hurry and change the lens to the 70-300 mm zoom, since the camera was still packed up from my trip. By the time I got outside with camera and bins, the bird was much higher in the sky. Though I was able to capture some photos the image had to be cropped and enlarged so much that it was not worth posting, though I could still see the barred wings and the white bands in the tail. It was enough to confirm my ID. That makes bird number 78 for Sycamore Canyon!