Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Rufous-capped Warbler! YippEE!


Rufous-capped warbler seen today at 11:16 a.m. MST.  It was seen at the Florida Canyon above the dam working its way up steam crossing back and forth across the creek.  It was traveling with a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and was seen by Kathie Brown and Jeff and Dawn Fine and 1 other couple.  More photos and story to follow!

All photos taken by Kathie Brown with the Nikon D80 set in sports mode and the 70-300mm lens.


DSC_0094 DSC_0104 DSC_0105 DSC_0106 DSC_0089


You get the picture!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My World Tuesday: Cienega Creek Preserve

DSC_0038 Cienega Creek 2-19-10

It is early morning and I am literally up with the birds in anticipation of a visit from Jeff and Dawn Fine. We have our sights set on a hike in the Cienega Creek Preserve today, but first they are meeting me here at my house to see all the wonderful birds in Sycamore Canyon. I filled the feeders and slathered on the bark butter the night before. The birds do not disappoint as they flock to my yard.

Jeff and Dawn arrive around 8:00 a.m. Gus greets them at the door as I slide a German pancake into the oven. With fresh brewed coffee we watch birds and wait for the breakfast to finish cooking. The birds do not disappoint as Costa’s hummingbirds, gilded flickers, black-throated, white-crowned and rufous-winged sparrows put in an appearance. To top off the experience a rufous-crowned sparrow shows its single-whiskered face. Larger and more round-headed than the rufous wings, it has a darker beak and a pale eye-ring and only one dark whisker mark outlining its throat. As Gus leaves for work, we sit around the kitchen table with plates and forks before us and binoculars close at hand.

DSC_0033 Empire Mountains 2-19-10

With breakfast finished we pack up the car and head for Cienega Creek Preserve. Located off Marsh Station Road in Vail, it is a short drive from my house and we are soon there. I drive Dawn and Jeff to the bridge first to see the creek from above. We gaze down steep rock cliffs, past train tracks and bridges, into a green crevice. We are looking down on treetops where we hope we will see birds. Then we double back to the parking lot to the south where we hike the trail into the canyon.


As we leave the car the scolding of a cactus wren fills the air. In the distance the Empire Mountains rise soft and smoky looking today. A ragged dirt trail leads downhill through creosote bush covered slopes. Jeff carries the gear and the scope for us. Dawn and I chat companionably as we make our way down into the crevice that is Cienega Creek.


I have only been here once before and I am anticipating a great birding experience, but as we descend the slope all is strangely quiet. We enter the canyon in the dry wash of Davidson Canyon. Figuring that we will see more birds if we head toward the water, we head north towards Cienega Creek. Along the way we travel over gravel and sand. Rocky cliffs rise around us covered with willows, mesquite and Arizona ash trees. Saguaros poke their arms and heads above the tree line on the canyon rim above and some even grow out of the rock ledges. We finally join the creek and follow it westward towards the bridges but still, all is strangely silent.


I am thinking to myself; where are all the birds? I know I saw black phoebes here last time, as well as song sparrows and others. But though we see green grass and water plants, though we find a dead mammal of some sort in the water, we are not finding birds. We go as far as we can before the water prevents further travel and it is at this point that Jeff finds a Great Blue Heron downstream wading casually among the reeds and riffles. It has no fear from us. We cannot get down there. We each take a look through the scope, and then decide to try our luck up stream. It requires several stream crossing to make our way back, but we are able to find places where the channel is narrow or else a path has already been laid with stones and we step quickly across. Dawn decides to stop halfway across one creek crossing to answer one of my questions and loses her footing with a splash. Later on I am the one who ends up with mud on my ankles, but none of us cares, we are having a good time.


The day has turned warm and we peel off a layer. At the junction of Davidson Canyon and Cienega creek we turn east. Dawn wants to see if we can find the source and so we cross the creek once again and walk through a densely forested area with grass actually growing beneath our feet! For me it almost reminds me of walking through the woods of New England and I revel in this remembered experience.

DSC_0058 Black Phoebe in Cienega Creek preserve 2-19-10

We are hearing a sharp chipping noise now. We look ahead and find a black phoebe hunting insects from an overhanging branch. The dark little bird darts out quickly, grabs its prey and alights once again on a twig. We watch this entertainment quietly for a few moments before pressing on. The little phoebe precedes us upstream, always staying a few feet ahead of us, but it never flies off in fear.


We find the source of the creek as it spills out of the ground. Here the water is murky, and stagnant in some spots. An orange algae seems to flow with the water like strands of rust colored hair. The waterline fades to damp gravel then dry wash but we can see where someone dug down just a foot and found the water groundwater once again.


Now we hear the” chink, chink!” of an Abert’s towhee. Dawn and Jeff find a pair of them in the dense underbrush on the opposite bank, but all I get is a ghostly glimpse of a feathered shadow fleeing into the brush. Here even the trees look ghostly as we travel past white cliffs with tree roots exposed by the sculpting power of water.

As the wash widens the trees start to thin and we are suddenly hearing the twittering of birds. Tall cottonwoods and willows rise above us and now it is so busy we don’t know where to look first! On tall tree is putting out its catkins and it is covered in lesser goldfinches. Before us a flock of orange-breasted birds flies up into a different tree. Robins! We see the undulating flight of a woodpecker and focus in on a ladder-back female. From yet another tree a Gila woodpecker squeaks its alarm to the rest of the forest. Then I see the white rump of a flicker as it flies to the top of a cotton wood. Jeff gets it in the scope as we try to see if it is a red-shafted Northern flicker or the Gilded Flicker of the Sonoran desert. With this habitat I expect to find a red-shafted flicker and with the help of the scope I can just barely see the red feathers on the wing edges of a female as this magnificent bird clings to the silver tree trunk casually preening herself. It seems to know we mean it no harm as it gazes down on us from its lofty perch.


We stay here for several minutes. This is the richest bird area we have found down here this time. We start to speculate why here and not farther downstream. It is Dawn who comes up with the best theory. We must be just enough higher in elevation here that the trees have already started to bloom. The blooms bring insects and the insects bring the birds. From the junction of Davidson Canyon with Cienega Creek onward we have seen the phoebe, towhees, 3 kinds of woodpeckers, a ruby-crowned kinglet, 2 Bewick’s Wrens, a Verdin, a yellow-rumped warbler, and a whole flock of robins.

It is late now, long after lunch time and we reluctantly pack up our gear and bushwhack our way back to the Davidson Canyon channel where we pick up the trail to the parking lot and the car. As we hike back through creosote and cactus we know once again that we are in the desert and I marvel as always at the water that flows below. Here in the desert where water seems such a miracle, such a precious resource must be protected at all costs. Now that I have done it, I will have to go back when all is lush and green to see what else I can find; to see what else lives along this life-giving creek.

A Visit to Cienega Creek Preserve starts with a visit or a phone call to the Pima County Natural Resources office to obtain a permit. The permits to Cienega Creek are free but you need to have one in your possession to hike there. Cienega creek is a year round stream that flows from Davidson Canyon into the Pantano Wash. It is located on the southeast side of Tucson. Having only visited here one time before with friends, I was a bit intimidated by the permitting process, but it really was no big deal. The website has all the information necessary but what I learned was that you have to apply for the permit at least 2 business days ahead of time unless you want to do a walk-in. The website has three different phone numbers listed for information. Call the Permit line to learn about the process and leave a detailed message for your permit. I tired the info line but was only directed to voice mail. Since I needed a permit on short notice, I really wanted to talk to a person and ask a few questions before I drove the 30 miles or more to get it. I discovered that by calling the 520-877-6000 number I was able to talk to a live person and get my questions answered. The office is located at 3500 W. River Road in Tucson.

Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation: 520-877-6000

Permit Line: 520-877-6158

Additional Questions: 520-877-6123

My World Tuesday

Read The Thrush and I

a poem inspired by this walk.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Rainy Birthday in Sycamore Canyon


Gila Woodpecker eating bark butter 2-22-10

A rainy day always brings the birds out to feed. Before the storm rolls in the hungry birds gather at my feeders. They particularly like this new bark butter feeder I purchased with a gift card from the Wild Birds Unlimited store on East Tangue Verde. I did not even know this store existed here in Tucson until I was given a gift card and looked it up online. Since then I have been back three times. The birds really seem to like this bark butter, which is a combination of suet, ground peanuts and cornmeal. You can spread it directly on the bark of a tree, but I happen to like this little feeder. I have seen woodpeckers, wrens, and finches all feasting form the feeder and my only complaint is that they eat it up so fast! However, on a cold day like today, I know they need this extra fuel to stay warm.


Gray skies over Mt. Fagan 2-22-10

When I lived in the northeast I would get tired of the gray skies in the winter, but here they are a welcome relief and I am enjoying this stormy winter birthday. It is a perfect time to stay inside and drink a cup of tea from the mug my sister sent to me for my birthday. It was a total surprise when I received it in the mail this weekend, but it is especially significant because of the bird on the mug. My grandmother loved cardinals and my mother has carried on the tradition of using them as a theme in Nana’s house where my mother now lives. I knew my sister liked cardinals also and so I sent both her and my mom kitchen towels and potholders with cardinals on them for Christmas. I kept a set for myself so we could all feel connected so far away. To have her send me this cardinal mug is just one more thread in our family fabric and I am enjoying steamy hot cups of Earl Grey Tea on this cold and blustery day!



To add to the fun of my birthday, my sweet husband bought me this wonderful birdbath/fountain that I have been coveting ever since I first saw it at the Wild Birds Unlimited Store. Right now it is sitting on my kitchen counter while we decide where it will go, but I am hoping it will be a great attraction for the birds as well as a soothing sound for us when we are outside. Yeah, it’s a fake stump, but I like it!

DSC_0015Lesser Goldfinches in mesquite tree 2-22-10

The lesser goldfinches huddle in the naked branches of my velvet mesquite tree trying to decide if it is safe to drop to the feeders. They appear as bright yellow blossoms against steel colored skies here on this rainy birthday in Sycamore Canyon.

A Note from Kathiesbirds: Come back tomorrow for a My World Tuesday Post about Cienega Creek Preserve. I spent the day with Jeff and Dawn Fine there on Friday and what fun we had. Many thanks to Dawn who taught me how to use Windows Live Writer which should make blogging so much easier for me than before. This is my first attempt at using it. I hope it works!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Skywatch Friday: New Sky, New Blog

Rainbow in Sycamore Canyon 1-21-10

Rainbows always seem like a new day is dawning with a promise of something good. I hope this is true for I am announcing a new blog called Sycamore Canyon Birds. This new blog will be targeted specifically to the birds seen in Sycamore Canyon. It will be useful for current and new residents in Sycamore Canyon as a tool to identify bird species seen in our neighborhood. I also hope to include information on bird feeding, bird habitats and where to spot species within Sycamore Canyon.

The need for this blog became apparent when I was talking to the head of the Sycamore Canyon HOA about birds and my blog. While there was much enthusiasm for my interest in birds, because of my position and blog posts on the Rosemont and limestone mines the HOA could not link up to my blog as it must remain politically neutral. However, I really want to share my passion and knowledge for birds and birding here in Sycamore Canyon, which is truly a unique area. After months of contemplation the only solution I could come up with was to start another blog specifically about birds and nature in Sycamore Canyon. Sycamore Canyon will remain my main blog but I hope to have Sycamore Canyon Birds as a reference tool for the Homeowners and anyone else who want to know about bird species seen here. I already have my first post up but there is not much there right now. I hope to tweak the site within the next few days and polish it up into a fine website that is useful to all!
Meanwhile, keep on skywatching at

Monday, February 15, 2010

My World: There's No Place Like Home

Peregrine Falcon in Sycamore Canyon 2-13-10
(Photo by Gusto! with Nikon D80 and 70-300mm lens set in sports mode.)

The GBBC is on and Gus and I have been out counting birds for the past three days. We spent Friday in Santa Cruz County counting birds in Rio Rico. Saturday and Sunday have been spent in Corona de Tucson and the Tucson area counting birds. As we were heading home from a full day of birding on Saturday that included Agua Caliente Park the sinking sun cast a golden glow over the desert. As we turned into the road to our neighborhood I spotted a raptor on top of one of our utility poles. Like everyone else in the Tucson area, we have plenty of Red-tailed hawks. Still, I checked this one out, just in case. As the bird came into focus I started exclaiming to Gus: "Pull over, Pull over! It's a peregrine falcon!" Gus pulled the car off the road and stepped out with the camera. I watched through my bins and started counting the rest of the birds in the area. Amazingly a red-tailed hawk was sitting in a palo verde tree just across the street from the falcon. However, it flew off as I got out of the car. The following series of photos were taken by Gus. They aren't quite as sharp as he would like but he was shooting up at an angle and we did keep our distance. We did not want to scare the bird away from its prey. I know how hard they work to capture a meal. We watched until the falcon was done feeding and flew off, then I counted birds for the rest of the mile segment. In that short distance and time we saw the peregrine falcon, a red-tailed hawk, and an American kestrel! All in Sycamore Canyon! Like Dorothy says in the Wizard of Oz, "There's no place like home! Enjoy the following photos which all click to enlarge and be sure to visit the rest of the world by clicking on the link for

Today is the last day of the GBBC, so I am off to count birds. I haven't even had time to submit all my lists yet but the birds won't wait! I'll be back later with an update!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Skywatch Friday: Scenic View Open...

The Scenic Santa Rita Mountains
as seem from the Rosemont Valley
along AZ Highway 83 in Davidson Canyon 2-8-10

Scenic View Open...

...but for... long?

Site of the proposed Rosemont Copper Mine

Test Area 2-8-10

and please visit...

All photos taken by Kathie Brown on February 8, 2010 with the Nikon D80

The GBBC Has Begun!

It's just after midnight on the 12th and I have been listening to a Great-horned owl hooting from a rooftop across the street. It is so loud that I can here it from inside my house, though I did step outside to see if I could see it. No chance! It's pitch black dark out there! Still, it will constitute the first bird of my bird count today. Gus and I are going to see how many checklists we can acquire in a variety of places and habitats. He will be taking photos while I count the birds! We hope to put Corona de Tucson and Rio Rico on the GBBC map!

Good birding everyone. Now get out there and count! (click on the button above to learn more or to enter checklists. By the way, you don't have to be an expert and you will have fun!)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Fine Day in Arizona: Catalina State Park

Catalina Mountains 2-9-10

I awake early Monday morning to drive to Catalina State Park. At 60 miles away it will take me an hour to get there. After the usual morning chores I am out the door and into a sundrenched but cold day. It is only 35 degrees as I leave the house.

I dress warmly for the day because of this, with 3 layers of shirts to be shed one by one as the day warms up. For now it is cool and the highway is thick with the traffic of morning rush hour. Once I am at the Tangerine Road exit I discover it is a 15 mile drive to get to Catalina State Park. This will be my first time birding this park. Though I have lived here for almost 3 years now, I have only been here once before with Gus. It was summertime then and so hot that we drove in and drove back out again. We did not stay, but now the peaks of the Catalinas greet me with snow dusted faces. I drive in the park and stop to pay my fee.

Jeff and Dawn Fine 2-9-10

I am here today to meet Dan and Jeff Fine. I know Dawn from her blog, Dawn’s Bloggy Blog. I am so excited to meet her. As I hand over my $6 I give her a call on my cell phone to let her know I am here. Jeff answers the phone and informs me that he is right behind my vehicle in his car. So, I let him pass and follow him to their campsite.

I have never met Jeff and Dawn before but as I disembark from my car they greet me so warmly and before you know it there are hugs all around. Outside their camper they have feeders set up so the air is full of twitterings as I walk into their home. I met Ballie, the black Persian cat, and Jeff and Dawn served me hot coffee and sweet pound cake. Soon we are off talking a mile a minute as if we were old friends, and it feels like we are. However, we all know that we are here to bird and we are eager to get on our way.

With coffee gone we pack our gear, donned our bins, and head out the door. It is already warm enough that I shed one of my shirts. I am starting to doubt if I chose the right pants to wear for the day: my heavy canvas jeans. I rarely wear them here in AZ, only on the coldest days. Now I am starting to think that I may have misjudged the weather.

Red-naped Sapsucker 2-9-10

We set off across the campground toward the Bridle trail. Another woman named Terry joins us for our walk. She, too, is a birder and camper. We are quite a sight with all our binoculars and cameras and heads raised towards the treetops. Today I am hoping to see a Crissal thrasher and Jeff is hoping to find one for me. Catalina State Park is one of the best places to see them in AZ. We see a thrasher up singing on a treetop before us, but this one is the typical western thrasher, so I make a note of it in my notebook and we move on. We find a small flock of Oregon juncos moving through the brush. A few white-crowned sparrows make an appearance mixed with a few rufous-winged sparrows. We hike to a grove of sorry looking trees and there find a red-naped sapsucker and a Verdin.

Great-horned Owl on nest 2-9-10

Nearby Dawn finds a great-horned owl in its nest high in an old cottonwood tree. We stay undercover and keep our distance, for we do not want to disturb the bird, but we are able to capture a few photos and get a good look before we leave.

Golden water 2-9-10

Though it has rained on and off for the past week and the ground beneath our feet is soft and sometimes soggy, the old vegetation has already dried and crunches beneath our feet. We try to walk quietly, but to no avail. Any Crissal thrasher within 100 feet is making for the hills!

I lose all track of time as we meander around the park. At some point Terry leaves us, and then it is just Dawn, Jeff and I. We search the undergrowth were the Crissal usually hang out, but no luck. Soon we are on the edge of the Summerline Wash with golden water flowing down the mountainside. After living here in the desert for so long I now find the presence of water a wonder and delight. I like the sparkle of it as it ripples and flows. I like the gentle trickle sound I am hearing. This is not the roar of a flash flood, but rather the slow and gentle melting of snow higher up and ground water draining down to refresh the earth. By the time May rolls around this wash will be dry and it will be hard to believe it once flowed with water like this.

Bridled titmouse 2-9-10

We are near the picnic area and so we stop to eat our lunch. We all sit at the table and remove our bins and cameras. We chat happily as the birds sing around us. Across the street a flock of robins is making short work of the berries on a hackberry tree. All is peaceful and relaxing until Dawn spies a small gray bird in a tree across the road. Like a flash we are all up with bins in hand. She thinks she sees a gray flycatcher! I am trying to locate it. Another birding couple at an adjoining table points it out to us. We watch as it bobs its tail downwards. I see wing bars and pale gray blending with pale yellow-green on its flanks. The tiny bird watches us warily, and then the bird and we are OFF! It flies toward the wash with us in pursuit. It disappears down the embankment and we follow trying to get a better look. All of our stuff is now abandoned at the picnic table and the bird is all that counts. I see it fly out from a tree over the water and back, but it is all a flash, and I still can’t find it in the tree which is on the same bank I am standing on, so I can’t get out and look at the side I need to. Then, a black phoebe flushes up and flies upstream a short distance to a new perch.

Northern Cardinal 2-9-10

Dawn and I keep searching, but now all we are seeing are cardinals and Pyrrhuloxia in the brush. We find a lone bridled titmouse scrounging for food along the branch of a tree and watch for a few minutes. Its black and white bridled face is so sweet and the bird is so acrobatic! Then we see Jeff coming through the brush with our backpacks and shirts in tow. Lunch is now officially over and we are on our way again.

American Robin 2-9-10

Abert’s towhees are thick in the underbrush. We have already seen one green-tailed towhee, and now a Canyon towhee pops up for us to see. I discover that trails mean nothing to Dawn and Jeff. We follow where the birds lead. I am lost in the world of saguaros and forest, mountains and creeks. It is warm and cool all at once. I have shed my second shirt and tied it around my waist. Now I am just n a ¾ sleeved t-shirt and my pants feel hot and heavy on my legs. I soon forget this fact as I get lost in the pursuit of the birds.

Dawn and Jeff on the trail 2-9-10

Rufous-winged sparrow 2-9-10 Catalina SP

A rufous-winged sparrow scratches in the duff searching for something to eat. We quickly spot 3 others as we walk softly by.

Western Scrub jay 2-9-10

Once again we start our search in the undergrowth for a Crissal thrasher when suddenly Jeff spots a bird high in a mesquite across the wash. We all get our bins on it and are surprised to discover it is a jay!

But which one? While I snap off some shots Jeff and Dawn look with bins, then I get my bins on it once again. The lacy green leaves of the tree are blocking its face, but we can clearly see the gray mantle on its back, the blue tail and then, it turns enough that we see the dark cheek patch. It flies away from us before we ever get a chance to see the blue “necklace” that is so distinctive of a western scrub jay, but we all feel we saw enough of it to call it as a scrub and not a Mexican jay. The Mexican is deeper blue and softer gray and almost always in family groups. This is a lone bird in the mountains along a flowing wash and all indications are that it is a western scrub jay. For me this is significant because I have never seen a western scrub jay here in Arizona. Though they were quite common when I lived in Utah, it has been a long time since I have seen one.

American Kestrel 2-9-10

The day is wearing on and the temperature is rising and falling as the sun disappears behind clouds and a cool breeze kicks up. I feel the caress of it on my face. Dawn puts her jacket back on.

We watch a kestrel fly to a saguaro and gaze down on us as if it were the king on his throne. Sir kestrel can you please tell us where the Crissal thrashers are? The kestrel looks down on us with disdain and flies off without an answer.

Snow dusted Catalinas 2-9-10

Though we search high and low and crunch our way though tickets of old growth brush and trees we find nothing. But all three of us are smiling. It has been a perfect day outside in the sun and fresh air watching birds and making friends. What could be better? Yes, it is indeed a Fine day in Arizona with Dawn and Jeff Fine and the snow-dusted arms of the Catalina Mountains wrapped around us like a hug.

For those who are interest, all photos were taken today by Kathie with the Nikon D80 and the 70 to 300 mm lens.ed

Don't forget! The Great Backyard Bird Count starts this Friday. You can count birds in your back yard or your local state parks! Go to their website for all the details. It is so much fun! Perhaps you will get a list like this:

Location: Catalina SP
Observation date: 2/9/10
Notes: Birding with Dawn and Jeff Fine. Hiked from campground along bridle trail and wash. Wash was flowing.
Number of species: 29

Gambel's Quail 1 heard only
Red-tailed Hawk 2
American Kestrel 1
Mourning Dove 1
Great Horned Owl 1 on nest
Anna's Hummingbird 3
Gila Woodpecker 8
Red-naped Sapsucker 2
Ladder-backed Woodpecker 1
Gray Flycatcher 1
Black Phoebe 1
Loggerhead Shrike 1
Western Scrub-Jay (Woodhouse's) 1
Bridled Titmouse 1
Verdin 4
Cactus Wren 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1
American Robin 12
Curve-billed Thrasher (Western) 1
Green-tailed Towhee 2
Canyon Towhee 5
Abert's Towhee 10
Rufous-winged Sparrow 10
White-crowned Sparrow 15
Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon) 5
Northern Cardinal 3
Pyrrhuloxia 9
House Finch 3
Lesser Goldfinch 20

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(