Thursday, May 2, 2013

Running Home

4-18-13 Running Home

The Santa Rita Mountains 1-21-2010

What is this that awakens me?

What is this pull I feel?

I rise on a sunny morning,

I get into my car and drive,

I pass beneath a Swainson’s hawk circling above,

I leave the city streets behind.

Around me, the desert opens wide—

I feel my mind relaxing

As each mile falls behind,

And then I see the wonder

Of this wild place

Each mile draws me closer

To these cactus-covered slopes

Where birds fly free in a pale blue sky,

Where birds nest in pale green scrub,

Where mountain peaks rise up and stand

Shoulder to shoulder towering

Over spiny saguaros,

Deep canyons,

And me.

—I am being called

—I am being pulled

—I am running


~Kathie Adams Brown (April 17, 2013)

It’s been a long time since I have lived in Sycamore Canyon now. I moved away in August of 2010. Two years later I returned to Tucson and moved into a rental house in town. Since I still have friends in the area I have been out to visit Sycamore Canyon a few times. I have tried to deny the pull that it still as on me, but with spring migration in full swing, I could not help but think of all the marvelous birds that I use to see right in my own backyard when I lived in Sycamore Canyon. Or, I could just cross the street and be in the wash in 30 seconds or less, and see even more. So it was that one day back in mid April I left my suburban home and drove out to visit one of my friend in Sycamore Canyon. I basically spent the whole day there watching birds from her yard, or in the park. It was after this that I came back to Tucson and wrote the above poem which I originally posted on my poetry blog.

Sycamore Canyon is such a special place and the wildlife there is amazing. Being on the slopes of the Santa Rita Mountains is like no other habitat in Tucson. This is truly a place that need to be protected and preserved. While my main blog is now Kathie’s Birds, I realize that I will be back to visit Sycamore Canyon and I want to keep all the posts related to this place on the same blog, so I have decided that if I write about Sycamore Canyon I will publish the post in both locations to make it easier to find. If you like, come visit me at Kathie’s Birds or Kathie's Poet Tree, and maybe one of these days I will get back to finishing my guide to the birds of Sycamore Canyon on Sycamore Canyon Birds!

In Search of Nighthawks

1. Mt. fagan-kab

Mt. Fagan as seen from Sycamore Canyon 1-21-2010

It was a busy weekend here and Sunday we just crashed and watched TV, but by Sunday evening I was itching to get out of the house and see some birds. I know that the nighthawks have been spotted in the area, but I had yet to see any for myself. Knowing that we used to see them all the time in Sycamore Canyon of Corona de Tucson, Gus and I decided to go for a drive and see if we could find some.

The sun is still shining and the air still warm and dry as we hop into the convertible. Gus heads for Old Spanish Trail and we wind our way along the Rincon Mountains and up through Vail in order to avoid the Pima County Fair Traffic on Houghton Rd. Here in Arizona they do their county fair in spring instead of autumn. I am guessing this is due to the weather, which is perfect at this time of year!

2. cactus garden-kab As we drive through Vail Town Center the road starts to climb toward the Santa Rita Mountains. Above us the sky is mostly clear. I am lost somewhere deep in thought as the miles slip by. Soon we are turning onto Harrison Road with the Mt. Fagan and the Santa Rita Mountains looming ahead. Gus cannot resist a drive past our old house and I see that the cactus garden we planted out front is still there and one cactus is blooming bright pink blossoms!

3. Syc Can Park-kab We head down to the park then and park our car and get out. While the park looks pretty much the same, there are a lot more people and dogs in it. Someone has a whole team of huskies! They look so out of place here in the desert. I grab my bins and notebook and we take of walking. Gus soon goes ahead of me while I linger to look for birds, but all I am seeing are Mourning Doves and White-winged doves, and a lone Cactus Wren. In the desert I hear Curve-billed thrashers and Gambel’s Quail.

I see a desert cottontail hiding just off the path wanting to get out onto the lush4. cottontail-kab green lawn of the park, but still leery of all the people and dogs. Behind it a jack rabbit looks like a giant as it dwarfs the smaller rabbit with its huge feet, legs, and ears. While I am enjoying seeing these creatures, it is still not what I came to see! I scan the park, the desert, and the sky for nighthawks, but see none. I finish my circuit around the track and make it back near the parking lot. By now Gus has done several laps and the sun has set. People have left the park and we are just about the only ones left. As I wait for Gus to come around again I scan the desert for nighthawks and find a Great Horned Owl perched atop a tall saguaro instead. Its silhouette looks like an eared lump against the tangerine sunset! 5. sunset-kab The temperature has dropped quite a bit by now but we still leave the top down as we get back into the convertible. We drive away from the park and Sycamore Canyon without seeing a single nighthawk. I find this distressing since I know they used to be here on a regular basis. I ask Gus to drive by Road Runner Market at the junction of Houghton and Sahuarita Roads as it has numerous street lights and often there are nighthawks hunting for insects here. We drive east on Sahuarita Road, then turn south on Houghton where Gus does a u-turn and we are now facing north. All this time I have been scanning the sky overhead for nighthawks to no avail. I have not seen one. As we wait at the stop light in the left turn lane to drive down to Sahuarita I suddenly see motion across the street from us on the northeast corner of the intersection. This is not a nighthawk. It is a large raptor, an owl, but too pale for a Great Horned Owl. I train my binoculars on the bird, which has landed on a fence post low to the ground, and discover it is a Barn Owl! With no one behind us we sit through three changes of the light while I watch this magnificent raptor as it turns its head from side to side searching the ground below for prey. We finally make the turn and drive away without knowing if the owl got to eat tonight. As Gus turns the car west I am smiling like a Cheshire Cat moon in the night.

6. Nighthawk-kab All along the ten or more miles to Sahuarita I am looking for nighthawks in street lights to no avail. We spend about 30 minutes or more in the grocery store before getting back into our car to head home. I ask Gus to drive through Rancho Sahuarita as we head north. The paved road snakes through the development with street lights scattered here and there. It is as we are nearing the end of the road that I see a well lit parking lot off on my right. As Gus drive forward suddenly I see the ghostly flash of a bat-like body as it moves in and out of one of the street lights! Nighthawks! “Gus!” I yell, “I think I just saw some nighthawks!” My patient husband turns the car around and we drive back to the parking lot. Sure enough, as we park beneath one of the lights we see the nighthawks swooping and fluttering like giant moths hawking for insects.

7. nighthawk-kab We sit there in the darkness, bathed in the glow of street lights and watch the birds swoop, dive and flutter. Their erratic flight is so unpredictable. Their bodies so cryptically colored, yet I can see their notched tails streaming out behind them, and the white or buffy patches in their wings. We get mostly Lesser Nighthawks here in Arizona, but it is possible to find common nighthawks as well. In the Lesser species the females have a buffy patch on their wings, instead of the white patch of the male Lessers or both sexes of Common Nighthawks.

8. nighthawk-kab I think I could have stayed there and watched those birds all night long, but after ten to fifteen minutes we finally left. It is hard for me to drive away in this cool night air, because I am still concerned for this species of bird. I did not see very many insects in the street lights. When there was a brief bit of insect activity suddenly eight nighthawks came into the lights at once, then they were gone, and so were the insects. Until that one moment Gus and I had only see four nighthawks at the same time. The nighthawks seem to prefer the lights that were nearest the open desert beyond. I did not see them hunting at any of the lights nearer the center of the parking lot.

So, it was with a somewhat sad smile that I left the birds behind me as Gus drove away. Here in Sahuarita the temperature had dropped to 65F! But, by the time we got back up to Tucson it was back to 75F! That just shows you the effect of the “heat bubble” created by the city. I am happy to have finally seen my nighthawks, but a bit concerned about their population. I know so many insects are being poisoned by pesticides and along with them, the wildlife that feed on them. We must find a way to live with these creatures that share the earth with us. All of our lives are enriched by their presence.

Happy Earth Day!

9. GH owl-kabGreat Horned Owl in Sycamore Canyon 8-8-2008

Note: All photos in this post are from my archives from when I lived in Sycamore Canyon between 2007 and 2010. While I no longer live in Sycamore Canyon, I do have friends who do. I did not have my camera with me on this drive. Besides, it was soon too dark for photography! This post was originally posted on my Kathie’s Birds blog for Earth Day.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Come Visit me at Kathie’s Birds!


Follow this little Semi-palmated Plover over to my new blog

Kathie’s Birds

where you will read about my adventures in birding Plum Island in Massachusetts and other parts of New England and beyond, because, you see, I have moved away from Sycamore Canyon (at least for now).

Monday, October 18, 2010

Chapter 9 continued: Graham County and Lake Cochise


Down, down, down we travel, down out of the mountains, down to the farmland of Safford where fields of crops flow away to mountain edges. Safford is a small but quaint town. Over all of it towers Mount Graham like some benevolent god, his craggy head lost today in the clouds of rain. Our time is growing short. We take a quick drive through Roper Lake State Park. I count 12 species here including a gorgeous male hooded oriole. This is a place I would definitely like to come back to if there were time.

DSC_0158g Birds Seen At Roper lake SP:

Location: Roper Lake SP
Observation date: 8/1/10
Notes: We only had time for a quick drive into the park and out again. All species seen from car.
Number of species: 12
Mallard 12
Gambel's Quail 6
Turkey Vulture 3
White-winged Dove 2
Western Kingbird 1
raven sp. 2
Barn Swallow 2
Verdin 2
Common Yellowthroat 2
Black-throated Sparrow 6
Red-winged Blackbird 8
Hooded Oriole 1
House Sparrow 3
This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(


Other Birds seen in Various parts of Graham County:

  1. Turkey Vulture
  2. Rock pigeon
  3. White-winged dove
  4. Mourning dove
  5. Eurasian collared-dove
  6. Barn Swallow
  7. Northern Mockingbird
  8. Lark bunting
  9. Great-tailed Grackle
  10. House finch
  11. House sparrow

All together I saw 19 species of birds in Graham county on this day.

DSC_0068 In Wilcox we exit the highway to see what birds are hanging to at Lake Cochise near Twin Lakes Golf Course. It is a favorite birding area well known to people far and wide. On the road in I first find a killdeer wading in a puddle alongside the road…


…then I spot a Swainson’s Hawk resting on a utility pole.  It is on Gus’ side of the car, so I hand him the D80 which has the 70-300mm lens on it and he snaps the shots off. The Swainson’s seems unconcerned by our presence.

DSC_0080 Barn swallows 8-1-10


Western Kingbird 8-1-10

DSC_0085 Lesser scaup? 8-1-10

At first we do not see any birds on the water other than what looks like a lone scaup resting on some rocks, but then,

DSC_0191gas we start to travel the road that circles around the lake I find sandpipers and peeps. I am no good at shorebirds and all of these are in transition plumages.

DSC_0093 Wilson’s Phalaropes 8-1-10

I snap shot after shot hoping to figure it all out when I get home.

DSC_0097 DSC_0113 DSC_0122

I start to walk the dirt road while Gus is busy taking photographs.

DSC_0186g Lake Cochise 8-1-10

DSC_0217g Mountains and lake 8-1-10


Black-necked stilt in flight 8-1-10

In a distant pond I spot avocets and black-necked stilts. Then, as I am once again scanning the lake I see some birds with tiny heads spinning in the water across from me.

DSC_0233gNow I am getting excited! I have only seen this species one time before at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah. I am hoping these are what I think they are. I call excitedly to Gus, come and get me! We have to drive to the other side! I think I am seeing phalaropes!


Gus drives up and we round the bend to the other side. From this side we are closer and the setting sun is behind us giving me the best light. I see some other birders with cameras, bins and scopes. I am hoping they know more than I do about these birds so I walk over and introduce myself. I meet a woman named Linda Mack. She is from New Jersey and she has brought a birding tour here from there! She is able to enlighten me about the birds we are seeing. She tells me they are Wilson’s Phalaropes. She also had an Eared Grebe in her scope which she graciously lets me see. Then she tells me about the least and western sandpipers we are seeing. She also tells me there are Baird’s sandpipers in the mix. I have never seen a Baird’s so it would be a life bird for me but we keep talking and then some of her clients need her and I never get to see the Baird's. However, I have taken tons of photos. I can tell there are birds that are different from the others so I will upload my pictures and figure it all out later when I am home.


Gus and I drive away in the dusky light. We point our car west and follow the highway home for one last time. It has been a full day. Our hearts and minds and cameras are full of memories and photos. It will be hard to leave this place. There are so many places yet to explore but we have run out of time. I console myself with the fact that since I started this blog, almost all of those adventures are document here and I can read it for myself anytime. And perhaps someday when my kids are older and they start to wonder about their mother’s life, they will read this account also and know what their mother did in her “spare” time! Perhaps at least one of them will discover this passion for themselves.

DSC_0184 Avocets 8-1-10

My World Tuesday 

Location: Wilcox--Lake Cochise and Wilcox Golf Course
Observation date: 8/1/10
Notes: Met a woman named Linda Mack from New Jersey who was guiding a tour. She let me look through her scope. She was very nice and helpful.
Number of species: 12
Eared Grebe 1
Swainson's Hawk 1
Killdeer 6
Black-necked Stilt 4
American Avocet 5
Lesser Yellowlegs 1
Western Sandpiper 8
Least Sandpiper 5
Wilson's Phalarope 40
Western Kingbird 2
Barn Swallow 6
Great-tailed Grackle 3
This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(


(all pictures enlarge with a click)

Blogger’s Note: This is a post I tried to publish before I left but I ran out of storage in Picasa Web Albums.  I have now purchased more space and hope that this publishes when I press the button! If you are seeing this post then it worked!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Announcing my new blog: Kathie's Birds!

Hello Everyone!

What a trip it has been and there is still so much to do!  I have now moved over to my new blog,

Come visit me there and read about my further adventures in birding all across the USA!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Skywatch Friday: Windshield Sky

1. side window 2. cloud reflections 3. who's looking at you 4. Clouds 5. Greenlee county sky

Gus had fun with his camera under a Greenlee County Sky 8-1-10

Skywatch Friday

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Good-bye Chronicles: Chapter 10. Letting Go

There is an old story I like to tell myself whenever we have to move again. I told it to myself when we left Utah to move down here. Now I remind myself of it once again. I do not remember where I first heard it but it goes like this.

A man lived in the jungle and wanted to catch a monkey for a pet. So, he put a peanut in the bottom of a narrow necked bottle and tied it to a stake. When the troop of monkeys came by in the afternoon one of the younger monkeys saw the bottle gleaming in the sunlight with the peanut in its depths. The monkey ambled over to the strange object, examined it, and reached inside the bottle. Its leathery hand clasped the peanut tightly excited about his treasure. But, as the monkey tried to extract the peanut form the bottle he could not do it. With its hand clutching the peanut tightly its fist was too large to remove from the bottle. Yet, if the monkey let go, it would not have its treasure. So, the monkey held on and screamed in frustration. The man heard the commotion and came running with a net and captured the monkey. For the rest of its days the monkey lived in confinement because he would not let go.

For me, I see this as a parable for my life. I cannot have the next thing if I do not let go of what I already have. I will be held captive by what is instead of gaining my freedom to reach for what could be. Mentally I had been going through this exercise for days on end interspersed with tears and sweet longing. I looked around my yard at all the plants I planted. I sat in my hot tub and looked at my mesquite tree. It barely reached above the top of the 6 foot wall when we moved here 3 ½ years ago, now it provides towering shade to the yard and shelter for the birds. I can’t help but think of it as “MY” mesquite tree and I wonder if the new owners of my house will love it and cherish it like I do. From a brief moment I feel selfish. I do not want to share my mesquite tree with anyone else! But of course, it does belong here and I must let it go.

So it is Thursday, August 5 that I wake in the morning with an intense feeling of sadness. I wander about the house and yard doing my morning chores of watering and feeding birds and pets. I wander aimlessly from room to room looking at each room, each vista with sadness. I ask myself, why do I feel this way? I am ready to go. I am ready for the next adventure, the next phase of my life. I do feel that this is the right thing to do, so why am I feeling so sad? Then it hits me. I want to go with Gus.

Our original plan was for Gus to leave first while I stay behind to deal with the house. Gus leaves this Saturday morning and I am staying for another 10 days to 2 weeks to get the house ready to show and to transition my son and his family in to live here until the house sells, IF it sells. The housing market here has suffered a severe blow and if we can sell our house at all it will be far below what we paid for it. It has become the most stressful part of this move. Anyway, I planned on flying back east towards the end of August so I could see my brother before he heads back to Florida for the winter and to help Gus search for our new home on the east coast. Then, I would fly back here at the beginning of October and stay until the movers come to pack up our stuff. Then Gus and I would drive across country with our pets and our other car and I would leave for good.

At first I liked this idea and I thought about all the birding I could do and all the adventures I could have while Gus was gone and I was free to do as I pleased. But this morning it finally occurred to me that I just want to go with him. We have always made these transitions together. We have had so many adventures with all the moves we have made. I no longer want to stay here and wait. I want to go now! So, I formulate new plan and spring it on Gus when he calls. What if, I say, instead of waiting for me to move out there in November I can get one of our sons to drive with me across the country with our car and out pets and I came now and stay there now and we both just fly back here when it’s time to pack up the house? Gus says, wow! I like that idea. And so we have a new plan.

The rest of the day I while I am cleaning house and doing laundry I am also planning. I pose the idea to two of my three sons to see which one might be able to go on this adventure with me. I am full of excitement now and as I look out the windows at the birds peacefully feeding I realize that I am finally ready to take down my bird feeders and say good-bye to the birds of Sycamore Canyon.


Update 8-23-10: I had another post to publish before this one with lots of bird photos and I wanted to add bird photos to this post but I keep getting a 403 error message saying “forbidden.” I think this means I have exceeded my limit to photos on Picasa Web Albums.  I went to their site this morning but there is so much data to read through that I do not have time to figure all of this out right now.  I am getting ready to drive across the country with my vehicle and my pets this week.  My son, Chris, is flying in from Maine to make the drive with me. My son, G and his wife and my grandson Xavier are moving into our house to rent it until it sells.  If it sells.  We have not had one person come to look at the house yet.  To add to the stress, my youngest son, Alex, left for the war in Afghanistan last week. I need to get an oil change done on the car today.  So, I am posting this as my last post unless and until I can figure things out.