Saturday, January 26, 2008

What I Found While Searching for Birds

Thursday's Survey of Sycamore Canyon ( January 24)

I am determined to survey the birds in the canyon today. It has been a long time since I walked the 2 mile length of the road and counted birds. Trying to compete for the Big January total with Larry of the Brownstone Birding Blog has prompted me to go out even more than normal. Plus, since I have started eBirding I am having more fun than ever adding new totals to my life list. So, at 9:45 a.m. under mostly sunny skies I head out the door complete with binoculars, notebook and water. I leave the D80 home because I want to focus on identifying and counting species, instead of photographing them. However, I do have my Nikon Coolpix in my pocket for any impromptu photographs.

I don’t have to go far before spotting a Rock Wren bouncing on the block walls along Rustling Leaf Trail. In the brush nearby a small flock of sweet-faced Brewers’ sparrows flies up. I cut across the desert to the main road hoping I might see a cactus wren or some black-throated sparrow, but all I see is an abandoned cactus wren nest in a spiny cholla cactus.

Out on the road I scan the desert for birds. I spot a lump on a tree that looks like a bird of prey. Sure enough, a Cooper’s hawk is perched near a wash watching for something to fill its belly. Farther down the road I hear some twittering. I look up to the retention basin near the Meritage neighborhood and see many small birds hopping about and scratching in the grass. Slowly I creep up to the fence and watch. Scattered about the wash under various trees and shrubs the little sparrows are searching for breakfast. I find some black-throated sparrows here, along with white-crowned sparrows and Rufous-winged sparrows. I saw my first Rufous-winged yesterday on a road called Garigans Gulch. I had suspected I have seen this species here before, but it is a new species for me and required further study. Now I am confident as I spot the two dark whisker marks flanking the lighter throat. An eye-line bisects the face and the sparrows raise their striped Rufous crest. While the breast is unstreaked, the rufous wing patch on the bird’s shoulder isn’t always visible. Today I am at a good angle and the bird is quite close, so I am able to see it. How exciting! This is another new life bird for me. Now I am wishing I had brought the D80!

The canyon is alive with bird today. I spot my first yellow-rumped warbler in this location as well. Farther down the road at the juncture of Harrison and Sycamore Leaf the sidewalk is alive with small birds hopping about. I freeze at the corner and train my binoculars on the birds. So many sparrows! Black-throats and Brewer’s are easy to pick out. There are a few more Rufous-winged sparrows also, but here are more species that I am uncertain of. If I only had that camera I could photograph them and figure them out at home. I start to scribble notes, but switching back and forth from binoculars to writing is awkward. Then a huge construction truck drives by and the birds flee to the desert. Once they’ve taken wing I realize there are far more than I thought there were as a flock of fifty plus birds flies up and then down into the grasses and brush, too far away for me to see them anymore.

By now I’ve been at this for almost 2 hours. Once again I am tired, hungry and cold as the clouds have moved in once again along with the wind and the drop in temperature. I turn around at the last wash before Sahuarita road where I find two mockingbirds eating hackberries from the tree that hangs over the wash. This is one of my favorite places to come to. It reminds me of my grandfather’s pasture from when I was a child. Though he wouldn’t have cactus in Connecticut, there’s still something familiar about the feel of the land, the rustling of the leaves and of course, the cow pies, for this area is fenced off for cattle and sometimes I see them here, though I have no idea what they find to eat! I will come back one day and sit here to think and feel this desert feeling, this wooded spot alongside the road. It is a vignette of a time and place long gone for me, but this spot brings me back and reminds me that it once existed and I was once young. I set out to go birding but found a memory instead. Not a bad deal, don’t you think?

Big January Total: 67. Rufous- Winged Sparrow. 68. Canyon Towhee, 69. Cassin’s Sparrow


Kathie Brown said...

Thank you Island Rambles. Your Blog does the same for me. I visited the other day and it was like a visit to the Pacific Norhtwest. I like reading about the Salmon spawn at Goldstream Estuary. Your photos of the forest make me feel like I'm there.

Larry said...

Great report!-I like the way you describe each bird you find and you made excellent progress!