Friday, April 4, 2008

5 Days of Birding: Day 3 Sycamore Canyon Wash

On Saturday afternoon Kathryn and I had a meeting to attend, so Saturday morning we headed out to the big wash across the street. We are late getting out the door and as we walk down the driveway the air is scented with the blooming sweet acacia trees that live in my front yard. Their blossoms are bright yellow puff balls that glow against the cerulean blue sky like a thousand miniature suns. However, the real sun is already beating down on us with a vengeance, but a cool breeze riffles our hair as we access the trail at the top of the cul de sac. I want to show Kathryn Sunset Point, which is a spot high above the wash where I can see far out to the west towards Green Valley and Sahuarita. The scarred mountainside from the Coppermine is visible, but so is the beautiful Sonoran Desert. From this vantage point I can look down into the wash or across the landscape to watch the sun as it sets in the west. Here, too, are where the Saguaro Sentinels stand and I search the many holes for signs of the purple martins that nested here last year. At that time the houses had not been built this far up the road, but now the cul de sac is full and the martin homes are empty. Are they scared off by the close proximity of humans, or have the just not returned yet this year? I will keep watch over the next 2 months to see.

Some improvements have been made to the trail with some access points landscaped and inviting you in for a stroll. I haven’t been out here in awhile and I am delighted to discover that steps have been added to a steep slope washed out by last year’s Monsoon. Right by these steps someone has placed a bird feeder shaped like a cat’s head in a tree. An unknown sparrow hopped out the opening with a small seed in its beak, took a look at us unimposing women and hopped back in for more. Simultaneously I realize that I do not recognize this sparrow species, and I forgot my camera! We watch the little sparrow through our binoculars trying desperately to memorize all the field marks: un-streaked breast, dark line from the corner of the eye, rusty cap, but not solid. Darn! He flew away! Was it a chipping sparrow? It didn’t look quite right. A rufous winged? No. It only had one malar strip, not two. Could it be a rufous crowned? I wish it was, but they are really secretive and shy and I have never seen one. It’s hard to believe one would be at a bird feeder. Well, since I am not a sparrow expert yet and I didn’t get a photo, we will never know. We walk down the steps and head right back home for the camera since we are not far away.

We cross the street and head into the wash once again. Just a few days ago I discovered the new access through the barbed wire fence that was put up last fall. A”Y” shaped opening has been created allowing us to walk through, yet still restricting motorized vehicles. A great compromise! We pass through this opening into another world.

Kathryn and I headed up the wash to see if we can find any new birds. Gambel’s quail are slinking and calling down among the scrub brush. We find a Verdin and some black-throated sparrows. A tiny gray bird flits among the mesquite branches. We both try to fix our binoculars on it but it keeps the twigs between us and it. I catch a glimpse of a rusty butt, Kathryn a peek at its head. Flash! Rusty upper-tail coverts! Flash of gray, flash, Streak! Darn you bird, stay still! But that cinnamon colored rump is distinctive I find out later, a Lucy’s warbler and a life bird for us both! No photos however. That thing moved too fast and in such dense cover.

We wander up through gravelly sand, then turn and head back down the other side of the wash. Three ravens fly overhead annoying a turkey vulture, but it is a lazy game. Then we hear and spot a crested flycatcher with a rusty tail. Every time we get a clear view it flies farther down the wash. I am never close enough for a clear shot with the camera. We debate about whether it is an ash-throated or a brown-crested. I had mostly seen brown-crested flycatchers here last year, but would that hold true for this year? I will have to wait and see. Thrashers, cactus wrens, and Gila woodpeckers are the most abundant birds we see today and I didn’t get a photo of one of them. So much for going back for the camera! Still, I am glad to discover I am no longer fenced out of the wash. I can just walk right in. We counted 15 birds in all but we have big plans for tomorrow!


Larry said...

I know what kind of sparrow you saw but I'm afraid I can't reveal that information at this time.
Funny looking cat sculpture-and nice lanscape photos.-Sounds like you had fun but I know it's a little frustrating when you can get bird photos.-It happens to me quite often.

TR Ryan said...

A beautiful blog you have here -- I envy your trip and the weather and that fantastic bird list.

John Theberge said...

Hey Kathie, thanks for visiting my blog, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I loved your photo of the blooming acacias against the blue sky. I actually spent time in Arizona when I was in the military; Ft, Hauchuca, I was there for about three months and I liked it a lot. The environment is so different from Maine.

brucesc said...

I'm so enjoying walking along with you on your bird walks! Congratulations on the lifer Lucy's--it would be for me too.

Naturegirl said...

Kathie I have wondered if residents of AZ truly appreciate what Nature provides them with and after visiting with you I know that You tuly feel blessed living in the truly wonderful piece of heaven on earth!! So happy that you introduced yourself to me.I'm in Scottsdale in Paradise Valley for another month!
Every day is an adventure!I'm recovering from a fractured ankle so my hiking treks are limited and so I am not able to capture the bird images I would love to..A pleasure to meet you!
sunkissed in AZ and loving it! NG

Kathryn and Ari said...

Your acacia picture is absolutely stunning. There's nothing like a desert sky to set off what is really beautiful in a landscape. Good luck with the rest of your bird count!

Sandpiper (Lin) said...

It's so much fun to read your blog! I feel like I'm walking with you. Your writing and pictures are wonderful!

Redzlan said...


I love your acacia flowers pic.
Yellow stand out in contrasting with deep blue sky.
Very good blog with stunning pics.


Small City Scenes said...

WHAT!! You forgot your camera! tut tut just joking. I get so mad at myself when that happens. Thanks for visiting my blog. I am a bird watcher too. (amateur) It is a lot of fun. MB

Anonymous said...

Wonderful habitat photos! Just looking at them makes me wish I was there. I love seeing the prickly pears and chollas in their element.

Kathie Brown said...

Larry, thanks for feeling my pain! You're a hoot!

T.R., thanks for stopping by for a visit. I hope you come back to see more! I keep working on that bird list. I'm sure there are more species here as I have barely lived here for a year.

John, I'm so glad you came to visit me. I have been to Sierra Vista once. It's a really nice area and I loved Ramsey Canyon. did you ever visit there?

brucesc, thanks on both counts!

Nature girl, I am a new resident here, so it is all wonderful and amazing to me. I have only lived here for a year, but I'm certainly not bored with it yet. I feel I still have so much to discover! So sorry about your foot! I do hope the warm AZ sun helps it to mend soon! Regarless of your injury, you are still getting some nice shots of the desert! Thanks for stopping by my blog!

Kathryn and Ari, the color of that sky is amazing. Taking that photo was really fun. Thank you.

Sandpiper, thank you. We really had a great time but we sure wore ourselves out!

Tabib, hello to you also. Thank you for visiting. I'm glad you enjoyed it! I hope you come back!

Small City Scenes, I know, I couldn't believe it either! I had me camel pack on my back and my binocs on my chest. I was so loaded down all ready that it felt like it was there, until I went to reach for it! Ha! Oh well, another day, another bird. :) Welcome to the Ametuer Bird Watchers Club! It's how we all start out. I know I and the other birders who frequent my blog would be more than happy to help you out if you ever need help identifying a bird.

Amy, glad to see you again. I love sharing my environment with you.

Texas Travelers said...

Great story as usual.

Don't you just hate it when a potentially new bird appears and you are torn between looking for more field marks, and trying to photograph it.

I like the photos. Before I clicked on the small photo and enlarged it, I could not figure what the heck was in the bush. "Cat face bird feeder". How clever.

Texas Travelers said...

BTW, congrats on the lifer.

Kathie Brown said...

Texas traveler's, cute huh! Thanks. I got a new lifer today. Plumbeous vireo. Took my camera with me again this time but still didn't get all the shots I wanted! And Yes, it is a tough decision. If I take the photo I can always figure the bird out at home, but if I put my bins down to get the camera, it might fly away before I get a shot off! What to do???????