Tuesday, April 15, 2008

What We Saw in the Wash Today

We had a brief respite from the endless wind this morning, which allowed Jean, Peggy, Pam and I to explore Sycamore Canyon Wash together. My friends drove from the north side of town and arrived around 7 a.m. We loaded up our gear and headed out the door to cross the street and enter the wash at its closest location to my house. Here the prickly pear are putting out buds and pads as we enter the wash. Can you see the difference?
The first bird we see is a Gila woodpecker drumming on someone's vent pipe to their house. As we enter the wash an ash-throated flycatcher calls to us from atop a mesquite tree in the golden light of morning. Behind the flycatcher the blue of the Santa Ritas welcomes us to this day.

We can already hear the call of a Gambel's Quail which I soon discover perched on a dead snag keeping watch. Before us the barbed wire fence is cut and lying on the gravel. Have the 4-wheelers done this? I see tire tracks leading off into the distance. Around us sparrows are flying. Jean and Peggy soon identify them as chipping sparrows! Chipping sparrows? I didn't know we had them here! Perhaps that is the sparrow I saw in the cathead bird feeder when Kathryn was here. For me, it was out of place and I didn't think they would be here, but before this day is over, we will see many more.

A pair of pyrrhuloxias flies across an open space to hide in denser cover. High on the canyon rim a curved-billed thrasher sings to the rising sun. A white-winged dove scoots across the sky. Another sings from a saguaro. We find black-throated sparrows singing their morning songs. A yellow-rumped warbler gleans insects from the twigs of an acacia tree. Brewer's sparrows and chipping sparrows fly up before us and dive farther into cover. High on the canyon rim in some dead treetop a pale gray form catches our eye. We are all surprised to find a loggerhead shrike perched there. Then motion in a nearby bit of scrub catches our eyes and we discover orange-crowned warblers and a Wilson's Warbler. Many of these species are the first I have recorded here in Sycamore Canyon.

Some movement in the understory gets my attention. We all train our binoculars on a green-tailed towhee hopping about. I have enough time to get my camera up and I snap off a few shots before the towhee flies away. A little gray spectacled bird proves to be a plumbeous vireo, a lifer for me. Then we spot a Lucy's Warbler hopping about with her tiny gray body and chestnut rump flashing at us now and again. Did I get a photo of that? Nope!

At a bend in the wash I see some large, dusty-colored bird of prey fly up from the ground on silent wings and disappear beyond the bend. The other women don't see it but when we get farther up the trail it flies up before us again, only to disappear beyond the next corner. There is much debate on whether it is an owl or another raptor. I vote for an owl, but no one really got a good look at it, and it will have to stay a mystery for now.

Our rumbling stomachs are calling us home to the breakfast of whole grain and pumpkin pancakes which I promised to cook for everyone. So we head back down the wash finding this queen butterfly sipping the nectar from a Palo Verde tree.

We also find some wild cotton bushes which used to be grown and harvested by the Native Americans. You can see the little cotton bolls at the ends of some of the stems.
This wild hibiscus, which Peggy informs me is hibiscus nudicus so named for the naked stems it grows on.

As we round the bend near the copper-colored bank of the wash that is nearest to my house we spot yet another loggerhead shrike surveying its territory from atop a scraggly mesquite tree. It looks like the Lone Ranger with its black mask and gray suit set off by white. A handsome bird for a hunter, who captures its prey of mice, insects and small birds and impales them on thorns or the barbs of barbed wire fences. Some people know this species as the butcher bird due to this practice of hanging its food to cure and coming back to eat it later.

Some of the cactus are putting out fruit already. Others are growing pads and buds. this staghorn cholla is striking with its purple arms and yellow fruit. When I first moved here last year I really didn't notice the prickly pear before it bloomed. At the top is a photo of what growing prickly pear looks like. The flatter segments are new pads, and the more cone shaped bits are the new flower buds forming. Soon they will be covered in yellow flowers to be followed by the most beautiful jewel colored fruit. For now I find the buds interesting with their garnet edged segments that remind me of an artichoke. In the end we spotted 27 species of birds today with 8 new species added to the Sycamore Canyon Bird list published in the sidebar of this Blog.

1. Gila woodpecker, 2. Gambel's quail, 3.Ash-throated flycatcher, 4.cactus wren, 5.House finch, 6.mourning dove, 7. pyrrhuloxia, 8.Curved-billed thrasher, 9.White-winged dove, 10.black-throated sparrow, 11. chipping sparrow, 12. yellow-rumped warbler, 13. Brewer's sparrow, 14. Orange-crowned warbler, 15. Loggerhead shrike, 16.Wilson's warbler, 17.Black-tailed gnatcatcher, 18.gilded flicker, 19.green-tailed towhee, 20.plumbeous vireo, 21.Lucy's warbler, 22.turkey vulture, 23.Red-tailed hawk, 24. Hooded oriloe, 25. Hutton's vireo, 26. House sparrow, 27. Verdin. (Species in green are new to my count of Sycamore Canyon. Birds in Red are new life birds for me.)


Beth said...

what a nice early morning walk. You always have beautiful pictures and your posts make me wish that I was your neighbor.

Kathie Brown said...

Beth, I wish you were my neigbor too! I'd LOVE to have you go hiking and birding with me!

TR Ryan said...

Thank you for your recent kind words on my Normandy post. I have been admiring Sycamore Canyon for quite sometime and just made the connection to kathiesbirds and your comment.

Your blog is absolutely wonderful. I can't remember how I first came to it - but its very special. I love to come here and get my desert fix - I do believe of all the places in the world - the desert is the place my spirit dwells.

More importantly, I hope your son is home soon - I'm sure this beautiful world you've created here will give him the respite and peace he so deserves. I have carried him in my heart since reading your comment and I am praying for his safe and speedy return home. Best wishes, TR

Pappy said...

Not like anything I saw in the wash today. Beautiful photos and commentary as usual. I like your artist's eye for color and perspective.

Doug Taron said...

Wonderful prose and pictures. Your butterfly is a Queen (Danaus gilippus), a relative of the Monarch. Oddly enough, I managed to see some queens yesterday, as well- probably right about when you were seeing yours. I was out in southern California. The desert is very beautiful at this time of the year.

bobbie said...

Such beautiful pictures. I never thought of cactus as delicate, but that first picture does make it appear so.

John Theberge said...

It's interesting to see that even in a dry area the wildlife is very abundant.

Kathryn said...

Surprise...it's your Utah birding buddy!!!

As always, I love your pictures and writing. I wish I could have joined you and your friends.

jalynn01 said...

Your cactus pictures are beautiful. But did you ever get too close to one? My son fell in one when he was a toddler and we were picking those tiny hairlike spines from his arms & legs forever.The yellow flowers are beautiful when they out. The open winged butterfly is stunning! Loved the quail and shrike but I would have really loved to sample the pumpkin pancakes. Sounds yummy!

Mary C said...

Hi Kathie - I just love coming to your site. My love for and desire to return to the Southwest just makes me long that much more when I read your posts. As TR said, "I love to come here and get my desert fix." You make it soooo inviting. I sure wish we were neighbors! Thanks so much for the morning walk.

Kathie Brown said...

T.R. (Teddy Roosevelt? smile) You are too kind. Thank you for thinking of my son. He will be home from Iraq in June but he will be returning to the pacific northwest. I probably won't get to see him until July, at which time I intend to hug the stuffing out of him! I'm glad I can satify your desert fix. It is a new and unexpected love for me.

Thank you Tex!

Doug, I was hoping you would stop by and identify my butterfly. I looked for some kind of insect just for you. Peggy said it was a queen, but it's nice to have confirmation. I will add that info to the blogpost. How interesting that we were both observing the same insect at approx. the same time! As the Native Americans say, we are all connected!

Bobbie, thank you. Yes, the cactus can be very delicate, especially Christmas cholla. I'll have to see if I can find some to photograph. I'm glad that you could see that and respond to it. Thank you for visiting my blog.

Hey Katnell! Glad to see you here! I love my Utah Birding Buddy! You would have loved this walk, though we pretty much did what you and I did that day you were here. I think because it was earlier in the morning we saw more birds, plus, we had 4 sets of eyes!

Oh Yes, Jalynn01! My son also wandered into a patch of cactus when he was young and we lived in Idaho. It was my first experience with them. Ouch! I had to rush into them and rescue him. Now I usually get pricked when I make the mistake of trying to pick up some windblown piece of garbage that is snagged in the catus or other brush. What I can't see is the tiny spines imbedded in the fabric or paper that then get imbedded in my hands! Youch! That's the price you pay for trying to save the environment! Oh, and pumpkin pancakes are yummy, especially with real maple syrup and pecans on top!

Mary C, how nice to hear form you. I wish we were neighbors too. Wouldn't it be fun if we could all go for a desert stroll together? Perhaps you will make it out here again someday. Until then, I hope I can continue to feed your fix!

Kathryn and Ari said...

Wow--not much could make me want to leave a scene like this one, but wholegrain pumpkin pancakes probably could. Yum! Maybe someday that recipe would appear on a blog?

Patrice said...

You live in beautiful country. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Patrice said...

It's me again. I just saw the Langston Hughes quote at the top of your page and wanted to say "thank you." I love it.

Texas Travelers said...

What a walk.

Great photos and exceptionally good story-telling. You have a great eye for photos and detailing them.

Do you have a personal assistant taking notes on your walks or do you just have a fantastic memory?

Exceptional job on this one.

BTW: you can override the auto-focus on your D80. Just turn the focus ring and shoot. I do this a lot on my D200. This is especially important for insects, to focus on the eye, or maybe the center of a flower.

Have a great weekend,

Kathie Brown said...

Kathryn and Ari, the recipe will hopefully appear today. I wanted to write a new post yesterday but kept getting phone calls!

Ocean, than you so much. I need to come visit you. It's been too long!

Dear Partice, I love Langston Hughes. Glad you do too!

Troy, I only make a list of the birds I see, but the walk itself is something I feel and then can recall and write about. The photos and the list help me keep it all in sequence but other than that, it's my own memory. I try really hard to share the feeling of the place, the experience of being there. I feel so connected to the land. This is what I want to share, my love of nature. Even in its wildness, it soothes my soul.

Thanks for the info on the manual focus. I know that Gus has used it a couple of times. I saw your comment to Doug on his Blog and thought it an excellent one.