Thursday, August 28, 2008

Skywatch Friday: Storm Clouds Over the Santa Ritas

This photo of storm clouds over the Santa Ritas was taken by Kathie on Monday, August 25 as I returned home from my IBA survey in Sabino Canyon. The clouds are from the remnants of Tropical Storm Julio which rolled up from the Sea of Cortez and the Baja Peninsula to deluge us with rain for the last 3 days. To read about what I saw as I drove home go to The Rain, The Birds and the Horse Lubber. To view more Skywatch Friday photos click on the button below.

Photographer's shooting data:

Nikon D80
Lens: VR 70-300mm
F/4.5-5.6 G
Focal Length: 70mm
Digital Vari-Program: Landscape
Metering Mode: Multi-Pattern
1/250 sec - F/10

Please visit Kathie's Poet Tree to view my other Skywatch entry.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Rain, the Birds, and the Horse Lubber

It’s 4:15 a.m. on Monday morning and I am sitting here in the dark outside on my patio trying to wake up. This is bird survey morning and it’s been so long since I have gone. We took the first part of the summer off, and then I was unable to attend July’s survey. Now, as I sit here sipping my tea waiting for all the circuits in my brain to start firing I listen to the haunting sound of great-horned owls hooting in the distance. The earth is still and dark and scented with the sweet smell of creosote. It must have rained at least a little during the night. A waning moon is playing hide and seek with the clouds and the clouds are winning, for very little of the soft pearl light is making it to earth. I finish my tea and head inside.

It’s starting to sprinkle by the time I head out the door. Rain drops spatter on my windshield. We rarely get this kind of rain here in Tucson. Usually it is the downpour of a thunderstorm. I drive in and out of showers all the way to Sabino Canyon. The clouds are snagged on the jagged peaks of the Catalina Mountains. Now a steady, but light rain is falling as I park the car and walk over to meet my companions. Peggy, Pam and Jean are already waiting for me with umbrellas. Though it is raining it is still warm and I am dressed in a light cotton sweater and shorts. My wide-brimmed birding hat protects my face from the rain as we hike a mile and a half into the canyon. I did not bring my camera and I am glad, for it would have been difficult to keep it dry in this steady rain.

Sabino Canyon 3-5-08

Everything has grown so much since I was here last. The canyon slopes are covered in lush green vegetation. Red rocks jut from green mounds of life, but the birds are few and far between. Usually we are serenaded by bird song as we hike in. Today I have not seen one yet. We finally arrive at our start point and there sitting atop a velvet mesquite tree a varied bunting is waking up the dawn with its song. It is our first bird of the day. As I raise my bins to get a better view I realize what will be a perpetual problem for the day-my lenses are speckled with rain drops, and though I wipe them dry, the lenses soon fog from the warmth of my eyes. I try a strategy of covering the eye pieces with my sweater, which I have removed because I was too warm, but this only partially helps. We hike through knee-hi wet grass on the lookout for snakes and start our survey.

The lesser goldfinches are out in force, but the rest of the birds all seem to be hiding from the gentle rain fall. As we stumble over boulders along the creek bed the towering trees are silent. All the rocks glisten from the wetness reveling their myriad colors and tints. We’ve seen a cardinal or two, an Abert’s towhee, and then a Cooper’s Hawk, but we’ve only seen one white-winged dove and Jean speculates that they are already starting to migrate. Down by the dam where the humming bird feeders are set up for the humming bird monitoring station we find Broad-billed Hummingbirds and some sparrow species we are unable to identify as it skulks about in the deep vegetation. Giant reeds have overgrown here creating the feeling of a jungle. These are an invasive plant and an eradication plan is scheduled for this area soon.

South of the dam we reach our finish point. I stumble on the Bermuda grass covered dunes when I step in a hole hidden by this invasive grass. It has rained for most of the three and a half hours we have been out here and everything about me is wet. My feet are wet. My shirt is wet. My arms and legs and face are all dripping. It’s muggy and steamy and I just want to be dry again, but we still have at least a half a mile hike out of the canyon. As we head down the dirt trail and we draw near the visitor center we see the power lines pegged with doves. I count at least fifty of them strung across the sky, but most of them are mourning doves with a couple of white-wings thrown in. We part ways at the visitor center and I hurry to my car where I have dry shoes and a dry shirt to change into. Then, it’s a 30 mile drive back home.

Sahuarita Road looking west 8-25-08

The farther south I travel the clearer the skies get until soon I am driving in bright sunlight. But gray clouds still billow overhead, threatening still more rain. As I turn onto Sahuarita Rd I keep my eyes open for these large black grasshoppers Gus and I encountered yesterday on our way to town. We were driving out of our neighborhood when I saw them moving across the road. All I knew then it that they were large and black and I wanted to know what they were, so, though we were anxious to eat I made Gus turn around and go back. I had to know what they were.

Gus stopped the car and I jumped out, but before I could cross the street I had to wait for other traffic to pass. By the time I got to the insects they were all dead, crushed by the tires of the other vehicles. Then, I saw movement farther up the road and I ran up there to see these large black grasshoppers with orange stripes bisecting their heads. Misty green wings lay along their backs and they were walking! Simply walking across the road. They did not hop and they did not fly, despite the obvious wings on their backs.

Horse Lubber devouring its dead kin

Well, I didn’t have the camera with me and our stomachs were starting to growl, so we headed off to eat breakfast in town, but we decided if the creatures were still there when we returned we would get the camera and come back to photograph them. Imagine our surprise when we turned onto Sahuarita Rd. and saw a wave of these insects walking south across the road! There were hundreds, if not thousands of them! Most were crushed by the steady traffic on this prominent east-west road. Yet, still some of them kept on coming, trying to cross this black ribbon of asphalt to get to the other side. Yesterday, when we finally returned from town we were hoping to take a photo of the grasshopper littered roadway. To our horror the road had been scraped and cleaned by the road crews in preparation for today’s rain. But now, as I drive past the same spot a few hundred of the grasshoppers are marching to their death once again. Though I am tired from hiking in the rain and being up since 4 a.m. (it is now almost 11 a.m.) I hurry home to get my camera. I loop back and pull off onto the sandy shoulder of the road and start snapping.

Dead grasshoppers litter the roadway

One of the first grasshoppers I photograph is devouring its dead brother. Grasshopper carcasses litter the roadway, though not in the numbers I saw yesterday. I follow various grasshoppers around the side of the road. A few wisely turn back into the desert and climb the steep gravel ridges created by the scrapers to clear the road of monsoon debris. Then, as I pursue one hopper it finally takes wing and flies revealing bright pink underwings! I am not able to get a shot of that because the flight was so brief and I was caught by surprise but I have the image in my head to enjoy.

Horse Lubber escaping back into the desert

When I get home the photos reveal a very tribal looking insect. While the basic structure is the same for all the grasshoppers, their bodies are patterned differently, as if some in some secret grasshopper ritual they painted their black bodies with fire, sun, and cactus. Now they march out in an army to accomplish what? But, though their bodies are large for the insect world at 3 inches or more, still, their frames are fragile when compared to the crushing weight of a thousand plus pound vehicle. I can’t help but wonder if they will survive this onslaught in, what I am assuming, is their native grounds. Will they march like this forever until they are extinct?

I do not know if these creatures are beneficial or not. I only know that I am captivated by their wild and tribal beauty. They seem to be a fierce creature with those huge mouth parts (sorry Doug, I don’t know what they are called and I am waxing poetic here!) and their ginourmous legs. Their bulging eyes seem to pierce right through me. I don’t think I would like then in my yard, but I am glad to know they exist in the wild. It makes me feel as if we have not quite tamed the earth, yet.

Perhaps the tribal chief?

A bit of research reveals that these grasshoppers are called Horse Lubber Grasshoppers. Everything I have experienced has been documented by others. To read an excellent but brief article about this species go to the Firefly Forest.

Birds Seen in Sabino Canyon today:
Location: Sabino Canyon Recreation Area
Observation date: 8/25/08
Notes: Most of the doves and all of the cactus wrens were seen near the Visitor's center. Part of this count is Tucson Audubon's IBA survey but I include the hike to and from the survey transect.

We had 4 unidentified sparrow species, 1 unidentified grosbeak sp. and 1 unidentified tanager species.

Number of species: 17

Gambel's Quail 5
Cooper's Hawk 1
White-winged Dove 7
Mourning Dove 60
Greater Roadrunner 3
Broad-billed Hummingbird 6
Gila Woodpecker 2
Common Raven 2
Verdin 2
Cactus Wren 4
Canyon Wren 1
Abert's Towhee 2
Rufous-winged Sparrow 2
Northern Cardinal 3
Varied Bunting 1
House Finch 10
Lesser Goldfinch 23

Photographers Note: All of today's Photography is by Kathie using the Nikon D80 and the 70-300mm lens. Grasshoppers and the Sahuarita road photos taken on Monday, August 25, 2008. Sabino Canyon and Cardinal photo taken in Sabino Canyon on March 5, 2008. As always, click on photos to enlarge for the best view.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Return of the Hummers/Where in the World is Kathiesbirds?

Female Costa's hummingbird

The Hummingbirds have returned to Sycamore Canyon. I have seen increased activity around my yard starting about 2 to 3 weeks ago. I've since put up my hummingbird feeders and have started a virtual hummingbird war. The flying jewels zip by on a regular basis now with some birds guarding the feeders for themselves. Migrants are passing through and I have noticed a few Black-chinned males and females as well as one Broad-billed female.

Male Costa's Hummingbird

Costa's hummingbirds are our main species here in Sycamore Canyon and they will be establishing territories in preparation for their January through June breeding and nesting. Anna's Hummingbirds are also possible. Due to this increased activity I have been trying to learn to identify the different female species of hummingbirds, which can be quite a challenge. In this vein I have taken out some Hummingbird guides from the library in an attempt to be more accurate in my ID's. I am reading and studying Stokes Beginner's Guide to Hummingbirds and Hummingbirds of North America by Steve N. G. Howell.

Male Black-chinned Hummingbird

Female Black-chinned Hummingbird

Hummingbird Nectar: To make your own hummingbird nectar combine 1 cup of sugar to 4 cups of filtered or bottled water and bring to a boil. Cool and fill nectar feeders. Do not add food color or use honey or artificial sweeteners to make the nectar as honey will mold and artificial sweeteners offer no energy or nutrition to these high energy birds. Remember to change the feeders every 3 days in warm to hot weather to prevent mold or spoilage. Clean feeders with hot water and white vinegar and rinse well. Do not use soap. If you are having a hard time attracting hummers to your feeders initially you can make a stronger solution by mixing 1 cup sugar with 3 cups of water until the birds find it. Refrigerate any unused solution.

Hummingbird wars

Feeder Placement: It is best to place your feeders in a shady location if possible. I have one of my feeders suspended from a hook attached by suction cups to my north window over my kitchen sink where I can enjoy viewing them easily. The other is suspended from the hand of my ballerina sculpture on my back patio where it is shaded by the patio roof as the sun travels west across the sky. This brings the hummingbirds in close where I can see them, but I could also suspend a feeder from one of the trees in my yard if I so desired.

Male Costa's Hummingbird reflecting purple light from its gorget.

Where in the World is Kathiesbirds? I've been trying to find balance in my life as I struggle to spend time with my husband, blog, clean house, get exercise, go birding and make prickly pear jelly. Posts on all these subjects are soon to follow but I have missed out on visiting my fellow bloggers and want to devote some time to catching up with other blogs. I have not posted Kathie's Poet Tree in a few weeks due to the lack of time, which I know many others of you can identify with. I'm still playing catch-up from this summer's vacation as new and exciting things continue to happen around here. The remnants of Tropical Storm Julio have drenched the area and I listened to the persistent sound of rain during the night. This morning the temperature was 67 degrees Fahrenheit when I awoke at 6:30 a.m. and I threw wide the windows to let the rain-washed freshness into the house. Though the rain has stopped for the moment it is expected to start up again this afternoon. Out my windows I can see the storm clouds boiling up over the Catalinas, the Rincons and the Santa Ritas Mountains and filling the valley below.

Storm Clouds boil over Mt. Wrightston in the Santa Ritas

Today's Photography is by Gus and Kathie. We were passing the camera back and forth when the hummers were here and I honestly can't remember who took which photos. The photo of the Santa Ritas is by Kathie. All photos taken with the Nikon D80 and the 70 to 300 mm lens.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Artsy Fartsy Birds IATB Edition #82

Welcome to the Artsy Fartsy Birds Edition #82 of I and the Bird
The Ansel Adams of Bird Photography, Klaus of Virtua Gallery: Limpkin

In this week’s edition we will examine the interconnectedness of birds, birding, art, poetry and philosophy. We will see how birds have influenced our lives and our creative selves.

When I read the Fenlandwalkers’ blog post about Flocks in Flight I thought of these lines from Rumi, a Sufi mystic and poet born in 1204. In his poem, divan 730 he writes:

Look! Quickly, look there among the trembling feathers
Of the copper beach, there, you see them—birds making
Ready to ride the dawn skies. They’ll rise up soon, rise up
Leave behind their conferring selves, to skim the seventh
Heaven turning and changing with the stripling light.

But Rumi is not the only one inspired by the image of a bird in flight. In 1926 Brancusi bought a sculpture into the USA from Romania that caused quite a stir in art shows and in customs. It spurred a legal battle even as it stirred the question of “What is Art?” Perhaps the customs agents and the artist himself could have benefited from the Bird Ecology Study Group’s Blog post, Flocking or Migration, Plain Pouched Hornbills. I think I see a resemblance to Brancusi’s controversial sculpture!

Brancusi: Bird in Space

The DC Birding Blog recounts the discovery of a New Forest Robin Species. Unlike our American Robin, which is really a thrush, this little bird reminds me of the robin in The Secret Garden a children’s book by Frances Hodges Burnet. The little robin is a central character in the book, and Old Wom Tigley of Wigger’s World not only has an excellent photo of this little robin, but he has used his artistic and creative skills to give us this impressionistic image of the bird that recalls Monet or Renoir.
English Robin by Tom Wigley

If Descartes, an 18 century philosopher declares, “I think, therefore I am,” then the birders in the movie, Opposable Chums, reviewed by The Hawk Owls Nest would probably declare, “I Bird, therefore I am!” (Or would it be; "I am, therefore I Bird?")

After reading about The Unkindness of Ravens and Other Bird Stories perhaps It's Just Me, Liza Lee Miller will join Edger Allen Poe in his poem The Raven as he declares, “Never More”.

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered- not a feather then he fluttered-
Till I scarcely more than muttered, "other friends have flown before-
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before."
Then the bird said, "Nevermore."

So, to cheer you up, take a trip with Mike of 10,000 Birds to find out if he discovered, like Anne Morrow Lindberg, the Gift of the Sea when he explored The Birds of Virginia Beach.

Alright, has Jackson Pollock been up to mischief? You might think so when you take a look at this Swirly Bird entered by the Nancy Castillo of the Zen Bird Feeder.

Swirly Bird by the Zen Bird Feeder
You can try your creating yoru own Pollock masterpiece by clicking on this link for Jackson Pollock. Once you are there a blank page will appear but, just move your mouse and see what happens! Left click to change colors.

If you like Van Gogh and his Sunflowers, then take a look at the Birder’s Lounge to see a Yellow Warbler in a Sunflower. What do you think Van Gogh could do with this image?

Troy and Martha of Ramblings Around Texas could be our modern Walt Whitman's with cameras. Walt Sang a “Song of Myself” in his book, Leaves of Grass, while Troy and Martha sing a song of nature. While his post, Will The Guilty Goose Step Forward may remind you more of Sherlock Holmes or a recent episode of CSI, for me it recalled these lines of Whitman’s:

The wild gander leads his flock through the cool night
Ya Honk! he says, and sounds it down to me like an invitation;
The pert may suppose it meaningless, but I listen closer,
I find purpose and place up there toward the November sky.

Perhaps those geese may soon stop by The Nemesis Bird where he has been Birding Octorara Lake in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. While he is seeing shorebirds there, in Mary’s Corner of the World, faraway in California, she is also seeing her share of shore birds with The Smaller Birds of the Coast Guard Station. But Bird Freak encountered a Horicon Marsh De-Rail-ment in his birding quest.

From The Birder’s Report we learn that Great Horned Owls are Masters of Their Domain. This humorous old children’s rhyme may tell us why.

There was an old owl who lived in an oak;
The more he heard, the less he spoke.
The less he spoke, the more he heard.
Why aren’t we like that wise old bird!

If humor is more your fare, you don’t need to turn on Loony tunes when you can just visit The Loony Bin at The Marvelous In Nature. Then visit Mary’s View where Mockingbirds Make Me Wonder will have you laughing, and crying as well as saying, “Aw-w-w-w!”

Henri Matisse may have painted “Madame Matisse, The Green Stripe” but Mary's View has the Green Heron in her Heron Overload.

Frank Lloyd Wright was a master architect who envisioned human dwellings that merged with their surroundings.

"The good building is not one that hurts the landscape, but one which makes the landscape more beautiful than it was before it was built." FLW

Well, the birds were way ahead of you, Frank, as seen by Aimophila Adventures in his report on Desert Swallows who make their homes in saguaros. And just about as far away from the desert as you can get, Nature Canada reports A Foothold for Piping Plovers in Ontario. These bird homes mesh just nicely with their surroundings, their own Taliesin’s of the bird world.

To combine art and birding is not so unusual. In the Wings Birding blog you can read about The Birds and The Bard Birding Tour, for Shakespeare often used bird imagery in his plays and sonnets, as seen below in these lines from Sonnet 29:

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee,—and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;

One of Goya’s most famous, yet horrifying paintings is that of Kronos devouring one of his children. It is also known as Saturn Devouring one of His Sons. Kronos is the Greek God of Time and was said to devour his children as Time devours the ages. In the Malaysian Birding Blog a new behavior is observed when a Gold-whiskered Barbet Eats a Eurasian Tree Sparrow. The image of this bird devouring the sparrow reminded me of this image by Goya.

In c.1615 Peter Paul Reubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder painted The Feast of Achelous depicting a scene where the river god serves up a feast to Theseus and his companions as they are returning from Crete. Gallicissa in Sri Lanka serves up an avian feast to his birding guests in a post he entitles, Making Emma Happy. His visual imagery reminds me of the feasting in the Rueben’s painting, though, I don’t believe there was any nudity going on! Then there is Ben Cruachan Natural History where the birds he sees are the ones feasting and they certainly have A Taste for Exotic Fare.

Whether you agree with him or not, Darwin has had a profound influence on birds, nature, and natural history. In line with his philosophy and theory we have these two entries. Living the Scientific Life: The Escalating Co-evolutionary Arms Race Between Cuckoos And Their Hosts takes you back to basics, while The Greenbelt is a tongue in cheek post about the discovery of A New Species. If humor is your style, check out the Darwin Awards.

N.C. Wyeth, Father of Andrew Wyeth, was a well known illustrator of Children’s books back in the mid 1900’s. He was working on this wall mural for the Met Life Insurance Company when he met his untimely death. If you happen to have some of these Tall Yard Birds come to your feeders or visit your yard, Audubon’s Birdscapes has some timely advice on how to keep them safe.

When it’s all said and done and your head is full of birds and birding, you may have what the Bird Chaser describes as BIADD. Perhaps then it is time for a session with Freud or Jung, though I don’t know if either of them could really help most of us obsessive birders. Perhaps we are all part of one collective bird consciousness and we are all connected. Perhaps that is why we recognize our own species when we see it!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

My Birding Mentor, Trudy

Trudy and Kathie July 10, 2008

One of the most important things I did while in Connecticut was to visit my birding mentor, Trudy. She lives down along the Connecticut coastline and I was 16 years old when I first met her and she gave me my first field guide, Golden’s Birds of North America.

I already loved birds before this time, but meeting Trudy helped hone my interest. I went with her to Camp Berea in New Hampshire where Trudy led nature walks and told the children how God loved them as well as the birds. Trudy is a licensed bird bander and I watched, mesmerized as she set up her mist nets. I tensed with excitement when she put a trembling red-eyed vireo in my hands after banding it. She let me hold it briefly before it was released, but she had to encourage me to relax my grip just a bit! While at the Bible camp in New Hampshire I climbed Mount Washington with her at least once or twice. She attended my wedding in 1977 when I was 20 years old, and I thought she was old then! Now I am close to the age she was, when I first met her.

Trudy has been my friend through all the 31 years of my marriage. No matter where I have lived, we have always written to each other. I think it was 2004 when we finally started to email each other. At 98 years old, her eyesight is just perfect. When she and her sweet husband, Earl took me out for lunch, I had to get my glasses out to read the menu, but she could read hers just fine. I think that is because her vision has compensated for another lose she has. You see, when Trudy was very young, she lost her hearing. She has been deaf ever since and so never gets to hear the songs of the birds she so loves.

Trudy and Earl

I don’t know what my life will be like when my Trudy passes on, but I know my current life is richer and fuller because of her and I will love and remember her always for her kind heart, her love of the birds and her steadfast faith in God. Inscribed in the front of my bird guide is her favorite Bible verse which she recites to just about everyone she meets:

“How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” (Psalm 104:24)

View of the cove through the restaurant window.

Friday, August 15, 2008

A Hike Through Davidson Canyon

(Charlie, Charlotte, Mike, Jean and Sandra prepare to go birding.)
Click on photos to enlarge for better viewing

It is Wednesday morning and I am rushing to get out of the house for another birding adventure. This time I am meeting a group of people at Andrada Ranch to bird part of the Davidson Canyon Wash. While I have birded Cienega Creek a few months ago, I have yet to bird Davidson Canyon which runs between Mt. Fagan and the Santa Rita Mountains on the West and the Empire Mountains on the East. The north end of Davidson Canyon flows into Cienega Creek Preserve while the south end begins near the Rosemont Junction and the proposed Rosemont Mine. It is here that the Rosemont Mine wants to dump all of their mine tailings if their mining plan is ever approved. The Scenic Sonoita Highway runs through this canyon past Las Cienegas on the east, and The Greaterville Rd, Box Canyon and Gardner Canyon, all sensitive environmental areas and the locations of some of the most important birding areas around the Tucson area.

When I arrive at the ranch I am greeted graciously by my hosts. A table is set under tall pines and mesquite with a steaming pot of coffee and homemade pastries to boot. It is some of the best coffee I have ever had, but I only take a few sips as I don't know how long we will be gone, I don't know these people, and I don't want to have to go find a cactus halfway through the hike to relieve myself! We grab our gear and head south down the wash from Andrada Ranch. Gray skies provide some relief from the desert sun as we enter the wash. Desert broom brushes up against us as we pad along the sandy bottom. People engage in friendly chatter as we walk. It is strangely quiet at first, but there is still a lot to see.

Charlie is the caretaker of Andrada Ranch and besides being an excellent cook, he is a wealth of knowledge. He points out this beautiful wild morning glory blooming alongside the wash. I have to say that I am astonished since I have never seen a wild morning glory in the west. I have seen its cousin, bind weed up in Utah, but this is new to me. I feel I can fall into the depths of that blue.

Next Charlie points out this wild gourd growing alongside the wash.

And then we find a spider waiting in its nest. Do you know what kind this is?

We round a slight bend with some mesquite trees. I feel so responsible to find birds for these people, but so far we are not seeing much. Then, I see a shape like a thick stick on a branch of this mesquite tree that shouldn't have such a thick stump. To my delight I've spotted a barn owl and this time I am prepared! Everyone gathers around for a look before the bird flies off.

Charlotte and Mike in deep conversation as they hike past one of the canyon's cliffs.

Devil's Claw seed pod which will dry and become the devil's claw.

Yellow wildflower. Do you see the face in the blooms?

We've been hearing birdsong for awhile now but they all seem to be off in the brush and hiding behind leaves. Suddenly this male flies out to sing from the bent stem of a last year's agave bloom. These flowers can grow to over 15 feet high with stems like tree trunks. Their silhouette's dot the desert landscape.

A bit farther up ahead Charlie is the one to spot this bird atop a hackberry tree. When the bird comes into focus with my binoculars my excitement grows for if it is what I think it is, it will be a new life bird for me. I quickly switch to my camera and start snapping photos. I inch a little closer, for the bird is across the wash and up on the bank, but I do get close enough to get these shots, and though I had to crop and enlarge the photo quite a bit, you can see the characteristic bunting shape and the slight red on the back of the head, along with the bluish body. This is a Varied Bunting and a rare find indeed. For me, it is yet another lifer making this hike well worth it.

Next we find a Velvet Ant, which I am told is not an ant at all, but a wing-less wasp. And yes, I am told it does sting, so I keep my distance as I take this picture.

We leave the wash now heading up an old dirt road to the west. A flock of Lark Sparrows flies up from the grass and one lands on an ocatillo high above on the canyon's slope where I am able to finally get a decent picture with the soft filtered light from the still overcast skies. It certainly looks and feels like rain.

In the middle of the dirt road we find a hornworm. those are charlie's fingertips to give you an idea of the size. It's munching on the tiniest bit of greenery and hanging on for dear life. It doesn't look like much of a meal to me.

As we ascend the west hill we look back to the spine of the Empire Mountains to the east. The silver ribbon of a road you see here will turn into a wide gravel track that will carry monster trucks from the proposed SEEL Limestone mine. If this mine goes through these hills will become rubble that will be seen from the once Scenic Sonoita Highway and huge mining trucks will rumble up and down this narrow and winding canyon road on a regular basis.

Before us I see the remnants of the previous limestone mining operation. The stone itself is beautiful, but the scar on the landscape is not. This scar is left over from a small mom and pop mining operation. I can't help but wonder what it will look like if a big corporation takes over and brings heavy machinery in here.

This rock squirrel has no idea it may loose this lookout spot and its home, perhaps even its life.

The evidence of past mining attempts are left to litter the hillside.

This is just part of the limestone cliff created by the previous mine. I gaze down into a white hole 20 feet deep and 75 feet or more across. Mark Winkleman from the Arizona State Land Trust says it is okay to mine in this area, since it has been mined before, but though these scars are ugly and dangerous, they are nothing compared to the proposed mining operations they have planned now.

Here you see a view of the existing former limestone mine in relation to the Empire Mountains behind it, but if the Cal-Portland Mine and the SEEL Mine go in, you will never see these hills and mountain slopes this way again. Where will the Varied Buntings, barn owls, blue grosbeaks and Lark Sparrows go then? Where will the rock squirrels live? And where will we find such a peaceful place to hike, for the canyon will ring with the sounds of blasting and our lovely dark skies will be flooded with the high powered lights needed to run the mines 24 hours a day. And perhaps the biggest issue of all will be the water. Where will the water come from to run these mines and what will happen to Davidson Canyon when the rains come and the runoff flows downhill to Ceinega Creek Preserve?

We end our hike back at Andrada Ranch where I am served lemonade and scones. We review the birds we have seen today and discuss another possible birding expedition in the fall when the Autumn migrants will be passing through. Then I bid my gracious hosts good-bye and drive up across the Davidson Canyon wash, to old Sonoita Highway. As I drive home I wonder if I am seeing the end of a lifestyle here in Davidson Canyon, or the beginning of a new wave of conservation, where wildlife and nature take precedent over the quick buck. It is my hope that the preservation of this beautiful and sensitive area will prevail. This is truly a unique natural area unlike any other place in Arizona or the United states. I believe it should be preserved now, and for the generations to come.

To Learn More visit the Empire Fagan Coalition Website or view the short Arizona Illustrated Video from KUAT TV: Collisions on the Frontier.

Other Links:
Location: Andrada Ranch
date: 8/13/08
Notes: Andrada
Ranch/Davidson Canyon South from Ranch to Limestone Mine.
2 hummingbird sp.

Number of species: 12

Gambel's Quail 1
White-winged Dove 8
Greater Roadrunner 1
Barn Owl 1
Verdin 2
Cactus Wren 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1
Lark Sparrow 10
Northern Cardinal 2
Black-headed Grosbeak 1
Blue Grosbeak 2
Varied Bunting 3

This report
was generated automatically by eBird v2(

Note: All of today's photography is by Kathie with the Nikon D80, 70-300mm lens set in sports mode for birds, bugs, and buds, and landscape mode for all other shots.