It's a cool morning in My World
on Tuesday, March 24 when I step out the front door to take a walk. A strong breeze ruffles my hair as well as the dog's as we walk up the street. It is so nice out here, I think to myself, I should go for a walk. But you have work to do inside, I remind myself, as we saunter down the street. By the time I return to the house I have persuaded myself into thinking that I will only take a 20 minute walk out in the Canyon. Jean, a volunteer naturalist at Sabino Canyon, has reported seeing migrants up there. I really want to see who is here, for no one is showing up in my yard!
It's still early in the morning for once--only 8:30 a.m. I grab my gear and bolt out the front door. In 30 seconds I am in the Big Wash, which is the main drainage for Sycamore Canyon. Already I am seeing birds fluttering into the scrub. Ahead of me a gilded flicker is silhouetted against the recently risen sun. I pass through the opening in the fence and peer at the paths before me. I can head south up the canyon floor, or north down toward the park. I can hike west across the wash and emerge on the west rim. Which way should I go? Where will I see the most birds in the shortest amount of time?
Arizona Powdered Skipper systasea zampa
(Thanks Kayleen, Doug and Diane!)
I head west across the rim and follow the voice of a male Gambel's Quail calling from his perch in a mesquite tree. While Gambel's Quail are mostly know for their "chi-GA-go" calls, I have learned they have many voices. The gentle "whoop, whoop" when they are coming to feed, and this single note the males emit when while perched on a lookout spot. I watch while he throws his head back, his plume bobbing in the wind, his beak pointed towards the sky. "Auk!" He cries. "Auk!" again, in a steady rhythm that means, what? I do not know if he is calling for his covey or proclaiming his territory. I only know I have seen the males do this several times. I try to get his picture with his beak raised to the sky, but he is thick in cover and I only catch him with his beak closed.
However, on the brittle bush beside the path a butterfly alights. It's dusty, blurry pattern is strange and new to me, and I wonder what species it is. I am at a loss when it comes to identifying butterflies. Perhaps it is a moth!
I am at the western edge of the wash now but all seem silent up there. I decide to head back into the wash where I follow the sounds of bird song down hill to the north.
Though I see lesser Goldfinches in my yard all the time, it's always nice to find them in the wild. This lone male is perched on a dead snag singing his springtime song.
But I am distracted by the scolding of a wren. When I look to see who is scolding me I find this vireo in the same tree. It's bright white spectacles and the yellow wash on its sides confirms it as a Cassin's vireo, which is similar to the Plumbeous vireo, which lacks the yellow wash.
We quietly inspect each other, it from it's twig and I from the gravel bottom of the wash. Vireos are such fun to watch as they hop from branch to branch searching for insects. Until a couple of years ago I only had one vireo on my life list. I considered them an almost impossible bird to see, since they don't come to my feeders, but since living here and getting out into all the natural areas available I have added at least 5 species of vireo to my life list!
Farther down the wash I find a male Costa's Hummingbird high on the tallest twig of a mesquite tree. I am happy to see him because only the females seem to be visiting the feeders in my yard right now. By the time my walk is over, I will have counted 3 separate males out here in the desert.
Ahead of me the red gravel cliffs rise as the bottom of the wash bends and curves with the land.
A closer look reveals a female flicker excavating her nesting hole. She works away busily as little black particles of the interior saguaro fly in the wind.
I have been seeing turkey vultures since the beginning of March, but have failed to capture one in flight. Now the large vulture soars and tilts above me in the rising thermals and I can see his bald red head clearly.
Spring is creeping over the desert in a fine green film. It contrasts with the dusty green-gray of cactus and the dry brown grasses and spent foliage of last year. Beyond the desert the Santa Rita mountains rise in a soft blue-green haze. They are a temperate backdrop to the dryness of the desert.
I turn to scramble up the bank of the wash towards home. My twenty minute walk has turned into a two hour ramble. I have counted 19 species of birds in the wash today with the addition of this ash-throated flycatcher flitting through the brush as I walk home.
Birds Seen in the Sycamore Canyon Wash 3-24-09:
- Turkey vulture
- Gambel's quail
- Costa's hummingbird
- Mourning dove
- Gilded Flicker
- Gila woodpecker
- Cactus Wren
- House Wren
- Ladder-backed woodpecker
- Cassin's Vireo
- Ash-throated Flycatcher
- Curve-billed thrasher
- Common raven
- Rufous-winged sparrow
- Canyon towhee
- House finch
- Lesser Goldfinch
Photographer's Note: All of today's photography is by Kathiesbirds with the Nikon D80 and the 70 to 300 mm lens set in sports mode for bird shots.
Addendum 4-1-09: I've corrected all the misspellings today. I've been busy with my grandson for 2 days and was barely able to finish this post just after he arrived. I appreciate everyone who stops by and Thank You So Much Doug, Kayleen, and Diane for identifying the butterfly for me! I thought it was a butterfly but then when I started to write this post I doubted myself because the insect's wings were spread and it looked so fuzzy and blurry.