Monday, April 20, 2009

My World: Picacho Peak

Volcanic Rock and clear skys 4-14-09 by Kathiesbirds

It is a windy day the afternoon I pull into Picacho Peak State Park. Blue skys greet me as I present my State Parks Pass and drive in. It has been 3 years since I have been here and I am eager to be back. Last time I was here we still lived in Utah and Gus and I were down here visiting my son and his wife in their new home in Coolidge for Thanksgiving. It was that very trip that sparked our move to Arizona, and now I am driving back after a two day visit to see them and my new grandson.

Clouds roll in 4-14-09 by Kathiesbirds

Picacho Peak sits right along I-10 and is visible from both directions. It's unique shape has been a landmark long before motor vehicles were invented and long before their was even a road here. It was first recorded by the Anza expedition in the 1700's. Later the Morman Battalion constructed a road through Picacho Pass in 1848. This road was used by the Butterfield Overland Stage in the late 1950's. However, Picahco Peak is best known to non-native Americans as the site of the only Civil War Battle in Arizona. The Battle of Picacho Pass took place on April 15, 1862. Lasting only 1 1/2 hours, three union soldiers were killed before it was all over. A monument to the battle is located in the park and until recent budget cuts, a Civil war re-enactment was held here on a yearly basis.

High Peaks tower over me 4-14-09

Today I am here to watch birds, however. Last time I was here I was not eBirding. For my own personal pleasure, I kept a list of the species, but not a count of how many birds I had seen. I know Picacho Peak as the first place I saw a Black-throated Sparrow and a Verdin. Now I am wondering what birds I will see today.

Saguaro Slopes 4-14-09

The high gusty winds are blowing the clouds in like a thick blanket above me. The winds also seem to be keeping the birds down and the ones I see are few and far between.

Dust storm across the highway 4-14-09

Across the highway the high winds blow up a dust storm in gossamer gray clouds.

Prickly Pear Blossom 4-14-09

But I am soon distracted by the bright yellow blossom of a prickly pear cactus.

Looking back down the trail 4-14-09

I find a little .2 mile hike up the slope of the peak called the Children's Cave. Though I am not technically a child, my curiosity is piqued and I start up the winding path. The path crosses a little bridge, then follows a couple of switchbacks as it gains elevation. I turn back to see the view and my lone car parked in the parking lot.

View to the southeast 4-14-09

I look southeast towards Tucson and the Catalina Mountains. The new Visitor Center lies before me, as well as the edge of the peak.

View to the northeast 4-14-09

Though I have been allover the park in my car checking on spots to bird, I have seen the most birds along the main road at the Palo Verde Ramada. I see it across the street now with the Ramada looking like a giant picnic table. Beyond it a rock formation on the other side of the highway looks like a sleeping dragon. I wonder why the birds like this area so much. I am determined to find out.

So, after peaking in the little cave I head back down the trail. I drive the short distance to the Ramada because I want to sit in it out of the wind and record my bird counts. As soon as I park my car, however, I am off taking photos of a cactus wren.

The secret pool 4-14-09

Then the sounds of birds entices me across the street where earlier I had seen 12 chipping sparrows alongside the road. As I cross the road and look down the embankment I see the source of their interest. A little cement pool sits at the bottom of the wash with what I can only assume is the overflow of gray water from the restrooms above. In the desert water is a precious thing and the sustainer of life. I look on as a few mourning doves and House Finches gather at the edges. The mourning doves stay on the ground while the house finches cling to the desert broom that sways over the pool. I am always surprised when I find house finches in a wild place as I think of them as suburban birds. But here they are on the slopes of Picacho Peak, wild as any other bird that inhabits this dry land.

I turn from the pool to head to the Ramada once again when I spot a thrasher on a Saguaro. I creep closer to see if it is a Bendire's Thrasher, but that long curved bill reveals it to be the usual Curve-billed Thrasher. We have Bendire's Thrashers here in Arizona and I am on the hunt to see one. They are very similar to the Curve-billed with the only differences being subtle changes in the length and curve of the bill, a pale base to the bill, and arrowhead shaped spots instead of indistinct round spots on the breast. So far I have not been confident enough to know I have seen one, so I keep studying on it. While I am watching the curve-billed I hear a chattering in the creosote bushes beside me. I turn to look...

Who's in the bush? 4-14-09

Could it be? I start stalking the little gray bird as it flits about from twig to twig staying deep in the foliage. Everytime it reveals itself it flies aways before I can focus on it.

Patience pays off 4-14-09

Finally my patience pays off as the Black-tailed Gnatcatcher pops up on a branch just long enough for me to snap a photo. I see his black cap and his white eye-ring before it disappears again. I wait a little longer and then...

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher by Kathie Brown 4-14-09

Mouth-gaping surprise! The little bird poses for me. I hear the shutter clicking even faster than the beating of my own heart. And then...


Birds Seen at Picacho Peak on April 14, 2009:
  1. Turkey Vulture
  2. Mourning Dove
  3. Gila Woodpecker
  4. Cactus Wren
  5. Curve-billed Thrasher
  6. Ash-throated Flycatcher
  7. Verdin
  8. Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
  9. Common Raven
  10. White-crowned sparrow
  11. Chipping Sparrow
  12. House Finch

Blogger's Notes: all of today's Photography is by Kathie Brown with the Nikon D80 and the 70-300 mm lens. The historical information in today's post was gleaned from the Picacho Peak website and Wikipedia, as well as from my own experience of being there. To read more about Picacho Peak visit the Picacho Peak website as well as the Picacho Peak History Page. Wikipedia's Picacho Peak entry has an excellent photo of the Cival War re-enactment. I hope this post encourages you to stop and visit Picacho Peak if you are ever in the area!


Max said...

I saw the unique profile of Picacho a few days ago when I was in town and it reminded me of my visit to the peak eight years ago. I also remember a strategically placed Dairy Queen at the base of the mountain.

Love the gnatcatcher photo!

Kathie Brown said...

Max, you were here? How awesome! Yes, I do believe there is a Dairy Queen across the highway but I have never stopped there. I hope you had a good time in AZ. Did you see a lot of birds?

Guy D said...

Wow all are great shots, thanks for sharing.

Have a great week!
Regina In Pictures

Anonymous said...

This landscape is both interesting and fascinating. Lovely photos.

Anonymous said...

what a lovely day out and the fact you captured some shots of birdies for your list is even better ^..^
thanks for sharing the interesting history of the mountain with us. i enjoyed reading about it.

SandyCarlson said...

The landscape seems so young, so wide open and beautiful.

Martha Z said...

What a great day birding you had, thank you for sharing it with us.

Anonymous said...

Very nice of you to take me around the picacho peak.
Great shots.
Have a great week

Visit That’s My World Tuesday

kayleen said...

The gnatcatcher is a beautiful little bird and you captured him beautifully. The prickly pear is gorgeous too. Nice informative post as always. Thanks for taking us along on your trip.

Anonymous said...

Amazing scenery Kathie and the Gnatcatcher quite a stunning little bird.

Anonymous said...

Yeah! A wren!

Jack and Joann said...

When Jack and I lived near Sierra Vista, AZ in Cochise County and were making the four hour drive up to Phoenix we always looked forward to seeing that state park for it meant we were over half way to Phoenix. Arizona is so different from where we now live in Virginia. Each state has a distinctive and unique beauty.

Diane AZ said...

I have never been to Picacho Peak, but I might go during a good wildflower year. Very cool that you discovered a secret pool. And I love your amazing gnatcatcher photos!

Ebie said...

You shared us a very interesting story of your hike and showing off the wonders of nature. And those birds are just so beautiful. What a great team!

Gaelyn said...

I haven't been there in years. Nor did I stay long enough to see as much as you just showed. It's really too bad there's no budget for the reenactment. Love you photos, especially the posing bird. Another awesome post Kathie.

Arija said...

Beautiful post and country, and I love the tiny bird posing for you.
Kathie could you please let me know how Gus in getting on?

Anonymous said...

Beautiful landscape and stories; the gnatcatcher shots are killer. You made me want to get back to the desert.

Have a great time at the WV festival- wish I could be there!

The Explorer said...

love your photos..

This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

Kathie: That was such an interesting walk through your South West scenery. What great finds and interesting birds. That was so nicely done.

TR Ryan said...

I cannot wait to see you in action in the wilds of West Virginia! I've had both the 70 -300 and now a 400mm and I have never gotten sharp close-ups like that. It will be great to watch the master at work!!!

Nick S said...

wow, that's an awesome looking place

Celeste said...

Kathie, what a great day out, I was so excited to see your beautiful Black-tailed Gnatcatcher picture, I saw my first one recently so it was a real treat to see your fabulous photo.

DeniseinVA said...

Another great post Kathie, loved all the photos and descriptions.

Amila Salgado said...

Looks a fantastic wilderness area.

kesslerdee said...

What a great post! I just love Pichaco Peak- I drive by there on my way to my daughters all the time and often stop to take pictures!