Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Cloudy Skies, Clear Thoughts: A Sycamore Canyon Update

Sycamore Canyon Sky 5-20-09 by Kathie Brown

I awake to cool gray skies and bolt out the door as soon as possible. It’s been days since I have had a moment to myself since my son broke his ankle last Thursday night and I have been watching my grandson. Yesterday he returned to his parents but Gus came down with a sore throat Monday and he has been home sick since yesterday. I know I have so much writing to do, but I need to see the Canyon. I need to see if the Purple Martins have returned.

Desert Willow Blossoms 5-20-09 by Kathie Brown

It is a short walk up to the top of the cul de sac. On my way I pass numerous desert willow trees, which are now in bloom. Their sweet blossoms fill the air with a tender fragrance. Their blossoms vary from pink, to red to lavender.

Saguaro Sentinals 5-20-09 by Kathie Brown

I enter the trail system on Saguaro Loop Trail. Here I stand on the precipice of the canyon and gaze off to the south, where the Santa Rita Mountains loom, and the west towards Green Valley and Sahuarita. A thick steel wool blanket of clouds covers the earth around me lending a coolness and softness to the day. Bird song fills my ears as I stand on what I call “Lookout Point.” Here the view is expansive and it fills my heart with joy. I glance immediately to the right where the Saguaro sentinels stand. Perched on the edge of the canyon, the vast desert spreads out below them in the wash and beyond. On the east side of the trail that passes by them the boundary of human habitation is demarcated by tan painted view fence which allows homeowners to see beyond their tiny yards to the desert beyond.

Purple Martin Pair 5-20-09 by Kathie Brown

As I look towards the tops of the saguaros I see a purple martin pair. They are here! And my heart leaps with pleasure. One pair is perched in a nest of saguaro blossoms atop the tallest saguaro. A lone male circles the sky, then returns to a different saguaro. I don’t see any others and I am concerned. Two years ago when I moved here there were at least 4 pairs here. What has happened to my purple martins?

Saguaro Arms 5-20-09 by Kathie Brown

I stand in one spot for 15 minutes or more and count the birds around me. Then, as I wander down the trail I can hear tiny bird cheeps coming from one of the holes in the saguaro. Could there be babies in there? I hope with all my heart there are. These saguaros are home to so many birds. Like a high-rise in the city, the many holes in these old sentinels are doors to different nests. The Gila woodpeckers and Gilded Flickers nest in the same saguaros as the purple martins. House sparrows will occupy empty nest holes also, but thankfully I do not see any of them going in or out of the holes.

As I wander down the trail watching birds I consider the plight of the birds here since human beings have moved into this fragile desert habitat. I have noticed the decline in insect eating birds since moving here two years ago and I am concerned it may be due to the use of pesticides by my neighbors. I can only assume that some people don’t think things through and they don’t realize that when you poison the insects, you can poison the birds and lizards that feed on them. The day before I left for the New River Birding and Nature festival I watched in horror as the Terminex man pulled up to a house across the street from me and commenced spraying the perimeter of the house. To make matters worse, I could see a bird bath and/or feeder up on the block wall. It was around 11 a.m. and I watched as mourning doves, finches and sparrows flew off as he walked around the house. He was protected by rubber boots and other gear. The poor birds had no such protection and once he left, they moved back into the poisoned area.

Saguaro Blossoms 5-20-09 by Kathie Brown

I do not want insects in my home either, but it seems there must be another way to deal with the problem. We have so many insect eating birds in this place, as well as lizards and bats. When we kill of the insects we remove a food source for these beneficial animals. When we poison the bugs, we poison the birds and other animals that make Sycamore Canyon a delight to live in. If the lizards get poisoned, then we poison the Road Runners that eat the lizards. If this continues to happen, we may not see these creatures here any longer.

Even the tiny hummingbirds are affected by the use of pesticides. Though a large part of their diet comes from nectar gathered from blooming flowers, they also eat tiny insects and spiders. When you poison the spiders, you are poisoning the hummingbirds that feed on them. While I like the birds that come to my bird feeders, I also enjoy the insect eating birds that I see around me in the desert.

So, this is a plea to my neighbors and others, no matter where you live, please consider carefully the use of pesticides in your yard. Consider spraying only inside your garage where the birds do not go, or using an environmentally safe product. I know there are companies out there that can help. I have a grandson and I don’t want him to be bitten by Black widow spiders or stung by a scorpion either.

Here is a list of some of the insect eating birds I have identified here in Sycamore Canyon. Many of them breed here and feed insects to their young. Lets help keep Sycamore Canyon Safe for the wildlife that most of us moved here to enjoy!
  1. Hummingbirds
  2. Nighthawks
  3. Flycatchers
  4. Wrens
  5. Vireos
  6. Road Runners
  7. Swallows
  8. Purple martins
  9. Verdin
  10. Gnatcatchers
  11. Warblers
On a hopeful note, on My 12 I counted my first Peregrine Falcon here in Sycamore Canyon as it flew over my yard on pointed wings and disappeared into the noontime sky. The Peregrine Falcon is a species brought back from the brink of extinction when the populations crashed in the 1950 and the 1960’s when the eggs of the falcon became too fragile for their young to hatch due to the use of the pesticide DDT. Used on a regular basis by farmers and homeowners alike, DDT moved through the food chain through insects and the animals that eat them until it reached perilous concentrations in these birds. DDT was banned in 1972 and the Peregrine Falcons rebounded allowing all of us to enjoy this magnificent raptor and the fastest animal on earth. This Peregrine Falcon sighting makes species number 77 on my Sycamore Canyon Bird List (see side bar)!

Birds Seen on my short .2 mile walk this morning:
  1. Gambel's Quail
  2. Mourning dove
  3. white-winged dove
  4. Costa's Hummingbird
  5. Gilded Flicker
  6. Gila Woodpecker
  7. Nighthawk species
  8. Verdin
  9. Ash-throated Flycatcher
  10. Cactus Wren
  11. Curve-billed thrasher
  12. Purple martin
  13. Rufous-winged sparrow
  14. House Finch
  15. House sparrow

I also saw 2 jack rabbits and 1 desert cottontail!

I love living with nature!

The adventures of the New River Birding Festival will continue tomorrow!

(All photos click to enlarge for the best view)


SLW said...

Kathie, this would be a good post for the next Berry-Go-Round, due NOW at Gravity's Rainbow...

It's so hard to get photos of saguaro blossoms-- too tall-- and the desert willow blooms are wonderful. Thanks for memories of desert days!

denapple said...

Once again, the Arizona desert amazes me. That willow blossom looks like a high priced orchid a man might give his sweetheart.

Kathie Brown said...

SLW, Thank you! I have never heard of Gravity's Raionbow but I will check it out!

Denapple, aren't they just too sweet! I like your description!

Arija said...

Kathie, another of your wonderful post of which I savour every word. I empathise with you about getting out into the broader landscape just to resucitate our soul ... I love it out doors in any weather.

Dawn Fine said...

I really miss the desert!
Will be there next winter..yippeee

So sorry about the pesticides..I really wish people would think twice about using that stuff...there has to be more natural alternatives.

You live in a beautiful area!
look forward to your post on new river.

Celeste said...

Well said Kathie! I hope lots of people read this post and take heed of your wise words.
I am currently dealing with a related problem here. I monitor the local pair of Peregrines that nest on a nearby highrise building. One of the other buildings next to it has just announced that they are going to put Avitrol out to kill the pigeons! You can imagine the effect that would have if the Peregrines fed on a sick or dead pigeon. :(

Carol said...

It's a good thing I am at the end of a dirt road with only 1 neighbor. My yard looks like a minefield. I dont use pesticides. The Armadillos, Raccoons, Opossums,rabbits, snakes,Anoles (lizards) and birds have all the bugs they want. The only pesticide I use in the house is one made for birds. I do my door casings and windows to keep out the big palmetto bugs (roaches) and hunter spiders (who are probably looking for the Palmetto Bugs)

We have to mow the weeds once in awhile.

Gaelyn said...

As always you writing is very good. Maybe you should ask neighbors to meet and give them ideas for getting rid of bugs without poison.

Vickie said...

I love seeing these nesting homes in the saquaros. A great adapatation. The desert willow blossoms are gorgeous. So also your beautiful scenery images. Thanks for an enjoyable walk and for the thought raising comments about pesticides.

Kathie Brown said...

Arija, you share my heart.

dAwN, I'm glad you will get to return and enjoy this lovley place.

Oh Celeste! I do so hope they don't! Those peregrines could come to a tragic end! We need more peregrines and less pesticides!

Carol, do you live in heaven?

Gaelyn, I hope my neighbors read this post but I have thought of talking to them. Most people keep to themselves around here.

Vickie, thank you for your comments. I know that you care about the wildlife around us also.

Larry said...

Cactuses are so cool looking, especially with birds on them.-It reminds me of some of a few tequila memories from my younger days too.-some good-some not so good.