Monday, November 30, 2009

My World: Silver Bells in the Desert

Black-throated sparrow 11-15-09 Saguaro NP

This past summer I modified my bird feeding to discourage the presence of pigeons in my yard. I quit feeding sunflower seeds or any type of mixed seeds. I also quit putting out quail blocks. Instead I kept two thistle or nyjar seed feeders full as well as a peanut feeder, which attracts the woodpeckers and cactus wrens along with a few house finches willing to work that hard to dislodge a seed. While it cut down on the number of birds I was seeing, it also attracted the more desirable birds, such as lesser goldfinches and in the winter, pine siskins. So, it was an utter surprise and delight one day when I noticed a family of black-throated sparrows hanging around beneath the thistle seed feeder.

Black-throated sparrow in my yard 8-7-09

At first the parent bird would grab a tiny black seed in its beak, then it would put it into the mouth of the juvenile. Next I was totally surprised when the black-throated sparrow hopped up on said feeder and proceeded to pull out the seed for itself. I have now seen this behavior several times and it always surprises and delights me.

Juvenile black-throated sparrow escapes the heat in my back yard 8-7-09

These sweet black-throated sparrows are native to AZ and I saw my first one at Picacho Peak over 3 years ago. I always thought of them as wild desert birds singing their silver song in the desert. I had no idea that they would not only come into my yard but that they would eat from my feeders. This is just one more pleasure in my new desert life. Not only do I have Black-throated Sparrows in my yard, but I also have the chicks. You can tell the juvenile from the parent by the lack of the black throat which is replaced by streaks instead. The sexes are identical, so I don’t know who is who in that regard, but it doesn’t matter. These tiny birds are a bit smaller than house finches and house sparrows and I wish you could hear their silvery sounds they make as they bustle about in their daily lives. It sounds like tiny silver bells tinkling. The writer of that Christmas song had it wrong…

Top view of Black-throated sparrow 11-15-09 Saguaro NP

“Silver bells…silver bells…it’s Christmastime in the desert…ting-a-ling, hear them ring…soon it will be Christmas Day!

And that's MY World Tuesday!

Click on the link to read my Poem,

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My World: Saguaro National Park East

Catalina Mountains as seen from the Javalina Picnic area 11-15-09

Driving away from Agua Caliente Park the warm autumn sun bathes my car in sunlight. I drive into town to purchase my lunch then head east to Saguaro National Park’s Rincon unit. Saguaro National Park is divided into 2 separate sections with the Tucson Mountain region on the west and the Rincon Mountain unit on the east. Tucson lies in the great bowl between these two mountain ranges, a hub of activity surrounded by quiet nature.

Though the western section of Saguaro National Park is the most visited the eastern park is larger and more peaceful to me. I drive here now with my lunch and take the turn to the Javalina Picnic Area which is located to the south and west of the 8 mile loop road. I have spent all morning with Celeste and her husband in Agua Caliente Park in Northeast Tucson. It is such a beautiful day that I am not ready yet to go inside. With Gus at home watching football I have his blessing to stay out and enjoy myself.

Antelope ground squirrel 11-15-09

I am no sooner seated at a picnic table before the little creatures start to emerge. First an antelope ground squirrel scurries up. It looks at me inquisitively testing to see if I will offer it a bite to eat, but I do not. Not only is it against park rules, but I do not want this little creature to come to depend on humans for its existence. Shortly after the ground squirrel makes its appearance a cactus wren hops by. It twists and turns and investigates before moving off into the brush once again. Hmmn, I think perhaps these little guys have been fed by someone before me!

Black-throated sparrow 11-15-09

Soon I hear the chatter and calls of some Gambel's quail. They walk so close to me that I can almost reach out and touch them. No one harms the critters here and you can tell they have pretty much lost their fear of man. Oh that the world could always be like this! As golden sunlight bathes the desert in its warm light I hear the silvery sound of a black-throated sparrow as it flits up onto a nearby rock. I love these pretty little birds with their black caps and white eye stripes. I love their bell-like voices that flutter over the desert. This little bird seems to be alone today as it flies to a nearby bush, then disappears into its habitat.

Rufous-winged sparrow 11-15-09

All around me is warmth and sunshine and peaceful solitude. With my lunch finished I pack away the remnants, then wander the hillside searching for birds. Two little rufous-winged sparrows hop out of the brush searching the packed earth for food. I watch their little hops in the dirt. I see their small bodies casting long shadows over gravel. Everything is a bit distorted and over dramatized in this late autumn light.

Before me the rocks glow with autumn-colored lichen forming beadwork on its surface.

Even the sharp spines of teddy bear cholla glisten in this dazzling light.

Western view from the rocks above the Javalina Picnic Area 11-15-09

A gentle breeze riffles my hair blowing stands into my eyes. I search the cliffs and mountains ridges around me. I search the sky for motion, but all is still and quiet. So quiet!

The Javalina Picnic Area sits down in a bit of its own bowl. I find it is a good place to bird because usually you can just sit here and the birds will come to you. It is in this location that I saw my first and only black-chinned sparrow. Here I have seen rocks wrens and kestrels, cardinals and hawks. I am walking the rocky rim of the bowl when I see a flash of red down the slope below me and on the other side of the picnic area. I do not even guess that it is a bird. The patch of red is too large. Since I am walking, I catch the glimpse between bushes and cactus. I stop and look through an opening and I see a woman sitting in a chair facing west. The sinking sun has flooded her face with light and she seems so peaceful there. I do not want to stop and stare. I assume she does not want company, so I change directions and walk on. I feel like I have found some bird in its nest. Her location is a secret that I will not divulge. I leave her to her solitude and walk on.

I have spent the whole day outside by now and it is getting late. From the high rocks on the south I stand and gaze to the western horizon which blazes with a cool white light. Deep shadows fall long and dark across the picnic area. I find my way to the car and drive out of the park. My day in the sun and fresh air has left me feeling so mellow. I do not want to hurry home. I do not want this feeling to fade just yet. I decide to take the long road home and so I turn south on Old Spanish Trail and drive the black asphalt ribbon before me. I can’t help but wonder as I drive if this is the way that other people feel when they are high or they have a buzz on from drinking. I have never understood the need for drinking or for drugs. I have always found that nature alone gives me the only “high” I need. But this high has one benefit beyond the artificially induced state of alcohol or drugs, there are no bad side effects, and no hangover the next day. As I turn south on Pistol Hill road the sun sinks below the horizon and I point my car towards home. It has been a very good day in MY World.

To see more amazing places in the world click on the link above.

On a personal note: I am so sorry I have been absent for so long. As many of you know, I have a son in the military who recently moved to a new base. He and his wife are expecting a new baby any day and I just found out yesterday that they absolutley NOthing for the new baby. Nothing! and I mean Nothing! Diane was able to go to a thrift shop and buy some used baby clothes yesterday. They have a crib on order, but they are so new to this base. They have no friends and no family and no one to do a baby shower for them. I spent the last 2 days shopping and sending off boxes. The baby will be here soon. I will let you know when she arrives. It is very hard to be this far away right now. I would go there, but I have my other son and grandchildren flying in from Maine for 3 weeks. Much as I would like to, I cannot be everywhere at once. So send up a small prayer for a soilder and his wife and a new baby about to enter this troubled world. And in case you haven't noticed, I am not very good at keeping up on Facebook! I am not shunning anyone, I just would rather blog first and Facebook later if I have time!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Skywatch Friday: Celestial Sky Watcher

Cedar Waxwing at Agua Caliente Park 11-15-09

Skywatcher, birdwatcher Celeste 11-15-09

Last Sunday Celeste from Celestial Ramblings came to visit me here in Tucson with her husband. We went bird watching at one of my favorite places, Agua Caliente Park on the Northeast side of Tucson. Though the day started cool and clear it soon warmed up to about 70 degrees. Scroll down to read the full story below or click on the link:

Celestial Ramblings in Agua Caliente Park.

Visit more amazing skies at Skywatch Friday!

Celestial Ramblings in Agua Caliente Park

Celeste and her husband 11-15-09 Agua Caliente Park

After days of above average temperatures it is cool and breezy this Sunday morning as I drive into Tucson to meet Celeste from Celestial Ramblings, and her husband, Mr. Celestial at Reid Park. Celeste and her husband have flown to Tucson for a long weekend to see our wonderful Sonoran Desert. I have discovered that when I meet someone like this from their blog that I feel like I already know them. We find each other easily in the vast but empty parking lot at 8 a.m. on this Sunday morning. After a quick hug and a brief discussion we drive east on 22nd street to Dunkin Donuts where we plan the rest of the morning over coffee and donuts.

It is always hard for me when someone comes to visit Tucson for the first time to decide where to take them to bird. There are so many great places, and Sweetwater Wetlands is at the top of the list, but since Mr. Celestial is not quite as into birds as Celeste and I are we decide on Agua Caliente Park, which I believe will provide enough entertainment for all. Celeste and I can bird, and her husband can enjoy this wonderful desert oasis and the historic aspects of the park.

Agua Caliente Pond 11-15-09

When we arrive at Agua Caliente there are already quite a few people at the park. Our first stop is the hot spring which is the source of the water that flows down into the large pond that all the birds love. Celeste is the first one to spot a small, dark hawk sitting on a branch over the spring. I raise my bins to see what it is and my mouth drops open and I exclaim excitedly, “I think that is a Merlin!” I know it is not a Cooper’s or a Sharp- shinned, because it has a different streaked breast, a buff or pale eyebrow, and the coloring is the same between the top of its head and below the eyebrow. This bird is small and more square as it sits on the branch. A Cooper’s would be much larger and a sharp-shinned would be grayish on the top of its head and rusty on its face. A juvenile Sharpie would be more similar to the Merlin, but this bird’s streaked breast is somehow different. Celeste pulls out her bird guide and we both compare what we are seeing with the image in the book. It is a concenus. We are seeing a Merlin.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I can get excited about birds. When I am alone, that is one thing, but when I am with others my excitement expresses itself in a LOUD VOICE. In my attempt to share this experience with Celeste my LOUD VOICE scares the hawk away before I can raise my camera to snap off a shot. I am sorry for this, mostly for Celeste, since this is her first sighting of a Merlin in her life! For me, it is my first sighting here in Arizona, so it is an Arizona Life Bird for me! What a way to start the day.

We continue along the palm tree-lined stream that flows from the spring into the pond. Gila woodpeckers and verdins are everywhere. The woodpeckers are after the fruit of the palm trees while the tiny yellow-headed Verdin glean insects from the fronds. We cross the small bridge towards the entrance of the park where one can usually get a very nice view of the tree-lined pond and the Catalina Mountains beyond. Mr. Celestial likes photography, so this should be a good opportunity for him, but to my dismay there is crime scene yellow tape and neon orange fencing along the banks at this end of the pond. I do not know why it is here, but it sure is messing up the view!

Still, we are delighted to see the great egret wading in the water and overhead a flock of 15 or more Cedar waxwings clinging to the tree tops! Yellow-rumped warblers flit about flashing their butter-butts at us while in the pond the resident mallards paddle around with a few widgeons. In the distance we can see two pairs of ring-necked ducks floating peacefully in the warming sun.

Coot 11-15-09

We wander back along the pond’s edge always looking for birds. We find more yellow-rumps and one lone ruby-crowned kinglet in the trees near the north end of the pond. Here we also see the one lone coot as it comes ashore walking like a chicken. However, Celeste points out the lobed feet that are particular to the coot. Usually the coots form large flocks, but this lone bird is hanging out with the ducks. Who knows why it is here alone, but it doesn’t seem too distressed.

Coot Toes 11-15-09

We wander on through the mesquite bosque (pronounced bas KAY’) to the open desert beyond. A bosque is the Apache wood for “woodland” and here the densely pack mesquite trees certainly fit the bill. Sometimes I see hermit thrushes back here, and usually a few sparrows. It is in this area that I saw my first Brown Creeper in Arizona, but today the bosque is quiet until we reach the edge. There ahead of us another surprise awaits in one of the mesquite trees.

Western bluebirds 11-15-09

I actually think it was Mr. Celestial who first pointed out the birds in the tree. Celeste and I both raise our bins to see what is there and I am surprised to see a flash of blue. But these are not the sky blue of mountain bluebirds; these are deeper and richer with orange breasts. And once again I find myself exclaiming with surprise, “Oh my goodness, these are western bluebirds!” However, this time I contain myself a little bit better and the birds don’t seem to mind our elation. They sit quietly in the trees, flying out now and them to snatch an insect off a bush or the ground, then returning to the flock once again. Mr. Celestial and I both snap off several pictures. I am smiling with delight. This is a life bird for Celeste and another Arizona life bird for me. It has been over 15 years since I have seen this species of bird.

Blue-gray gnatcatcher in creosote bush 11-15-09

We wander around the open desert following path around the retention basins now dry from lack of rain. Still, the thick and tawny cattails stand as silent witness to the presence of water at other times. In a creosote bush we find a pair of blue-gray gnatcatchers scolding. The noontime sun has warmed us and we head back to the main part of the park.

Dry wetland, mesquite bosque and Rincon Mountains 11-15-09

Before we say goodbye, we sit at a picnic table and drink Irish Breakfast tea and talk. I had made a thermos of tea before I left the house this morning, hoping that Celeste would like it as most Brits do. I was correct. And though I like to drink my tea black, I brought along milk and sugar for Celeste, which she used, while Mr. Celestial drank what was left of his now cold coffee. As we parted ways we hugged good-bye. I so enjoyed meeting Celeste who works with Doug Taron at the Museum in Chicago, and her husband, Mr. Celestial. They were both the nicest people and so easy to be with. Celeste gave me the best compliment when she told me that she and her husband came to Tucson because of reading my blog! I am so glad they did and I can only hope that one day I can visit them in Chicago where they can show me the museum and the fen.

Location: Agua Caliente Park
Observation date: 11/15/09
Notes: Birding with Celeste and hubbie from Chicago. Cool and sunny, it eventually warmed up nicely.
Number of species: 23

American Wigeon 12
Mallard 35
Ring-necked Duck 4
Gambel's Quail 3
Great Egret 1
Merlin 1
Sitting on branch overhanging the spring (the source). Small, dark, streaked breast, pale eyebrow.
American Coot 1
Greater Roadrunner 2
Gila Woodpecker 20
Red-naped Sapsucker 1
Common Raven 1
Verdin 10
Cactus Wren 5
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 2
Western Bluebird 6
hanging out in trees just as you emerge from the trail through the mesquite bosque heading west towrds the dry area/retention ponds.
Cedar Waxwing 15
Hanging out in tree at south end of lake near entrance to park.
Phainopepla 9
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's) 13
Abert's Towhee 3 dark eyes
Rufous-winged Sparrow 1
double whiskers
White-crowned Sparrow 3
buffy-striped heads on all 3
House Finch 1

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(

New friends Celeste and Kathie 11-15-09

Friday, November 13, 2009

Skywatch Friday: High Speed Sunset

Houghton Rd looking west 10-30-09 by Kathie

I took this photo on Octobert 30 after we left Lakeside Park where we had stopped to photograph the park and the Osprey. Since traffic was thick Gus didn't want to pull over, so I took a series of pictures from the moving car. My first time ever doing this with this camera. Surprisingly they came out pretty good. I chose this one because of the many layers of colors. This is a great time of year for gorgeous sunsets here in Arizona! (click to enlarge for the very best viewing experience)

Shooting data: Nikon D80; Lens: VR 70-300mm, F/4.5-5.6 G, Focal Length: 75mm 1/125 sec - F/4.8

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

In Honor of Veteran's Day

"Charlie" Brown 22 year Navy Vet and my father-in-law
Veteran of the Korean war
Married for 57 years

My son, Sargent Alexander Brown with his nephew, Xavier 2009
Iraq war Vet and still in the army soon to be deployed.

(Alex is recently married and expecting his own baby this December.)

Thank You Dad and Alex
and all the other Veterans out there,
past and present,
for your service to our country.
We cannot honor you enough.

We are so proud of you!

And if you are interested, Poetry is happening once again on

Kathie's Poet Tree

Monday, November 9, 2009

My World is Sycamore Canyon

Sycamore Canyon Looking north towards Mt. Lemmon 11-4-09

I have lived in Sycamore Canyon for two and a half years now and still I have not hiked all of the trails in my neighborhood. And so it is on a sunny Wednesday morning in November that I find myself hiking north down the road towards the Saguaro Loop Trail. Sycamore Canyon has several hiking trails graded and marked around the subdivisions. With over 1100 acres of open space there is a lot of land to cover and so much to see of this Sonoran desert habitat. It is later in the morning than I wanted to be leaving for this hike, so many of the birds have already quieted down for the day and I don't see many along the sidewalk, but as I near the entrance to the trail things start to pick up.

Saguaro Loop Trailhead 11-4-09

There are several trailheads and markers for accessing the main loop of this and other trails. I am entering a section I have never hiked before and my stomach is aflutter with anticipation as I step off the pavement and onto the gravel path.

Mt.Fagan with Desert Scrub 11-4-09

The trail meanders through desert scrub southeast towards Mt. Fagan which rises like a familiar face before me. Every morning when I step out my back door I am greeted by his familiar face. Every night as the sunsets I watch as he blushes rose with the ending light of day or glows golden and smiles at me. Today he is a dull gray and soft under milky skies with blue and violet shadows exaggerating his lumpy form. He seems to nestle into a shaggy coat of desert green wrapped around his base. It is through this shaggy coat I travel listening to the sounds of birds.

Cholla skeleton 11-4-09

Cholla cacti make up much of this vegetation. When a cholla cactus dies it leaves behind a lovely lacy skeleton that bleaches silver in the sterilizing sunlight of the desert.

I am passing through a patch of bufflegrass flagged for removal. Bufflegrass is an invasive species from Africa that was planted here long ago as forage for cattle. However, the cattle aren't much fond of it and it has taken over posing a threat to the sonoran desert by making a way for wildland fires to travel across this desert landscape. The Saguaros and other cacti have no defenses against fire, since fire usually can not take hold in this dry and sandy land, but bufflegrass becomes the bridge from plant to plant.

And thus an immense effort is underway to eradicate the invader from the sonoran desert. Volunteers go out in their spare time and dig the plant from the ground. Yet is is fear that even this will not be enough and Pima county has petitioned the environmental Protection agency for permission to spray an herbicide on the grass. The fear is that if they don't, the sonoran desert and all it's cacti will be lost forever. It would only take on fire to kill so many saguaros leaving bufflegrass to flourish in its stead.

Mistletoe in a palo verde tree 11-4-09

The trail wanders now trough a sandy wash, past open desert with scattered trees. Here is where I see over 30 Phainopeplas! Phainopelpas are a silky flycatcher. The males are black with a white wing path that is only visible when they fly. The females are gray. Both are crested and they have red eyes. I have never seen and heard so many phainopeplas in one area in my life! Yet now I discover the flaw in starting on the trail from this direction because the birds are all in front of me and the sun is behind them making photography extremely difficult at this time of day. Every shot I get of them is a black silhouette.

Fairy duster fluff 11-4-09

Since I am at the outskirts of the housing it is quite quiet here, save for the crunch of gravel beneath my feet as I hike on. As the trail continues to climb it has turned slightly south and west. I pass through a barbed wire fence onto reddish clay earth. This looks more like an old dirt road with rocks scattered everywhere along the way. All bird life has quieted here and then I hear the whistle of a mourning dove's wings.

Mourning dove 11-4-09

It flies to the branch of a nearby Ocatillo that points naked and gray towards the sky. This one seems to have lost its thorns along with its leaves in this currently dry season. The dove watches me warily as I pass by, but I make no quick motions, nor do I stare at it, and so it remains on its perch and in my mind. I must have hiked over a mile by now. The whole trail is 2.1 miles and I will cover most of that since it includes the portion that follows the sidewalk. I am thinking that I must be nearing home when I hear a loud hum. The sound is coming closer and I scan the sky for its source.

Swarm in Sycamore Canyon 11-4-09

I look up to see this flying straight towards me! With Africanized bees a distinct possibility here in Arizona I look for someplace to hide...

Saguaro Loop trail 11-4-09

...but I am totally out in the open, and there is no where to go. I am dressed in shorts and a tank top with only my hat for protection, so I stand my ground and point my camera at the humming hoard.

Bees? 11-4-09

Fortunately for me, whatever they are keeps on flying and disappears over a rooftop in the nearby neighborhood. I have contingency plans for if I encounter snakes, javalinas or coyotes. I have no idea what to do if I encounter a swarm of bees. You cannot outrun them and there is no water to dive into to hide. From what I hear most people are overcome before they can even scream for help. I guess I dodged a thousand stingers today. I breathe a sigh of relief and hike on.
Steps down into the wash. 11-4-09

There are several washes that flow off the sides of Mt. Fagan and the Santa Ritas. The biggest one around here has become the canyon for which this area is named, but you can barely hike anywhere around here without crossing a wash. Some are shallow and flattened, while some cut deep through the desert. The trail before me now crosses one such wash and it is so steep they have built stairs into the sides of it in order to cut down on erosion and prevent slips and falls. I love variety in my walks, and so I climb down cheerily marveling at the way the land changes shape as I go. It's always nice to have a new perspective on things. Hiking does this for me in more ways than one and I keep asking myself, why has it taken me so long to get out here and enjoy this place that I so love.

Mt. Wrightston and the Santa Ritas 11-4-09

I am now back in familiar territory. A gangly roadrunner sweeps past me. A few black-throated sparrows sing me their silvery serenade. A Costa's hummingbird hovers over a desert bloom. I see the big canyon before me, the soft purple shadows of Mt. Wrightston fading to blue. I am at home here in Sycamore Canyon. At home with the wind and the birds flying over and around and through me.

Thanks for visiting me on MY World Tuesday!

Make sure to click on the link and visit other amazing places on this blue marble we all call home!

Thanks MY World Team!

Birds seen on the Saguaro loop trail:

Location: Sycamore Canyon-Saguaro Loop Tr.
Observation date: 11/4/09
Notes: This is my first time hiking this trail. It skirts through the desert on the permimeter of the eastern neighborhoods. I hiked it all the way home.

Number of species: 22

Gambel's Quail 14
Red-tailed Hawk (Western) 1
Mourning Dove 10 Most were see near the houses.
Greater Roadrunner 1
Costa's Hummingbird 1
Gila Woodpecker 5
Gilded Flicker 2
Common Raven 2
Verdin 2
Cactus Wren 13
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1
Northern Mockingbird 3
Curve-billed Thrasher (Western) 7
Phainopepla 33 I saw one flock of 17 birds! These were in the green space near the desert wash North of Azure Sky rd.

Canyon Towhee 4
Rufous-winged Sparrow 3
Brewer's Sparrow 1
Lark Sparrow 1
Black-throated Sparrow 12
Northern Cardinal 1
House Finch 12
Lesser Goldfinch 1

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Skywatch Friday: Mountain Blue, Pumpkin Orange

Mountain Bluebird, Pumpkin Sky 10-31-09

We took a ride to Three points, Arizona last Saturday to visit Buckelew Farms Pumpkin Patch. After my 18 month old grandson picked out his first pumpkin and after petting the animals in the petting zoo we headed back to the car to head home. While Xavier's parents were changing his diaper and buckling him into the car seat I was distracted by a flash of blue in the dirt field where were were parked. To my utter amazement I discovered a small flock of Mountain bluebirds! A male and 3 females fluttered about landing on the orange cones and fencing or hovering in the air hunting insects. They showed no fear of us and actually came quite close. It was my first time seeing this species here in Arizona and only the 4th or 5th time I have seen them in my life! I have not seen one at all since moving here 2 1/2 years ago. Then, when I went to submit this count to eBird, I discovered they are not even expected to be here. Yet here they are and I have pictures to prove it!

Buckelew Farm Pumpkin Patch 10-31-09

Female Mountain Bluebird 10-31-09

Male Mountain bluebird 10-31-09

Bluebird in a Blue Sky 10-31-09

(click on any photo to enlarge it)

Go visit!

Monday, November 2, 2009

My World: Lakeside Park

Lakeside Park, Tucson, AZ 10-30-09

click to enlarge

It’s been a busy day this last Thursday of October and I have come to town late in the afternoon to do a couple of quick errands. Nearby to the store I have stopped at is a Subway sandwich shop. Since my stomach is growling and it’s long past lunchtime, I stop in and pick up a 6” turkey sub and a bag of Barbeque Baked Lays. Not wanting to sit and eat on the corner of a crowded and busy parking lot I jump back in my vehicle and head down the street. Now, where can I eat and watch birds at the same time? Ah, Lakeside Park is not far away. I head south on Kolb, then turn right on Stella. I drive east to Lakeside Park and pull into the parking lot there on the east side overlooking the lake. I want to get out and eat my sandwich at one of the many picnic tables, but a chill wind has blown in from the north and it is gusting to over 25 miles an hour. Thus is without surprise that I notice a couple walking down the street in fleece jackets in this 54 degree weather. I almost laugh at them all bundled up as I sit inside my warm car with sunlight streaming through the windows to warm me until I step outside myself.

From my vantage point here on the east side of this manmade lake I see ducks and coots paddling in the water below me. Swallows swoop low over the lake catching insects and getting drinks. As I finish my sandwich I realize that this is not the best position to view the birds, since the sun is setting in the west and is in my eyes. So, I turn the car back on and drive around to the Northwest parking lot and get out of the car. Immediately that cold wind slices through me like ice. I grab my tattered birding jacket and put it on over my long-sleeved shirt. It’s getting late and I just want a quick look at the birds, a quick count to put into eBird. Besides, I am not dressed for tromping around. I have on my high-heeled boots, but at least I did bring my bins. I never leave home without my bins. But I did leave my camera behind. Too bad I did.

Osprey 10-30-09 Lakeside Park

As I walk down the steep slope towards the lake I notice a large raptor soaring above me. I look up to see an osprey hunting the waters below. It flaps its long wings rapidly, hovering over the water searching the depths for prey. Below the osprey a flock of mallards, domestic waterfowl and a few widgeons vie with the coots for pieces of bread tossed out by a child. Over the water the violet-green swallows swoop and dive and I follow their erratic flight with my binoculars. Then, I am distracted by a bird at the far end of the lake. I see a white pelican floating like a medical ship in the water and then, could it be? A western grebe! This is my first sighting of a western grebe here in Arizona. I look carefully at the head trying to be sure that it is a western, which has the black cap extended below the eye, and not a Clark’s, which limits the black cap to above the eye. This one has the black below and so it is a western. Suddenly I hear something, I am not sure if it is the sound of the osprey breaking the water or the exclamations of the boys fishing at the south end of the lake, but I look up to see the osprey rising from the water with a bright orange fish help tightly in its talons! It re-adjusts the fish so its head and tail are aligned with the bird’s body and then it flies straight at me and over my head! OH! If I only had my camera! I follow the bird’s flight off to the north over the bank and the treetops until it is out of sight.

I can still feel the rush of adrenalin as I turn to walk back towards my car. With the sun sinking lower the wind is getting even colder and I am ready to leave. I have only been here a half hour and already I have seen such drama, but as I turn to drive out of the parking lot I notice another flock of birds on the other side of the baseball field fence. Though I have already counted about 50 great-tailed grackles, this seems like it might be some Brewer’s blackbirds, which I have not seen or counted in awhile. So, I drive over to the Westside parking lot and I use my car as a blind. Because I do not get out, the birds actually let me get quite close and I can see and count them easily. A flock of 25 house finches is feeding near the curbing in the grass. Next to them a flock of Brewer’s blackbirds feeds. Something startles the birds and they fly off a bit, then quickly return to feed again. This time some other blackbirds join the flock and as I am busily sorting out the red-eyed bronzed cowbirds from the winter-speckled starlings and plain Brewers Blackbirds there is a sudden explosion of feathers and wings and my mouth drops. Some other raptor has just hit this flock of birds so fast that none of us saw it coming. I watch whatever raptor this is lift off with a dead bird in its grasp. Though I can see the feathered carcass dangling below the raptor, the predator is flying into the setting sun making ID impossible for me. Oh for my camera! Though I am not sure I would have been quick enough to get this shot. I am stunned; gape mouthed and stupid. If I were a ground squirrel I would be dinner.

The birds have fled for good. The sun is sinking low. I have a half hour ride home, so I put the car in gear and turn around. I have only been here for 45 minutes in a city park that is well populated but I have seen more “nature” than I ever expected. In that space of time I counted 18 species of birds and added another species to my Arizona Life List. What a great way to spend my late lunch break! Glad I thought of it! Come to think of it, so did the raptors! I must admit, I’m glad I didn’t have to hunt and kill my meal though.

Lakeside Park is located at 8300 E. Stella Road at the corner of Sarnoff in Tucson, Az. The lake itself is 14 acres when at full capacity. There is a one mile walking path around the lake. It has baseball and soccer fields and a playground for the children. There are also picnic tables and ramadas. The lake is stocked with fish by the fish and game and fishing is allowed. There is a boat launch at the west end of the lake for canoes and rowboats. The park is a well known spot for bird watching and many errant species have been documented here. I know it as a reliable place to see spotted sandpipers in winter and both brown and white pelicans have been seen here. This was my first time seeing an osprey here and Lakeside Park is also one of the places I have seen vermillion flycatchers.

On Friday night, October 30, Gus and I stopped by the park again, this time WITH my camera, so I could get a shot of the lake for this post. Unfortunately the western grebe was gone, but as I was taking shots of the trees and the water, Gus told me to look up in the large eucalyptus tree I had photographed only moments earlier bathed in the golden light of the setting sun. The fingers of gold had left the tree but in their place the osprey now perched large and dark and beautiful. I started snapping right away, trying to control my excited shaking. Even vibration reduction cannot overcome this! I slowly calmed myself and slowly inched my way forward as far as I dared. I did not want to scare the bird off. I finally felt I had a shot decent enough to post, and so we left. What a magnificent bird. One look at that beak and those talons tells you why this bird is known as a fish eagle.