Friday, November 20, 2009

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


Gaelyn said...

What a wonderful day showing others your back yard, so to speak, and getting to see life birds, even if no pic of the Merlin.
I never realized the Coot had feet that look like blue leaves. Have only seen them in water.
I feel as though I went along with you.

Kathie Brown said...

Gaelyn, aren't those feet amazing! I knew they had lobed feet but I was amazed once I enlarged the photo! "Blue Leaves" What a great way to describe them! It sounds like a poem.

Arija said...

Kathie, how lovely for you and Celest to meet up like this! I knew from her blog that she had been to Arizona. A lovely day together. What I would not give for such a day!
I love those crazy feet on the coot and the colour too and was enchanted by the blue-grey gnatcatcher - what a little cutie.
You know I adore your blog.

Mary said...

I remember what a wonderful place that park is. Love those coot toes....I've never seen them that close! YOu too look great :-)

Celeste said...

Kathie, It was such a lovely day, thank you so much for showing us around, we thoroughly enjoyed it. Your photos, as always, are stunning! I have finally got round to getting my post up too.

Doug Taron said...

Great photos of a delightful day. Next summer I'll have to introduce you to Vincent. Eventually you'll meet the entire Biology Department.

TR Ryan said...

I would like this post better if it were me in that picture with you all! That photo of the gnatcatcher in that beautiful light should be enlarged and framed immediately!!!! FANTASTIC!!!

Johnny Nutcase said...

coot toes! how cute are they!?