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(


Elizabeth said...

Whew! That section about the "whatever they are" had me scared for you. I think I would have the same reaction of thinking if there is nothing that I can do to avoid possible death, I can at least take pictures!

Gaelyn said...

Except for the bee swarm, a perfectly delightful place to hike. So much diversity in the desert. It would be a shame to loose it because of an invasive species. Thanks for talking us along once again. Sure look forward to more of your local adventures.

Kathie Brown said...

Elizabeth, apparently we think alike! Thanks for stopping by!

Gaelyn, Hello! When are you coming my way?

Anonymous said...

Well Kathie I am very glad you made it back home and are still around to tell the tale.

Arija said...

Kathie, I am wearing the biggest smile, all because of your wonderful post. I love the pictures as always but the word pictures of your lyrical prose I love even more. All the expected parts of a good story you have covere, an intoduction, a story line, a scary climax and a happy ending. Great stuff.

bobbie said...

Wonderful post as always. But the bee swarm must have been terrifying.

Dean said...

My new home is being built on the lots below the swimming pool. I read and view our Sycamore Canyon from Washington DC and already feel homesick. Thanks much!

Kathie Brown said...

Roy, so am I!

Arija, I'm so glad I made you smile!

bobbie, I was scared, but then it passed me by so quicky that I barely had time to take those pictures! I am glad I was not what they were after!

Dean, welcome to the neighborhood! I am so glad I can keep you up to date on life here in Sycamore Canyon! Are you the one who sent me an email about buying a house here? 'Cause if you are, it was your email that inspired me to do this post.

eileeninmd said...

Great list of birds from your walk. The bees would have really scared me. Great photos and thanks for sharing your world.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the lovely desert walk. I felt like I was there walking beside you even during that "bee" mishap. Glad nothing happened. Oh and I love your mourning dove shot.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I feel as if I've just been on an adventure! Love how you describe the crunching gravel, the whistle of the dove's wings... Such vivid writing makes me feel as if I was taking a hike along with you.

Thanks for such a lovely journey...

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness - those bees scared me, and I'm just reading about them. I had no idea one would need a contingency plan for that eventuality.

Ruth said...

I was relatively close to you (compared to Canada) when I visited the Grand Canyon in October. There were so many miles of desert that look like your pictures. A very interesting place to explore...

TR Ryan said...

Scotty!!! Beam me back to Sycamore Canyon. Whaaaaaa! I want to be there with you. EXTRAORDINARY PHOTOS!!!!