Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Fine Day in Arizona: Catalina State Park

Catalina Mountains 2-9-10

I awake early Monday morning to drive to Catalina State Park. At 60 miles away it will take me an hour to get there. After the usual morning chores I am out the door and into a sundrenched but cold day. It is only 35 degrees as I leave the house.

I dress warmly for the day because of this, with 3 layers of shirts to be shed one by one as the day warms up. For now it is cool and the highway is thick with the traffic of morning rush hour. Once I am at the Tangerine Road exit I discover it is a 15 mile drive to get to Catalina State Park. This will be my first time birding this park. Though I have lived here for almost 3 years now, I have only been here once before with Gus. It was summertime then and so hot that we drove in and drove back out again. We did not stay, but now the peaks of the Catalinas greet me with snow dusted faces. I drive in the park and stop to pay my fee.

Jeff and Dawn Fine 2-9-10

I am here today to meet Dan and Jeff Fine. I know Dawn from her blog, Dawn’s Bloggy Blog. I am so excited to meet her. As I hand over my $6 I give her a call on my cell phone to let her know I am here. Jeff answers the phone and informs me that he is right behind my vehicle in his car. So, I let him pass and follow him to their campsite.

I have never met Jeff and Dawn before but as I disembark from my car they greet me so warmly and before you know it there are hugs all around. Outside their camper they have feeders set up so the air is full of twitterings as I walk into their home. I met Ballie, the black Persian cat, and Jeff and Dawn served me hot coffee and sweet pound cake. Soon we are off talking a mile a minute as if we were old friends, and it feels like we are. However, we all know that we are here to bird and we are eager to get on our way.

With coffee gone we pack our gear, donned our bins, and head out the door. It is already warm enough that I shed one of my shirts. I am starting to doubt if I chose the right pants to wear for the day: my heavy canvas jeans. I rarely wear them here in AZ, only on the coldest days. Now I am starting to think that I may have misjudged the weather.

Red-naped Sapsucker 2-9-10

We set off across the campground toward the Bridle trail. Another woman named Terry joins us for our walk. She, too, is a birder and camper. We are quite a sight with all our binoculars and cameras and heads raised towards the treetops. Today I am hoping to see a Crissal thrasher and Jeff is hoping to find one for me. Catalina State Park is one of the best places to see them in AZ. We see a thrasher up singing on a treetop before us, but this one is the typical western thrasher, so I make a note of it in my notebook and we move on. We find a small flock of Oregon juncos moving through the brush. A few white-crowned sparrows make an appearance mixed with a few rufous-winged sparrows. We hike to a grove of sorry looking trees and there find a red-naped sapsucker and a Verdin.

Great-horned Owl on nest 2-9-10

Nearby Dawn finds a great-horned owl in its nest high in an old cottonwood tree. We stay undercover and keep our distance, for we do not want to disturb the bird, but we are able to capture a few photos and get a good look before we leave.

Golden water 2-9-10

Though it has rained on and off for the past week and the ground beneath our feet is soft and sometimes soggy, the old vegetation has already dried and crunches beneath our feet. We try to walk quietly, but to no avail. Any Crissal thrasher within 100 feet is making for the hills!

I lose all track of time as we meander around the park. At some point Terry leaves us, and then it is just Dawn, Jeff and I. We search the undergrowth were the Crissal usually hang out, but no luck. Soon we are on the edge of the Summerline Wash with golden water flowing down the mountainside. After living here in the desert for so long I now find the presence of water a wonder and delight. I like the sparkle of it as it ripples and flows. I like the gentle trickle sound I am hearing. This is not the roar of a flash flood, but rather the slow and gentle melting of snow higher up and ground water draining down to refresh the earth. By the time May rolls around this wash will be dry and it will be hard to believe it once flowed with water like this.

Bridled titmouse 2-9-10

We are near the picnic area and so we stop to eat our lunch. We all sit at the table and remove our bins and cameras. We chat happily as the birds sing around us. Across the street a flock of robins is making short work of the berries on a hackberry tree. All is peaceful and relaxing until Dawn spies a small gray bird in a tree across the road. Like a flash we are all up with bins in hand. She thinks she sees a gray flycatcher! I am trying to locate it. Another birding couple at an adjoining table points it out to us. We watch as it bobs its tail downwards. I see wing bars and pale gray blending with pale yellow-green on its flanks. The tiny bird watches us warily, and then the bird and we are OFF! It flies toward the wash with us in pursuit. It disappears down the embankment and we follow trying to get a better look. All of our stuff is now abandoned at the picnic table and the bird is all that counts. I see it fly out from a tree over the water and back, but it is all a flash, and I still can’t find it in the tree which is on the same bank I am standing on, so I can’t get out and look at the side I need to. Then, a black phoebe flushes up and flies upstream a short distance to a new perch.

Northern Cardinal 2-9-10

Dawn and I keep searching, but now all we are seeing are cardinals and Pyrrhuloxia in the brush. We find a lone bridled titmouse scrounging for food along the branch of a tree and watch for a few minutes. Its black and white bridled face is so sweet and the bird is so acrobatic! Then we see Jeff coming through the brush with our backpacks and shirts in tow. Lunch is now officially over and we are on our way again.

American Robin 2-9-10

Abert’s towhees are thick in the underbrush. We have already seen one green-tailed towhee, and now a Canyon towhee pops up for us to see. I discover that trails mean nothing to Dawn and Jeff. We follow where the birds lead. I am lost in the world of saguaros and forest, mountains and creeks. It is warm and cool all at once. I have shed my second shirt and tied it around my waist. Now I am just n a ¾ sleeved t-shirt and my pants feel hot and heavy on my legs. I soon forget this fact as I get lost in the pursuit of the birds.

Dawn and Jeff on the trail 2-9-10

Rufous-winged sparrow 2-9-10 Catalina SP

A rufous-winged sparrow scratches in the duff searching for something to eat. We quickly spot 3 others as we walk softly by.

Western Scrub jay 2-9-10

Once again we start our search in the undergrowth for a Crissal thrasher when suddenly Jeff spots a bird high in a mesquite across the wash. We all get our bins on it and are surprised to discover it is a jay!

But which one? While I snap off some shots Jeff and Dawn look with bins, then I get my bins on it once again. The lacy green leaves of the tree are blocking its face, but we can clearly see the gray mantle on its back, the blue tail and then, it turns enough that we see the dark cheek patch. It flies away from us before we ever get a chance to see the blue “necklace” that is so distinctive of a western scrub jay, but we all feel we saw enough of it to call it as a scrub and not a Mexican jay. The Mexican is deeper blue and softer gray and almost always in family groups. This is a lone bird in the mountains along a flowing wash and all indications are that it is a western scrub jay. For me this is significant because I have never seen a western scrub jay here in Arizona. Though they were quite common when I lived in Utah, it has been a long time since I have seen one.

American Kestrel 2-9-10

The day is wearing on and the temperature is rising and falling as the sun disappears behind clouds and a cool breeze kicks up. I feel the caress of it on my face. Dawn puts her jacket back on.

We watch a kestrel fly to a saguaro and gaze down on us as if it were the king on his throne. Sir kestrel can you please tell us where the Crissal thrashers are? The kestrel looks down on us with disdain and flies off without an answer.

Snow dusted Catalinas 2-9-10

Though we search high and low and crunch our way though tickets of old growth brush and trees we find nothing. But all three of us are smiling. It has been a perfect day outside in the sun and fresh air watching birds and making friends. What could be better? Yes, it is indeed a Fine day in Arizona with Dawn and Jeff Fine and the snow-dusted arms of the Catalina Mountains wrapped around us like a hug.

For those who are interest, all photos were taken today by Kathie with the Nikon D80 and the 70 to 300 mm lens.ed

Don't forget! The Great Backyard Bird Count starts this Friday. You can count birds in your back yard or your local state parks! Go to their website for all the details. It is so much fun! Perhaps you will get a list like this:

Location: Catalina SP
Observation date: 2/9/10
Notes: Birding with Dawn and Jeff Fine. Hiked from campground along bridle trail and wash. Wash was flowing.
Number of species: 29

Gambel's Quail 1 heard only
Red-tailed Hawk 2
American Kestrel 1
Mourning Dove 1
Great Horned Owl 1 on nest
Anna's Hummingbird 3
Gila Woodpecker 8
Red-naped Sapsucker 2
Ladder-backed Woodpecker 1
Gray Flycatcher 1
Black Phoebe 1
Loggerhead Shrike 1
Western Scrub-Jay (Woodhouse's) 1
Bridled Titmouse 1
Verdin 4
Cactus Wren 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1
American Robin 12
Curve-billed Thrasher (Western) 1
Green-tailed Towhee 2
Canyon Towhee 5
Abert's Towhee 10
Rufous-winged Sparrow 10
White-crowned Sparrow 15
Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon) 5
Northern Cardinal 3
Pyrrhuloxia 9
House Finch 3
Lesser Goldfinch 20

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(


Dawn Fine said...

Oh..oh...what a wonderful account of the day! I am smiling reading it..your words are beautiful as you remember the day!
It was a truly great day..and a pleasure meeting such an inspiring knowledgeable birder!..oh that's you by the way!

Kathie Brown said...

Dawn, you are too cute! Thanks for all the fun and the food!

Birding is Fun! said...

Sounds like fun! I enjoy following both of your blogs and would love to go birding with you.

Kathie Brown said...

Amivor, I really hope we can make that happen someday! Especially if it meant that I was in Idaho! Of course, you are always welcome here!

denapple said...

What a wonderful day! I am green with envy, especially for your Great Horned Owl nest!

Gaelyn said...

Wow, what a great day! So glad you got to go birding with Jeff and Dawn, and in such a great place. I feel like I went along.

eileeninmd said...

What a great birding outing. A wonderful list of birds sighted and you got to meet new friends. Great post and I lvoed the photos.

sweetbay said...

Sounds like a wonderful day!! Thank you so much for taking us along.

Anonymous said...

Lovely shot of the Cardinal Kathie.
That is one heck of a list of birds for one trip.
That Dawn, she gets everywhere you know. {:)

Dan Huber said...

Sounds like a wonderful day of birding. Some great photos