Sunday, March 30, 2014

Arizona: Two Shades of Gray

I began today at 5:45am, and was out of the hotel by 6:05am; I didn’t even need an alarm My first stop for this trip was Sabino Canyon, a municipal park located within the city limits of Tucson in the northeast corner. Sabino Canyon has long been one of my favourite destinations in Tucson, as many of the semi-arid desert scrub birds can be found here, and the network of trails makes getting around easy. Along the eastern border of the park is a nice riparian area with willows and sycamore...acting like a magnet for migrants and shade-seekers.

My first bird of the day was White-winged Dove, which was quickly followed by Cactus Wren, Lucy’s Warbler, and Gila Woodpecker. As the morning progressed, Lucy’s Warbler was conspicuously abundant, and could be heard from just about anywhere along the trails. The other thing that could be heard just about anywhere were was a weekend and the park, for 6:30am, was packed with hikers and joggers alike. To avoid the hoards of people, which seemed generally to be sticking to the primary road that entered the canyon and to the wider trails that run around the periphery, I worked the narrower trails off the beaten path. Gambel’s Quail could be heard calling, and occasionally seen scurrying under brush, around the main entrance to the park, and House Finch was also common in the area. Further along the trails were great birds such as Vermilion Flycatcher, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Verdin (abundant), Phainopepla, Pyruhloxia, and Ladder-backed Woodpecker.

Another conspicuous bird in the park today was Cooper’s Hawk, with six being seen in total, and one of which was eating a small rodent. Hummingbirds were also all-abuzz, with Anna’s Hummingbird, Broad-billed Hummingbird, and Costa’s Hummingbird being seen in the park. Lazuli Bunting was also a good find, as were several Lesser Goldfinches and Abert’s Towhees.
Before commencing this trip to southeast Arizona, I thought I’d be lucky to get a half-dozen new species, and I was really only planning on one...Mexican Chickadee in the Chiricauha Mountains. But today was a pleasant surprise in Sabino...with two new species added to the life list: Gray Vireo and Gray Flycatcher. Gray Vireo was the best of the two for me, although I did find myself wondering how I had perhaps missed this bird in the past given how common it seemed to be. Perhaps it was the time of year...catch them when they’re singing or before they move on. Gray Flycatcher was a good one to tick, although it occur in my native British Columbia and I’ve just been to lazy to go get it.
As I wrapped up birding at Sabino Canyon, I tacked on a few others to the list: Black-throated Sparrow, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Northern Mockingbird, Green-tailed Towhee, and Curve-billed Thrasher. After returning to the entrance I paid a quick visit to the nature centre where I picked up a couple books for myself, and a book for Amelia. It was now 10:00am and quite warm.
From Sabino Canyon I made my toward Mt. Lemmon on the Catalina Highway. I picked up some lunch from Safeway and soon began the 26-mile climb to the summit, making several stops along the way to check for birds. The Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Area was my first stop. Here I added new birds for the day to the likes of Bridled Titmouse and Hutton’s Vireo. Further along, at Bear Canyon Picnic Area, I picked up Acorn Woodpecker and Steller’s Jay. At windy Point Vista, true to the bird-finding guide’s description, were several Whiote-throated Swift’s skirting about the cliff faces; two Bushtits foraged in the shrubs below the viewing platform. At Incinerator Road I added White-breasted Nuthatch and Yellow-eyed Junco, and a bit further along at Mount Bigelow I added Mountain Chickadee, Olive Warbler, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Spotted Towhee.
At the visitor centre the only thing worth doing there was getting a bottle of water. There were no birds to be heard or seen, but the cooler temperature at 8,000 feet was a pleasant reprieve from the oven below. A little further ahead I stopped at Control Road, my turn-around point for heading back to town. Along Control Road I added Hairy Woodpecker, another Olive Warbler, Western Bluebird, Violet-green Swallow, and a gorgeous Painted Redstart. It was now 3:30pm, and time to head back.
Once back in the basin, I decided to have another quick walk in Sabino Canyon, just to see if things were a bit different in the evening. It was 4:35pm, and so I took a short one hour walk along the Esperado Trail. The first bird I found was a Greater Roadrunner, and I can confirm with photos Amelia that roadrunners DO eat lizards for lunch! The only other bird I added to the list for the day was a Cedar Waxwing, as a flock of 12 flew by in the setting sunlight. I returned to the hotel by 6:00pm, had Mexican food for dinner, and was in bed by 9:00pm. I was wiped out after birding for 12 hours and walking nearly 6 miles.

Total Species for the Day: 61
Total Species for the Trip: 64
Total Lifers for the Day: 2
Total Lifers for the Trip: 2

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