Saturday, September 30, 2006

Simpson Farm Habitat Restoration Site

The 6am meeting spot was frequented by a panhandler who was hoping (unsuccessfully) for a hamburger. Our leader today was Kendall Kroesen from the Tucson Audubon Society. Kendall led the way to our first stopping point were the society has helped Burrowing Owls retain habitat. We saw several owls sitting outside of holes and on the ground. The society built a few raised burrows that the owls seem to have taken to it nicely. At this spot, we also saw Eastern Meadowlark, American Kestrel, and Turkey Vulture.

We then proceeded to the farm area proper were we were almost immediately and briefly greeted by an Abert’s Towhee. The area around here was flooded during this summer's monsoons and was very overgrown with amaranth, however much of the ground was dry and cracked already. Brewer’s Sparrows* abounded here. There were either hundreds or the same flock of 20 or so birds that we kept flushing and pushing forward during the entire morning. It was great to be able to really get good looks at this little non-descript sparrow who is apparently a substitute for the Chipping Sparrow “back home”. We also saw Mourning Doves and turkey Vultures in abundance.

Special sightings included a few Green-tailed Towhees* that popped up to Kendalls pishing, a pair if blue-gray gnatcatchers, a Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Red-tailed hawk, an Orange-crowned Warbler, and a White-winged Dove. We also had some very good looks at several Western Kingbirds* in the morning sunlight. My very favorite though was the Loggerhead Shrike who sat in a bare tree with a flock of Mourning Doves to survey the field below him. He allowed us to view him for a long time.

In addition to these, we saw Barn Swallows, Gila Woodpecker, Lesser Goldfinch, Song Sparrow, and White-crowned Sparrows (juvenile who didn’t quite have his song right as yet). Finally, on the way out of the parking lot, 5 vultures flew overhead. Two of them were Turkey Vultures, but the other three were Black Vultures. A good find here!

Time for a new Life List count…339. Not too shabby…up from 323 in May of this year without any big or focused trips :-)

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Tange Verde Ranch

Today I attended my first Tucson Audubon Society bird walk. I met the group and its leader, Bill Wieboldt, at the junction of Tange Verde and Catalina. We then traveled to the Tange Verde Ranch at the very end of Speedway. This is property that is usually reserved for private guests of the ranch, but Bill had special permission to bird there today. Although it would have probably seemed mundane to many Tucson area birders, I found a special thrill in birding the area because just about everything was new. Well, some birds, like the Northern cardinal, Mourning Dove, Barn Swallow, Turkey Vulture and House Finch weren’t new. Plus, I identified Northern Mockingbird while everyone else was trying to decide if it was a mocker or some sort of thrasher since I didn’t have all those confusing thrashers floating around in my bird bank.

The feeders in front of the ranch were filled with Lesser Goldfinch. They were very animated on the swirling feeder. I learned that the American Goldfinch that I saw so frequently at home is a rare winter time visitor to this part of the country and people had fond recollections of seeing them.

We saw lots of Gila Woodpeckers, so I’m starting to get them down pat. Also saw a beautiful pair of vermillion flycatchers. The male was just stunning in his orange and dark brown plumage. Also seen were Black Phoebe, Say’s Phoebe*, Black-headed Grosbeak*, Western Tanager*, Bewick’s Wren, Cactus Wren, Western Wood Peewee, Rufous-winged Sparrow* (which was a VERY good bird!), American Kestrel, Red-tailed Hawk and either a Abert’s or Canyon Towhee. A Bell’s Vireo was also heard.

After the walk a few of us diehards (Bill, Sharon, Arlene, Danny, and myself) stayed for lunch at the ranch. It was an excellent buffet with salad, entrees, breads and more desserts than any of us could eat. All in all a good start to birding in AZ.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A Very Birdy Welcome to Tucson

After a five day cross-country excursion, I touched down in Tucson on Monday September 18th around 8pm. Got up early Tuesday morning intending to go for a quick walk around the area, however, on the way to my car to get out my sneakers, we spied a hummingbird and a Cactus Wren* which made us change plans, take the binoculars and go for a bird walk.

We walked up W. Broadway and spotted a Verdin* among the House Sparrows and House Finches. He stayed right out in the open for quite a few minutes so that both Jenn and I got good looks at him. We turned onto Shannon Road, we saw Lesser Goldfinch, Gila woodpecker, and Phainopepla*. Also saw many Mourning doves and one White-winged Dove. As we continued along Shannon Road, we heard a lot of clucking with at first we couldn’t identify. Pretty soon though we saw a Gambel’s Quail cross the road. Then we saw two more and then more and more in groups of three and four. It was an amazing sight! Again, we were allowed very close looks at many of them which was really great. That was 3 lifers within 30 minutes of my first morning in Tucson!

Later in the day, we drove to Mt. Lemmon. This ride is an experience unlike any other I’ve had. We started out with views of the Sonoran desert and then ascended into semi-arid desert grasslands, then oak forest, pine forest, and finally scrub pine forest. The temperature was probably 20 degrees cooler from bottom to top and the plant life changed just as dramatically. Birds of note were White-breasted Nuthatch (one of those I was bemoaning not seeing just a few days ago), Brown Creeper, Rock Wren, Red-tailed Hawk, and Turkey Vulture.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

So Long to Blue Jays

The Blue Jays are heralding the arrival of the movers. I’m moving to Tucson, Arizona tomorrow to start a new life and have new adventures, but this week has been bittersweet saying goodbye to friends, family, and familiarity. I’ve been keenly aware of the many eastern species that I will no longer hear with such regularity: Blue Jay, Gray Catbird, Eastern Towhee, Downy Woodpecker, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, and even Common Grackle. These species have been a huge part of my birding life since I was a small girl and I can still remember my delight at first attracting some of them to the feeders at our house on South 15th Street.

There was a grape arbor in the backyard that had a small wooden shelf that the former owner used as a planting shelf. My mother encouraged me to put some breadcrumbs out. After a few weeks, we added store-bought variety birdseed and then sunflower seeds. The Northern Cardinals also came, as did the American Goldfinches, Pine Siskins, and the Black-capped Chickadees. This started what became a life-long passion for studying birds.

There are some species I can look forward to seeing in Tucson also. Of course, the ever present European Starling, House Finch, and House Sparrow cover the country, so there’s no chance of leaving them behind. I was also pleased to see that I will find Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Great-horned Owl, and Dark-eyed Junco in my new surroundings. However, on the other side of this bittersweetness are the new species I can look forward to seeing: Sandhill Crane, Gambel’s Quail, Greater Roadrunner, and the many hummingbird species!

Today I will say “:goodbye” to my long-time friends, but tomorrow I will say “hello” to new ones.