Saturday, April 21, 2007

...399, 400!

Snow could dust Mt. Lemmon's tip this morning
If you think that's abnormal, well, the weather service begs to differ
Arizona Daily Star
Tucson, Arizona Published: 04.21.2007

"The chance of snow has returned to the Tucson area forecast, but you won't have to worry about getting those heavy coats out of the closet. The very top of Mount Lemmon may be graced with about an inch of snow overnight and into this morning, according to the National Weather Service. Highs today on Tucson's favorite mountain are expected to be in the mid- to upper 40s. "

As if on cue, the rain began to fall in northeast Tucson at 6 a.m. sharp while the seven of us gathered around our TAS leader, Bob Bates, as he outlined what he had scouted this past week. We split into three cars with Arlene and I driving with Danny. The rain let up somewhat as we approached Aqua Caliente Park, however the park didn’t open until 7 a.m, so we looked forlornly through the gate, but only found a few Mallards, Great-tailed Grackles and a Cooper’s Hawk overhead.

As we began our ascent to Mount Lemmon, things deteriorated as the rain came down cold and steady. However, being the stalwart birders that we are, we pulled on our warmest clothes and raingear and made two stops. Both of which were complete failures. Not one bird was seen or heard. At 7:45 a.m., our leader called an official halt to the trip. Taking this in stride, Danny, Arlene and I did the only thing we could do and headed to Millie’s Pancake House for breakfast! It’s amazing what a hot hearty breakfast of pancakes and eggs will do to the spirit, not to mention the fact that, as we ate, the clouds cleared and the sun made an appearance in the eastern sky.

Since Arlene had a previous commitment, Danny and I decided to take a chance on Mount Lemmon one more time. As we neared the base of Mount Lemmon, we were stopped by two Pima County sheriffs who informed us that only the first 14 miles of the 27 mile road were open due to the 2-3 inches of snow above that point. We agreed that 14 miles was better than no miles.

Our first stop was the Molino Basin campground were we (surprisingly) picked up four others that had been part of our earlier group and saw Wilson’s Warbler, Canyon Towhee and Cassin’s Vireo. We decided to drive as far as we could on the road and bird our way back down, so we drove to General Hitchcock campground and almost immediately picked up Yellow-eyed Junco* and Spotted Towhee. The Yellow-eyeds came very close to us and the eye was very intense-looking. After traversing up and down some not-very-well-worn trails, we ended up sitting by a dry stream bed watching several Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Bridled Titmouse and an Olive Warbler* (400! High fives and hugs abounded). We hated to leave such a great spot, but the campers were starting to arouse from their snowy tents.

We headed back down the mountain only a little way to Bear Canyon picnic area and followed the stream bed under the road and up a very steep hill. Seeing limited birds there, we decided to hit another spot further downhill, however, once we got to the parking lot, we realized that’s were the bird action was! Within two minutes, we saw Painted Redstart, Red-naped Sapsucker, and Black-throated Gray Warbler. We spent a long time in this area which eventually yielded a flycatcher sp, more Kinglets, more great looks at the Yellow-eyed Juncos, and a Western Wood Peewee (which I thought was a lifer, but was not). The day was well worth the trip back to Mt. Lemmon and is one of the great things about Tucson – if it snows, just wait 2 hours and it’ll all be melted!

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