Last Sunday I did something I could never have imagined before I started blogging. As most of you who read my blog on a regular basis have probably figured out by now, I am a fairly (very) anti-social creature and my idea of a happy existence is to have no contact with humans (with the exception of my mate) and be surrounded by animals! Having said all that I have been following a wonderful blog called Sycamore Canyon for some time now and it's creator, Kathie has totally captured my imagination with her beautiful descriptions and stunning photos of life around the Tuscon area. So with more than a slight feeling of nervousness I arranged to meet up with her on our recent long weekend in Tuscon. I must admit I felt almost as if I was going on a blind date and I almost bottled out of it on more than one occasion but if you read her blog, and I hope you will, Kathie shines through as one of life's truly good people.
So with my husband as back up (maybe I got it all wrong and Kathie was an axe murderer!! - sorry Kathie please excuse my zany English sense of humour!) we met up early on Sunday morning in an empty car park in downtown Tuscon. Of course I needn't have been so anxious, Kathie greeted me warmly with a big hug and we hit it off from the moment we met. With a brief stop at a nearby Dunkin Doughnuts (partly to devise our plan for the morning and partly to compensate my husband for 'putting up with' a morning of birding) we headed out to a beautiful area called Agua Caliente.
Before I moved to the US I had been living in Zambia and over my years there I had grown to be reasonably good at identifying the endless array of stunning bird species in my area. Of course when I moved to America I had to pretty much start from scratch. Learning birds on your own is quite a tricky process because you have to study the bird, identify what you hope will be distinctive field markings and then try and find it in your field guide. I have done this rather laborious process in numerous places with varying degrees of success but to actually visit an area with someone who knows the local species is so much easier and more enjoyable! I would only ever describe myself as a casual birder these days (it was my area of expertise when I worked as a safari guide) so whatever we found would be a pleasure for me.
We started on a high by finding a Merlin hiding among the branches of a tree over a hot spring, it watched us briefly before flying off to find a more private spot. First bird and it's a new one for me! That can't be bad! The area was alive with bird calls, the Gila Woodpeckers and Verdin being the most in evidence. We moved closer to the waters edge where my husband got this fabulous shot of a Great Egret
There were numerous duck species enjoying the water and a solitary Coot. As we moved around the waters edge several of the ducks came to the shore, hoping, I am sure, that we were going to feed them. As we stood chatting and enjoying our surroundings the single Coot also plucked up the courage to come out of the water in front of us. This is a relatively rare treat as the Coot is a fairly shy species. Its bravery gave us the opportunity to see at close range their rather stunning, lobed feet. This is an alternative design to the more common webbed foot seen on numerous aquatic bird species. As the Coot pulls its foot forward through the water, the lobes fold back, so reducing the amount of resistance and then as the Coot pushes its foot back, the lobes spread and form a larger surface area, thus helping to propel the bird through the water.
We continued to stroll around this enchanting area with Kathie regularly pointing out different bird species and identifying various calls. As we walked the habitat started to change. We moved away from the tree lined oasis into drier more desert like surroundings and just as we were transitioning between the two we came across our second big treat of the morning. A small tree with six Western Bluebirds perched in it. One of the tricky things about birding in an entirely new area alone is that you don't really have a feel for what is rare and what is common. You tend to relate more to, is this a new species for me or have I seen it somewhere else before. However with Kathie as my guide I could tell by the level of excitement in her voice that we were sharing something special here. If you spend much time around birders (and lord knows they are a strange bunch :) ) You discover that they are generally divided into two types. The first being the type who are driven by their personal species lists and all they want to do is visit as many places as possible and tick off as many species as they can. The second type of birder, also enjoys seeing new species but actually enjoys spending time observing the birds, watching their behaviour and how they interact with their surroundings. Luckily both Kathie and I fit into this second category and so we were more than happy to stand quietly and watch the little flock of bluebirds in the tree for quite a while. My dear husband is endlessly patient with me when I do this, he usually occupies himself by by photographing the surrounding area.
As we moved further into the drier habitat the birds became scarcer but it didn't really matter too much. The weather was about as perfect as it could be, I love cacti so was thrilled to see all the different species with their unique forms and we were enjoying Kathie's company so much that any birds were just a bonus! We slowly wound our way round in a loop and then headed back towards our vehicles but Kathie had one more surprise in store. Being a perfect host she had thoughtfully brought a thermos of tea with her! What more could I ask for? Being a true Brit I was never going to turn down the offer of a cup of tea :) We sat under the trees and chatted, learning more about each other and sharing lots of laughs together. Kathie was kind enough to suggest a couple of other areas that we may enjoy visiting during the rest of our day (more of that in my next post) and giving me the heads-up on what bird species I might see there. And so it was with some reluctance that we finally parted ways. I am delighted to say that in spite of my anti-social tendencies I definitely have a new BBFF ( Best BIRDING Friend Forever!!) Thank you Kathie for a delightful Birthday Birding trip.
For another version of our morning and a complete bird list, check out Kathie's post.
Photo Credits - DominickV
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