Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Most Excellent Adventure

Long before we bought our house in Arizona I would regularly read a blog called Sycamore Canyon written by a lady called Kathie. She lived in Tucson and wrote beautifully of the plethora of flora and fauna she encountered on a daily basis. On a later visit to Tucson I was fortunate enough to spend a lovely morning birding with Kathie and a wonderful friendship began.
Move the clock forward a couple of years, we bought our house in Tucson but, sadly Kathie no longer lived there. Her husbands work had taken them out to the east coast. We kept in touch and she started a new blog called Kathie's Birds Imagine my delight when she contacted me this summer to tell me they were moving back to Tucson. My BBFF (Best Birding Friend Forever) was back!
Of course it didn't take us long to arrange our first day out. Unfortunately it was during the weeks when the Lesser Long-nosed Bats were draining all my hummingbird feeders every night so although I was up before sunrise, by the time I had refilled all the feeders and got myself ready I was already running late. Kathie is very patient, thankfully and she was graciously waiting for me with her car all ready packed for our day out. Our first stop was just for fun, at Amato to see this wonderful bar,restaurant - only in America!

On the opposite side of the road was the Cow Palace, an old hang-out of John Wayne's apparently. Having done our tourist stop we moved on to a water treatment park to check for birds.

It was remarkably quiet with just a few Grackles enjoying the early morning sun. There was a wonderful peacefulness to the morning and we were relaxed as we quietly walked around checking the bushes and grassland around us. We could hear a few birds calling but nothing much was showing itself so we moved on.
We made a quick bathroom break at Tubac and grabbed ourselves a cup of Earl Grey and a slice of apple Strudel. While we were drinking our tea we noticed this tiny little hummingbird nest attached to a string of lights on the terrace we were sitting on.

We headed towards Rio Rico making another stop at a riverside park where we spotted this beautiful little female Vermilion Flycatcher.

A little further down the road we stopped at a little pond and we were watching various swallows, hawking insects over the water and a Great Blue Heron stalking the shallows. Suddenly Kathie got very excited by a family of ducks that she had caught a glimpse of at the far end of the pond. They disappeared quickly from sight but she was pretty sure that they were Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. We waited quietly in the shade and eventually they reappeared and we were able to get a better look. She was right, the two parents had a large clutch of little striped ducklings safely bunched between them. I tried to get a shot but it was so far away that I didn't really get anything worthwhile. But just to prove their existence we took some photos anyway.

Now the day was starting to warm up and that wonderful midday desert stillness was settling around us. We pulled over a little further down the road to look at a Turkey Vulture that was resting, with wings spread, on the top of a telegraph pole. There were also numerous kingbirds on the wires, always on the lookout for any insects. Kathie walked down to get a clearer shot of the vulture

 While I tried, and failed to photograph a variety of butterflies that had gathered on a cow pat.
UPDATE: My friendly, neighbourhood 'Bug man' has ID'd these for me. On the left is a Checkered Skipper and on the right is a Ceraunus Blue.

Kathie was kind enough to take me up to the piece of land that she and here husband own up in the hills. What a majestic spot with breathtaking views for miles and miles. So peaceful and dramatic, I could totally see why she loved it so much. The area was devoid of bird life in the heat of the day but the wildflowers more than made up for it.

By this time we had worked up an appetite so we drove back down into Rio Rico to a little pizza joint that Kathie knew of. It was an ideal spot to cool down, rehydrate and enjoy an excellent Gorgonzola and pear pizza - YUMMY!!! After lunch we got on the road again and headed for Madera Canyon. This is a beautiful area and as we slowly wound our way up through ever change habitats and vegetation we could feel the cooler air moving around us as we gained elevation. We stopped at the top car park where I was distracted by this very dramatic black caterpillar.

We walked up a trail, listening for birds as we went but it was surprisingly quiet. We caught a glimpse of a couple of Mexican Jays flitting through the trees but other than that we were more captivated by the various butterfly species fluttering around us.

UPDATE: This butterfly is a Bordered Patch - Thanks Doug! :)

UPDATE: The butterfly above is a California Sister - again, thanks Doug :) 
As we came back down to the car park there was a Rock Squirrel taking a siesta on the picnic table. Everything was quiet and peaceful around us.

We started to drive back down the canyon. There were several beautiful little bed and breakfast places nestled in amongst the trees, each one of them had numerous bird feeders strung outside so it was obvious what type of clientele they were catering to. One particular place caught our eye because of the flock of Wild Turkeys strolling around!

This place was extremely organised with rows of feeders filled with a variety of foods guaranteed to appeal to pretty much every avian palette. There were also numerous chairs set up for birders to get comfortable while watching the constant parade of bird life. We chatted with the owners briefly but soon became distracted by the array of species flying around us. We had only planned to stop briefly but we were soon completely hooked. Of course the goofy Acorn Woodpeckers were a constant source of entertainment

But it was the mass of hummingbird species that really got our heads spinning. Was it five species or six, it got so confusing with them all buzzing around but we were reasonably sure we saw Broad-billed, Broad-tailed, Rufous, Costa's, Anna's, Magnificent and possibly Blue-throated Hummingbirds.

I completely failed to get any decent photos but it was still a magical spot. And then of course there were the Bridled Titmice, The Painted Redstarts, The Hepatic Tanagers talk about sensory overload!! Our heads were spinning as we tried to keep track of everything. The only one that stayed still long enough for me to get a photo was this obliging Mexican Jay.

In amongst all the birds I also managed to get totally distracted by this stunning Apache Click Beetle that was scuttling around.

After over an hour and a half we finally managed to drag ourselves away and continue on down the canyon.The sun was getting low as we made our last stop at the Proctor Trailhead.

 We decided to walk down towards the creek so we were walking quietly down the trail keeping our eyes and ears open for birds. Kathie was a little way ahead of me when my eye caught a dark shape moving in the vegetation. I stopped and looked carefully. That shape could only be one thing. I caught Kathie's attention with the loudest whisper I could manage! I gesticulated wildly to her to come and stand near me and as she drew next to me a black bear stepped onto the trail no more than ten feet in front of us!!! When I posted this on Facebook everyone was asking where the photos were. I have to be honest I was far more busy thinking about how I might have to react than I was thinking about taking photos. Luckily the bear could see we had not blocked its way and it loped off up the trail leaving Kathie and I standing, rooted to the spot with our mouths agape and our eyes wide! When we had recovered our composure we decided as the light was fading we should probably head back towards the car and not push our luck.

We sat and watched as the sun settled beyond the horizon and the sky lit up with a beautiful kaleidoscope of colours and recounted our amazing day. We then made our way home stopping numerous times to check out several hawks on telegraph poles until it became completely dark and we had to admit that our wonderful day was over. Birds, beetles and bears - it doesn't get any better!

UPDATE - Kathie has now written her accounts of our great day out. Please read her wonderful versions here, here and here.