Sunday, January 23, 2011

Birds, Birds, Birds Tucson Arizona

Today was a day to walk and enjoy the weather and practice my photography skills on the sometimes elusive and always challenging birds of Sweetwater. It's as if Sweetwater was designed for practicing both your photography and your birding skills. There's always plenty to see including an occasional rare visitor or two. There are several observation platforms that hug the waters edge throughout the wildlife viewing area similar to the one pictured above.
Sweetwater is an urban wildlife area, a water treatment plant and an outdoor classroom in the middle of Tucson Arizona.

There are many retention ponds which always have a variety of ducks with the most prevalent being the Northern Shoveler this time of year.

There always seem to be quite a few Yellow-rumped Warblers present near the bridge.
Black Phoebes are common here.
Verdins are always fun to photograph as they never sit still for more than a couple of seconds at a time.
I have seen the Orange Crowned Warbler on my last few visits.
As I said there are rare visitors on occasion and we were treated to this Female Black and White Warbler that was in the company of a Black-throated Gray Warbler.
This is one of the resident Harris's Hawks that made several rounds while we were there.
Juvenile Northern Shoveler.
Adult male Northern Shoveler.
Just being cute I guess!
American Widgeons are numerous here also.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Patagonia/Sonoita Creek Preserve

It's another beautiful day here in Southern Arizona with temperatures projected to be in the 70's. We decided to head up into the Santa Rita's to visit the Nature Conservancy's Sonoita Creek Preserve located in Patagonia. The views along the way are amazing even this time of year when most of the landscape is dressed in various shades of brown and tan.

After living here in the desert southwest for five years and traveling around to different wildlife areas I have come to the realization that it is all about the availability or lack of water. The abundance of plant and animal life depends either on the presence of water or the ability to adapt to the lack of it. In the riparian areas that I visit the abundance and diversity of plants and animals is truly amazing. In the desert scrub and the more arid areas plants and animals have adapted to needing less water to thrive.

The survival of man here is also dependent on a sometimes hard to find commodity and the evidence of wells operated by wind power are scattered across the landscape. As you can see this Red Tailed Hawk has adapted to it's metal perch which has a commanding view of the surrounding grasslands.

When we arrived there were many birds visiting the feeders at the visitors center including an Anna's Hummingbird, purple finches, goldfinches, and white breasted nuthatches and many sparrows that went unidentified as we were anxious to hit the trails.

One of the most impressive things on our visits to Southern Arizona Riparian areas is the majestic Cottonwoods. Some of these trees are massive in size and I can only guess at their age but they must be very old indeed as evidenced by the specimens that have long since crashed to the ground. In either the upright or prone positions they provide lodging and cover for many creatures.

The creek was flowing gently but steadily along and the water looked quite clear. I have to admit I am curious about the origins of this particular creek as in allot of ways it seems oddly out of place. For those of you who are not familiar with the weather here our rainy seasons are summer and winter. Winter rains can be infrequent and are generally more gentle while summer rains are usually more violent and produce large amounts of water in a short period of time. It is not unusual for it to rain heavily in one part of Tucson while being sunny and hot in another. I have driven down the road with thunder and lightning on my left and bright sunshine on my right.
Fact: Sonoita Creek has about 5 miles of perennial flow the first 2 of which are located on the preserve.The Creek's watershed covers approximately 200 square miles.

The Railroad: The railroad trail supported tracks for a line that ran from Benson,Az. to Guaymas Mexico.
There are several trails that loop around the preserve that I would characterize as easy walks suitable for anyone except wheelchair bound individuals. The Railroad Trail travels along where a bygone train used to pass through Patagonia.

The Creek Trail is equally easy but because of it's proximity to the water we saw quite a bit more wildlife activity here.

We spotted five different Mule Deer during our visit including this buck that was the most skittish of the two groups. The shot below is of one of two adolescents that were traveling along the creek with their mother. The two of them still retained some of the colors you would expect to see in a very young animal.

The more time I spend in the wild places the less I seem to worry the creatures that I encounter there. These Mule Deer knew that I was there and walked right out of their cover in the woods and crossed in plain view only a hundred feet from me. At one point when the two adolescents were crossing in front of us they stopped and one of them stamped and grunted at us.
I had a similar experience with a roadrunner just last week when it crossed my path within three feet of me totally ignoring the fact that I was there.

We saw quite a few hawks on this trip including this Red Tailed Hawk hunting along the creek. 22 different species of raptors have been seen in the preserve. Several pairs of Gray Hawks nest at the preserve.

There were Goldfinches,Purple Finches,White-breasted Nuthatches, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Black Phoebes, White-crowned Sparrows, Bridled Titmice and many more who scooted away before positive ID could be made. All in all not too shabby.

We were treated to this sleepy Screech Owl who didn't even acknowledge our presence near his house. For those of you who have never visited Patagonia/Sonoita area it is well worth the trip. On several occasions we have seen Pronghorn Antelope during our trip. Information on the Western Screech Owl can be found at:

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Catalina State Park Tucson Arizona

 We arrived at Catalina State Park which is located just north of Tucson at around 10 A.M. on Saturday morning. There are always people there but it is not crowded due to the number and length of the different trails. As you can see it was a beautiful sunny Arizona day which lately have been few and far between. We chose the Nature Trail because it is an easy looping trail that has some great views and we had not hiked this particular section of the park yet.

 The trail turned out to be a really easy walk that would be suitable for young families or the elderly and we enjoyed a slow hike around stopping many times to enjoy the magnificent mountain views.


We came across this Roadrunner which is usually very quick to exit when humans are around but this one seemed not to mind our presence although it did keep a pretty good eye on us. When a couple of runners came by it scooted across my feet and disappeared into the desert. Read more about the Greater Roadrunner here:

Roadrunners are a classic example of camouflage in nature. If it weren't for it's quick movements as it searches for food you would probably not even notice it.

We headed out the Sutherland Trail which runs along the wash and has a few more birds including Rock Wren, Gila Woodpecker, White Crowned Sparrows, Ruby crowned Kinglets, Aberts Towhee as well as a Stricklands Woodpecker and Chihuahuan Raven.

 Catalina has some truly magnificent examples of Saguaro Cactus and it is a very unique experience to walk through a Saguaro forest.

When most folks think of the desert they think of a lack of water and although water is scarce as you can see it is not non existent. This stream is running due to snow melt run off from the Catalina's which still has snow caps from recent snow storms.

 Parts of the wash are dry indicating that at times there is lots more water running off the Catalina's perhaps during the summer monsoons which can be quite heavy at times.

 Part way up the trail there is a set of stairs that lift you to a second plateau. This is as far as we went on this trip but there is plenty more trail ahead. Perhaps another day.

This is a picture of Nan doing a little bird watching that I included so you can get an idea of the size of the Saguaro. Pretty impressive up close as this one reaches about 25 feet tall.

A relatively new Saguaro which frequently get their start in the shade of other plants which allows them time to get accustomed to the intense sunlight here in Southern Arizona.

 I included this photo because I have noticed that coyotes almost always do their business in the road or on a path or on a rock. I don't think I have every seen actually seen any in the sand. I assume it's because so many plants are thorny and it's just plain safer!

Just a note to express our sadness at the shooting of Congresswomen Gabriel Giffords here in Tucson and all of the other victims as we hiked the park yesterday. This kind of violence against our government and the people of the United States has no place in a free society. Our hearts go out to the families of those who perished and also to those families whose loved ones were senselessly harmed. We wish the injured a speedy recovery and will keep them in our thoughts.