Traveling through midwest USA to the eastern coast, one could not help hearing the nuisance noise of cicadas and see thousands of them descending on a square meter of land. Brood X cicadas emerge every 17 years. Through the month of June and by now many are dying off. These periodical cicadas spent many years feeding on tree-root fluid, and have now emerged, mated, laid eggs and soon all will be quiet again.
While many of us are buzzed-out with the cicada noise, let’s remember the good things about cicadas. A female cicada can lay 500 eggs on new tree leaves and those young ones provide natural tree pruning. The holes in the ground provide natural aeration and cicadas are food for birds and other animals. Finally, when they die they are natural fertilization for trees.
In Arizona, we have 50 of the 3,000 species of cicadas in the world and these cicadas are annual cicadas, not the periodical cicadas of Brood X. When I hear cicadas in Arizona, I know 100 degree weather is not far behind.
During my daily neighborhood walks, I look for plants and animals new to me. Recently I was looking for active bird nests for my possible participation in Nest Watch. With focused eyes toward tree tops, shrubs and cacti, I saw a hefty silhouette of something and thought it may be the start of some bird’s nest-building. Here is what I saw … look closely in the top quarter of the photo below:
As I walked closer to the tree, I observed it was not a bird nest. And what was in the space remained in place, not bothered by my approach. Upon closer inspection I observed a ground squirrel, sitting on the tree branch riding the wind as the branch bounced up and down, looking at me! The ground squirrel never moved as I took a couple of photos with my phone. These photos allow you to more easily see the ground squirrel:
Usually I see ground squirrels on the ground:
But the winning, most fun observation for me was when 9 months ago in our backyard I saw this ground squirrel pulling on our prayer flags!
It is important to keep our eyes open, even during our daily neighborhood walk or looking in our backyard. There may be a fun observation to be made by you! What will you see? No idea until you get out there and look; have fun!
I was birding at a quiet location and time of day. I loved it! While most birders are up early with the birds, there is some ease at birding hotspots midday; less stress on mask-wearing or maintaining physical-distancing since few people are on the trail. I may not see all the birds others see, but I like to search for birds and enjoy the quiet, if only interrupted by a bird call. As a naturalist, I am also curious about the plants and other animals in the local environment.
It is exciting to discover a nest with a bird in it or discover a new bird for my life list. I can get caught up in numerous wildlife observations. It is true, time really does fly when you enjoy what you are doing! And since I have no sense of time, it is best for me to set an alarm on my watch if I need to be elsewhere by a particular time. (Watches capable of numerous alarms were made for me!) My typical goal is to be home for cocktail time and then have dinner. It’s a retiree’s life I am fortunate to enjoy!
I had a good birding day so when my alarm went off, I began my walk back to my car. Perfect timing; I will be home for all as I hoped. I was walking the trail when I noticed a bobcat staring back at me. Okay, I got the message, I’ll give you some space. I continued to follow with a healthy distance between us, but also wondered where the bobcat could exit the area. The bobcat obviously passed the easiest exit back where we first met. Time passed as I watched the bobcat slowly walk the trail ahead of me. I noticed its retractable claws and knew they would extend if the bobcat decided to climb a tree or defend itself. I was not going to give it any reason to do that! Usually bobcats do not attack people and any I have seen in this area are used to birders walking the area too. It did finally find a place to exit, and so did I!
My plan to be home on time was squashed by this bobcat encounter, but it was definitely worth having! Here are some photos: the bobcat and some birds seen that day.
I was driving to one of the small ponds I check every so often for waterfowl. On my way I saw a wildlife person picking up a dead coyote off the road. I assumed the person with the other car reported the dead animal to the wildlife person. Not every highway has a wildlife crossing, but the work the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection group has encouraged did result in an overpass and underpass for wildlife at 2 different locations in the Tucson, Arizona area.
I continued to the pond which is within a golf course. I saw a coyote there. I wondered if this coyote had been with the other coyote sometime during the day. I watched the coyote walk across the golf course. I followed it in my car to see what direction he was headed. The coyote did stop, listen and watch for some small animal to pounce upon and capture, and finally walk further down the golf course beyond where I could see.
I was curious how popular wildlife bridges are, so of course I Googled it. I discovered at www.boredpanda.com/bridges-for-animals-around-the-world there was a list of the amazing top 50 wildlife bridges. It truly is amazing to see bridges, tunnels, rope bridges and more for amphibians, penguins, crabs, turtles, elephants, salmon and bees! Do check the post out! It was written three years ago when the Tucson area wildlife, bridge and underpass, made the list at #47 and #49. Both are now completed projects.
While I have no idea where this coyote is heading, I do know we have a healthy population of coyotes in my area. Often I see them walking across smaller roads and I hear them howling at night. It is all part of the natural world to have some die, unfortunately being hit by a car seems the worse way to go. You can support the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, or learn more about the organization, at www.sonorandesert.org
After considerable time spent trying to identify this bird, I believe it is a Hammond’s Flycatcher. Is that eye ring oval enough; is the bill short and dark; does it have a small, bull-head … whatever that means … to confidently identify this bird correctly? I know for sure it is a flycatcher, one of 17, and not the boxy-headed vermilion flycatcher which I see all the time here in SW Arizona as it is a resident at my elevation!
While this flycatcher can be seen from Alaska, USA to Nicaragua on its potential migration route, it is known to be in winter at elevations between 3000 – 5500 feet in my area. Now that I have added this bird to my life list, I will keep my eyes open when on the mountain roads this winter and look forward to its return in the spring.
Just when I thought it was time to call it quits on my birdwatching … the sky was darkening where I had been so I left, the wind was blowing in another place so my photography would be less fun, and I was getting tired of driving. I thought I would make one last stop before heading home.
When I pulled into the Historic Canoa Ranch parking lot I saw people with their binoculars zeroed in on something. I also saw people carrying their zoom camera lens to the area. My luck told me just get out there, see what was going on and worry about the right camera lens later. If there was a bird it was sure to fly off by the time I get there! Or maybe not!?!
With the best of intention for physical distancing and wearing a mask, I slowly approached a woman to ask what everyone was looking at along the shoreline of the lake because I saw nothing. With specifics from her, there it was … a juvenile northern jacana! My last birding stop resulted in another bird on my life list! WOW!
I did not have my big zoom lens so I creeped around to find a good location for a photo with a smaller zoom. One of the photos actually caught a look at this bird’s extremely long toes. It continued to casually hang out and no one bothered it which was wonderful to see!
I left the birdwatching to get home and read more about this bird. Apparently for this bird’s size it does have extremely long toes and in the field guide it says the bird may stay around for awhile. Cool; others may happen upon seeing it too!
My escape to the mountain forest provides me with relief from the hot dry desert temperatures. Thankfully within 25 miles I can be at a higher elevation with a 30 degree cooler air temperature!
I like walking along or in a creek bed in a wooded area with my tripod, camera and binoculars. It is fun despite any little black gnats wanting to bother me. I am looking for birds. I capture a few photos of birds in trees, but my best are when I find a puddle of water in a creek bed. Today is one of those days!
In the tree sits a female black-throated gray warbler. (I learn its identification later in the evening when I do my research.) Water is below the bird. Other birds flew in and out of this area, but what will this bird do? She seems to look my way to see what I am going to do. So we both wait.
Finally she flies down to the water and again seems to be watching me, or so I think! No one else is around and she can enjoy the water.
Now for some bird fun in the water! I love it, but should have also changed my shutter speed to something faster to catch those water droplets in mid-air and the feathers flying all over, but instead I enjoy the bath time activity! Bird watching took priority over my photography.
Finally a chance to jump back onto a branch and relax!
When birding, I watch for all activity, especially anything moving since it could be a new sighting for me. On this day, I was happy to see a red-faced warbler, black-headed grosbeaks and a mountain chickadee. While I might want to tell you more about the birds, I have a story to tell you. I asked myself, what is the red thing I see on the side of the tree? It’s moving and it is not a bird!
The fun thing about bird watching for me is being outdoors with the excuse to look for birds, but in reality I just want to see nature and whatever activity is happening. Through tree branches I watch the movement of what looks like a red apple. Could it be an apple? How is it moving up, down and around the tree? Finally a squirrel appears and I see the apple being moved up and down the tree while held in the squirrel’s mouth! Aha! Tree branches and power lines were blocking my vision, but now I see it all.
The next few minutes were interesting and funny as the squirrel did squirrel around to seek out, what? I could imagine the squirrel thinking about the best place to put this apple. Where will I put it so I can come back later and continue to eat this sweet thing? The squirrel decides on the crook of a tree and leaves it there.
I am thinking to myself I have to get these photos. I had no plans to be photographing birds this high in a tree, but I wanted a photo of this squirrel and the apple. I was also thinking, does this squirrel really think this is a safe place for the apple? I am distance away and that red apple just seems to pop out with such color to be easily seen here in the forest. It has to be an invitation for another!
No surprise, it was a few minutes later when a common raven discovered the apple. He flew in, checked it over and after a few minutes knocked it to the forest floor. The squirrel and raven had a bit of a tangle down on the ground, but the raven scared the squirrel away and enjoyed the apple.
What was funny about this whole wildlife encounter was the fact I had seen all of the action from the start and then worried about the Granny Smith green apple I was eating in the minutes after this activity. The raven was back up in the tree and sat there the entire time I ate my apple. I honestly kept it hid from the bird as I was sure it would have flown my way if he saw any piece of my apple! What a wonderful sighting today! I love nature!
If I am going to be awake at 6:25am for a morning walk in this Arizona heat, then I want to see wildlife since I am past 5:25am sunrise photo opportunities! A hawk was seen at a telephone pole, but the gopher snake was of particular interest to me. They were a distance apart, but I did think … imagine the hawk swooping in to capture this snake! Darn, not today.
Anyway, this snake was on a mission crossing the road and slithering up the hillside of prickly pear cacti, ground squirrel holes and lizards running through the area.
I took a few photos, then returned a few minutes later to allow the snake to move along comfortably. The snake was still a distance from the lizard so I suspect it may remain in the area and have luck capturing another one.
I did not stay to watch them much longer as I had miles to walk before the temperature hit 85 degrees, knowing this was still cooler than the 106 degrees to occur later in the day. After a swig of water from my water bottle, I was on my way again. That was a good sighting; glad I was awake and here for it!
The ceremonial opening of the newly repaired Proctor Loop Trail in Madera Canyon was on December 3, 2019. Thanks to day permit fees and donations from Friends of Madera Canyon this 3 year project resulted in a trailhead with a short paved handicap accessible section. Just off the parking lot, there is an honor wall.
The short paved section has informative nature signs and you’ll see bird watchers, people walking their pet on a leash, hikers and all handling the gradual slope with ease. Most of the trail is in the shade which is nice for an August day, but do not expect to see the “secret waterfall”.
Further along the trail you discover the trail is not paved, but a foot path with good signage so you know where you are. You’ll also see bat houses for any of the 17 different species found in this area. An upper loop to other areas in the canyon is with some climbing and crossing bridge and walkway.
I was here to watch for birds and in the shade I had my challenges, plus with others on the trail the birds were not as accommodating as I had wished. But I did see bridled titmouse, turkey vultures, flycatchers and many silhouetted birds. I couldn’t figure out what caught the mule deer’s attention; it was totally oblivious of me! They certainly know that are safe in this environment!
One can drive the 3 miles up the start of the canyon which is all part of the Santa Rita Mountains, fourth highest of the Sky Islands in the Coronado National Forest. The range rises 6,000 feet and has plenty to offer hikers, birders, star gazers and campers. There are 3 picnic ares, 5 trailheads and a campground. Someday I am hoping to see the elegant trogon. I want to see if that bird is really as beautiful as pictures I have seen of it!