What Is The Red Thing In the Tree?

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!

Raven sat and watched as I ate my green apple.

Birds New to Me!

My goal has been to improve my photography skills on birds in flight, yet I was distracted on my latest birding adventure by the number of birds new to me. First some birds in flight:

At first I knew I was looking at a different woodpecker and that it was not my favorite acorn woodpecker. So I took a photo and finally identified it as an Arizona woodpecker.

Then I saw yellow colored birds and wanted to see what they were. I have goldfinches at my home feeder, but one was a lesser goldfinch and the other a hepatic tanager.

The next 2 birds were new to me. I thought they had the strangest head shape when I first noticed them, so immediately researched them for identification: black-headed grosbeaks.

Wow, then I really saw some beautiful colors! Both of these birds, new to me, are now on my life list: Lazuli bunting, with the light blue color, and the Varied bunting, with multiple colors.

My early morning trip to Madera Canyon was well worth the effort. I still have to work on my photos of birds in flight, especially as the hummingbird wings need a 1/4000 second shutter speed for me to really capture their action and be in focus. But to discover these other birds was great fun too. Well worth my hours at the canyon!

Gopher Snake Sighting!

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.

Gopher snake!

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!

Birding By the Roadside!

Due to the Bighorn wildfire burning almost 120,000 acres of land just north of Tucson, AZ through the months of June and July, the Coronado National Forest trailheads will be closed to hikers until possibly November 1. Businesses in the town of Summerhaven hoped for the 25 mile road to their town to open quicker than it did, but once it was open to more than just residents and employees, locals headed to the mountain town at the start of August. In support of local businesses and to escape the desert 100+ degree heat, Summerhaven was a treat in many ways! Although physical distancing and wearing face masks, due to the pandemic, are required, I drove there also to look for some birds. The rule though is with forest areas off-limits, one must stay on the roadside pavement at all times.

I stopped at some spots along the road where parking was allowed and eventually worked my way to the town of Summerhaven. I bought some items at the local grocery store and just had to indulge in their fudge! A couple of other businesses were open, but I was happy with my treat and also seeing the following birds: yellow-eyed junco, Steller’s Jay, acorn woodpecker, and painted redstart. One really does not have to be in the middle of a forest to see birds. With some patience, birds can be seen along a roadside! The acorn woodpecker and Steller’s jay though were seen by a business that does put out peanuts for the birds.

I headed toward Ski Run Road where the temperature dipped to a wonderful 65 degrees. Along the way, and as I did while driving to Summerhaven, I noticed burnt areas from the wildfire. Ferns are the fastest growing plants in those charred areas.

Trailheads are closed to all of us because the soil is no longer being held in place by the forest growth once there and we are entering our monsoon, heavy rain, season. I was thrilled to see some birds, support a local business, eat some fudge, watch people ride the chairlift at Ski Valley, and see others picnicking/relaxing in the cooler temperatures on the mountain. My ride down the mountain was eventful. It started to rain the largest raindrops ever seen and hailed some good-sized hailstones! Just when I thought I could finish my lunch somewhere along my way home, that was not going to happen in this storm. Darn, back to the heat sooner than I had hoped!

Rain and hail!

Bird Photography Takes Work!

Taking time off the tennis and pickleball courts to learn about birds and photography has been my escape during the pandemic. It allows me to be outdoors, easily physically distanced from others, and on my own timeline. During the hot summer southwest USA days, one needs to be up with the birds to capture them in the trees or on bushes. Those locations are most natural for a photo.

I do not have hummingbird feeders at my home so I decided to go where I know there are some feeders. My challenge has been to capture a photo of a bird flying toward or away from a feeder AND to have a sharp image! Ah yes, therein lies the real challenge that I must continue to work on!

But when one sees 3 different hummingbirds in one day with one being a new bird for my life list, I do not care if it is not the sharpest photo in town!

Two hummingbirds: rufous on left and magnificent (rivoli’s) on right.
Female rufous hummingbird for my life list!

Obviously I need to work on this project some more. Feeders are nice to have but my goal still remains to capture each bird in flight. I was watching a couple of broad-billed hummingbirds flitting around a bush also and was so excited when one landed for a moment. Whew! a photo in focus!

Broad-billed hummingbird.

Proctor Trail, Madera Canyon, AZ

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!

Mesquite Trees; Here To Stay!

Wherever you look in the Sonoran Desert there are mesquite trees. These shrubby, small trees armed with thorns are in the legume family. They bear flowers, but more noticeably are the large seed pods eaten by coyote in the winter or collected by humans to mill and use the mesquite flour for baking.

A mesquite tree’s taproot can reach subsurface water 150 feet below ground level. Ranchers are not happy with these trees on their land since less water is then not available for their livestock and farming land. I know about that taproot because even in my backyard if I do not want a mesquite tree growing in a certain location I need to dig deep to get it out, or I will see it sprout again. This however is due to the fact the tree’s bud regeneration zone is 6 inches below ground level.

Mesquite tree growing in a park area.

Often we notice mistletoe growing in a mesquite tree. Unfortunately this mesquite mistletoe is a hemiparasitic plant. It sends rootlike structures into the mesquite’s tree branches and takes water and minerals from the tree and in time can be detrimental to the tree. The mistletoe does carry on its own photosynthesis and produces red to clear berries eaten by phainopepla. Mistletoe seeds are dispersed via the bird defecating or wiping its bill.

Look up into the tree and see mistletoe stealing nutrients.
Mistletoe killed the tree and now it has no way to get nutrients and it will die too.

Another observation related to mesquite trees is they are “nurse trees” for young saguaro cacti. The cacti and tree do compete for the same resources, thus hastening the death of the tree. As a result, young saguaro cacti are near mesquite trees and old cacti are not.

Mesquite trees will live a long time in the desert. Once fully grown at 20 years, they are known to live 100 years. If only they could speak … what perspective would the tree have about the world around it? We can sit under the shade of the trees and wonder.

Mesquite trees offer some nice shade on hot days in the desert!

Chuck Ford Lakeside Park, Tucson, AZ

I stopped by to visit another city park in Tucson, AZ. Here in the desert one does not often see water, but this lake supports bass and catfish so anyone who fishes is happy. I was here to do some bird watching. Between all the trees and shoreline there were birds to be seen. Excessive noise is prohibited so it really is a quiet park.

Plenty of wildlife seen: Black crowned night heron, roadrunner, tricolored heron, cooper’s hawks – actually 3 of them, many mallards and hummingbirds and plenty of other birds, and turtles.

The following is not a good photo, but it is the first time I have ever seen a hawk pull its tail feathers up! There were three Cooper’s hawks in the tree. It was a very hot day, 100+ degrees Fahrenheit. They were hiding and I guess I got to close!?! They had wonderful shade and thus the photo is grainy.

Cooper’s hawk with tail feathers up!

The park has plenty of places for people to sit and relax, plus a playground, ball park, and activity court with various games.

Funniest looking bird was hanging out with the mallards. I really cannot explain its look.

Another park for me to check out during the various seasons!

Six Minutes With One Bird!

I heard there was a tricolored heron in the neighborhood. (In actuality it was a 20 minute drive from my home. Close enough.) Off I went to find the bird since this would be a new sighting for my life list of birds!

From one side of the lake I see a bird, and quite possibly the tricolored heron. I walk around the lake to get a closer look and hopefully a photograph too.

Tricolored heron

I walked closer and closer to the bird, wishing I had a different lens on my camera, but thought what fun to walk quietly and actually see how close I could get to it! Not bad! The bird took time to ruffle its feathers.

Then it was time for the bird to fly!

It flew across the lake. I decided to let it be. Instead I checked out the park.

Truth in a Statue in Tucson

Near downtown Tucson, I noticed a statue of a fireman, so I stopped to learn why it was there by the Central Fire Station. It is a memorial and recognition of firefighter’s “ultimate sacrifice”. 

The past few months, numerous firefighters have been fighting the Bighorn Fire in our national forest and state park. No structures or people have been lost with almost 120,000 acres burned. Seven fire fighters had non-fatal injuries.

Truth be told, we are appreciative of every firefighter. Carrying their gear, climbing the mountainside, working on the fire line, tenting at night, and caring about the people and buildings in the area all in very hot, varying elevation and weather conditions … a profession many people do not run to train and be active in. I greatly appreciate those who do choose this work and relieved when I know all survived. Thank you!

Due to the charred areas not being able to absorb water and the upcoming monsoon season, the areas will remain closed till about November 1. Before you head out, check Pima County website to know if you can hike in certain areas. Be safe.