Sam Lena Recreation Area, Tucson

The Kino Sports Complex is huge when you consider the north and south side, but today I am only focusing on Sam Lena Park which is part of the north complex. Sam Lena was a longtime politician, member of the Pima County Board of Supervisors, served twice in AZ House and four terms in the State Senate. As a supporter of parks and recreation, the park was named in Sam Lena’s honor (1921-1996) along with a Sam Lena – South Tucson Library which he advocated for many years.

I was visiting the park to see what birds might be around since the last time I was here was about a year ago when I first began birding and had a birding workshop here. While walking a small part of the park, I noticed ramadas, fitness/1 mile walking trail, softball fields and had to keep an eye open as some played disc golf around me and where I was also watching a few birds.

I saw a number of birds:

Gray flycatcher
Greater yellowlegs
Ring-necked duck
Northern shoveler
Great blue heron
Roadrunner

If it wasn’t for the pandemic we are currently experiencing, this park would be very busy with people. Almost everyone I saw today was wearing a facial mask and many were visiting with me to ask what birds I was seeing and asking about my camera equipment. I like those teachable moments and it seemed all were wanting some conversation! The disc golfers even showed me their discs! I am not sure I will ever play that game as I can only envision losing the disc just like I lose golf balls! Who knows, someday maybe I will give it a try. I can always use another new activity in my life!

Sorry to tell them they have a spelling error on the “disc” golf.

Open Pit Mining in Arizona

You may not know it, but there are many abandoned mines (100,000, but only 19,000 officially identified) in Arizona. You may already know this state produces more copper than any other state, which also has gold and silver mines. I began thinking about mines when I read a highway sign on my way to Summerhaven. It stated there had once been 1300 mines in the valley I was overlooking to the east. Another day I was bicycling past a couple of open pits with their warning signs on the west side of Tucson. Then I got thinking about the jaguar, Gila topminnows, Chiricahua leopard frogs and yellow-billed cuckoos in the Las Cienagas National Conservation Area and Nature Conservancy property near the Sonoita Creek Watershed because I heard mining was proposed for the area. How would that wildlife survive mining activity?

There is plenty to absorb when learning about mining practices whether it be a shaft mine or an open pit mine, but here are my concerns: using our already scarce desert water and degradation of and leaving behind a toxic environment. The population in this state increases each year and clean water is always needed. A mining operation uses millions of gallons of water per day. When mining is done a scar at least a mile wide and 3,000 feet deep remains, and since backfilling an open pit can cause more environmental damage and safety concerns it is not done. Here’s the additional water concern, besides the millions of gallons of water used each day, the pit would puncture our aquifer and drain water into it creating a pit lake. That is not the direction water should be going! The water from the mine is not to be part of our groundwater and drinking water. An aquifer is to be separate and going to creeks and springs providing clean water for wildlife, along with being our future drinking water. The pit lake water evaporates faster than if in an aquifer, plus metals in the water are concentrated and years later create a toxic ground environment.

Is politics involved in any of this business activity? Apparently so. July 2016 there was the Clean Water Act to be adhered to and some mines had to refocus their process since they could not meet the guidelines. But after a political appointment was made (Deputy Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt) in March 2019, Clean Water permits began to be approved! Due to various opposition to some mining proposals, some projects are on hold. The best way to get involved with stopping industrialized mining is to join advocacy groups such as checking out the Patagonia Area Resource Alliance website. There you will find information and current concerns.

On the other side you’ll hear advantages of a mine: about 2500 people hired for typically a 3 year construction period, wages two times the median in the area, 500 people employed for the 19 years typical for the life of a mine, and metals extracted and shipped for products to be made, such as electronics. Then ask: do we have millions of water to give away each day? Is our aquifer protected so we have drinking water now and the future? Do you know what that scar on the earth looks like? Why are we making our environment unhealthy for wildlife and ugly? Are you aware that Native American tribes consider some of these lands sacred? Why is a foreign country ruining our land and water for their economic business? How many more endangered species do we need to lose before we care?

This is not just about Arizona. Many U.S. states and places around the world are facing similar issues. Be aware of what we are doing to our planet Earth. Future generations wish to enjoy water, air and land within healthy lifestyles so let’s be sure we leave them the best we can!

Patagonia Lake State Park, Arizona

Two weeks ago I finally walked the birding trail at Patagonia Lake State Park. I was searching for an elegant trogon and while not successful in seeing one there were plenty of other birds!

A canyon towhee was one bird I thought, now you look a bit different from others so let me photograph you! It was wonderful for the bird to sit on the branch and allow me to photograph it. Other birds like the bridled titmouse were all over the place before I could get a decent photo. But the verdin won the movement contest! With all of its moving around I could only capture a photo while the bird hung upside down! I almost missed one bird. I saw some action at a spot. I took a photo even though it was the back end of what I guessed to be a wren. Fortunately its eyebrow is in the photo to know it is a Bewick’s wren!

Canyon towhee
Bridled titmouse
Verdin
Bewick’s wren

Plenty of woodpeckers were in the woods. I felt like it was practice in determining is it a Gila woodpecker or a ladder-backed woodpecker?

I saw this next bird and was not sure what it was till I arrived home to enter it into Merlin Bird ID, love that app! I captured a photo of an Eastern phoebe!

Eastern phoebe

Another little bird I have not seen in awhile is the next photo: ruby crowned kinglet.

Ruby crowned kinglet

And finally a bird I knew as soon as I saw it…hermit thrush! Always wonderful when I can actually identify a bird on the spot of observing them!

So many birds on that birding trail and the creek near it, along with an entire lake to check out. I saw 15 different bird species during the 2.5 hours on the trail. It is a great day trip for any time of the year! I’ll be back!

Travel in the Age of Covid-19 & Birding

There would have been no other time I would consider a drive of 2.5 hours to a site, spend 3 hours there, and then drive home, yet that is happening in my world these past months! I am doing my part in wearing a mask, physically distancing from others and trying to get our world back to what will be a new normal. As a result, my travel is a long day trip, with hopes of learning and seeing something new since that has always been my goal when traveling anywhere in the world.

My latest adventure took me to the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert, Arizona. The town of Gilbert made a commitment in 1986 to reuse 100% of its effluent water and by 1999 the Riparian Preserve was developed. It encompasses 110 acres of land. Seventy acres of the land have 7 recharge basins filled on a rotating basis with treated effluent to then percolate into the aquifer for future use. There is an observatory, 4.5 miles of trails, various vegetative zones, plenty of birding opportunities, a compass course, and one side of the property borders the eastern canal of the Salt River Project where people were bicycling and walking.

Some basins had no birds, some had no water and some basins had hundreds of birds. I loved walking the entire place. My goal was to check out this place and see the birds. I saw four birds new to me in Arizona: roseate spoonbill, least sandpiper, American avocet and snowy egret (notice black bill, black legs and yellow feet) … photos follow:

My most exciting time during my visit was watching a female belted kingfisher and a great egret (notice yellow bill). I discovered the egret looking to the sky and I wondered what it was watching; then I discovered it saw a belted kingfisher. I had never seen this happen before so I was amazed! The belted kingfisher would fly over the way from a good distance from the water’s surface and then literally dive-bomb into the water, catch a fish and fly off … unless it missed and then in a few minutes you could see it happen all over again. The bird returned. I was fortunate to get the photos I did since this bird had to be diving at a huge speed. Then I was wondering if I could anticipate where it would hit the water’s surface and get that photo … probably not … what a photo it would be! The bird did not return so I never had a chance at my guessing game.

Great egret, scroll back and see the difference to the snowy egret.

I saw 31 different birds. Two birds I had not seen in years: long-billed dowitcher and black-necked stilt … so I will include them here.

It was a long day, but worth it! Thankfully people of Gilbert had foresight in reusing the wastewater. There is little doubt Arizona will have a water crisis in its future unless basins around our homes collect rainwater to water our landscape, water tanks are connected to rain gutters, and other plans are developed so our rivers will someday flow again. May we be reminded of the words from Theodore Roosevelt, “The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak, so we must and we will”. Thank you to all who do his/her part.

Never Know What You Will Discover…

I was searching for a particular grebe. While I did not find the bird I was looking for, I did get to visit Sahuarita Lake Park in Sahuarita, Arizona, so I guess that was a plus. This manmade 10 acre lake opened in 2001 is enjoyed by many people. You’ll see people walking, fishing ….need a license… boating (no motor, and only sunrise to sunset) and enjoying the outdoor space. There are restrooms, ramadas and an outdoor amphitheater most likely used frequently when we are not in a pandemic. The lake is slightly more than a mile in length and 12 feet deep at the max, yet the fisherman are catching catfish, trout, bass and sunfish. Be sure to check what the fishing regulations are so you are not reported.

I did observe pied-billed grebe, ruddy duck, American coot and rock pigeon. In researching rock pigeon, I added a new word to my vocabulary: cere. Rock pigeons have this off-white deposit of calcified keratin protein above their nostrils where the cere meets the feathers of their face. I did not find the bird I wanted, but I learned something new today and know I will return to this area another time.

Often, I never know what I will discover when I go on some of my wanderings. I do ask myself if there is anything in particular I am searching for. And it is not always about birds, but life in general. Have you recently asked yourself what you are searching for? The start of a new year is a good time to do so, but not a necessity. Ask yourself, what are you searching for, and then go for it! Even if you do not find it, you may discover something else … and that is not really so bad, most the time! A new year can have some new looks! Take joy in the newness. Keep your life fresh!

I only took one photo of the park since I had a zoom lens on my camera for bird photography. But here’s a nice look while I stood along the walking trail about halfway down the side of the lake. If you are in the area of Sahuarita, Arizona, stop in. I wish you a safe and healthy new year

To The Moon & Back, Now I Know

In 1971, on the Apollo 14 mission to the moon, astronaut Stuart Roosa had about 500 tree seeds with him. He and the seeds experienced 34 orbits around the moon. It was during a college summer break, when Roosa was a “smoke jumper” risking his life and parachuting into an area to fight forests fires. He took these seeds to the lunar orbit for a US Forest Service germination experiment and also as a tribute to “smoke jumpers”.

An American sycamore seedling was planted at the University of Arizona, in Tucson, on Arbor Day, April 30, 1976 in honor of the US Bicentennial. It was the only original moon tree still alive in Arizona with 64 other moon trees at various locations around the world.

A 2015 news reporter questioned whether the sycamore tree would last another 5 years, so it was time for me to find it. Prior to this I had never heard about any “moon trees”. My partner and I bicycled to the campus and did find the tree! 2020 and the tree was still alive which I was happy to see! May it live many more years!

American sycamore tree still alive December 2020 at U of A campus.

What is that bird on the pole?

Lakeside Park, Tucson, Arizona is a popular local fishing place and I discovered a particular bird thinks so also! I did not know this at first. My attention was on the the vermilion flycatcher, Say’s phoebe and yellow-dumped warbler. Then a snowy egret (notice its black bill) at water’s edge.

This urban lake is part of the Tucson Municipal Fishing Program. The lake is about 14 acres and fairly shallow at about 15 feet, yet 35 feet at its deepest places. An urban fishing license is required, no gas-powered boats, no swimming or wading, and no feeding the birds. This park is very popular especially with people fishing for bass, catfish and rainbow trout.

Once I decided to leave the park, I packed up my gear and drove away from the park. After rounding a street corner, I noticed a bird sitting on the bank of lights for the baseball field. I pulled into the parking lot and grabbed my camera, hoping the bird would not be spooked by the children playing below or me trying to move into position for a photo. Photo taken and then it flew! It is rare to see osprey here, but it made sense as these birds love fish too! In doing more research about this bird, I read it will position their catch with the fish head forward to to have an aerodynamic flight. Now I know to hang out and see if the bird returns with fish. That would be interesting to see since any osprey I have seen I did not take time to notice that detail. Learning something new every day!

In Search of a … oh, It’s a Scaup!

I am actually searching for an elegant trogon and a wood duck, yet I enjoy seeing and photographing new birds for my life list. It is not my life list that motivates me. It is seeing a new bird and photographing it because it is such a challenge for me to accomplish getting a good or very good photo of the bird! During this pandemic it has been my goal to learn as much as I can and to practice bird photography. Thanks to on-line courses, books and gear I am putting all together along with patience to search for birds. And then, are they in the right light? Can I capture some unusual pose? What will today’s search result in?

I found a new pond, Hardesty Pond in Tucson, Arizona. There is nothing picturesque about the area, but it is a quiet place where some birds and many turtles like to relax. I stood by the fence, a short section allowing me to peek in, and decided to photograph the birds I could see. Every bird was a distance away even with my 200-500mm lens, but what the heck, I will check it out!

Way across on the other side I see this small bird, a spotted sandpiper. Not to far away is a black phoebe and, easy to see, a great egret, along with many turtles!

In the pond water are northern shovelers, ruddy ducks and others, but then I notice some ducks that look a bit different from any others I have seen. Are they scaups? The lighting is not best, the angle is wrong, the fence limits my movement, could they swim closer to me? I think they may be scaups! I have listed the pond and the birds in eBird to see what the professionals think about the identification I made of these birds. Time will tell if I am correct, but I know I have never seen this bird before and I believe they are scaups. What do you think?

If I had better photographs we would be able to determine if they are lesser or greater scaups. What would make the difference? I need a better look at shape of head and the glossiness of it. Maybe another day!

Parker Canyon Lake in Arizona

Arizona may be desert, but a couple hours south of Tucson is a large amount of water! You’re able to walk within feet of the reservoir/lake’s water as you hike the 4.9 miles around Parker Canyon Lake. Other people will also be walking, fishing, bird-watching, or kayaking/boating on the lake. I could imagine this place very busy on a weekend.

The trail is rocky, along the canyon’s edge and in other sections flat dirt. Watch your footing and not the birds at the same time! Across the lake I saw three deer at the lake edge to drink water.

Waterfowl were seen in different areas of the lake. American coots seemed to be the most numerous; however, there were also bufflehead, Northern shovelers, American wigeons, and mallards (with a buff-colored one hanging with the mallards). In the trees some other birds along with black phoebe and Mexican jay. Did not see a Mexican gartersnake … yet found their sign informative!

There are places to relax along the trail, benches provided in a couple of places. One sign mentioned a bald eagle had nested in this area at one time. Saw no eagle on this day! I liked seeing the container to recycle the monofilament used for fishing.

If you are looking for a day trip then head to Parker Canyon Lake. Renting a fishing boat or kayak will necessitate a visit Thursday – Sunday when the store is open for service, but quieter times are the other days. A campground is a short distance away with RV and trailers in one loop, and tent only sites in another loop with those having nice views of the lake.

Looking back to the marina and boat launch area at Parker Canyon Lake.

Almost a Drive-by Miss!

Do we know how much home construction is happening in Arizona!?! I was driving north of Tucson to locate areas with water, such as a tank, pond, small stream, or river and what I saw were huge housing developments being built. As a result, I needed to drive further. Finally, agricultural land with greens and cotton! I drove across a bridge and at the river’s edge I saw a white heron, actually named great egret.

After a quick U-turn on the road and parking my car, I walked the bridge to capture a photo of the great egret. They love these shallow wetlands. I love their kinked neck as they stalk and capture their prey.

There was no way I could get closer to the bird so when it flew off I decided to walk a nearby paved trail where I met some bicyclists. The railing along the bicycle path and distance from the river is a good idea so wildlife can comfortably live their lives. With the egret flying off, I thought it would be the last I would see of it. Ever the optimist, I walked the path to see what else I could discover!

And there was the egret! Further down the river, the egret continued its stalking and I enjoyed observing the bird. After five minutes I realized this bird was in its own heaven and would not be coming any closer to me, so I decided to leave it in peace. This 20 minutes with the great egret almost did not happen. Fortunately I had looked over the bridge’s concrete wall to the river and immediately recognized the white bird as a great egret! A wonderful way to spend time outdoors!