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!

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area

In the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains and within the Coronado National Forest, you’ll discover Sabino Canyon’s numerous trails which reopened 3 months ago. The Bighorn wildfire burned thousands of acres north of the canyon causing the area’s closure. Many of us are now walking or running the trails or riding the emission-free tram which operates on a paved road. While hiking along, you’ll see some ramadas with tables for picnic time, saguaro cacti and riparian areas, canyons and mountainsides.

Check the park rules to know when bicycling is allowed, be aware dogs are not allowed, and understand wildlife live within or walk through the area. Always carry plenty of water and know where you are in the park since trails are numerous.

Since the Bighorn fire, there are a couple of new fences and gates erected quite possibly to restrict trail access, if needed in the future. Whether it be another fire or monsoon activity, not a bad idea to keep everyone safe since few check local weather or know of hazards as often as we should when thinking to explore an area.

During the pandemic, the majority of hikers are wearing facial masks and/or keeping physically distant while hiking the trails. I have not been near the visitor center so I can only hope safety protocols are followed there too. It is a beautiful place to hike with your family or partner, so I hope to see you on the trail!

Animals Need Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area

When I want to see any birds I look for areas near or around a body of water, also known as riparian habitats. Animals need water so you’ll have a better chance to find them there.

Prior to 1900, 10 percent of Arizona’s lands were considered riparian. Now less than 1 percent remains intact, according to the sign I read at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area. This loss of habitat threatens the existence of not only birds, but other animals such as rabbits, raccoons, bats, mule deer, and turkeys, to name a few. We need to be concerned about this issue and protect the riparian habitats we currently have.

Most people travel to Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area to see the sandhill cranes as they migrate and remain here October to March each year. No doubt the birds are worth seeing. (Check out yesterday’s post about the cranes.)

However, my visit to the draw this month allowed me to see other birds too. Plenty of birds are in the bushes or scratching around on the ground:

Canyon towhee
Female red-winged blackbird
Red-tailed hawk
Say’s phoebe

Others are in the mud-flats or shallow water, such as mallards, northern shovelers and other ducks I am sure not to have identified. I am still looking for a wood duck though; no luck yet.

Killdeer
Greater yellowlegs
Northern pintail

When I finish photographing and leave an area, I always wonder which lens I should keep on my camera. I put my camera on the passenger seat in case I see something to photograph during my drive. Today, I kept my long lens on the camera and fortunately down the road away from the draw, I saw a western meadowlark. I would have been so disappointed if I did not have that lens on the camera to capture a photograph … such is luck and it allows me to identify the bird!

Western meadowlark

Empire Ranch at Las Cienagas National Conservation Area, Arizona

I visited Empire Ranch to learn more about its interesting history, walk some of its property and to drive some of the paved and dirt roads through thousands of acres of grassland. There are 29 perennial grasses here depending on the season. I know little about pasture rotation or grasses, but this is what this area is known for, grasses.

Here’s the history in a nutshell: In the 1870’s, Edward Nye Fish had his 4 room adobe house and corral on 160 acres of land. In 1876, Walter L. Vail and Herbert S. Hislop purchased and expanded the land holdings, livestock and buildings till 1928. Frank Boice and family moved in and managed Empire Ranch for the next 47 years with ranching and some Hollywood western movies filmed here.

1969, Gulf American Corp bought the ranch for real estate development and sold in 1974 to Anamax Mining Co for mining and water potential. Fortunately, neither of those developments happened. 1975 – 2009, another family lived here and ranched the area. The ranch house built in the 1950’s for Boice’s oldest son has been rehabilitated for Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) administrative and educational programs at Empire Ranch.

1988, land exchanges took place and eventually in 2000 the US Congress designated 42,000 acres as Las Cienagas National Conservation Area with cattle operations continued under BLM arrangements.

I walked a half mile Heritage Discovery Trail. There is a 1920’s, 2 room  house which had been for a family working on the farm.

Looking ahead, a line of green tree canopy is obvious as they are cottonwood trees, known as a cottonwood gallery. There was a “snag hazard” sign notifying hikers about the trees weakened by fire damage could fall at any time. All are encouraged to stay on the trail, be alert for falling  trees and to avoid the area in high winds. I also learned cottonwood trees self-prune, meaning they will drop limbs of 1,000 pounds or more on windy days. An awful place to tent for a night, not that it is allowed, but with no wind I confidently walked the trail. At some points I did step off the trail to check out a wash and another building on a dead-end trail.

I learned there are efforts to recover the threatened Chiricahua leopard frog. Also, the “cow pie” I saw on the road did actually result in me seeing cattle! I do not know how many gates I have opened and closed while hiking and mountain biking through the years, and I never see cattle. I did see them here! They seemed as surprised!

Near the ranch house is handicapped accessible parking for access to restrooms. Many ATV’s were being hauled in, yet I never saw them on the roads. The dirt roads vary in amount of ruts and rocks. Some areas you’ll see old campfires, bullet shells, and no people. Although in the middle of nowhere, I did see a large recreational vehicle with what I think is a tented toilet area. Otherwise, expect to see lots of grassland and dirt roads that go on and on! I checked out some areas designated as trailheads, but with snag hazard signs I did not wander in to far. Then at one point I realized, I need to turn around on this dirt road to eventually be out of the thousands of acres of silence and grassland! Another time, I will explore another road within this conservation area and find some tanks or other water sources to locate some birds. Today, some smaller birds and shrike were all I saw.

Do You Have A Sense of Adventure?

Life can be so humdrum at times, but we each have opportunities to seek something new and different … I call mine adventures! All to have a sense of adventure, to discover a new adventure, and break the cycle of humdrum-ness! Recently I realized I had been doing the same ole thing every time I drove down a particular road toward the Grand Canyon and it was time to do something different. And so I did….

How many times had I driven past various trailheads on my way from Flagstaff, AZ to Grand Canyon National Park and wonder where do those trails go? Numerous times! I had to do something about that mystery and decided to check out a few trails. My adventure was to begin!

Red Mountain Trail is 25 miles northwest of Flagstaff. The 1.5 mile trail is very easy to hike with one short ladder to climb. You’re walking into a “U” shaped area, what remains from a volcanic cinder cone that blew more than 700,000 years ago. 

Red Mountain is part of the San Francisco Volcanic Field. As you walk into its amphitheater-like  center you see eroded pillars, called hoodoos. It had snowed the night before so in some cracks snow was evident. People do climb around in this area which has walls going about 1,000 feet up.

Returning to our car, we could see the San Francisco Peaks in the distance.

We drove back to Flagstaff and stopped at a trailhead where I discover there are actually a few trails, the Walker Trailhead and Watchable Wildlife Trail. Some other day I will check out Walker Lake Trail to see if there is a lake on the 1.7 mile trail. Instead, I took a quick walk to check out the Watchable Wildlife Trail. With snow from the night before, it was not evident to me there was a .25 mile paved loop accessible for wheelchair use. Plus there is supposed to be a 1.5 mile trail for wildlife observing. It looks like a beautiful area however with the snow I walked my own trail.

It was interesting looking at the cinder cone in the distance and realizing what this entire area used to be like when volcanoes were erupting, such as Red Mountain, and how some others had not erupted yet. I enjoyed seeing the snow too since those of us living in the southern part of Arizona rarely do.

Another time I will return, walk these trails and put the final pieces of this adventure into my book of adventures. Where is your sense of adventure? You’ve got it! Just take it out and provide it time for a spin. Have fun! Go for it! Enjoy an adventure!

Bicycling & Picture Canyon

It was a mountain bike ride find! We ventured further than Campbell Mesa mountain biking area to a connector, then the Arizona Trail, and onto the Tom Moody Trail to check out some petroglyphs at Picture Canyon. An interesting ride of single track and some trail segments necessitating me to walk my bicycle; overall a fun ride! We had not realized at the start there were petroglyphs to check out, so to be in a new area and cycle to the spot was wonderful.

The “waterbird” petroglyphs area on the Tom Moody Trail is only one part of Picture Canyon. The human-like figures with a tail are petroglyphs which Zuni people believe their people came into this world from a watery underworld. The waterbird is either a crane or great blue heron which is a clan symbol for Hopi and Zuni peoples. The celestial images of the sun and moon may indicate the Yavapai people were here as they were known as the People of the Sun. The zig-zag design may be waterways or lightning.

A nice day for a bicycle ride and when friends visited we hiked the entire Tom Moody Trail, had lunch and could enjoy ourselves easily outdoors socially distanced.

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

We timed this adventure to the Petrified Forest National Park perfectly! Weather was comfortable for hiking the Agate House and Long Logs Trail, Crystal Forest Trail and viewing Newspaper Rock and Blue Mesa at the park and finishing our drive at the Painted Desert. During Covid-19 time now, masks were required to be worn when within 6 feet of other people and quite honestly not many people were at the park. Almost felt like we had the park to ourselves as we looked across the land with its petrified wood!

Petrified wood at the park.

Many prehistoric people lived in this park known for its petrified wood. Trees once stood over 200 feet tall before flood waters carried them into a log jam where they were covered with mud and ash from volcanoes. As a result, the wood lacked oxygen to decay. The wood’s tissues broke down with minerals, such as silica, filling some voids in the tree. Over millions of years the minerals crystallized. After erosion, the logs are visible for us to see the colorful minerals crystallized within what is no longer wood of a tree. This petrified wood was once used by prehistoric people to make tools and use as building blocks. The agate house is one interesting gathering place from prehistoric time that still stands.

Part of the Agate House Trail is handicapped accessible and beyond a certain point it is not so well paved. While walking on this trail I saw a horned lark!

Long Logs Trail and Crystal Forest Trail are where you can see the tall trees now in their petrified state, all intact, while others are chunks throughout the park lands.

Agate Bridge is a petrified log that jammed in a spot now as a bridge, yet park officials had built a support underneath it to hold it longer for visitors to see it. Newspaper Rock is a designated area on the park’s road and worth a visit to see the petroglyphs. Blue Mesa is a short drive/loop off the park road and also good to see. All of this is a small glimpse of a large park.

Blue Mesa

Painted Desert can be accessed here at the Petrified Forest. It too is so much larger, but interesting to see even with this small glimpse of it.

Driving from Flagstaff, Arizona to the Petrified Forest National Park, we entered at the south entrance of the park, off Rte 180, and headed north through the park. Visitor centers were open, portable toilets available, and social distancing and masks required per park rules. Long ago people traveled the now historic route 66 by car to visit the park. Here is one car: