Cycling, camping, birdwatching, outdoor activities and many other activities have become more popular during the pandemic because we are able to give each other space. My day began with a cool Californian morning which means cold to a southern Arizonian. With overcast sky and slight wind in the air, I ate my breakfast and decided to have my coffee at Starbucks and finally have WiFi access since it is not available at the state park. It also provided me an opportunity to look at my photos from the previous days!
As the day warmed, I drove to Aliso and Woods Canyons Wilderness Park. While talking with a man coming off the trails on his bicycle, I asked for an easy mountain bike trail for a gravel bike, like his and mine. I knew there is a paved bike path, but why not first try some mountain biking on my gravel bike? Off I went with basics on my bicycle … bike tools, lunch, snacks, water and one camera…. I bicycled about 8 miles before I realized my bike lacked some needed front and rear suspension, so I decided to return and ride pavement while I still had a back and butt. The ride was beautiful and fun and I also talked with others on the trail who mentioned coming to Arizona for college searches.
Back at my car, I went to the paved bike path along the Aliso Creek which I originally planned to do. Ah yes, smooth and easy on the body! Trail signs seemed to indicate there would be some closures, but all went well for me. I saw a white-faced ibis, mallards and swallows. The amount of white on a white-faced ibis is so small this name for the bird cracks me up. Anyway, here is a white-faced ibis:
Back at the campground, my tent was not blown away and the shower water was hot! Fifty-cents-worth, 2 tokens provided 3 minutes of shower water and I was thrilled! Another day outdoors and only speaking with 3 people so felt safe. At the Starbucks I sat indoors, alone thanks to their sign stating indoors was not open, yet when I asked if indoor seating was available, they said yes. Perfect!
One goal during this travel opportunity is to view shorebirds since they’ll not hang out in the desert where I live. My birdwatching fun began while I was eating breakfast at my tent site. I observed and photographed a California towhee, a California thrasher and cliff swallows! I was also distracted by the numerous rabbits and squirrels running around the tent site and noticing the holes the squirrels dig. Seeing the California thrashers and California towhees was exciting and interesting too as I noticed their differences from the curve-billed thrasher or sage thrasher and Abert’s towhees I would see in Arizona!
I drove north to Dana Point where a masked booby had been reported on eBird, and a CA friend had seen it just a few weeks ago, so I decided to see if it was still in the area. It is rare for the bird to be here. And, yes it was!
I also saw a few great blue heron nests and one nest with 2 juveniles in it. I love seeing brown pelicans and all types of terns, but one really odd-looking bird was an Egyptian goose. See what you think of the bird flying over the car’s roof below. The terns and pelicans are amazing when they dive straight down into the water to catch their fish!
I then drove further north to San Joaquin Wildlife Marsh which is in conjunction with the wastewater treatment plant in the area. I spent most of my time at the San Diego River and finally to one small marshy area. As I walked the mile back to my car, I surprisingly flushed a killdeer off its egg! I remember seeing the bird earlier in my visit. The killdeer was walking along the berm; I thought it strange to be so far from the water and the other birds. But when I realized it was on an egg, I had to take a closer look at the egg. The bird allowed me a closer look. The egg was colored like the gravel it was on. I then gave the bird plenty of room as she watched me walk down the trail before she would return to her nest.
Another good day without interacting with to many people and those that I did were wearing masks. Most people were curious as to what the birds were that we were all looking at. It’s nice to know the names of the birds and be able to help other people out with the identification of those birds. That killdeer egg was a highlight today … I was the only one to see it!
Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area is where you will find sandhill cranes roosting. Yes! and between November till March it is possible to see thousands of them! Let’s not forget though, other birds winter here too. This property was once a cattle ranch; however, since 1997 the Arizona Game and Fish Department has maintained the wetland habitat.
My future goal is to visit when I can capture the birds at sunrise and sunset. It is more a photography goal than birding one, and I hope I am up to the challenge. Results will be shared in a future blog! For now, here are some of the birds I saw on a recent visit:
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!
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!
Another little bird I have not seen in awhile is the next photo: 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!
I am not sure birding while bicycling is the safest combination of activities. My eyes are on the road, then the sky, then the road, then a tree and wherever else next! Thank goodness I am riding low trafficked roads or the Tucson bicycle loop to keep me safe while also birding. The other day I wanted to linger longer to check out a few ponds I do not ordinarily see at Sweetwater Wetlands, especially when wondering what is that beautiful bird! So the following day I went back, on foot, to walk about a half mile down the bicycle loop to check on the birds at a pond.
Many, many birds were hanging out and so too was the beautiful bird: a northern pintail.
As I was looking around at all the birds, a hawk-like bird flew onto a tree between the 2 ponds. Of course, the bird’s back was to me so it was difficult to identify it. As it wrestled around on the tree branches one of my photos caught a quick look at its face and now we know it is a northern harrier. If you look closely, see the owl-like facial disc that helps in identifying this bird. When it first flew in I only noticed the white band across its rump.
Plenty of ring-necked ducks and mallards were flying in and out of the area. All the birds seem to really appreciate the wetlands. I am glad the ponds are here for them too, as the treated effluent (water waste) is returned to the aquifer for future use. Reusing water in Arizona is a huge need.
While I enjoy bicycling and also looking for birds at the same time, I think it is safer for me to keep the two activities separate. Plus, I usually do not carry my camera with me while bicycling. I love photographing birds so that would be best within dedicated birding time. That’s not to say my eyes will not be on the sky or at a tree looking for birds while bicycling in 2021! I’ll also be looking for a vaccine, and 2 shots worth, so I can bird in other places in the USA and world! Stay safe everyone!