Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Arizona Birds

We have now been in southeastern Arizona for 4 days and are making progress toward our goal of reaching 500 ABA area species.  We spent the first 3 days in the Tucson area.  On day 1, we went to a kind of zoo/outdoor museum that had many animal exhibits, aviaries, and also a lot of wild birds on the premises (which consisted of hot Sonoran desert).  In addition to new birds, we watched a free flight raptor show (similar to what we saw at the Vogelpark that time) in which we learned about the group hunting techniques of Robert's favorite bird, the Harris's hawk.  For example, apparently rabbits (desert cottontails) like to hide underneath the prickly pear in the desert, where the hawks can't reach them, but the Harris's hawks work together -- one bird (the low bird in the hierarchy, a male; there is only one female in each group and she's large [30% larger than the males] and in charge) will stretch his scary leg and talon under the cactus, scaring the rabbit out of his hiding place, where another hawk will nab him.  (Thankfully we did not see this occur.)  A docent also had a big brown female tarantula to show us (which the docent carefully induced to climb onto her hand) and explained that females are brown and males are black, and that the males are usually the ones we see, wandering around searching for a mate, while the females tend to stay in cool comfort.  So the black tarantula my mom hit with the garage door that time, and that I took to school as my one-day pet, was a male.

Life Birds Day 1:
Gilded flicker
Gila woodpecker
Cassin's sparrow (for Robert, who missed this species on our last South Texas trip)

On day 2, we drove up a mountain, stopping every few miles to hike and look for birds. 

Life Birds Day 2:
Black-chinned sparrow
Yellow-eyed junco
Acorn woodpecker

The acorn woodpecker just looks weirder the longer I look at him.  (Photo from Cornell Lab.)

On day 3, we went hiking at a park in a canyon, and I was miserable at the beginning with a headache, stomach ache, generalized body ache, and the feeling of having breathed in half the dust/sand in the fricking desert over the previous few days.  (I was feeling so weak and achy that I literally had difficulty getting out of the car.)  But perhaps 20 minutes into our hike, I saw a shape moving under a prickly pear from the corner of my eye and before I could even think about whether it made sense or not, I thought: A bunny!  And it was a bunny, a desert cottontail, hunkered down under a prickly pear cactus just as we'd heard about at the bird show.  This cheered me up a lot.  Indeed, we ended up seeing 2 more rabbits on our hike, one under another prickly pear and one running along the ground with his white tail flashing at us.  A 3 rabbit day is a very good day.  (Of course, the tylenol I took soon after we got started probably contributed to my improvement as well, but I credit the bunnies with a lot.)  We also saw a big group of javelina - about 6 adults, 2 adolescents, and 2 very young ones.  The littlest one at the end of the line got himself (or herself - I don't know the sex) caught inbetween two rocks (that were bigger than he was) and he made a pitiful sound of distress.  His only slightly bigger sibling turned to him and started nudging at him, which did not have any effect on his ability to get out of trouble but it seemed supportive and comforting, and then mom came over and helped him out.  I was still feeling sort of crappy when we left, but a stop at a McDonald’s for a $1 large, very cold iced tea (caffeinated) did me a world of good.

Life Birds Day 3:
Black-tailed gnatcatcher (a bird we hoped to see on every South Texas trip but never did)
Magnificent hummingbird
Abert’s towhee

Yesterday we left the Tucson area and made our way southeast.  Today we hiked up a mountain covered in dry grass and scrub trees that made dreary west Austin hikes seem positively verdant in comparison.  About 3 minutes after I complained that it was hot and kind of horrible (we reached an altitude of about 6000 feet, so there was a hint of altitude sickness along with everything else), we started seeing birds.  Mom, you might want to avert your eyes – we also saw a rather small male tarantula that I was so tempted to try to pick up but was able to resist.  Afterwards, we stopped at a B&B where the owner has a bunch of feeders and spent about an hour and a half watching all kinds of birds (and squirrels and the owner's two pet African grey parrots) flying, squabbling, and being crazy.  We did not pick up any new birds there, but we got our first Anna's hummingbird of the trip, and it was extremely pleasant to sit in the shade and watch the birds close up.  We had a picnic lunch, and all was great until I put my hand down on the bench beside me and felt this sudden extremely sharp pain which I described to Robert in my acute distress as "it hurts like a motherfuck."  When I looked at my finger, I expected to see a bug biting it but instead there was just some sharp thing sticking out of it.  Oh.  It's a bee sting.  I've never been stung by a bee before (to my recollection) and now I get why people (and Winnie the Pooh, et al.) make a point of avoiding it.  After the application of Sting-Eze to my finger and the consumption of a seriously extravagant amount of dark chocolate at the hotel, I started feeling okay again.

Life Birds Day 4:
Rufous-winged sparrow
Mexican jay (Dad would like this one - large, vocal, and easy to see)
Bridled titmouse (this one freaked me out when I saw its head)
Arizona woodpecker
Sage sparrow

Look at my fancy heat! (Photo from Cornell Lab.)

 This brings me up to an ABA area list of 494 (as we can best reckon it without access to my birding journal).  Tomorrow we’re going to a place where a bunch of interesting birds were seen on Monday, including a nemesis bird, the elegant trogon.  (This place is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday, so we can only hope that the birds decided to stick around.)  Although it seems doubtful we will reach 500 by the time we leave Arizona on Saturday, we should be well-positioned to make it on our next outing into new territory (or if we ever figure out how to find owls!).


rvman said...

Mammals of Arizona - On Mt. Lemon we saw Abert's Tasseled Squirrel, which is an odd looking, huge squirrel with ear tufts. Today at the feeders we saw the Arizona Grey Squirrel, which is an ordinary grey tree squirrel with a bit of red on its back, like it stole a cape from a fox squirrel. At the Desert Museum on the first day we saw a bunch of what Sally calls "Frankensquirrels" - they have stripey heads like ground squirrels or chipmunks, but basically plain, tree-squirrel like bodies.

The rabbits were Desert Cottontails - like normal cottontail rabbits, but bigger ears. We also saw "Coue's" White-tailed deer (a subspecies of the regular white-tail) and the aforementioned javelina.

Tam said...

Pretty awesome!

mom said...

That's great that you are getting some life birds and you are so close to 500. Maybe you'll get extremely lucky and get the rest on this trip.