With only one bird outing in the past six weeks, I looked forward to my visit to Boyce Thompson Arboretum (BTA) with Lois L. and Julie C. on Wednesday, July 29th. The Arboretum, at 2400’ elevation, provides unique habitat for hot-climate trees, shrubs and cacti in the Sonoran Desert. It’s the oldest and largest botanical garden in Arizona and is located a short 25-minutes from where I live, east of Phoenix.
Still unable to drive with my right foot in a hard cast, Lois picked me up about 5:30. Driving east on Route 60 toward Gonzales Pass through the Tonto National Forest brought a few sprinkles from low hanging dark clouds. The overcast sky, but no precipitation, remained for the first hour of our birding that began in the middle of the picnic area at 6:05 a.m.
The flat sole and open toe of my hard cast was not conducive to walking trails, so we opted for another SIT. Prior to sitting, we scanned the high snag tree just below the administration building to the north of us. I was bummed: lots of bird silhouettes. Not my strong skill by any means, but a really good study in bird size and shape. The three Phainopepla were easily identified by size, shape and crest. Two smaller “black” birds intrigued me; the shape, large bill and relatively short tail spoke “Varied Bunting” to me. As I was describing the bird to Lois, she kept saying, “No. Look again!” Then looking at my bins, she said, “Look lower.”
Wow! I went off my “blackbirds” onto two Brown-crested Flycatchers but by the time I swung back to my smaller birds, two Western Kingbirds flew in and my smaller birds were GONE. Although two Varied Bunting had been reported seen at BTA the previous day, I doubted my first birds of the morning would have been such a rare sighting. But, then again, why not? Later, though, an employee told me the buntings were still present and hanging out between the Demonstration Garden and the Picnic Area. Won’t count them because I hadn’t raised my camera until after the above sequence of sightings so I don’t have even a bad photo from which to ID them.
|Birds that remained in the snag tree after my initial sightings|
|Brown-crested Flycatcher returned (above the WEKI)|
The fully leafed-out trees and mesquite surrounding our sit area gave many “yellow” birds full cover when they came close. Most of them were Lesser Goldfinch (by voice and size). So, after an hour of listing many “heard-only” birds such as Yellow-breasted Chat, Bell’s Vireo and Gila Woodpeckers we moved our chairs to a location in the southeast corner of the picnic area overlooking Queen Creek. In July, with no rain to cause it to run freely, it was a dry wash, but we set our chairs on the moist flat surface of its bank where we looked southward across the desert and the Arboretum’s “High Trail” toward Picket Post Mountain.
Ah! Good move! Highlights from this much birdier area included Western Tanagers (3 males) and Western Kingbirds (4) providing a show for us as we continued to sit perfectly still and quiet.
|One of three male Western Tanagers that seemed to be flycatching from this fallen dead limb beyond us|
No photos of this memorable action: An Ash-throated Flycatcher flew right toward us and in so close to Julie, I thought it was going to grab a bug from her hair! That was a thrill for all of us. It veered off slightly and nabbed its big bug in the air — crunch.
Julie needed to leave a bit earlier than Lois and I, so we walked with her the short distance to the Hummingbird Plaza which was buzzing with Anna’s Hummingbirds but we detected no other hummers.
After Julie departed, Lois and I walked the short distance to the Australian Pavilion that provided shade as we again sat still for about an hour and watched birds come and go from what I think were wolf berry bushes. Phainopepla tried to protect it as their territory, but the Western Tanagers showed up again, including a female who was smart enough to dive in deeply, away from the other birds, to feed on the ripe orange berries.
After six weeks being housebound and unable to drive, I can’t express how much I appreciated the outing to BTA with my birding friends. Fortunately, the morning clouds got burned off by the sun so that the colorful birds lifted my spirits tremendously. For hot summer birding, we all decided that a SIT is not a bad way to enjoy ourselves in the natural world and all that it delivers sensually.
Lois joined me for lunch back in Apache Junction at an unlikely top-notch organic restaurant in a “dive”. Called, Handlebar Pub and Grill on Apache Trail, we each enjoyed a grilled southwest panini. For her “side”, Lois chose sautéed and grilled asparagus with feta cheese and I chose grilled snow peas and carrots in a balsamic reduction. (@$8.00) Bicycle handlebars on the ceiling and front sign clear up any confusion about the name.
Hopefully, I’ll be able to continue birding at least once a week into August. Earlier in the year, I thought my birding may have reached a rather “crazy” level of chasing Year Birds, but now, birding is pulling me out of holed-up doldrums into another way of enjoyment.
* * *
View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S24425286