Tucson & Mt. Lemmon, Pima County, AZ - for Two Days

Wednesday & Thursday, July 13 & 14

Day #1
Leaving the Phoenix area in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Marcee Sherrill, Susan Fishburn and I arrived at our first birding destination a little before 6:30 a.m. Formerly known as Coachline Gravel Pit, this Santa Cruz River Open Area has become a birders’ urban dream-location. A couple years ago, the river broke through a dam and flowed into what was then a very well known and highly used Disc Golf Course. The Town of Marana decided it was more cost-effective and environmentally friendly to maintain it as the immediate lake it had become in the flood (thank you, birders) than to repair the dam.

Summertime is not the best time to find water anywhere but there was a remnant survival pond still viable close to the berm where we walked. 

Flycatchers, swallows, sparrows, finches, waterfowl and other desert birds provided us with 20 species in 40 minutes. Winter brings a greater variety of waterfowl and a great supporting cast of riparian songsters.

Vermilion Flycatcher

Only because I wanted to visit with the “BLUE GOOSE” at Christopher Columbus Park did we head that direction not far from our first stop. Back when I birded in Virginia, I always scanned the hundreds upon hundreds of Snow Geese that wintered at Back Bay Wildlife Refuge for the one with a white head but dark body — then known as the “Blue Goose”.  

In today’s world, this goose has been brought into the Snow Goose family as a dark-colored morph. I have no idea how it landed at Silverbell Lake in Christopher Columbus Park nor how long it's been there, but after seeing a recent Facebook post of the bird, I wanted, for old time's sake, to see and photograph it up close. It was in the shade of the middle of the island.

Dark-color morph Snow Goose (formerly "Blue Goose")

Heading out, then, across Tucson, east toward Agua Caliente Park, we would attempt to locate a Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet and a Purple Martin for Susan’s list.  Before reaching the park, we spotted our first Purple Martin and there would be more when we reached our destination. 

Although the tyrannulet eluded us, I was pleasantly surprised to see a male Blue-winged Teal swimming around in the main pond by itself. It’s not the most common wintering duck and generally arrives later in the Phoenix area. Perhaps it caught an early wind.

Same Blue-winged Teal in two photos above; different lighting
Under a hazy sky, the temperature was already 91°F before 10 a.m.  So, we were glad to get started on the drive up to the higher and cooler elevations of Mt. Lemmon to explore the different birding habitat in the Coronado National Forest. 

Did you know that Mt. Lemmon was named after a woman? 

Sarah Plummer Lemmon was the first white woman to scale its peak (9,157’).  She and her husband, John, from Santa Barbara, were botanists who honeymooned in the Catalina Mountains. With the help of a local rancher, E.O. Stratton, they trekked to the top by foot and by horse in 1881.

Taking Marcee's air-conditioned Subaru up the paved Catalina Highway (Mt. Lemmon Road) suited me just fine.  We passed by many of the lower elevation desert birding habitats to reach places we suspected of harboring more variety of birds. 

First stop: The Visitor's Center known as the Palisades Area. I stayed outside to watch the one hummingbird feeder. Broad-tailed Hummingbirds seemed to own the spot until a large Magnificent Hummer arrived when they pulled up and let the big bird in!

There were 5 Broad-tailed Hummers at this feeder at one time. Hard to see the 5th - left)

We spent only 20 minutes there before heading to Bear Wallow where we would park the car and follow a trail into the forest.

Susan Fishburn & Marcee Sherrill

We heard and saw numerous House Wrens but they love to move about in tangles and wood piles so photographs of it are tough and rare for me to get.

House Wren that must have paused for half a second

Summerhaven, as its name implies, is home to many desert dwellers during the hottest months of summer.  We took time to observe the bird feeders at the realtor's office. Male and female Black-headed Grosbeak and a White-breasted Nuthatch were frequent visitors along with many other birds.

Getting hungry, we decided to bird Marshall Gulch at the end of Summerhaven and enjoy the picnic tables in the shade.

The Yellow-eyed Juncos (above) were glad to see us and came close to the picnic table. Note the difference between the top "mature" bird and the juvenile at the bottom that still has dark eyes, striped head and underneath feathers.

With sustenance, we continued on up the mountain where the temperature at 2 p.m. was a mild 77°F.  Yay!  We walked the trails and roads up beyond Ski Valley toward the observatory but not out to that restricted area.

Of all the birds we saw up there, the most interesting were the Western Bluebirds. The juveniles weren't timid, but the adult male stayed far off.  So far off, I kept wondering if it might be an Eastern Bluebird because I couldn't see its blue throat/neck feathers. The photo confirmed it was Western.

We had one more stop on the mountain we wanted to make before returning to Tucson. Since Marcee used to live in this area and spent a lot of time on Mt. Lemmon, we were lucky to have her showing us some of her favorite spots. 

Mt. Bigelow Road was a place she didn't want to miss. And, I am so glad. It provided a rather interesting, if not hilarious, forest drama for us.  I watched them for at least ten minutes!

Following a commotion, we came upon two adult American Robins attacking a young Red-tailed Hawk who was simply staying on the limb it occupied and watching them.  

This went on for some time with the hawk not moving a feather. Once it noticed us, it moved its head away from the robins who quieted down.

Since it takes almost an hour to get down the mountain, we were ready for dinner by the time we reached E Tanque Verde where we would spend the night before venturing up the hill again in the morning.

Day #2
It was almost 8 a.m. when we reached Incinerator Ridge high up on Anna Lemmon's mountain. But what delightful birds!  We were greeted with a feeding flock and song seemed to be coming from both sides of the road we walked.

Some of the new birds for our trip included Plumbeous Vireo, Anna's Hummingbird, Greater Pewee, Bushtits, Black-throated Gray Warbler and Red-breasted Nuthatch. Red-faced Warblers kept popping up everywhere!  Marcee and Susan spied a Red-tailed Hawk waay out in the forest.

This first walk of the day proved to be the most satisfying for me of our two-day birding trip. When we reached the end of Incinerator Ridge, I took photos out over the mountain/valley

We also managed to get some hawks in flight (Gray Hawk and Zone-tailed) -- one on each day which are reflected in our eBird lists below.

Wrapping up at the Iron Door Restaurant to watch the hummingbird feeders and other birds at the top of the mountain, we drank lots of fluids even though the temp was a cool 71°F.

Yellow-eyed Junco on the railing beside our table out on the deck of Iron Door Restaurant

Marcee and Susan

Common Raven that was using a "caw caw" voice [just beyond the deck]

This adult of the Interior West shows white forehead marks
 not seen on other geographically located Steller's Jays

With close proximity to these birds topping off our morning, we decided that if we wanted to avoid commuter traffic to our respective homes, we should probably head down the mountain. We had not yet visited all of Marcee's favorite spots, but have saved some for the next time.  I was able to get home by 4 p.m. - over 110°F. but with cool memories.

In two days, we logged in a total of 63 species and enjoyed various interactions of and with the birds.

* * *

No comments:

Post a Comment