Mount Lemmon, Pima County, AZ

Day #1  
Friday, March 10, 2017
Located in the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, Mount Lemmon summits at approximately 9,000 feet. Unlike Sara Plummer Lemmon, an 1881 botanist, for whom the mountain is named and who, in those days, explored the peak by foot and horseback, I was about to visit the mountain with relative ease to do some exploratory birding with two birder friends who had been wanting to find out about the place.

Jeanne Burns had offered to drive her SUV, so I picked up Glenda Jones at 5 a.m. to meet and continue with Jeanne. As the crow flies, we’re not that far from Mount Lemmon, but the highways require going around the mountain's elbow (west end) to then drive eastward for another hour to reach Catalina Highway that curls up to its peak with many good birding spots along the way. 

[One of these days, I’ll use the old route that Sara Plummer Lemmon must have used, that begins in Oracle (north or back side of the mountain) and ends much closer to the summit on present-day Catalina Highway.]

Driving past the first several stopping points located in lowland desert habitat similar to where we live, we arrived at MOLINO BASIN (campground) and began our birding adventure at 8:30 a.m.  Located at over 4,000 feet, we would see a mix of high desert birds, including BLACK-CHINNED AND BLACK-THROATED SPARROWS, BUSHTITS, and lots of HOUSE and LESSER GOLDFINCH. 
BUSHTIT [Photo: Glenda Jones]
Although we didn’t spot it, a GREATER ROADRUNNER was singing (or cooing) its low wonderful sound across the basin before we left.

Later, at BEAR CANYON, we got some great views of birds we don’t see every day.  MEXICAN JAY, SPOTTED TOWHEE, JUNCOs and many ACORN WOODPECKERS.  

MEXICAN JAY [Photo: Jeanne Burns]
ACORN WOODPECKER   [Photo: Glenda Jones]
This Acorn Woodpecker was carrying a feather -- apparently to its nest. As it flew past us, it stopped on a horizontal limb. The Acorn Woodpecker following it performed a bonding behavior of bowing its head low and spreading its tail high. She took note of that before flying off to wherever their nest may have been.

Closed to cars for the winter season, Rose Canyon (7,000 ft elevation) was accessible by foot. We were ready for its shade and ended up spending almost three (3) hours birding in this mature Ponderosa Pine forest. We spent a little time sitting in the amphitheater area to snack; we wandered down the paved road stopping for a good-sized flock of WESTERN BLUEBIRDs off in the shrubs and trees; plus PINE SISKIN and DARK-EYED and YELLOW-EYED JUNCOS foraging in the road. 

MALE WESTERN BLUEBIRD (above and below)
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PINE SISKIN  [Photo: Jeanne Burns]
It took us awhile to locate bird-song coming from the forest but were well rewarded when we got on them.
PYGMY NUTHATCH  [Photo: Glenda Jones]
YELLOW-EYED JUNCO  [Photo: Glenda Jones}
Hawks are always fun to find. Sometimes even the common RED-TAILED can be challenging to ID as it soars, banks and turns.

It was a mature GRAY HAWK that got us all calling out ID markers one right after the other until we could come up with no other buteo that looked so pale beneath and showed only black "fingers" on the tips of its broad flat wings. Its tail was fanned showing its several dark bands.

The RED CROSSBILLs were using a song I had either forgotten or had not yet heard. (Some birds have up to six songs used for various occasions.) Not only did we manage to spot two of them very high in a tree, but Glenda was able to get a photo of the bird that was as distant as it was high.

RED CROSSBILL  [Photo: Glenda Jones]
OLIVE WARBLERs were also high in the pines flitting about non-stop. Carrying the best and fastest camera, even Glenda was challenged to get them but did come up with its very identifiable under-tail.

Eventually, we drove to the top of the mountain and its restaurant.  With a line of people outside, we quickly decided what we had carried for lunch would taste just fine at our next stop, down the mountain. 

From the car in the parking lot, I couldn’t resist a couple photos of this STELLER’S JAY before heading for Summerhaven.
STELLER'S JAY (Interior subspecies sometimes referred to as the Rocky Mountain Steller's Jay)
Same bird as above

Summer haven was crawling with people so we drove on through to Marshall Gulch to enjoy our picnic lunch. The road to the picnic tables was still gated due to snow melt and possibly high water but we walked through it to where we sat on rocks with a swiftly moving stream behind us:

It's not everyday that desert dwellers hear the sound of water rushing over rocks and gurgling around fallen logs. Music with lunch!

Across from us was a nice little waterfall and wet boulders on which a YELLOW-EYED JUNCO was finding some goodies.

DAY #2 
Saturday, March 12, 2007
For our second day on Mount Lemmon, Jeanne and Glenda decided a few spots were worth a return visit which we did.

But Incinerator Ridge was a new trail for them and they came away liking it as much as I do. Last year, my first visit to this spot was with friend, Marcee, who lived in Tucson several years ago and spent much time on the mountain. 

Arriving at Incinerator Ridge (8,000' elevation), plenty of bird song filled the air between the Ponderosa Pines and other trees. The forest was dark and shadowy so photos are few.


MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE  [Photo: Glenda Jones]
After spending an hour and half walking the dirt road finding the birds we heard, we decided to add one more stop to our list.

Palisades is the location of the Visitor's Center and already at this high elevation, a MAGNIFICENT HUMMINGBIRD was coming to a feeder. Its magnificence is certainly muted by the dark forest but, believe me, if you ever catch this bird in good light, you might be stunned by its bling.

MAGNIFICENT HUMMINGBIRD as seen from my location

Snow was still clinging to the ground in shady spots. Snow scraped from the parking lot at Palisades Visitor's Center was still thick and melting very slowly.

Across the street from the Visitor's Center, we heard a variety of birds with WESTERN BLUEBIRD and AMERICAN ROBIN being the most numerous.
WESTERN BLUEBIRD  [Photo: Glenda Jones]

I was particularly fond of the robins because they were not in any hurry, not spooked easily and would look at me as I looked at them. Not a common bird in our desert habitat, we probably saw a dozen of them in that piece of the forest.

By noontime, we headed down canyon for one more visit to Rose Canyon before heading back to the East Valley of Phoenix. A birding trip shared with good birding friends provides an especially enjoyable time.

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1 comment:

  1. A wonderful couple of days - thanks to both Babs and Jeanne for the great fun and birding experiences we shared.