Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tohono Chul Park Year-end Birds 2011

Harris Hawk  12-26-2011 9-03-38 AM 1207x765Though fall migration is over and spring migration is several weeks away, we’ve had some terrific birding at the Park during the last two weeks. This beautiful Harris hawk, hanging out in the big eucalyptus at the north end of the Park was a nice surprise. In addition to the Harris hawk, we’ve seen the following “regulars” and winter visitors:

Abert’s towhee, green-tailed towhee, black-tailed gnat-catcher, cactus wren, cardinal, Cooper’s hawk, Costa’s hummingbird, curve-billed thrasher, Gambel’s quail, Gila woodpecker, lesser goldfinch, house finch, house sparrow, kestrel, mockingbird, mourning dove, orange-crowned warbler, phainopepla, verdin, western bluebird, white-crowned sparrow. A special treat, at the west end of the Saguaro Discovery Trail, is an Anna’s x Costa’s hummingbird hybrid.

As for critters, we’ve seen several coyotes, along with lots of javelina tracks and bobcat scat. Happy holidays to everyone!

Tuesday, December 06, 2011


We’re having strange weather—according to NOAA, the coldest start to December since they’ve been keeping records. There’s been a fair amount of rain and it’s been quite cold—January cold. A couple of mornings ago we had a fog attack. It was stunning—you couldn’t see farther than across the yard. backyard in fog 12-4-2011 8-31-49 AM 3616x2712 It was actually rather beautiful, though eerie: Sunflower in the fog 12-4-2011 8-30-55 AM 2405x2373

All the birds looked cold. Here are some quail. And by the way, there are still a couple of dozen of them roosting in the front yard. Even better, a mockingbird is still roosting with them—or at least does so sometimes. I watched him fly into the pyracantha the other night to join his bigger buddies.

quail and hoses in fog 12-4-2011 8-31-20 AM 2088x2113                   Quail in the fog 12-4-2011 8-31-27 AM 3616x2712

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Cactus Wrens in the 'Hood

I love, love, love cactus wrens, which are not only the State Bird of Arizona, they are the largest wrens in North America.
Cactus wren on cholla 10-18-2010 8-14-04 AM 1108x908
Many visitors to the Park are astounded at how big they are (around 8-9 inches). “That’s a wren?” Cactus wrens are bold and sassy, seemingly not much afraid of humans. Their voices are loud and raucous, with many calls, ranging from a guttural croak that sounds like a car trying to start its engine to a nasal twang, as if the bird is tuning a loosely-strung banjo.
At Tohono Chul Park, cactus wrens can be found pretty much everywhere, from the desert trails to the many gardens to the riparian area. Often, they are squabbling or actively looking for something to eat. The references say that they  primarily eat insects and other invertebrates, with a soupcon of fruit and seeds. I’ve never seen a cactus wren eat seeds, but here’s a picture of one eating organ pipe cactus fruit on the Texas Trail in the Park. Cactus wren eating organ pipe fruit 10-18-2010 11-02-18 AM 2638x2504 I once watched a cactus wren pursue and overpower a medium-sized lizard, then grasp it in its beak and beat it to death. I saw similar behavior the other day on a bird walk, only in this case the hapless victim was a large green caterpillar, which the cactus wren swallowed in one gulp once it had been beaten into submission. I also  watched one peck a tarantula to death out on one of the Park’s desert trails. When I got closer to take a photo, the cactus wren grabbed his prize and moved it well away from the path, possibly assuming that I wanted to steal his breakfast.
Cactus wrens are well-known for the large (football-sized; roughly football-shaped), messy, enclosed  nests they build in cacti and sometimes trees. I once watched a cactus wren methodically break off the spines near the opening to a nest in a cholla. Presumably this was to prevent its babies from impaling themselves. They like to weave interesting and/or colorful found objects into the nest. I used to leave colored yarn for them in my former home. Here’s a great nest in a cholla at the Park that has been decorated with bits of facial tissue and either cellophane or Scotch tape.
Cactus wren nest 8-29-2011 7-54-56 AM 1884x1934 8-29-2011 7-54-56 AM 1884x1934

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Cool Things at Tohono Chul Park the third week in August

The weather has been extremely humid and hot, but I’ve seen a number of really wonderful things at the Park during my last few visits. Every bird walk has resulted in at least one beautiful and sometimes unexpected bird. For example, a couple of days ago a visitor and I saw and heard a gorgeous curve-billed thrasher. She was new to birding, and was thrilled to see a bird she’d only heard about. On that same visit, we saw a huge gopher snake near the Desert Living Courtyard.
Gopher snake Tohono Chul Park 9-10-2010 8-13-50 AM 2792x842 9-10-2010 8-13-50 AM 2792x842  It was curlicued alongside the path, with its head just resting at the edge of a large rodent hole. It was so quiet at first I thought it might have been dead, but then I saw its tongue flick, as it smelled its breakfast-to-be.
On the way out of the Park, we saw a Greater Earless Lizard, the first I have seen in the Park. It was near the Overlook, and at first I thought it was just a large zebratail. It has actually lost its tail. Except for being tailless, it looks quite a bit like this beauty I photographed at Catalina State Park: Greater Earless Lizard 5-10-2011 9-49-53 AM 1216x891 The lizard at TCP is much brighter yellow. Quite a good-looking reptile. And speaking of yellow, on our bird walk Monday, my colleague Marcia and I saw a mystery flycatcher. I think it was a brown-crested, because of the size of its bill and the very yellow appearance of its belly, but it might have been an ash-throated. Those guys drive me crazy. Take a look. What do YOU think?
Possible brown-crested flycatcher 6-24-2010 8-55-32 AM 786x788

Tuesday, August 02, 2011


I’m very sorry to report that the whitewing dove’s nest, so lovingly built by the hardworking parents, is no more. When I got to the Park yesterday morning, I saw that the winds of the previous night had shredded it.
trashed nest 8-1-2011 9-55-51 AM 3616x2712 Then I looked down, below the nest, to see a sad sight:
                                                                              Splat 8-1-2011 9-51-32 AM 1888x2099
While I was photographing the broken eggs, the male dove arrived and did a double-take when he saw the nest (and his mate) were gone. He then sat on the crossbeam and began cooing, repeatedly, the saddest sound I’ve ever heard a bird make.
Sad dad 8-1-2011 9-56-07 AM 2070x934
White winged dove and nest
I hope they rebuild soon, in a safer spot.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Whitewings nesting

A big tentlike canvas structure shades the Overlook, which is where we meet for all Park tours, and where we hold Reptile Ramble. Yesterday I watched a pair of whitewing doves building a nest atop one of the pillars that holds up the shade.
Daddy & Mommy2 7-25-2011 9-40-15 AM 2873x1203
White winged doves building nest

Daddy’s on the left; mom is on the right. She stayed on the nest the whole time I watched, alternately moving the twigs around, fluffing the nest, and resting.
She's patiently waiting 7-25-2011 9-34-33 AM 3616x2712
Female white-winged on nest

Meanwhile, her mate went searching for twigs to bring her. He was very, very particular—one might even say a bit OCD. I watched him pick up and reject dozens of twigs from several gardens around the Overlook. When he found one he liked, he would take it to her and place it on the nest. She always immediately moved it to a different spot while he took off to search again.
there've got to be some somewhere 7-25-2011 9-45-25 AM 2840x1881
Male white winged dove
“There’s got to be one around here somewhere….”
Nothing here.... 7-25-2011 9-46-11 AM 3616x2712
Male white winged dove
“Nope. Nothing in here.”

Finally, he made his way to the area underneath the nest, where a handful of dropped sticks lay.
These look good! 7-25-2011 9-47-36 AM 3616x2712
Male white winged dove
“Say, these look good!”
This one! 7-25-2011 9-47-50 AM 3616x2712
Male white winged dove
“This one is perfect!”
He's got the goods 7-25-2011 9-53-28 AM 1076x974
Male white winged dove with nesting material

He’s got the goods!

“Here I come, sweetie!”
Daddy and Mommy 7-25-2011 9-48-38 AM 1174x803
Male and female white winged doves on nest


Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Costa’s Brothers

2humsA 9-25-2010 5-54-01 PM 3616x2712
Last September, I wrote about these two juvenile Costa’s hummingbirds who were uneasily sharing a feeder in our rose garden that hangs from a clothesline. This is such unusual hummer behavior that I thought they might be nest-mates who still shared a bond of sorts.
This week, a pair of full-grown Costa’s hummers were sharing the same clothesline and the same feeder. See the picture below. My speculation is even wilder: could these be the same two birds from last year, still traveling together and still “sharing” to the extent that a hummingbird can share?
Costas2 5-25-2011 5-01-54 PM 2447x1044

Friday, March 25, 2011

Butterfly first aid

Swallowtail back cu 3-24-2011 1-03-19 PM 1008x992
This gorgeous butterfly is a giant swallowtail, also known as an “orange dog” for laying its eggs on citrus leaves. When I was out watering yesterday I saw this insect crawling on the ground. Clearly it would not survive out on the ground like that, so I picked it up and put it on my fatsia plant, in the shade and relative safety of the porch. It crawled onto a leaf and hung there as you see it.
I believe it had just hatched and hadn’t had time to strengthen itself for its launch into the world. I may have knocked it down while watering. I went back a few times and it hadn’t moved, so I thought it might have died.
Then, I went out later, and saw that its wings were open. I went for my camera, but it fluttered to the end of the porch:
swallowtail back 3-24-2011 4-56-34 PM 1607x843
Then it flew into the garden, landed briefly on the pomegranate tree, and fluttered off into the breeze and its destiny.

Friday, February 04, 2011

The Big Chill

We have just gone through two of the coldest nights EVER in Tucson. Here’s my pond:
frozen splash2 2-4-2011 8-43-25 AM 3616x2712
Here’s the poor dead hummingbird that succumbed to hypothermia yesterday:
deadhum 2-3-2011 2-24-20 PM 650x640
There are a few hummers around today, fighting and feeding. I think my grapefruit tree is dead. It looks really awful. I can’t even bear to think about the hummingbirds out in the wild that have no source of nectar but frozen flowers. Sad, sad, sad.

Friday, January 21, 2011

How birds avoid cactus spines

Curve Billed Thrashers Did you ever wonder how birds like cactus wrens and curve-billed thrashers navigate cholla cactus without getting stuck? A couple of days ago I watched a curve-billed thrasher check out a cholla, probably seeking a good nesting site. Right after he landed on the end of a cholla segment, but before walking in and out of the cactus’ depths, he first folded his wings in an X in the back, making himself much slimmer. I plan to watch closely to see if cactus wrens do this too!
NOTE: I did not take the above picture, and don’t know who did. But wish I had.

Monday, January 03, 2011

The Year of the Rabbit

I consider it very good luck that on the third day of the Year of the Rabbit, I saw a jackrabbit for the first time ever at the Park. At first, I thought the huge thing bounding away from me was a coyote. But bounding? And then there were the huge ears. Unfortunately, I did not get a picture, but I did snap this portrait of hare poop, which is bigger and lighter in color than bunny poop:
Hare poop2 1-3-2011 9-19-02 AM 394x268
About an hour later, on the South Trail, I caught a beautiful male cardinal posing. All in all a good day!
Card 2 1-3-2011 10-06-30 AM 661x1088