Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Home Ever So Briefly

The photos above are of a vermilion flycatcher (top) and a western tanager (bottom), both commonly seen birds in SE Arizona. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

I arrived back in Chapel Hill yesterday about midnite. The birding yesterday morning in the Tucson area was particularly enjoyable at Sabino Canyon. I have never visited this location, so did not know what to expect. I went in search of a gilded flicker. I arrived at 5:30 AM on a deliciously cool 50 degree sunny morning. As you quickly learn, Arizonans get up with sun to enjoy the cooler part of the day, so there were a fair number of others out there with me. I seemed to be the only birder--the rest were walking or riding bikes. You can not drive in the canyon.

The canyon runs east/west, and is on the east side of the city. It has a stream running thru it which this year has a fair amount of flowing water because of the abnormally wet spring. As you walk into the canyon the walls begin to close in some, and seem to get a bit higher overall. The rocks, the stream, and mainly the 1000's of saguaro cacti make for an especially beautiful natural place. I walked 6 miles up and back, looking diligently for the flicker, but to no avail. I did see instead a new year bird--white-throated swift. They followed me up the canyon as the temp rose.

I was glad to have the walk in such a stunning setting because I have not had enough of them in general this year, and because I wanted to walk off some of my dinner from the nite before. For those who have been following this blog closely, in Tucson I generally eat at a restaurant called Wildflower. We also ask for the same waiter who has worked there for 7 years, and literally works everyday when he is in town.

Last time I was there in February we drank a lovely bottle of '07 pinot noir from Baileyana. We liked it so much that I bought a 2nd bottle that they put aside for me. So my Tucson friend and I drank that with our meal. She had a grilled ahi tuna dish over oriental rice. I had the herb crusted rack of lamb that surprisingly was a full rack of 8 ribs. It came with creamy mashed potatoes and wilted greens. The desserts were a key lime tart with fresh berries, and a caramel pot de creme with a chocolate brownie and ice cream. Smiles were abundant.

While talking to our waiter, we discovered that he was leaving in 2 weeks to spend the summer waiting at a restaurant in Jackson Hole, WY. Since my birding schedule has me going to the Grand Tetons NP, I expect to be able to eat at his "summer" restaurant as well.

After hiking at Sabino Canyon, I then went to a nearby county park called Agua Caliente. I also have never been there, so I was surprised as I drove in to see huge numbers of palm trees. It has a spring, and a good sized pond that is surrounded by the palms. I spoke with some local birders who said that usually there are gilded flickers around, but they had not seen any lately. Nor were they hearing any northern beardless tyrannulets (smallest bird with longest name), another SE AZ target bird for me. I found out they were right, and after 90 minutes I headed to the airport.

My last 1/2 day in Arizona ended with only 7 more new birds for the week. The swift brought the YTD total up to 591. Overall, I picked up 50 new year birds while I was in the state. I will be heading up to the mountains here in NC tomorrow to look for a northern saw-whet owl. Stay tuned!

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