our site at Desert Trails RV
Mercifully away from Yuma's extreme heat we headed east for Tucson, uncharacteristically traveling an Interstate for the bulk of our 240-mile drive. This is when our Audible.com subscription is most effective, helping while away hours of boring Interstate. Our current selection was David Baldacci's "Absolute Power". The book had been made into a movie starring Clint Eastwood which we had enjoyed seeing, but, the book turned out to contain some far different and essential plot twists. Well worth a read. Or should I say, listen.
Deserts Trails RV, located near the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and the Saguaro National Park (west district) is an older established park. Several of the sites had lots of vegetation ("cover" in birding parlance). Within an hour of setting up and putting out bird seed we had Gambel's Quail running amok in our site. Snow Birds don't consider August in Arizona to be a prime time to visit but that was fine with us - the park wasn't crowded. And contrary to what Snow Birds may think, July-August in Arizona is the best time to be in Southeast Arizona birding.
Our first day was spent catching up on some necessary shopping and reacquainting ourselves with the area. Just for fun this included a stop at the Tucson Apple Store in an upscale mall, "La Encantada", which had the nicest bathrooms Carol had ever been in (or so she claimed). Tucson Apple was her first opportunity to play with the new iPhone 4.0. Her immediate take was that we needed one. Or two. When Verizon starts to offer the iPhone we'll take the plunge. For at least one. Her next hands-on Apple experience (Apple Stores do this so well) was with the iPad. When the next gen iPad comes out with a built-in camera and a USB port, there will be an iPad in the Sykes household (too bad one won't be out in time for our Ecuador trip!).
Lunch? We chose El Charro's Cafe. There are now five locations in the Tucson area but we opted for the original cafe site near historic downtown. Great Mexican food, generous portions, and dirt cheap. Highly recommended. On our way back to Desert Trails we stopped at the Tucson Audubon Chapter office and gift shop. It boasted a very well stocked bookstore and scads of volunteers on hand to provide us with a wealth of updates about local birding opportunities and locales.
Carol was able reconnect with a friend from her days living in Middleton who had moved to Tucson a few years ago, Nancy Novak. Nancy and Carol got together for a grand day out: lunch, shopping, and a haircut. Nancy had hoped to schedule dinner one evening for us to meet/listen to a musician friend of hers due to play at another El Charro location. Our schedules didn't quite jibe so we put off dinner until Carol and I returned to Tucson after our planned week-long visit to Sierra Vista.
approaching storm Saguaro National Park
As we frequently do in the late afternoon we settled in for our happy hour and to take in the surrounding sights and sounds, binoculars and/or camera at the ready. This is specially enjoyable when we find ourselves in a not overly crowded RV park. During our first afternoon we noticed a rattlesnake curled up near shrubs not more than five feet away from our door. Given one's disposition toward snakes this might have been unsettling when the snake began to uncurl and move. Fortunately, snakes are cool with us, or, we with them.
Western Diamondback and an excited Curve-billed Thrasher
As the snake began to move we realized that it was partially in a hole. Make that stuck in a hole. As it writhed to and fro to escape, we surmised that it had chased a rodent into the hole, swallowed the rodent, and now, having not entirely digested its prey, was stuck. How amusing to watch the snake struggle to free itself with birds continuing to feed, nonplussed, on the ground nearby (save for one raucous Curve-billed Thrasher that squawked at the hapless snake). Judging from the part of the snake visible above ground the snake measured around four feet in length. By morning, it was gone.
Saguaros at Saguaro National Park
It had been some time since we had last visited Mount Lemmon, a mountain in the Santa Catalinas, its peak 6,600 feet above Tucson (9,157 feet above sea level). Driving up Mount Lemmon one can experience six different life zones: Sonoran Desert, Semi-desert Grasslands, Oak Woodlands and Chaparral, Pine-Oak Woodlands, Ponderosa-Pine Forest, and Mixed Conifer Forest. It was high time we made a visit and try to pad our burgeoning annual bird list with some harder to find western wood warblers.
After an hour's drive through morning Tucson traffic we reached the foothills and the entrance to this portion of the Coronado National Forest. Our first stop was the Molino Basin Campground for Bridled Titmice. Passing several overlooks we wound our way up to Rose Canyon. Typically a very birdy place, we found it devoid of usual suspects. Next up was Incinerator Ridge, a 4-wheel drive track (2-wheel drive if you don't care about your car). The results here were terrific. A thunderstorm approached but given our elevation we looked down on the storm clouds and lightning. The storm skirted around to the north while we picked up Grace's, Olive, and Hermit Warblers at the top of the ridge. Retracing the ridge road back to the main road we ran into a small mixed flock that contained Painted Redstarts, Townsend's and Red-faced Warblers. The latter with in-your-face looks.
overlook of Tucson from Mount Lemmon
Further toward the top of Mount Lemmon we stopped at the Palisades Visitor Center and purchased a copy of Kenn Kaufman's "Finding Birds In Southeast Arizona". During the remaining time we spent in Arizona this proved to be an invaluable resource of bird location info.
The Ski Valley Resort and Lodge was next up for our lunch break (the lodge also maintained a number of hummingbird feeders). Excellent food fare with a German flavor. The curry shrimp soup and German potato salad - yum! Following lunch we continued to the summit of Mount Lemmon and panoramic views of the valley. Returning to lower elevations we added a stops at Summerhaven, a small community on the rebound following a devastating fire in 2003, Inspiration Point and the aptly named, Sykes Knob. By late afternoon we were back at our RV tallying up our new birds and enjoying happy hour. Sans snake.
desert blooms - the desert was lush and green with all the recent rains
Most evenings after happy hour we stow our chairs and table, often under the RV. In the desert southwest it's always a good idea to carefully check stowed items when retrieving them. Items like shoes or boots which might attract spiders, scorpions and biting insects. As I carefully pulled open one of the chairs, a good-sized tarantula was found clinging to the chair's canvas material. Unlike snakes, I'm not cool with most spiders. Specially big ones. Ever see the movie "Arachnophobia"? That was billed as a "comedy, thriller, horror" film. Right. Somehow I failed to see the humor. I did manage to get a grip and take some photos of Aragog's cousin. Telephoto lens, of course.
Over the course of the next week we visited and revisited several of our favorite birding spots, including Sabino Canyon and Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains near Green Valley. On the way to Madera is Florida (pronounced "flor-EE-da") Wash, a good place to pick up Varied Buntings and Rufous-winged Sparrows. Madera Canyon is a deep, densely wooded canyon often good for Cassin's and Botteri's Sparrows and Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers (we found all).
looking out at Elephant Head Mountain from
entrance to Madera Canyon
entrance to Madera Canyon
Barrel Cactus at Sabino Canyon
Carol's tootsie break on the road to Sabino Canyon
We had made flight reservations from Tucson to Appleton to visit family and friends and to attend Tom's high school reunion. Our plan was to leave our RV parked at Desert Trails RV. But our flight wasn't for another few weeks. We opted to pack up the RV, head further east to the Sierra Vista area, to pick up more southwest birds for our annual list before returning to Tucson.