Saturday, July 7, 2012

Day 10: June 23- A Lemon and A Lemmon

The day’s original plan involved taking two cars birding.  By the day’s end, we would move along while Joe and Corrine would return home.   Sadly, Joe’s situation reversed itself and he was feeling crappy again.  Realizing he needed to take care of himself and house guests can be a drag in times of duress, Natalie and I bid farewell. 

We were off to Montosa Canyon.  Right around the corner from Madera Canyon (it is a part of the same mountain range),  this place has been harboring Black-cappedGnatcatchers and a Plain-capped Starthroat for few days.  Granted, the reports were less than ideal. Folks more familiar with the hummer where getting it but were reporting short observation times (ie: nano-seconds) as it zipped past at light speed.  I guess if you are familiar with the species, that might do.  I wouldn’t know a Plain-capped Starthroat from a baseball-capped ball player, so we were hoping for a solid look.  Reports were mixed with the Gnatcatchers, too.  Some positive. Some not. 

Upon exiting the vehicle at the culvert (the landmark used for days), the wasps moved it.  Big.  And many.  One report suggested a birder was carried away and eaten.  Okay, not really, but they were huge (the wasps, not the birders).  I have been around wasps plenty and they are always distracting, but these were monsters. 

While they showed no signs of aggression, they were certainly inquisitive.  The car. Me. Natalie.  Once they landed on her back, all bets were off.   That now introduced the issue of the accidental sting.  If they land on you, you move to use your binoculars and, for example, the binocular strap pinches them, they will sting. I know. I’ve seen it happen.  Realizing that the risk was there and their abdomen was the size of a baseball bat, it took us less than three minutes to abort the plan.  Really.  Out and back into the car in three minutes.  For these Michiganders, birding under these circumstances was simply impossible.

Starthroats and Gnatcatchers will just have to wait.

Well, as you have probably heard, one should turn lemons into lemonade if life takes a bad turn. In this case, per the plan, we turned lemons into a Lemmon.

Mount Lemmon is found northeast of Tucson.  Driving from Tucson (2,300 feet above sea level) to Lemmon’s peak (9,150 feet above sea level) is the same as driving from Mexico deep into Canada.  As one ascends the mountains, habitats change and therefore, the birds do, too.  Driving the 27-mile Catalina Road to the top is a standard one-day route for birders.

Knowing target birds were high on the mountain, we quickly made our way to Rose Lake Campground.  After securing camp (luckily)and lunch, we birded the campground hoping to find Olive Warbler and Buff-breasted Flycatcher.  After about 2 hours, we concluded all specimens of both species had been sucked into Mitt Romney’s skull (otherwise known as a vacuum). The Buffys were breeding near the amphitheatre and we still couldn’t find them!  Damn it!

By 3:15pm, Natalie’s aunt Marge, a birder, had joined us.  (Marge’s partner, Diana, couldn’t make it.)   Driving down from Scottsdale for an afternoon of fun, we proceeded to gain altitude.  The thought was that the afternoon heat was silencing the birds again.  With cooler temps and a different selection of birds, perhaps things would change further up the road.

Literally driving as far as we could up the mountain, another Red-faced Warbler put on a show.  One can NEVER complain if a bird like this dances in front of you!

Further along the trail, a distant singing bird turned out to be an Olive Warbler!  Life bird #661 was in the bag.  Whew!  What a gorgeous bird.  Close enough to relish the finer details, but far enough to not bother with a camera, we all enjoyed one of southeast Arizona’s prized warblers.

Lots of color-banded Yellow-eyed Juncos were present, too.  In short, the color bands are unique to each bird. Researchers can track the movements and behaviors of each individual by paying attention to the band.

Of course, Yellow-eyed Juncos don't have to have yellow eyes.  That doesn't happen until they are all grown up.


After a quick bite in Summerhaven, the after-hours target birds included nightjars and owls.  More Whiskered Screech Owls and Mexican Whips.  No visuals.

Marge returned to Tucson for lodging while Natalie and I returned to the tent.  A Great Horned Owl was booming for part of the night.   I’m sure those little owls avoided our campground.  Big owls do eat little owls. They don’t “bump fists”, swap stories, and move along…..

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