Saturday, July 7, 2012

Day 11: June 24 - Mountain Tops and Desert Bottoms

Sunrise found us walking the campground in hopes of securing the still-needed Buff-breasted Flycatcher.  The walk of a few hundred yards to the Amphitheatre turned up nothing.  With spirits sinking, we hiked back to the car to munch Pop-tarts and juice for the hike to other campground locations where the bird had been reported.  With my head buried in the backseat looking for chow, a peculiar “chee-lick” was coming from the trees overhead.  For the next few minutes, we enjoyed fair looks as a Buff-breasted Flycatcher (Life Bird #662) zipped from tree to tree. At times, it was not one hundred feet from the tent.  Odd. 

Still needing Mountain Chickadee for Natalie, we returned to the summit.  Hiking a different trail versus the night before, within ten minutes, the eye-browed little bugger was putting on quite a show! 

Returning to the car (and soaking in the damage and subsequent rejuvenation from the July 2003 Aspen fire that engulfed part of the mountain), we stopped and gawked at the flight of a raven as it approached us.  Not 100 feet away, 8 feet off the ground, and to our left, we realized how big it really was.  In a quick second, we realized ravens don’t have yellow beaks and white stripes on their tail.  The Zone-tailed Hawk maneuvered with ease as it avoided dead trees before it disappeared over the cliff edge. 

I can assure you most birders in the North America who have recorded Zonetails have not had the pleasure of seeing what we saw that morning. Most folks have to study Turkey Vulture kettles and find the bird that is not a vulture; they look very similar.  I would argue that they are so similar that birders have called Turkey Vultures a Zonetail.  Easy to do, I think.  Or maybe the birder hims and haws.  They aren’t always sure. We were.   What a prized sighting.  We never even needed binoculars.  Awesome. 

Retiring from the mountain and hoping to not make arrogant bicyclists hood ornaments, we moved on to the Sonoran Desert Museum on Tucson’s west side.  Meeting Marge again, lunch and walking around the grounds of this outstanding facility made for time well spent.  A trip for a southeast Arizona newbie would not be complete without time here.  If you are going to look for birds in the desert, it just makes sense to understand how deserts function, doesn’t it?

The free-flight hummingbird enclosure is a trip.  I would highly recommend it for photographers.  The little sugar-fueled engines pose quite nicely. In many cases, I needed to back up as my lens was too big!  (Of course, this place would be great for the liars and frauds that infect the birding community.  It would be so easy to take a photo of one of these little gems and claim you took the picture someplace else.  I wonder if that has ever happened? Photographing a captive bird so you can claim it as a wild one? Oh, silly me. Of course it has...)

Right up the road is the west section of the Saguaro National Park.  More deserts. More fascination.  A quick stop at Signal Hill highlighted rock art likely pecked by the Hohokam Indians  (hoho-kum) a thousand years ago.  So cool.  Standing not too far off in the distance was a Harris’s Hawk.  It’s kinda cool to think about the ancestors of the hawk being there watching the Hohokam carve those stones.  Neat.

With the monsoon season approaching, afternoon thunderstorms were becoming more of a threat.  A powerful storm was off to the north and we got the rain.  (But with it comes one of the coolest experiences one can have in the desert – the smell after the rain.  I won’t even try to describe it. You’ll just have to try it for yourself.)  Coming down in sheets, birding, sightseeing and photography became kind of hard. Driving the roads, we started to appreciate some local folklore.

According to the Pima Indians, a grandmother lost her grandchildren.  Versions vary as to how this happened, but in the end, the children began the Saguaro Cactus.  That explains (in their mind, anyhow) how the cactus seems to take on an almost human physique.  With that in mind, I would argue that somewhere out there is a lost pugilist…..

Now, you might be thinking that we had been drinking before our trip to the desert to come up with that silliness. No. That came after….

Fine gourmet pizzas and beer were had at the ThunderCanyon Brewery in Tucson.  Deep Canyon Amber, Thunder Canyon IPA, Sandstone Cream Ale, and Windstorm Wheat (#1,269-1,272) were all average or better.  The IPA was the best of the bunch.  There is just something refreshing about a good IPA when the temperatures are brutal.

After dinner, we motored off to Scottsdale.  The night was spent at Marge and Diana’s house.

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