Thursday, May 31, 2012

Birding in Arizona - the first morning

The keen-eyed reader may have noted that we've just been on holiday in the USA.  That short break was unplanned, this longer trip however was booked months in advance, last Autumn in fact.

We flew from Heathrow via Dallas to Tucson, Arizona.  It's a long old day, so we picked up the car and headed to our hotel, the Four Seasons by Sheraton, right outside the airport.  We had a rough night there as the door vibrated every time someone else shut another door in the corridor.  The door also offered little or no sound-proofing.  To top it all a group decided to have a door slamming party around 2am... sigh. 

So not much sleep later we drove the 90 minutes south-east to our first birding destination, the San Pedro River Valley.  As luck would have it, on arriving at 06:50 we were advised a bird walk was going to start shortly and we were welcome to join.  This was excellent news as it meant birding with local experts, in fact Tom and John, two volunteers and they really do know their birds!

While we waited for the start time, we did some birding around the visitor centre, adding House Finch, Curve-billed Thrasher (here on its nest):

Our first lifer of the trip, Gila Woodpecker:

The Gilas (pronounced with an h in the Spanish way) seemed very fond of the Hummingbird feeders...

Lesser Goldfinch














After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing we got going, walking in to the reserve grounds proper.  Virtually the first bird of the morning was this Ash-throated Flycatcher:


Then a Black-chinned Hummingbird, I'd forgotten just how small and fast these birds are:














On the path a Blue Grosbeak, a bird we'd seen only fleetingly once before:













A Common Ground Dove (a surprisingly small bird too, think fat Sparrow) was browsing some damp mud in the creek:

A Cooper's Hawk sat on its nest:

A Bronzed Cowbird, identified by its red iris, called from a tree:

 












Overhead a Grey Hawk soared: 
































Back on the path Lark Sparrow:

 











One of the 'drab birds of the arid Southwest' according to our bird guide, is the Lucy's Warbler, and one we were delighted to see (I really do like the variety of American Warblers):
  
 























Of course it's not all birds, as you can see:

 











The views in Arizona are spectacular on the whole:











One non-bird encounter that didn't get caught on camera was with a diamond-back Rattlesnake.  John suddenly called 'back' and the snake reared up out of the undergrowth at a couple of Americans in the group.  We all backed off.   The snake then backed off giving a couple of rattles as it did.  I couldn't quite get the snake in the Lens, too close, so once it had gone back under the vegetation we walked on.  A lucky encounter on a number of levels...

It's not often you get to catch an image of a bird just so, but I think this Song Sparrow image fits that category:














A Pacific-slope Flycatcher:















John had called this bird a Western Flycatcher, which had all us non-experts scratching our heads until he realized he'd used the local term.

The last bird and usually the star of the show, a male Vermilion Flycatcher:




These birds are really tough to photograph being small, mobile and incredibly bright in plumage and living in conditions of extreme sunlight... still a delight to see them again!  

We knew we'd been very lucky with the location, timing and indeed the people and were very grateful to Tom and John for their expertise.  We taxed them just a little more getting recommendations for other spots to visit that day and indeed top birding locations in the Sate for the coming week.  Helen was chuffed with the close correspondence with her own plans.

So it was 11am, time to move on...

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