Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Birding in Arizona - Day 9, pottering about

For our last day in Arizona, prior to travelling home, we decided to head out together but borrowing the wheelchair from the hotel to try and find some accessible spots for some birding.  We were delighted to see this Cooper's Hawk in the first light of day just outside our room:

The first place we stopped, having eventually navigated the major roadworks on the freeway, was the Sweetwater Wetlands, another waste-water wetlands.  Great idea by the way Arizona, hopefully it'll be repeated elsewhere...

I parked Helen in the accessible part and wandered around.  She was avidly bird-watching too as you can see:

Birds of the wetlands included some very enthusiastic Red-winged Blackbirds:

Cormorants, en passant:

Cinnamon Teal:

Blue-winged Teal and Northern Shoveller:

From the wetlands we tried a couple of the city parks.  They didn't have much to offer, though this terrapin was defiant despite being somewhat out of water:

Gila Woodpeckers abounded:

As did Gambell's Quail:

and indeed Abert's Towhee:

Helen eventually conceded and we drove up Mount Lemmon, pretty much the number one local attraction.  We met a lot of cyclists, mostly descending the mountain at pace.  We also passed some just starting their ascent.  It's a 7,500 feet climb, covering roughly 25 miles.  Nutters they are, nutters.

The views are good though:

We wrapped up and headed back to pack and enjoy pizza before our trip home.  I should say a few things about the trip:

Tucson airport was easy.  Instant access to (very) big wheelchairs.  Boarding was simple and the American Airlines crew very helpful.

The flight home was very pleasant with a wonderfully friendly and professional BA crew, luckily a reward flight so we were in club with flat beds, the Captain refused to leave the plane until we'd been found a wheelchair at Heathrow.  Hats off to the flight and the cabin crew, BA went up big time in my estimation, thank you!

Heathrow was a breeze thanks to our wheeled luggage and an understanding wheelchair attendant.

Chicago however was a shocker with one single notable exception.  First they had seven wheelchairs lined-up to collect people from the flight.  The ramp does not accommodate two wheelchairs wide (they do have to be very big of course), so the attendant Helen got decided ramming his way up the ramp was the answer. Complete idiot.  After around 10 minutes and with me dropping my luggage, going back down the ramp and collapsing all the other wheelchairs we got her out.  My tip to him was plan ahead.  Boy was I annoyed.  Anyway we wheeled for about 7 minutes to find a sign pointing us back to the other end of the terminal, fully 15 minutes away.  We got there to be told that we had to go all the way back again, out through security and then on the train between terminals because they hadn't bothered to work out transfer logistics for less able bodied passengers.

At this point the lady who was managing the transfer stepped-up and spent nearly 40 minutes on the phone trying to locate a wheelchair for Helen in the other terminal and persuading the jobsworths to let us go, which she eventually did.  We got Helen downstairs thanks to the loan of a walking stick from a very kind and considerate gentleman.  It wasn't over yet though, next we had to surrender the wheelchair at the lounge, then persuade the lady on the front desk that Helen was fit to fly.  Then I had a fight as the food was in the other lounge and they couldn't locate a wheelchair, eventually they conceded and let me carry a plate of food from one lounge to the other (I ate mine in the club lounge to avoid further fights), then there was no wheelchair for boarding.  Having hopped about 50 yards, in real pain and with 150 yards to go I dropped the bags and carried Helen on to the flight, thankfully the lounge attendant was finally on board and helped move our bags too.  I was properly relieved when they served me double champagne!

Birding in Arizona - Day 8, Madera Canyon

Saturday morning I set out for Madera Canyon, a real birding hot-spot.  As you can see from these dawn pictures I was out early again:

I was possibly too early but for a good two hours on the main trail (Old Baldy) I only saw fleeting glimpses of birds.  It's a very steep climb, something like 2,500 feet in 2.2miles and carrying all my kit I was getting quite dispirited, however seeing an Arizona Woodpecker soon got me smiling again:

Another early morning bird was this Black-headed Grosbeak:

I was chuffed with myself when I made it up to Josephine Saddle:

I decided to take the longer trail, Super Trail, back down to the car park, a further 3.5 miles or so, back down.  I was rewarded en route with sightings of Black-throated Gray Warbler and this very confiding Yellow-eyed Junco:

No idea what this bird is:

A view on the trail:

Mexican Jays, one of a small but very vocal group:

A singing House Wren:

And Gilded Flicker:

I encountered a number of groups of Bridled Titmouse on the way down, they are such a close match to our Crested Tit, but not quite:

Some of the views back down to the valley were amazing:

The hiking took a little over five hours, and with the round-trip and stopping for a hot lunch at Lovin' Spoonful (highly recommended for good veggie food in Tucson) I was out for a good 8.5 hours...

Birding in Arizona - Day 7, Gilbert

We got up extra early, 3am so we could leave around 4:30am, which we managed.  I handed back the wheelchair and we set off.  The road is pretty straight but involves a descent of 5,000 feet so there's some pretty steep angles involved!  We enjoyed watching the dawn break and then the sun rise over the desert landscape.  We were able to take advantage of the HOV lanes heading into and out of Phoenix and so made it to the Gilbert Wetlands at a pretty early 7am.  Helen had planned to try and hop to a viewing area, but it became quickly clear that she couldn't so she sat in shade in a picnic area and I headed for a brisk walk around the preserve.

The Curve-billed Thrasher didn't seem to mind (could be Bendire's but I don't want to call it!)

Verdin and juveniles abounded:

As did herons of various ilks, including this feeding Snowy Egret:

A Magnificent Hummingbird proved very inquisitive:

Great-tailed Grackles are always showing off:

More Heron, this a Great White Egret:

then a Great Blue Heron:

Double-crested Cormorant drying its wings after a successful fishing trip:

Black-necked Stilt, wading around the shallow pools (also reclaimed waste water):

In Winter and the desert Spring, the preserve is teeming with birds, the locals however seemed disappointed. I wasn't, I really enjoy seeing American Avocet:

Helen was being staked out by a strange chap by the time I returned so we gave up and I reversed our car onto the trail to collect her and we headed on to Tuscon and our last hotel, the Westin La Paloma.

Birding in Arizona - Day 6, Flagstaff Arboretum

The Arboretum was a disappointment it's fair to say.  It's primarily about (a) entertaining children and (b) forest management.  The location is splendid, though:

But the trails and indeed birding are very limited.  This is a shame as it's in a great place to pick-up lots of local specialists but it's just so limited.  They could do so much more there.

Anyway I did get to see Yellow-rumped Warbler:

Steller's Jay:

Northern Flicker:

Mountain Bluebird:

House Wren:

Common Grackle:

Broad-tailed Hummingbird:

And Chipping Sparrow:

Time then to head to Quizno's for a toasted veggie sub each before heading back to the hotel.  We had some thinking to do as the plan for Friday was to drive to Tuscon via Phoenix, a six hour drive and to take in some birding on the way, but of course, things had changed....