Sunday, February 27, 2011

Desert Snow

View from the house towards Wassem's Peak in the Tucson Mountains.

A storm came through last night and we woke up to a cloudy sky and snow cover starting just above out own level of 2400 feet. Our rain gauge showed 4 tenth of an inch, more than we've had so far this year.
A little higher up on Kinney Rd in Saguaro National Park West to wards the ASDM one side of all Saguaros was outlined in white. Already dropping off in big chunks. 

View towards the western mountains. This storm blew in from the San Diego direction.

View through Contzen Pass in the Tucson Mountains at the Catalina Mts where the snow cover seems to reach all the way down to Orovalley.
We'll head out into the western and north-western dune areas (AZ and CA) tomorrow to collect insects. This weather system was cold, but it also delivered the moisture that many dune species need to break their diapause, so it may be interesting.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Marana Stock Auction

Cattleman's Breakfast at the Stockyard Cafe - our neighbors invited us to experience the true Arizona. It smelled a little of cows and mostly of clean hay and straw - this is not one of the feed lots where cattle is fattened before it is slaughtered and stands for weeks in its own muck (I know why I don't eat beef).

Here in Marana the local ranchers buy heifers for breeding, roping calfs, bucking bulls, and cows to turn out on the range to breed more roping calfs, bucking bulls.... Of course, the flat, fertile Avra Valley along the Santa Cruz River is also home to herds of heavy, healthy Black Angus cattle.

 The cattle in the holding pens before the auction could have provided the German Brothers Heck with all the genetic material they needed in their misguided attempt to recreate the extinct 'Auerochs', ancestor of most modern breeds of cattle.

There were cattle descending from French  Spanish, English, German, Indian, and African breeds, even some that seemed to have the brooding profile of the American Bison. They were mostly munching peacefully at long troughs.

 A few cowboys where milling around,  skillfully maneuvering their horses while opening and closing the hundreds of gates to move groups of cattle quietly from corral to corral  into a narrow, rotating  system of wall and gates that led across the scales and  into the auctioning arena.

 Inside rows of seats rising towards the back reminded me of a university auditorium (they didn't look comfortable enough for a movie theater). By the time the auction began, most of the seats were taken, and mostly by ranching people. Not many tourists here.

 The auctioneer kept up a continuous  flow of repetitive syllables, interspersing it with few understandable words. Still, after a while I was absorbing the information about the shown animals as well as the bidding steps without being able to consciously understand anything. It turned out that some of my American-born companions understood even less.

I had told my colleagues at the entomology department that I couldn't come to work today because I was buying a donkey for our planned bug-collecting trips into the Rincon Mountains.  I did actually find two very nice looking donkeys at the auction. But, to Randy's and our neighbors' relief, they turned out to be the resident mascots and not for sale.

So Cody, hop right back into the car. You don't have to make room - this time

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

February in Madera Canyon

After the recent cold spell and snow fall, Madera creek is rushing with chilly snow melt from Mnt Wrightston and Mnt Hopkins. Under these conditions bird watching is still much more rewarding than bug hunting.

A flash of red greets me at the feeders of Madera canyon Lodge: a Hepatic Tananger. This male sports a lively orange-red front while his flanks, back and wings are olive green-gray. Nice! I've mostly seen Summer Tanangers in Arizona, and this time I even get a good look at the yellow-green female at the Kabo B&B further up the road.

Chipping Sparrow

Pine Siskin

I miss theYellow-eyed Juncos. Instead there are Chipping Sparrows and Pine Siskins on the ground.

 Swarms of Lesser Goldfinches visit the feeders. Some of them have nearly black backs. None of those wants to pose for  photo, though.

The clownish, very social Acorn Woodpeckers are always all over the feeders. Their breeding cavities and thousands of acorn smithies in the wooden telephone poles show that the gang stays around year round. 

My favorite Woopecker

Acorn smithy holes
 The Arizona Woodpecker, recognizable by his plain brown back, is a southeast Arizona specialty. Usually I catch glimpses of this bird in summer on Duquesne Rd close to the Mexican border or south of Pena Blanca Lake. It was a nice surprise to find on at the suet block at the lodge where it seemed undisturbed by my struggle with my new little view finder less camera.

The characteristic brown back

Places where birders come together function as information exchanges. A field guide is hardly needed if one has keen ears and doesn't hesitate to ask questions. So in exchange for my introduction of the woodpecker, I get the tip that 'the' Trogon has taken residence at the Kabo B&B.

I find the promised berry-covered  bush that had attracted the sole wintering Trogon across the street from the B&B, too far from the road to see whether it is an introduced Pyracantha or a native Madrone. The birds don't seem to care. The Trogon soon swoops down from one of the Sycamores to join a Robin, some Siskins and a pair of Dark-eyed Juncos. 

Too bad that he is too intent on those berries to pose for a better photo! But at least all the field marks are clearly visible.

 Lois Manowitz, a great bird photographer from Tucson, graciously allowed me to use one of her Trogon photos here. It was taken during the breeding season at Madera Canyon. I am not sure whether male Trogons help incubating the eggs, but those disheveled feathers seem to indicate that he might have brood patches. 

'Madera Canyon Birds' watercolor of my first Trogon encounter in 1994

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Wintering Ducks and Shorebirds at the Santa Cruz River in Marana

For several days and nights it has been colder than ever here in Tucson. Not many beetles and bugs to watch under those conditions. But along the steadily flowing Santa Cruz River that is fed by the Pima County Water Reclamation Plant, there are more birds than in other years.

 The churning water of the overflow directly under the bridge is the favorite spot for most ducks, a Green Heron, some Pied-billed Grebes and a few American Coots.

 Three species of Teal dabble in the churning water or rise up in tight flocks flashing their brightly colored wing patches that gave them their common species names.

Blue-winged Teal Pair
Male Blue-winged Teal
Cinnamon Teal

Most common is the small Green-Winged Teal

Grebes and Gadwalls

 Mallards and a single male Wood Duck are usually found further down river.

 Wood Ducks are rare in Arizona.

A Flock of Least Sandpipers occupies the sandbank                                                                                    

Spotted Sandpipers with rhythmically dipping tails search for food along the banks. I was thrilled to watch a Wilson's Snipe around the pillars of the bridge but I couldn't get a photo.A Water Pipit was more obliging 
Noisy Killdeer feed at muddy parts of the river bank, but they can also be found in the dry, stony sand flats along the road where they will hide their eggs. Today I saw a Coyote and a Northern Harrier patrol the water's edge for prey, last week it was a Prairie Falcon  - It may be safer to keep vulnerable offspring a little bit away from the attractive riparian area.

Last year the river changed its bed and covered most of the open mudflats that the  Black-necked Stilts liked. This year I've seen them at Sweetwater but not at the Ina Bridge where these photos were taken in 2007. 

I really miss those elegant beauties.

At dusk, the Green Heron finally moves out of his hidden spot by the river bank