October 25, 2015 -- Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve and Paton Hummingbird Center

    These are two excellent but very different birding sites that are right next to each other.   They are about 45 minutes south of Tucson where I am staying.  The Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve is a Nature Conservancy site that features two miles of one of the few continually running stream in the region.  The stream itself is pretty small.  I saw a number of spots where a person who remembered to wear his hiking boots could hop over it.  The forests and grasslands are full of wildlife.  I loved walking along this stream on a soft dirt path in cool shade, with the sound of running water and the whistles of birds.  We are very lucky that in the East, this kind of environment is common.  We need to continue to cherish them and protect them.

    One of the signature birds at the Preserve is the Bridled Titmouse.  It looks pretty much like our routine Tufted Titmouse, but has a dark black pattern rimming its face and throat.   The only place in the U. S. where you can see this bird is in a tiny little area of central Arizona where it borders Mexico.  Guess who saw one and got his picture.  Yes.  That's right.  It was me.

 

 

Bridled Titmouse, only found in the U. S. in this tiny area of Arizona, Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, October, 2015

 

    Also at the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, I saw a Kestrel, Gila Woodpecker, lesser Goldfinches, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers (lots of these), Anna's hummingbirds, and a large Arizona Gray Squirrel.

    

    At the hummingbird center, there are a whole raft of sugar feeders for the hummers and seed feeders for the other birds.  You are welcome to come and sit and enjoy the birds and encouraged to leave a donation to the Audubon Society.  It's a fair deal.  The hummingbirds were mostly Anna's.  The non-hummers included Black-throated Sparrows and White-crowned Sparrows.

 

 

Anna's Hummingbird, instead of getting a photo showing the red throat - I got one that makes the tail look blue - go figure, Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, October, 2015

 

 

Saguaro, at Saguaro National Park, near the Desert Museum, October, 2015 

 

October 26, 2015 -- Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

    An outdoor museum, botanical garden, zoo, and nature education center with an art gallery and some indoor amenities.  This could be the best museum in the world.  Almost everything is outdoors, but some of it is presented in a zoo-like setting.  The animals that are not wild are happy, healthy, and cared for lovingly - better than we care for our pets.   I'm not counting as life birds those that were in settings like that, but I'm showing some of their pics.  Some are just too beautiful not to share. 

    The museum was open at 8:30 and I was lucky to be one of two birders who got to go on a guided walk with Kathy, a very knowledgeable docent and birder.  She apologized for this not being a particularly good time to bird in Arizona and then led a walk that found four new life birds for me.  The first were Gambel's Quail.  These gregarious, chicken-like birds don't have a crest.  They have a kind of feather sticking up on top of their heads.  The males have black throats and a red cap.  Next we saw Costa's Hummingbirds in the butterfly garden.  On a cactus, we found a Gila Woodpecker.  It was after seeing this bird that I was able to correctly identify the one that I had seen at Patagonia-Sonoita.  The fourth was a Curved-billed Thrasher.  The leader saw Rufous-winged Sparrows and an Albert's Towhee, but I missed both of those.

    After the walk, I checked out the Hummingbird Habitat and the Aviary.  Both are very large netted enclosures containing interesting birds in numbers and varieties that are tolerable for the birds.  The hummingbirds were basically the same ones that I saw on the outside, Anna's and Costa's.  I got pictures of both in the outside gardens, but the one of the Costa that lives in the hummer habitat is much better. 

 

 

Costa's Hummingbird, Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, October, 2015

 

            "Free Bird!"

A birder said, "He's in the hummer cage,

A bright and shiny purple Costa's male!"

And right on cue, the actor took the stage

To act his part, correct in each detail.

 

To claim the food above as his, he stares.

He puffs his cheeks to prove that he's real tough.

All other hummingbirds should be aware

They will get chased until they've had enough.

 

He acts like men who drink and fight and drink,

Or concert goers yelling for a song,

Who build a life and then begin to think

"Is this a cage?  Somehow did it go wrong?"

 

A bird won't fly to prove that he can roam.

The free bird guards the branch he calls his home.

 

 

 There are a number of exhibits that are done in the style of the more modern zoos, where the animals are in open air, no bars environments in somewhat natural environments.  I saw Bighorn Sheep in Joshua Tree last year, and these seem just as content.  There is a male and several females and a newborn living together in what seems to be a cohesive group.

 

 

Bighorn Sheep, Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, October, 2015

 

 

    These next two pictures are ones that I took in the aviary.  There were a lot of interesting birds in the exhibit, but these are the most colorful.  Both are resident birds from the region.

 

 

Black-headed Grosbeak, Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, October, 2015

 

 

Western Tanager, Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, October, 2015

 

 

Free Flight Raptor Demonstrations at Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

    These are free animals.  The handlers stayed after the shows to answer questions and they explained that the birds are totally free to fly away if they choose to.  The handlers try to make the birds homes attractive enough so that the birds will choose to always return.  Usually they do, but not always.  The shows exhibit a variety of raptors free flying in a hunting area, displaying many natural behaviors.  The first show had several Chihuahuan Ravens, a Great Horned Owl, a Prairie Falcon and a Ferruginous Hawk.  I liked the morning show so much that I stayed around to see the afternoon show.  For that they exhibited a Peregrine Falcon zooming about at speeds over 60 miles per hour (this is the bird who reaches speeds over 200 mph while diving for prey from above), A Gray Hawk (a very positive conservation story being brought back from only 20 nesting pairs to over 200 nesting pairs), A Barn Owl (who actually knocked someone's hat off during the show, and a family of Harris's Hawks.

    The Harris's Hawk's exhibited the freeness that the handlers had claimed.  During the show, they decided to fly off and hunt a ground squirrel.  The speaker continued to talk about the birds and told the audience that they didn't have any idea how long it would take for the birds to return.  When they were done with the squirrel, the birds flew back to their handlers and then continued to fly from perch to perch as requested.   The Harris's Hawks were also interesting because they were displaying the way they continue to live together in a family group.  The speaker said that the only other species of bird to exhibit this behavior is in the Galapagos.

 

 

Great Horned Owl, Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, October, 2015

 

 

Prairie Falcon, Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, October, 2015

 

 

Ferruginous Hawk, Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, October, 2015

 

 

Ferruginous Hawk, Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, October, 2015

 

 

Gray Hawk, Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, October, 2015

 

Barn Owl, Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, October, 2015

 

 

Harris Hawk, Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, October, 2015