Great Egret

Great Egret

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Another year begins...

Three years ago Marie and I went to Arizona for a month over the latter part of March and the first part of April, spending two weeks of that time renting a house on its own 10 acres of Sonoran Desert. The southeastern part of Arizona is a fabulous place to visit for a lot of reasons, but especially if you like arid, sunny, warm conditions towards the end of winter. In combination with the spectacular scenery, abundant wildlife, relatively low density of the human population and some terrific national parks and wildlife areas....well it doesn't get much better than that, at least for me. Since the early 1980s, we have been to various parts of Arizona about 8 different times.

One year ago, I started this blog. It has been an interesting and rewarding experience, in part due to all the supportive readers and comments I have received. So I will begin the second year of this blog with some highlights of the Arizona desert, including some southwestern birds which have shown up in southwestern Ontario.
This first scene is on the property we were staying at. The owners even created a one kilometre trail which traversed the different sections of this desert. Even so, it is usually quite easy to walk around this type of desert. The rainfall is so limited that plants are spread out as their roots compete for moisture. On some days while we were there, the relative humidity was down to about 10%! In this image are several examples of the iconic single stemmed and multi-armed Saguaro cactus as well as the Santa Rita Prickly Pear in the left foreground.

There were feeders set up, which the wildlife visited readily.
Round-tailed Ground Squirrel
Gambel's Quail male
 We thought that the female Gambel's Quail were incubating, and on the day we left, this newly hatched family came by.
Gambel's Quail female and chicks
We had Curve-billed Thrashers visiting regularly; in fact one pair was nesting in a Cholla cactus within a few metres of the house.
Curve-billed Thrasher exiting the nest area in a Cholla
Curve-billed Thrasher on a Saguaro
We had Gila Woodpeckers all the time as well, including a pair nesting in a large Saguaro.

It is possible that this nest cavity might be a future roosting spot for the diminutive Elf Owl. We didn't see any Elf Owls on this trip, but have done so on other trips.

As expected, cactus were abundant, and some were even in flower while we were there, such as this Pink-flowered Hedgehog.

And lots of Santa Rita Prickly Pear.
We did travel to many other fascinating places while in the Arizona, including Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge right adjacent to the Mexican border, Madera Canyon and Ramsey Canyon (both of which are at the northern limit of the Mexican mountains and regularly have Mexican birds nesting), and San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, where the river flows from Mexico into Arizona. And Saguaro National Monument, very close to Tucson, is a must!

A short time before our time was up, we noticed that some of the Saguaros were in flower. They are usually near the top of mature arms, so not always easy to get a good photo of. But their position makes them more likely to be pollinated by bats, their main pollinator.
 And the desert skies gave some great opportunities to capture some sunset shots. This next photo was taken along one of the trails in Tucson Mountain Park, adjacent to Saguaro National Monument.
We saw other birds, including Acorn Woodpecker, Green-tailed Towhee, Pyrrhuloxia, Vermilion Flycatcher and Lark Bunting, as well as a few species that normally breed in Canada but spend the winters in the south, such as White-crowned Sparrows.

Acorn Woodpecker
Green-tailed Towhee
Lark Bunting

Vermilion Flycatcher
I show these birds, because over the years several of them have put in an appearance in southwestern Ontario!

A Green-tailed Towhee showed up at a feeder in Windsor a couple of decades or more ago. Lark Bunting has appeared on several occasions, including a couple of times in the Rondeau checklist area, but not since the mid-1970s until one was seen very briefly along the Marsh Trail in 2014. A Pyrrhuloxia showed up at a feeder in West Elgin a few years ago. And a Vermilion Flycatcher appeared at St. Clair NWA late in the year in the 1990s, but didn't linger long enough for the Christmas Bird Count.

I have been fortunate to see all four of these species in Ontario....but I'm waiting to get one or more on my Rondeau list....will this be the year?

Another southwestern species that did show up at Rondeau and is now included on the park's checklist is this Cassin's Kingbird. Unfortunately I was the only one to see it at the park when I found it back in November of 2013, and since it was already dead, can't count it on my park list. But since some individuals of the southwestern flycatchers group have a tendency to end up going north instead of south in the fall, there is always the possibility of another rare flycatcher to show up.

And with that, I will begin another year of this blog. Thanks again for all of the visits and support!


  1. Keep up the good work Allen, always a pleasure to read your posts!

  2. Allen, congrats on your first year of blogging! Your knowledge and great photography are appreciated by Ontario's blogging and nature loving community. This particular posting was great as well. Lots of great sw birds here that would be life birds.-dm

    1. Thank-you Dwayne....hopefully some of these sw birds show up again, and bring some of their cousins!

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  4. Don't stop! I'd feel deprived. Have loved my introduction to the Canadian birds.Today's blog is a great contrast, thanks for including and blessings.

    1. Hi Paula....thanks for your visits from down under! Stay tuned for more......