Birding Blog Archives

May 12th, 2009
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Richard’s Photothon: the story

[click here for the full list and all the photos]

Having fed the birds in my new courtyard for a few months I decided to start “Richard’s Photothon 2009” in my backyard at first light to try to get off to a good start.

It was slow going, though, and by the time I headed out to the destination I was most looking forward to visiting all day – Nico’s Taco Shop – I only had nine birds on film (or more accurately, on Compact Flash Card, but that doesn’t have the same ring, does it?). No matter – it was breakfast burrito time! 😀

Sweetwater Wetlands was the obvious choice to get as many of the regular species as possible, and it didn’t let me down. There always seems to be a lot of bird activity here, irrespective of the time of year or even time of day, although early morning in spring is about as good as it gets.

The 13th bird of the day wasn’t unlucky for me at all, although I’d been very unlucky with finding them in the past – a Northern Waterthrush, my first in Arizona. It was feeding alongside the new concrete channel flowing into the Hidden Pond. There had been one at Sweetwater the day before, but on the other side of the complex. That bird was found in the same spot later on, so this was a new one and went straight onto my Arizona “found list”.

Various birds were snapped, including showy Red-winged Blackbirds and Harris’s Hawks. I was fortunate enough to experience another first – a movement in the reeds caught my eye and I found myself staring straight at the first raccoon I’d ever seen in the wild. I’ve never heard of anyone seeing at raccoon at Sweetwater before, although I met Mark Stevenson there and he told me he saw one swimming across one of the ponds once, with various ducks in pursuit!

A Vaux’s Swift zoomed overhead but eluded the camera, and just as I was leaving, a flock of large, pale birds caught my eye up ahead. I jumped back out of the car and focused on a group of 17 American White Pelicans! Not what I was expecting. They appeared to come down in the Silverbell Road area, so I changed plan slightly and went there, via the Santa Cruz River at Ina Road, to look for them. There was no pelican activity at Christopher Columbus Park, so I got the Photothon back on track and crossed over to the foothills around Pima Canyon trailhead to add a few desert birds.

By now it was getting towards lunchtime and time to leave Tucson. I got onto I-19 and, via Subway for a foot-long meatball sandwich, made my way towards Madera Canyon. The desertscrub habitat in Florida Wash provided several new birds, as did Proctor Road, including a late Lincoln’s Sparrow that performed well for the camera. The feeders at Santa Rita Lodge were hopping, as usual, but Kubo Cabins was the star. Not only was there the normal assortment of bright, colorful regulars there, but the male Flame-colored Tanager, returning for, I think, his sixth summer, gave me my best ever looks.

The afternoon was pressing on so I reluctantly left Madera Canyon, took the Box Canyon Road over the pass and, adding a few grassland birds on Greaterville Road, set out for Willcox Lakes. As per tradition, I stopped off at the Benson Wastewater Treatment Plant and found several new birds. On arrival at Lake Cochise, the main lake at Willcox, I was immediately confronted with two more American White Pelicans. Something must be going on with them today (I later found out there had been a flock at Lakeside Park in Tucson which built up to over 100 birds by dusk, putting my 19-bird total to shame). A Least Tern was a nice addition, and various shorebirds were new for the list.

I ended the day walking around the golf course pond, adding Black-crowned Night-Heron and the final birds, a pair of Chipping Sparrows that were so distant I identified them later from the photos!

There were a few species I either saw or heard that I didn’t get photos of. These were: Virginia Rail, Vaux’s Swift, Phainopepla, Purple Martin, Swainson’s Thrush, Elegant Trogon, Yellow Warbler and Green-tailed Towhee. That would make my day total 113, which isn’t too bad at all.

Notable misses included several common enough birds in the habitats I visited, such as Pied-billed Grebe, Cooper’s Hawk, Sora, Great Horned Owl, Costa’s Hummingbird, Vermilion Flycatcher, Common Raven, Rock, Cactus, Bewick’s and House Wrens, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, American Pipit, Orange-crowned and Lucy’s Warblers, Spotted and Canyon Towhees, Eastern Meadowlark, Yellow-headed Blackbird… there’s plenty more to aim for next time.

I decided that trying to take notes as well as pictures would make things unecessarily complicated, so during the day I had no idea how many I’d managed to photograph. It certainly felt like I’d done quite well… however the final tally of 105 was way beyond what I could have dreamt of!

It just reiterates how unique southeast Arizona is, how lucky we are to live here and experience it, and how important it is to look after it.

We can all get a warm fuzzy feeling about the money raised by my generous sponsors, as it will go directly towards caring for this precious diversity of habitats and educating local people on how important it is to protect our environment. If you contributed, you should feel really good about investing in such a worthwhile local cause. I very much appreciate your donation, and I’d like to think that the wildlife of Tucson and southeast Arizona feels the same way.

Thank you, everyone! 😀

[click here for the full list and all the photos]

2 comments to Richard’s Photothon: the story

  • Vivian MacKinnon

    Very nice Richard,

    That’s my kind of Birdathon, food stop by food stop. Very nice total too!

    Good stuff (or good stuffing, perhaps?)

  • Herb Trossman

    What a wonderful way to have a birdathon, especially if alone. No questions about what you saw. Also,thanks for keeping us posted on your meals during outing. I’m very impressed by your website.


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