After two days of birding, the “official” class bird species total sits at exactly 50! (Official is in quotation marks because it is only official insofar as I have kept track in my head and therefore I may have forgotten to log a few species in eBird.) To put that number into perspective for those who aren’t birders and/or aren’t familiar with Arizona and Wisconsin avifauna, the two years I taught this class in Northern Arizona, we saw 104 and 120 species in FOUR weeks!
It was also snowing for the first week the last time and it was 98 yesterday here in Tucson. Which is to say, this is different.
We got in to Tucson very late after the flight into Phoenix. Luckily there weren’t any issues with the flights or our baggage, and the plastic bins of gear made it unscathed, as did all of us. I decided to start later the first day to give everyone a chance to sleep a bit and adjust to the time change, so we headed out to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.
This was a great intro to the desert – birds, plants, herps, and mammals. Some students got their first glimpses of cacti, many of which are blooming right now.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get there until about 10:30, after making a stop at a beautiful vista (and seeing the first bird of the trip – the Curve-billed Thrasher) so it was already really hot when we started the day there. I can’t recall exactly, but I’m sure it was over 95 degrees. Still, we saw about 18 birds that first day, which is really impressive given that we were there during the hottest hours of the day, when the birds tend to be hunkered down in the shade. I’m sure the thought of hunkering down in the shade crossed some of our minds that afternoon also.
There were a few aviaries that were there, and the highlight were the three hummingbird nests that we got to look into up close. They are just too cute!
It’s incredible how they can fit anything into those tiny nests.
Despite the heat, the allure of more birds prevailed until about 3:30. The heat was starting to make everyone lethargic, and we still hadn’t gotten food, so we headed back to do a few things, and we got a nice group photo near the gift shop before heading home.
As much planning as I did, the first change to the itinerary happened the next morning. It was a minor change – we swapped morning and afternoon activities, so we could make the most of the early morning cool air and still get back in time for the free breakfast at the hotel.
We went to Sweetwater Wetlands, which was only about 8 min from the hotel. It’s a great, small managed wetland with desert scrub, mesquite mosque, and some riparian habitat. After only a few hours, we had seen almost 30 species of birds, plus a couple jackrabbits, and unidentified small mammal, and countless lizards.
The weather was incredible; it was even cool enough that some of us had to put on fleece sweaters at some points. The birds were so active, I didn’t geta single photo.
Back at the hotel mid-morning, we napped/pooled/errand-ran before heading to Catalina State Park for the late afternoon. We parked at the trailhead for the appropriately named “Birding Trail” and were greeted with a few birds in the trees in the parking lot, including a bright red male Vermillion Flycatcher! I say this all the time, but they are one of my favorite birds! The female was across the road, seemingly protecting a nest or perhaps building one.
Again, the weather was great – we even got rained on! The winds got strong at the beginning of the trail so the birds weren’t very active, but a little while later the wind and rain were done and the birds started to move again. We ended that afternoon with about 17 birds which seemed like so little after the awesome morning, but that would have been a great day on its own, but with the morning , it was fantastic!
So in two days and three sites, we’ve seen 50 different species! And that’s just the birds!
If these two first days are any indication, we’re in for a great trip. Tomorrow, we’re heading to Mount Lemmon, which has a huge diversity of birds along a nice elevational (and therefore habitat) gradient. Looking at the recently reported birds there, we should definitely be adding to the list.
I need to get to bed so I am not a grump tomorrow, but here are a few additional photos from the trip so far. Keep coming back to check in on our trip!